Like the best in literature and the arts, by the time Chrono Cross’ credits roll you’re going to be left in a reflective mood. It’s not just that it’s a very good game – though it is – is also that it’s a probing work of art that asks meaningful questions of the players and respects them enough to allow them to come to their own conclusions about it. This is the first time that we’ve had the opportunity to play the game here in Australia, and it’s telling that this 23-year-old game comes across as one of the most forceful steps forward for games as an art form that we’re going to see this year.
While Ikai’s a missed opportunity, it’s not one that necessarily should be missed. It’s not overlong, has some vivid imagery, and while the puzzles are almost laughable at times for how out of place they are, the actual design of them remains interesting right throughout. I’m glad I played Ikai, but I doubt I’ll play it again.
Submerged: Hidden Depth didn’t quite hit me as strongly as its predecessor. It is a more rounded and proficient take on the vision, but ultimately it is also the exact same vision as its predecessor and, this second time around, the impact just isn’t the same. However, it is still a beautiful, emotional and poignant bit of art, and we should all be sending our politicians copies to play. Otherwise, we’ll all find ourselves travelling around our crumbling, drowned cities soon. Just like Miku and Taku do here.
Relayer gets so much right. It’s gorgeous on the eyes, the narrative is twisty and fun in the way that the very best pulp sci-fi can be, and the traditional tactics JRPG action is well-executed and clean. It takes such joy in what it is doing that I can’t imagine there will be many people that walk away from it without a smile on their faces. While it might not do enough to stand out as one of the greats of the genre, it is more than worth your time, especially if you’ve ever looked to space and wondered just what tactical warfare up there might look like.
It’s hard to develop your own voice until you understand how other artists find theirs. While I ultimately find Dark Deity to be uninspired and certainly won’t be replaying it every year or so, as I do Fire Emblem, I also hope that this developer produces another tactics JRPG. I would buy that in a heartbeat, because I am quite certain that with a bit more experience as a team of artists, not only will this developer find its own voice, but it will start to build on everything that made those GBA Fire Emblem titles great. That – the promise of some kind of “Fire Emblem Plus” – is some exciting promise indeed.
I must reiterate that The Ascent is gorgeous, and for a team of just a dozen developers, they have outperformed themselves in that regard. Unfortunately, because the narrative is so anaemic and there is so little that connects the narrative to the aesthetics and gameplay, The Ascent ends up feeling empty. There’s nothing memorable about the characters, the world is dull and far too large for how little it offers, and while, yes, the story hits those key cyberpunk talking points, the developers largely missed the nuances that elevate cyberpunk beyond pulp fiction. So, again, the game’s fine, if you are looking for a generic sci-fi shooter (and can ideally drag a friend along). As a work of cyberpunk, though, it’s a failure.
Gal*Gun: Double Peace was excellent on its original release on PlayStation 4, and it’s excellent here. People will no doubt write this up as shallow and crass titillation, just as they did with the first release, but then shallow commentary isn’t exactly uncommon where anime and fan service is involved. The game is satire and it is therefore a commentary. You don’t have to like it, but that doesn’t change what it is. Without a doubt, Gal*Gun will unsettle some people, and that’s fine – the game’s just not for you, and you don’t have to buy it – but if you do find these kinds of games interesting, and have somehow missed out on the series to date, now you can jump in with the best in the series, on the console best suited to it.
At this point it’s pretty clear that Crypton’s strategy has shifted from positioning Hatsune Miku as something associated principally with music, to developing an all-ages mascot character in the same vein as Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma, or Doraemon. I am quite certain that these light and casual little puzzle games are cheap to produce while Crypton builds its capabilities in this area… but at the same time, it is quite clear that these games do come from a proper company with a serious vision and a commitment to quality. Even putting aside my undying love for Hatsune Miku, this is genuinely the best digital jigsaw puzzle game I’ve played to date, and as a fan of jigsaws, this was the nicest of surprise releases.
I have to wonder if the gaming audience is quite ready for the kind of metatextual experience that Stranger of Paradise presents. It’s not only a game that doesn’t take itself seriously, but it outright challenges players’ expectations on how games are made and how they should be played. It’s hugely entertaining and as experimental as Final Fantasy at its best, but I do wonder how well something so reflective will click and be remembered as a great in the longer term. I only hope that people realise that the nonsense of Jack, his iPod, and his obsession with Chaos is just the surface of this brilliantly smart, layered thing, and they then take the time to dig into what Stranger of Paradise is really saying as a work of metatextual satire.
Overall, Rune Factory 5 plays things pretty conservatively, and it’s the better for it. It’s a comfort food kind of experience, and while this might cost it on store shelves given that it has been released at the tail end of so many excellent, intelligent, innovative, and big RPGs, it’s a game of simple delights and pleasant experiences. Sometimes, that’s enough.
You’re going to have fun with this game. For the criticisms I list above, I do think that Tango Gameworks has, with guidance from Bethesda (no doubt), created a refined and highly playable open-world game. It’s one that ticks all the boxes and does so in such a way that’s hard to actively fault. Yet, it’s also so frustrating. The hints of what the developers wanted it to be are there. They wanted to make a Noh-inspired, yurei-and-yokai drenched blend of Shinto, Buddhism and neon-modern Japan. That would have been incredible. Sadly that didn’t happen. Instead, I was left with the impression that I’d just played a Ubisoft Goes To Tokyo farce, and that left me feeling very deflated indeed.
Hundred Days is a fascinating little experience. I didn't expect it to be a graceful little anti-capitalist dig, but I rather love that it is. It didn't discourage me from wanting my own vineyard one day... but it certainly reminded me that I never want anything I do to become so big that I stop caring about it, and it's a rare quality for a simulator - or any game - to subvert the expected experience to deliver a powerful message like that.
I don’t think we should completely give up on it, though. Games have been turned around from disastrous launches to become quite well-loved things, and I do think there is room for Babylon’s Fall to grow, while also being a decent time (in the right conditions) right now. It’s certainly content rich in its current state already, and while it’s probably a bit of a gamble throwing money into something that might not be around for too long, I can still see this developing a community.
On the surface, Triangle Strategy seems like a straightforward and even no-frills homage to the tactics JRPGs of yesteryear. It has clearly been developed to tap into the same qualities that made Final Fantasy Tactics such a beloved classic for so many years, but there is more to it than that. With the tone and structure of a historical epic, Triangle Strategy is much denser and more demanding of its players than many might go into expecting. Engage with it on that level, however, and it's one of the finest examples of the genre you'll ever find.
It's hard to stay mad at Chocobo GP, though, even when you're hit with what feels like an endless barrage of magic. The game's just too bright and cheerful. Obviously, your mileage is going to depend on whether you're a fan of Chocobo. Not just Final Fantasy, but also this specific series of cute mascot characters. If you are, though, you couldn't ask for a more loving treatment. The expansive roster, the adorable presentation, and the quality kart racing mechanics will combine to give you something that you just might prefer over Mario Kart. The latter might be a bigger and tighter racing experience, but Chocobo GP has a killer weapon up its sleeve that makes all the difference: Chocobo.
That Conan Chop Chop is supposedly a Conan title is a reminder that Conan is the only rival to Dungeons & Dragons as the most poorly used license in video games. It's time to give someone else a go, Funcom. It also fails completely as a single-player adventure, so if you were considering it for yourself, look to any of the other roguelikes out there instead. However, I still think there is a role here that the developers have delivered on. There aren't many multiplayer-orientated roguelikes, and you can certainly have a lot of fun with this over a weekend of beers and button-mashing. It's not going to last long beyond the hangover and will be rotated out of the library quickly enough, but it's still a moreish good time while it lasts.
Even that's ultimately part of the charm of Elex II though, because it was a game made by RPG enthusiasts for RPG enthusiasts, and min-maxing is, ultimately, a big part of this community. Though the game comes across as an impenetrable club members-only experience at times, the creativity and energy behind it is impossible to deny. Frankly, I would rather play something like this, bugs and all, than something overproduced and so safe that it puts me to sleep.
Atelier remains the comfort food of video games, and Atelier Sophie 2 is one of the more comforting snacks. With so many dense and complex games releasing around one another at the moment, having something that is light, warm, and good-natured is a nice release. I don't know if launching immediately after Elden Ring and Horizon, and immediately before Triangle Strategy works in Sophie's favour, but if you can resist making those comparisons, what you'll see here is one of the most refined and beautiful entries in this long-running and utterly wonderful JRPG mainstay. The game deserves better than to be compared like-for-like with these other titles, as it no doubt will be.