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Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade Intermission Review – Half-Measure

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.

Guilty Gear Strive Review — Burning Like A Roman Cancel

Guilty Gear Strive is, like so many of its predecessors, the pinnacle of a certain kind of fighting game. The series, known for its highly technical (read: complicated) set of systems, rewards players for investing time to master both its universal systems and the nuances of its individual characters in a way that few other series have. Strive maintains that tradition and throws in a couple new ideas that bolster its bold anime-inspired flash without making the game any harder to learn. While the core fighting experience has only improved, many of the game’s less savory tendencies remain in place, including its non-playable story “mode” and yet another set of kludgy Arc System Works-style avatar-based matchmaking menus. As in most fighting games, those problems are secondary: Players, particularly veterans, who want to put in work will find Guilty Gear Strive to be a wild time.

If you’re counting, Strive is the eighth primary entry in the Guilty Gear franchise, so its fighting style is something of a known quantity. Strive retains many of the nuances of recent entries in the series. There’s the tension gauge, a special meter that increases when you attack or move towards your opponent and fills more slowly when you play defense. There’s faultless defense, a strategic extra block that trades tension to prevent chip damage and help you get some distance from an opponent. For a newcomer or casual player, Strive will feel just like a Street Fighter-style fighting game. Most special moves feature quarter-circles and charge motions, and thus may feel familiar at a glance, but there are many, many small nuances for you to learn in order to get the most out of its particular mechanics.

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Now Playing: Guilty Gear Strive – Official Cinematic Launch Trailer

There are two major changes that longtime players will need to adjust to. Strive removes the “Gatling system,” a sort of hierarchy for canceling attacks to sustain combos, and changes the series’ signature “Roman Cancel” system, which allows you to trade half of the tension meter to cut short the animation before or after an attack to more quickly recover. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not yet an expert on how to use these mechanics to great effect, but it seems that the combination of these two leads to more back-and-forth with shorter combos. I found that most of my fights, even against players way beyond my skill level, kept to a rapid tempo filled with short organic combos–flurries of light attacks anchored by a heavy or special. In theory, the Roman Cancel opens the door for high-level players to unlock longer strings with a precisely timed maneuver that keeps a combo from ending.

And yet, while the game is very technical, it also has a sense of spectacle, which feels universal. When one player hits the other to interrupt their attack, the word “COUNTER” flashes across the screen in giant letters. The last hit in each round triggers a brief cinematic shot to let you know the killing blow has been struck. Some of these ideas are evolutions of concepts from previous games, others are new. One new idea, the “wall break,” marries the technical and theatrical sides of the game very well. If one player manages to trap the other in the corner and land a few hits, they’ll send their opponent flying onto a new part of the stage. The wall break gets the player on the receiving end out of being trapped but, more importantly, it evokes this Dragon Ball Z-esque sense of scale when you punch someone off the screen.

If you need to learn any (or all) of these concepts, Strive has a deep set of tutorials called “mission” mode, which very briefly shows you how to use each and every one of its systems, plus lots and lots of general fighting game techniques. For better and worse, the lessons are constructed around building consistency: Each lesson asks you to do a technique five times. To complete it, you have to do it right at least three of them. As a lesson plan and testing system, it works great, but if you ever get stuck on a concept, you better go hit YouTube. And with some of the ideas, like Roman Canceling or certain character-specific abilities, more context is necessary to figure out what to do. In fairness, in-game teaching modes in fighting games widely suffer from these limitations, and Strive deserves credit for being very thorough.

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For me, Guilty Gear’s characters have always been the thing that set it apart. As in the past, Strive’s roster creates a wide variety of approaches with very stylistic characters with movesets that allow them to control a fight in their own unique ways. From the haunting garbage-bag-wearing Faust, with his pull-and-push fishing rod, to Ramlethal Valentine, who’s followed around by two giant floating swords that she can throw around using specials, but need to be picked up to use again, temporarily limiting her range. The goal in making any fighting game character revolves around implementing a unique moveset that fits well with the others, but Guilty Gear has always excelled at giving characters personality through their unique combat styles.

Of the 15-character roster, there are only two newcomers in Strive, but both fit in and offer unique ways to play. Giovanna, an American secret service agent with her own wolf spirit, is a pure rushdown-style berserker, made to constantly apply pressure and get in their face. While the tension gauge, a special meter that increases based on forward movement and attacks, encourages aggressive play, Giovanna takes the all-gas-no-brakes approach to a new level. (At least among the Strive cast).

The other, Nagoriyuki, is a very strong vampire samurai with a giant sword that gives incredible reach, at the cost of limited mobility. Nagoriyuki moves and attacks very slowly, and doesn’t have a forward dash, but he does have a short-distance teleport as a special that can take its place. After using enough specials, though, he enters Blood Rage mode, which makes him stronger while draining his health. (Presumably, this forces you to use your dash deliberately). The checks and balances make Nagoriyuki incredibly appealing: For new players, he’s really fun to mess around with because he’s so powerful. For competitive players, his checks and balances add another layer of complexity to master. He’s an exemplar Guilty Gear character: Subtle changes to his character push you to use him differently than any other fighter.

…Players, particularly veterans, who want to put in work will find Guilty Gear Strive to be a wild time.

How the characters control is only half of it, though. The same inventive, varied design also applies to the character designs and the game’s overall look. From a rockstar witch to a giant World War One-inspired robot to, and I’ll say it again, a vampire samurai, the ideas are a rich and wild hodge-podge that somehow congeals into something completely unexpected, but remarkably cool. Strive’s anime-inspired 3D art brings each fight to life like you’re watching an epic action sequence in a movie.

Unfortunately, the actual Guilty Gear anime in Strive isn’t quite as captivating. Technically Strive has a story mode, but it’s actually just a long (maybe 3-4 hour) series of cutscenes–essentially, it’s a movie made using the game engine. I find this approach, which the series has used before, perplexing. While I recognize the narrative limitations that come up when you have to weave fights into a story, I think that having some gameplay is necessary. I generally don’t boot up a video game looking to watch a movie, especially not a fighting game.

In the other hand, divorcing the game from the story is probably for the best: There may not be an eight in the name, but the story trades on the years and years of plot built up over Guilty Gear’s history and expects you to have a working knowledge of its deep, complex lore to keep up. With a less than stellar grasp of that history, I enjoyed some of the intense and occasionally funny sequences, but got lost and tired in the long philosophical conversations that make up most of it. It’s a shame that the story will only appeal to the most hardcore of hardcore fans, because the story does bring some interesting depth to the characters that you won’t get anywhere else.

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Last, but not least, we need to talk about how the multiplayer works. First, the good news: My experience playing Strive against other players was virtually flawless. I’m not going to tell you that I’m a great judge of netcode, but I know that Strive’s rollback-based netcode works incredibly well. The bad news: Strive uses yet another Arc System Works avatar-based matchmaking system, where you create a little character to move around and find players who are ready to fight. There’s a 10-tier lobby system, which seems to do a relatively good job of helping you find players with a similar skill level, but it can very easily backfire if there’s no one around in your particular level. Even when players are plentiful, though, finding matches takes longer than it should. Simply put, the system didn’t work before and it doesn’t work now.

The fighting in Guilty Gear Strive, though, is impeccable. And that’s what matters most. Like all Guilty Gears, it is a game of extremes. If you’ve tried the series and fallen off because of its complexities, I wouldn’t expect a different outcome. If you’re up for a challenge, or just want a cool, sharp-looking fighting game to mess around with, Strive knows all the right moves.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade Review – Materia Improvements

Editor’s note: In June 2021, developer Square Enix released an upgraded version of Final Fantasy VII Remake for PlayStation 5, which included improved visuals and technical performance, as well as some new features, including a photo mode. Our impressions on how the improvements impact Final Fantasy VII Remake on PS5 are written by Phil Hornshaw. The original review of Final Fantasy VII Remake was first published in April 2020 and is written by Tamoor Hussain.

In the opening of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife, a mercenary and former member of an elite private military group called SOLDIER, takes on a job with an eco-terrorist cell named Avalanche. Their mission is to blow up a reactor that siphons Mako, the lifeblood of the planet, and uses it to power the sprawling industrial metropolis Midgar. The group infiltrates, braves resistance from Shinra Electric Company’s forces, and sets off an explosion that renders the reactor inoperable.

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Now Playing: Final Fantasy VII Remake Video Review

In the 1997 original, what followed was a hop, skip, and jump through a few sections of the city back to Sector 7, and the safety of Avalanche’s hideout. In Final Fantasy VII Remake, having carried out the mission, you’re asked to walk the streets in the aftermath and witness the harrowing consequences of your actions. The sector lies in ruin, fires rage, buildings are crumbling, and the heartbreaking human cost is laid bare.

A somber violin plays as you walk Midgar’s streets, with each pull of the bow across strings tugging at your conscience and stirring the heart, asking you to question whether you’re doing the right thing. The cries of confused children echo, people fall to their knees attempting to grapple with the magnitude of what has happened, and citizens decry this so-called group of freedom fighters you’ve joined just to make a quick buck.

As far as statements of intent go, Final Fantasy VII Remake’s opening Bombing Mission is a clear and powerful one. This game may be just the first chapter in the reimagining of a much bigger story, but it seeks to uncover depth that was hitherto left to the imagination. It is rich in details that were previously unexplored, realizes new storytelling ambitions with confidence, and presents fresh perspectives that feel both meaningful and essential. It achieves these goals so successfully that it’s hard to think that this story existed in any other way.

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It’s important to note that, yes, I have a history with and nostalgia for Final Fantasy VII, and the remake undoubtedly leverages that. However, that isn’t to say that what it does will only land for people that know and love the source material. To say that would diminish the smart and careful reconstruction of Final Fantasy VII that the remake is. The majority of the game is new material, lovingly introduced to further detail a picture that had been painted in broad strokes. This isn’t a game that panders to fans, as newcomers can also enjoy the majesty of Midgar and learn to love characters for the first time, all while playing a mechanically dense and rewarding role-playing game. Even if it’s just a piece of the original Final Fantasy VII, this remake takes one of the most beloved games of all time and elevates it higher.

Final Fantasy VII Remake’s narrative and characterization achievements are facilitated by gameplay that feels modern but is crystallized around the classic’s role-playing fundamentals. In many ways, its gameplay model feels like the culmination of the franchise’s evolutions, with ideas from throughout the series brought together in a composite that is fresh but familiar. This is the first time that the action-focused style of modern-era Final Fantasy games doesn’t feel like it comes at the expense of the methodical nature of the series’ roots. The hybrid style lets you glide between characters at the touch of a button and assume direct control. At the same time, commands can be issued to characters that are otherwise acting independently, conjuring the spirit of that deliberate stand-in-place-and-fight format of old.

Also harkening back to the original, the remake uses an Active Time Bar. While it previously dictated when a character could make any move, it now governs whether you take specific actions. The bar split into segments, and special abilities, spells, and item uses have an associated cost. To encourage juggling of party members, the ATB bars fill slowly when they’re left to their own devices, but much more rapidly when you take control and attack the enemy directly. Characters tend not to initiate the more advanced skills of their own volition, so it’s doubly important that you step in and put their resources to good use.

Each playable character has a unique skill that comes at no cost and has a great deal of strategic value. Cloud’s Punisher mode, for example, unleashes a barrage of quick and powerful sword swings, and reacts to enemy strikes with a counter-attack, but at the expense of his mobility. Barret has a powerful blast, and this can be manually recharged to shorten its cooldown. Tifa’s special martial art technique can be leveled up by spending an ATB bar to activate Unbridled Strength, and Aerith’s Tempest fires a crystal that does damage on impact, then charges briefly before exploding to hit enemies around it. Each character is also able to use various offensive and defensive magical spells, provided they have the Materia that bestows this ability to them.

Materia was and is core to Final Fantasy VII’s gameplay. It is solidified Mako energy imbued with arcane knowledge from the essence of the planet and life itself. It manifests as colored spheres that can be slotted into weapons and armor, thus giving the ability to invoke magic to its user or even summon god-like beings to fight alongside you. The beauty of the Materia system was that it allowed you to create loadouts in a very freeform way and build characters to fit your preferred style or strategy for any situation. The Materia system offers the same kind of freedom in the remake. Although each playable character has a general archetype, the Materia system presents a great deal of fluidity within this. I chose to outfit Barret with magical Materia and make him a long-range magician for a while, and during that period he generated AP experience that leveled up the Materia and opened up new, more powerful variations on the skills they housed. I then chose to take all that and give it to Tifa, lending her fists of fury an extra elemental sting. In a particularly challenging battle, I took Cloud’s time manipulation Materia and slotted it into Aerith’s items so she could hang back and cast haste on the front-line fighters to speed them up, while staying relatively safe.

The demands of moment-to-moment combat are high, especially since enemies can be vicious. They seem to work with the goal of creating the same kind of synergy between themselves as you do between your party members. If you’re not careful, they will poison and paralyze to create openings for each other, make areas of the battlefield deadly to limit your movement, and pounce on a character to trap them, forcing you to switch characters to free your ensnared party member. Most enemies have some sort of elemental weakness that can be identified using the Assess materia ability and then exploited. Doing so applies pressure to them and, if it keeps building, will stagger them, rendering them completely defenseless. Enemies can also interrupt your actions or move out of the way entirely to evade you, so precise timing is also crucial, otherwise you could expend precious resources fruitlessly. The same discerning approach is needed for your movements. Having an evasive dodge may seem like it would trivialize combat, but many enemy attacks have wide areas of effect or track you, so choosing to guard and take less damage instead of trying to escape it entirely is another key consideration. Thankfully, when issuing commands, the action slows to a crawl to give you time to plan. This breathing room is welcome, but it won’t save you from an ill-considered approach.

Suffice it to say that the combat asks a lot of you, but it is incredibly gratifying at the same time. Considering the unique ways each character functions, and the behaviour and weaknesses of enemies that require quick thinking and deliberate strategy, feels like playing high-speed chess, and when it comes together you’ll find yourself slicing and dicing, freezing and igniting with exhilarating momentum. On occasion, particularly in tighter spaces, the camera can struggle to keep the action in frame, but it’s not often enough to be a serious problem. As a whole, the combat has the fluidity, as well as the cinematic and visually stunning flair, of the post-Final Fantasy X games, but also the satisfaction of the “plan your work and work your plan” approach of games like Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XIV. Add on the upgrading mechanics, which allow you to spend points on each weapon to bolster its attributes, and you’ve got a robust, interconnected suite of RPG mechanics. I can confidently say that Final Fantasy has never felt this good to play.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is rich in details that were previously unexplored, realizes new storytelling ambitions with confidence, and presents fresh perspectives that feel both meaningful and essential. It achieves these goals so successfully that it’s hard to think that this story existed in any other way

For as strong as Final Fantasy VII Remake’s gameplay is, it’s the narrative and characters that truly stand out as its crowning achievement. For the vast majority of the game, Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t the story of a ragtag group of eco-terrorists fighting for the fate of the planet that the original was. Instead, it’s a more focused, deeply personal story. Even though Avalanche’s ultimate goal is to free the planet from the vampiric jaws of Shinra, the events that transpire narrow that battle to a struggle for the here and now, instead of the future. Unlike the original, there’s also a much greater emphasis on the moral grey areas of the battle. Avalanche essentially pokes the sleeping dragon, and when Shinra retaliates, it’s the already-downtrodden people of the slums that suffer.

They live a meager existence, albeit one they’re comfortable with. As citizens of the undercity, living in the squalor of homes built from rusted metal sheets, propped up and forced together, is all they’ve known, and all they’ve known has been provided by Shinra. Just like the ramshackle buildings they live and work in, all they can do is use what they have to hold each other up. Because of that, many don’t see Avalanche’s fight against Shinra as a clear-cut battle between good and evil, right and wrong, in the same way that Barret and other members of Avalanche do. Walking through the various sectors of Midgar, you’ll often hear people condemning Avalanche. The validity of the group’s actions are frequently called into question, sometimes by members of the group itself. Tifa, for example, is less caught-up in the cause, even though she takes part in it. When the blowback hits her community, she shows signs of self-doubt, questioning the cause and seeking reassurance from others.

In multiple chapters, Remake slows the pace down so that you can spend time in the slums, meet the people there, understand their daily plights, and get involved with the community. In these sections, the game feels closer to something like the Yakuza series, where you’re developing an intimate understanding and relationship with a place and the people. This is done through optional side-quests that are seemingly uninteresting busywork. However, barring a handful that are introduced in the late game and can potentially disrupt the momentum, they are worth pursuing. Each one provides some sort of valuable world-building or an opportunity to understand another person a little more. That person could be a young child looking for her lost friends, a concerned citizen looking to rid an area of a monster menace, a reporter investigating a Robin Hood-like thief. Mechanically, side missions are usually “go here, kill the enemies, talk to a person, or get an item, then return,” but there’s always a little story told within them that pulls you deeper into their world, and each one also humanizes Cloud just a little. As an ex-SOLDIER-turned-merc, he begins taking on odd jobs to make money. His demeanor is cold from the outset and his investment in the struggle is only as much as the coin that pays for it. But as he completes these quests, word of him spreads. The people come to know him, rely on him, and treat him like one of them–he becomes their champion, whether he likes it or not. This not only chips away at Cloud’s hard edges, but makes you as the player invest in the world around you and the people within it. Final Fantasy VII Remake is the story of Cloud Strife learning to fight for others, instead of for just himself.

Characters that were formerly relegated to bit-parts are given more depth, so you learn more about Avalanche members like Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie, among many others. Though supporting characters, each has their own motivations for taking up arms against Shinra. There are poignant and personal moments with them that are delivered through heartfelt lines of dialogue instead of lengthy exposition. It all feels natural, believable, and relatable. Without spoiling anything, Remake also pulls in characters from the extended fiction of Final Fantasy, some of it incredibly obscure like The Kids Are Alright, a spin-off novel. And these new additions fit in naturally. It feels like Square Enix isn’t just remaking Final Fantasy VII–it’s rebuilding the larger Final Fantasy VII universe.

There’s so much texture in these characters, which makes it easy to connect with them. Barret is a loud showboater, with every line he utters having the same kind of energy as a wrestler cutting a promo in a WWE pay-per-view. But beneath that, his intentions are pure; past experiences have solidified his resolve, and just when you’re starting to doubt him, you’ll see a touching fatherly moment with his heart-meltingly cute daughter Marlene and understand completely why he fights so hard. Jessie is flirtatious, throwing herself at Cloud and hitting him with the hot and cold treatment. She’s energetic and vivacious, and you get to learn that there’s more to this persona than initially meets the eye. As the crew’s weapons expert, she struggles with what her creations are doing to the world around her. Wedge is a soft soul, trying to harden to show that the team can rely on him the same way they would Cloud or Tifa–but maybe a soft soul is exactly what they need. Biggs is cool, calm, and collected–the kind attitude that is honed through a life of conflict, but his history is altogether more touching, and mentioned in a fleeting moment that comes in an optional side-quest.

Some odd jobs will have you working alongside key characters such as Tifa and Aerith. For the former, the game elegantly establishes her history with Cloud, with frightening glimpses at their traumatic pasts appearing as intrusive flashes that are the result of some damaged part of Cloud’s psyche. This mechanism is also used to weave in the presence of a certain silver-haired villain in a way that didn’t appear in the original. The rapport between Cloud and Tifa is depicted so well: They are friends who support each other, but there’s also a blossoming romance that builds as Cloud recalls their history and what she means to him.

Aerith, the flower girl whose story unexpectedly intersects with Cloud’s, is beyond an uplifting presence. The banter between her and Cloud is sweet and funny from the moment you meet her and are unceremoniously drafted into being her bodyguard. She figures Cloud as the silent brooding type with a heart of gold immediately, and sets about poking at his ego and tearing down the walls. She’s playful and confident and effortlessly endearing. She always looks for the good in things and, as result, sees the slums for what they mean to people–living under metal plates that block out the sun and amongst cold city steel hasn’t dampened her outlook on life. These feel like real people–they have hopes and dreams, fears and faults, they’re funny and charismatic, and so well-written and acted that you’ll fall for every one. When playing the original, these were all thoughts and feelings I had about the characters that I colored in myself using the outlines the game presented. This time, they’re not allusions; it’s all painstakingly realized, and as much as I loved the characters and stories back then, I’m able to appreciate them in a much more profound way because of how complete it all feels now.

There’s so much to marvel at; standing on a plate suspended above Midgar and staring out across the city; hearing each piano note of Tifa’s theme played so softly that you can almost picture the fingers gently moving across the keys; walking across the church rooftops with Aerith as an odd calm falls over the city–it’s all brought to life with such respect and attention to detail that it’s hard not to be overwhelmed and give in to the nostalgia. Then there’s the whole Don Corneo plan being hatched and paying off in a way that doesn’t feel exclusionary or mocking, but inclusive, fun, and wholly unexpected. The remake doesn’t shy away from embracing the goofier elements of the original, instead using it to bring levity to what is otherwise heavy subject matter. Even as the game reaches its conclusion and embraces the more outlandish and fantastical parts of the narrative, it does so in a way that feels earned. Again, this might be just a small chunk of the original release, but as a standalone game Final Fantasy VII Remake is complete. Although a greater villain lingers in the periphery of the story, and cryptic references to something more in Cloud’s past–as well as other unexplained elements–are introduced in the concluding chapters, this doesn’t diminish the story that is told. Final Fantasy VII Remake can be enjoyed on the merits of what it presents, and for those in the know, it also lays the foundation for future revelations in an intriguing way.

Regardless of your history with the original game, Final Fantasy VII Remake is an astounding achievement. The wait for its release was a long one, but in gameplay, story, characters, and music, it delivers–the wait was worth it. For first-time players, it’s an opportunity to understand why Final Fantasy VII is held in such high regard. It’s the chance to experience a multifaceted story that grapples with complex subject matter, be in the company of memorable characters, and be moved by their plight. For returning fans, this isn’t the Final Fantasy VII your mind remembers, it’s the one your heart always knew it to be.


Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade Impressions

Final Fantasy VII Remake was already a stunner of a game on PlayStation 4, but its PS5 upgrade, Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, demonstrates just how beautiful a game it really is. Like many PS5 games, the upgraded version offers two graphical modes–one that provides 4K resolution and a lower frame rate, and the other that provides 60 FPS with a lower resolution. With either setting, Intergrade feels like a significant visual leap for an already gorgeous game, sharpening the impressive graphics and making for silky smooth battles.

Both presentation modes are definitive upgrades, and the game looks great in both. Additional graphical bells and whistles that take advantage of the PS5’s power have been introduced. These include increased volumetric fog in the underground tunnels following the Bombing Mission and lighting that feels like it bounces and bleeds through scenes. FF7R’s cinematic presentation is phenomenally well-served by the resolution increase of 4K, with the game’s characters and vistas gaining additional detail that makes every clothing texture and building material pop with additional realism. The Graphics mode is simply gorgeous, especially in climactic moments like the Bombing Mission or the battle against Hell House in Corneo’s Coliseum. But even little things, like the leather of Aerith’s jacket or the wool of Cloud’s sweater, gain noticeable improvements that make scenes feel just a little bit more eye-catching.

The mode that favors graphics over frame-rate, naturally, is the superior one for presentation, although what you play with really comes down to personal preference. On Performance mode, FF7R becomes exceedingly smooth in both combat and cutscenes, and with the game’s deft and often intense camera moves, it often feels like you’re whipping through spaces or ripping through enemies with Cloud’s sword. Coupled with showers of sparks and blasts of flame in big battles, the enhanced framerate brings a palpable immediacy to the game–although it can sometimes feel a little too intense. Where the enhanced resolution of the Graphics mode consistently looks great, especially with FF7R’s fast camera moves, the higher frame rate can occasionally be a detriment. It can feel too fast, as if the presentation isn’t always quite optimized and certain moments are sped up with the frame rate. It’s sometimes disorienting, but never especially detrimental; and on the other hand, combat at 60 FPS helps show off the quality and dynamism of the game’s animations.

Apart from graphical improvements, the PS5’s claims to fame include enhanced loading speeds (which notably make booting up a save feel near-instantaneous) and haptic feedback in the DualSense controllers. It’s on this last point that Intergrade hasn’t impressed much. Despite fighting some extremely intense battles to test the PS5 version, including the ludicrously over-the-top Hell House, the haptics didn’t do enough to leave an impression. The only point I really noticed them at all were during Cloud’s memory flashes on the Bombing Mission; unlike games such as Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart or Astro’s Playroom, it doesn’t feel like FF7R does much of note in its use of the haptics, even when characters are blowing up scorpion-shaped tanks or escaping an exploding Mako reactor.

Still, these issues are minor ones. On the whole, the PS5 upgrade for Final Fantasy 7 Remake elevates an already phenomenal, beautiful game, making it easier to play and more beautiful to behold. If you’ve been holding back on checking out FF7R up to now, the PS5 version is the superior way to experience it–and you absolutely should.

Stonefly Review – Buzz Kill

When Stonefly promises a chill and tranquil adventure it’s not telling the whole truth. Annika, a capable young pilot searching for her engineer father’s stolen mech, finds herself under frequent attack from the bugs that protect the resources she so desperately needs. Much of Stonefly is spent propelling your insectoid mech through an arboreal maze, hopping from leaf to leaf and catching the breeze to higher layers of canopy. But the various minerals you must extract to craft mech upgrades are fiercely protected, and so the game’s rhythm becomes one of sedate exploration punctuated by frantic skirmishes.

While Annika can modify her mech for combat, improving existing functions and installing new ones, the pattern remains the same throughout. While airborne, she can shoot at enemies directly below her; damage them sufficiently–basic enemies take only one hit while the toughest will require multiple strafings–and they flip over onto their backs. Once vulnerable, enemies can be blown off the edge of whatever leaf or branch constitutes the current battlefield, and thus eliminated.

It’s a neat system in theory that echoes the typical shield and health combo of many shooters and other action games. You’ve first got to take out an enemy’s shield by flipping it onto its back, then you can target its health by cannoning it out of the arena. Unfortunately, a few additional factors contribute to the flow of combat feeling overly chaotic and ultimately frustrating.

For a start, many of the enemies are quite small. Worse, they also tend to be of a similar colour to the resources you’re trying to mine. When the screen is busy with dozens of enemy bugs, several clusters of similarly-hued minerals, and the bullets and impact radii of your shots and your enemies, it is very difficult to properly discern what’s going on. On many, many occasions–at least once every single fight, by my reckoning–I took damage or was bounced out of the arena by something I hadn’t even noticed.

Exacerbating the frustration, the combat controls are overly complicated yet full of redundancies. The jump button launches you into the air. The shoot button also launches you into air, though not quite as high as the jump, before you start dropping bullets and slowly drifting down again. Hit jump a second time while airborne and you dive to the ground, which is not what you want while hovering above an enemy target, while a third button also brings you immediately back to earth. Holding down the left-trigger modifies all the face buttons for a second selection of abilities that sound useful but rarely are, and good luck remembering what does what in the heat of battle anyway.

Blowing a vulnerable enemy out of the arena entails blasting it with a gust of pressurised air, accomplished by holding down right-trigger for a full charge or tapping it for a quick jet. The difference here feels like it should be meaningful, but I rarely had time to wait for a full charge or carefully target with the right-stick. But the fact that both abilities use the same button means that I was all too often accidentally charging when I wanted to tap, or tapping on the few occasions I actually wanted to charge. In both cases, there’s significant knockback, too, and as such it’s all too easy to hurl yourself backwards off a branch when you’re trying to blast the enemy in front of you.

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Sometimes the combat does come together. When you’re able to read the battlefield clearly, prioritise the immediate threats, and focus on eliminating the most dangerous enemies–and when the controls are doing all the things you want them to do–it feels satisfying to clear an encounter. Recognising that a new wave of enemies will appear when you knock out these specific earlier enemies, or that clearing that resource node will trigger the arrival of these particular enemies, introduces a welcome element of strategy and empowers players to manage the flow of combat, alleviating its frantic nature.

Despite these advantages, you’re still at the mercy of an overly punitive negative feedback loop. Taking damage will gradually incapacitate your mech’s systems, ultimately preventing it from performing any function more advanced than walking around. In the more demanding combat encounters, this usually means that getting hit and losing systems will only increase the likelihood of getting hit again and losing more systems. The more damage you take, the less ability you have to avoid taking even more.

Repairing the mech is tied to a cooldown that is never explained and even after completing the game I never felt confident I understood why I wasn’t able to repair damage now, nor how long I’d have to wait until I could. I’d simply try to dodge enemies until the repair icon lit up again and I could press the button. Scraping through by the seat of your pants in such situations can be a thrill. I enjoyed the moments when the tables were turned and I’d have to spend the next 10 seconds or so desperately trying to disengage, but only when afforded the space to do so, when the play area was large enough to allow a bit of hide and seek. Too often combat occurs in enclosed arenas and you’re penalised for straying beyond their limits. It’s extremely annoying to think you’ve found a moment to recharge only to be picked up and dumped back into the heat of the action because you wandered beyond an arbitrary line.

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Stonefly fares better when you’re left to your own devices and encouraged to survey its strange landscape, free from the stress of its combat. You’re expected to learn each area as you explore, with the lack of a detailed map or clear objective markers emphasising that this is not a game that’s going to hold your hand. Despite the alien, almost abstract nature of the terrain, a mental map slowly takes shape as you traverse each area, the contours firming each time you revisit.

Learning the layout is important when every new task requires you to collect increasing quantities of specific resources. Remembering how to navigate to that particularly rich vein of dinotite massages that part of the brain that enjoys performing a methodical task with precision. But it’s also a pleasure to leap into the unknown, drift on a passing breeze and discover what’s around the next tree trunk.

If anything, Stonefly could afford to be a bit weirder. A striking art style, with its low poly environments, garish colours, and scratchy, almost pencil-sketched shadows adding texture, enhances the otherworldly atmosphere. The hints at weirdness are welcome, but it doesn’t go far enough. In the end, it’s just another type of tree or fungus and the leaves are a different colour. There’s still a sense of mystery whenever you first set foot in new territory, but it’s diluted by prior experience of realising that things aren’t going to change THAT much.

Reinforcing that feeling is a structure that offers little deviation. Objectives tend to come in two forms. Sometimes you’re tracking something, typically when first venturing into an area, which involves following the little fireflies that guide you in roughly the right direction until Annika tells you she’s noticed some clues in the environment. It’s disappointing that Annika picks up on these clues herself, without your input, and it ends up feeling like you’re watching her work something out rather than actually participating in the solution.

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But most of the time you’re heading back into previous areas to gather the resources needed to fulfil your current objective or because you want to craft one of many upgrades. And this is where the grind kicks in. You fly out, beat up some bugs, scoop the minerals they were guarding, and head back. Turns out you still need 500 of that and 800 of this, and if you get another 1,600 all up you can buy this too. So you fly out, beat up the same bugs, scoop the same minerals, and head back. When this is the vast majority of objectives, the process of doing it yet again becomes tiresome. If the narrative pulling you through was stronger, the grindy repetition might be more tolerable. But the story is slight, the promise of its early mystery dissipating into too many dead ends.

Stonefly takes flight in a fantastical world where you glide amongst giant trees, branches twisting improbable pirouettes in the sky. But the initial wonder soon sputters under frustrating combat design and runs aground against the mundane grind of its progression structure.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Review – A Riveting Adventure

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a game about counterparts. In this strange new setting, everyone has a doppelganger who looks almost identical to the one we know, but their circumstances have changed them. Ratchet’s new alternate dimensional counterpart, Rivet, may have had a harder life than him, and it’s shaped her personality in surprising ways, but she’s still the same heroic person at heart. The same can be said for Rift Apart. The new generation of hardware has made some dramatic changes for the better, but in a very welcome and comforting way, this is still the Ratchet & Clank you’ve come to know and love.

The title may be “Ratchet & Clank,” but Rivet is the real star here. Ratchet and his robot buddy Clank are the template that helps inform what we learn about Rivet and her own journey, and the vast majority of Rift Apart takes place in her universe. She also seems to get slightly more playtime, even if the stages are split roughly evenly as the two heroes divide-and-conquer to enact their universe-saving plan.

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Now Playing: Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Video Review

Once the game begins in earnest, after a brief tutorial in Ratchet’s Megalopolis, the bumbling but sinister Dr. Nefarious transports himself and the titular duo to another dimension. When Nefarious gets there, he finds that it’s ruled by an Emperor Nefarious. The Emperor is conspicuously absent at the moment, so our Dr. Nefarious just helps himself to the throne, and no one, including the evil executive assistant, seems to notice that he’s a pretender. Meanwhile Ratchet and Clank are separated, and Clank is picked up by the freedom fighter, Rivet.

Most of the game centers around these dimensional counterparts, who are not exact twins but rather similar characters with different names and slightly different personalities in this new world. Rift Apart rewards longtime fans with little nudging winks on how the alternative characters break from our expectations. For example Mr. Zurkon, a violent autonomous robot that has been both a weapon and a character in past Ratchet games, now owns a bar with a strict no-fighting policy. Giving the alternate characters their own identities and names helps reduce what might otherwise be confusing dialogue about who matches who. Ratchet, naturally, thinks this mysterious lady Lombax has taken Clank, but thankfully the “heroes in strife because of a misunderstanding” trope is resolved quickly and they begin working together.

But this game belongs to Rivet not just because it takes place in her dimension, but because she’s such a fantastic addition to the larger Ratchet & Clank universe. Having finished Rift Apart, I would love to play a standalone Rivet game, set in this or any other dimension. Part of that is the performance of Jennifer Hale as Rivet, who introduces a disarming amount of emotional heft. Unlike Ratchet, Rivet has experienced a string of defeats from the oppressive Nefarious regime, and Hale imbues the character with little tinges of self-doubt and loneliness even as she maintains her heroic determination. This is a character like Ratchet who fights for justice, but she hasn’t had a partner like Clank. Ultimately, the story is a sweet-natured but relatively conventional one about friendship and trust, elevated above its conventions by Hale and the surrounding cast.

Despite the fact that the dual heroes barely ever talk face-to-face, they share one pool of equipment. The game gives a sci-fi gobbledygook explanation, but more importantly, having one weapon wheel between both characters ensures that you can switch between your favorite guns without having to pause the fun and look for what you need. Ratchet is known for its inventive munitions, and aside from a handful of returning guns like the Warmonger and Buzz Blades, almost all of the weapons are new. They largely fit into familiar archetypes, but the PS5 DualSense makes a massive difference to how the weapons behave and how you interact with them.

For the most part, the DualSense lets you control different functions with a half- or full-pull of the right trigger. The Negatron Collider, for example, is an energy beam that will charge up and then hold the charge at a half-pull, and fire at a full-pull. The default Burst Pistol swaps between a fairly accurate single-shot and a less-accurate triple-shot. Several of the grenade-types use the half-pull as a targeting reticle. These functions seem deceptively simple but once I got into a rhythm, it felt completely natural to call up functions without a second thought, encouraging me to experiment with satisfyingly complex strategies. For example, a favorite of mine, the Blackhole Storm, is a gatling gun that spins up at a half-pull and then fires at full. With a little experimenting, I found you can keep it spinning without firing by easing up on the trigger, saving ammo but keeping the weapon at the ready. It’s that kind of smart implementation that makes the DualSense functionality more impactful than a mere gimmick.

Even the DualSense speaker is welcome. I never enjoyed the controller speaker on the DualShock 4, but here it’s used to subtly signal when your weapon is charged, or to give you a crisp and satisfying ting-ting sound of collecting bolts. At some points the haptic vibration and speaker prompts blend so seamlessly it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Smart implementation makes the DualSense functionality more impactful than a mere gimmick.

Like past Ratchet games, the weapon upgrades come in two complementary tracks. The first simply upgrades your weapon through use, so the more you use your favorite weapons, the faster they’ll upgrade. The other is obtained by purchasing nodes on an upgrade tree with Raritanium, a limited resource scattered throughout the planets. The upgrade tree unlocks more nodes as you upgrade the weapon through use, so the two systems sync together very well.

Some of the weapons feel a little off with how many uses it takes to earn an upgrade, though. The Ricochet gun, which bounces off your enemies like a pinball, upgraded much later than some of my other weapons even with heavy use, and very specialized or situational weapons like the Bombardier or Cold Snap are achingly slow to upgrade. Playing a Ratchet game as I do–where I basically abandon any weapon that’s already maxed except in cases of emergency–I started to find that the very situational weapons were lopsided toward the back half. That meant that I spent the last handful of encounters firing off low-level weapons so as to not “waste” the experience before switching to my fully upgraded arsenal to actually take the fight seriously.

Rift Apart is an action platformer, and Insomniac has built further on its already robust traversal options from past games. Complementing the usual suite of jumps, rocket boots, and contextual swinging mechanics are two new moves: the Rift Tether and the Phantom Dash. The Rift Tether pulls you into a dimensional hole in such a way that it looks as if the world is moving around you, while the Phantom Dash lets you phase out of reality and functions like a dodge roll. In the platforming segments, these combine with the existing Ratchet & Clank mainstays to make for some breathless, harrowing setpieces, as you transfer from rail-grinding to wall-running to rift-tethering with reckless abandon.

Even better, these traversal tools sing when you apply them in combat scenarios, especially in tougher encounters when you’re swarmed with enemies. The Rift Tether lets you close distances or get away for a breather quickly, and the Phantom Dash feels different than a standard jumping dodge because it breaks the continuity of your fire–including the charge for weapons like the Negatron Collider. Whether you want to risk a dodging jump to hold your fire or play it safe with a Phantom Dash is the kind of split-second risk-reward decision that makes combat feel exciting.

Not all of the traversal is quite as satisfying, though. A few times you have to jump on the back of a pterodactyl-like creature named Trudi to navigate a particular stage or snag some collectibles. While it’s seemingly intended to add variety, the beast feels sluggish and temperamental compared to the smooth and intuitive controls of Ratchet and Rivet. These segments are short enough that they don’t detract too much from the overall experience, but they stand out as a weak spot when compared to the rest.

More successfully, Insomniac mixes in moments of variety with two types of puzzle stages. A series of Clank puzzles has you placing orbs with different effects (like super-speed or heavy weight) to guide a constantly running line of Clank “possibilities,” Lemmings-like, toward a goal. A more action-oriented puzzle section, featuring an adorable spider-robot named Glitch, has you unlocking and then zapping viruses to open computer systems. Similar to the guns and bolt pickups, the tap-tap-tap of Glitch’s tiny metallic legs sound and feel very satisfying on the DualSense. These interstitial segments aren’t deep enough to support their own games, but they’re a welcome brief change of pace in this one.

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Those puzzles are also entirely skippable if you find they’re not to your taste. The challenges and Trophies aren’t gated by difficulty level, and you can use accessibility options like the slowdown mechanic to finesse your way past tricky parts. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart comes across as a game that’s comfortable in its own skin and unafraid to let you engage on your own terms. Not into this or that? “Hey man, that’s cool,” it seems to say. “Just enjoy the rest, we’re all here to have a good time.”

All of this is delivered in such a refined, recognizable package that the technical prowess on display doesn’t often call attention to itself. The Rift Tethers refresh your perspective almost instantaneously. Cutscenes and gameplay blend so seamlessly together you might often miss the transition. Pocket dimensions hidden throughout planets open an entirely separate environment that feel like they’ve punched a hole in the fabric of space. A couple of particular planets let you switch back and forth between entire realities in a snap. And load times are non-existent, either so fast that you’d never notice or hidden behind scene transitions. It makes the whole game feel cinematic and harmonious in a natural, unselfconscious way.

If you do pause for a moment to take it in, it will be to gawk at the stunning visuals. The environments are richly detailed and differentiated. Both the enemies and major characters have the kinds of stretchy, expressive faces and inventive design elements you’d see in an animated feature film. The textures are so well-realized you can practically feel the difference between Clank’s shiny steel and other types of painted or rough metals. Each time I reached a new planet, I would take a few moments to just rotate the camera and soak it all in. It’s just astounding to look at, even if that level of visual fidelity isn’t as noticeable when you’re in the thick of the action.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is flashy and technically impressive without feeling self-important. It’s just as silly, sweet, and earnest as the Ratchet & Clank series tends to be, while the new generation of hardware makes this entry look and play better than ever. Like the heroes and villains and their dimensional counterparts, this one may appear different or carry itself with a new accent, but there’s an underlying truth to the person underneath. At its core, it’s still your trusty old pals on another grand space adventure. That’s what’s important.

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Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown Review — Time for a Combat Seminar

June 4, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

While Virtua Fighter has gotten attention in other games, such as guest characters in Dead or Alive 5 and as minigames in various Yakuza titles, the once-venerated 3D fighter seemed to be forgotten for a very long time. But with Virtua Fighter 5 once again revamped and re-released, does this star of the fighting game world still shine as brightly? Yes… but, speaking as a veteran Virtua Fighter fan, there are a few issues that keep Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown from claiming its crown as an all-time champion.

Considered the granddaddy of 3D fighting games, Virtua Fighter sparked revolutions in visuals and gameplay and, even now, it holds a great deal of respect among fighting game fans. Its simple three-button control scheme and comparatively small character roster hides an incredibly complex and rewarding game–provided you’re willing to put in the time to learn and improve at it. Some games in the series–such as the excellent Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution–are known for amazing tutorials and learning tools, along with engaging and replayable single-player modes. Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown, however, eschews that to focus on competition, and more specifically, online competition.

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Now Playing: Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown – Official Gameplay Launch Trailer

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Gameplay-wise, Ultimate Showdown will feel very familiar to veteran Virtua Fighter players. The base fighting engine is based around the earlier Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown, with all of the moves, characters, and stages carried over from that game. There are a few minuscule changes, such as different colors of hit flashes to indicate normal and counter hits, but the overwhelming majority of the gameplay is unchanged. And that’s perfectly fine–VF5FS had some of the best fighting action you could find anywhere, with incredible depth of gameplay that has kept many playing for years on end. What is new, however, are the graphics and music, which have been completely redone in the Dragon Engine that Sega’s RGG Studio has been using for its Yakuza series. Character models and stages have been rebuilt from the ground up, and it all shines with a visual polish that has Virtua Fighter looking better than ever.

As previously mentioned, the meat of Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is undoubtedly in its versus play. The game heavily pushes competition as its main thrust, even going so far as to show you highlights of various matches on the mode selection screen. Currently, the game offers a random-matchmaking ranked mode where you compete with other players online, along with public and private lobbies where you can fight with a group of players, spectate matches, and even set up specialized tournament rooms in formats like single- and double-elimination, and round-robin style. The wealth of options and formats available is great, though there are some utterly baffling oversights, such as the inability to invite folks from your PSN friends list directly into a created room. (They just have to keep refreshing the room list until they find you.)

However, the big focus on competitive matchmaking in the game means that it’s been heavily prioritized over single-player modes. For solo play, you simply have a basic arcade mode where you fight a lineup of CPU opponents and a training mode. Arcade mode is very straightforward, while training mode manages to give a solid overview of the game’s systems through tutorials and provides many useful tools and overlay for players looking to practice specifics. It’s not as amazingly comprehensive as Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution’s phenomenal training and tutorial mode, but it gets the job done. While it’s possible that more single-player content could be added down the line in future updates, as of this writing, that’s all the game offers. Those hoping for a story mode, or some form of variety, will likely be disappointed–while many fighting games’ story modes aren’t terribly interesting, it’s still nice to have them to give players nervous about wading into the competitive pool a chance to dip their toes into the game.

With such a heavy focus on multiplayer and online–and strict, timing-based gameplay that matters down to single frames–Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown requires some heavy-duty netcode to carry the weight. The current popular solution to fighting game latency is “rollback” netcode, as seen in games like Mortal Kombat 11 and Guilty Gear Strive. Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown opts for a custom solution which Sega has not detailed the workings of. While the netcode, in general, is better than average, it still delivers a mixed experience overall.

I tested online play through a PlayStation 5 hooked up to the internet via an ethernet cable. Connections from my home in Portland, Oregon to locations in the Mountain time zone, northwest Canada, and the Midwest to others with similar setups (including wired PS4s) felt solid overall. Only when I got as far as New York City did play start to feel dicey, as techniques with long executions felt a little stuttery.

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In random ranked matches, however, things didn’t fare as well. I would get strong, four-bar connections that would still stutter and lag, likely due to the other player using a Wi-Fi connection. (There’s no Wi-Fi player indicator, which is a big oversight). However, I would also have some excellent connections with players from Japan. The quality of the connection you get seems to depend greatly on the setup you and your opponent are using along with the closeness to a relay server, which the netcode can only do so much to compensate for. Considering the large disparity in the quality of internet connections across North America, we can’t reasonably expect every potential player to have the ideal setup. Rollback could have helped compensate a bit more for this, but unfortunately, for the time being we’re stuck with netcode that’s serviceable but cracks under pressure.

Considering the overall quality of Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown’s combat it’s easy to recommend giving it a shot if you’re curious. If you can handle some iffy random connections and a dearth of single-player content, you will find an immensely satisfying fighting game experience that only gets better the more time you invest in it. However, I can’t help but feel like a little more time to cook would have benefitted this release. Sega wants this game to be an ongoing thing, so updates are likely to add features, customization items, game adjustments, and gameplay modes. For right now, though, Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown remains a good–if flawed–return to the spotlight for one of gaming’s greatest fighters.

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World of Demons Review – A Cut Above

May 28, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Developer Platinum Games’ style is instantly recognizable–flashy, fast-paced action that oozes with personality and flair. World of Demons brings that signature style to Apple Arcade, giving you control of a samurai named Onimaru and thrusting you into, well, a world of demons. That successful Platinum formula translates well to iOS devices, with simple touch controls and quick action that looks and feels great on the smaller screen. There are some issues lying underneath–mostly in the camera system–but those problems aren’t enough to derail this otherwise solid action experience.

World of Demons follows Onimaru, a lone samurai fighting against an army of vicious demons called yokai. Our hero is building an army of his own, however, as every enemy he defeats will join him in the fight against the game’s main antagonist, the demon king Shuten Doji. Onimaru himself controls exactly like a Platinum Games protagonist, deftly running around stages while slashing with his massive katana. Consecutive presses on the attack button will result in stylish combos, with better rewards given for higher combos at the end of a skirmish. Holding down the button will slow attacks down, making strikes more powerful but making you vulnerable to enemy counterattacks.

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The yokai Onimaru battle comes in all shapes and sizes, from small bean farmers to massive pink blobs, each with its own attack abilities. Each yokai is assigned a color (red, blue, or green), with each color having strengths and weaknesses over the other in a rock-paper-scissors system. Defeating a yokai adds it to your collection, and before each chapter you’ll be able to equip two yokai for the following mission. Other yokai defeated during the chapter are added to a “deck” and disappear after one use.

Allowing you to have two yokai you can always depend on, while also adding more throughout a mission, creates a dynamic battle system that really shines. Paying attention to each enemy’s health bar and attacking with corresponding yokai adds a layer of complexity to each battle that feels natural and fun, making the yokai more than just glorified summons. You’ll never know which yokai you’ll encounter in a mission, but the rock-paper-scissors element mitigates any detriments caused by that instability.

Mixing Onimaru’s sword attacks in with the supporting yokai gives you plenty of options in combat, encouraging strategizing before every enemy. Boss fights in particular require this approach, as you need to gauge when you can switch from quick sword strikes to the more powerful blows while also using yokai to inflict more damage. It’s fast and it’s frantic, but most importantly, it’s a lot of fun, emulating that signature Platinum Games style impressively well.

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It’s not a perfect translation however, as I found one major annoyance during my run with the game: the camera. As World of Demons uses a touchscreen control scheme, character movement and camera movement are assigned to the screen itself. The left half of the screen controls character movement, while the right controls camera movement. The problem with this is the camera half of the screen is obstructed by the rest of the touch controls, giving you only half the amount of screen for camera movement that you have for moving Onimaru. This makes the camera awkward and confusing both in and out of battle. An auto-targeting system tries to counter this by zeroing in whichever enemy you’re attacking. This works to a point, but the camera is easily the most frustrating part of what is otherwise a solid game.

World of Demons looks wonderful, with every stage looking like it was taken straight from a ukiyo-e wood print (most reminiscent of a game like Okami). Each area jumps off the screen with color and beauty, and even darker stages feature personality, with blue waves crashing in the background or swelling dark clouds blocking your path in the distance.

You’ll have the opportunity to take in the sights, too, as the game encourages checking every nook and cranny for items and loot. Each map is divided into sections, with each section featuring a certain number of battles to fight and treasure to find. Once everything in a section is completed it will turn gold on your map with a red “Complete!” stamp, letting you know there’s nothing left to find.

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This map format does lead to one minor complaint, however; missions can sometimes feel repetitive, with the game’s only variety being found in the yokai that appear during battles. When you start a mission, you’ll see a purple cloud marking your first battle point. You’ll approach the cloud, and a dramatic two-second pause occurs before yokai appear. You’ll fight the yokai and a statistics screen pops up to give you a grade for the battle. Once that goes away you can continue to the next point, and rinse and repeat until the final battle of the chapter. There’s some exploration thrown in, but the bulk of each chapter follows this exact same structure, and after a few extended gameplay sessions, it starts to feel a little stale.

One feature that I truly appreciate is the ease in which World of Demons allows you to get back into the game in between play sessions. Say you’re trying to explore an area but your attention is pulled elsewhere, forcing you to close the game and quit playing. When you load back up you’ll be in the exact spot where you left off, and the map will even pop onto the screen to remind you what you’ve explored so far. Being able to trust this game to take me right back where I left off is a huge relief, and something I wish more mobile games would do with such precision.

World of Demons proves that Platinum Games’ trademark action can flourish on small phone screens. The yokai mechanics are smartly implemented, while boss battles are intense and rife with adrenaline. The camera issues can be annoying, but they’re not enough to ruin the thrilling experience onscreen. A Platinum Games title working well on iOS sounds like a long shot, but World of Demons is not only a fun mobile action game, but a solid title regardless of what platform it’s on.

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Miitopia Review — Eyes Without a Face

May 28, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

When I reviewed Miitopia on 3DS in 2017, I wasn’t terribly impressed. The game was dull, simplistic, and felt so random that I barely felt like I was playing it. But, as we’ve learned over the years, games can be improved significantly from their initial launches, and I figured that a Switch remake of Miitopia would be the perfect opportunity for Nintendo to fix the flaws of the 3DS release. Unfortunately, while there are notable improvements, the core game is still the same tiresome, repetitive experience from four years ago.

Miitopia is a game where you take created Mii characters–based on yourself, friends and family, celebrities, fantasy characters, whoever–and “cast” them as player and NPC characters in a simple RPG story. The Dark Lord of Miitopia is ruining the peace and stealing the faces of the populace, so it’s up to you and your merry band of adventurers to gear up and put a stop to his wickedness, with plenty of goofy character interactions and dialogue snippets along the way.

It’s a cute and fun concept, and to Miitopia’s credit, the Switch version of the game features a fully revamped character creator that lets you go all-out with creating incredibly detailed Mii characters by layering different hair, eyes, facial features, and additional shapes. It takes time to make a really impressive Mii, but if you’re willing to put in the effort, you can make some astounding creations. If you don’t have that sort of time, you can use Miis made by other players by entering their Access Code or pick from a selection of currently popular Miis. It’s a bit cumbersome not being able to search in-game for specific characters (it took me far too long to find a good Hank Hill) but with some online sleuthing on social media you should be able to find some good created-character libraries.

Once you’ve got a bunch of Miis assigned to various roles, it’s time to set off on the adventure. You meet the Dark Lord, get told you’re the chosen hero, and quickly start to amass a party to vanquish evil from the land. The visuals and overall tone of the dialogue set up Miitopia as a tongue-in-cheek, comedic take on RPG tropes, and it succeeds pretty well on this front: it’s pleasant to look at, has lots of cute animations and bright colors, and the snappy, quip-laden dialogue is of the high quality we’ve come to expect from first-party Nintendo titles. The visual overhaul for the Switch version is excellent, adding more detail and flourishes without losing the simplistic charm of the original 3DS graphics.

Sadly, all of that charm begins to melt away once you start digging into the actual gameplay. Miitopia’s combat and exploration are simplistic to a fault. Exploration consists of auto-running through an area and, occasionally, making a choice to follow a path or examine an object like a treasure chest. When you encounter enemies, you’ll be thrust into a turn-based battle… where almost all choice of what to do in combat is stripped from you. Instead, your party members, besides your main character,, are CPU-controlled. You can’t even give them general instructions like “attack the same enemy” or “focus on spells’, they just do what they want, often wasting resources and letting their “wacky” personality quirks take center stage instead of dispatching foes efficiently. As a result, you spend more time passively watching fights and exploration happen than actually doing anything, and no amount of cute dialogue can make up for the fact that your high-damage mage just wasted a turn sleeping–again. A new addition to Switch Miitopia’s combat is a horse who will sometimes let you ride it and do special attacks, but only sometimes. Like much of the game, it’s frustratingly random.

But perhaps you’re not here for an in-depth RPG experience. Maybe you just want to watch all of your cute little Mii creations have silly dialogue exchanges while traveling and fighting and getting all friendly when they room with each other. That’s perfectly fine. The problem is the character-interaction element of the game isn’t all that great either. You encounter inns frequently when exploring, and by putting characters in the same rooms together, you can build their relationships. Better relationships let them learn new combat skills and help each other out in fights. You can also use tickets earned from treasure chests and enemy drops to go on “outings” with chosen characters to places like the beach, the movies, and karaoke, where you’ll see a short skit and watch their closeness levels rise. However, many of these skits and dialogue bits begin to repeat, quickly lessening their appeal. You can also choose to feed your party members and send them on shopping expeditions, which, again, are subject to frustrating random factors: You don’t know if characters will like food until they eat it (dislikes equal lesser stat gains), and sometimes when characters go shopping, they won’t buy the thing they intended to.

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Ultimately, beyond character-making and very base-level decisions, what happens in Miitopia feels completely out of your control, and what you can control ultimately feels simplistic and unfulfilling. So when the dialogue and character interactions start to wear thin, you wind up with an RPG that becomes quite dull after just a few hours. And Miitopia does little to add challenge or variety to this very basic formula as the game progresses, other than simply regressing you back to Level 1 with a new class and making you re-recruit party members at certain story points. What’s particularly frustrating is that these were all issues with the original 3DS game that could have been addressed in the Switch remake.

Miitopia winds up being little more than a great character creator attached to an overly simple game that, while charming in its visuals and dialogue, is a mostly passive experience. Watching you recreate your favorite fictional character ships in-game or fighting Evil Guy Fieri has some brief appeal, but once those initial chuckles fade, Miitopia is disappointingly shallow. I’m sure there’s a great RPG yet to be made where you can team up with Mr. T, Goku, and Troy McClure to battle evil, but Miitopia is not that game.

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Knockout City Review – Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, And Dodge

May 28, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Knockout City’s colorful, cartoonish aesthetic plays host to a relatively straightforward game of dodgeball, putting two teams against each other in a war waged with red rubber balls. But once you start factoring in deployable gliders, balls that can trap opponents in cages, and throwing techniques that can bend your shots around corners, Knockout City’s identity starts to bubble to the surface. In between the satisfying thunks of direct hits and the grace of each character’s movements, Knockout City features a satisfying level of depth that balances its pickup-and-play nature with a compelling competitive element that’s difficult to walk away from.

Each of Knockout City’s rotating modes rests on the fundamentals of finding a ball and trying to hit opposing players twice with it for a knockout, racking up your team’s score in the process. Knockout City makes this both simple and satisfying by automatically targeting enemies for you, but giving you control over the distance and power of each throw. You can take a longer time to charge up for a faster swing of the arm but expose yourself in the process by limiting your movement speed to do so. Judging how much power to put behind a shot and balancing that with the distance between you and another player is critical, and just one of the many micro-decisions you’ll need to make during each skirmish.

The balance between the two creates a dynamic that allows Knockout City to be approachable enough for casual play but still retain smaller complexities for competitive play to leverage. And when you start coming up against more savvy foes, additional mechanics start becoming more important. Just like in the real game of dodgeball, you can catch balls tossed your way to avoid taking a hit. In Knockout City, this applies a stacking effect to the ball, causing it to travel faster if thrown again quickly after being caught. You can quickly find yourself in an escalating ping pong match with another player, adjusting to shrinking catch timing windows with each exchange. Without the need to manually target enemies, Knockout City allows you to focus on timing and positioning instead, which makes its fast-paced action more manageable.

With a straightforward approach to how the action plays out, Knockout City also offers a limited number of ways to change up how these exchanges occur to constantly keep you on your feet. You can pump-fake a throw, for example, to try and catch an opponent off guard, or change the flight of your throws with two different jumps that either curl or lob your throw, respectively. Each of these moves is meant to give you different ways to catch out enemies, but also teach you that the same can be done back. These throw variants offer some intense moment-to-moment gameplay decisions, too. An opponent who is running for cover might be caught blindsided by a ball that manages to curve around an object they assumed they were safe behind, while a lobbed throw can trick a foe into thinking that you aren’t even equipped with a ball before having one land on their head.

All of these allow you to contribute to team play in a solo manner without needing to engage with more party-focused strategies, which makes it easy to feel like you’re making a difference in a match without explicitly needing to communicate over voice chat. There are still some nuances at play where communication is a benefit, however. During matches, you can roll up into a ball and turn into a projectile that a teammate can throw, instantly knocking out enemies if you happen to connect with them. Better still, a teammate can charge their throw and turn you into an airborne bomb, which you can subtly control to take out multiple foes at once. Both of these strategies work best when you’re directly communicating with a team, and as such don’t feature that heavily in solo matchmaking. That said, Knockout City’s matches don’t necessitate this single mechanic.

Each of the game’s maps offers a theme that changes up the flow of matches. Rooftop Rumble takes place between two skyscrapers with only a single route between them, but lets you use your glider to catch the wind and get the drop on enemies (though you have access to the glider in all Knockout City’s matches, this is, surprisingly, the only map where the glider feels useful). Back Alley Brawl has three color-coded tube systems that can quickly transport you to hotspots on the map, while Knockout Roundabout has a flowing stream of traffic that can knock you down and leave you vulnerable to enemy attacks. All of them are small and compact, letting opposing teams find each other fast and keep the action flowing. They also all have great vertical options, rewarding you if you take the time to learn where you can best launch a ball from to make a reply challenging.

Each map is equipped with numerous spawn points for balls, but also additional points where random special balls will appear. One is a football-like ball that acts as a long-range, fast-moving sniper shot, while another, shaped like an iron cage, traps a player in a ball for a few seconds, creating the opportunity to grab and throw them off the map if you’re quick enough. There are some special balls that influence the flow of a match far more than others (one that lets you carry three balls at once is a standout, and the sniper-like attack can really make you second-guess your catching timing), but I often found myself gravitating towards the stock standard red balls on most occasions because the chaotic nature of skirmishes already made it hard to get off normally charged shots, nevermind ones with even longer wind-up times. And since most matches only include one type at a time, the random nature of the selections can result in a string of matches where you’re just assigned the same one repeatedly.

Gameplay is only marginally altered by the handful of modes on offer, each of which are set to be rotated on a weekly basis. The standard 3v3 battle mode is a staple and easily the best mode in Knockout City currently, honing in on the game’s engrossing moment-to-moment action and letting it play out over a best of three-round format. Other variations, such as Diamond Dash, featured diamonds exploding out of defeated foes for you to collect in order to score (like the staple Call of Duty mode, Kill Confirmed). Another variation swaps out all regular balls with special ones, which gives them more opportunity to shine but also ends up being a dash for specific ones over the less useful options. There’s some nail-biting fun to be had in the duels of the limited 1v1 mode, but outside of that, it’s difficult not to recommend just the standard 3v3 battles that let Knockout City’s refined action shine for itself. Ranked Play lets you also match with players ready to take the game more competitively too, with seasons planned out for the foreseeable future.

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Like many other live-service multiplayer titles, Knockout City features its own spin on a Battle Pass and rotating player challenges that feed into progression in-between matches. Given that Knockout City isn’t free (it’s $20 after this initial 10-day free pass), it’s good to see that these aren’t restricted behind an additional paywall. Instead, you earn in-game currency, unlock items, and partake in daily, weekly, and seasonal challenges by default, letting you purchase and acquire items to customize your in-game character. You can purchase additional in-game currency for a fee, but none of the cosmetics give you an advantage in-game (a fact the in-game announcer loves to joke about every time you open the store). Knockout City’s blend of futurism and ’80s greaser aesthetics are well represented in a wide variety of clothing and accessory options, each of which goes a long way to making you stand out online.

Knockout City’s greatest strengths lie in its simplicity, but also in the ways it remixes traditional multiplayer elements to create something distinct. Its easy-going nature and straightforward mechanics reduce the time it takes to feel invested in each match, but it’s really the subtle complexity underneath that keeps the action engaging and compelling over long play sessions. There’s certainly room for improvement with the game’s rotating match modes and some of its special ball types, but Knockout City nails the fundamentals to create multiplayer fun that will likely hook you for a long time to come.

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Mass Effect: Legendary Edition Review

May 26, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

It’s been a whole console generation since we last saw Shepard, Tali, Garrus, and the rest of the Normandy crew. Mass Effect: Legendary Edition remasters BioWare’s space opera RPG trilogy for the new generation of consoles, enhancing the visuals, implementing quality of life improvements, and making welcome adjustments to certain content for all three games. In those adjustments, Legendary Edition occasionally draws unwanted attention to parts of the trilogy that haven’t aged gracefully, but as a whole, this remaster is a good way to see what all the fuss is about if you missed out on the first three Mass Effect games the first time around, or are just looking for a reason to dive into them again.

The core of Mass Effect is its choice- and consequence-driven narrative. As Commander Shepard, the first human to be given the role of a Spectre (basically a space cop) in the interspecies Milky Way government, you are put into many situations where you have the final say on how things go down. Your choices in the first game can influence how characters perceive you or how events transpire in the second, which then can domino effect into the third. It’s up to you to decide whether you wish to be a paragon of virtue or a results-oriented renegade in your mission to defend the entire Milky Way’s galactic society from a large number of conflicts, while an even greater threat looms on the horizon.

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Now Playing: Mass Effect Legendary Edition Review

While this consequence-driven system seems to allow a great deal of agency in how you resolve certain conflicts, it’s rigid in its design, basing the entirety of Shepard’s morality on a binary system of Paragon and Renegade choices. Its simplicity does make the system fairly approachable, reducing the complexity of every decision to a “morally good” and “morally bad” choice for those looking to play through the trilogy entirely Paragon or Renegade. Additionally, from an accessibility standpoint, splitting Shepard’s choices into a rigid binary helps with better understanding the underlying nuance to certain dialogue choices before picking them.

But in sticking to this rigid binary, the Mass Effect trilogy strips the tension from certain situations. Mass Effect 2 possesses one of the most egregious examples, where one of the later missions finishes with asking you whether you want to brainwash an entire group of people to think the same way that you do or simply kill them all. Up to that point, your squadmates provide pros and cons for committing to either option, but the game then regulates the former as the Paragon choice while the latter is Renegade. This undermines the implied tension of the choice–this should be an impossibly difficult decision to make: When it comes down to it, do you think that it is better to deal with those who disagree with you via indoctrination or genocide? But the trilogy’s binary choice system removes that nuance, telling the player that, in this instance at least, remaking someone without their knowledge is morally better than killing them. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with that conclusion, the game strips that agency from you by reducing the conflict to a question of whether you want to resolve the issue as a Paragon or Renegade.

This can make the Mass Effect trilogy feel unrewarding at times–at certain points across all three games, special Paragon and Renegade dialogue options will pop up that allow you to resolve the situation and achieve an ideal outcome, but you can only pick these choices if you have enough Paragon or Renegade points, which are earned by picking Paragon or Renegade dialogue options. So to get the best outcomes for certain situations, you need to make a lot of Paragon or Renegade choices, encouraging you to lean one way or the other. And it’s not very satisfying to see how your choices play out across three games if you’re being funneled down to one of two predetermined paths.

But the Mass Effect trilogy’s strength has always existed in the story around those choices, not the choices themselves. And Legendary Edition holds true to that. The trilogy’s most memorable moments have been preserved. Mass Effect 2’s loyalty missions are still some of the best storytelling that BioWare has ever done, with those for Mordin Solus, Legion, Samara, and Tali’Zorah standing out as highlights. And although Mass Effect 1 still doesn’t deliver a compelling reason to really romance anyone, its two follow-ups better utilize the romance feature, adding replayability as you explore all possible relationships. The 13 possible romances (plus the handful of one night stands and flirty relationships you can pursue) can have substantial impacts on the story and your understanding of who your crewmates are, encouraging you to replay the trilogy in order to gain additional insight into certain characters.

And, on top of that, Legendary Edition’s content adjustments and visual enhancements do add new memorable moments for returning fans to enjoy. So even if you’ve replayed the trilogy a half dozen times, there are still new ways to appreciate the games in this remaster.

The way Saren's ship darkens the sunny sky with plumes of red and black smoke is so disturbingly eerie--what a way to begin Shepard's adventure.
The way Saren’s ship darkens the sunny sky with plumes of red and black smoke is so disturbingly eerie–what a way to begin Shepard’s adventure.

I love what Legendary Edition does for Eden Prime, Mass Effect 1’s opening level, for example. In the original game, the sky was blanketed in murky red clouds, with lightning flashing. It looked like the end of the world had already occurred and you were coming in on the tailend of an invasion, not during it. In the remaster, Mass Effect 1 now opens on a sunny day, which I find to be far more eerie. This change shifts Mass Effect 1 to better align with the openings of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, both of which also begin with an unforeseen, unknowable force interrupting business as usual, mirroring the greater framework of how these games are composed of simple, seemingly everyday decisions being interrupted by brutal consequence.

Most of the scenes and character models in Legendary Edition are enhanced with more detailed graphics and improved lighting. This has done wonders for many of the alien characters, especially your squadmates. The individual scales across Liara’s back and Thane’s face and Garrus and Wrex’s deep scars are much more detailed, for example. Some of the human characters, however, aren’t as lucky, especially for folks who are darker skinned, like Anderson and Samesh Bhatia. In locations where there are a lot of reflective surfaces, like the Citadel, the remaster’s Mass Effect 1 brightens up their faces in a way that creates blotches of white on their skin, almost like the characters were in the midst of applying shiny paint to their faces when Shepard came along. It’s never a great look, though it occurs far less in Legendary Edition’s Mass Effect 2 and even less so in Mass Effect 3.

And to that end, not all of Legendary Edition’s enhancements are good. For example, increasing the lighting in the previously dark scene in Mass Effect 1 where we see Saren and Benezia together for the first time reveals the lack of detail in the background, a fact that the player was likely never supposed to notice. Additionally, the models for some characters, like Kelly Chambers, lose a bit of their original charm in this remaster. In Legendary Edition, Kelly’s features are muted for example, subduing the redhead with bright green eyes into a brunette with brownish green eyes–her new design isn’t as unique and doesn’t stand out as easily as it did before. But these are all minor complaints–for the most part, the Mass Effect trilogy’s original vision has been preserved in this remaster.

The exceptions largely exist in Legendary Edition’s Mass Effect 1, which sees the most substantial changes in this remastered trilogy. The most noteworthy is Mass Effect 1’s combat, which has been improved to be less temperamental than the original release. Shepard snaps to cover more seamlessly in the remaster, for instance. In the original, players needed to push an additional button to crouch while ducking behind a short wall. However, in the remaster, simply pushing the analogue stick towards cover will make Shepard duck behind it.

There are a couple of other small adjustments too, like improved aim assist so it’s easier to strafe targets and a dedicated melee button so you can decide whether to shoot or punch out an enemy rushing your position (in the original game, you just automatically melee attacked when you fired your gun at point-blank range). The overall effect is that it no longer feels like you’re fighting the enemy and the controls in the midst of a firefight. Dying in Legendary Edition’s Mass Effect 1 is a far less frustrating affair as a result; when it happens it’s more likely due to a mistake on your part, as opposed to the mechanics or controls not playing nice.

Granted, there are still issues. Certain biotic and tech abilities can uselessly collide into a wall if your target side-steps out of your line of sight, as powers don’t curve around cover like their Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 counterparts. It doesn’t happen all the time–most of Mass Effect 1’s battlefields are located in fairly open areas full of straight-shot sightlines–but it happens enough times to be noticeable and annoying, especially in the enclosed spaces found in all the bases you’ll uncover across Mass Effect 1’s many optional side missions.

Legendary Edition's Mass Effect 3 looks so incredibly good.
Legendary Edition’s Mass Effect 3 looks so incredibly good.

It’s notably still a bit janky, lacking the polished improvements that made Mass Effect 3’s combat good enough to warrant the addition of a multiplayer horde mode (which is sadly absent in this remaster). The Mako in Legendary Edition’s Mass Effect 1 is also a bit janky, lacking the vehicular control seen in Mass Effect 2’s Hammerhead, but it thankfully at least handles better than it did in the original game. The explorable planets in Legendary Edition’s Mass Effect 1 are still bare of sights to see and a bit of a slog in their repetitive collectibles and missions, but at least it’s now a bit easier to drive on them.

Legendary Edition makes a few other changes to the original trilogy’s content too. Some are big, like the aforementioned adjustments to Mass Effect 1’s combat and driving mechanics. Others are minor but no less welcome, like changing Mass Effect 1’s Elanos Haliat from a human to a turian to better fit his backstory, removing the gratuitous shots of Miranda’s ass while she discusses her personal trauma in Mass Effect 2, and adjusting the picture you get of Tali’s face in Mass Effect 3 so it doesn’t look like a poorly photoshopped stock photo. So even though Legendary Edition isn’t a full-blown remake, it goes beyond a traditional remaster, adjusting the very content of the game so that it’s an improved experience. But as I mentioned in the intro, the one major downside to these improvements is that it further highlights the original drawbacks of the Mass Effect trilogy that were not changed for the remaster, like the games’ poor depiction of mental disabilities and autism. There are small examples, like Mass Effect 1’s Dr. Warren noting that “genius and madness are two sides of the same coin,” and larger ones such as Mass Effect 2’s David Archer–a man who’s autistic–being used as a prop, the misunderstood “monster” in the Overlord DLC, which is a story that largely focuses on the Dr. Frankenstein-like abuser Dr. Gavin Archer, instead of the victim.

Neither of those instances have been changed in Legendary Edition. They were problematic when these games first released, and continue to remain so now. And there are other examples of problematic content across the trilogy, pieces of BioWare’s original games that have not aged gracefully years later. As a result, Legendary Edition can feel strange to play through during certain moments; it feels like the remaster only takes a half-step toward improvement in certain aspects.

Legendary Edition enhances the look of pretty much every major character across the trilogy, updating their models with more details.Legendary Edition enhances the look of pretty much every major character across the trilogy, updating their models with more details.
Legendary Edition enhances the look of pretty much every major character across the trilogy, updating their models with more details.

For some of the content, the issue is not the nature of what it is, but how it’s delivered to the player. Legendary Edition launches with pretty much all of the trilogy’s DLC. But these expansions are implemented in a way that makes them more difficult to enjoy for newcomers. For example, Mass Effect 2’s The Lair of the Shadow Broker is unlocked as soon as you finish Act 1 of the game, when you’re allowed to travel to Illium for the first time. So you know you have information for Liara before you know it’s even possible to meet up with her, and you have information to help her track down the Shadow Broker prior to completing errands for her and learning that she’s hit a deadend in her search for the Shadow Broker. Returning players will know to hold off and let the story play out in a way that makes sense, but newcomers can easily just stumble into that DLC without knowing they should do other stuff first. Legendary Edition fails to seamlessly integrate all of its expansions into the trilogy’s overall story (post-launch add-ons Omega and Citadel in Mass Effect 3 are also notable standouts for their poor integration), which can lead to an annoyingly inconsistent narrative.

I decided to try something new for this review and romance Liara with a somewhat Renegade leaning female Shepard.I decided to try something new for this review and romance Liara with a somewhat Renegade leaning female Shepard.
I decided to try something new for this review and romance Liara with a somewhat Renegade leaning female Shepard.

The remaining changes in Legendary Edition are small but still worth shouting out. First off, I’m disappointed that the trilogy does not have a truly unified character creator. As Shepard’s morality in Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 plays a hand in whether they have scars, the option to add scars is only in Mass Effect 1’s character creator. It’s a bit weird to see my Shepard somehow lose her badass scars in between the events of Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2. Also, I can understand why, but I’m still sad that Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer didn’t make the cut. Mass Effect 3’s combat is still amazingly solid, nearly 10 years later. On the more positive side, Legendary Edition’s improved load times are wonderful, removing much of the frustrating waiting in getting lost on the Citadel or dying to the same enemy over and over. Additionally, it’s awesome to finally see a default female Shepard across all three games.

All in all, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition isn’t this huge transformation for the original trilogy. The remastered Mass Effect 1 is a more enjoyable experience than playing the original game today, and makes for a far more palatable entry point to the series. And Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 look far better than they did before, with minor but welcome changes to specific pieces of content. But otherwise this remaster delivers the same experience the original trilogy did. In some respects, that’s not a wholly good thing–time has reinforced and made clearer certain underlying issues of the trilogy. But there’s a reason the Mass Effect trilogy is beloved by so many: Its strength resides in the wonderful journey that it sends you on, one that’s preserved in this remaster.

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