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Cris Tales Review

Though I enjoyed most of Cris Tales, one moment in particular really sold the game for me. I was in the midst of a boss battle that had already gone on for 25 minutes against a big robot–every time I destroyed one of the mechanical giant’s arms, a drone would appear to fully repair it, so the only way to end the fight was to scrap the drone. But the drone would only appear when an arm was destroyed, dragging the fight out as I slowly chipped away at the arms’ huge health pools over and over. Then I had an idea: What if I could use protagonist Crisbell’s Regression spell on an enemy? I had only previously used it for its described purpose of regressing allies to a previous state in time, returning them to full health after taking damage or suffering a status effect. To my surprise, my idea worked. By using Regression on the robot’s arms after the drone repaired them, it returned them to their destroyed state, causing the drone to reappear and giving me the opportunity to continuously whale on it. A few minutes later, victory was mine.

This gameplay mechanic speaks to Cris Tales’ overall narrative, which is about the importance of examining the past, facing the challenges of the present, and changing the future for the better. It’s a message that goes beyond trying to hurl the right magic spell at a murderous mining robot too, as Cris Tales is largely a story about humanity’s impact on the world at large and how exploitation of the environment, racism, greed, and hoarding cures to deadly diseases are far more dangerous threats to humanity’s future than an evil witch. It’s a concept that doesn’t neatly wrap itself up as well as I would have liked, but the journey to that point is an incredible RPG experience, one satisfyingly supported by the cool idea of being able to see the past, present, and future all at once.

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Now Playing: Cris Tales – Exclusive Opening Cinematic Reveal [Play For All 2021]

In Cris Tales, you play as Crisbell, a young girl with no knowledge of her past who unexpectedly becomes a Time Mage. She meets a talking, time-travelling frog named Matias who explains that Crisbell can now perceive the past, present, and future of the world simultaneously, giving her the unique ability to glean knowledge from people’s histories and alter their fates. Matias takes her to meet Willhelm, also a Time Mage, who tells Crisbell that she’s key to stopping the Time Empress, an immensely powerful Time Mage set on taking over the world. With the help of young knight and mage Cristopher, the trio repel an attack led by two of the Time Empress’ lackies, and the squad, now of four, set out to find a way to enhance Crisbell’s powers so that she’ll be strong enough to save the world, stopping to recruit additional allies and help the world’s diverse assortment of kingdoms along the way.

The interactions between the growing band of friends in Crisbell’s party are the best part of Cris Tales–it’s not even close. The found family trope is a tried and true storytelling method at this point and Cris Tales doesn’t do anything revolutionary with that formula, but the charming character designs, superb voice acting, and regular interjections of quick punchy dialogue lodges this band of misfits into your heart. It doesn’t take long to become deeply invested in the individual motivations of each character, whether it’s Cristopher’s desire to avenge his dead brother or sentient android JKR-721’s quest to acquire purpose and discover their reason for existing.

Willhelm is an especially wonderful character. His unique power as a Time Mage is that his personal time is frozen, so although he appears to be one of the youngest members of the party, he’s actually the grizzled adult shepherding around a group of kids. Actor Lindsey Vega brings Willhelm’s lines to life with a tired exasperation and dry wit that betrays his actual age, leading to the funniest lines in the game and bettering the entire story as a result. The Time Mage’s friendly rivalry with Cristopher and mentor relationship with Crisbell are also very wholesome. Matias doesn’t provide much substance for most of Cris Tales, but the other three members of the core group all have meaningful developments that make the heartfelt moments all the sweeter and all the instances of tragedy that much more heartbreaking–and the excellent writing behind Willhelm’s character is the driving force for much of that.

But as important as Willhelm is, Crisbell is the one that ties Cris Tales together. Her ability to perceive the past, present, and future is at the core of Cris Tales, both in its story and gameplay. It works a lot better for the latter than the former.

In order to proceed in her quest, Crisbell will regularly need to help those around her with their problems. Her ability to perceive different points in time helps with this–if you wander into a new kingdom that looked beautiful in the past, has seen better days in the present, and is completely flooded by water in the future, then you know that part of the solution to save the kingdom is tied to learning why and how the water levels would rise high enough to engulf a city.

The information gleaned from Crisbell’s ability gives you some context for who you need to talk to and what choices you can make, but as Willhelm warns early on, there’s rarely a “right” choice that will fix everything forever. This part of Cris Tales’ storytelling is incredibly rewarding–it feels good to help people with their problems and see the effects of your actions appear in the future. Additionally, Cris Tales has several major choice-driven moments where Crisbell needs to decide the overall fate of a kingdom and you unlock additional, alternate futures depending on the optional side quests you chose to pursue up to that point. As Crisbell and her friends made their way through each kingdom, I felt like my choices carried actual agency and my small decisions in sidequests were having major ramifications on the big decisions in the overall campaign.

Willhelm is easily my favorite character in Cris Tales.
Willhelm is easily my favorite character in Cris Tales.

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My issue with all this is that it doesn’t feel like the ramifications of those major choices then carry into the ending of Cris Tales. The final moments of Cris Tales feel like they’re amounting to something fairly significant based on what Crisbell and her friends have done up to that point. However, the ending quickly transitions into a slideshow of all the future events you managed to plan and then concludes with one of the characters implying that there’s more to the story. And then the credits roll. It’s very unfulfilling. For a game all about seeing how your actions carry weight and inform the future, leaving the future open to interpretation is a bit unsatisfying (though, I will grudgingly admit, is realistic). As much as I loved the 24-hour journey through Cris Tales, its final 60 seconds are unrewarding.

Crisbell’s Time Mage powers best come into play in Cris Tales’ puzzles, exploration, and turn-based combat. As Crisbell grows stronger, she unlocks new abilities that tie into her capacity to see the past and future, like being able to rewind or fast forward the time of certain objects. With abilities like that, you can restore a generator to when it was a bunch of pieces in a box, allowing you to push it against a wall, revert it to its present form, and then cause it to decay to the point where it breaks down and explodes, opening a hole in the wall. You can also rely on Matias’ time travelling abilities to solve puzzles, like moving a locked safe in the present beneath a dripping beaker of acid and then sending Matias to the future that Crisbell sees where the safe now has a big hole in it.

Combat is where things start getting really complex but in the best possible way, as Crisbell’s time powers open up a whole mess of different strategies and means of fighting enemies. Cris Tales is your standard turn-based RPG, where everyone in your party and all the enemies present are depicted on a timeline and folks take turns performing actions. But because of Crisbell, you can also send enemies backwards and forward through time. So the wolf in front of you could be rewound into a cute pup or aged forward into a slow, but furious pack leader. Depending on what stage of life an enemy is in, their stats can radically change. Perhaps an enemy has a lot of health in their infancy but less so as an adult–but time has afforded them the chance to learn powerful magic.

In combat, you have to keep track of the turn order, the age of each enemy, and the strengths and weaknesses of your party.
In combat, you have to keep track of the turn order, the age of each enemy, and the strengths and weaknesses of your party.

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Crisbell can use her abilities to change how her allies’ attacks behave as well. For example, if Cristopher uses water magic on an impenetrable shield and then Crisbell sends that enemy to their future, the shield will become rusted and weak after being wet for years. Or if Crisbell rewinds a group of enemies to the past, has Willhelm plant a poisonous seed nearby and then returns them to the present on her next turn, it will be like the seed was always there, sprouting a poisonous plant amidst all your foes.

This adds an interesting wrinkle to the traditional turn-based combat, as you now need to consider not only how to beat your enemy but also how to bend time to make that process easier. Crisbell can only send enemies on the left part of the screen to the past and the right side of the screen to the future as well, adding another consideration. And Cris Tales continuously keeps throwing twists at you, encouraging you to evolve your strategies and think outside the box (like regressing a healed robot arm to its destroyed state to continuously bring out your true target: the repair drone). Even if you’re fighting the same enemies, if their ages are different or if they’re attacking you from different sides of the screen, you have to consider different strategies. So despite Cris Tales’ lack of diverse enemy types, combat isn’t boring because the makeup of fights changes enough that you need to keep coming up with new methods for dealing with the similar threats.

Additionally, very similarly to Ikenfell, Cris Tales incorporates a timing mechanic into its combat–you have to time a button press right when your attack lands for it to be more effective or when an enemy attacks you in order to parry their strike and limit the damage against you. This does add an element of satisfying success to overcoming Cris Tales’ challenging enemies, especially if you manage to pull off a clutch parry near the end of a 10-minute battle, keeping your party alive long enough to heal and finish the fight. Thankfully it’s never frustrating, as there are visual indicators to help you get the timing down for each attack even if you haven’t seen the move before. Unfortunately, however, there is no option to turn off this timing feature or increase the window you have for reacting to an attack, so players who don’t possess the physical capabilities to quickly time a button press (occasionally multiple times in a row) will likely find Cris Tales to be inaccessible, as failing to regularly parry the hard-hitting attacks from some of the late game bosses can kill your entire party in a single turn. I don’t have much issue with the timing mechanic (I think it helps the player remain engaged throughout the fight instead of just waiting for the enemy to complete their turn), but the lack of an option to make combat more accessible is disappointing.

This city enjoyed prosperity when it was ruled by a monarchy in the past but it's doomed to be destroyed under its current leadership...for now.This city enjoyed prosperity when it was ruled by a monarchy in the past but it's doomed to be destroyed under its current leadership...for now.
This city enjoyed prosperity when it was ruled by a monarchy in the past but it’s doomed to be destroyed under its current leadership…for now.

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When you’re not growing increasingly invested in Crisbell’s plight and second-guessing who the true villains are, or fighting things out in the rewardingly strategic turn-based battles, you’ll mostly just be exploring the world of Cris Tales and soaking in its incredible atmosphere. The game is visually stunning and the music is some of the best I’ve heard. The diverse assortment of instruments and vocal performances used to construct the unique themes for each kingdom really helps differentiate each setting, but the underlying similarities between each one also audibly convey an unspoken unity between all of the cultures. And I just think that’s really neat.

It’s occasionally a little too easy to get lost in Cris Tales as some of the side characters and landmarks you have to travel to don’t have very memorable names or appearances and the in-game hint system is not at all helpful. But even when you’re lost, Cris Tales is a pretty game to look at and listen to, and one that’s fun to explore if for no other reason than to see how characters and places change when viewed via the lens of the past, present, or future.

All in all, Cris Tales is the kind of RPG I traditionally love to play. It delivers a wonderfully satisfying story about a group of troubled individuals striving to save the world for their own reasons, and along the way finding a place to belong with each other. Hilarious characters like Willhelm keep things from getting too stressful, and Crisbell’s powerful Time Mage abilities lead to some intriguing narrative choices, fun puzzles, and engaging combat. The game’s final moments are not conclusive enough to tie everything up in a satisfying way, but the journey to get there is one well worth taking.

Death’s Door Review – A Murder Of Crows

After each of the challenging, climatic boss fights in Death’s Door, you’re forced to sit through a brief eulogy for the foe you’ve just slain. Sombre music plays as a gravedigger arrives to fulfill his duty, summerizing your enemy’s actions–good and bad–while also throwing in a joke or two for levity. Death’s Door doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it always finds interesting ways to make a point about the unending cycle of life and death, the pursuit of a means to unbalance that cycle, and ultimately the consequences of those actions. It’s a consistently entertaining action-adventure game with an eye-catching art style and engrossing combat, all which elevate its distinct setting into something special.

Playing as a fledgling of a commission of crows, you’re duty-bound to reclaiming the souls of those that are meant to pass onto the next life. Aided by doors that can transport you to lands near and far, you can hop between locales rapidly as you reap souls. The catch is that every crow needs to complete its task in order to halt the flow of their own life, with incomplete missions forcing you to experience that natural flow of time. When one such assignment goes poorly and your target’s soul is stolen, you’ll need to aid an old crow into opening a large, ominous door to reclaim your lost soul and, in turn, continue to live indefinitely.

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Now Playing: Death’s Door Video Review

Death’s Door starts strong with its introduction to the commissions, with its bleak black-and-white presentation fitting in with a strong noir theme. Colors stand out in these bureaucratic offices, with the warm glow of your weapons and the searing brightness of sparse neon signs creating a striking contrast. The rest of Death’s Door’s worlds are far more colorful but all distinct in their own ways–the dreary, muted colors of the game’s opening cemetery transform into a lush, green forest with a damp and dark temple, while the snowy white peaks of the northern mountain regions offer another opportunity for piercing bright colors from your attacks to shine through. The isometric angle of the game’s camera doesn’t limit your ability to soak in the artistic beauty of Death’s Door, which consistently had me stopping to take in the atmosphere of each new area.

Enemies are peppered throughout each of these worlds, giving you numerous opportunities to engage with Death’s Door’s simple-yet satisfying combat. You only have access to a single weapon at a time, with each one you find offering its own range, combo count, damage, and unique ability. Your starting sword is great for whacking out short three-hit combos, while lighter daggers offer less damage output but a better chance to get more hits in without needing to take a break. Attacks aren’t limited by stamina, instead simply taking a different amount of time to execute depending on their animation. It can take some time to get used to the pauses you have to take after each attack, and the lengthier ones after each combo will punish you for overextending yourself. However, these demands make combat feel purposeful–each hit you initiate needs to finish, and enemies are designed with this in mind. They routinely take one more hit to kill than you might expect, encouraging you to play around with spacing offered by your dodge. Death’s Door doesn’t feel punishing by any stretch, but it’s also a game that plays by a set of rules that don’t always allow you to feel invincible.

Death’s Door is a fairly linear adventure game, limiting your movement through its handful of hubs by the current abilities you have. Each new boss requires a new ability to reach, corresponding with the mechanics you’ll need to overcome in the eventual fight. These abilities are regularly fun to use, too, starting with a simple bow and arrow and eventually giving way to a fireball spell (which is fired with a very hadoken-looking animation), extremely useful bombs, and a satisfying hookshot that can reel you into new areas and enemies alike. Each of these abilities can be upgraded, too, should you find each of the associated challenges out in the world. They’re not required, but they can radically alter how you use each one in combat. The hookshot, for example, can be upgraded to include a deadly attack when used against enemies, letting you reel yourself in and fire off a powerful strike as soon as you connect.

No Caption Provided

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These abilities are mostly used to give you access to new areas (bombs let you blow up cracked walls, and the hookshot gives you access to new platforms as examples) but learning to combine them into your repertoire of standard attacks makes combat exhilarating. This is especially true when you’re consistently faced by a growing roster of enemies, each of which changes the ways in which you need to engage them. Some are incredibly agile, such as hunched-over beasts that can jump around you while throwing boomerangs in your direction. Others are slower but tougher to take down, such as armored knights with shields that take a couple of solid hits to finally beat. Death’s Door is at its best when it’s throwing you into combat arenas that pull from the entire roster, challenging you to get hits in where you can while also keenly identifying which enemies to take out first. It plays out like a deadly dance of dexterous dodges and opportunistic swings of the sword, giving skirmishes an elegant rhythm that’s consistently fun to fight in tune with.

Each of the hubs that you visit in Death’s Door is visually distinct and eye-catching, but its layouts are just as engaging to uncover as you explore. Each one is segmented into small sections that eventually lead to shortcuts that loop back around to the start, acting as ways to quickly get back to where you were after an untimely death. There’s a tangible feeling of relief each time you open a gate or generate a ladder that lets you cut out a challenging section, coupled with the intriguing discovery of how the entire hub you’re in folds in on itself in a clever way.

Death’s Door doesn’t feel punishing by any stretch, but it’s also a game that plays by a set of rules that don’t always allow you to feel invincible.

Understanding the layout of each level also lets you tactically plant seeds in special pots laid around, which offer the only way to regain health. Since the seeds for these are limited (and sometimes hard to find) laying out your own route for healing and identifying which sections you can risk it blends in well with how hubs have intricate layouts for you to learn, making your understanding of each route as crucial as your ability to deal with the enemies contained within them.

Although there is a very clear main path, all of Death’s Door’s hubs have numerous optional secrets for you to uncover, especially during return visits with new abilities. The standard types are there–for example, shrines that you can pray to to increase your health and magic pools, the latter of which you pull from to use your abilities–while others are optional boss fights that will upgrade your abilities. Some weapons are also only found outside of the main path, which can drastically affect your overall playstyle should you choose to seek them out or not.

Death’s Door can be challenging if you don’t take a break from its main path, especially if you find yourself struggling with the initial health pool you have. Without revisiting areas or going out of your way to look for obscure paths hidden by the game’s fixed camera view, you can quickly find yourself wishing for the ability to take one more hit during hard fights. It’s not impossible to complete the main story without this, but the adventure certainly feels tuned towards these small breaks, which can slow down the pacing in an irritating manner.

No Caption Provided

Gallery

All these secrets are still present once credits have rolled, as well as an entirely new one that lets you explore all the game’s hubs at a new time of day. This opens previously inaccessible areas and presents new combat challenges for you to undertake, giving Death’s Door a long tail after its main narrative is complete. There are areas and doors that cannot be opened without a thorough comb through of areas you might already be familiar with, revealing some hidden depth to each area that lets you appreciate its design in a new way. It can be frustrating to have to relearn the structures of some dungeons again after some time away, and the omission of an in-game map doesn’t let you quickly brush up on these areas. Despite that, if you’ve found yourself enamored with the game’s balance of exploration and combat, the additional content and draw of uncovering all that is there is a welcome addition.

With an engaging world to explore and consistently satisfying combat to keep things entertaining, it’s easy to fall in love with Death’s Door. Its premise hooks you immediately, and it has the style and the substance to maintain the captivating allure of its opening. Perhaps most importantly, it’s just consistently fun to play, with sharp enemy designs that keep you on your feet to challenging boss fights that test your skills in satisfying ways. There’s a lot of death to deal and souls to reap, but Death’s Door makes it a delight every step of the way.

The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD Review – Link To The Past

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is one of the most divisive entries in Nintendo’s acclaimed series. As the first full-fledged Zelda game designed for the Wii, the title made extensive use of the Wii Remote, eschewing the series’ traditional control scheme for controversial motion controls. A decade later, Nintendo has remastered Skyward Sword for the Switch, and while many of the game’s original faults remain intact, a variety of welcome tweaks make it easier to appreciate now.

As with the Wii U remasters of The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, Nintendo has made numerous quality-of-life improvements to Skyward Sword. These tweaks are largely minor but have an appreciable effect on the game’s playability. Some previously mandatory tutorials are now optional, for instance, and you can speed up dialogue and skip cutscenes, making the game’s languid opening moments much breezier.

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Now Playing: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD Video Review

More substantial are the adjustments to Fi, the spirit who dwells within your sword. Like Navi and Midna in previous Zelda games, Fi serves as your companion for most of the adventure in Skyward Sword, frequently interjecting to relay story information and other hints. Her constant interruptions made her one of the most grating aspects of the original game, especially as the “insights” she offered were often glaringly obvious. That has largely been rectified here, and while she still speaks frequently in Skyward Sword HD, much of her dialogue is now optional, which makes her less bothersome and improves the game’s overall pacing.

The biggest change in Skyward Sword HD, however, is the addition of button-only controls. This new control scheme can be toggled on or off at any point from the options menu and allows you to play the game without motion controls. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that well. Because so many aspects of the game were designed around the increased range of movements that motion controls afforded, the button controls feel like a cumbersome workaround. Most of the actions you would normally perform using gestures have been mapped to the right stick, which means the button-only scheme is dramatically different from the controls in other Zelda games. Rather than swinging your sword with a press of a button, for instance, slashes are performed by flicking the right stick in different directions, and you need to hold the right stick forward and press the ZR button to throw a bomb overhead. As a result, even simple actions feel more convoluted to execute.

The camera also becomes more cumbersome to control while using the button-only scheme. When motion controls are enabled, you can freely adjust the camera using the right stick–a marked improvement over the original game, as the Wii lacked dual analog sticks. However, because the button-only scheme maps Link’s sword arm to the right stick, you need to hold the L button down in order to swing the camera around with said stick (or rely on pressing the ZL button to constantly recenter the camera behind Link the old-fashioned way). It isn’t nearly as intuitive, and you’ll frequently find yourself inadvertently slashing with your sword when you intend to rotate the camera.

Link's adventure in Skyward Sword will take him to perilous dungeons filled with tricky obstacles.
Link’s adventure in Skyward Sword will take him to perilous dungeons filled with tricky obstacles.

Gallery

That’s not to say the button-only controls are entirely worse, however. Some items and actions actually benefit from the new control scheme. Maneuvering the Beetle, an insect-shaped drone that you acquire early on in the adventure, is handled via the left stick rather than by turning the Joy-Con, making it easier to pilot with button controls. Swimming underwater similarly works better, as you maneuver Link with the left stick rather than by moving the Joy-Con. On the whole, however, the button-only controls don’t feel nearly as natural to use, and they’re a less-than-ideal alternative to the motion controls.

Fortunately, the motion controls largely function well. Whether or not they are improved over the original game, as Nintendo has claimed in trailers, is debatable; I couldn’t personally notice an appreciable difference from my time with the game. That said, the motion controls are responsive, and I never encountered any significant issues when performing Link’s actions. Slashing with the sword by swinging the Joy-Con feels intuitive and fun, and aiming with the controller’s gyroscope is much snappier than with the control stick. You will, however, need to frequently reset the pointer while you play–something I don’t recall ever having an issue with in the original game. Fortunately, that can be done quickly and easily with a press of the Y button, so it never becomes a significant problem.

These nips and tucks help smooth over Skyward Sword’s rougher edges and improve the overall experience, but the core game is fundamentally unchanged–which means its original faults remain intact. More than other Zelda titles, Skyward Sword suffered from bloat, and that holds true in this remaster. There are many moments in the story where you’ll be asked to revisit a previous area in order to retrieve a particular item or perform some other task before you can progress, and these always feel like busywork meant to prolong your adventure.

Just like in previous games, there's plenty of Heart Containers to find that will increase his health.
Just like in previous games, there’s plenty of Heart Containers to find that will increase his health.

Gallery

Worse are the tear hunts, which require you to collect 15 sacred tears while avoiding invincible foes that can take you out in a single strike. Should one of these enemies catch you, you’ll need to restart the entire trial from the beginning and reobtain any tears you had previously collected. This steep penalty makes these tasks much more frustrating than the tear hunts in Twilight Princess, and they would have been more bearable had Nintendo reduced the number of tears you had to collect, as it did in Twilight Princess HD. Unfortunately, Skyward Sword’s tear hunts are unchanged, and they’re among the worst aspects of the game.

Despite these flaws, Skyward Sword is also filled with many genuinely magical moments. The soundtrack, notable for being Zelda’s first fully orchestrated score, is still delightful, and the story is one of the most touching tales the series has ever woven, shedding light on the origins of Hyrule and other elements that have become hallmarks of the franchise. The game’s dungeons are a highlight, as well, filled with clever puzzles that test your observation and lateral thinking. After Breath of the Wild excised classic-style dungeons, Skyward Sword’s feel especially fresh and satisfying to explore, and the boss battles that await within are among the most fun encounters in the series.

These elements outweigh the game’s flaws and make it a worthwhile adventure. The various quality-of-life tweaks that Nintendo has implemented here, welcome as they are, don’t fix Skyward Sword’s biggest issues, and it remains the most uneven 3D entry in the Zelda series. Even so, the improvements in this Switch remaster make the overall experience more enjoyable, and the characteristic Zelda magic ultimately outshines the game’s faults.

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Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings Of Ruin Review – Monstie Hunter

July 9, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

With 2016’s Monster Hunter Stories for the 3DS, Capcom transformed its real-time monster hunting series into something dramatically different: a colorful turn-based monster-collecting RPG. Despite the stark change in tone and gameplay, Stories offered a new perspective on the Monster Hunter universe, making it an enjoyable alternative to the mainline series. Its follow-up, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, very much follows the template that the original 3DS game set, and despite some repetitive elements, it’s another solid spin-off for the franchise.

Like its predecessor, Monster Hunter Stories 2 trades monster slaying for monster collecting. Rather than casting you in the role of a hunter, the game puts you in the boots of a fledgling rider–someone who is able to form bonds with monsters and fight alongside them. While you’ll still need to hunt down plenty of monsters during your journey, you’ll spend most of your time exploring dens and collecting new “monstie” companions that you can raise and take into battle. This makes Monster Hunter Stories 2 fundamentally closer to Pokemon than to a traditional Monster Hunter title, but the game plays out much differently than Nintendo’s monster-catching series.

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Now Playing: Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin Video Review

Foremost is the way you collect monsters. Rather than taming wild ones, you obtain new monsties by entering monster dens and gathering their eggs. These crop up randomly each time you set out into the overworld and primarily come in two varieties: standard dens, and golden “rare” dens that typically contain better eggs. Regardless of their type, the dens themselves are all fairly rudimentary in terms of their layouts; beyond some occasional branching pathways (which usually just lead to optional treasures), there are no real environmental puzzles to solve, so they’re not particularly compelling to explore on their own. Despite this, the allure of discovering new kinds of eggs never grows old and makes trekking through dens ultimately worthwhile, especially as you progress through the story and begin encountering cooler monsters.

In addition to regular monster dens, each major area in the game also features a handful of larger dungeons called Everdens. These are much more labyrinthine than standard dens and house some unique treasures such as rare eggs and Bottle Caps, which can be exchanged for special items and upgrades like increased storage space for your monsties. These upgrades make Bottle Caps among the most valuable commodities in the game, but they’re not as satisfying to find. Like regular dens, Everdens don’t offer much variety, so they end up feeling samey and aren’t particularly enjoyable to navigate. Moreover, thanks to their winding pathways, you’ll often hit multiple dead ends before you eventually locate the monster nest, which ultimately makes Everdens more of a chore to explore than regular dens.

After you’ve obtained an egg, you can take it back to the stables and hatch a new monstie. Depending on the egg’s rarity and weight, the monstie you obtain will boast different genes, which determines what skills and attacks it will be able to use during battle. These genes are crucial if you hope to get the most out of your monstie, and they become a sort of mini-game unto themselves. If you align three genes of the same color, you’ll achieve a bingo bonus, which will power up your monstie even further. You can also pass genes between monsties through a process called the Rite of Channeling. This offers a pleasing amount of flexibility in how you customize your monstie’s skills, and it feels rewarding to tinker around and devise new combinations.

 Monster Hunter Stories 2 take a more tactical approach to combat compared to other games, letting you choose your attacks and support moves in turn-based encounters.
Monster Hunter Stories 2 take a more tactical approach to combat compared to other games, letting you choose your attacks and support moves in turn-based encounters.

Your monsties primarily come in use in battle. Unlike the mainline series, encounters in Monster Hunter Stories 2 are turn-based. While there are elemental weaknesses and advantages to consider, battles primarily revolve around three different types of attacks: power, speed, and technical. Each type has an advantage over another: speed bests power, power beats technical, and technical overcomes speed. The crux of battles, then, becomes figuring out which type of attack the enemy monster will use and swapping in the right monstie to counter it. It’s a simple yet satisfying system, and the game keeps it fresh by frequently introducing new kinds of monsters with different attack patterns to battle.

The weapons you use also play a crucial role in combat. Weapons similarly fall into three varieties: slash, pierce, and blunt. This opens an additional layer of strategy. Different parts of a monster are susceptible to a particular type of weapon, so you’ll need to swap out weapons frequently during the course of the battle and target specific parts to deal the most damage. Attack a part enough times, and you will eventually break it, causing the monster to drop a material and topple over. While a monster is prone on the ground, each attack you land will deal critical damage, and you can even halt some monsters from unleashing their strongest attacks by breaking a specific part of their body. These wrinkles make battles feel consistently enjoyable, and the game boasts some nice quality-of-life features, such as the ability to fast-forward animations and even end battles against lower-level foes immediately to mitigate the grind.

Beyond their in-battle abilities, each monstie can also perform a certain action while you ride them out in the field, which will help you reach some otherwise inaccessible areas; the Yian-Kut-Ku, for instance, can smash rocks that are blocking the path, while the Tigrex can clamber up ivy-covered walls. However, these riding actions are disappointingly underutilized during the main adventure. Rather than opening up new pathways to explore, these skills are typically used to reach out-of-the-way treasure chests, whose contents are often underwhelming. As a result, the field skills feel largely unnecessary and don’t really add anything to the experience.

In between expeditions, you can explore towns to talk with allies who can offer advice and services to help you improve your chances out in the wild.
In between expeditions, you can explore towns to talk with allies who can offer advice and services to help you improve your chances out in the wild.

The weakest element in Monster Hunter Stories 2, however, is ironically its story. While the narrative is certainly more involved than a traditional Monster Hunter game, it largely stays within JRPG tropes and is fairly predictable as a result. The story also skews toward a younger audience, as evidenced by Navirou, your cartoonish, wise-cracking Felyne companion. Since your avatar never speaks, Navirou takes up most of the dialogue in your stead, and he frequently straddles the line between cute and annoying. That said, the story does broach some themes that the mainline series never explores, such as the seemingly incompatible worldviews of hunters and riders, and it’s filled with humorous and touching moments.

Overall, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is an enjoyable Monster Hunter spin-off and an all-around solid JRPG, particularly if you enjoy games like Pokemon. While the title retains some of the series’ hallmark elements, its emphasis on monster collecting and its fun turn-based battle system make it a decidedly different experience than Monster Hunter Rise, one that even those who’ve struggled to get into the proper Monster Hunter series can enjoy.

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Chicory: A Colorful Tale Review – Masterful Strokes

July 2, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

There’s a moment late into Chicory where the hero of its tale questions their role in its story. Was it pure chance that they inherited a powerful paintbrush capable of restoring color to a monochromatic world, or did they deserve the responsibility and legacy associated with it? It’s not a surprise that this question comes up at all, but rather when it does. Near its climax, Chicory’s hero isn’t satisfied that all of their actions up to that point have assuaged their underlying insecurity. It’s this moment, along with numerous others surrounding it, that makes Chicory: A Colorful Tale an exceptional story to watch unfold. And it’s a tale made all the more compelling by captivating puzzles and a distinct visual style.

The world of Picnic is one that has become accustomed to expecting a lot from a singular Wielder. These skilled artists are chosen from many to maintain the color in the world using a magical brush, letting their own unique styles literally define the look of a society. It’s a tradition that has continued for generations, but one that ends abruptly when the latest Wielder, Chicory, tosses aside the tool after a cataclysmic event strips the entire land and its inhabitants of their color. My hero, who I unwittingly named Pizza (every other character is fittingly named after food, too), jumps at the chance to take over the mantle and accept the responsibility because of a sheer admiration for those that came before, but soon begins understanding the burden that accompanies the title of Wielder.

With the magical paintbrush in hand, A Colorful Tale invites you to get creative with its world. It’s essentially one big coloring book, letting you decorate it according to how you imagine it might have looked under Chicory’s reign. It’s a literal mechanic built around the Wielder’s duty to the land of Picnic, while also letting you better understand how each Wielder before you might have struggled with the requests of its citizens. Characters will frequently ask you to return their household or favorite coffee shop to its original state, sometimes not coming away satisfied with the results. Other times they’ll drown you in praise for creating the simplest possible logo for a t-shirt, or for a slap-dash recreation of a much better-looking piece of classic art. Both instances instill a sense of imposter syndrome–either you’re not good enough to be the Wielder, or the citizens of Picnic are simply settling because they have no other alternative.

Regardless of your feelings toward the reception of your art, the act of painting in Picnic is delightfully simple. Each named area lets you cycle between a limited number of colors, all complementing each other and the overall theme of the place you can paint. Prominent objects on each screen can be colored in with just a click, while you can use broad strokes to create elegant patterns across the floor or adjacent skylines. As you progress, you’ll find more brush styles and textures that let you put down complex patterns, providing an incentive to revisit areas and give them another pass of polish. Painting in your surroundings is never required, but it’s a cathartic exercise even if you aren’t artistically inclined. Seeing a scene burst to life from the tip of your brush feels rewarding and allows you to create something unique, thus letting you experience the world of Picnic differently compared to every other player of A Colorful Tale.

As you progress, your bond with the brush strengthens, unlocking new abilities that change how you can navigate through the world. One allows your paint to glow in the dark, letting you illuminate previously impassable caves, while another lets you swim Splatoon-style through your paint to reach previously inaccessible areas. Your ability to navigate through Picnic is restricted by what powers you currently have, giving you reasons to return to previously explored areas to scour them for new secrets while also traveling to entirely new settlements. Each ability is easy to understand and works harmoniously with all the ones that came before it, layering your adventure with new wrinkles at an enjoyable pace.

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Puzzles are where your understanding of these new abilities comes into question, and A Colorful Tale is full of fantastic challenges that delicately balance difficulty with satisfaction. Each of the game’s chapters is themed around a new puzzle type that slowly ramps up in complexity, revealing the possibilities of your latest acquired ability and how it cohesively works with your existing ones. Just like the abilities themselves, understanding what is required is mostly straightforward; sometimes you’ll need to color in some fauna to have it shrink or grow, other times you might need to push an explosive gas bubble to a rock formation to create a path, but the puzzles will challenge you through the execution. A Colorful Tale never feels head-scratchingly difficult, but it also evolves its puzzles from their humble beginnings into small, satisfying problems to solve on each new screen.

The puzzles fit well into the areas they’re used to theme, which gives the rather large map of Picnic a lot of depth. Whether you’re exploring the dark caverns of a bug-inhabited city or a solitary mountain peak overlooking the entire land, the ways you move around these areas are intrinsic to their style. It gives the setting a tangible sense of character, letting you fondly recall specific moments and areas not only by their colors and catchy soundtrack, but by the challenges that allowed you to access them.

A Colorful Tale never feels head-scratchingly difficult, but it also evolves its puzzles from their humble beginnings into small, satisfying problems to solve on each new screen.

Each of these areas also hosts numerous characters with their own stories and problems to solve, giving you multiple optional opportunities to hit pause on your main adventure for a detour. While Chicory’s main tale focuses on core themes of depression, impostor syndrome, and more, its side stories give you well-timed reprieves filled with touching conversations, quirky objectives, and consistently humorous moments. One of my favorites allowed me to become a stereotypical TV detective, attempting to solve a crime by finding clues in my immediate surroundings. The short quest is filled with some standout one-liners, comedically dramatic camera cuts, and loads of expressive animations across all its characters that communicate tone perfectly, in lieu of voice acting. It’s a bite-sized nugget that comprises all the best bits scattered across all of A Colorful Tale’s side stories, which give you a great reason to continue exploring Picnic after credits have rolled.

Yet it also serves as a reminder of how A Colorful Tale’s stories, be it the main or side ones, continually subvert expectations. The mystery resolves itself in a surprising way, with the obvious suspect not being guilty. Though that’s not subversive, the way the real culprit is confronted by the victim is, culminating in a touching exchange that reaffirms how the pursuit of perfection can often bring out our worst traits. It’s a message that permeates through A Colorful Tale’s stories where it can, which often forces you to confront what it means to create something for the purpose of being consumed by others. It asks questions about the value of its reception as opposed to the value of the joy it brought you to create, which is relatable irrespective of how you choose to interpret its literal examples. It does so in a way that never comes across as condescending, but rather introspective, and forced me to ask questions of myself while also enticing me to see how its next chapter would unfold.

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Each chapter culminates in increasingly intriguing boss fights that mirror the message of each one almost literally. When confronting Chicory’s insecurities, a mirror image of your idolized mentor manifests and projects her problems onto you, for example, which also informs the design of the puzzle-like battles. These scenes, soaked in dark, negative color filters, contrast the rest of A Colorful Tale’s cheery presentation in a striking way, effectively portraying the severity of the emotional traumas of the characters they represent. They can, at times, also feel significantly more difficult than the rest of Chicory’s gameplay, but that’s thankfully offset by checkpoints that put you right back where you died after a brief pause. The game also includes an option to skip boss fights entirely if you are more interested in the eventual narrative resolution than the fight to get there.

It’s difficult, in fact, to find much friction in the gameplay of A Colorful Tale that prevents you from experiencing its deeply moving tale, and it’s balanced well enough to offer an engrossing adventure with standout puzzle mechanics and satisfying solutions. Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a game about self-exploration, frequently presenting earnest themes that can be challenging to engage with given how relatable they can feel. But it’s also an exercise in confronting these insecurities and barriers that prevent you from enjoying what you put out into the world and rediscovering its importance in the process. It’s an evocative tale that doesn’t rest on its narrative alone, making it one of the best games you can play this year.

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Sea Of Thieves: A Pirate’s Life Review – Dead Men Tell Five Tales, Actually

June 28, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Sea of Thieves is often at its best when it devolves into chaos. After raiding a skeleton ship and loading up your brig with loot, suddenly, a player galleon appears from behind an island, turning its broadside cannons in your direction for a sneak attack. Returning fire, repairing your ship, and desperately turning your sails to make an escape–or firing a crewmate over to the enemy to lay waste to them and steal their stuff–are the moments that make Rare’s pirate adventure live game so memorable.

But don’t discount Rare’s ability to make deep, brainy story content, either. Since its launch, Sea of Thieves has come to encompass Tall Tales, lengthy voyages centered on solving riddles and learning about non-player characters that make up the game’s lore. It’s in this more directed, narrative-driven realm that the game’s latest expansion, A Pirate’s Life, lies as well. Tying in with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, the expansion provides new stories to uncover that are both fairly delightful for fans of the films and the theme park attraction that spawned them, as well as big, involved new Sea of Thieves locations to explore.

A Pirate’s Life adds a lot to Sea of Thieves, expanding on its sandbox with new enemies and a new weapon, while providing several hours of story content that’s deep enough for experienced players to enjoy and approachable enough for newbies excited to sail the seas with Jack Sparrow. Though it’s held back occasionally by bugs and relies on some of Sea of Thieves’ weaker elements, like hitchy platforming, the expansion is a great excuse to man the helm of a pirate vessel.

Core to A Pirate’s Life are five new Tall Tales stories, which follow Pirates of the Caribbean mainstay Jack Sparrow and his crew. Through some adventuring, the movie characters have found their way into the weird and mystical video game world, but they’ve been chased there by Davy Jones, the magical Pirates of the Caribbean villain. Jones wants to take control of the Sea of Thieves, so you need to save Jack from the realm of the dead (called the Sea of the Damned), figure out Jones’ plans, and ultimately send the squid-faced villain back to where he belongs to preserve the ultimate freedom of the pirate life.

Playing through those five stories takes you to the Sea of the Damned itself, a new location full of puzzles and secrets, and the Sunken Kingdom, a colorful underwater realm. The Tall Tales themselves are generally pretty linear story levels, but like Sea of Thieves’ other Tall Tales, they do a great job of challenging you to explore the environment, solve puzzles, and navigate imaginative areas. In the first, for instance, you’ll need to rescue the head of an undead, skeletal pirate captain, and you can uncover secrets throughout the area by placing his head on skeleton bodies so he can take control of them.

Of course, this is a Pirates of the Caribbean story, so you’ll spend a lot of the duration encountering various movie characters. Jack Sparrow is around the most, and he’s actually a pretty fun addition to the game, bringing a lot of humor and occasionally even helping you out in fights against the various enemies and creatures Davy Jones sends to stop you.

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Sparrow’s presence helps meld A Pirate’s Life’s Disney inspirations with Sea of Thieves’ foundation, which helps to make sure the content doesn’t feel like an unwarranted digression into another franchise. He’s the same funny, quirky character from the movies, but he’s also pretty useful at some key moments, even joining your crew for a while toward the end of the Tall Tales series. He’s around just enough to make this feel like a Pirates of the Caribbean story, while also working as a fitting Sea of Thieves story. That’s a balance that could have been tough to find, but Rare does a great job of mixing the two properties together to make for a fun diversion from your usual pirate escapades.

A Pirate’s Life is also a great entry point for new players. Because the Tall Tales mostly take place off the beaten path or in their own instances, you’re unlikely to run into other players who might try to steal your stuff, sink your boat, or otherwise hassle you. The stakes are also pretty low–any time you die, you just respawn again in the same place in the Tall Tales story (an appreciated change from how the rest of the game handles dying, which either puts you on your ship or, if it sinks, in a nearby outpost). That makes this content pretty great for just getting started in Sea of Thieves, or for lone players who want to venture into the game without a crew, but don’t like the risk of losing a ton of progress to other players.

The drawback is that A Pirate’s Life doesn’t really feel like the rest of Sea of Thieves; it’s more of its own separate thing. In the rest of Rare’s game, sailing around requires constant vigilance as you scope for other pirates who could potentially decide to engage you in battle (or, in somewhat rarer cases, prove friendly). The openness of the game and randomness afforded by other players are what make Sea of Thieves so fun and unique. A Pirate’s Life doesn’t really include that aspect; while there are side puzzles to solve and secrets to uncover, the stories are more straightforward and traditional video game fare. You’ll move through distinct levels on a specific path, and while there are no waypoints leading you, there’s still only one real way forward.

So entering Sea of Thieves for the first time through A Pirate’s Life isn’t quite giving you a taste of the core experience, or the taste it’s giving you is incomplete without other players. That can be good and bad, since A Pirate’s Life eases you into the water rather than shoving you off the plank, but it can also give a skewed perception of what the game is. And if you’re looking for more Tall Tales that have you sailing all over the Sea of Thieves, driven by obscure clues and exploring the world you already know, you’re going to be disappointed; these levels are large and complete in their own right, but they’re decidedly more self-contained.

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The Tall Tales for A Pirate’s Life are also a bit on the buggy side at launch, although Rare has already released a patch to deal with some of those issues. It’s also easy to get lost and confused in the big levels, or to experience game-affecting oddities like falling from high places and finding yourself stuck behind locked doors you already opened. During a boss fight in the second Tall Tale, I used a pulley system to lift a shipwreck high in the air to level its cannons against my foe–but mid-fight, I got knocked off the deck and killed. When I loaded back in, the boat was out of position and couldn’t be moved, but the fight continued, with cannonballs now shooting straight up in the air and passing through the boss’s body. The glitch subsided a few deaths later, but for a while there, the fight was a mess that couldn’t be finished.

I played through all five Tall Tales alone and didn’t encounter any game-breaking issues, although the experience was somewhat marred by the aforementioned troubles and checkpoints not loading correctly. It’s also easy to get lost thanks to Sea of Thieves’ lack of guidance–something that makes the game compelling when you’re out in its full world, but which can be annoying when you’re stuck in a room trying to figure out where the game expects you to go next.

Some glitchy issues aside, A Pirate’s Life’s Tall Tales are pretty fun to play, even alone. They do feel a bit easy and low-stakes at times, which undercuts the story Rare is trying to tell of a world-threatening villain. But it’s nice to have something you can jump into that’s fun to play but doesn’t involve the potential stresses of Sea of Thieves’ usual risk-reward nature.

Apart from the new stories, the other upshot of A Pirate’s Life is the way it reinvigorates the rest of the game. The Tall Tales you’ll play introduce a bunch of new enemies. On land, there are the three kinds of creatures called ocean crawlers–a giant armored crab, a poisonous clam monster, and an electric eel enemy. All three require distinct strategies to defeat, and they can synergize their abilities to add additional challenge. There are also new phantom pirates that can disappear and reappear to deal massive damage, and undersea sirens who make jumping off your boat all the more treacherous. To help you deal with these threats, you can find a new item called the Trident of Dark Tides, which charges up to fire a bubble of energy that can be devastating to AI enemies and other players alike.

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These additions are all part of the stories of the expansion’s Tall Tales, but you don’t need to play the stories to experience them–they’re also out in the rest of Sea of Thieves as well, and they inject some welcome variety into the sandbox. For most of the game’s life, players have been fighting different kinds of skeleton pirates, all of which do battle in more or less the same way, so throwing in some new creatures livens things up quite a bit. And if you can find it in the world, the Trident of Dark Tides also puts a new weapon in your arsenal, creating new strategies in combat. It all adds a little more depth to Sea of Thieves to help make the game continue to feel like it’s evolving all the time.

A Pirate’s Life is a big, fun addition to Sea of Thieves that brings a lot of new content, is full of fun elements for Disney Pirates fans, and refreshes the rest of the game with smart additions. It doesn’t quite represent the best of what Sea of Thieves is or has to offer, but this is still a great excuse to hoist the pirate flag for the first time, and offers a new horizon to explore for long-time scalawags.

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Scarlet Nexus Review — The Ties That Bind

June 25, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Scarlet Nexus takes us to a world where humans have developed psionic powers and the ability to connect their minds to each other. This has dramatically transformed life as we know it, allowing for a new era of connected consciousness and advanced technology. However, things aren’t all sunshine and roses for humanity–the populace lives in fear of the Others, grotesque brain-consuming monsters that randomly emerge from a mysterious belt that surrounds the planet. Their destructive impulses have rendered many areas uninhabitable, forcing humans to congregate in cities under the protection of the Other Suppression Force–an army of elite psionics trained to handle Other attacks. Yuito and Kasane are two fresh-faced recruits to the OSF, and they find their skills quickly put to the test during attacks. When a mission goes awry, they will be forced to take sides and fight to expose disturbing truths lying under the surface.

The setting of Scarlet Nexus is an intriguing mix of cyberpunk imagery, dystopian society, and pure sci-fi that captures your attention immediately. You get the feeling from the get-go that something is off about everything that’s going on, which only increases when you first lay eyes on the Others–horrendous aberrations that mix familiar organic and inorganic objects into monsters that move like living creatures, but feel disconcertingly unnatural. Additionally, the cutscenes are primarily presented in the form of comic-style still panels, giving the game the distinct feel of a high-stakes, episodic manga. It’s slick and distinct, which gives Scarlet Nexus a lot of personality.

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Now Playing: Scarlet Nexus – Yuito Full Demo Playthrough

You begin the game by choosing either Yuito or Kasane as your primary playable character. Yuito is a fairly standard action-game swordsman, while Kasane is more of a technical fighter with her ranged daggers. Both characters have combo attacks, jumping strikes, dodges–the usual array of 3D combat maneuvers. However, they also have the ability to use psychokinetic powers, introducing an additional unique element to combat. By holding R2, they can grab a background object and slam it directly into a foe, potentially catching the enemy off-guard and opening them up for further combo attacks.

Combat doesn’t feel exceptionally good initially–it’s a little floaty and disjointed, especially when playing as Kasane. Chaining attacks together, in particular, can be hard on more resilient foes in the early stages. But it quickly improves with the addition of the SAS: a system where your playable character can connect their brain to other squad members and temporarily make use of their powers. Hook up with Hanabi, and she’ll give you pyrokinetic fire slashes that can set enemies ablaze. Borrow Kagero’s invisibility to hide from aggressive foes and you can perform sneak attacks. Utilize Tsugumi’s clairvoyance and you’ll be able to spot hidden enemies and weak points, and tap into Gemma’s sclerokinesis to quickly mitigate enemy attacks. Using these skills transforms combat from a fairly standard affair to something much more interesting, as certain abilities will be particularly advantageous in given situations–but you also have to learn to manage these skills, as they are all on cooldown timers.

Even more combat augmentations open up the further you go into the game. As you level up, you can fill out nodes in your Brain Map, which unlock special skills that grant new offensive and defensive capabilities to utilize in battle. You’ll also learn the Brain Drive, a super-powered mode that activates after filling a gauge that increases your damage output and combo ability. Finally, there’s the Brain Field: an absurdly powerful but extremely risky state that puts your psychokinesis into overdrive and lets you deal massive damage, but can kill you if you stay in it for too long.

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More mechanics get added into the mix, as well. Guard meters are introduced. Using the right skills and attacks you can break them down to render enemies helpless and perform a devastating Brain Crush attack for bonus loot. Unique objects also appear in environments that allow you to perform elaborate and immensely satisfying QTE-powered psychokinesis attacks, like pounding an Other into the ground with a marble statue or running over a line of enemies with a runaway train. And by establishing a good rapport with your teammates, you unlock the full potential of their abilities as well as new options like follow-up attacks on downed foes.

Outside of the story missions needed to progress, you can revisit already-explored areas for experience and sidequests. These sidequests are the standard-issue “kill enemy X” or “collect item Z” missions, sometimes with additional requirements like defeating foes with a certain SAS power. They don’t add much to the game in terms of story or worldbuilding, making their role that of an excuse to revisit areas to farm experience and items. Collecting enemy drops and environmental data is important, however, as you can trade those items at the store for exclusive weapons, upgrade plug-ins, and most importantly, items to give to your teammates during story breaks.

Giving your crew things they like raises their affection for you, unlocking “Bond Episodes” where you can hang out and learn more about their individual quirks and backstories. As their bond levels raise, you’ll have access to improved SAS functionality and additional attack and defensive options. They’ll also use their presents to decorate your team base, which is a nice visual touch. Bond Episodes range in tone from the completely ridiculous to dead serious character drama, but no matter what you wind up seeing, you’ll come out of it appreciating your in-game teammates even more.

It’s a good thing that the combat and character interactions of Scarlet Nexus are fun, because its story is a trainwreck. What starts as an intriguing sci-fi tale of superpowered youths being used to fight hideous creatures by a shadowy government gets completely derailed after a few chapters, becoming a hodgepodge of increasingly bizarre plot twists and inexplicable character actions. While you get different perspectives (and different progression) depending on your choice of Yuito or Kasane as your lead, you’ll still experience the same major “WTF was that nonsense?” events.

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While I won’t get into spoiler territory, a good example of how frustrating the plot can get is realizing that most of the mid-game conflict could be easily resolved if everyone would just sit down and talk about what’s going on (which Yuito repeatedly asks to do) instead of trying to kill each other. What’s even more befuddling is that some of the enemy characters still ask to hang out with your lead while this stuff is going on, making for a bizarre disconnect between narrative and characterization. Even once all that is resolved, there are numerous plot threads that become incredibly flimsy when you give them deeper thought. But as ridiculous as the story wound up being, I was interested in seeing how much more utterly bonkers it could get throughout, so I guess that’s something in its favor

Even though the plot devolves into a trope-filled sludge pool by the end, I don’t feel like Scarlet Nexus was a waste of time. Yes, the excitement of combat begins to taper off towards the end of Scarlet Nexus’s twenty-odd-hour runtime–and the areas in the final stretch of the game feel overly long–but I had a good deal of fun mixing up my SAS abilities, crushing enemies in my Brain Field, and watching my team have a video game tournament at our base to settle an argument over living space boundaries. It might not be a new pinnacle of action-game storytelling, but Scarlet Nexus is still plenty of fun in the right places.

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Mario Golf: Super Rush Review – Leisurely Chaos

June 24, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

After hitting an approach shot that landed a few feet from the hole, I dashed down the fairway, hopped over the lip of the bunker and settled over my tap-in for birdie. I wound up making a double bogey. Chargin’ Chuck smacked a Bob-omb on the green, blasting my ball into the rough. Then Boo unleashed its special shot, sending my chip woefully right of its target. From there, I frantically missed my long bogey putt and finally tapped in for my lousy score. When Mario Golf: Super Rush is at its best, chaos is what makes it tick. These unpredictable moments are hilarious, adding a new dimension to Camelot’s long-running sports series. Zany courses designed to look more like 3D Super Mario levels and a pair of new fast-paced modes turn the typically leisurely sport of golf into an action game. But for all of the exciting moments and innovation Mario Golf: Super Rush offers, it still feels slim on content and lackluster at times.

Super Rush tries to add to its variety even in its pair of control schemes: a button-based swing system and motion controls. The button-based control scheme differs slightly from previous entries. This time around, you click once to start your swing and just once more to set your power. Accuracy is determined by “shift,” marks outside of the meter that funnel outward. Off the tee and in the fairway, the marks are confined to the top, but when you have a bad lie, they start much lower, making it less likely to hit your shot on target. Super Rush’s button-based swing system rewards finding the short grass.

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Now Playing: Mario Golf: Super Rush Video Review

Like Mario Golf: World Tour for 3DS, you can also add sidespin and alter trajectory by moving the joystick left, right, up, or down during the follow through. Besides a new flop shot mechanic–which requires you to tap A when the on-screen circle turns blue–Super Rush’s accurate swing system will still feel familiar to anyone who has played a Mario Golf title despite the slight changes.

Super Rush’s motion controls are the polar opposite of the button system in terms of depth and precision. You hold the SL button on the Joy-Con and take your swing. The simplicity harks back to Wii Sports. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work when playing Super Rush’s tricky courses. Full swings are manageable and are fairly easy to hit on target, but any shot that requires a delicate swing, such as chipping or putting, is too much of a guessing game.

After playing all six courses Super Rush has to offer, it was clear that motion controls were simply incompatible with the elaborate designs Camelot created to highlight the game’s signature new Speed Golf mode. That said, mastering the button swing system, including shaping the golf ball, adding backspin, and tinkering with trajectories is more important than ever because the courses are littered with obstacles, which also make you think more about the type of shot you want to hit.

Speed Golf is exactly as it sounds. While a form of Speed Golf has existed in previous entries, you never actively ran across the course to your ball like you do in Super Rush. Here, you’re racing to finish each hole as fast as you can. Each shot adds 30 seconds to your time, though, so you still need to try to play well while maintaining a brisk pace. Coins are scattered across the fairways along with hearts, which replenish stamina burned from running. Terrain changes affect stamina as well, so you have to consider the route you take and even where you choose to hit your shot to set yourself up for your next one. Speed Golf injects a new layer of strategy and chaos in Mario Golf, since everyone is playing simultaneously. An unfortunate downside to Speed Golf is that you can never admire your good shots. I’ve made two hole-in-ones so far and saw neither of them go into the cup because I was busy jumping and running toward the green. There’s also a points system variant of Speed Golf, which is essentially match play and can lead to some tighter contests.

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Battle Golf uses the mechanics of Speed Golf and cranks up the mayhem. It pits up to four players against each other in a stadium course with nine flags to aim at. The first player to secure three flags wins. The twist here is that once a flag is claimed, it’s gone from the game. Going for the nearest flag first seems like a good idea, but what if two other players are aiming at it, too? Battle Golf emphasizes both skill and strategy. There are two layouts available: one that’s fairly straightforward and another that’s littered with enemies, obstacles, and hazards. Due to its design, Battle Golf conjures up even more random chaos than Speed Golf, making it an optimal party game with lightning-quick rounds that never have a dull moment.

Each of the 16 playable characters are equipped with a pair of moves that can be deployed strategically in these fast-paced modes: special shot and super dash. For instance, Wario’s special shot creates lightning strikes that toy with your shots, Boo “haunts” your golf ball, sending it off course, and King Bob-omb literally drops bombs that can get in your way. Yoshi rolls around on a giant egg when dashing, while Chargin’ Chuck looks like a fullback trying to mow down the competition (he thinks he’s playing football, poor guy). Slower golfers have better stamina, so I didn’t find that any one character was better suited for Speed Golf than another. Each golfer’s unique super dash can help them get to their ball faster, but it also can be a deterrent for competitors’ progress, since you can knock opponents down while running. Meanwhile, a well-timed and placed special shot can knock other golfers’ balls from a good position to a not ideal spot. These two central mechanics often look cool in motion and are incredibly useful in Speed Golf.

It’s clear why Speed Golf rules Mario Golf: Super Rush when you step onto the links. With the exception of two traditional courses that look like golf courses you’d find in real life, Super Rush’s courses teeter between absurd and diabolical, and I say this as a compliment.

Ridgerock Lake is set along cliffs surrounded by water and features Broiders rolling across fairways, Ty-foos guarding greens with strong gusts, and vertical wind tunnels that can send you and your ball up to another level. There’s a lot of fun strategy involved here thanks to elevation changes and the scattered layout. Balmy Dunes, a desert-themed course with towering Pokeys, giant Sandmaarghs surrounding the fairways, quicksand, and elevation changes galore, is a sprawling track that works wonderfully for speed golf. Do you use your super dash to cut across the barren sand and potentially save time or take the scenic route along the fairway where you can pick up coins and heart pieces to recover stamina? Because of the enemy placement, Balmy Dunes often forces you to get creative with shots, hitting fades around Pokeys and high-launching shots over those pesky Sandmaarghs.

Another course, Wildweather Woods, uses its unpredictable conditions to mess with your game. Randomized dark spots on the course are prone to lightning strikes if you swing your club too far back, costing you a stroke and time in the process. Meanwhile, Biddybuds waddle across the fairway and Piranha Creepers poke their chompy heads out, requiring you to zigzag to your ball. The heavy rain slows down the fairways and greens, so you have to adapt your strategy for both rollout on full shots and putting. The final course, Bowser Highlands, is a molten-themed track with Lava Bubbles emerging from the fiery depths, Magmaarghs creeping over the edge of danger, Bob-ombs, Whomps, and Chain Chomps scattered across the fairways, and Fire Bars circling platforms that you have to run across to get to your ball. It’s the most perilous course of the bunch due to the sheer number of hazards and obstacles, making for a fitting swan song.

Mario Golf: Super Rush features a cast that comes from all corners of the franchise, including the return of the dastardly Wario.
Mario Golf: Super Rush features a cast that comes from all corners of the franchise, including the return of the dastardly Wario.

Even though Super Rush features some of the best courses in series history, I can’t help but think it’s a tad underwhelming to only have six at release, especially since two of them–though great for traditional golf purists–feel like standard Mario Golf fare. Though Nintendo has vowed to release free post-launch content for Super Rush, World Tour for 3DS had 10 courses at launch.

To unlock all of the clever and playful courses, you have to work your way through Golf Adventure as your Mii. As the tentpole game mode in Super Rush, Golf Adventure isn’t the full-fledged role-playing golf journey I expected. It serves as a means to unlocking every course but offers very little besides a six-hour primer to what Super Rush is all about. Despite the semi-open world layout with hubs for each course and NPCs scattered throughout, Super Rush’s world feels shallow, with nothing to do besides the next mainline event. It should be noted that Golf Adventure doesn’t even allow you to use motion controls–probably because you’d have a hard time reaching the credits.

In Golf Adventure, you’re a rookie working toward becoming a golf superstar by earning badges that unlock new tournaments and courses. Earning badges is a multi-step process, including a short course training before competing against AI-controlled players. What’s particularly strange about Golf Adventure’s challenges is that you only ever play a full 18-hole round one time. It’s often segmented into three, six, or nine hole challenges where you have to shoot better than a certain score or under time restraints. And almost the entire campaign centers on Speed Golf. You only play short spurts of traditional golf and never in a “tournament” round. Like Mario Tennis Aces, there are a few boss battles, each of which utilize the mechanics in fun ways–even if they are short-lived duels.

The disjointed progression of Golf Adventure sometimes hurts the overall experience and takes away from the genuinely compelling golf. But, at the very least, it sometimes throws in unique events. Ridgerock Lake was the site of my favorite challenge dubbed Cross Country Golf. You have to complete nine holes under 40 strokes, but you get to choose which order to complete the holes in. It was one of the few campaign challenges that took me off of autopilot–largely because it was just me versus the course. Bowser Highlands is also markedly different in Golf Adventure, as it mixes fire and ice holes. The snowy holes feature Ice Bros, sliding Freezies, and other Super Mario staples. The mix between fire and ice makes Bowser Highlands feel like two courses sandwiched into one, which winds up making a really interesting course that I wish you could play outside of Golf Adventure.

Sadly, AI-controlled golfers are absolutely horrendous in Golf Adventure, not just in the beginning but all throughout the campaign. This presents an issue since Speed Golf requires you to wait for your opponents to finish the hole before moving onto the next. Watching Pink Yoshi turn away from the flagstick and chunk yet another shot into the rough after I’ve already finished grows tiresome, and watching [insert any character name] actively aim away from the hole on a perfectly straight putt can become infuriating.

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The biggest blunder of Golf Adventure is that once the credits roll, there’s nothing really left to do. You can go back and level up your character and round out your set of clubs, but it’s not even possible to replay certain sections of the game. Golf Adventure doesn’t even track any of your best scores, so there isn’t any real reason to do so anyway. And besides, by the time you complete the campaign, your leveled-up Mii is already the best golfer in the game. I’ve already banned myself from playing as him during couch multiplayer with my wife. There is a separate Solo Challenge mode that keeps track of your best scores, but it seems like a weird decision to not roll this into an endgame for Golf Adventure.

Like many sports games, Mario Golf: Super Rush’s legs come from multiplayer against real humans, whether that be online or locally. When playing locally, up to four golfers can jump into standard golf, but only two can play at a time in Battle Golf and Speed Golf. The restriction is likely because of splitting the screen since you’re hitting at the same time (standard golf while playing simultaneously is also limited to two golfers), but it’s nonetheless disappointing. I haven’t had a chance to play Super Rush online, but you’ll be able to create rooms to play with friends or search for open rooms hosting the type of match you’re looking for. I will update this review with my impressions once the servers are more active. If Nintendo hosts regular tournaments like it did for Mario Golf: World Tour, I’ll be playing Super Rush for a long time. I should also note that I found the AI to play markedly better outside of Golf Adventure. While I still won every match against CPU-controlled characters, they at least play competently so that it’s possible to lose.

With three radically different styles of play and some seriously inventive courses, Mario Golf: Super Rush is a compellingly original sports game. Speed Golf and Battle Golf actively make you adapt to wildly different conditions while balancing technique and speediness. The button swing system still feels great, though if you desire an accurate motion-controlled golf game, this isn’t it. Golf Adventure curiously lacks a conventional tournament structure or record-keeping, which actively dissuaded me from ever wanting to revisit it. Super Rush isn’t the best entry in the series, but it’s a worthy addition.

Editor’s Note: This review has been updated to clarify and correct how the swing mechanic works in Mario Golf: Super Rush. GameSpot regrets the error.

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Game Builder Garage Review – Building Blocks

June 21, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Game Builder Garage isn’t Nintendo’s first foray into game creation software, but its previous efforts have all been narrowly focused. Super Mario Maker and its sequel gave you the tools and freedom to create your own Mario levels, while WarioWare DIY for the DS let you create and share brief microgames. Game Builder Garage, on the other hand, seems to have grander ambitions. Nintendo has billed it as a way to “learn to make games from the minds at Nintendo.” While it doesn’t quite live up to that sky’s-the-limit pitch, it’s nonetheless an impressively flexible toolkit and a charming introduction to the basics of game creation.

Fundamentally, Game Builder Garage is an expanded version of the Toy-Con Garage mode from Nintendo’s Labo kits (as evidenced by the various Labo assets featured in the software). Just as in Toy-Con Garage, “programming” in Game Builder Garage is handled by stringing input and output nodes together; connecting a B button node to a character node, for instance, will “program” the character to jump when that button is pressed. The most noticeable difference between the two is their presentation. Whereas Toy-Con Garage featured a stark black background with minimal UI, Game Builder Garage is bright and cheerful, making the software feel much more inviting, particularly for younger users.

To further help ease players into the experience, the game cleverly personifies the different nodes as beings called Nodon. These creatures come in many varieties, each representing a different mechanism or element of the game; there are Nodon that conjure specific items like apples and boxes, and others that track time and control the camera. Each type of Nodon looks and sounds distinct, which helps make it easier to remember their different functions.

Game Builder Garage gradually introduces the Nodon and how they work in conjunction with one another through seven guided lessons. Each is divided into several smaller steps that walk you through the programming process, and by the end of the lesson, you will have manually created a little game. The lessons are overseen by an excitable and charming blue dot named Bob, and their bite-size nature breaks down normally complex programming concepts into digestible chunks, making it easy to follow along.

The downside is that the guided lessons are rigid. Until the final step, the game usually doesn’t give you any freedom to deviate from the lesson; you must follow the instructions precisely as they are relayed. Moreover, you must complete the lessons in order; you cannot, say, jump to lesson five without first completing the previous four lessons. This restrictiveness is understandable to an extent, as each lesson builds upon the last by introducing progressively more complicated concepts. Even so, they can be excessively hand-holdy, and their lengthy duration–each lesson takes at least 60 minutes to complete in its entirety–means they can feel like a chore if you just want to dive into the later lessons.

After you complete a lesson, the game will put up a “checkpoint” that will task you to apply the knowledge you just learned to solve five small puzzles. The checkpoints are overseen by Bob’s counterpart, a white dot named Alice, and they test your understanding of the concepts you just learned. One checkpoint may ask you to figure out how to snag an apple without being able to move the character, which means you’ll need to go under the hood and program some kind of workaround. Thanks to their puzzle-like nature, these checkpoints feel satisfying to solve and help reinforce the main lessons. Alice also oversees a guide that further delves into each type of Nodon, effectively offering a series of complimentary lessons. These are a boon, as they provide a quick refresher on the Nodon without having to sit through Bob’s often-lengthy explanations.

Once you’ve completed the first lesson, you’ll unlock Free Programming mode, Game Builder Garage’s headlining attraction. It’s here that you can tinker around with Nodon as you wish, and it’s pleasingly flexible; the game features a wealth of Nodon and assets to work with, so you’re really only restricted by your own ambitions. That said, there are limits to what you can make. Since the software only features a few different pre-made character and item models, your games will likely end up feeling somewhat generic. Even so, for those inclined, experimenting with different Nodon, figuring out how to combine them to create different effects, and inadvertently stumbling upon a fun gameplay idea is a joy. Whereas Nintendo’s seven included “games” are largely rudimentary and designed more to illustrate basic programming concepts rather than to be replayable, Free Programming is the star of the package. It’s a delightful little sandbox and the most appealing aspect of Game Builder Garage.

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After creating a game, you can upload it to Nintendo’s server and share it with other players. Unfortunately, unlike in Super Mario Maker 2, there is no in-game hub where you can browse and play other players’ creations; you can only receive another person’s game by inputting their download code. This is disappointing considering that much of the joy of Game Builder Garage comes from sharing your creations with the world, so you’ll need to turn to outside resources such as social media and dedicated communities if you want to share your games and discover ones made by other players.

Sharing issues aside, Game Builder Garage is an endearing and fun-to-use game creation tool. While the software may not allow you to make the game of your dreams, it’s a smartly designed and flexible package that gives you an impressive amount of freedom to create nearly anything you can think of. Even more importantly, it offers an illuminating (if highly simplified) look into the work that goes into creating a game, and that is its most invaluable lesson.

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Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade Intermission Review – Half-Measure

June 11, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s tone often slides between light, funny moments and dark, tragic drama. But from the first moments of Intermission, the DLC mission added to the game with its Intergrade PlayStation 5 upgrade, it’s clear this new episode is mostly a comedy. In jumps Yuffie, one of the original game’s optional characters, and immediately her dangerous espionage mission to infiltrate the evil Shinra Corporation in Midgar is played like a kid goofing off. It’s a vibe that really works for the DLC, trading on the fact that Remake continues to be great about establishing fun, eccentric characters.

Taking place in the middle of Remake’s story, during the portion in which Cloud is separated from his compatriots, it follows Yuffie as she embarks on a mission to steal a secret Shinra weapon on behalf of her homeland, Wutai. Though the mission is dangerous, Yuffie approaches it with all the seriousness of a kid playing pretend–even though she’s on her way to first meet with Midgar’s Shinra resistance movement, Avalanche, and then sneak into the headquarters of a company that recently concluded a full-scale war with her home.

The trouble with Intermission is that this side story doesn’t feel essential to anything going on. Sure, the DLC is providing context and backstory for a character that fans of the original Final Fantasy VII know will show up later in the story, but Yuffie’s mission is largely about her wandering around areas we’ve already seen, floating past but barely interacting with Remake’s cast, and taking part in minigames to waste some time. Yuffie’s a fun character to spend time with, even if you don’t have history with her from the first iteration of Final Fantasy VII, but it all comes off as a tease for something better down the road in FF7 Remake’s next installment. And after the remarkably deep and excellently realized version of the story that is Remake, Intermission feels like exactly that: a half-measure to fill time while we wait for the real show.

That’s not to say Intermission isn’t fun to play more often than not, though. When Yuffie is in combat, which is pretty damn often, she’s a blast to play. Like all the characters of Remake’s main cast, Yuffie has her own unique combat style that distinguishes her from how everyone else has played up to now. As a Wutai ninja, she packs a throwing star that’s good as both a close-range melee weapon and at long ranges. The options allow you to control the distance as you fight enemies–you can get in close to wail on them, bounce back to create a gap, then throw the star for distant damage that Yufife follows up with elementally charged “Ninjutsu” attacks that keep her out of harm’s way. Tap the Triangle button and you can retrieve your thrown star, not by drawing it back to you, but by sending Yuffie to it, allowing you to quickly close gaps and use enemies to maneuver around the battlefield.

Yuffie’s combat is all about controlling space and landing combos, and the string of melee attacks, star throws, and Ninjutsu allow you to absolutely lay into enemies for long barrages that can knock them off their feet and make them easy to dispatch. Once you get a rhythm down, there are times when it can be almost too easy to dismantle foes with all the options Yuffie has on-hand, especially as you add more weapons and materia to the mix. She’s a fast-paced fighter who can be devastating when you string her attacks together, and it’s a lot of fun to deftly mix all of her attacks together to dominate the battlefield.

Partway through the first chapter, Yuffie is joined by Sonon, her partner on the mission and a slightly older Wutai operative. In combat, Sonon acts as another means by which Yuffie can build out combos. You can’t control him, but you can trigger “synergy,” which has Yuffie and Sonon executing ability attacks for big damage and added effects. It’s a cool, if fairly simple, system that provides another tool for combat, while keeping the focus on Yuffie and her specific style.

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It’s in the dynamic between Yuffie and Sonon where we see shades of Remake, and Intermission at its best. Because Yuffie is technically the senior ninja despite her age, Sonon defers to her, while bouncing between exasperation for her overconfident, just-wing-it antics, and trying to give her a little helpful advice. For her part, Yuffie takes it all in stride. She knows how great a ninja she is, but she also never lets go of that air of excitedly performing “cool” for whoever happens to be looking in her direction. She’s a kid of incredible talent who’s still desperate to be taken seriously, while Sonon is a protective older brother type looking for a middle ground between annoying overbearance and risky overindulgence.

While the dynamic between Yuffie and Sonon is an interesting one, it doesn’t get tested or pushed much. That’s because the DLC neither covers an especially long time, nor puts the pair in especially impactful situations (you can wrap up the main story in four or five hours, longer if you decide to do some side content). The first chapter sees Yuffie and Sonon helping an Avalanche member avoid getting captured by Shinra by wandering through a sanitation plant in the undercity; the second has them running around the Shinra building. There aren’t any real twists or turns and there’s not much in the way of conflict except for the mission itself and the robots Shinra dispatches to try to stop you.

The same goes for what the story adds to the overall tale of Remake. Intermission plops you in the middle of Sector 7 during the tumultuous time before the story’s midpoint, but you mostly just get a few lines that flesh out the backstory of the squad of Remake. What’s more interesting are the bits in which Yuffie and Sonon have idle discussions about the political situation in Midgar and the rest of the world, as well as their ideological similarities and differences to Avalanche and its anti-Shinra operations.

Those little tidbits are where what Intermission adds to the story seems useful. It gives these little looks into both Yuffie’s character and the larger political landscape of Final Fantasy VII Remake, in a way that helps you understand the world a little better. But these small items are pretty few and far between, and while the character-building for Yuffie is nice, it’s not super clear why we’re revisiting this point in time or these places, or what revisiting them adds to the game overall.

There’s a big swing in this feeling right at the end of the DLC, where Intermission starts throwing deep-cut FF7 characters into the mix. It seems pretty clear that the idea here is to bring the wider FF7 universe, fleshed out in spin-offs like Crisis Core and Dirge of Cerberus into the main storyline, but the DLC doesn’t provide any context for what’s going on or, crucially, who these people are. Again, it plays into the idea that Intermission feels like a tease for where things are going later on, when we’re likely to get a more complete look at some of these elements. For now, it mostly adds confusion, especially if you’re not overly familiar with all that extra FF7 lore, and makes for some less than satisfying moments as the DLC wraps up.

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Apart from the main story, Intermission also adds some side content to keep you busy, but it mostly seems to exist to pad the runtime. There are a few new combat challenges and minigames, like Whack-A-Box (in which you break boxes by hitting them, earning points before a timer runs out) and Fort Condor, a sort of light strategy game. Fort Condor is the big new item in Intermission, mixing the spirit of chess with the creature summoning of Magic: The Gathering, in the broadest sense. You get a series of characters you can place on the board, who then march toward your opponent’s side and try to destroy their three forts. Your opponent can also drop characters, and who wins a fight depends on a rock-paper-scissors system that determines which types of characters get the upper hand. Its simplicity makes it very easy to pick up and play.

Fort Condor can be fun, especially as you add new pieces and boards to your repertoire, which give you a variety of options for your attacks and defenses, and the ability to use some magic spells during a match. But it’s all pretty simplistic, ultimately. You don’t control the character, you just choose where to put them, and the strategy is all about what pieces you use and when. Boards that let you get pieces out faster and in greater numbers tend to win, and there’s just not a lot of brainy options or strategic thinking that can help you to win out if you happen to have the wrong set of pieces of a particular matchup. With only a handful of matches to play during your first run through the story, it also won’t keep you busy for very long.

Altogether, Fort Condor, the story of Intermission, and all the other content in the DLC suffer from the same problem: They feel exceedingly thin. Not that an add-on chapter to a game needs to be especially enormous, but Intermission is a DLC that mostly takes place in one of the hub areas of FF7 Remake, and yet lacks meaningful character interactions or side quests to flesh out its world. Hanging out with Yuffie and Sonon is fun, but while you have run-ins with a number of important characters in key moments, the whole thing brings little to your understanding of the story of Remake as a whole.

In the end, Intermission is a pit stop, a quick jaunt into the gas station minimart of Final Fantasy VII to refuel, grab a snack, and get ready to wait some more. With its fun combat and quirky character moments, it’ll likely remind you of what you like about FF7 Remake–but it won’t be enough to hold you over.

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