Ryan Thomas Bamsey
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it has the best mechanics and combat the Dragon Quest series has ever seen, with the monster-focused gameplay loop providing endless fun. On the other hand, overcommitment to the silent protagonist trope and shocking performance issues drag the experience down significantly. Although held back by dated hardware and dated design choices, The Dark Prince is one worth courting.
Without spoiling things, Star Ocean eventually devolves into schlocky cliché territory, but by that point, you’re firmly on board, ticket purchased and ready to see its journey through to the end. Star Ocean: The Second Story got the remake treatment for a reason - it’s a classic of the genre with compelling characters, wonderful storytelling, and oodles of satisfying mechanics. R goes to great lengths to streamline the Star Ocean experience and make it more beautiful (the new arranged soundtrack is glorious), and while it might have sustained a bit of the difficulty that made the original a triumph to overcome, it still squarely sticks the landing.
I have a love/hate relationship with Endless Dungeon. When it’s good, it feels excellent. The early-game progression is incredibly satisfying, filling out quest logs and completing pages of upgrades is rewarding, and it looks and sounds sublime. On the other hand, the lengthy runs take a toll, and once you get into the late game, the rate of progression doesn’t cut it anymore. Suddenly, the time invested doesn’t match up with the strength of the upgrades you can acquire, and the game feels very much like a Sisyphean task as originally intended, a punishment.
The Isle Tide Hotel is an uneven game. It delivers in its goal to tell some compelling stories about very interesting people and a cult that’s up to some incredibly odd behaviour, but the inarticulate efforts to gamify the experience may prove too frustrating for those not already enamored with the concept or the genre.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a masterpiece. Games like this don’t come along often, experiences that capture the zeitgeist so profoundly as to provoke scurrilous rumours that Larian Studios would come under legal action for making a game considered too good. From narrative to level design, combat to quests, character creation to romance, everything is fine-tuned to provide a gripping experience that provokes wonder and joy.
Full Void is on the short side, but that’s no bad thing. There’s only so much you can do to keep someone invested in a dystopian narrative that does little to explain the world it resides in, and this adventure thankfully provides mystery, suspense, and climax in quick succession. I clocked in at just under two hours and came away satisfied. While the metaphors at work err on the self-indulgent side and the gameplay is relatively shallow, Full Void delivers a memorable experience about how it feels to have your childhood ripped away by forces you can’t control.
Little Witch Nobeta is not for me, but then I’m not certain who it is for. It is a catastrophic fumbling of the bag with a narrative that makes no sense, combat that feels far too basic, puzzles that don’t even warrant a mention, and a distinctly unappealing target demographic. The only magic I want from Nobeta is a disappearing act.
When all is said and done, and the eight storytellers have finally found a way to make their narratives line up and come together to deliver the exciting finale, Octopath Traveler 2 makes for a satisfying night at the bar. It’s full of pathos and excitement that pushes you forward, and the gameplay is tight and enjoyable. You can’t help but wish it was a little more well-structured, but seeing how the storytellers learned so much from their previous attempt, it’s hard not to look forward to the tales they’ll tell next time.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is the platonic ideal of fanservice. There are plenty of people who would have been happy with a port of Curtain Call or simply bringing All-Star Carnival over to the West, so it’s a delightful surprise to see just how much effort and care has been poured into a title like this. It is endlessly charming, bursting with content, and treats its content with reverence. This is a game built with love for Final Fantasy, and that expression of love is resplendent, infectious, and mellifluous. I love this game with my entire thesaurus.
Despite its quirks, this is the best version of Tactics Ogre. Gone are frustrating class-based levels and the overabundance of secrecy. Replacing them are new frustrations that are less experience-breaking. Reborn makes the grandaddy of strategy RPGs the most accessible it's ever been, and it’s not one to miss. According to Steam, I have already played 62 hours, and I already know that number will triple at a minimum by the time I’m done with it.
Victoria 3 is a grand strategy game with perhaps too much depth and complexity for genre newbies, and genre veterans might find the simplified warfare a turn-off. That said, I am wholly invested. It’s the most sandboxy of the Paradox lineup so far and I’ve been enjoying my time with it immensely. It is gorgeous, impressive, and absolutely worth the time it takes to learn. Now onto my fourth playthrough. The World Welsh Order will rise, mark my words.
Lucy Dreaming tells a compelling, concise story filled with wit and hilarity, kept me invested with a juicy mystery, and hooked me with its fantastic execution of the sarcastic adventure game protagonist trope. It never feels like a one-trick pony, and it’s a masterclass in knowing when to surprise with a sudden change in mood or shocking reveal. I went in thinking I was in for a charming point & click adventure with some gimmicks and enough jokes to keep me going, but I’m coming away convinced it’s going on my GOTY list. I wish I could forget everything about it and experience it all over again.
No Place for Bravery surprised me in many ways. When I first started, I was ready for a gory festival of combat with a good story to go along with it. What I got was a beautiful, dark narrative that pushed me to reach the end credits far more than the promise of combat would have. The things I loved most are things I can’t talk about in this review for fear of spoiling the experience - No Place for Bravery feels fantastic to play, and Glitch Factory has created a story that will stick with me for years.
Sunday Gold is a game with a lot to say, says it eloquently, and has an aesthetic and artistic direction that I’ve fallen in love with. However, it must be said that the execution leaves something to be desired - the game excels in set pieces, confrontations, and dialogues, but getting from one highlight to another is a bit of a slog. I’d play another game following Frank, Sally, and Gavin in a heartbeat, but I’d hope it flows much better than Sunday Gold.
There’s a lot to love about Potion Permit. It’s a game that, as mentioned, gives you a purpose, and does a great job of letting you experience the journey from total newcomer to heart of the community. It’s a perfect game for those seeking a relaxing, chilled-out experience - a tonic for a market filled with life sims that emphasise profit and efficiency. The only things lacking are a little difficulty to keep things interesting and some bug fixing to keep things running smoothly.
At this point in time, it takes a lot to stand out in a sea of Metroidvania action platformers. With its gorgeous presentation and memorable boss fights, Islets does just that. It has some of the tightest platforming I’ve ever experienced, but I felt that the unbalanced combat design drags it down. I really enjoyed my time with Islets - it took me around 12 hours to beat the game, and it certainly doesn’t feel like time wasted - and I’d recommend it to any fan of Metroidvanias, but I don’t think it has universal appeal.
With all of that said, it cannot be understated how compelling this game feels. It takes all the best things from its inspirations and blends them together in a way that works. It’s a game with the combat of a Soulslike, the gameplay loop of a Monster Hunter, and the exploration of a Metroidvania, all set against a beautiful backdrop - conflicting flavours that come together to form a delicious experience. It’s greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s a game I won’t be putting down for a very long time.