2018 is here! A year set to bring us long awaited AAA titles and beautiful indie gems. Though… not this week.
Winter is a notoriously harsh time for the world of gaming, and January is usually the low point of this chilly lull. But fear not! This January is giving us some exciting entries in fan favorite series, with the likes of Kirby, Monster Hunter, and Dragon Ball all coming soon. As for this week and next? Well, we have some lovely Switch ports and a few other early releases to consider. I mean just look at the screenshot above of Barbarian Souls. It sure is a game. Yes sir.
Of course you could always keep chugging away on that backlog. Lord knows I still need to start Okami HD and finish Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga. Surely there’s something you should be playing.
Here’s everything that’s coming out.
Monday, January 1
Barbarian Souls — PC
Wednesday, January 3
Outbreak: The New Nightmare — Xbox One
Thursday, January 4
Pic-a-Pix Deluxe — Switch
Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure Deluxe — Switch
Thursday January 11
Arcade Archives: Crazy Climber — Switch
Furi — Switch
Super Meat Boy — Switch
What else is coming out soon? Planning to play something on Steam or mobile? Tell us about it in the comments.
Which video game moment of 2017 had your heart aflutter? Did it make you cry? Did you scream furiously into the void? Did it leave you thinking about it hours, days, and weeks after you experienced it? Did you laugh so hard, liquids spewed out of your nose? One or all of the above? Cool. Let’s talk about it.
If there’s a good thing I could say about 2017, it’s that it was a strong year for video games. There were too many for me to buy and finish. Of the ones I did manage to spend significant time with, they were awesome. Not all were excellent with a few mediocre experiences along the way (so it goes every year, I suppose). Overall, though? There were too many good moments to decide on the greatest.
I could look to the thrill of landing on Eventide Island in Breath of the Wild. But then, what about the monthly, nightly ritual my sister and I spent playing Puyo Puyo Tetris on Nintendo Switch? Oh! Watching Luigi snipe the hell out of some rabbids was an utter delight, too. There was also trying Destiny 2, failing hard, and listening to my friends laugh at my many platforming demises.
Right! There was also Super Mario Odyssey! I sure had fun with that photo mode and asking don’t-give-a-damn birds for directions. That’s not a moment but it was fun, nonetheless.
But what about you? Here’s your question for today, dear Kotaku Readers: What’s your favorite moment from a video game that you experienced in 2017?
Share your fun moments with us. If it’s a major plot reveal/point, I’d only ask that we please be mindful of spoilers, if necessary! Some of us may still be working on games we got over the holidays.
Wishing all of you the very best in the coming year. And here’s hoping for many more brilliant video game moments in 2018.
Since Riot Games reworked accounts to level infinitely in League of Legends, there has been something of a race as players climb higher and higher. The leader just passed level 300 today. His method? Destroying dozens of bots.
Playing under the name “Nolife Raphael,” he was locked in a race for the first to level 100 a month ago. Today, he’s passed the 300 mark, a significant challenge requiring a lot of games played.
Raphael’s method is to play against AI bots on a map called Twisted Treeline. Unlike League of Legends’ standard five-on-five, the Treeline is three-on-three on a smaller map that has only two lanes. Since it’s a “co-op vs. AI” match, Raphael and two cohorts are the only humans in the game, as they fight against Riot’s bots.
Using two experience boosts bought from the in-game store using real money and playing fast (less than nine minute) games, Raphael can rack up a lot of wins. This method, it seems, is the most efficient way to build up experience over long stretches of time.
Some Reddit math indicates that it takes about 793,152 experience to reach level 300 from level 30 (the level cap before the cap was removed). The user calculates that it would take 2,509 games against bots to achieve this, about 334 hours not counting the queue and loading screen.
Riot Games’ Ryan “Riot Cactopus” Rigney responded in the thread, saying he had to email Raphael that some of the level rewards would be late. Seems Raphael is leveling faster than anyone, Riot Games included, could have anticipated.
In a post from a month ago, after Raphael had reached level 100, a Reddit user posted the question as to why anyone would subject themselves to endless bot games. Raphael responded, writing “at the beginning it went boring, but time for time it feels good having not toxic peopel in there xD”.
One moment, you’re on top of the world, the next, completely helpless. Weaponless, defenseless, and pretty much helpless. Last time, we talked about nine games that took away all our weapons. This time, we talk about nine more games that stripped us of all resistance.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
One of 2017’s finest games features a challenge which takes away all of your weapons, armour, and items. Being marooned on Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island means contending with a lumbering, giant hinox. Fighting bokoblins with branches. It means solving the island’s puzzles with your acquired tools and your wits in order to survive. The concept of being weaponless may not be particularly new. Depending on when players discover Eventide Island, it can be a harrowing experience if facing its challenge early on. Or it can feel empowering in later game stages, equipped with knowledge to adapt to the situation with learned tricks and skills to breeze through whatever the island tosses out there.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Alucard was a solid character in Castlevania 3, especially because he could turn into a bat and fly past so many of the tricky obstacles the game threw at players. Unfortunately, his biggest problem was he was awkwardly slow and difficult to control in his normal mode. Between Castlevania 3 and Symphony of the Night, Alucard did a lot of crossfit training. He’s so fast now, he leaves a trail of his own images behind him. Alucard’s opening invasion of Dracula’s castle makes you feel like a badass. Mow down the zombies, whisk past enemies, wreak havoc. That is, until Death shows up and strips you of all your weapons. Your fists feel puny, your one-hit kills are gone. We felt as helpless as we were back in Castlevania 3.
Final Fantasy XV
Ah, the infamous Chapter 13. Since its 2015 release, Final Fantasy XV has received a flow of DLC including story chapters for the three other members of Prince Noctis’ boy band, a multiplayer mode with a great character customization editor, and an alternative way to experience Chapter 13. Everyone had something to say about the accursed chapter when it first came out. There’s even a guide to help you cope with just how traumatizing it is.
It was ill-received for leading Noctis into hallways stalked by zombie-like enemies. But you could hide into nooks and crannies to avoid encounters! That’s…something, right? Chapter 13 became akin to a Resident Evil nightmare with not-so-good stealth mechanics. It was the opposite of the bulk of the game. In the earlier portions, Noctis and crew spent carefree days riding in their supercar, the Regalia, with the top down listening to classic Final Fantasy tunes. They did this in a big ‘ol open world setting at their leisure between hunting monsters and fishing.
Those were the days! They seemed so fleeting by the time Chapter 13 hit, and to top it off, Noctis lost his weapons and his friends at the beginning of that hellish game section. Losing weapons is one thing. Losing Prompto, Ignis, and Gladio is a whole other insult. It is probably one of the scariest things Final Fantasy has ever done.
The Last Of Us
Even with a gun in your hand, you can feel weak. In The Last of Us, Clickers have you constantly on edge, ready at any moment to turn you into a home town buffet of organs and skin. When Joel gets caught in one of Bill’s traps, he’s upside down, feet chained, and feeling very vulnerable to the waves of infected who sprint his way. It’s a race against time as Ellie tries to free him and the Clickers race your way. Shooting upside down is an panic-inducing mess that can’t end soon enough. In a game full of tense moments, this one had us feeling infected vertigo.
Dragon Quest Builders
If a game has ‘Dragon Quest’ in the name, chances are it will be a gut-wrenching experience in some measure. 2016’s Dragon Quest Builders, the Minecraft-esque sandbox with a story-focused direction, lives up to the name. It’s also so much more. It’s bleak, sure. But it’ll also surprise you. It’ll make you laugh, too. The game’s silent protagonist with a wealth of sass sets out to rebuild the world. But the world is not exactly his/her oyster—crafting recipes have to be earned and remembered through fighting, collection, and meeting NPCs’ requirements. Grand castles and towns aren’t built overnight. Protecting these towns from evil hordes is important, too. In the end, a small glimmer of hope is restored to bolster the faith of the humans who lost their world to darkness and evil.
Rebuilding the world is a step by step process which begins with your character stripped of just about everything. Good clothes, weapons, and crafting memories. Imagine tackling a slime with a twig picked up from the dirt. That’s how hopeless the world is in Dragon Quest Builders. Life gets better as new recipes are unlocked and steel blades can be made. But you’ll never forget your humble beginnings with the twig in hand. If you think that’s bad, and if you haven’t yet played this fantastic entry into the Dragon Quest universe (the game is slated for release on the Nintendo Switch in 2018 as well), there’s a surprise waiting at the beginning of every heartbreaking chapter which we won’t spoil here.
Resident Evil 7 VR
Horror films don’t scare us anymore thanks to horror games. Resident Evil 7 VR is one of the most terrifying and scary experiences we’ve had because it felt like we were actually there in the Baker Family Mansion. Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Evil Dead combined, it was like living through a grindhouse flick, and you know how that turns out for the majority of “little people.” While we could only play in 30 minute bouts thanks to motion sickness, that half hour was living hell, especially in the opening without any weapons, aggravated by by vertigo and monsters that wanted to eat part of us and leave the rest for leftovers. Never had a game felt so palpably dizzying.
Beyond: Two Souls
The most depressing sequence in a last gen game was when I, Peter, became a homeless vagabond in Beyond: Two Souls. I wrote about the sequence a few weeks ago and how begging for a few dollars became one of the most stressful and painful moments I’d experienced in a game. Even the supernatural powers I had access to through my spirit buddy, Aiden, felt helpless in the face of poverty. What moved me most was the way Quantic Dream humanized everyone’s plight and even helped Jodie find her will to live again.
Clock Tower is the ultimate experience in vulnerability and weakness. The Scissorman can show up anywhere at any time and relentlessly chase you. Unfortunately, you’re weaponless the whole time. There’s no right way to play the game and the multiple endings encourage playthroughs. The Gothic aesthetic is both gorgeously macabre and grandly ominous. The music was noticeable for its absence as most of the game has you searching the mansion in silence, one that is shockingly shattered by the appearance of the Scissorman. We hated feeling like a single wrong turn could turn us into a human papier-mâché.
What’s worse than being afraid of evil undead enemy spirits who have blood dripping out of their eyes? Seeing through those bloody eyes in a weird game mechanic called sightjacking. Siren was all about helplessly moving from point a to point b and hoping the shibitos didn’t kill you as it was a one-hit death after they detected you. Even more creepy than the cultish spirits was the devotion with which they brought about their bloody apocalypse through an infinite sea of red water. I (Peter) knew multiple people growing up who were part of church’s that believed the rapture described in Revelations was coming on X date and gave up everything with their families to prepare- only for the time to awkwardly pass by and no Armageddon to happen. I wish they didn’t seem so disappointed and I wish more people longed for life and paradise rather than the end of the world. Then maybe we’d all stop feeling so defenseless and scared.
Here are some notable mentions which Kotaku readers pointed out from our previous article:
Dead Space 2
From Cause007:“You could argue the beginning of Dead Space 2 left you defenseless at the beginning… a massive monster breakout starts in front of your face and you’re in a straight jacket having to struggle to get through the first few rooms.”
From Arlo:“The opening of Dead Space 2 freaked me the hell out. The only other part that got to me that much was the eye needle, but that’s probably because I’m both terrified of needles and anything sharp near my face.”
Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast
You wanna talk about defenceless and scared, try Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Also Outlast. No comparison, true horror.
Fatal Frame 2
From Team Benevolence
“Chapter 7 in Fatal Frame/Project Zero 2. Because after the fuckery of dealing with a homicidal young girl ghost and her evil possessed twin doll, nothing made it better than losing your camera and flashlight and having to solve a puzzle with the main antagonist chasing you. It doesn’t last long but it’s terrifying.”
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
“I know Silent Hill is represented on this list but I have to give a personal shout out to the first chase in Shattered Memories. The first time I did it, I tried doing it by just following the color-coded clues in the game but add in the panic from being relentlessly pursued and I ended up getting turned around and lost and just wishing I could get the fuck away from those creatures that the best I could do against was slow them down momentarily. I don’t think I’ve ever been more panicked in a video game.”
Video games will continue to rob us of our freedom by taking away our power, our weapons, and our confidence. We’ll continue to be freaked out when they do. If it’s any consolation, it (probably) won’t last forever but it sure will feel like an eternity in that moment. There’s nothing we can do about it but grit our teeth, be terrified, and then keep moving forward.
One of Final Fantasy’s most iconic songs doesn’t even make my top 10 favorite list. That said, it’s also one of my most cherished. What makes it special is that it’s tied to one of my fondest memories—but not in as sweet a way as you may think.
On this the last day of 2017—which also happens to be the last day of the year in which Final Fantasy celebrates its 30th anniversary—I’m paying tribute to one of my favorite series a little differently than is probably expected of me.
I could attempt to write flowery language about how much I adore Square Enix’s diverse cast of characters throughout the series’ history. I could tell you the very boring story of how I became enamored with video games, as did thousands of others, thanks to 1997’s Japanese role-playing game, Final Fantasy VII.
Instead, I’ll tell you about two people’s opinions on a crucial moment in Final Fantasy’s history, their connection to the series and each other through one particular song, and a story that makes me seem a little bit heartless.
I laughed when Aeris died. When kind, innocent, pure Aeris was praying for a blessing to protect the world, only to be impaled by Sephiroth—I gleefully lost it.
When Aeris slumped over after Sephiroth pulled the sword out of her body, her emotionally wrought theme expertly chimed in. With every “ping” of the white materia falling and connecting with the ground for what felt like forever, I was impressed by the gravity of it all.
Then when the ensuing battle played out with this eerie quiet, even though her theme still played during it, I didn’t feel the anger Cloud had spewed at Sephiroth. I was supposed to, I think. But that’s not what happened.
All I could think of was how ridiculously hilarious Sephiroth’s speech was as he mumbled on about nothing. I loved Sephiroth unabashedly at the time, you see, (now? Well…) and I chuckled at the insanity of it all. It was part disbelief, and I was rooting for the bad guy. But equally as important was that I really disliked Aeris.
To be clear, I didn’t laugh because it’s funny seeing a character get stabbed. Aeris, in my reading of her character, was not the sweet girl the game desperately wanted me to believe. I saw her as the girl who was merely interested in Cloud because he reminded her of Zack, the guy she had actually liked.
Of course, this assessment of her ignores some finer details of her characterization, like the fact that during their short time together, he liked her and her teasing softened his cocky attitude. It also ignores that she and Tifa shared a bad-ass moment together when they rightfully ganged up on Don Corneo for his horrid behavior.
Aeris had her moments, as did all the Final Fantasy VII characters—they are a distinct, strong bunch, each with their personal stories of suffering. The attention to characters and writing are portions of what makes the Final Fantasy series so lauded and good. It can be argued that this is not true of every Final Fantasy but many of their characters are memorable for these very reasons.
I would be lying if I didn’t find the scene a bit sad, if even for the characters’ loss of their friend. I’m also not saying that maybe I was wrong to dislike Aeris all those years ago. But I will say that now I’m older, I would happily re-evaluate all aspects of the game, including each of the cast’s characterizations.
Back then, however, the scene did not impact me as it did one of my best friends. And for me, this is the real reason why Aeris’ theme is one of the best Final Fantasy songs.
Long after Final Fantasy VII, I met this particular friend at the university we both attended. We eventually became apartment mates, sharing many of the same interests, with Final Fantasy being one of them. As with many fans of Final Fantasy, we are constantly arguing about best characters and our favorite entries. We disagree on most things when it comes to silly things like films, or television series. But I’d like to think we’re great friends because no matter our opposing opinions, we happily and respectfully argue over them and are willing to hear each other out.
Our Final Fantasy VII discussions were particularly funny.
It’s important to note that she loves Aeris. Knowing this, I’d play a little trick on her back when we lived together. On particularly quiet afternoons, when we were both in our respective rooms, I used to turn up the volume on my speakers and loudly play “Aeris’ Theme” for her. Because I’m the best person in the whole wide world, obviously.
She would bolt into my room, yell at me and call me a jerk (me!! A jerk!?), and I’d laugh as I did, recalling the day when Sephiroth’s sword plunged into a smiling Aeris’ body. The greatest thing about this story is that I could do it to her even now, and it’d elicit the same reaction.
The point, however, is that Final Fantasy gave me so many amazing memories that carried over into my interactions with others. It helped build friendships, and allowed me to find common ground in sharing these experiences with friends and strangers alike. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that that scene in Final Fantasy VII was something that we could both relate to, helping to forge a part of our friendship. Sharing a laugh with a friend and creating memories together can come from discussing serious and funny moments in video games, or playing them together. This is just one moment of many that Final Fantasy gave me—a playful memory that’s triggered upon hearing the opening notes of a very solemn song.
So, thanks for all the memories, Final Fantasy. Here’s to so many more in the future, I hope. Perhaps I’ll laugh at the appropriate moments I’m supposed to laugh at. But you know, at least I’m not one of those people who was only upset Aeris died because she had some pretty great healing abilities.
And some people dare to call me a monster.
What’s your favorite Final Fantasy song and moment? Please feel free to share your stories, as I’d love to read them.
The upcoming Twelve Titans Rocket League tournament will pit 12 players against each other in a winner-take-all one-on-one brawl. Isaiah Sharrieff was set to be one of those players who would play in the tournament in Scotland—until he revealed on Twitter that he had already played his first round and won’t fly to Scotland.
In a video post, Sharrieff claimed he was told to lie to his viewers about the situation surrounding Twelve Titans, both regarding his passport and his actual flight to Scotland.
Posting a screenshot from a Discord conversation between himself and John “Johnnyboi_i” MacDonald, a commentator for the tournament, MacDonald tells Sharrieff that they can’t get him out to the tournament due to budget constraints. The first round between Sharrieff and Cameron “Kronovi” Bills was played online and, apparently, determined who would get a ticket to Scotland.
“Just tell people that we sorted the passport situation for you (which we technically did because if you won we would get you one),” wrote MacDonald. “We’ll just need you to not talk about it lol.”
In Sharrieff’s video, he goes on to write that while only 10 of the 12 players invited would fly to Scotland, some were offered significantly more money to do so, specifically mentioning Squishy and Kaydop, and a $3,000 figure.
“Now I don’t know if I’m ever going to meet my role models Kux and Kaydop,” wrote Sharrieff.
Kronovi later mentioned during a live stream that he knew going into the match that the winner would fly to Scotland and the loser would stay home, and assumed Sharrieff did too. “They’re very transparent with us,” said Kronovi.
League of Rockets, the organizer of Twelve Titans, responded today to clarify the situation. In a statement posted to Twitter, tournament organizer League of Rockets says they always planned to play the first round of matches online and only fly the winners to Scotland. But making that known would reveal who had won the match before the tournament production airs in 2018. League also says that MacDonald’s message to Sharrieff was specifically about passports, as that would also reveal the outcome of matches if say, Sharrieff suddenly mentioned on stream that he didn’t need a passport anymore.
“I wish we could have flown everyone out but we simply were unable to afford it,” wrote League of Rockets. “Although Psyonix was very generous to us, we still did not have enough money to make everything happen that we wanted to happen. We felt keeping the first round games online was a good way to help with this seeing as the games would not be cross-region and therefore competitively acceptable.”
League also volunteered to fly Sharrieff to another tournament later this year to meet players like Kaydop and Kux, but he may not need that offer. During a stream yesterday, Rocket League player Luckey donated $1,300 to Sharrieff to send him to Scotland.
By balancing scarcity and value, Mario’s newest platforming hit finally brings second-tier collectibles into the limelight.
There are plenty of classic gaming icons associated with everyone’s favorite pudgy plumber. Mushrooms, stars, turtle shells, and more come to mind when picturing Mario and the magical world he inhabits. And though many different Mario items and collectibles have been featured throughout his critically acclaimed adventures, there is only one that has officially made an appearance in every single game – coins.
From his original Mushroom Kingdom outing on the Famicom to his most recent trip around the globe, Mario titles have always provided players with plenty of shiny currency to collect. While they initially provided bonus points and extra lives, the coins in Mario have evolved into a rainbow of hues, shapes, and uses over the years.
Many aspects of Mario’s newest journey in Odyssey stray from the established norm, and that goes for coins as well. Unlike every main series Mario game of the past 30 years, Odyssey doesn’t have lives for Mario to gain or lose. Death not longer has a limit, but a price. Players lose ten precious gold coins every time they kick the bucket. Coins can also (finally) be used to purchase extra outfits that become available as players advance throughout the game’s many kingdoms. This new incentive to scoop up coins is a welcome change, one that breathes new life into a classic aspect of the Mario franchise.
On the other side of the collectible spectrum we have Power Moons, the essential fuel for Mario’s hat-shaped flying machine. Obviously the most important item for progression of the game, Power Moons open up new kingdoms and help players further the on-going story.
There’s also a ridiculous amount of them.
While games in the past gave Mario just over 100 stars and shines to collect, Odyssey has 880 Power Moons (999 if you want to buy some extra) scattered throughout its many worlds. It’s an overwhelming number of seemingly crucial items, and the games does a bizarre job of hiding them in each environment.
It’s certainly satisfying to find a Power Moon, but it can be equally as aggravating to decipher its whereabouts. Some moons can be spotted sitting atop tall buildings or dangling below out of reach ledges, giving players a concrete goal, while others are unlocked by seemly arbitrary actions like… sitting on a park bench. It’s wonderful that the game has so much content in this regard, but it’s almost too much.
In between run-of-the-mill gold coins and Power Moons we find regional coins, which most players simply refer to as “purple coins.” Each kingdom (bar a few of the smaller ones) features either 50 or 100 of these unique curios. Nintendo’s decision to give each world its own currency is nothing short of brilliant. From an aesthetic perspective it adds so much more personality and beauty than simply using one overarching design for every single coin.
Not only do Odyssey’s purple coins add to each kingdom’s personal atmosphere, they also act as legitimate currency for the local Crazy Cap shop. One side of each shop is solely dedicated to purple coins of the current region, with exclusive souvenirs, stickers, and outfits available for purchase. For some, these kinds of in-game trophies are the most enticing, and if players want them all they need to find every purple coin within the kingdom. Nothing offered in the Crazy Cap store is essential for moving forward in the game (aside from a handful of outfit-related Power Moons), so there’s not much pressure to hunt them all down immediately.
When it does come time to locate purple coins they’re always nicely clustered in groups of three. If a player spots one, there’s a good chance others are close by, waiting to be discovered. Unlike many of the obscure Power Moons, hidden underground or behind some inane task, purple coins are never too difficult to find. Players may have to snoop around in 8-bit areas or peek behind a waterfall to gather them all, but their placement in the game’s strikingly large settings is well thought out. More often than not players will stumble upon a trio of these spinning purple beauties while simply surveying a new locale.
Super Mario Odyssey’s purple coins land right in the sweet spot between the never ending stacks of classic gold coins and the occasionally-aggravating glimmer of Power Moons. They are a collectible that is visually distinctive, enjoyable to track down, and virtually nonessential to the games progression. It may not seem like something to rave about, but from a gameplay perspective these oddly-shaped trinkets are an anomaly that no past Mario adventure has been able to provide.
With the recent uptick in 3D platformers, let’s hope other developers are paying attention to details like these that can make a seemingly subtle aspect of a game so significantly effective.
Amazon hasn’t been shy about offering up discounted Kindle books over the past week, but I suspect that the New Year will see a significant slowdown in sales, back to a more typical ~once per week schedule. Today’s sale has some great options though, a few of which we highlighted below. But be sure to head over to Amazon to see the full list.
I never thought my favorite part of a Hironobu Sakaguchi game would be the battle system, especially since Final Fantasy and Lost Odyssey are renown for their compelling stories and dramatic character arcs. But in The Last Story, the combat was not just the best part of the game. It represented a refreshing evolution of fighting in JRPGs.
I still remembering playing the very first Final Fantasy and falling in love with the game’s narrative. Most JRPGs in the NES period had limited stories, often involving saving princesses and killing an obvious villain. In Final Fantasy, Garland, the weak boss your party defeats at the beginning of the game, has created a time loop to try to escape his death. He comes back near the end to reveals that he’s the ultimate villain as Chaos incarnate, propelling the four elemental bosses forward from the past. It was a surreal moment to realize this was all the result of a perpetual cycle of conflict.
Since then, I’ve been hooked. I’ve played most of the main games in the Final Fantasy series as well as the Mistwalker titles by Sakaguchi. I loved Lost Odyssey, enjoyed aspects of Blue Dragon, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Last Story.
The narrative of The Last Story has its share of twists and is broken into chapters like a novel. The land is seized by a blight and a group of mercenaries get caught in an epic struggle. One of those hired guns is the main protagonist, Zael, a genuinely likable character with a tragic past (I’m so happy that Mistwalker skipped the JRPG trope of a sulky and broody hero, or the blank canvas template that is supposed to make them easier to identify with). Zael and his friend, Dagran, dream of becoming knights to escape their impoverished roots. Along the way, they bump into a princess who wants to break free of an arranged marriage and find her independence, then have to fight their way against an invasion of a bunch of Ganon-looking creatures called the Gurak, all before realizing they’re part of an alien encounter with an extraterrestrial being called “The Outsider.”
The appearance of a superpowered alien may seem out of place as the early chapters have a strong fantasy background. But Mistwalker and Sakaguchi originally wrote The Last Story with a science fiction setting in mind before shifting gears based on feedback from Nintendo. The SF elements are still present, as it’s this alien “Outsider” who grants Zael his special powers. And for the most part, the combination works (even the original Final Fantasy had a science fiction element with its time travel). Once the head of Lazulis Island, Count Arganan, realizes how strong Zael is, opportunities open up as their fate begins to change.
The relationships Zael forms with his companions are the best part of the game. His fellow mercenaries, Syrenne and Lowell often steal their scenes, their humor and sarcastic banter giving levity to the game as they tease both Zael and one another. I also really liked Zael’s relationship with the princess, Calista. There’s a scene at the Stargazers’ Tower between two as they share their dreams, their hopes, and even their past tribulations. It might be a little cheesy, but this is the best kind of cheese. I was rooting for them to get together as their attraction isn’t forced, but rather, develops organically as the political upheavals brings them closer together.
When I finished the game, I enjoyed the experienced, but I wasn’t blown away with the story like I’d hoped to be. Thinking back on the JRPG series I’ve loved, from Phantasy Star to Final Fantasy and Persona, to even more action oriented ones like Vagrant Story, Grandia II, and the recent Nier: Automata with its brilliant WTF moments, all of them had fantastic plots that kept me hooked. The Last Story had a good story, but even Sakaguchi stated his intent was to innovate on the gameplay rather than the narrative.
Fortunately, the gameplay is excellent.
Almost every Final Fantasy game takes risks with the battle systems. FFII had an innovative, but flawed, leveling up system based on usage. FFIII introduced jobs. FFIV brought about the ATB system (though it was V that actually introduced the meter). Even FFVIII had the complicated mix of drawing, guardian forces, and junctions that tried to revamp the battle system.
In The Last Story, combat is an addictive mix off MMORPG styled fights, a Gears of War type cover mechanic, and a modernized active battle system (ATB). Flow is important as you only control Zael during battle, though you can give commands to the other five characters. It’s almost as though you’ve become a conductor in a symphony of violence, revoling around the concepts of chaos and order. Much of the geography can be interacted with, which is important for the cover system as well as placement of the characters. The magic system has spell casters creating circles where the elemental properties have an effect. Say Calista casts heal, then a white circle will appear around her. Zael has to enter the circle for it to affect him. Unfortunately, if an enemy attacks while the magicians are preparing to cast, it will disrupt the spell.
That’s where the Gathering command comes into play. After you initiate the power (which is granted to Zael by the Outsider), all the enemies focus their attack on Zael. That means the other spell casters are free to prepare their magic. Zael can parry, retaliate, and use burst attacks that accumulate during Gathering mode to paralyze foes. You can also use Zael’s “gale” move to diffuse the effects of a magic circle to the other members, having essentially the effect of a Cure All vs. a single Cure. The battles become like a chess match, but all the pieces are in constant motion at a frenetic pace. I relished the combat.
While the game isn’t hard, if you try to brute force your way through, you’ll get killed, even with five lives.
The boss battle in the Gurak Warship is an example of a battle you can’t just button mash your way through. The Muruk has a continual guard from his shell which makes him impervious to most attacks as he rolls around, smashing everything in his way. He also fires needle-like spines at everyone, paralyzing your entire party. Calista has to create a “holy” spell to protect against paralysis, which Zael has to diffuse so that it spreads to the entire party. Everytime the Muruk fires his spines, he becomes dizzy for a short moment. As long as you’ve created a barrier around yourself with the Holy spell, you can exploit its temporary frailty to ride on top of it and attack its soft underbelly. If you hadn’t cast the holy in time, everyone would be paralyzed and the Muruk would recover before beginning its attack again.
Many of the key confrontations mix up the rules so that an approach that worked previously would fail in the next. In a fight against a persistent group of doppelgangers, the enemy mimics your appearance and actions. You have to turn off the automatic attacks as it’s the one battle where you can actually hurt your party members. Careful planning and strategic enemy attacks are vital because the doppelgangers can heal themselves. I died here more than any other part of the game because I thought I could overpower the enemy, but instead, only ended up killing my own team members. You have to micromanage your party and focus on strategically taking out the enemy healers first.
A one-on-one fight with the head of the knights, General Ashtar, takes away the team and focuses on gathering, guard counters, and vertical slices. Quick time events come into play and the sequence in the Tower of Trials tests both Zael and the player’s familiarity with the controls. Zael can also use his crossbow to launch arrows with status effects that can shift the tide of the battle.
Nebirous, a vampire type enemy, is invincible unless you fire a silver arrow into him, at which point, you can order your party to smash him to pieces. You can also launch bananas to make your enemies slip, making them vulnerable to attack. Surprisingly, this works against one of the final bosses and makes for a hilarious, but satisfying, battle plan.
In my playthrough of The Last Story, the best story moments came during battles when, as a team, I discovered a new way to overcome a difficult enemy. It was about unexpected moments in combat, a funny exchange with Syrenne, a part of the environment that reveals a new way to defeat a previously unstoppable legion of enemies. For example, in the first part of the battle against the final Cocoon boss, it can only be defeated by knocking down the column he jumps on top of. In the second part of the fight, Zael can cut down a massive sword hanging on the ceiling to take it out for massive damage.
I’ve been wondering a lot about what makes a good JRPG after playing Xenoblade Chronicles X last year. It was a fantastic game, but had a story that I didn’t enjoy as much the gameplay. While I liked the story in The Last Story more than XBX, it was the combat that kept me coming back. I felt sad the quest ended, not so much because the story was coming to a close, but because I knew I’d missing fighting alongside my compatriots.
In many ways, The Last Story both pays tribute to Final Fantasy while evolving on the original’s formula. And while Sakaguchi has stated he doesn’t like to make sequels (which is why almost every FF was different), I hope there are many more iterations of The Last Story in the vein of Final Fantasy. It’d be incredible to see the ways the team could experiment, improve, and ultimately transcend the game’s “last” status to become as timeless as the “final” one.
I have something of a Dota 2 habit. Every week, I find time to play at least a few hours of the game—frequently, if not a game a day. But part of my frustration with Dota 2 has always been the time commitment it requires, as games can take upwards of 40 to 50 minutes or even longer than an hour.
Turbo mode has changed a lot of that for me. I was hesitant to call it back when the new game variant came out back in November, but since that patch, I’ve played dozens of Turbo matches and only a handful of normal Dota 2 games—and I don’t see myself going back any time soon.
Turbo mode is formatted just like a typical Dota 2 match. It’s still five-on-five, with ancients at each end that need defending (or destroying). Creeps still charge down lanes, towers still halt their advance—it’s the same game of Dota that people have been playing for ages.
What changes is how quickly players accrue resources. The longest process in Dota 2 is saving up to buy items for your hero, whether it’s a cheaper one like a Force Staff or hoarding gold for a Radiance, at a whopping 5150 gold. Turbo mode speeds up that process immensely by doubling both the passive gold players build up over time, as well as the experience gain and the amount gained from using a Hand of Midas to turn a monster into gold.
Playing as support in a normal Dota 2 game often means becoming a walking bag of wards, as you spend every penny buying consumable tools for your team. In Turbo, even supports get fully kitted out, rocking fancy items like Aghanim’s Scepter and Rod of Atos. It’s fantastic to pick a hero like Winter Wyvern and know I’ll get to finally see if her Scepter upgrade is cool—it is—or if a certain item combination works well in a real game.
Everything in Turbo is effectively sped up: towers are weaker, respawn timers are shorter, everyone gets their own personal courier for free, and town portal scrolls have shorter cooldowns, so you can get to the action that much faster. Turbo is still essentially Dota 2, but a game takes place over the course of 20 or 30 minutes instead of an hour, and everyone gets a chance to pitch in and have fun. It’s extremely reminiscent of the original DotA mod’s “all pick easy mode,” or -apem, variant—a version that was crucial in getting me into the idea of a Dota-like game in the first place.
Yes, it can still get snowball-y, and it doesn’t make the act of playing Dota 2 any easier. There are still dozens of item combinations, skill sets, and mechanical techniques to internalize. And I still enjoy watching a classic, normal, competitive game of Dota 2 as much as I always have.
But Turbo makes it so when I sit down to play a game after a long day, I don’t have to shackle myself to the computer for an hour or more for a single match. In the time you could play one or two games of normal Dota, you could play twice as many Turbo mode matches, or just play a quick “one-and-done” session. It’s nice to still play the game I’ve sunk thousands of hours into, but in a much more compact, concentrated format.
Video games gave me much comfort in this very trying year. They also stressed me out like you wouldn’t believe.
As 2017 is coming to a close, it’s time to let go of all the worries and start anew. Before that, it’s good to reflect and confront those demons as part of a healing process. These are games with very particular moments that I just couldn’t wrap my head around or conquer. Others annoyed in different ways. One of them gave me a legit moment where my head became cloudy and I felt panicked. Let’s start with that one.
Figuring out New York City’s subway system can be an ordeal on any given day. The hustle and bustle, the jaded faces of everyone collectively dreading the start of a long work day—it’s tiring. For anyone dropped into the city for their very first time and told to find their way in that mess? Well…good luck. That’s what happens on the first day of school when our Persona 5 protagonist is told to find and attend Shujin Academy. He may not have been New York but I understood the familiarity of his situation, having experienced similar events in NYC on a daily basis.
As I controlled him during this nightmarish Tokyo commute, going through turnstiles and pondering which hallway to go down, I started to feel sick. Would we be late to class? Would the game punish me for tardiness?! The first few moments of Persona 5 showed just how downtrodden the protagonist is. Bullied, falsely accused of wrong doing, sent away from home to the care of a gruff guardian, and on probation—it’s all too much. The pressure of potentially being late to school was one more unnecessary stress added to the pile.
But I felt a twinge of real anxiety just by aimless walking around in Persona 5's subway. For a moment, I was overwhelmed. It was the same, undeniably real nerve-racking feeling I had experienced when I started taking the subways in New York. That same panic that bubbled to the surface when I had to navigate Tokyo’s subway systems a few years ago during vacation.
Persona 5's handling of the subway scene on the first day of school was well done. Too well done.
Super Mario Odyssey
The last time I felt competent playing a Mario game was when I played Super Mario Galaxy2. I loved the first and its sequel for how grand they felt. I loved that I could play around in the vast beauty of space outfitted with gorgeous Nintendo-made planets.
With this in mind, I was overjoyed when Super MarioOdyssey gave me worlds to travel and marvel at. It gave me Cappy and the abilities to possess creatures along the way. How very morbid! I took full advantage of it and went a step further. If I possessed marine life, I left their bodies to dry out on the land.
Perhaps, then, when I set out in search of power moons after the credits rolled, Odyssey punished me for my cruelty. Not really but it certainly felt like comeuppance.
Some of the levels I found were tough as nails. I expected no less from these post-credit Mario levels. They are a super challenge for me, the platformer peon that I am. I found a particularly difficult one which I’ve yet to beat. Bullet bills chase me, the platforms crumble, I get frustrated, I try for at least half an hour, and then I give up until my next willing venture into torturing myself.
As my first major multiplayer game, and my first real foray into a first person shooter (I get motion sickness), Destiny 2 was a treat in the first couple of months I played. I didn’t know what I was doing but I had two dedicated fire team members (friends as I call them outside The Traveler) willing to put up with my inexperienced shenanigans. I was terrible at it. My assists were okay but my kill count was abysmal. Playing with them wasn’t stressful for me (though maybe it was for them).
We had so much fun. I improved. We predictably failed the first raid. None of this was stressful.
What was stressful were those damned platforms on Titan. Because if you remember just one entry above, I excel at failing when it comes to platform gaming. It’s embarrassing, I know. I mastered it relatively quickly but for a few rounds, my friends’ laughter made my eye twitch as I plunged to my death into the ocean’s depths. Over and over again.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
This SRPG didn’t come out in 2017. It came out in 2003. I was gifted a copy about two years ago. Every once in a while I’ll think fondly of my time with the moogle, Montblanc. Then I’ll remember that I was supposed to save Ivalice from my other friend who seemed to have lost his marbles. I’ll then recall that I don’t really know what’s going on in the story because of my extended breaks in between playing. My friend could really be in trouble! What happens next is that I’ll start playing again.
Whenever I pick up where I left off in Tactics Advance, it becomes clear why I haven’t finished it yet. I get addicted to fighting every little battle trying to unlock classes.
It’s all a stressful but enjoyable mess. Until I remember I have a backlog a mile long, then it just becomes stress and a whole lot of guilt.
Puyo Puyo Tetris
So, I have Tetris down. But can someone teach me how to play puyo puyo?
This was cathartic. But who am I kidding. Until next year, video games.
Share your stressful 2017 video game moments if you’d like. Let’s reflect together.
If you use a desktop computer, a good UPS battery backup will keep it running without any interruption in the event of a power outage, which means you won’t lose any unsaved work. But even if you’re a laptop user, this could still run lamps, your router and modem, or any other low-draw devices until the power comes back on. This particular model even includes some USB ports for charging your mobile devices.
You may not think you need one of these portable jump starters, and at this very moment, you probably don’t. But there will come a time where you’re late for an appointment or stuck in the middle of nowhere, and waiting around for a good samaritan to come jump your battery just isn’t a viable option.
This model from iClever puts out a whopping 600A, which is far more than most similar products, and enough to start just about any car.
With 25W of power, this $27 Bluetooth speaker packs more of a punch than most of its peers, and even sprays that sound in 360 degrees, making it perfect for parties. Just use code 6PRIGVGE at checkout to save $12.
As you’d expect from any high-end TV these days, that gets you a 4K panel and Dolby Vision HDR, but OLED technology means the blacks will be far richer, and the colors more vibrant than any LCD-based screen you can buy. It’ll still cost you, but your eyes will tell you it was worth it.
It lacks an integrated subwoofer, let alone a dedicated one, so this AmazonBasics sound bar wouldn’t be ideal for your main home theater, but it would be a solid upgrade over, say, your bedroom TV’s built-in speakers.
The Tags basically appear to be a slightly tweaked version of the SoundBuds Sport, boasting a redesigned remote and better ear tips. Like the Sports though, they’ll still turn off when you connect the two magnetic earpieces together, and turn back on once you pull them apart. Smart.
Standing desks are great for you, but working standing on a balance board while you work is even better. This one from Gaiam is designed specifically for standing desks, and it’s never been cheaper.
With a locking lid, this 6-quart Crock-Pot is ultra-portable and can serve up to 7 people, all for $39. You can even program it start cooking while you’re away at work so you can come home to a warm meal.
We’ve all had to throw away leftovers or cuts of meat and cheese that spent a little too much time in the fridge or freezer, but vacuum sealing your foods can keep them safe from freezer burn pretty much indefinitely, and dramatically extend their shelf life everywhere else.
It sounds like an expensive proposition, but today only, Amazon’s selling the well-reviewed FoodSaver Starter Kit for just $30, complete with everything you need to get started. That’s the best price ever by over $15, and the first time it’s been under $50 on Amazon since 2012.
Of course, you can use this to store meats in the freezer for a long time, but it can also keep cheese from molding, lettuce from wilting, or cookies from going stale, just to name a few examples. Think about how much food you throw away, and you’ll get a sense of just how quickly this purchase could pay for itself.
Woot has run a few deals over the last few months on YETI soft-sided coolers, but today, you can get a very rare deal on the rugged Roadie 20 hard-sided cooler. This thing can keep ice frozen for days on end, even once it finally gets warm outside again. Accounting for Woot’s mandatory $5 shipping fee, this is still $55 cheaper than Amazon.
I didn’t give much thought to my dish rack until I went to my mom’s house and she had this simplehuman beauty. It’s a small thing, but it looks so much nicer than the flimsy $15 ones you can buy at the grocery store and it is incredibly functional.
This product was missing from simplehuman’s Black Friday sale and discounts on anything related to this brand are rare, so today is the day to get this normally-$80 dish rack for $62.
Is bringing your lunch to work more often part of your New Year’s resolution? Pick up this 9-liter lunch box for just $15 when you enter code MAMWWB9S at checkout.
If you’ve been putting off replacing your wiper blades for far too long, Amazon’s throwing in a $5 credit when you purchase any two Rain-X Latitude blades, from now until the New Year. Just note that the credit is towards your next Amazon purchase, it’s not a discount on the blades themselves. You’ll also need to be sure both of the blades you buy are shipped and sold by Amazon directly, not a third party.
Electric kettles are hands-down the most efficient way to boil water. This normally-$40 Aicok electric kettle is selling for $29 today with code PRYSU8YB. It has 6 different temperature settings for various beverages from green tea to hot cocoa and noodles.
Extra bedding takes up way too much room. Pack it all up in this canvas underbed storage bag, just $12 with code FGQO3GZC and when you clip the $2 off coupon.
Yes, it’s already happening again. Nordstrom Rack has brought back their Clear the Rack sale and it’s full (and I mean FULL) of really incredible deals. Designer clothing, brands you’ve never heard of, everything in clearance an extra 25% off. This lasts through Sunday, so you have a good amount of time to pick up some discounts.
If you’re enough of a daredevil to give yourself a haircut, Remington’s Shortcut Pro makes the process as simple as possible.
For an all-time low $28 (after clipping the $10 coupon), the Shortcut Pro can run for 40 minutes on its built-in lithium-ion battery, and includes nine different length combs to customize your look. And unlike most electric trimmers, it’s shaped like a puck, rather than a wand, which makes it much easier to maneuver around the back of your own head. Just note that you won’t see the $10 discount until checkout.
Eddie Bauer makes great stuff all year ‘round, but their wares really shine in the winter, and you can stock up on coats, pants, boots, and pretty much everything else from their semi-annual sale, including a rare deal on the iconic Downlight Stormdown jacket for men and women, which can keep you warm in temperatures well below zero.
I’m pretty sure I could spend every day of the next three months in long johns, and with this 30% off Amazon coupon, I could probably afford to. Choose from multiple sizes and colors, all for about $8 at checkout.
The Philips Norelco Multigroom is actually a ton of shaving tools in one: A beard trimmer, a hair cutter, and a body groomer. $20 gets you the trimmer, 13 length combs, a precision trimming attachment, a nose hair trimmer, a wide hair-cutting blade, and more. Oh, and the whole thing runs for up to three hours on a charge, so you won’t have to travel with the charger.
Nordstrom has three large sales each year: The Anniversary Sale and two Half-Yearly Sales. Well, this week marks the end of the second half of the year, so Nordstrom is taking up to 50% off a boatload of styles. It’ll take time to look through all the stuff, so maybe pencil it in as a meeting at work or pretend you’re in the bathroom and avoid your family or something.
When it comes to having a corner on the market, nothing really compares to Nike. And right now, take an extra 25% off their sale styles for both men and women, no code needed, as post-holdiday deal. Everything you could need for a good workout wardrobe is included, from apparel, to sneakers, to gear.
Note: If you don’t see the discount, try using promo code WINTER25, which is how this deal was supposed to work.
Top Media Deals
Amazon hasn’t been shy about offering up discounted Kindle books over the past week, but I suspect that the New Year will see a significant slowdown in sales, back to a more typical ~once per week schedule. Today’s sale has some great options though, a few of which we highlighted below. But be sure to head over to Amazon to see the full list.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the greatest work in the history of filmmaking that included a killer rabbit, and its 40th anniversary Blu-ray is just $5 today as an Add-On item on Amazon. I’m not sure if they’ll string it between a couple of swallows to get it to you faster, but it should arrive before Christmas if you have Prime, in any event.
If you’re lucky enough to have gotten your hands on the SNES Classic, this $17 case makes it easy to bring to a friend’s house for a night of Mario Kart.
It’s not as advanced as a Samsung Gear VR or Oculus Rift, but if you have a smartphone and $17, you can experience VR with this View-Master Deluxe VR starter set. The View-Master is actually just a Google Cardboard-compatible VR headset, except, you know, it’s not made of cardboard, even if it’s priced like it could be.