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200 Best Nintendo Games (Part 5) Get N or Get Out

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The success of Nintendo’s handhelds would inspire the latest generation of portable gaming, the Nintendo DS. Marketed as an experimental “third pillar” of Nintendo’s console lineup, supposedly to compliment the Game Boy Advance and the Gamecube, its success would would eventually establish it as the successor of the Game Boy series. Dual-screen gaming was a unique idea, especially with the bottom screen featuring a touchscreen, which reinvented the whole handheld market, a success that has continued today with the 3DS. The Nintendo DS would again cement Nintendo as the handheld leader.

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Greatest Nintendo Games

Part Five: 2000 – 2005

121) Metroid Fusion
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D1
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Director(s) Yoshio Sakamoto
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release: NA: November 18, 2002
Genre(s) Action-adventure

It had been nearly eight years since the last side-scrolling Metroid game, Super Metroid, had been released on the SNES, and expectations were high for the release of not one, but two new Metroid games in one year. The first, Metroid Prime, became one of the greatest games of all time, a masterpiece and a testament to the excellence of the medium. The other, Metroid Fusion, had something of a different reaction. Initially loved by critics, it has become something of a black sheep within the series, derived by some for its linear pace and unoriginal setting. Far from that, Metroid Fusion is an excellent testament to how excellent atmosphere can create an engaging gameplay experience. Ratcheting up the tension is the SA-X, Fusion’s primary antagonist and Samus’ doppelganger, who is easily one of the series’ most threatening villains. Metroid Fusion is an excellent Metroid game, and one that is still worth playing, even fifteen years after its initial release. (Izsak Barnette)

122) Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Developer(s) Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Publisher(s) Konami
Director(s) Junichi Murakami
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance, Mobile phone
Release: NA: May 6, 2003
Genre(s) Platforming, Action, Adventure

Following the similarly lauded but more divisive Castlevania: Circle of the Moon and Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, Aria of Sorrow was the third and final Game Boy Advance entry for the long-running vampire-slaying franchise, all somehow released within a two-year timeframe. Aria of Sorrow tells the story of Soma Cruz, a high school exchange student in Japan who is transported to Dracula’s castle during a solar eclipse in 2035. From that starting point begins one of Castlevania’s most compelling narratives, full of twists and turns that would shake up series canon like a bat out of hell. As the first Castlevania to take place in the modern world, it stands out from the gothic classicism of past entries, despite its mostly traditional weaponry and castle interiors.

But outside of its startling story and setting, Aria of Sorrow doesn’t stray far from the masterful Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Indeed, Aria of Sorrow is arguably the purest incarnation of the Iga-vania formula on the Game Boy Advance. Outside of the innovative soul collection system, which enables Soma to absorb an enemy’s ability upon defeating it, Aria of Sorrow plays its castle exploring and monster slaying straight as an arrow, and arguably more refined than ever before.

Fortunately, the GBA trilogy went out on a high note, as Aria of Sorrow balances the difficulty and upgrades the audio quality of the first two entries while giving the series the shot in the arm it needed: an unexpected change of setting and unpredictable twists that freshened up the then-annual series. Occasionally dull backgrounds, an underused soul collection system, and short length notwithstanding, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow remains one of the definitive action-RPGs on GBA, and one of the best entries in its long-running franchise. That Konami decided to continue Aria of Sorrow‘s storyline in the series’ equally brilliant DS debut, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, speaks to the warm and deserved affection Aria of Sorrow earned on release and has retained to 2017, a time when longtime fans are crossing their fingers that Koji Igarashi’s upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night can similarly transplant classic gameplay in a new world. (Kyle Rentschler)

200 Best Nintendo Games

123) F-Zero GX
Developer(s) Amusement Vision
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) GameCube
Release: JP: July 25, 2003 / NA: August 25, 2003
Genre(s) Racing

Sega and Nintendo teamed up and redefined the futuristic racing genre with F-Zero GX, a game that features difficult, high-speed racing styles and brilliant track designs, while retaining the basic gameplay and control system from its Nintendo 64 predecessor. GX also introduces a story mode element where the player assumes the role of F-Zero pilot Captain Falcon through nine chapters while completing various missions. The game offers 20 different tracks and over 30 unique pilots, as well as a custom craft editor where players can create their own vehicle. It marked Sega’s first collaboration with Nintendo after having dropped out of the hardware market — and it’s the pinnacle of the series. After all these years, other racing games are still playing catch-up. (Ricky D)

124) Fire Emblem
Developer(s) Intelligent Systems
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release: JP: April 25, 2003 / NA: November 3, 2003
Genre(s) Strategy

Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance was most of the Western world’s first exposure to the franchise after seeing Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Neither of those two were playable in this game, but that didn’t stop it from being a solid entry in the franchise, and one of the best places to start playing.

Fire Emblem‘s roster of 40+ soldiers all come form different backgrounds and walks of life. Each character feels unique. Their personalities come forth in the game’s myriad support conversations, which bring to light details and tidbits that would otherwise be unknown. It makes the loss of a unit feel like more than a slight mistake, and turns perfectionist players into reset-happy tacticians to save the lives of their units. Thirty different chapters, three different stories, and plenty of nostalgia helps the cast of Fire Emblem stand out as one the franchise’s most memorable.

The franchise has a come a long way since Fire Emblem, but it’s without a doubt a classic and a catalyst for how big the franchise grew outside of Japan. (Taylor Smith)

125) Mario Kart: Double Dash
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) GameCube
Release: JP: November 7, 2003 /NA: November 17, 2000
Genre(s) Kart racing

Since its inception on the SNES back in 1992, every Nintendo home console has had a Mario Kart, and Double Dash is definitely one of the cooler games in the series. On top of more than doubling the playable roster of characters, Double Dash is one of the few GameCube games to make use of the Broadband Adapter, which lets you hook up multiple consoles. The game’s gimmick and namesake come from being able to swap between two racers on one kart. With the adapter, you can have full 16-man races, a feature no other console Mario Kart title can do. The only true way to really experience Double Dash is with 7 friends, two consoles, and two TVs for an 8-man race.

There’s more to Double Dash than just its awesome LAN options, however. It’s the first game in the series to allow you to pick your racers and kart independently of each other, giving almost 200 different combinations of drivers and karts. The game also has a co-op race mode, something that hasn’t been done since. Co-op lets players swap between using items and driving, and also gives access to new moves, such as allowing the player riding in the backseat to steal items off of other players and increase the amount of initial boost you can get at the start of the race.

Double Dash is an oddly innovative and experimental title on the GameCube that helped redefine Mario Kart. Freedom of kart choice has been a staple ever since, and the massive local races you can have on the DS and 3DS games, as well as the online races on the Wii and Wii U entries, all call back to Double Dash and its use of a LAN connection. A personal favorite of mine and many others, Mario Kart: Double Dash is a “must-own” for the GameCube. (Taylor Smith)

126) Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
Developer(s) AlphaDream
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release: NA: November 17, 2003
Genre(s) Role-playing

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is the first in the Mario & Luigi RPG series, and some would argue the best thanks to the perfect mix of adventuring, platforming, and turn-based combat that places an emphasis on timing and elaborate attacks. It’s one of those games that stands the test of time with its beautiful 2D art, light-hearted dialogue, and fast-paced action. I’m not sure if this turn-based RPG needed a 2017 remake on the 3DS, but if anything, it may at least introduce a new generation of gamers to one of Nintendo’s most enjoyable games. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, this is a great place to start. You’re guaranteed to love the game’s whimsical tone, in-game jokes, and numerous comical references to the heritage of the Super Mario series. (Ricky D)

127) Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles
Developer(s) The Game Designers Studio
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Series Final Fantasy
Platform(s) Nintendo GameCube
Release: JP: August 8, 2003 / NA: February 9, 2004
Genre(s) Action RPG

Something of a forgotten gem in the Final Fantasy series, Crystal Chronicles went heavily underplayed during the time of its initial release. On a system that was often heavily starved for both RPGs and quality third-party titles, it seems strange that FF:CC was so widely disregarded back in 2004. Unfortunately, both Nintendo and Square-Enix bear a heady portion of the blame for this. The decision to push the GBA connectivity to the point of making the multiplayer options completely unplayable without it left many fans feeling cold to the title, and rightfully so. However, underneath all of that controversy was a solid action-RPG with slick production values and a great soundtrack, and even if the game lost some of its fun factor by cutting out the highly emphasized multiplayer aspects, it was still well worth the journey by the time the credits rolled. (Mike Worby)

Metroid128) Metroid Zero Mission
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D1
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release: NA: February 9, 2004
Genre(s) Action-adventure

The idea to remake Metroid was a truly brilliant one, and with its pedigree for bringing back retro gaming, the GBA was the perfect place for it. Made with the same engine as Metroid Fusion, the first thing you will notice about Zero Mission is how dramatically different it looks and plays in comparison to the original Metroid. The additional use of a map system and save locations were godsends, serving as much-needed add-ons that make Zero Mission far more playable than the endless trial and error experience of the original title. Though much of ZM is a deliberate retread of Metroid (and even Super Metroid to a certain extent), where it really shines is in expanding the Metroid mythology, particularly through an extended epilogue sequence in which Samus’s gunship is shot down by space pirates, and she must use a stealth-based strategy to survive outside of her iconic power suit. Though the experience of Metroid: Zero Mission is a short one, it lives on as a game with tons of secrets to find, and a lot of replayability. (Mike Worby)

129) Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
Developer(s) Intelligent Systems
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) GameCube
Release: JP: July 22, 2004 / NA: October 11, 2004
Genre(s) Role-playing

No stickers, no cards, no things; it turns out that the key to making a beloved Nintendo role-playing game — and the best game in the Paper Mario franchise — is simply to stick to the genre basics of progression and deliver a whimsical storybook adventure in a visually stunning world. The Thousand Year Door does exactly that, giving fans of the N64 original wittier and often hilarious dialogue, distinct and engaging characters, and that ever-satisfying timing-based combat system that the Mario RPGs are known for.

The plot, unfolding around the mystery of a seaside town called Rogueport and the predictable disappearance of one Princess Peach, probably won’t knock anyone’s socks off, but the compelling narrative or no, charm has always been at the heart of the appeal of Paper Mario, and The Thousand-Year Door is loaded with it. From the seven party members that join the heroic plumber to lend a hand, like the sassy Goombella or the grieving Admiral Bobbery, to the diverse cast of Mushroom Kingdom favorites populating the land, the astounding amount of personality on display can’t help but pull the player into this pop-up world come to life. Thankfully the gameplay doesn’t pull them out of it, so full attention can be given to grinning over the reams of clever puns and marveling at the amazing attention to detail on display. A couple of sequels later, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door still stands as the benchmark for the franchise, and one of the best GameCube games. (Patrick Murphy)

130) Pikmin 2
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Director(s) Shigefumi Hino
Platform(s) GameCube
Release: JP: April 29, 2004 / NA: August 30, 2004
Genre(s) Puzzle, Real-time strategy

The original Pikmin is a charming little game that served as a grand tech demo for the GameCube, showing off a number of unique models it could handle, the system’s powerful graphical capabilities, and Nintendo’s ability to competently create a real-time strategy game on the console. That said, Pikmin 2 is the full realization of these ideas, removing the original game’s more frustrating elements, and delving more into what makes the series interesting.

While Pikmin 2 is still a hybrid RTS/puzzle game, there’s a huge emphasis on exploration. The 30-day time limit from the first game is gone, but the day-to-night timer is still there. You still have to manage your time properly, but there’s no rush or punishment for not optimizing how you go about collecting treasure across the foreign planet. The game rewards curious players, hiding many of secrets well out of the way, and making maps so big you can’t possibly cover them in just one day. Pikmin 2 also introduced dungeons — micro levels within levels that don’t consume your timer, which is pretty good since they can sometimes take hours to complete (an average Pikmin 2 day is about 13 minutes).

While making the game more accessible by removing the time limit is great, where Pikmin 2 really excels is in the variety of things it adds to give the game more strategy elements. Two new Pikmin types add layers to combat and puzzle solving. Large purple Pikmin can stun enemies they’re thrown at and lift the same amount as 10 Pikmin of any other color, and small white Pikmin can dig up various pieces of buried treasure and deal with enemies and traps that use poisonous gasses without harm. Pikmin 2‘s other big upgrade was adding a second captain in the form of Louie, allowing skilled multi-taskers to complete a variety of challenges and puzzles at the same time. It also led to an interesting VS mode, probably the game’s weakest element, but worth trying at least once.

Pikmin 2 is without a doubt the best games in the franchise. The amount of polish and in-series innovation it has makes it a must-own for any GameCube collector. Both it and the original are available on the Wii with “new control style” re-releases, with the first game having just been added to the Wii U’s line of digital download Wii titles. (Taylor Smith)

131) WarioWare Twisted!
Developer(s) Intelligent Systems
Nintendo SPD
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release: JP: October 14, 2004 / NA: May 23, 2005
Genre(s) Action, Puzzle, Rhythm

When hearing the term “motion controls,” it’s easy to think of the mega-hit that was Nintendo’s Wii. Games like Wii Sports showed just how much fun could be had when motion controls were done right. However, Nintendo’s best movement-based game isn’t found on the Wii — it debuted in 2004 on the Game Boy Advance. Wario Ware: Twisted! combines the fast-paced, surreal microgames the series is known for with excellent gyroscopic controls to create one of the best handheld games ever made.

Just like in the previous entries, Wario Ware: Twisted! tasks players with clearing collections of microgames based around a character and their theme. This time around, the themes relate to different gameplay ideas rather than their subject matter. Dr. Crygor’s stage will require gamers to turn their console like a wheel, whereas other stages may only require slight tilting of the GBA. The motion controls work wonderfully, and are rarely ever frustrating (unless it’s being played in a moving vehicle, of course). Completing stages also awards players with hundreds of different in-game toys and collectibles that can be accessed from another menu. Some of these are fully-fledged games that have high score tracking. It’s hilarious to see some of them in action, and it adds a ton of replay value to an already fantastic experience. (Zack Rezak)

132) Mario Party 5
Developer(s) Hudson Soft
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) GameCube
Release: NA: November 10, 2003 / JP: November 28, 2003
Genre(s) Party

Nintendo probably has the gaming industry’s most uncanny ability to effortlessly place cutesy kid-friendly characters in games with rage-inducing, friend-ruining multiplayer. While the Mario Party series seems to be casual bait when judged by the cover, underneath the surface lies an unforgiving and remorseless machine designed to teach you and everyone you love that the house — or in this case Bowser — always wins.

The series’ fifth instalment was the second on the GameCube, and made several notable improvements over its predecessors. The most impactful change was the introduction of the capsule system to take over from the old items that were introduced back in Mario Party 2. Instead of buying items, certain spaces on the board allow players to get a free capsule that needs to be thrown up to ten spaces ahead on the board to trigger its effects once it’s landed on. This obviously means that no item is guaranteed for anyone, and when some of the effects are also determined by roulette wheels, you’re getting into random number inception territory. It’s fun. Honestly.

Mario Party 5 also introduces new game modes, new characters, full-3D game boards, a new single-player story, and boasts 70 new mini-games, making it one hell of a package. As far as party games go, on value at the very least, it could not be beaten at the time. That so many of the mini-games are wildly enjoyable further accentuates the series’ dominance over the party game genre.

Mario Party’s biggest draw is its wonderfully dichotomic requirement of both skill and luck to succeed. Keeping things simple enough to draw all types of players in and giving them all a chance at winning its undisputedly Nintendo’s forte, and Mario Party 5 is perhaps the clearest example in gaming of this formula at work. (Alex Aldridge)

133) Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Developer(s) Square Product Development Division 4
Publisher(s) Square
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release: JP: February 14, 2003 / NA: September 8, 2003
Genre(s) Tactical role-playing

If you’re going to share names with one of the most widely revered role playing games of all time, then you’ve really got to deliver, or the backlash will likely be twice as acerbic as it ordinarily would. Fortunately, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance managed to live up to the lofty standards set by the earlier Final Fantasy Tactics, and stands as one of the best portable role playing games of all time.

The storyline here isn’t much to write home about, but when it comes to tactical role playing combat — particularly for a handheld game — the title really shines. The amount of freedom afforded the player in developing their characters as they see fit would be laudable for a game releasing today, let alone in 2003 and on a handheld console, and while the game does suffer from a couple of technical issues thanks to the limits of the hardware, Square managed to squeeze every drop of power out of the tiny portable to ensure the battles positively pop from the screen.

The star of the show here though is the job system, which shines as an example of how to give players the ability to progress as they choose while still adhering to the confines of an otherwise linear experience. Perhaps there are a couple of jobs that might seem a little redundant, and you’ll likely find yourself relying on tried and tested role playing staples, but the options available are impressive none the less. (John Cal McCormick)

134) WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D1
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release: JP: March 21, 2003 / NA: May 26, 2003
Genre(s) Action, Rhythm

Before Wario Ware, mini-game collections had been around for years. Playing an assortment of bite-sized games within the confines of a larger one was a novel concept that seemed fun enough in its current state. However, what if the games were even smaller? Enter Microgames‘ insanely short games, nibbles that last only a few seconds and are meant to be played in quick succession. Leave it to Wario to turn an established genre on its head and create one of the most unique and stylistic games ever made. Wario Ware, Inc. forces players to rely on twitch reflexes from a random assortment of mini-challenges in order to be successful. What really makes the game so special is its outlandish style. Some of the microgames feel like strange fever dreams, especially since they come at the player so fast.

A whole new cast of quirky characters have also been introduced in this debut title, and each one is just as charming as the last. Each character has their own specific set of microgames that cater to a particular theme. Jimmy T’s stage focuses on sports, whereas 9 Volt’s has microgames related to classic Nintendo games. It’s a neat way to package the experience, and adds a sense of personality to the franchise that is unrivaled in the genre.(Zack Rezak)

135) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Trials and Tribulations
Developer(s) Capcom
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release: January 23, 2004
Genre(s) Visual novel adventure

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Trials and Tribulations is the last game in the first Ace Attorney trilogy. Many fans consider this game the best entry in the franchise, and with plenty of good reason. Trials and Tribulations ties up a lot of events from previous games, and adds in backstory to otherwise unexplored main characters. All five of Trials and Tribulations’ cases work together, each building tiny details on top of each other for one of the longest, most exciting, and most engrossing final trials the franchise has ever had.
If the first Ace Attorney game helped popularize portable adventure games, then Trials and Tribulations shows what they look like at their peak. Text-adventures tend to lack in the gameplay department; they live and die by their scripts. Trials has excellent writing and localization, on-par with the creativity and hilarity of its two predecessors. Ace Attorney — Trials and Tribulations stands as one of the best Game Boy Advance and DS games with its imaginative characters, great soundtrack, and beautiful sprite-work. (Taylor Smith)

136) Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
Developer(s) Retro Studios / Nintendo
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) GameCube
Release: November 15, 2004
Genre(s) Adventure, First-person shooter

While the Metroid Prime trilogy is rightly touted as being home to some of the finest games in the franchise, Echoes is often cited as the weakest of the three, and not without reason. The light and dark world mechanic had been used by Nintendo before, most notably in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. On top of the old hat concept, Echoes also deviates heavily from its progenitors by actually punishing exploration for large sections of the game, as any time spent in the dark reality damages Samus outside of safe zones.

Qualms aside, Echoes does still offer a lot to love. Its beam system was completely original, and it came up with more new gadgets and mechanics than either of its Prime siblings. It also introduced one of the franchise’s most popular antagonists in the form of Dark Samus. Though this was another riff on an idea that originated in the Zelda series, Dark Samus is still a great villain, and the encounters with her are tense and memorable. Though not Metroid’s finest moment, Echoes is an astute reminder that even a subpar Metroid game is generally heads and tails above everything else on the market. (Mike Worby)

137) Viewtiful Joe
Developer(s) Capcom Production Studio 4
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) GameCube
Release: JP: 26 June 2003 / NA: 7 October 2003
Genre(s) Action, Platforming, Beat ’em up

If there was ever a game with so much style and flair that all I could do is say to myself “THIS IS FABULOUS!,” well Viewtiful Joe is that game. Viewtiful Joe made its first appearance in North America on October 7th, 2003, released exclusively to the GameCube. The core gameplay consists of a traditionally 2D side-scrolling beat ’em up, but the unique aspect of this game is the Viewtiful FX power (VFX), which emulates the camera tricks seen in films. These powers come in handy for fighting off enemies, as well as solving various stage puzzles found in the game. The powers you have include the ability to slow time, which increases your ability to deal damage and dodge, as well as Mach speed, which gives Joe an after-image effect giving you the ability to take on multiple opponents on the screen, and Zoom-in causes the camera to get up close, giving you the ability to focus attacks and use a new set of power moves. The game was a bit of a hidden gem, selling less than a 100,000 in its first week of release in Japan, and only 275,000 worldwide. It fell short of what Capcom predicted, but due to its small budget, it still did relatively well commercially. All in all, this is a solid game that made the GameCube a very appealing console to own during the time period. (Aaron Santos)

138) Resident Evil 4
Developer(s) Capcom Production
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) GameCube
Release: January 11, 2005
Genre(s) Survival horror

Series creator Shinji Mikami reinvented the wheel with the fourth numbered entry in the Resident Evil franchise. Reinventing the series was a risky move, but fortunately Capcom nailed it with a new over-the-shoulder third-person aiming system that reinvigorated the genre. There is a reason why this game is cited as one of the primary inspirations for many extremely successful third-person shooters, such as Uncharted, Gears of War, and Dead Space. Resident Evil 4 did for the action-horror genre what Super Mario 64 did for 3D platformers. By combining horror with genuinely clever, exhilarating survival combat and an oppressive atmosphere, Capcom created a near-perfect game, and arguably one of the finest video games ever made — and its greatest achievement is how fresh and vital it remains after all these years! (Ricky D)

139) Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones
Developer(s) Intelligent Systems
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release:  JP: October 7, 2004 / NA: May 23, 2005
Genre(s) Strategy

As a follow-up to Fire Emblem‘s Western debut, Sacred Stones is a worthy, if imperfect sequel. It’s essentially more of the same premise — a nation at war, displaced warrior nobles, and a plucky band of soldiers — but he game’s stylized fantasy world is brought to life with gorgeous artistic direction and characters that are both fun and memorable.

Sacred Stones’ tactics gameplay is, like most Fire Emblem games, fairly arcade-y. You control your soldiers, unique units with varied classes and abilities, as you complete objectives on a grid-based map. There aren’t any resources to manage, save for gold, so you only have to focus on how you want to make use of your units in a given situation. Various RPG elements, like item loadouts, leveling up, and stats, create a distinct sense of progression. The strategy that Sacred Stones calls for isn’t the deepest, but this game truly shines with its entertaining cast and satisfying gameplay.

Sacred Stones suffers from a problem that would continue to plague the Fire Emblem series well into the future: grinding. The original Fire Emblem that released in the West was a tightly designed experience that called for careful team management. If you relied too much on a single character or composition, you were bound to run into trouble. The addition of “The Tower of Valni” completely negated that. If you encountered any opposition, you could merely head to the Tower and repeatedly go through the first floor, which had an enemy unit that would give high amounts of XP well into higher levels. Regardless of the first floor exploit, the fact that the Tower even exists means the developers accounted for the player to have a limitless source of growth, which raises questions about the overall level design.

For all of the game’s faults, Sacred Stones still possesses the heart and soul of a worthy entry in the Fire Emblem series. (Kyle Rogacion)

140) The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Developer(s) Capcom
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release: JP: November 4, 2004 / NA: January 10, 2005
Genre(s) Action-adventure

Most Zelda fans will stand by a single game as their “absolute best” when looking at everything the series has to offer. Minish Cap was the last conventional top-down Zelda until A Link Between Worlds revived the genre on the 3DS, and is a charming game that takes a unique spin on classic Zelda enemies. Your early game bosses aren’t giant spiders or bomb-eating dinosaurs, but instead just normal chu-blobs and octoroks. The difference is that you’re 2cm tall, so even the least threatening of basic baddies will be a powerful enemy in comparison.

Swapping between normal and Minish size has a very light/dark world feel to it. Minish Cap builds on the foundations of A Link to the Past and the Oracle games, and explores many different kinds of puzzles and side-quests that require you to change size and make use of items that are unique only to Minish Cap.

Minish Cap also has one of the most charming art styles in a Zelda title, and combines the cute and cartoony visuals of Wind Waker with 32-bit sprites. What’s left is an endearing cast of characters that have great expressive and idle animations. Often overlooked, but still just as big as other Zelda games, Minish Cap earns its place on the top Nintendo games list. (Taylor Smith)

141) Kirby’s Canvas Curse
Developer(s) HAL Laboratory
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo DS, Wii U
Release: JP: March 24, 2005 / NA: June 13, 2005
Genre(s) Platforming

The opening dialogue of Kirby’s Canvas Curse is very 80s/early 90s inspired. From the written story setting the scene for the player, to the nostalgic soundtrack blasting through, this isn’t your average Kirby game, and designed to utilize the full-extent of the new Nintendo DS, it became an entirely new concept for Kirby.

Canvas Curse implemented the dual-screen in a way that would become common for many DS titles. The touchscreen is the focal point of the game, with movement requiring the stylus’ guidance. The top screen becomes much like a previous options screen, showing information such as the map, lives, and stars collected.

In many ways, Canvas Curse isn’t a Kirby game, but a game with Kirby in it. Gone is Kirby’s usual nature to inhale enemies and absorb their abilities. This time, Kirby operates much more like Sonic the Hedgehog, rolling with the sway of the stylus, bashing enemies with a simple jump into them. Kirby’s Canvas Curse isn’t so much about Kirby but instead revealing the concept of the Nintendo DS, and with that it did a fantastic job, becoming enough of a success to declare itself as one of the most familiar games in the Kirby series. (James Baker)

142) Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Developer(s) Intelligent Systems / Nintendo SPD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) GameCube
Release: JP: April 20, 2005 / NA: October 17, 2005
Genre(s) Strategy

While Japan had been playing Fire Emblem games on home consoles since 1990, the West had only known of the series as a portable franchise. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was a big deal not only for being the series’ first worldwide console release, but also being the first game to use 3D models, fully animated cutscenes, and voice acting. It was a huge step forward for the franchise in terms of visuals, and set a high standard for later games to live up to.

Despite its overhaul in visuals, Path of Radiance plays it safe when it comes to gameplay. It sticks to its roots, combining several mechanics from across previous titles to help build a good experience. Combat is still dictated by a rock-paper-scissors mechanic, with a few outliers and oddballs thrown in the mix to keep players on their toes. Each member of Path of Radiance‘s playable cast has their own unique story that can be expanded upon through pre-battle support conversations. There are plenty of other things to do in the pre-battle menu as well, such as crafting custom weapons and helping units level up with bonus experience acquired during missions.

It’s no mystery why Path of Radiance commands such a high price given its scarcity, overall positive reception, and a great amount of polish. The game’s positive feedback is what led Intelligent Systems to make the next Fire Emblem title, Radiant Dawn, a direct sequel. (Taylor Smith)

PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE | PART SIX | PART SEVEN

Humans by birth. Gamers by choice. Goomba Stomp is a Canadian web publication that has been independently owned and operated since its inception in 2016.

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From ‘dnd’ to ‘Death Stranding’: Good Old Fashioned Boss Fights

If Death Stranding proves anything, and it does, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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Death Stranding Higgs Boss Fights

There’s nothing quite like a good boss fight. With the creation of dnd in 1975– a Dungeons & Dragons inspired RPG for the PLATO system– video games would be introduced to bosses. It’s hard to imagine the medium without bosses, those perpetual protectors of progress. For dnd, an incredibly primitive RPG, a boss allowed the game to feature these miniature climaxes — memorable events independent of the core gameplay loop. Bosses demand players pay attention or die, and beating one is a triumph in and of itself. Looking back, dnd’s concept of what a boss is amounts to little more than the average random battle, but video games could now build towards emotional highs like any other medium. 

A good boss can make or break a game, but they’re almost always a given. dnd essentially set an inherent basic of game design: video games have bosses. As the seventh generation of gaming ushered in more narrative driven and “cinematic” titles, however, boss design fundamentally changed. Where bosses had evolved from dnd to often serve as explicit rewards or a means to thoughtfully challenge a player’s grasp of the core mechanics, developers started to primarily embrace the “spectacle” of fighting a boss. 

Spectacle and boss fights naturally go hand in hand, though. After all, a boss is spectacle in nature. dnd’s spectacle is comparatively primitive, but it’s there and bosses do feel like events. Boss fights have always demanded our attention as an audience, isolating the world of a game into a singular objective. Some of the best bosses in gaming are almost pure spectacle: Baby Bowser in Yoshi’s Island, Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear REX in Metal Gear Solid. None of these bosses are particularly hard, but they make up for their lack of challenge with scale, scope, and gravitas. Spectacle. 

At the same time, they engage with the mechanics of the game even if they don’t outright challenge them. Of course, it would be disingenuous to go on without mentioning that all of these bosses appear near the end of their respective games. They’re easier and focus on spectacle as a means of rewarding the audience for coming so far. Anyone who’s played A Link to the Past in full will likely remember Moldorm as vividly as Ganon, but it’s the latter who fans will remember. Ganon is a spectacular duel to the death inside of a pyramid where the environment changes over the course of the fight. The former is just a good old fashioned boss fight. Who wants that?

As it turns out, a good chunk of AAA developers. BioWare director Casey Hudson infamously spoke out about boss fights after the release of Mass Effect 3, criticizing them for being “too video gamey.” While, contextually, Hudson’s comment refers to narratively convenient bosses specifically, it’s a sentiment that clearly rang true with developers throughout the late oughts & teens. This isn’t to say games with amazing bosses didn’t release over the course of the decade -– very far from it -– but boss design has changed, to the point where the Iggy Koopas and Revolver Ocelots of the world seem almost out of place. 

That’s just a consequence of consuming only AAA content, though. The indie scene has been thriving, and Japanese game development is the best it’s been in quite a while. In a generation where gaming is more mature and grounded than it’s ever been, the medium needed to end the decade with a reminder of video games in their purest form. Death Stranding is anything but, but its core philosophies play to the strengths of the medium with an evident passion. Death Stranding demands that audiences slow down and play by the game’s rules. 

In a generation where holding a player’s hand is the norm, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. It’s not only appropriately old-school, it’s a step back in the right direction. Like any facet of game design, bosses need to be thoughtfully considered. Being “too video gamey” can indeed be a bad thing depending on a titles tone, but swinging in the wrong direction and playing it too safe is never a good idea. Especially since Death Stranding proves mature, grounded AAA titles can absolutely still have the same over the top, pattern-based boss fights of yore — and comfortably, at that. 

“No BTs. No Voidouts. No bullshit. Just a good-old fashioned boss fight.”
– Higgs, Death Stranding (2019)

What’s interesting to note about Death Stranding’s boss fights is that they all play up the spectacle. Now, given the context that’s been established, that might seem like a step in the wrong direction, but any medium has to evolve with time. AAA developers haven’t historically used spectacle well, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Not every boss should be Ganon, but they should always be memorable. The problem with modern spectacle is that it doesn’t go beyond the surface level. It often carries little to no weight or context. Players are expected to care for the spectacle of the spectacle, but that’s simply not where the medium shines. Games are inherently about interconnectivity, and nothing demands more interconnection than a boss fight. 

From the moment players formally meet Higgs and he floods Port Knot City, it’s clear that Death Stranding’s boss fights are more Snake Eater than they are Peace Walker. They’re all incredibly meaty with tons of health, typical of a modern Hideo Kojima boss, but they’re not bullet sponges, and Sam’s limited inventory means that players will constantly be cycling through different weapons over the course of a fight. Couple this with bosses having identifiable patterns and Death Stranding’s boss loops end up being real highlights. 

As expected of a first boss, the Squid BT is on the simple side. At this point in the game, Sam really only has hematic grenades to fight back with. Anyone who hasn’t taken the time to learn how to use the grenades are now forced to do so as it becomes the only means of making progress. Since Higgs also ambushes Sam, players won’t be prepared for a fight on their first playthrough, forced to scavenge the flooded environment for gear. Most bosses strip Sam of his gear, but this approach only results in tense, well crafted battles that offer plenty of variety. Should Sam already have grenades on him, players can rush in to fight the Squid. Should they not, however, they’re going to have to search while staying alive. 

Starting with the next boss, the first fight against Cliff, Death Stranding begins allowing players to choose exactly how they approach a fight. Much like in Metal Gear, there’s no right or wrong way to tackle a boss. Where bosses in MGS2 onwards could be tackled lethally or non-lethally, Death Stranding’s bosses are more about action versus stealth. Both approaches are totally viable, and they lead into their own isolated boss loops. As Cliff Unger hunts Sam through World War I era trenches, players can stealth their way around him or just dive in guns blazing. 

It’s an incredibly tense battle, but it doesn’t let the spectacle of the situation outdo the actual fight. Cliff isn’t a set piece even if he looks it. He’s a genuine boss and players have to play well to beat him. Stealthing around to hit him from behind is safer, but it means players will be fighting Cliff for much longer, requiring more mental stamina. On the flip side, cutting to the chase and unloading the moment he rears his head will end the fight sooner, but only for players who know how to get in & out of combat fast. Otherwise, Cliff’s personal army will slaughter Sam. 

Cliff is fought twice more over the course of Death Stranding, and each encounter builds off the last. The World War I trenches provided plenty of cover for players regardless of which approach they chose, so naturally the second fight takes place in a World War II city. There’s still plenty of hiding spots, but Sam is now out in the open. Just as easily as Sam can see Cliff, so can he be seen. Getting to Cliff is harder in general. Stealthing towards him means taking advantage of any and all blind spots, no matter how brief. Starting a gunfight either requires some pre-established course of action or quick reflexes. 

Death Stranding

By the third and final fight, Sam is taking on Cliff in an open Vietnamese jungle. Stealthing through and fighting back are both harder, but players will have built up the proper skills over their past two fights to adequately stand a chance. The fights against Cliff are the most video gamey Death Stranding ever gets, with each one sharing the same definable patterns, but they’re ultimately a net positive for the game. Having to learn a pattern, finding a way to fight back, and reveling in the scope of a great boss fight makes Death Stranding better on a whole. 

Honestly, the final fight against Cliff isn’t going to be a challenge for most players, but it’ll still stand out as a highlight. Each boss fight is a playground in and of itself. If Sam’s not being transported to a secluded battlefield, areas will be flooded with tar so that they can be molded into proper boss arenas. Even Dark Souls, a modern series that rightfully prides itself on its bosses, often won’t give the same level of care toward boss arenas. Good bosses need good level design just as much as they need good patterns. 

Perhaps more important than anything else, Death Stranding’s boss fights are long. Even if players know what they’re doing, they still have to endure an endurance match of sorts. Boss fights aren’t just about overcoming a challenge, they’re about surviving and making progress. Cliff’s not particularly difficult, but one mistake can result in Sam getting torn into. The majority of BT boss fights will try to overwhelm the player in the second half, the final one even featuring a nasty one-hit-kill that can easily sneak up on players wading through tar. Bosses should feel like events, from how players can engage mechanically, to how they’re presented narratively. 

No discussion of Death Stranding’s good old fashioned boss fights would be complete without mentioning the boss fight: Higgs. After serving as the game’s main villain for dozens upon dozens of hours, Sam finally gets his chance to fight back in a three phase boss fight that could have (very) prematurely ended the game on a high. Unlike the fights against Cliff, Sam really does have nothinghere, no matter what. He’s stripped of his gear, his weapons, and even BB. “Stick versus rope. Gun versus strand.” It’s a great way not only to wrap up Higgs’ arc, but it also challenges a player’s mastery of the most basic mechanics. 

Death Stranding

Phase 1 of the fight requires players understand not only Sam’s hand to hand combat capabilities, but his ability to throw packages. Throw a package at Higgs, beat him up, rinse, repeat. All the while he’s hunting Sam in one of the most constricted boss arenas in the game. Popping up too early means taking a few shots courtesy of Higgs. Popping up too late means needing to find him all over again. 

Phase 2 puts Sam on the offensive, and expects players to fight back with his strand. Higgs needs to be countered, hog-tied, and then kicked into oblivion. On-screen button prompts make the ordeal easier than it would otherwise be, but it’s thrilling to fight a boss who requires players to pull off reflex-based inputs that go beyond the typical QTE flare. Players need to set themselves up accordingly to counter Higgs, actively taking him head on. 

By the time fighting game health bars pop up for the third phase, it’s fairly obvious Higgs’ boss fight is a love letter to the very concept of the boss fight. It’s over the top, almost nonsensical, but it has the right narrative and emotional context to stand out as one of the best moments in an already spectacular game. The fight against Higgs is a miniature climax in a massive story that spans half a hundred hours, and is about to keep on keeping on for half a dozen more. 

Death Stranding

When it really comes down to it, there’s no right or wrong way to conceive a boss fight. Those spectacle bosses have their place, and this generation has seen a lot of amazing ones. What’s important is that developers build and contextualize spectacle accordingly. Boss fights aren’t just an inherent part of gaming, they’re a tool that can make a title better. Opportunities to shine light on the core mechanics, or an interesting aspect of game design. Death Stranding’s penultimate mission essentially pits Sam against a boss gauntlet across the entire UCA, a last chance for players to really indulge in everything at their disposal before the grand finale. 

Death Stranding would still be good without its boss fights, but it certainly wouldn’t be great. Each one elevates the game, not only by presenting a visually memorable and mechanically engaging challenge, but by existing as natural consequences of the story. Each boss is contextualized properly with enough weight where each victory has a considerable amount of impact. Boss fights have come a long way since dnd, but they’re recognizable for what they are: a reminder that games are games, and the medium should be embracing those video gamey elements. It’s through this “video gameyness” that the most memorable titles are made. If Death Stranding proves anything, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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