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Game on!

Game reviews by Brandon, Elizabeth, Justine, Kristin, and Stacy. 

Hello everyone! To celebrate the start of the new year, we hope you’ll enjoy these reviews of our favorite games we played throughout the weird year that was 2020! 

 Today's theme

Our favorite games of 2020 – not limited to games released in 2020, but games we played in 2020! 


Final Fantasy VII and Fall Guys 
Final Fantasy

"Promise has been made; they are coming back" When the ominous narrator announced this at the E3 teaser trailer in 2015, I immediately became both excited and terrified. One of the most influential games of my childhood was being remade. How could they possibly meet my expectations? Well, not only did they meet my expectations, but they far surpassed them. A fast-paced combat system acts as a brilliant reinvention of the battles we know and love. Phenomenal graphics showcase Midgar just as you remembered it from the days of the PS1. Most importantly though, the story acts as a loveletter to fans of the original, while also bringing meaningful twists that make for a compelling story once again, over 20 years later. Now excuse me while I put on “One-Winged Angel” for the one hundred and ninth time. 

Fall Guys
I’ve made it no secret that I’m a huge fan of games with a strong storyline and a great single player campaign. However, I find myself listing a multiplayer game with no story whatsoever, as my second favorite game of the year. You ever see those game shows with people dodging ridiculous obstacles and trying to make it to the end of the course? Well, imagine that, only with 59 other players at the same time, and everyone is some kind of weird jellybean...thing. You could also call this Endorphin Rush: The Game. The vibrant graphics and groovy music will hook you right from the get go, and the zany gameplay will keep you hooked. There is technically an option to pay for additional in game currency, but all of the best rewards are locked behind gameplay achievements, which is very refreshing to see. Survive each round and you will truly become, top jellybean...thing. - Brandon 


 Hades by SuperGiant Games  

Hades

Zagreus, the protagonist of Hades, looks like he’s going to be moody or mean. He’s all fire and brimstone, with flaming feet and a skull on his shoulder. Nope! He’s not mean at all! Zagreus is just a teenager who likes petting his three-headed dog, talking to friends, and escaping from hell while fighting various terrifying creatures.  

Hades is a roguelike game: try to escape, die, start over, rinse, repeat. In Hades, though, every time you die, you get more story: you can help heartbroken couples reunite, bond with your family, make friends, and even romance a few characters should you so choose, all while solving the mystery of Zagreus’s past. That’s why my brother has beaten this game multiple times, while I get to gloat because I know plot secrets. Plus, there’s a God Mode if you really get fed up, so you can enjoy the story without all of the pain of dying again and again. (And pet Cerberus, of course! The bestest boy.) - Elizabeth 
 

Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn 

For most, the Fire Emblem franchise might be a little annoying because they’ve only ever known it as that series of characters in Smash Bros. Ultimate that takes up half the roster. For diehard fans like myself, the JRPG series so much more than that, and I spent this year reliving my childhood by replaying one of my old favorites and playing its predecessor for the first time. Two ultra rare Nintendo games, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance for the GameCube and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for the Wii are fan favorites for those who were lucky enough to get their hands on them back in 2005 and 2007 respectively. Nowadays, most people end up having to enjoy them on emulators or shell out hundreds on eBay to get their hands on them due to their limited availability, which leads me to the hope that one day the Switch will get a port or a remake so everyone can enjoy them as much as I do!  

Path of Radiance 

Path of Radiance was a true delight for me as a first time player. While I basically knew the story and have replayed its sequel, Radiant Dawn, to the point of wearing out my copy, I had never gotten to play the first game in the series until this year. It was incredibly satisfying to hear the GameCube theme as I booted up the ancient little box. The endorphins were flowing before the game even loaded! Unlike current installments, Path of Radiance features “perma-death,” meaning if any of your units die in battle, they stay dead unless you reset. There’s also no way to save your progress before making a move mid-battle, so strategy is paramount. I found the game extremely difficult even on the easiest mode, but the challenge was welcome. The thrill of winning a battle without losing any of my favorite characters was unparalleled. Seeing the main protagonist Ike as a teenager, as many know him from Smash Bros., gave me a new appreciation for the character. In the sequel he’s powerful and sure of himself from years of being a mercenary, but in Path of Radiance he lacks confidence and has to be babied on the battlefield until he’s strong enough to fend for himself. Charting his growth as a character was a joy! 

Radiant Dawn

Radiant Dawn for me is a safe refuge, like coming home. I’ve replayed the game so many times that I have my strategies mapped out to a science and I can practically play in my sleep. I have so many fond memories of playing the game with my brothers and comparing strategies, and some not-so-fond ones of them accidentally saving over my save file and having to start over. The nostalgia hit me harder than ever as I replayed the game, enjoying the story as much as I did the first time and finally understanding references to Path of Radiance that didn’t make sense to me before. Perhaps I have rose-tinted glasses on when it comes to Radiant Dawn, but despite its flaws it remains one of my favorite games of all time and it’s always there for me when I need respite from the stresses of real life. It’s a wonderful end to Ike’s story and without it, we’d never have Ike in Smash Bros.! What a sad day that’d be. - Justine 


Overwatch 

Welp, I started a bunch of games this year and finished almost none of them. Hades was neat, but Elizabeth covered that. I finally got into The Witcher III, but I have so much content left it doesn't seem fair to review it yet. Ori and the Will of the Wisps was everything I hoped for, minus the dark level which was--augh. Why do games still have dark levels? They're never fun. The new Pokemon expansions were neat (overworld following!), though short. I picked up the Fire Emblem Pop Star game (?) over the Thanksgiving sale and it's surprisingly well-done. Phasmophobia is hands-down the best play-with-friends game I've found in ages.   

Overall, though, if I had to review the one game I liked best this year-- based on play time alone, consistently, all year-- it'd have to be Overwatch. 

Overwatch

I just never seem to get bored with this game. I have over 275 hours on Ana and I still love playing at least a few nights a week. The games are fast-paced, unlike the hide-and-wait style of games like Valorant. The roster of 32 characters with unique powers and abilities also feels so much more dynamic and vibrant in contrast to standard military shooters. There are, after all, a talking gorilla and hamster on cast. I love the emphasis on team dynamics and coordinated gameplay, and the focus on narrow tightly-tuned maps instead of sprawling battle royale expanses. You're meant to always know where your allies are and to work closely with them, and the combos feel very rewarding to pull off.  

I never really understood the draw of watching sports before this, but Overwatch is an eSport I could actively follow-- especially a support streamer like mL7. This must be what little kids feel like watching NBA games and then playing on the neighborhood basketball hoop. I watch matches played by a top-tier Ana player then jump into a game myself and try to emulate him-- with an overall very average level of play, true, but every now and then I get lucky and pull off a pro move and get that feeling like, "--and the crowd goes wild aaaaaaa." This game is endlessly fun and I love it.  -Kristin 

 
The Cat Lady and The Longest Journey 

2020 should have been the year of completing my backlog of video games – what, with the outside world shutting down and then there was that whole being locked inside for a good few months out of the year. Yet – despite the extra time being home, I recall only completing maybe three games out of the large handful of games I started; Final Fantasy VII, Sonic Generations, and The Cat Lady. Of course, it would be easy to go on and on about the new Final Fantasy VII remake or my nostalgic love for Sonic Generations - but instead I am going to talk about The Cat Lady.  

The Cat Lady

Mature Content Warning: The Cat Lady is a puzzle-based indie psychological horror and is not a game for children. Developed by Harvester Games and released in 2009 The Cat Lady follows Susan Ashworth, a chronically depressed, middle-aged woman with no friends, as she returns to the land of living with the new power of immortality to rid the world of five evil psychopaths. One thing I reallyreally liked about this game was how easy the controls ended up being – you need nothing more than the arrow keys on your keyboard, and escape to exit/pullup the start menu. This allows the player to fully immerse in the game and the story that it’s characters are laying out. The other thing I really liked about this game were the topics it hit on. Unlike most video games that focus on big picture items such as saving the world/the human race, this game deals with topics that are a bit more personal and harder to swallow. Some of the themes of this game include depression, suicide, murder, and cancer. If you’re looking for a game that will make this year feel less of a depressing garbage fire, probably look again. This game was immensely triggering and hard to get through – but it hit on topics that I personally feel are important to explore in a way that is engaging, interesting, and meaningful.  

The Longest Journey

Earlier this month I finally picked up and started playing the 1999 game, The Longest Journey developed by Funcom. This is a game that has been on my list for the past 10+ years and only now do I finally own a laptop capable of running older PC games. I was a huge fan of the sequel Dreamfall: The Longest Journey when that was originally released back in 2006, and I helped support and kickstart the third and final installment, Dreamfall Chapters, a couple of years ago. I am looking forward to being able to start 2021 with The Longest Journey and I’m very excited to use 2021 to play through and finish the entire series! - Stacy 

Tell us what you think!
What games did you start, finish, or set aside in 2020? What games are you looking forward to the most in 2021?  
Posted by [email protected]  On Jan 02, 2021 at 9:37 AM
  

Game on!
 Game reviews by Kristin, Brandon, and Stacy

Hello everyone! We hope you’ll enjoy these reviews for free games to amuse, or frustrate, you!  These are a all browser games and none of them will cost you anything to play.

Today's theme
Games that make you go AAAAUGH

Game One
QWOP 
A browser-based game available here

QWOP

The premise is simple—on your keyboard, the letters Q & W extend the runner’s thigh muscles, and O & P control his calves. What results is the most uncoordinated, undignified series of face-plants you could possibly imagine. What’s particularly great is, when you’re making even a teeny bit of progress, the music picks up like in an inspiring sports movie. Pro strat: If you get in a kneeling position you can wiggle your way a good distance… until you hit the first hurdle. And yes, if anyone recognized the style, this game was created by the same designer who created Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy.   -Kristin

This game broke me as a human. Not only did QWOP go splat, but so did my pride - Brandon
Game 2
Fly Sui 
A browser-based game available here

Fly Sui
This infuriating game is about catching flies with chopsticks. Each fly you catch gives you more time. Catching them is nearly impossible. In college, some friends and I got really competitive and played this for days, posting screenshots of each new high score. After a while, you get into a meditative trance. You don’t just see the fly, you see where the fly will be, like seeing through the Matrix. You don’t just catch the fly, you are the fly. Best score we saw was 11.   -Kristin

I refuse to believe anybody can score in this game. I chop, but they don’t stop! The constant buzzing, I can’t escape it. I just wanted to catch one fly! - Brandon

Wow. This game. I didn’t think there could be a game more frustrating than QWOP until this. My inability to catch flies with one mouse click it somehow stings more than the confusing controls of QWOP and other like “I Am Bread.”  - Stacy

High scores: (after 10 minutes)
Kristin – 4
Brandon – 0
Stacy –  2
Game 3
Winnie the Pooh’s Home Run Derby
A browser-based game available here

Winnie the Pooh Home Run Derby

If you haven’t heard of this game, buckle in for some internet history. This game became a viral hit back in 2013 due to its insane difficulty. The controls are slow, it requires preternatural reflexes and when you get to higher levels the pitchers cheat with things like invisible or warping balls. The final boss is Christopher Robin, who was difficult enough to inspire dozens of memes depicting him as an Eldritch horror. Pro strat: Click the ‘Status’ button on the home screen to upgrade your abilities, such as Contact to make it easier to hit the ball. I only learned you could do this while writing this review, so no wonder I couldn’t get past Piglet the first time around.    -Kristin

This game, I remember this game. It lures you into such a false sense of security. Pleasant music, vibrant colors, and the frame rate seems to hold up! The menu is very responsive, and it’s natural to think you are in a for a good time. The true nature of this game begins to reveal itself in about five minutes in. The hit detection is way off, the music repeats constantly with no variety and worst of all, the pitchers all just stare at you, with their cold eyes. They challenge you, they dare you to take them on. Are you up for the challenge? (No, no you are not. I’m lucky I tied with Kristin)   - Brandon

Probably if I had known about the updates, I would have gotten farther than Piglet! But alas, Piglet was where my skills ended. I find the only way I could get home runs was if I blocked out the music and unfocused my eyes and only focused on the sounds of the pitcher throwing. Even then, it was a chance if I actually got a hit! - Stacy

High scores: (after 10 minutes)
Kristin – 11/12 vs. Kanga
Brandon –  11/12 vs Kanga
Stacy – 5/5 vs Lumpy
Tell us what you think!

Shatter one of our records? Let us know! Post your victories (or defeats) in the comments, we love to hear about it.
Posted by [email protected]  On Dec 18, 2020 at 1:08 PM
  
Game on!
Game reviews by Elizabeth, Kristin and Stacy.

Hello everyone! To celebrate fall and the season of all things spooky, we hope you’ll enjoy these reviews of our favorite horror video games!

Today's theme
Games that intend to frighten, scare or disgust – if we’re lucky, maybe all three!

Game 1
We Were Here
Available on PC
We Were Here
“Now, I don’t mean to rush you. Take your time. I might be dying, but it’s fine.”

We Were Here is an escape room that taps into that truest of horrors: trusting other people. Do you want to survive a room filling with water, get out of a locked tomb, or avoid freezing to death in the bitter cold? You’d better communicate with your friends! One of you is locked in a series of dangerous rooms; the other is locked in a room with clues. However, the clues are cryptic – even more than the typical escape room, and I say that as a fan. As you progress through the puzzles, new rooms unlock for each of you, until (hopefully) you’re standing in the entrance hall, looking out at the snow and freedom once more.

Most of this game isn’t horror. Spooks lurk at the edges of this escape room. You walk past old tombs and rattling chains, hear faint shrieks from the walls. Most of the time, you’re far too focused on surviving the next puzzle to worry TOO much about the terrible Things out there that might get you. But I promise, there is an intensely spooky scene. During one puzzle, a horrifying monster with glowing eyes inches closer and closer to the player while tinkling bells play in the background. Will you survive? That depends entirely on your partner, who is probably stammering over how to direct you as the lights flicker on and off.  During my first time through the escape room, the terrifying creature definitely did catch up with the puzzle-solver: a shriek over the mic let everyone know exactly what had happened.

We Were Here is free to play on PC. If you like it, it’s the first of a series. - Elizabeth

Game 2 
The Open House
A browser-based game available

The Open House

This quick browser-based horror game went low-key viral in March of 2020 when a handful of streamers played it live. The game starts by masquerading as a generic real estate listing that offers a 3D tour, but don't be fooled--the home has a gory history bleeding through the seams. The Open House depends on atmosphere, ambient noise, and some jump scares to entertain, but it's still a fun ride. All said, the game takes about 20 minutes to complete, and that's factoring me getting lost at the end trying to figure out how to progress (hint: hit tab).

While not the scariest game on the planet, this game is above all free and browser-based, so if you're looking for a quick scare to get you in the Halloween spirit, give this a try. It's especially great to play in the dark with friends for some good laughs.  – Kristin

Game 3
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Available on Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4 & Xbox One

Resident Evil 7

New to Resident Evil? Haven't played games 1 through 6? Worried you won’t know what's going on? No worries! Resident Evil 7 is almost entirely unrelated and unlike the previous games in this series. For new players, this is great news! This self-contained story makes it fairly easy to just pick up and learn the story as you go. There aren’t any repeat or important main characters you’re supposed to know that randomly show up to move the story along. Honestly, the only benefit I could see to having played the previous games beforehand is that it might make you a little bit more prepared for what the overarching storyline is.

If you are a returning player to the Resident Evil series and want a game more similar to the first few games – this might not be for you. However, if you are looking for something scary, intense, and appetite losing, than look no further! This is the first and only Resident Evil game to play through a first person perspective rather than an over the shoulder 3rd person perspective, making it feel more similar to games such as Outlast. Rather than focusing on solely horror, this game focuses a lot of its attention on world exploration. This is also one of the few games that doesn’t reference the previous games and characters, making it truly an outlier in the Resident Evil series.

I highly highly highly recommend this game to fans of first person horror video games. This game is both interesting in story and plot, the game mechanics are so smooth, the exploration never feels tedious – and for those of you with VR, you can even experience the horrors of Biohazard as if you were actually there! Well, for those who are brave enough to go through THAT ordeal. - Stacy

Tell us what you think!
Played one of these games we listed? Know of another horror game we missed? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by [email protected]  On Oct 24, 2020 at 9:48 AM
  

Game on!
Game reviews by Brandon, Kristin, and Stacy. 

Hello everyone! If you’re looking for games that are longer in length, heavy with plot, and driven by story – these games are for you! These games are our all-time favorite story driven games; we hope you’ll enjoy these reviews and recommendations! 

Today's theme
Story-Drive Role-Playing Video Games

Game One

Last of Us Pt. 2
Available on Playstation 4
The Last of Us

So, this game garnered a bit of a reaction, didn’t it? Some time has passed now, and I have been able to sit back and reflect on what took place during The Last of Us: Part II. I will try to avoid spoiling any specifics about the story while I detail my thoughts. 

This game might have earned itself a divisive reputation, but gameplay, graphics, sound design and the soundtrack played no part in that division. Naughty Dog have once again proven they are masters of their craft when it comes to game design. The story, however, is what I had to sit on for weeks and think about how it really made me feel. As I played through, two emotions remained constant: sadness and anger. Staff behind the game have gone on record, stating that “this is a game about hate”, but I never expected it to genuinely incite that feeling from me. I absolutely hate some of the story elements of this game, but I do not hate them due to their poor delivery or setup. I hate them in the same way that I would hate it if my friends and family went through what these characters did. The traditional heroic arc of a protagonist is nowhere to be found here. This game made me uncomfortable. Characters I originally despised, I began to sympathize with, and I did not know how to process that. In fact, as I type this, I am realizing that I still cannot quite put to words what my final feelings are about this game.  

This is what I can tell you. I have been sincerely affected by a few games in my life. There are a few games that have made had a real impact on me. Games that made me rethink how I conduct myself, what I place value in, and even how I think about life and death. This game can now be added to that very small list. I have spent hours and hours thinking about the themes of this game and what it had to say about humanity. This game does not provide escapism, and it does not provide your traditional sense of fun. If you are looking for either of those things, this game is not for you. If you want a game that will challenge you mentally and emotionally, and that will stick with you long after, then please give this game a try. - Brandon

Game 2

Final Fantasy IX
Available on Playstation, Switch, PC, and mobile

Final Fantasy IX

Final Fantasy games have a habit of getting a bit... out there. Plotlines that start out with relatable stakes tend to escalate and escalate until space-time collapses on itself and suddenly you're one universe over fighting the physical embodiment of Entropy or Sin or... some faceless time-sucking monster. It's a bit much. 

Final boss aside, though, I think Final Fantasy IX had the most grounded and engaging story, and it's my favorite in the series. The game gave us characters that were goofy and endearing, but also capable of real growth. Instead of a story that aimed to span universes, this story focused (for 3 discs at least) on a classic adventure in a fantasy world. Zidane is a member of a band of thieves disguised as a theater troop. They've been hired to kidnap a princess, but find the princess wants to run away with them. How convenient! Except her mother, the Queen, seems oddly bloodthirsty about getting her back. Now the thieves are on the run (with the princess's perpetually confused royal knight in tow), and as they flee they discover more and more evidence of the terrible things the Queen was up to as war breaks out across three kingdoms. The tone stays mostly lighthearted and adventurous throughout, which was a welcome shift from the gritty angst of previous games. However, FFIX still manages to hit home with scattered moments of bittersweet existentialism.    

FFIX was the first RPG I played as a kid, and it had an impact. It taught me to hoard Ethers after miserably trying to escape Kuja's castle with only Quina as physical dps. But it also gave me a sense of what RPGs could be, at their best. The way you can have a tactical adventure driven by story beats, and that sense of anticipation when the screen cuts to black and you hear your console whir as it loads a new FMV. I recommend this both to new players and RPG veterans alike (but what RPG veteran hasn't played FFIX yet!). It's everything wonderful about classic RPGs in a ~30 hour package. It was originally released on Playstation, but it's been remastered and ported multiple times and is now available on PC, Switch, PS4, and even mobile devices. -Kristin

Game #3

Mass Effect
Available on Xbox 360, Windows, and Playstation 3
Mass Effect

Without a doubt, my favorite video game series has to be Bioware’s Mass Effect. I picked it up my freshman year of college while crashing on my mom's couch for winter break. Sure, I liked sci-fi well enough. The plot sounded solid - in the original trilogy(we can talk Andromeda later), you play as Commander Shepard, a space soldier with Earth’s Alliance. You embark on a mission to save the galaxy from a race of ancient and all powerful extraterrestrials known as the Reapers - your typical sci-fi "oh no, aliens are invading earth" story. Its a 3rd person over-the-shoulder shooter role-playing series that spans over three video games, plus a fourth game spin-off (which I won't be discussing in this review). I can dig that. 
I fell in love. I cannot stress how unprepared I was to genuinely enjoy these games as much as I did -  and still do. What got me most was the story - well, stories. While there is one overarching story of "oh no, aliens are invading, someone has to stop them," there is a complete beginning, middle, and end type storyline structure that’s uniquely created for each game. Mass Effect, and most Bioware games, have this unique dialogue system that allows you to choose what you want to say next and in what way. This allows you to really roleplay your Commander as friendly or as professional or just plain mean as you want them to be. Your different dialog options create different relationships with your squadmates, leading to enemies, frenemies, friends, and even romance. Mass Effect separates most of its dialog into Paragon choices and Renegade choices, and they love to utilize this by giving you extremely difficult ethical issues you have to handle. You know that good old ethic question where you have a train and the tracks that split into two paths – one path as only one person you know but the other path as five strangers. Who do you kill? The kind of questions that really make you sit and think about morality. 

And if your someone who cares about gameplay mechanics, the first game has a pretty solid combat system and an enjoyable dialogue interface with some really great NCPs - for it's time. While I didn't mind playing the game's dated mechanics the first way through, it's fairly inarguable that the 2nd and 3rd games get way better and way smoother. The combat system advances considerably, as does the dialogue options and relationship progression of your character and your squadmates. Not to mention that this was one of the first games I had ever played where my save game transferred to the next game. It was so mind blowing to me that my Commander Shepard with her backstory I chose and all her decisions I made got to legitimately be my character for the 2nd and 3rd game. 

While I would always recommend that someone starts with the first game to get the full experience, I realize how difficult it can be to get invested in a game with pretty dated controls. If you are someone who just cannot get through the first games controls, but wants to experience the entire story from start to finish, Bioware released a DLC for the 2nd game that allows you to play through the first game in a graphic novel style. It tells you the main story and all the major plot points, it also allows you pick major decisions that ultimately affect the outcome of second and third games. If the first game doesn’t catch you, I highly recommend giving the second game a try anyways – the developers really took the time to learn what their audience didn’t like in the first game and improved on those features in the second and third game. If it were up to me, I’d be playing the series right now – but I’m holding out hope for a remaster! - Stacy

Tell us what you think!

Have you played any of our favorite story games? Know of any games we missed? Let us know!
Posted by [email protected]  On Oct 10, 2020 at 8:50 AM
  

Game on!
Game reviews by Elizabeth, Justine, and Tessy.

Hello everyone! If you’re looking for games that are longer in length, heavy with plot, and driven by story – these games are for you! These games are our all-time favorite story driven games; we hope you’ll enjoy these reviews and recommendations!
Today's theme
Story-Drive Role-Playing Video Games

Game One

Dragon Age 
Available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Microsoft Windows, OS X, and iOS

Dragon Age

If you love story-based fantasy games, and you haven’t yet stumbled across Bioware’s Dragon Age series, I recommend it will all of my heart. Let’s give this review a bit of perspective with a game of “Would you rather?”. If someone asked me if I had to choose between two video game series, Witcher and Dragon Age, and the one I didn’t pick would be wiped off my computer and mysteriously crash every time I every tried to install it again... I would choose to keep Dragon Age. Without hesitation. Pausing for the gasp of shock, how could I denigrate one of the mostly highly rated game from the past few years that is a book series and a TV show? Yes I’m still holding to my decision. Both games are a three part series moving from bad graphics to gorgeous, with ever elevating game-play, complexity, and just all around awesomeness. Both have lore so expansive I could build them libraries, with a dash of fluff (or not so fluff) romance, and elements of the ever sought after “your-choices-matter-somewhat"". But where Dragon Age pulls ahead is their character customization and game companions. You are the gruff and grizzled warrior Warden, the flirty and light-footed Carta rogue, or the crusading Vashoth Qunari mage. And (unless you cheat via Wiki) that character is only grudgingly aiding you in your quest while that one adores you, but that one over there holds a secret that might ruin your entire mission. That sense of emersion and personal stakes is a necessary element to a story-based RPG that you’ll be investing hours and hours of your life into, and is the only reason why you won’t fling your keyboard/controller away in disgust at all of the side missions (that both of them have an abundance of).   

Now that I’ve hopefully intrigued you, here are a few basics. Bioware’s Dragon Age series currently has three games, with rumors of the fourth game having been confirmed at Gamescom 2020 with early production teasers. The game series takes place in the fantasy world of Thedas full of rich history and magic, and if you gave me this entire blog post I would outline the lay of the land for you with a color-coded map and a lot of arrows and doodles. Suffice to say, in the first game, the stakes are pretty clear. You are the accidental hero tasked with gathering your team and uniting the kingdom of Ferelden (in Thedas) against a tainted evil, the darkspawn. What are darkspawn? Where did they come from? How do we kill them? Well the first game will involve lots of the latter and fans are hoping Dragon Age 4 will clear up the first two questions. After a variety of endings where evil is still vanquished (for now), we move on to Dragon Age 2. For those familiar with Bioware’s other story-based RPG, Mass Effect (also amazing but with spaceships), Dragon Age is a bit different since each story has its own main character, probably because your choices can lead to your death. So, in Dragon Age 2 you get stuck as a human (a mistake Bioware hasn’t made again), and fleeing with the aid of a dragon from the darkspawn invasion from the first game, you start your life anew in Kirkwall, a former slave city, and hope the giant statues outside the docks aren’t an ominous foreshadowing of your future (they are). From there, you’ll inevitably get involved in epic plotlines, even though you’re just trying to ensure that your family and found-family survives (good luck with that). A chain-reaction is sparked (you contribute) and a war breaks out that sweeps you right into Dragon Age 3, where once again you are an accidental hero tasked with saving all of Thedas, but this time from demons. At least you get a castle where you can stand on the ramparts and think heavy leadership thoughts this time. In the first game I tried it with the pond, and it just didn’t have the same effect.  This is all a gross oversimplification of an amazing game series (And I didn’t even get to mention the romances! That would be an entirely separate blog post!), but I hope its enough that when the series goes on sale as Dragon Age 4 looms on the horizon, you’ll give it a chance, and end up loving the series just as much as I do. – Tessy


Game 2
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Available on Nintendo Switch
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem: Three Houses for the Nintendo Switch isn’t just a game. It’s an experience. It’s easily in my top 5 favorite video games of all time and is a must-have if you’re a Switch owner looking for an adventure worth your time and money. You play as Byleth, a professor at an Officers Academy called Garreg Mach Monastery where you must choose between teaching one of three houses: the Black Eagles, the Blue Lions, or my personal favorite, the Golden Deer. Each house consists of 8 students you train in combat, taking them on monthly missions to face off against bandits, those who oppose the monastery, and even monsters! Your objective is to keep your students alive and build bonds with them as you lecture, host tea parties, give them gifts, and most importantly strategize well in turn-based battles. With so much to do, you can easily sink 80 hours into the game before completion, and with such amazing re-playability, you can spend weeks or months playing without tiring of it. Each of the 4 routes is unique, containing completely different storylines and characters, and you’ll want to experience them all for a whopping total of 320+ hours of gameplay! For me, Fire Emblem is an easy 5/5. The art direction is phenomenal, the gameplay is addictive, and the story and characters are unforgettable. You won’t be able to put it down or play it fast enough, and you’ll have a hard time finding a game that will measure up.  - Justine

Game 3
Eliza
Available on  Windows, macOS, Linux, and Nintendo Switch.
Eliza

Hey, you can't talk story games without visual novels. Visual novels are the ultimate story games: instead of jumping, fighting, shooting, or solving puzzles, you read paragraphs of text, occasionally making choices and influencing the story along the way. Visual novels have a bad rap for being all dating games: (a) dating games are fabulous, I have no shame and (b) that's about as silly as calling every book in the library a textbook.  

Eliza, a 2019 visual novel by Zachtronics, is a game all about dialogue, but there's no dating here. You play as Evelyn, a young woman in a grey hoodie with exhaustion permanently etched on her face. Once, tech genius Evelyn created a virtual counseling AI named Eliza. Then, she burned out, quit her job, and vanished for 3 years. Now ELIZA is everywhere, and Evelyn has returned to her old company to work on the lowest rung on the corporate ladder. As an ELIZA proxy, Evelyn sits in a room with desperate people and reads ELIZA's therapy script -- and only her script -- as words appear on screen. She's a human face for an AI assistant. When bosses and friends realize Evelyn is back in town, they start offering her paths forward: advanced work on ELIZA, developing an alternate AI, or abandoning the tech industry completely. Is ELIZA making the world better or worse, and what will you as Evelyn do to shape the future? Eliza is a thoughtful story with no easy answers, and it's even more relevant this year than last (thanks, 2020). It's currently available on Windows, mac, and Linux, and will be available on Nintendo Switch in October.  - Elizabeth
Tell us what you think!

Know of any games we missed? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by [email protected]  On Sep 18, 2020 at 3:24 PM
  

Game on!
Game reviews by Brandon, Elizabeth, Kristin, Stacy, Justine, and Sue.

Hello everyone! We hope you’ll enjoy these reviews for free games to entertain you! These are a mix of browser and smartphone games, and none of them will cost you anything to play.
Today's theme
Want to play free online games with friends and loved ones? Here are some great options!

Game One
Path of Exile 
A downloadable game available here.
Path of Exile

My brother and I have been playing online co-op games for the past five years: once every few months, he calls me to tell me about the new game we just have to try. “Path of Exile” is one that we keep returning to. “Path of Exile” is a fantasy RPG: you’re an outcast banished to a brutal world. You can fight your way through this world either by yourself or with friends, taking on different advanced missions and discovering information about who wronged you. My brother and I play very different types of games, but this has everything we both want: advanced combat tactics for him, a story for me, and items for both of us. It has competitive events and badges, too, if you’d like to play more competitively. Think of it as a free-to-play Diablo III. - Elizabeth

Game 2
We Were Here
Available through Steam here.

We Were Here

“We Were Here” is game that was released for free on Steam back in 2017. Developed by Total Mayhem Games, this is a game with not a lot of story. You and your friend are trapped in a castle that you’ve discovered in the arctic wastelands - you aren’t sure why you are here, but all you know is you need to get out and FAST. With one person as the explorer and one person as the librarian, you must help each other get through each level solely via walk-talkie communication.

...

“Hey, sooo I don’t mean to rush anyone, but I might be dying?”
I played “We Were Here” with two of my closest friends in another city. We’ve done multiple escape rooms together before, but “We Were Here” adds an additional level of challenge: since my friends and I were separated, we couldn’t collaborate like normal. We couldn’t even see each other’s screens. Add the difficulty of carefully describing details and a few very brutal time limits to this escape room and we were left with a delightfully shriek-worthy experience. – Elizabeth 

So let it be known, that Elizabeth played this game in a much more polite manner that I had. My experience was more of “ Stacy, STACY I’M GOING TO DROWN! PLEASE STOP ME FROM DROWNING!!” This game was an experience and perfect for cooperative play. The game lures you in with a false sense of comfort at first. You have no problem just chatting about anything with your partner, in between actual gameplay talk. As you progress, the game begins to implement time limits and you must turn your focus up at this point. The game promotes outside the box thinking and you will definitely benefit by playing with someone who can think in sync with you. Constant communication is key! There is also apparently some sort of terrifying puppet, but I’ll let Stacy tell you more about that. - Brandon

Although I only played with Brandon, I can agree that he was definitely not as nice as Elizabeth. As the librarian, I spent most of my playthrough wandering a set of rooms trying to figure out which symbols, notes, and words pertained to whichever puzzle Brandon (as the explorer) was on. At first it was really chaotic – I felt like I was just yelling nonsense at Brandon because neither of us could figure out what the other one needed; “A green eye and a blue eye? Two green eyes? Do these eye colors mean ANYTHING to you?" and “There are.....books here. Do you need books maybe?” Although I definitely remember yelling/crying at Brandon as he was trying to save me from a hauntingly scary marionette - which we failed many many times. I definitely recommend this game for anyone who is a fan of puzzle games, co-operative/non-player-versus-player games, and those who are fans of “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” or “Spaceteam!” - Stacy 

Game 3
Starcraft 2
Available through Blizzard here.

Starcraft 2

This is another of my favorite games to play with my brother. In Starcraft 2, players can choose between three space races: humans, the bug-like Zurg, or the psychic Protoss.  You can choose to compete against each other or to team up against the computer. It’s a strategy game: you’re building up cities and armies in space, all in preparation to fight the other armies. Very war-like, but also (according to my brother) relaxing once you get good at it. Me? I just stay bad at it and piggyback on his success.
- Elizabeth

Tell us what you think!

Do you have any favorite online cooperative games? Any great tales of playing together with friends and family? Let us know, and happy gaming!
Posted by svanho[email protected]  On Aug 28, 2020 at 12:03 PM
  

Game on!
Game reviews by Brandon, Elizabeth, Kristin, Stacy, Justine, and Sue.

Hello everyone! We hope you’ll enjoy these reviews for free games to entertain you! These are a mix of browser and smartphone games, and none of them will cost you anything to play.
Today's theme
Tired of slime and bubble wrap? Check out these oddly satisfying games!

Game One
Little Alchemy 
A free game available on your app store (Apple/Android) and web browsers  

Little Alchemy

Nothing exists except the four elements- air, earth, fire, and water. By mixing two of these rudimentary ingredients at a time, you can create new objects from scratch. (For example: “water” + “earth” = mud.) You can discover over 500 different items! This game isn’t just about the finish line, but it’s about the journey, too! I didn’t expect to chuckle as many times as I did playing this game. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how simple yet elusive the combinations can be. You might have to think outside the box at times, but if you get stuck, Little Alchemy offers hints to help. You can play this charming, clever game at your own pace. Try making one of my favorite combinations: “bread” + “fire” makes... “toast”! - Sue

Game 2
Blendoku
A free game available on your app store (Apple/Android)
blendoku
Blendoku isn’t your average puzzle game: there are no numbers or letters. Instead, you get to play with colors! The level gives you a couple tiles to start with, and you’ve got to drag the remaining tiles onto the playboard. The colors must blend seamlessly to adjacent tiles. The result is an aesthetically pleasing color palette. I find the bright hues and mellow sound effects soothing. I prefer taking my time, but if you’re feeling competitive, you can solve the puzzles as fast you can and see if you can beat your own personal record. - Sue

Game 3
Soap Cutting
A free game available on your app store (Apple/Android)
Soap Cutting

If you’re like me, I can watch soap cutting video clips non-stop. While those videos can be uber gratifying, they result in lots of waste. Now, we can enjoy all the satisfaction of cutting soap without the waste or the mess! In this game, you get to slice colorful bars of soap into perfect, tiny cubes. The combination of crisp sound effects, smooth graphics, and just the right amount of haptic feedback brings this app to life. You might even discover some hidden prizes as you’re slicing away!

Tell us what you think!

 What game is your favorite? Tell us some of your other favorite games in the comments!
Posted by [email protected]  On Aug 13, 2020 at 2:33 PM 11 Comments
  

Game on!
Game reviews by Brandon, Elizabeth, Kristin, and Stacy 

Hello everyone! We hope you’ll enjoy these recommendations. These are games we all found soothing for stressful and difficult times. These games cost money and/or require consoles, so they’re for more serious gamers than our last free game review. We hope you enjoy them! 

Today's theme
Relaxing games to help you de-stress.

Game One

Journey 

A $19.99 game on the Playstation Store 

Journey

Get ready for this one, because this is my favorite piece of media of all time. That includes books, movies, shows, and other games. Some games are made to put us against each other. You must beat your opponent! Long have we been tasked in video games to look out for only ourselves, and to beat our games as fast as possible. What if a company decided to oppose these ideals? How about a game that is created for the sake of helping one another, and to journey together as a team, and not to fight against each other as enemies? Let the game be the journey itself, let the game be the reward, not just the finality of it, and enrich the whole experience. ThatGameCompany reached for the stars with this goal and have succeeded reached true ascension, as players who play the fantastic PSN title “Journey” will discover.

In Journey you awake a stranger, cloaked in red. The Controls are simple, yet somehow refined and feel natural, almost as if they were an extension of your body. You guide the camera with the gyroscope in your controller and you move forward with the left analog stick. The circle button acts a little chirp or call that changes tone depending on how hard and fast you press the button. The use for this is not made immediately known, but it is revealed very soon. You walk up a slight cliff, to see a massive mountain. This mountain is both tremendous in size, and intimidating. “What awaits me up there, and will I like what I discover?” It is shortly after you discover your scarf. Glyphs are scattered around the game and if you find them you will increase the length of your scarf, allowing you to fly for short durations of time with the X button.

These gameplay mechanics, while great on their own, take a backseat to the gorgeous environment of the game. This game’s setting is a character in itself. Waterfalls of golden sand cascade behind you as the game suddenly transitions into 2D seamlessly showing you the warm backdrop of the sun from afar. Did I just name an old dream of yours? That will happen to you, as Journey is a game that you do not stop thinking about when you put the controller down. This is thanks to the multiplayer and the effect it will have on you,

The Multiplayer of Journey is Unique in two amazing and innovative ways. The first being that, the guy on the screen with you, he’s your friend, and by the end of the game, you will do anything possible to make sure they finish their journey with you. I honestly do believe that if more individuals play this game, they will find peace with themselves and perhaps find a deeper appreciation for the loved ones in their lives. Feelings are warm and close, and never rude or obtuse thanks to the second innovative factor of Journey.

You cannot converse with your fellow player in any language you may have learned throughout your life. Yes, the game strips usernames away (until after the credits) and gives you only the option of chirping to communicate with the other player. After playing this game at least over 25 times, it seems that the Journey members are starting to form their own language as I find myself having a easier time understanding my new friends every time I play.

ThatGameCompany have created their masterpiece. They have not created a game, but an experience. Ever since finishing Journey I have found a new appreciation for the ones I hold dear to me in my life, and I think every day about how I want to live my Journey and who I want to accompany me on my Journey. Give this game a shot, as I guarantee you will watch the ending of this game unfold and find yourself feeling something very different from your usual video game; at peace.    -Brandon
Game 2
Fez
A $10 game (give or take) available for purchase on the Playstation Store, Xbox via the Microsoft store, Windows and Mac via Steam.
Fez

Fez follows the story of player-character Gomez after he is mysteriously gifted a red fez and watches as  his cozy 2D way of life is ripped apart by a tear in the fabric of space and time, revealing to him a previously unknown 3rd dimension. Now you with your mystical red fez must explore this new 3D world with the goal of restoring the universe by collecting shards of cube fragments. Released in 2012 by indie game companies Trapdoor and Polytron Corporation, this is a game that has remained very dear to me for it’s bright and memorable aesthetics, it’s unique gameplay mechanics, and it’s overall unforgettable experience!

A “stop and smell the roses” type of game that is less focused on plot and instead promotes  relaxed exploration and puzzle solving. Fez encourages it’s players to explore each world to its fullest by offering a unique rotation mechanic that moves the player’s camera around the seemingly 2D plane, often revealing new pathways and exposing access to previously inaccessible platforms and items. To further promote relaxed exploration, Fez has no enemies, no bosses, or even hard consequences – when the player dies, typically by falling, they are respawned and able to continue the level freely. 

I was originally drawn to this game by it’s pixelated game design and chill electronica music, but stayed for it’s compelling world and calming atmosphere! The protagonist is a small marshmallow man with a bright red fez – his minimal design allows for maximum engagement with the worlds which are ultimately the real draw towards a game like Fez. Each world vibes similarly with one another – they are easy on the eyes with soft colors and reflect the same upwards gameplay movement. However, each world is unique both in looks and experience, while following the same foundational structure: ultimately each it’s own large puzzle comprised of four different 2D planes that connect and respond with one another as you travel up through the world! 

I highly recommended this game upon it’s release nearly a decade ago and I continue to highly recommend it to this day! It’s such a favorable experience and well executed game, definitely worth the time and commitment. - Stacy  

Game 3
Fe
A $20 game available on Switch, PS4, XBox and PC.
Fe

Fe is an exploration-based open world adventure starring a spiky little forest creature who can sing to other forest animals to learn their powers. The world has a dark and blocky aesthetic that works for it, casting things in stark shadow and light and highlighting spaces with splashes of vivid colors. It’s relaxing and not particularly linear, challenging you with some moderate puzzle-solving and lots of climbing and exploring. The sounds are immersive—the music comes and goes for emphasis, similar to Breath of the Wild, but the game is typically filled with deep chimes or strings, animal calls, rushing water, and rustling trees. It’s very soothing to play. 

As you progress, you quickly gain new powers that give you an incredible freedom to explore right off the bat. Unlike many platformers, you get a glide ability fairly early and much of the game design is based on using it. There’s no combat in Fe, but there are stealth sections which can be a bit tense. There aren’t heavy penalties for failure, though, and dying merely sets you back to an earlier physical location as a checkpoint. If you ever get stuck, you can call a bird to show you where to go next. 

Overall, Fe is a very relaxing and rewarding game to play. The frustrations are minimal, every secret can be discovered without a guide, and it’s hard to ever get completely stuck. It’s a shame that the coolest power is only unlocked after there are no more objectives, but it’s definitely a reward worth earning. Fe also has one section in particular that makes the game worth buying all by itself. I won’t spoil it, but between the visuals, the challenge, and the swelling music, it was full of the same awe-inspiring wonder I experienced playing Shadow of the Colossus for the first time. I definitely recommend it.    -Kristin
Game 4
Everything
Available on PS4, Switch, and Steam for PC and Mac [here]

everything

Sometimes, you just want to do absolutely nothing. A game with goals? Exhausting. TV and a plot? No thanks. Sometimes, you just want to float around in a polygon world while listening to calm music and the drone of a philosophy lecture. Don’t worry! When you really, really need to relax, the game Everything can help. 

In the game Everything, you can be, well, everything: a pig, a planet, a twig, a tree, and everything in between. You can talk to everything, too. Try listening to a narcissistic dragonfly or a con artist blade of grass (“come on! I’ll give you 1%! Okay, 2%!”). One pinecone in my game lamented that it couldn’t whistle, while a horse informed me it was mad at the sun and would stay mad until the weather changed.
Mostly, though, you just roll around: getting smaller or bigger, switching between species and things as the mood strikes. Sometimes you sing, and nearby creatures sing with you; sometimes, you join a crowd, or leave a crowd, or dance. I left some raspberries whirling in circles around my screen for a bit, adding a new one every so often until the whole screen was covered in fruit. You can even leave the game on autoplay and come back to wonder why you’re suddenly two rattlesnakes exploring the desert.

There’s an encyclopedia to fill out, but that’s not really the point. I’m not sure what the point is: that philosophy lecture, probably, but I’m tuning that out. I’m too busy dancing. - Elizabeth
Tell us what you think!

What are your comfort food games? Did you buddy up and explore the vast world of Journey or enjoy a few hours being everything and anything in Everything? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by [email protected]  On Jul 31, 2020 at 1:55 PM
  
Game on!
Game reviews by Brandon, Elizabeth, Kristin, Stacy & Justine

Hello, everyone! Below are links to paid games that you can play right now at home. All are available on PC; some are available on consoles as well. We hope you enjoy!

Today's theme
Anyone who walks into a library or reads a library blog knows the importance of stories. Today we chose to amplify the voices of black storytellers as we feature fantastic games with black protagonists. 

Game 1
Dandara 
Available for Switch, PS4, Xbox, iOS; available on Steam
 
Dandara

Dandara is a gorgeous, gravity-defying platformer rooted in Brazilian culture. The main character, Dandara, is named after the historical figure Dandara dos Palmares, an Afro-Brazilian freedom fighter and master of capoeira in 17th Century Brazil. This game is sci-fi, though, not history: the world of Salt is in danger, and this game’s Dandara can warp through a gravity-less world to save it. Dandara gets new abilities by collecting memories and inspiring artists to start creating again. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a tough platformer. But it’s excellent. - Elizabeth


Game 2 
Elsinore
Available on Steam 

Elsinore
 
Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” meets “Groundhog Day” in this retelling of a classic. Ophelia knows there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark: she keeps reliving the same three days over and over, a mysterious assassin wants to kill her, her ex-boyfriend Hamlet keeps talking about a ghost on the castle walls and the only one who seems to know what’s going on is a strange playwright! All you can do is ask questions and share information to try to change this story’s ending. This game’s fun for Shakespeare nerds like me, but it’s also fun for fans of story games and detective games in general. There are a lot of secrets tucked away, and as you keep reliving the same day, you’ll discover that your time loop’s a lot more alarming than you originally thought.  - Elizabeth

Game 3
Telltale’s The Walking Dead series
Available on Steam, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows

Walking Dead

A crisis does two things to people. It brings out both the very worst, and the very best of mankind. This game that showcases its protagonists as people at their very best. Pictured above, you see Clementine and Lee. The two characters who you will start your journey with during the very first Walking Dead entry. This game is responsible for the modern revival of the interactive movie, if you will. A compelling story plays out where you control the choices and fates of the characters within. I personally feel that the game series is easily the greatest piece of Walking Dead media – and that is including both the comics and AMC television show. The bond between Clem and Lee will absolutely pull at your heartstrings and, as they are in danger, you will find your pulse racing right along with them. The game allows you to play the characters as you see fit, but it’s clear the most natural gameplay style is to play up to our protagonists natural inclinations; to be courageous, to be kind and to be true to one another. - Brandon

game 4
Resident Evil 5
Available on Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, and Android.
 
Resident Evil 5
A long running video game series such as Resident Evil is bound to have it’s fair share of great, good, and bad games. “Resident Evil 5”, despite it’s initial rocky announcement back in 2005, ended up becoming a highly successful addition to the beloved series upon it’s release in 2009.   Despite being the fifth installment, this game does not require you to have previous knowledge of it’s predecessors as the game does a great job at providing player’s with the necessary information through compelling storytelling. The plot of this game revolves around an investigation of a terrorist threat by Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance in Kijuju, a fictional region of Africa. This is the first “Resident Evil” game to depart from the series survival horror genre and start to ground itself in a more action focused genre. While that may disappoint some players, this genre change also allows for “Resident Evil’s” first co-operative game!

Players will get to play the well-known and ever enjoyable Chris Redfield from the previous games, however, they will also get to play as Sheva Alomar - an immensely smart, strong, attractive African woman. It’s unfortunate that Sheva has not made a reappearance in more games as she is not only a fan favorite, but she was also highly regarded among most critics. As with most “Resident Evil” games, the single player campaign requires that you play through and complete the game was Chris Redfield before giving you an option to play through primarily as Sheva. However, this game’s wonderful co-operative campaign allows players to play as both Sheva and Chris as their partnership grows stronger and the puzzles and maps get harder. As with other games in this series, “Resident Evil 5” is no stranger to criticism; however, the reviews for this game are very positive and this game remains in most players top five “Resident Evil” games! - Stacy

Tell us what you think!
What game is your favorite? Tell us some of your other favorite games in the comments!
Posted by [email protected]  On Jun 07, 2020 at 8:41 AM
  
by Elizabeth, Brandon & Stacy

In today's episode of Pop Culture Den, Aurora Public Library librarians Stacy, Elizabeth, and Brandon discuss the newly released Final Fantasy VII Remake. Join us as we examine the immersive world building, rich characterizations, and continued relevancy of both the 1997 original game and it’s highly anticipated remake through discussion of our own experiences, or lack thereof! 

Are you a fan of the franchise? Tell us your thoughts on the remake in the comments! 



Aurora Public Library's Pop Culture Den series focuses on all things pop culture. Literacy and stories go beyond books: they're in games, movies, and more! Once a month, we'll analyze our favorite works of media and talk tropes, genres, and the bits and pieces that make stories so successful. Be sure to tune in!
Posted by [email protected]  On Jun 05, 2020 at 2:24 PM
  
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