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2017: The Best New Nintendo Characters

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Nintendo is famous for creating some of the most memorable video game characters of all time. Naturally, the company itself is largely responsible for a major portion of the most iconic characters in the industry, dreaming up potential classic mascots at a rate on par with Disney. 2017 brought several noteworthy new personalities into the mix most notably from the Legend of Zelda and Fire Emblem franchise, and so we decided to write about some of our favorites. Time will tell if any of these achieve the noteworthy success of a Mario, Link, or even Kirby, but they sure did leave a lasting first impression.

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BOTW-RivaliRevali

I may be the only writer here at Goomba Stomp who prefers Revali over the other three Champions in Breath of the Wild but it’s comforting to know that the game’s sound director Hajime Wakai stated that Revali is his also his favorite character. The Rito Champion and one of Link’s allies may be prideful and arrogant, but he’s also brave, fearless and determined to protect his Rito tribe and stop Ganon. Revali is also voiced by Sean Chiplock who arguably delivers the best voice acting in the entire game, and while he may at times be a touch too flamboyant, it’s clear that he means well and that his cocky attitude is meant to hide his insecurity. But what I love most about Revali is his look and his choice of weapon. Of the hundreds of characters that appear in Breath of the Wild, Revali may just be the coolest looking of the bunch and if I had to choose between the entire cast, I would want to see Revali added to the Super Smash Bros. roster in the near future. (Ricky D)

REX-Xenoblade-Chronicles-2Rex

I’m not as crazy in love with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 as some of my colleagues are but what I don’t understand is why everyone I know who loves this game hates Rex? How can you seriously play your way through a JRPG that is not only heavily focused on a narrative but requires well over 100 hours of your time to play – and not like the main protagonist? For all intents and purposes, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is Pyra’s story, but
Rex acts as the stand-in for us, the audience, and therefore it’s appropriate that he’s curious, inquisitive, confused and lost. Like us, he’s discovering new places, people, creatures, and mysteries for the very first time and so it feels appropriate that Rex knows just as little as we do when starting this adventure. Yes, he’s often confused and a tad slow but he’s also a child who lost his parents at the age of two and washed up on the shores of Fonsett Village where he was raised by Azurda, a small Titan, whom he calls Gramps. He spent most of his adolescence travelling through the sea of clouds overrunning the world of Alrest and earned his living by performing retrieve and rescue missions as a Salvager. And yet, like all great champions, Rex is devoted to protecting everyone and everything he loves. He’s hopeful, open-minded, brave and determined to find Elysium, even if everyone else tries to convince him it doesn’t exist. The character Rex has also been criticized for having a strange accent but I feel this criticism has been taken too far. Sure, I might not be able to pinpoint exactly what British accent the voice actor is attempting to mimic but the last time I checked, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 doesn’t’ take place on the planet Earth, so why does it matter? As for the voice acting itself, the acting in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a leap forward when compared to what we’ve seen in other popular JRPG franchises. (Ricky D)

Ronan-Fire-Emblem-WarriorsRonan

Fire Emblem Warriors is one of my favourite games of 2017. In my review I wrote, ‘it’s an orgy of frenetic combat, a blood-letting on a titanic scale, a ballet of butchery that moves in perfect harmony with its thunderous gameplay’. There’s something incredibly appealing about the large-scale battles and swords and sandals gameplay of the Koei Tecmo series that suits the Fire Emblem series. Take for starters the roster. Whether you’re a tried-and-true Musou veteran or a diehard Fire Emblem fan, Fire Emblem Warriors is sure to please based on its large cast of recognizable and beloved characters alone. A majority of the players come straight from Fire Emblem Fates and Fire Emblem Awakening and the game features well over twenty characters to choose from. The usual suspects such as Corrin, Marth, Camilla, Robin, Frederick, Cordelia, Takumi, Tiki, Sakura and more are all present and accounted for along with two newcomers Rowan and Lianna, rightful heirs to the Kingdom of Aytolis. Of the two, Rowan, the younger twin brother of princess Lianna was my go-to character to play with. There’s something to admire about the hotheaded, stubborn, and naïve prince who prefers to fight in the battlefield as a knight rather than be a king. He’s a true warrior, despite his young age, and easily one of the best new characters added to Nintendo’s universe this year. (Ricky D)

PrinceSidonPrince Sidon

Sidon is the prince of the Zora, the son of King Dorephan and the brother of Champion Mipha. Players first encounter Sidon at the Inogo Bridge while on his way to Zora’s Domain. Sidon is kind, personable, and a role model to the rest of the kingdom. After the loss of Mipha, Sidon essentially had to step into his elder sister’s shoes and be the hero the Zora people needed. After 100 years of bitter hatred for Link from some of the Zora, specifically Muzu, Sidon remembers the feelings Mipha had for Link long ago and completely trusts him to help take down Vah Ruda and save the Zora.

But aside from being a strong leader and personable character, Prince Sidon made waves in Breath of the Wild with the fact that he’s a total heartthrob. Maybe it’s his smile, or his classic pose, or maybe his rippling fish abs. The Sidon meme started small at first, with BOTW fans noting that they liked Sidon, finding him motivational and enlightening, then noting that Sidon was indeed an attractive fish, to shipping Sidon and Link, and then finally hitting full meme status, including real-life fan clubs.

But regardless of whether or not you find Prince Sidon attractive, he’s a strong and impactful character to the Zora Kingdom after the loss of Mipha, and more importantly, to Breath of the Wild as a whole. (Katrina Lind)

arms-800x420The Entire Arms Roster

Arms does a great job in shaking up the fighting genre, putting the camera right behind the player’s avatar and equipping each character with superhuman limbs that extend across the battlefield. Even though this unusual brand of boxing won’t appeal to most gamers, you have to admire Nintendo for taking chances and creating an entertaining new IP. But what makes Arms truly stand out is its superb roster, each character with their own backstory, unique personality, strength and weakness. Every great fighter has great characters, and Arms has fourteen in total to choose from. In fact, the cast is so great that it’s hard to decide just who we should choose, but given that each of the characters can equip the same arms, we figured why the hell not include the entire roster. (Ricky D)

MiphaMipha

Link has a habit of falling for a Zora, and a love story between a hero Hylian and a Zoran princess is one that expresses itself throughout much of the lore in Breath of the Wild. Mipha, for her part, was a childhood friend of Link’s and the feelings soon blossomed. Mipha is a shy character, but beneath the quiet love for Link, there was a complex champion who took her responsibilities seriously. “The Champion’s Ballad” did a fantastic job of revealing the true story of Mipha written in her diary. Among the feelings of love were feelings of regret and jealousy, and particularly one of doubt as to whether she could truly pursue the Hero of the Wild. The beauty of the story of Mipha remains the tragedy of its end. When Waterblight Ganon defeated her and imprisoned her soul in Vah Ruta, the Zora armor that she had made for Link as a typical Zoran proposal of marriage was never to be. With Link now the personal guard of Princess Zelda, the Zora armor was made out of hope and jealousy that maybe it was never to be. But like with so many stories in Breath of the Wild, this Romeo and Juliet tragedy becomes a what if? (James Baker)

Pearl-Marina-Splatoon2Pearl and Marina

Pearl and Marina are the new Inkopolis idols hosting “Off the Hook” replacing Callie and Marie in Splatoon 2. Unlike Callie and Marie, Pearl and Marina actually seem like a team who work together, instead of bickering cousins. The two are like the ebb and flow of the ocean in a harbor. The two are really a perfect pair musically, personality wise, and aesthetically. Pearl being hot-headed and sharp, and Marina, the calm though sometimes forgetful stronghold of the duo.

Pearl and Marina’s origins are explained within the sunken sea scrolls found within the single-player campaign, where both cephalopods were actually at the final boss battle in Splatoon, where both thought the battle between Agent 3 and DJ Octavius was an underground concert and thus inspired their musical careers. (Katrina Lind)

KassKass

Kass is perhaps the focal point of “The Champion’s Ballad”. Whilst not strictly important to the progress of the game, his own story is harmonious to the events that unfold, placing him as the conductor of this symphony. Kass is passionate about the stories and poems of old, to such an extent that he left his wife Amali and five daughters in Rito village to go on an adventure to discover the ballads from ancient times. His teacher was the court poet for the Hyrulean royal family and also a member of the Sheikah tribe, without much else mentioned of his teacher, we can only assume he was lost in the destruction of Hyrule castle, leaving Kass with a promise to fulfill, a promise that isn’t entirely explained. The complexity leaves Kass longing to return to his family, and his duty to his teacher leaves him showing up across the whole of Hyrule. Kass is always somewhere important, so when you hear the bisonoric sound of an accordion, you know Kass is around with an important quest. (James Baker)

UrobsaUrbosa

Urbosa was the Gerudo Chieftain of her people, governing Gerudo Town with wisdom, strength, and compassion. Urbosa is an incredibly strong champion and remembered well by the Gerudo people, some saying that Urbosa’s movements resembled a beautiful dance when using the Scimitar of the Seven. More so than any of the other champions, Urbosa had a very pronounced and personal hatred of Ganon, as the demon king was first born into the kingdom in the form of a male Gerudo to begin his campaign of violence and destruction to Hyrule. So the defeat of Ganon is a personal journey to Urbosa.

What makes Urbosa such a fantastic Champion is her relationship to Zelda. Since the passing of Zelda’s mother when she was little, Urbosa took on the role of caring and helping guide her little bird. Even though Zelda feels that she has failed her destiny, Urbosa was still there to care and support her, along with protecting her own people with the fire and fury we know her for. (Katrina Lind)

SharenaSharena

Fire Emblem Heroes went from being what a lot of people considered would be a flash in the pan to Google Play Japan’s best game of 2017. Heroes is a celebration of the Fire Emblem franchise and features well-known characters from almost every game in the series. Heroes is not just a simple crossover though and has its own story and main characters that are exclusive to it. Sharena is the princess of Askr, and brother to other lead characters, Alfonse. She’s a cheery and supportive character and has the backs of everyone else throughout the story. Sharena has one of the best max-level conversations with the player, and it gives a lot of insight into her caring demeanor.  

There’s more to Heroes than just its writing, playing the game is obviously an important thing too. The Free-to-obtain units in Heroes are obviously a little underwhelming compared to their gacha-related allies, but Sharena is surprisingly strong. She’s easily the best out of the starting Askr trio, and can easily fit whatever role you need her to if built properly. Very few characters can fill as many niches as Sharena. The peppy princess of Askr is easily the best unit character out of Fire Emblem Heroes. (Taylor Smith)

Monk Maz KoshiaMonk Maz Koshia

Anyone who’s finished Breath of the Wild’s second DLC pack will understand why Monk Maz Koshia makes this list. The Champions’ Ballad presents you with a new series of challenges on the Great Plateau and at the end, Link must battle the Sheikah Monk who boasts a wide array of tactics, including techniques from every boss prior fight — along with some new ones. Like a Yiga Footsoldier, Monk Maz Koshia can magically teleport and strike Link from above with his Sword, but he also uses a Bow and an assortment of Fire Arrows, Ice Arrows, and Shock Arrows to strike his enemies. Koshia can also split himself into nine copies, each of which can damage Link, and if that’s not enough, he also uses charged laser attacks and a series of eight metallic, spiky balls to attack. All in all, Maz Koshia is one of the best boss battles featured in any Zelda game and a strong finish to the DLC pack that elevates the year’s best game to further heights. (Ricky D)

CappyCappy

What makes Super Mario Odyssey special is that it isn’t so much a sandbox game as it is a toy box. Odyssey encourages players to explore every nook and cranny, and it helps that Mario now has Cappy to use as a standard throw attack. That possession power, embodied by Mario’s new sidekick is what makes Odyssey stand out from every other entry in the series. It’s a brilliant idea that allows for dozens of additional playable characters, all with different powers, abilities, and ways of getting around. Professionally, Mario has always worn many hats but thanks to Cappy, in this game, he’s anything and everything he wants to be. The Super Mario series has always been known for introducing us to some of the most beloved characters in the Nintendo universe, and Cappy is right up there with the best of them.

Editor’s Note: Although Super Mario Odyssey is the first game in which Cappy is physically present, his first appearance in a game is in Super Mario Run. To promote Super Mario Odyssey’s appearance at E3 2017, a statue of Cappy in the form of the Mario Cap was made available as one of the objects in Kingdom Builder.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ricky D

    January 6, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    I finally got around to playing Mario + Rabbids and I am wondering how nobody nominated Peach Rabbid as one of the best new characters. Honestly, she might be my favorite.

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‘Castlevania Bloodlines’: The Official Sega Genesis Sequel to Bram Stoker’s Hit Novel, Dracula

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Castlevania Bloodlines

Castlevania isn’t a dialogue-heavy series by any means, but it’s still home to one of gaming’s most compelling narratives. Equipped with only their ancestral weapon, the legendary Vampire Killer, descendants of the Belmont clan face off against Count Dracula every 100 years like clockwork (give or take). His resurrection is inevitable. Just as good will always triumph over evil, evil will rise again. Castlevania was about the cyclical nature of good and evil long before Dracula mused about the nature of humanity in Symphony of the Night. Castlevania chronicled the Belmont family’s centuries-long struggle to keep Count Dracula at bay, game after game. Of course, he wasn’t the Count Dracula– more a representation of evil– but that was as much a given as a Belmont rising up to wield Vampire Killer. Then Castlevania Bloodlines happened. 

Released in 1995 exclusively for the Sega Genesis, Bloodlines may have looked like any other Castlevania game, but it marked a series of eclectic firsts for the franchise. Gone are the Belmonts and the game neither takes place inside of or involves getting to Dracula’s Castle. Bloodlines is even titled Vampire Killer in Japan, creating a bigger divide between it and previous entries, but that hardly compares to Bloodlines’ strangest contribution to the series: making Bram Stoker’s Dracula canon. 

The nature of how Dracula fits into the Castlevania mythos isn’t as plain and simple as just taking the book as writ as canon, but it fits much cleaner than one would expect. Although Bloodlines may lift elements from the novel with its own embellishments, its changes are ultimately inconsequential. Quincey Morris doesn’t have a son in the novel, but he’s the only major character alongside Dracula not to keep a journal, keeping his background relatively obscured. Quincey also doesn’t sport his signature bowie knife in Bloodlines’ backstory, finishing Dracula off with a stake (instead of the Vampire Killer for whatever reason.) 

There’s no mention of Jonathan Harker, Mina, or Abraham Van Helsing– and Dracula’s motives aren’t at all in-line with his novel counterpart’s– but Konami’s references to the novel make it clear that audiences are intended to consider the novel canon even if the details don’t quite match up. It seems a strange choice, especially for a franchise that was pushing its tenth anniversary by the time Bloodlines released in 1995, but it’s not a totally random decision on Konami’s part. Much like how Super Castlevania IV’s tonal maturity gave it a greater layer of depth, Bloodlines thrives off its connection to Bram Stoker’s Dracula

If there’s one immediate benefit to tying Dracula to Castlevania: Bloodlines, it’s grounding the latter in some semblance of reality. Set in 1917, Vampire Killer was the most modern Castlevania to date– not just at its release, but until Aria of Sorrow was released in 2003. The games were never period pieces, but they were set far enough in the past where literal Universal Monsters wouldn’t keep the series from staying narratively grounded. More importantly, the series’ settings were always consistently gothic, creating a unique sense of style around Dracula himself rather than the time period. 

Bloodlines opts for a wildly different approach altogether when it comes to setting, doubling down on the series’ historical elements while keeping Super Castlevania IV’s darker tone intact. Dracula feels a part of the world, rather than the world of Castlevania feeling a part of Dracula. At the same time, Bram Stoker’s Dracula helps ground the very minimal plot by giving John and Eric’s trek across Europe greater scope. John and Eric even have a personal stake in the plot, having witnessed Quincey’s death. It’s all window dressing, but Bloodlines’ assimilation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula gives the series some narrative legitimacy to rub shoulders with its high quality gameplay. 

The connections to Bram Stoker’s Dracula are admittedly loose, but they’re loose enough to work in the game’s benefit. Dracula is structured as an epistolary novel with chapters divided in letters, journal entries, articles, and logs. The story is told coherently, but this approach often results in the point of view & setting changing. While uncertainly a direct reference to the novel, Bloodlines similarly allows players to switch between John & Eric whenever they use a continue on Easy mode, and each stage takes place in a different country rather than just Transylvania. 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula may give Bloodlines its foundation, but it’s that globetrotting that gives the game its identity. Stage 1 opens in Romania, the ruins of Dracula’s Castle left to time after his previous defeat. Where other games would immediately transition into the depths of Castle Dracula, Bloodlines’ Stage 2 instead takes players to the lost city of Atlantis in Greece, while Stage 3 involves scaling the Leaning Tower of Pisa in order to slay a demon at the top. There’s a grandiosity to the stage design simply not present in previous entries. Not just in terms of scope, but in actual structure. 

Only six stages long, Bloodlines is the shortest of the mainline Castlevania games, but it makes up for its lack of length with longer stages overall. The main story falls on the shorter side, but the stage to stage pacing ensures that Bloodlines neither outstays its welcome or goes too soon. While a Stage 7 may have done the game some good, Bloodlines’ six stages offer some of the tightest action-platforming in the franchise. Enemies are by no means infrequent, and Bloodlines requires players to understand both John & Eric’s unique platforming skills by Stage 3, outright preventing progress should players fail to adapt.

John’s unique platforming ability will be familiar to all those who played Super Castlevania IV as, predictably, he can use the Vampire Killer to hang. This time around, however, John can whip onto just about any ceiling. Eric, on the other hand, has a charged jump that thrusts him into the air when released. Eric’s jump ignores platforms entirely, allowing him a degree of verticality Castlevania typically doesn’t give to players. Stage 3 even features a room that’s a bottomless pit for Eric, but easy platforming for John thanks to its whip. Subsequently, there’s a room where John can’t make progress due to the ceiling, but Eric can jump right through.

John and Eric’s abilities are natural extensions & evolutions of Simon’s from Super CV IV, just split between the both of them, but it’s also worth noting how Bloodlines’ more involved platforming helps to further flesh out Castlevania’s world. Bram Stoker’s Dracula coupled with the European setting did more for the series’ world-building at the time than any of its predecessors, save for Rondo of Blood. It’s not often that a video game series absorbs a literary classic into its main plot, but Castlevania handles it surprisingly well. 

It’s fitting that Castlevania Bloodlines is titled Vampire Killer in Japan. At its core, Vampire Killer is a recontextualization of Castlevania. The story is still framed through the Belmonts’ struggle against Dracula, but the scope is wider, extending mediums in the process. Vampire Killer is about the legacy of the Vampire Killer and the vampire killers whose fates are sealed by the whip. Symphony of the Night may be a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines set the stage for Symphony to tell a traditional and intimate story.

More important than anything, though, Castlevania taking Bram Stoker’s Dracula and making it a part of its canon is just so outlandish that it makes perfect sense. The series that regularly featured Universal Monsters as bosses was never going to ignore the novel forever. That Bloodlines uses the novel tactfully and in a game where its presence is appropriate– intentional or otherwise– weirdly elevates Castlevania as a franchise. Castlevania isn’t just a Dracula story, it’s the Dracula story. And of all the games to make that declaration with, Bloodlines is a damn good choice. 

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XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show

Xbox just had their best XO presentation ever, and it wasn’t even close. Here’s a rundown of the best announcements from XO19.

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xo19

Microsoft had a lot to prove going into its fifth annual XO showcase. Console launches are on the horizon, cloud competitor Google Stadia is about to ship to early adopters, and Game Pass subscribers are as hungry as ever for new additions to the lineup. Then there’s the fact that XO has always been looked down upon by the gaming community in general as a lackluster, padded presentation.

All of that changed with XO19. This was, by far, the best XO in the event’s history. In fact, it featured more shocking reveals and genuinely impressive announcements than a good deal of Microsoft’s recent E3 press conferences. From new IP reveals, to first-time looks at gameplay, to a couple “I never would’ve believed you a week ago” shockers, it’s clear that Xbox stepped up its game from years past. Here’s our list of the best announcements of the show.

10. Everwild Reveal

It’s not too often that we get to experience a new IP from Rare. Their last attempt, Sea of Thieves, was a fully multiplayer, always-online affair that gradually garnered a cult following thanks to some of the best community engagement and most consistent content updates in the industry.

We don’t know what type of game Everwild is yet, but it’s certainly oozing that same colorful, ambient charm that made players fall in love with Sea of Thieves all those years ago. Seeing as how we only got a cinematic teaser, though, it might be quite some time before we’re running around these gorgeous environments.


9. ID@Xbox Lineup

The ID@Xbox team has pulled it off again. Despite being stuck with an almost insultingly poor time slot in the presentation, several of the indies shown off in this short montage rivaled some of the show’s AAA spotlights. It had everything from high-profile indies like Streets of Rage 4, Touhou Luna Nights, and the Yacht Club Games-published Cyber Shadow, to more modest beauties like SkateBIRD, Haven, Cris Tales, and she dreams elsewhere.

The best part? All of these are launching on Game Pass day and date. The worst part? No actual dates were announced for anything shown. Regardless, it’s encouraging that so many high quality indies are continuing to come to Xbox (and that relationships with Devolver Digital and Yacht Club are rock-solid).


8. West of Dead Reveal/Open Beta

xo19

Raw Fury has one of the better eyes in the indie publishing scene. Gems like GoNNER, Dandara, and Bad North have all released under their watch, and West of Dead might be their best acquisition yet. It’s a heavily-stylized twin stick shooter that switches things up by making tactical cover a core part of the experience.

The trailer hinted at roguelike elements being present, and the ever-popular procedurally generated levels should significantly up replayability. How it plays, however, remains to be seen…unless you have an Xbox, in which case you can play the exclusive open beta now before the full game comes to all platforms next year.


7. Halo Reach Release Date

xo19

The Master Chief Collection has long been the one golden goose that endlessly eludes those outside of the Xbox ecosystem. Earlier this year, though, Microsoft made waves when it announced that it was bringing the entire collection over to PC. Reach is the first step in that process, and it’s finally making its way to both PC and Xbox One as part of the MCC on December 3rd.

It’s just a date, but the fact that so many new players get to experience one of Halo‘s most beloved outings at last easily made it one of the highlights of the night.


6. Grounded Reveal

xo19

Who woulda thought? Fresh off releasing one of the best RPGs in years with The Outer Worlds, Obsidian decided to show off a passion project from one of its smaller teams: Grounded. The premise? Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Survival Edition.

Players take control of kids the size of ants as they fight off actual bugs, cook, craft armor and weapon upgrades, and build shelter to survive in the wilderness of someone’s backyard. As silly as it sounds and looks, and as unexpected a project it is for Obsidian to undertake, it genuinely looks rather promising. The cheerful color palette is a welcome contrast to the dark, brooding aesthetic so many other survival games have adopted. There are plenty of details left to be uncovered, but if early impressions are anything to go by, this is one to keep on your radar early next year.


5. Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal

xo19

Age of Empires is one of the most esteemed strategy franchises in history. Despite having this beloved IP in their back pocket, however, Microsoft hasn’t published a new mainline game in the series since 2005. Age of Empires IV was originally announced over two years ago, and after buttering everyone up with the release of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that afternoon, the first glimpse of gameplay was finally shown at XO19.

Simply put, the game looks gorgeous. Every building is full of detail and the countryside looks surprisingly lush and picturesque. Witnessing hundreds of units charging down the valley towards the stronghold in the trailer was mind-blowing as an old-school fan. They didn’t show off any innovations or moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s looking more and more like the future of the franchise is safe in Relic’s hands.


4. Final Fantasy Blowout

xo19

Xbox’s success in Japanese markets has become something of a running joke over the years. Though inroads were clearly made with Bandai Namco, many more Japanese publishers won’t go within a mile of the platform. Possibly through working with Square Enix’s western division to put the latest Tomb Raider and Just Cause entries on board, it looks like the main branch has finally decided to give Xbox players a chance.

Starting this holiday, Game Pass subscribers will gradually get every single-player Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VII. More shocking still, The Verge reported that the Xbox team is working to get the massively popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV over as well. The sheer value of having every post-Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game included in Game Pass (even XV) is ridiculous. It remains to be seen what the rollout cadence of these ten titles will look like, but considering how long each of these are, one per month wouldn’t shock or disappoint.


3. The Reign of Project xCloud

With Stadia launching just next week, Microsoft had been surprisingly quiet on their cloud gaming front up to this point. The service had gone into preview for those lucky enough to get in and, by most accounts, it had been fairly well-received. The real question came down to what Xbox was going to do to make itself stand out from its competition.

The bombs dropped here felt like the equivalent to the thrashing Sony gave to Microsoft back at E3 2013. Microsoft shadow dropped 40+ new games into Preview for players to test (for free) including Devil May Cry 5, Tekken 7, Bloodstained, and Ace Combat 7. Even better, xCloud will support third-party controllers including the DUALSHOCK 4 and will finally show up on Windows 10 PCs in 2020.

Perhaps the most damning announcement, however, is that xCloud will be integrated with Game Pass starting next year. Only having to pay for a Game Pass subscription to access 100+ games and play them in the cloud (including Halo, Forza, The Outer Worlds, and all those Final Fantasy titles) makes xCloud a far better value than Stadia right out of the gate. If this didn’t force Google to adjust its strategy, we might be looking at a very short cloud gaming war.


2. Square Sharing the Kingdom Hearts Love

Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing on Xbox One was somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, players who had left the PlayStation ecosystem after playing the first games had a chance to see the arc’s conclusion. On the other hand, new players had no options for going back and experiencing the series’ roots.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue finally coming to Xbox next year is a godsend for younger players and new players alike. More important, however, is the tearing down of those over 15+ years old exclusivity walls. Just like with many of the Final Fantasys, the main Kingdom Hearts games had been married to PlayStation systems for years. This shift at Square is an exciting one, and it bodes particularly well for the next generation of Xbox hardware.


1. Yakuza Finally Goes Multi-Console

It seems like Phil Spencer’s trips to Japan finally paid off. In what was arguably the most shocking announcement of XO19 (right next to Kingdom Hearts), it was revealed that SEGA is taking the Yakuza series multi-console at last. Not only are Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1+2 coming to Xbox, but all three are going to Game Pass next year as well.

Does this mean support from Japanese studios will increase across the board? Of course not. But getting big names like Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and SEGA on board is nothing if not encouraging. Xbox is clearly pulling out all the stops to ensure a diverse suite of third-party support come Scarlett’s launch next year, and it’s the healthiest the platform has looked in a very long time.

Honorable Mentions:

Bleeding Edge Release Date

KartRider Drift Reveal/Closed Beta Announcement

Last Stop Reveal

Wasteland 3 Release Date

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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures

Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.

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garden story

Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple of days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?

Setting the Scene

Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.

There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.

Rebuilding a Community

So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).

Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.

While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.

Ambient Appeal

Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.

In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page-turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.

Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.

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