Covert art for Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII Remake

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Covert art for Final Fantasy VII Remake

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE

Video game

PLATFORM

PC

SYNOPSIS

By exploiting the life-blood of the planet, the Shinra Electric Power Company has seized control of the world. A ragtag group of idealists, known as Avalanche, are one of the last bastions of resistance. Cloud, an ex-SOLDIER mercenary takes part in an Avalanche operation to destroy Mako Reactor 1. The bombing plunges the city of Midgar into chaos, and Cloud is tormented by visions of a bitter enemy long thought dead.

THOUGHTS

When I started Final Fantasy VII Remake, I already knew it’d become a game that I’d come to associate with the word ‘impressive’. I will admit that it’s not too hard to impress me when it comes to video game graphics, as I mainly played on handheld consoles until recently. In fact, FF7 Remake was the first AAA game I played on my first custom desktop PC, so I’m aware that a lot of the visuals that blew my mind also came with switching to better hardware. I will also add that I have never played the original Final Fantasy VII (although I’d love to eventually), so I won’t focus on comparing the two here.

One of the first things I noticed about FF7 Remake was the combat system. In my opinion, it felt very satisfying and stood out to me as a great combination of classic turn-based Final Fantasy battles and action combat. As someone that struggles with action-packed games, I appreciated the choice to slow down time while the player navigates the skills and items that can be used during battle. To be honest, even the normal difficulty proved somewhat challenging for me, but this made the victories so much more rewarding.

Something else that instantly caught my attention was the great voice acting and, as mentioned before, the beautiful graphics. These brought the characters to life in a way that I hadn’t experienced much before. Since I’m currently learning the language, I opted for the Japanese dub and was not disappointed. Another great aspect of this game is that it establishes some mysteries surrounding the main character, Cloud, from the very beginning. This made me excited to learn more about him through the story and experience his character development. Moreover, the story delves into certain political concerns that feel very relevant nowadays. The main cast of characters is a group of eco-terrorists attempting to stop a mega-corporation from draining the planet’s resources, after all…

I was also surprised by the amount of content towards the end of the game. Every time I thought “okay, this is probably it”, the game threw me into another intense cutscene plus combat sequence, topped off with amazing music. Of course, this was a positive in my book because I was enjoying the game so much that I didn’t want it to end. I honestly can’t wait for FF7 Rebirth, although it looks like I’ll have to wait quite a while since I don’t own (or plan on owning) a PlayStation 5. Regardless, I’m sure the wait will be worth it.

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Covert art for The Stanley Parable

The Stanley Parable

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Covert art for The Stanley Parable

THE STANLEY PARABLE

Video game

PLATFORM

PC

SYNOPSIS

This is a story about a man named Stanley. Stanley is employee #427, and has a pretty boring job that consists of pressing keys according to instructions. One day, all of Stanley’s coworkers have disappeared, and his only company is a seemingly omnipotent narrator whose instructions he follows… or not.

THOUGHTS

The Stanley Parable was created by Davey Wreden, the man who is also behind The Beginner’s Guide. I believe his games work best when you go into them without much information, so I’ll keep this one as short as possible.

One of the first things that becomes apparent when you start playing this game is that the narrator has a story in mind for our friend Stanley, and is attempting to lead Stanley to the “true ending” of said story. That said, there are no systems in place that prevent Stanley from ignoring or contradicting the narrator’s instructions. This is where the magic of this game lies, turning it into a very entertaining experience which encourages the player to discover everything it has to offer. It also deals with some meaningful topics such as the illusion of free will, the effects of routine, etc. An indie classic powered by great voice acting and excellent writing, and one that you can finish in one session (if you wish to do so).

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Cover art for The Beginner's Guide

The Beginner’s Guide

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Cover art for The Beginner's Guide

THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE

Video game

PLATFORM

PC

SYNOPSIS

The Beginner’s Guide lasts about an hour and a half and has no traditional mechanics, no goals or objectives. Instead, it tells the story of a person struggling to deal with something they do not understand.

THOUGHTS

The Beginner’s Guide is one of those video games that I would have never thought of playing if it weren’t for my partner. To be honest, I didn’t have much knowledge or access to indie gems such as this one until recently, so I mostly rely on other people’s recommendations when it comes to PC and indie gaming.

When I asked about the plot, my partner refused to elaborate any more than ‘someone shows you a collection of games that their friend developed’. Looking back, I’m glad that was all I knew before I started playing, because the narrative definitely works better the less you know about it. For that reason, I won’t go into much detail. Overall, The Beginner’s Guide is a very emotional journey which might even make you reflect on some of your own actions and the motivation behind them. So if you have about an hour and a half and £7 to spare, I recommend you give it a go!

SNEAK PEEK

Cover art for Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix

Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix

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Cover art for Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix

KINGDOM HEARTS II FINAL MIX

Video game

PLATFORM

PlayStation 4 (also available on PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)

SYNOPSIS

One year after the events of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Sora, Donald and Goofy awaken in Twilight Town. Bent on the quest to find Riku and King Mickey Mouse, the three begin their journey. However, they soon discover that while they have been asleep, the Heartless are back. Not only that, but new enemies also showed up during their absence.

THOUGHTS

We picked up Kingdom Hearts II immediately after we completed its prequel, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories. And by immediately, I mean on the same day. I had been anticipating this instalment for a long time, seeing as my friends that are hardcore KH fans consider it to be the game where ‘the series gets good’.

Kingdom Hearts II throws you into a confusing situation from the moment it begins, as expected of a video game series known for its complicated storyline. Instead of seeing the familiar faces of Sora, Donald, and Goofy, we are greeted by a new character called Roxas and his group of friends. The player controls Roxas for the first portion of the game, learning about him and his relation to the characters that we already know. While confusing, I found this exciting as it set the scene for an original plot that would be less driven by Disney’s heroes and villains. The story and writing of this game feel much more mature and grounded, with characters that are more fleshed out. That said, I did find myself making notes to keep track of some of the relationships between them.

In terms of gameplay, I also noticed a significant improvement compared to its predecessors. Thanks to the improved camera and controls, the combat is a lot more fluid, and the inclusion of reaction commands (the KH name for quick time events) makes fights against different enemies feel more distinct. There are also more combo abilities that give Sora powerful—and flashy—finishing moves. The difficulty of Kingdom Hearts II is definitely lower, which allowed me to breeze through the most boring bosses while still feeling challenged by the most interesting ones. The difficulty can always be increased from the game settings, and allowed me to enjoy the game without having to retry any boss more than 10 times, or making me want to tear my hair off. Compared to how ridiculous some boss fights were in the first game, this was a win in my book.

Of course, Kingdom Hearts II also has an amazing soundtrack and many nostalgia-filled moments that made me feel like I was 12 again. The next stop in our journey will be Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, which serves as a prequel to Kingdom Hearts II but told from a different angle. Although I’ve played this game before, I can’t wait to give it another go after having learned more about the main cast of characters.

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Cover art for Look Back

Look Back

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Cover art for Look Back

LOOK BACK

Manga

AUTHOR

Tatsuki Fujimoto

SYNOPSIS

Fujino is a fourth grader who draws a manga strip for the school newspaper. Her art makes her the star of the class, but one day she’s told that Kyomoto, a student who refuses to come to school, would also like to submit a manga for the paper…

THOUGHTS

Having read Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Goodbye, Eri, I thought I’d be slightly more prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that is Look Back, but I was completely wrong. Perhaps due to its main theme being the creation of art and the bonds that stem from it, I could relate more to the protagonist of this story. Its message and the emotion poured into it left me thinking about it for the rest of the day.

In my opinion, Fujimoto’s feelings are conveyed more clearly and explicitly through this realistic narrative that contrasts with the unconventionality of his best-known work. One only has to read the two main character’s names, Fujino and Kyomoto, to understand that this self-contained story is perhaps more personal and autobiographic. In addition, there are plot points that seem to be inspired by the events that transpired during the Kyoto Animation arson attack of 2019. This makes me wonder whether the author intended to express some of his feelings regarding this incident in Look Back.

Of course, the art that Fujimoto puts out continues to amaze me. Backgrounds full of details and characters full of personality. Small panels that seem to be cramped within a page give way to larger ones, to then culminate in a two-page silent display of emotion. In short, a masterpiece that has strengthened my belief that Tatsuki Fujimoto is a storytelling genius and will be known as one of the greatest mangaka of our time.

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Cover art for Pokemon Emerald

Pokémon Emerald

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Cover art for Pokemon Emerald

POKÉMON EMERALD

Video game

PLATFORM

Nintendo 3DS (originally for Game Boy Advance)

SYNOPSIS

The player starts their journey in Littleroot Town, where the family has just moved after the player’s father, Norman, became a gym leader. As usual, the game follows the player on their path to collecting the gym badges and becoming the next Pokémon Champion.

THOUGHTS

Pokémon Emerald was the first video game that I ever picked up. I initially played this game when I was around 5 years old, using my brother’s Game Boy Advance SP. After hearing the news of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet being released this year, I felt a bit ‘homesick’ for the older generations and decided to replay the one that got me into the series.

As my talk with Prof. Birch finished and I was greeted by a scene of my character inside a moving truck, a wave of nostalgia hit me. You see, when I was 5 I wasn’t allowed to save my game until my brother had beaten his own save file because doing so would cause him to lose his progress, meaning I had to start a new game every time. I witnessed this same scene many times, but it still made me feel excited for the adventure ahead.

One of the first things I noticed when I embarked on my journey to become the champion was the game difficulty. Compared to the latest entries, this game felt less forgiving. Your little friends won’t avoid being poisoned, put to sleep, or paralysed just because they love you like they do in Pokémon Shield. In fact, status ailments are carried from one battle to the next, and being poisoned means your pokémon loses health even outside of battle. There is no easily-obtainable experience candy to level up your pokémon quickly, and only those that you actively use in battle will gain experience. This makes training them, and choosing which ones to train in the first place, more strategic.

I also found it interesting that earlier games like Emerald seem to be more cryptic. While you will get hints about your next destination, you won’t be told exactly how to get there and might even struggle a bit if you don’t talk to NPCs. In contrast, newer games tell you exactly what to do next every time there is a stop in your journey. While I’m not a massive fan of this new approach, I understand that the old one can be frustrating at times. I think finding a good balance would be great for the series.

Overall, I have really enjoyed replaying one of my childhood classics. When I choose to re-experience a piece of media that I grew up with, I often find that it’s not as good as I remembered it. However, Pokémon Emerald managed to match my expectations. It also managed to make me feel a bit old…

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Screenshots by Moby Games
Cover art for Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories

Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories

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Cover art for Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories

KINGDOM HEARTS RE:CHAIN OF MEMORIES

Video game

PLATFORM

PlayStation 4 (also available on PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)

SYNOPSIS

The game takes place directly after the ending of the first entry in the Kingdom Hearts series. It focuses on Sora, Donald and Goofy making their way through Castle Oblivion, reliving their memories of Kingdom Hearts and getting to know a new group of antagonists called the Organization XIII.

THOUGHTS

After completing Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, I decided to tackle its sequel almost immediately. Although the game picked up right where the previous one left off, it introduced some major changes. This caused it to initially feel more like a spin-off centered around the new turn-based card gameplay. This kind of gameplay felt a bit out of place in the 3D remake and a lot more fitting to the original Game Boy Advance version of the game, which I have briefly tried out.

That said, I will admit that this game definitely grew on me. Although sometimes repetitive, it is more strategy-based than the original action gameplay from Kingdom Hearts. After getting used to it and learning some abilities, the combat became more fluid and enjoyable. In terms of the story, what started out as a repetition of the Disney worlds we visited in the prequel became its own plot with interesting new characters. We were finally given the chance to dive deeper into the original world of the series, moving away from the Disney-centred story of the first game. If I had to choose one negative aspect to bring up, that would be its extremely cluttered and confusing user interface.

After we completed the game with our usual protagonist Sora, we were invited to play a different campaign starring his best friend Riku. He was also the antagonist in the first game (it’s… complicated). This extra campaign, named Reverse/Rebirth, allowed us to understand Riku’s perspective and witness his internal struggle to resist the darkness residing in his heart. While controlling Riku, the player is not allowed to make any changes to the card deck, and the battle mechanics are stripped down to the basics with some interesting twists. An example of this are the ‘darkness points’, which accumulate during combat and allow Riku to enter ‘dark mode’ and use more powerful abilities. This makes the experience slightly more challenging, while eliminating some of the more stressful elements of the original gameplay such as arranging cards or shifting through them mid-battle. I definitely found Riku’s playstyle a lot more fluid and satisfying.

If there’s one thing I learned while playing Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories, it’s that there are no spin-offs in this series (that is, if you want to make any sense of its story). I’m aware that this is a controversial take within the fandom, but I can safely say that I found it more enjoyable than Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. The combat is more strategic, there is a lot more depth to the story and the characters, and we get a Riku-centric plot that allows us to better understand his intentions. After completing this game, I’m really excited to see the direction that his character development and the overarching story will take moving forward. Next up isKingdom Hearts II!

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Screenshots by GameSpy

Kingdom Hearts Final Mix

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Cover art for Kingdom Hearts Final Mix

KINGDOM HEARTS FINAL MIX

Video game

PLATFORM

PlayStation 4 (also available on PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)

SYNOPSIS

When his world is destroyed and his friends mysteriously disappear, a young boy named Sora is thrust into a quest to find his missing friends and prevent the armies of darkness from destroying many other worlds. During his quest, he meets many characters from classic Disney films and a handful from the Final Fantasy video game series.

THOUGHTS

My partner and I began our Kingdom Hearts journey around August 2021. I had been wanting to give it a go ever since I played some of the entries available for the Nintendo handheld systems. More specifically, I had already experienced Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, and Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance. This gave me a rough idea of the overarching storyline and its main characters, as well as some of the recurrent gameplay features, so I must admit that the series wasn’t new to me and I went in with some expectations.

Being completely honest, I can’t say that I enjoyed the first installment as much as I had hoped. In fact, it took us around one year to complete it. Most of my frustrations came from two core aspects of the gameplay; camera and controls. I don’t believe this game has aged well in general, but this is most noticeable when taking on its many bosses. Unfortunately, most of their difficulty lies in being able to reach that single spot on their body that our beloved protagonist Sora can strike with his keyblade. The clunky controls and temperamental camera make this task much harder than it needs to be, often turning a single boss fight into a long infuriating session of many attempts.

I’d love to say that the awkwardness of its gameplay is the game’s only weak spot. However, there were other aspects that contributed to our lack of motivation to finish it. It’s already hard to complete a game when its main mechanics are flawed, but adding a story that doesn’t seem to go anywhere definitely doesn’t help. The main characters are endearing and reliving all those Disney classics definitely filled me with nostalgia, but I believe it’s hard to make it work alongside the series’ original story, which is almost non-existent in this first installment. Things just happened out of nowhere and the dialogue often read as childish. It was hard to take it seriously and it felt as if the creators struggled to find the right tone for it.

Of course, there were some aspects of the game that I did enjoy, such as its beautiful soundtrack and the satisfaction of beating a certain boss that took more than 25 attempts. Overall, my impression is that Kingdom Hearts is one of those games that haven’t aged that well, and its remake was a missed opportunity to improve on many of its failures. Having experienced some of the series before, I am aware that it gets better as we learn more about the original characters and their story, which is one of the reasons I was able to finish the first entry and I’m still excited to move on to Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories.

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Cover art for The Hobbit

The Hobbit

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Cover art for The Hobbit

THE HOBBIT

Book

AUTHOR

J.R.R. Tolkien

SYNOPSIS

Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.

THOUGHTS

The Hobbit was my introduction to Tolkien’s writing and also the first full book I read in many years. I used to read a lot as a kid, however it has become harder to make time for it lately. I’m glad that this was my first book of his, as I found it very entertaining and easy to follow. It also made me fall in love with Tolkien’s beautifully descriptive writing, although I must admit that it had me looking up many words in the dictionary.

Compared to its three movie adaptations, the book is more fast-paced and is driven by Bilbo’s fantastic journey, rather than epic battles against enemies that I learned were not even part of the original story. This allowed me to focus on Bilbo’s personal growth and character development without getting sidetracked by the distractions found in the films (if you’ve watched them, you’ll hopefully understand what I’m talking about). Personally, I believe this was the original intention of the story.

Even though Tolkien’s writing can become slow at times, especially when he describes landscapes in incredible —but also slightly painful— detail, I honestly think that this is a story that anyone can enjoy. I especially appreciate the way the author sometimes addresses the reader and makes them feel part of the narrative. I picked up the edition of this book that contains illustrations by Alan Lee, and felt they complemented the writing very well.

Cover art for The Summer Hikaru Died

The Summer Hikaru Died

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Cover art for The Summer Hikaru Died

THE SUMMER HIKARU DIED

Manga

AUTHOR

Ren Mokumoku

SYNOPSIS

Yoshiki and Hikaru are best friends. They’re the same age and have grown up together. But one day, Yoshiki notices that “something else” has taken Hikaru’s place. Even after learning of this, Yoshiki wants them to stay together. And so, his life with the “something” that looks like his friend begins.

THOUGHTS

The Summer Hikaru Died is a beautiful yet mysterious story about a high schooler whose friend has been replaced by ‘something’. It focuses on these two boys’ relationship, but also dives into the horrors and mysteries surrounding the replacement of Hikaru and a number of incidents that have begun to take place in their village.

Through a gorgeous and haunting art style, genius panelling, and amazing storytelling, this manga explores the complex feelings of someone who is unwilling to let go. Even after learning that his friend is most likely never coming back, Yoshiki tries everything in his power to keep his life exactly the way it was by welcoming the new ‘Hikaru’ into it. Unfortunately, this might not be as easy as he expected.

While The Summer Hikaru Died has not been published in English (as of November 2022), it will be distributed by Yen Press starting March of 2023.

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Cover art for Boys Run The Riot

Boys Run The Riot

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Cover art for Boys Run The Riot

BOYS RUN THE RIOT

Manga

AUTHOR

Keito Gaku

SYNOPSIS

A transgender teen named Ryuu finds an escape from the expectations and anxieties of his daily life in the world of street fashion.

THOUGHTS

As a transmasculine person, I was really excited to hear about the release of Boys Run the Riot. In the first volume of this manga, we are introduced to Ryuu, a transgender teenager that struggles with dysphoria and has found an escape in street fashion.

Being transgender himself, Keito Gaku paints a realistic picture of what it feels like to go through high school and deal with its difficulties while simultaneously shouldering the social pressure to behave as expected from one’s assigned gender. While the author is not afraid to dive into the negative experiences that stem from Ryuu’s gender identity, I appreciate the more positive focus that he brings into the story by giving the protagonist something that he’s passionate about and that allows him to explore those complicated feelings from a safe space. On top of that, he has a beautiful art style!

I was also delighted to learn that Kodansha hired an all-transgender localisation team for the English release of the manga.

Cover art for Gris, a video game

GRIS

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Cover art for Gris, a video game

GRIS

Video game

PLATFORM

Nintendo Switch (also available on PC, PlayStation, iOS)

SYNOPSIS

Gris is a hopeful young girl lost in her own world, dealing with a painful experience in her life. As the story unfolds, Gris will grow emotionally and see her world in a different way, revealing new paths to explore using her new abilities.

THOUGHTS

Rather than a conventional video game, GRIS plays like a wonderful cinematic experience. Paired with the excellent soundtrack, the game’s visual storytelling is out of this world. From the environment design, to each little sound effect, every detail has been meticulously crafted and adds something to its special atmosphere.

Throughout this journey, we are tasked with returning colour to the protagonist’s world, which has been rid of it by a painful event in her life. Since there is no text in this game, we can only assume that Gris has lost someone of great importance. Based on the recurrent female statues scattered across the protagonist’s world, I drew the conclusion that the pain she feels is tied to the loss of her mother. As we progress through the story, Gris’ grief transforms from sadness into anger, from depression into hope, until her world is full of colour and she comes to accept her painful loss.

Although the twists and turns of Gris’ journey to acceptance made me anxious at times, it was truly a heartfelt portrayal of loss, translated into gorgeous art, animation, and music. Moreover, this is one of those pieces of media that could be interpreted in many different ways, making it an experience that every player will be able to take something from. If it sounds like a game you might enjoy, I highly recommend playing it with sound on!

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Cover art for Goodbye Eri

Goodbye, Eri

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Cover art for Goodbye Eri

GOODBYE, ERI

Manga

AUTHOR

Tatsuki Fujimoto

SYNOPSIS

With his mother dying, Yuta attempts to capture her last days on his phone. After her death, Yuta heads to the roof of the hospital to commit suicide, but a meeting with a strange girl leads him on the path to making a movie.

THOUGHTS

There is honestly nothing I can type out that will accurately describe what it feels like to read Goodbye, Eri. Just like any of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s works, the first time I finished reading this 200-page self-contained story I was speechless. I could barely comprehend what had happened, or why I had found it so deeply moving, but as I sat there with my tablet on my lap I knew that I had been lucky enough to read something very special.

Goodbye, Eri doesn’t read like your usual comic book, where panels flow dynamically on the page and are strategically sized and shaped for the biggest impact. Almost every page of this manga consists of panels of the same size and shape, stacked one on top of another, resembling more of a storyboard. Within the context of the story, this is the only possible layout. Every panel in each page is an image captured by the protagonist’s phone camera, portraying life as it is. From the ugliness of a family tragedy, to the boring meals sitting around the dinner table, including the shakiness of Yuta’s hands holding the phone. We are invited to watch his movie as it is conceived and filmed. But what is life as it is, and what is part of the movie’s narrative?

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