Chris "Atom" DeAngelus
Mahokenshi has a cool concept and plenty of high moments. It lacks that special something to separate a good deck builder from a great deck builder. It's too slow, too repetitive, and a touch too easy. Even taking that into account, you'll still get hours of gameplay out of the loop, and if that works for you, it's easy to see it becoming a niche favorite. With the deck builder market so crowded, Mahokenshi doesn't stand out as much as it should, but it's still a well-made game.
Power Chord is a perfectly competent but entirely unexceptional roguelike deck builder. Once you take away the rock 'n' roll theme, it's pretty much another Slay the Spire clone that doesn't do enough to differentiate itself from the rest. It looks nice and plays well, but it doesn't stand out. If you've already burned through the other games in the genre and want something new, Power Chord will be the nice snack, but don't expect it to be a long-term engagement.
Fire Emblem Engage is a mix of steps forward and back. On a gameplay level, it's pretty much the absolute best the franchise has ever been, with excellent level design, great new gimmicks and features, and a customization system that offers a ton of depth. The storyline feels too much like standard Fire Emblem to stand out, and the side content that isn't focused on combat feels tacked-on. It's still a delightful game to play, and despite my nitpicks, I had a fantastic time. Fire Emblem fans will find a lot to enjoy, even if the story might not be to their tastes.
Persona 4: Golden is probably the ideal place to start your Persona experience if you haven't yet. It's probably the most consistent of the three games, and it nails the atmosphere, characterization and tone while keeping the gameplay fresh and exciting enough. It fun even if you are coming directly from Persona 3 Portable. If you have the current PC release, not a ton has changed with the latest patch, and you might consider whether you want to start this all over again. If you're looking for an excuse to pick it up, there's no better time.
It might sound like I'm being negative about Persona 3, but I'm not. It's a lot of fun, and it has a lot of interesting strengths. It has the misfortune of being the first game in a franchise where the sequels improved on a ton of features and were released before it on the PC. If you've never played it, it's well worth a shot. It's still a great game, but it has aged more than its sequels. Despite that, it still does some things superbly well. The addition of an entire second playable story path and a bunch of new social links also makes it a worthwhile experience for those who played the original release but not the portable version.
One Piece Odyssey is a nice RPG for fans of the franchise. It's clearly crafted with a lot of love, and there's a ton of great banter and interaction between the cast members. The core gameplay is perfectly serviceable, but it never really reaches the realm of "great," and it takes a bit too long to get going. It's probably not going to attract the attention of anyone who isn't a big "One Piece" fan, but for those fans, it should be an enjoyable little RPG. At the end of the day, how much fun you'll have boils down to how much you enjoy punching bad pirates in the face with your favorite pirates, and there's a whole lot of folks who want just that.
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a game that stepped right out of the '90s. It's a fun little platformer that controls well and is a delight to play, and it evokes a remarkable amount of nostalgia for a game that is coming out in 2023. Much like Blazing Chrome, it's the closest you'll come to a new Strider game that plays like the old-school Strider. If that is what you're looking for, you'll be delighted, and if you love old-school platforming action, Moonrider offers it in spades, without the quarter-munching or rental fees.
In some ways, it can be difficult to be objective about Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth. It's one of my favorite games, and barring a terrible port, there's no way I'd really dislike it. Getting the chance to play it again after a few years really drives home that as weird and strange as it is, it's still an absolute classic. You need some tolerance for the oddities of a PS1 title, but if you have that patience, Lenneth is easily one of Tri-Ace's best games and one of the best RPGs out there.
River City Girls 2 is pretty much everything you'd expect from a sequel: more enemies, more allies, more moves, more areas to explore, and more everything. It doesn't veer too far away from any of the original's design choices, and the result is a comfortable, if safe, sequel. The boss fights feel a little less tightly designed than they did in the first game, but it's a small complaint at best, and there's still plenty to enjoy here. If you enjoy quirky comedy with a fighting game twist, River City Girls 2 has a lot to enjoy. It's also way too cool to body-slam folks as a muscular, super-cool version of one of gaming's most famous damsels in distress.
The Callisto Protocol is frustrating as a game because it's so easy to see how it could have been great. There's no single thing that drags down the game, but it's an endless stream of annoyances that are exacerbated by the constant reminders of better titles. The Callisto Protocol can be fun, but it's constantly getting in the way of its own fun. It's possible that patches might smooth out some of the combat issues and improve the game a fair bit. At launch, though, it's more frustrating than fun. There's a lot of potential for a sequel that takes the lessons to heart, but for the moment, you're better off waiting for a sale.
Marvel's Midnight Suns is probably my top shocker for the year. I'm surprised at how well everything comes together. It almost seems like a bit too much on paper, but it feels amazing once you get your hands on the game. The combat is addictive and incredibly fun, and the story is pure comic book schlock in the best sort of ways. If you are looking for Marvel XCOM, you'll be disappointed, but that's the most significant "flaw" I can think of. Marvel fans of all types will be delighted with Midnight Suns, which is a love letter to the spooky side of the universe. It's a game that I easily see myself coming back to time and time again.
Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core Reunion manages to be a lot more than the sum of its parts. There are a lot of things that you can complain about, from the dumb antagonist to the legacy of its PSP roots. It's a credit to the game that despite those flaws, it is still probably one of the best Final Fantasy spin-off games on the market, and Reunion is by far the best way to experience it. It should do a good job of tiding over fans until at least Final Fantasy XVI.
Harvestella isn't going to remove Rune Factory from existence, but it has a lot of potential as a strong competitor. This first (and hopefully not only) outing has an extremely strong basis and manages to hit a lot of the high marks of JRPG-style farming simulation, while having enough of its own personality to avoid feeling like a clone. Only the overly stiff combat and general simplicity of the game hold it back from being as good as its obvious inspirations. It's so close to being great that it's easy to imagine a sequel hitting all of the marks. There's a lot to like here if you can get past the slow start, and by the time I finished the game, I felt almost as satisfied as I was with Rune Factory 5. Harvestella is absolutely worth a look if you're a fan of the Rune Factory franchise and want to see a different developer's take on the concept.
Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song Remastered is an excellent remaster of a very weird game. It's one of those games that is difficult to necessarily recommend because so much of what it does evokes love or hate. If you're curious about the franchise, it's probably a lot easier to hop in with SaGa Frontier Remastered or Scarlet Graces. If you like games in the SaGa franchise or want to try something different, Minstrel Song is a worthwhile experience. If you already know that you don't like the franchise, you'll probably be annoyed and frustrated with this offering.
By and large, Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet are fun. It's telling that I had a lot of fun with them despite the absolutely unforgivable performance problems. The basis for an extremely strong and engaging Pokémon game is here, but it's out in the wild without the extra months of development that it still needed to improve performance issues. If you're willing to forgive some jank for an otherwise great Pokémon experience, then you'll have a great time. Otherwise, it's probably worth skipping until it gets some patches. Even die-hard Pokéfans might have trouble getting past seeing their favorite Pokémon crawling along at five fps.
Evil West is a fun and well-made beat-'em-up that doesn't exceed its reach. The focus is on the combat, and thankfully, that largely pays off. Even coming from God of War: Ragnarok, I managed to have a lot of fun with Evil West nonetheless. There isn't a ton to see beyond the combat, and you'll probably be done in a single playthrough, but that single playthrough will be a darn fun time.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Episode 4 – The Devil in Me is a solid ending to the first "season" of the franchise. It isn't the best game in the lineup (I'd probably give that to House of Ashes), but it's probably the best horror story of the lot. The same familiar gameplay is bolstered by some new additions, but at the end of the day, they don't change the formula. If you've played the previous games, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. The Devil in Me shows that Supermassive is experimenting with The Dark Pictures Anthology and trying to expand what its games can be. I'm looking forward to seeing what Season 2 brings.
That is about the only real criticism I have about The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story. It's a darn enjoyable multi-generation experience that has a lot of unusual mysteries, so it stands strong on its own merits. If you're a fan of mystery games, then it's absolutely worth a shot. The strong acting and good use of FMV help it to stand out from the crowd, and it's almost as much praise and criticism that I wished it were a movie or television show that I could just sit back and watch.
Tactics Ogre: Reborn is an incredibly well put together remaster of one of the cult classics from the SNES era. It's an improvement over the well-done PSP remaster and improves upon it in almost every way. The story and translation remain excellent, and the core gameplay is more fun than ever. The only downside is that it didn't get any visual touch-ups, so you'll need to be willing to accept cute, pudgy little sprites acting out the serious tense political drama. If you're a fan of strategy RPGs and haven't played Tactics Ogre yet, then Reborn is well worth a shot.
Sonic Frontiers is an all-around solid Sonic the Hedgehog game. The shift to a more open-world style of gameplay works almost entirely in its favor and allows the game to offer more freedom and exploration without resorting to werehogs. At heart, it's still the same basic 3D-style gameplay that the franchise has been doing lately, but the change in perspective works in its favor. Not every change is a winner, but enough are that I dearly hope that Sega sticks with this flavor instead of reinventing the wheel. Fans of Sonic will be delighted, and those on the fence should give Frontiers a shot. It's easy to see how the greater freedom (and lack of annoying gimmicks) could be the difference between frustration and fun.