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Best Gifts for Gamers this 2018 Holiday Season

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The 2018 holiday season is upon us, and while a shiny, new piece of software under the tree surely will not disappoint, we here at Goomba Stomp have come up with a list of alternative gift ideas for the gamers in your life. From useful accessories to decadent figurines, here are some of the gaming-related products we sure wouldn’t mind finding in our stockings!

*Item names are linked to a suggested marketplace

Stubbins Holiday Sackboy Plush Toy

Though the franchise isn’t quite what it used to be back on the PS3, LittleBigPlanet was an insanely inventive and delightful platformer for its time (and one heck of a co-op experience to boot). Part of its endless charm is the series’ adorable mascot, Sackboy. This incredibly emotive sack doll doesn’t have the most extensive platforming moveset, but what he lacks in mechanical depth, he makes up for in customizability.

That’s why this Christmas-themed plush doesn’t seem out of place, as a toy patterns like this were surely available at some point in the series’ history. It isn’t just that it’s perfect for those with fond memories of LittleBigPlanet — it’s also attractive enough to stand on its own for anyone unfamiliar. As a bonus, pulling on this Sackboy’s iconic zipper reveals a tiny pouch with just enough room for a piece of candy or two. Well made and quite soft, gifting this little guy is a no-brainer. (Brent Middleton)

Retro Games Book by Marty Allen

Retro Games by Marty Allen

Short and sweet (bitterly so if you’re stuck in the past), this look back at some of the most fondly recalled video games of all time is the perfect gift for players of all ages, whether they are whippersnappers whose education in the classics is lacking, or old gaming fogies who cling to past pixelated glories like a former high school football star. Covering over 50 titles and consoles, from the NES era through the PS1 and N64 generation, Retro Games celebrates the creativity and influence that make its selections still stand the test of time.

Mario, Zelda, Sonic, and Cloud are all here, but the author also takes time to make the case for offbeat titles like ToeJam and Earl and Parappa the Rapper. While the descriptions never get too in-depth, the nostalgia is laid on thick, and an astute perspective that heavily considers the time and place each entry released takes readers back to a simpler time. Accessible and informative (though sadly without screenshots), this is ideal for those too young to remember, and those who may have forgotten. (Patrick Murphy)

GameCube Anthology Classic Edition

Not everyone is a fan of Nintendo’s amazing GameCube, but for those that are, there could scarcely be a better gift this holiday season than Mathieu Manent’s GameCube Anthology. Compiling the entire history of the GameCube, including a detailed list of each one of the 647 games released for the system, this 347 page volume will make for a great coffee table or bookshelf piece for any Nintendo collector, GameCube fan, or aspiring game historian. For $40, it’s hard to argue with the quality of the GameCube Anthology. Now, if only Santa can get me my copy this year… (Izsak Barnette)

Stardew Valley Guidebook from Fangamer

Any indie gamer has most likely picked up — or wants to pick up — Stardew Valley. On the surface, this calming game seems simple and easy to grasp, but the reality is that Stardew is incredibly dense, filled with secrets which will most likely never be discovered the first time around. Players may also want to be incredibly organized, planning every detail of every season, and this is where the Stardew Valley guidebook comes into play.

At some point, both rookie and veterans are going to want to know how to romance a villager, get the best ores out of the mines, or maximize their crops. This guidebook can be be immensely handy for anyone who is a first-time, casual, or veteran Stardew Valley player, and would make a beautiful gift for the patient and organized gamer in your life. (Katrina Lind)

8Bitdo Gbros. Wireless Adapter for Nintendo Switch

With the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate this year, there’s bound to be someone in your life that has nearly everything they need to play Smash. They’ve got the controllers, the adapter, the amiibo, and the awesome 75” TV that actually lets people in 8 player Smash see each other. What they don’t have, however, is a way to use their precious GameCube and Wii Classic controllers wirelessly with the Switch. Thanks to 8bitdo, there’s now a solution for gamers to do that. Turning any GameCube or Wii Classic controller wireless and stacked with a 30 hour battery life, these adapters will make the perfect stocking stuffer for the Smash fan in your life. Just make sure they don’t blame the non-existent lag when you PK Fire your way to victory with Ness AGAIN this year. (Izsak Barnette)

Silicon Joy-con Covers

It’s no secret that my hands are small, cold, and simultaneously sweaty all at the same time. How? I have no idea, but it does pose a problem when I’m playing my Switch in handheld mode. I ended up buying a pair of rubberized Joy-Con covers in the hope that it would help me in my very specific problem — and they totally worked! What I like about having silicone covers is that they help keep my hands from falling asleep, as well as prevent my Joy-Cons from slipping out while playing my favorite games for long periods of time.

There are many different models, colors, and prices to explore over the internet and they’re pretty cost effective as well (if you’d like to keep changing the color of your Joy-Cons without spending a fortune on another pair). These covers are compact, generally cheap, and gift givers have an assortment of colors and models to choose from. (Katrina Lind)

Pokémon Nanoblocks

Stuck on deciding on an objectively cute stocking filler? The phenomenal return of Pokémon to the forefront of pop-culture with the release of Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee! on the Nintendo Switch, as well as trainer updates to Niantic’s Pokémon GO, ensures that Pokémon merchandise is going to be flying out retail doors this holiday season. If you’re thinking about adopting a pocket monster these holidays, whether it be for a lucky recipient or yourself, there is no going past Japanese block-building toy company Nanoblock’s Pokémon series.

Currently focused on first- and second-generation Pokémon, and boasting fan favourites such as Pikachu, Vaporeon, Snorlax, and Gengar, Nanoblocks are a fantastic stocking-filler for any fan of the series — better yet if they’re partial to a bit of micro-toy construction supported by detailed instructions and stellar results. Be careful, though; once you purchase one, it’s difficult to fight the urge not to catch (and build) ‘em all. (Jordana Elliot)

Funko POP Vinyl Figures

When it comes to a cute and convenient video game-themed stocking fillers, Funko POP Vinyl figures are a great option for all ages. The figures have a very simplistic and appealing design, allowing them to easily blend into any bedroom or general display. Most are small enough to squeeze into whatever gaps are left on a desk, shelf, or even a console — such as my Spyro, who sits comfortably atop my PS4 with his tiny Sparx.

Their size makes them perfect collectibles. Although some POPs are bigger (known as the Super-Sized POP), they still aren’t too big or bulky. When kept in the box, they’re large enough to look substantial under the Christmas tree, yet also small enough to fit into a stocking, and some POPs even come with stands which allow them to look like they are hovering or flying, such as the Mercy POP from Overwatch or the Aku Aku POP from Crash Bandicoot — a nice little feature that adds some extra detail to the figure.

There are so many POP’s available from a wide variety of video games, including characters like Liberty Prime from Fallout 4, Reinhardt from Overwatch and Alduin the Dragon from Skyrim, and spanning across generations and consoles from Pikachu to Master Chief and Sonic the Hedgehog to Fortnite characters. Go and take a look and see if you can find your own favourite game character as a POP, or consider one as a present! There are a lot websites out there that have POP Vinyls available, and there are usually good deals on eBay, but here are a couple of other options: (UK) Forbidden Planet, (USA) Think Geek. (Antonia Haynes)

nintendo switch memory cardMicroSDXC UHS-I Nintendo Switch 64GB

With a huge variety of games available on the Switch, including a plethora of amazing indie games, a memory card is perhaps one of the most essential upgrades for your console. While they can be rather expensive, the space to open up a whole new world of gaming that a memory card can bring is priceless.

Fortunately, if you’re particularly savvy, you can find some good deals when browsing around online. These can then become a wonderful stocking filler that’s a reasonable price, and will still be in use the following year when you take advantage of those Christmas sales. (James Baker)

LinkLegend of Zelda Twilight Princess Link Figma DX Action Figure 

Over the past five years, the Figma has done an incredible job in making Legend of Zelda collectible figures. One of my favorites in their ever-growing library is the special edition of the Twilight Princess Link. It was released around the same time as the game’s HD remake for the Wii U, and sports three faceplates (including the Hawkeye faceplate) as well as two designated stand ports — one on Link’s back, and another added into one of his belt pouches, which allows you to pose Link with his many accessories any way you like. The package also comes with the Master Sword and Hylian Shield, as well as the Ordon Sword, Hero’s Bow and Arrow, Ball and Chain, Hawkeye, and the Clawshot, the latter of which comes with both an open and closed claw. An articulated Figma stand is also included, and more importantly, each accessory can easily be inserted and removed, allowing you to slot them into Link’s hands without worrying about causing any damage.

Of all the figures released so far, the Figma Link Twilight Princess Ver DX Edition is perhaps the perfect Link figure thanks to the clever sculpting, meticulous attention to detail, and gorgeous colour paint. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but well worth every penny. You can buy it over at Toynk.com (Ricky D)

Fangamer-Vinyl

Fangamer Vinyl Video Game Soundtracks

Anyone browsing this website is most likely familiar with Fangamer, a small video game merchandise company based in — and shipping from — Tucson, Arizona that sells some of the best products for our favorite titles. I recently ordered the Collector’s Edition of Undertale for the Nintendo Switch, and was blown away by the amount of stuff included in the package — such as the complete soundtrack, a sheet music booklet featuring six songs with annotations by Toby Fox, a 14k gold-plated brass music box locket, a sturdy matchbox-style collector’s box, and the standard physical copy of the game.

However, since this list isn’t supposed to include games as gift ideas, I will instead turn your attention to the library of vinyl soundtracks available to purchase on the Fangamer website. Among them is the soundtrack for Stardew Valley, which features all 77 tracks and brand-new art by Kari Fry, the artist behind the above-mentioned Stardew Valley guidebook. If you’re not a fan of that game, you can also find the official 2xLP Katamari Damacy soundtrack put out by Mondo, with beautiful artwork from We Buy Your Kids, as well as the soundtrack to the Super Famicom classic MOTHER 2 — a remastered double-album sold in two exclusive colorways: purple and green. There’s honestly so much to choose from that if you are a fan of indie games, you’ll most likely want to buy them all.

My favorite cover of all the soundtracks they sale would have to be the sleeve designed for Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows, while the best record would be the translucent, fairway-green vinyl for Golf Story. This official Golf Story vinyl contains the complete soundtrack by Joel Steudler, wrapped in art from ExitMothership, and also comes with a free, immediate digital download in 320kbps MP3 format. Meanwhile, Brave Wave’s Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows The Definitive Soundtrack brings all 14 tracks from Shovel Knight’s first expansion to both CD and vinyl for the first time!

Other vinyl releases available on the site include the soundtrack for Celeste, Ninja Gaiden, Undertale, Spelunky, and Thimbleweed Park. (Ricky D)

super smash bros. ultimate official collector's edition guide

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Official Guide

Super Smash Bros Ultimate is finally here, boasting a massive roster and over a hundred stages to battle in. The game is a heavy offering and can be overwhelming for newcomers. In addition, it plays slightly differently to the last entry, so even veteran players will need to get up to speed which is why I recommend the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Official Guide as a holiday gift this year. As advertised, everything you need to come out on top in the eagerly anticipated newest entry in the beloved Super Smash Bros. franchise is detailed here. The guide features full coverage of all fighters, comprehensive strategies, move sets, and the gorgeous, exclusive design makes this a must-have for any fan! With 464 pages, you can’t go wrong. (Ricky D)

Joy-Cons Gameboy

Custom-Made Joy-Cons

If you’re shopping for a gift for someone who owns a Nintendo Switch and you are searching for something unique, consider buying a custom-made made Joy-Con made to look like the original DMG Game Boy from Etsy. The shell is painted with high-quality paint and a protective coat and buttons are casted, not painted. And if you’re not down with a Gameboy version, you can find hundreds of other designs including one for the NES, Super Nintendo, GameCube, and more!

Earthbound Handbook 

Earthbound has since become one of the most sought-after games in the second-hand market, selling for upwards of $80 for the cartridge alone and $3000 if you have the game, box, and manual. The original SNES cartridge is hard to come by and not many gamers have that kind of money to spend on a game that is over 25 years old. Luckily for fans of Nintendo, Earthbound was reissued and given a worldwide release for the Wii U Virtual Console following many years of fan lobbying, and chances are, it will soon make an appearance on the Nintendo Switch.

It’s one of my favorite games of all time (maybe my favorite) and came packaged with one of the greatest game manuals ever made. Although the manual was uploaded to the internet by Nintendo so fans can download it for free whenever they want, I can’t end this article without recommending this unofficial EarthBound Handbook; a hardcover guide to the world of Shigesato Itoi’s classic game and presented as a travel guide made for tourists in the year 199X. It’s the product of two years of writing and design and features 270 full-color pages designed by Audrey Waner and written by Dan Moore. Each chapter is presented in its own unique style, and it even includes a special “Odoreality” card that allows you to see and smell all the sights along the way. (Ricky D)

***

These are our picks, but if you have any more suggestions, leave them in the comments below!

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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PAX South Hands On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation

Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation

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Streets of Rage 4

From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.

Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.

Streets of Rage 4

That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.

Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century

The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.

Streets of Rage 4

Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.

Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.

Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.

Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.

That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.

Streets of Rage 4

Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.

“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.

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An In-Depth Analysis of Fifa’s Career Mode

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Fifa’s Career Mode

It’s a well-known fact that career mode on Fifa has been a long-neglected element of the best selling sports games series of all time. But for soccer fans who want to pretend to be a football manager, but also want to personally play the game, Fifa is currently the main option.

The problem is: for a 60 dollar game, almost nothing about Fifa career mode works properly. 

Two of the most game-breaking bugs in Fifa career mode are so bad that it fundamentally makes the game unplayable for those who want to feel any sort of immersion. 

The first is a bug that makes it so that top teams will sign many more players for a position than they could possibly need. 

For example, Bayern might end up signing 6 or 7 great center backs, and then only play three or four of them, while what they really need to sign might be a winger or a fullback. 

This leads into the second huge issue: even when a team like Bayern HAS 6 or 7 great center-backs, they will STILL often choose to start second or third-string center backs! This often leads to top teams languishing at 12th or 13th in the tables by the end of the season, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Everything about this image is wrong. Everything. The top three teams in this table shouldn’t finish higher than 7th more than once every ten seasons between them, and teams that should finish first and second aren’t even in the top eight. 64 points near the end of the season for first place is also a very low number. 

There’s been plenty of other issues as well. Even on the highest difficulties, AI on both defense and ESPECIALLY offense ranges from poor to horrible, with the AI on offense rarely actually running at the defense (making defending boring and unrewarding), leaving players like Messi or Hazard to not even try to use their incredible dribbling ability and speed and instead pass away the ball as soon as they get it. 

Instead, the most common way the AI scores are by performing a janky, unrealistic and clearly scripted pinball, with impossibly precise passes between 4 or 5 players before the ball ends up in the back of the net. 

Another major problem with the game (though some might call it simply a feature in presenting a more arcade-like, less realistic take on soccer) is your ability (if you’re a big club) to buy multiple huge players and bring them to your club easily in your first season, making the game an absolute cakewalk. 

After years of incompetence and the ignoring of career mode’s many issues, however, EA finally faced serious backlash with the release of Fifa 20–the most broken iteration in the series yet. 

For a while, #fixcareermode was trending on twitter, and reviews blasted Fifa for its litany of issues, like players going on precipitous declines in stats right when they reach the age of 30.

Yet these bugs were treated by some in the media as a first time thing, issues that had only appeared in the latest iteration. They weren’t.

As one Reddit user noted to Eurogamer: “In the last few years, every FIFA game released has had bugs that ruin the immersion. Teams not starting their strongest lineups and unrealistic tables have been an issue not just for FIFA 20 but earlier editions. Our cries for patches and change have fallen on deaf ears. The community has been grossly neglected.”

The linked article by the Independent above wasn’t accurate in other ways, either. It claims that only simulated matches suffered from the bug of teams not playing their best players, and other articles have claimed that this bug only occurs when a big team plays against a small team. 

But neither of these claims is accurate. 

Fifa’s Career Mode

You could play against a top team like Barcelona, and you could also be a top team like Real Madrid, and Barcelona would still consistently field third or fourth-string players over the likes of Messi against your team. 

This wasn’t an occasional thing, either. At least three or four top players were benched for players 20 or more points below them every game. Every. Single. Game. 

I haven’t even mentioned the commentary in Fifa, which is so buggy and so immersion-breaking in its disconnection from reality that its more immersive to just turn it off entirely. 

What is so infuriating is that that many of the bugs seem like fairly minor fixes (commentary issues aside), something that seems like it would take no more than a few hours of rooting around in the code to figure out whatever misplaced number value was causing the issue.

The fact that these major issues have existed for at least no less than SIX years (Fifa 14 was the first game I played) indicates definitively how little EA cares about its products, and how little the designers care about actual football or delivering an enjoyable experience out of Ultimate Team. 

Of course, Ultimate Team alone in 2017 accounted for almost a third of all of EA’s revenue from sports titles, so it’s somewhat understandable why Ea focuses most of its attention on that element of Fifa.

FIFA

But with the amount of effort put into the new “futsal” mode in Fifa 2020, or the three campaign-like “Journey” modes from Fifa 17 to Fifa 19, one wonders why the developers couldn’t have spent just a little more effort to fix a mode that was in many ways fundamentally broken.

Fifa HAVE made certain changes to career mode over this period, so it’s not like they’ve ignored it entirely. But the changes made to career mode in the six years I’ve played it have all either made the game much worse, slightly worse or had no great effect. 

The major changes over this period have included: 

A slightly updated youth system, which has suffered from its own serious bugs over the years, such as youth prospects never gaining stats in sprint speed or acceleration so that you end up getting stuck with players with 50 to 70 speed for eternity; a widely disliked training system for players that is utterly broken and unfair, allowing you to train players to abilities well beyond what is even vaguely realistic within a matter of a year or two; a new display screen for your team; the removal of form; the slight modification of morale; adding the ability to talk with your players; and, last but not least, transfer cut scenes which are the most incredibly pointless wastes of time in any sports game, both for the player and for the developers–at least they’re skippable. There is the ability to customize your manager–perhaps the most positive change made in this six-year period. But that’s still stunningly sad given that you will very rarely actually see your manager at all. 

None of these modifications, you may have noticed, go any way towards fixing the fundamental issues with the game, issues which have been pointed out to EA year after year.

It’s fair to say that one of the main reasons that FIFA got away with what it did for so long was not thanks to the players, but the media. 

Year after year, reviews for FIFA received solid scores (hovering around the low to mid 80’s), whereas user reviews were usually much lower. It was only this year that media reviews seriously pointed out issues with the career mode. 

The fact that FIFA received so much better reviews from reviewers as compared to players is easily explained away by the fact that the former usually play the game for comparatively shorter times, and therefore tends to miss a lot of the details. 

In response to the recent outrage which had finally reached a degree of publicity that EA could no longer ignore, EA finally patched some of FIFA’s issues, like the problem of teams not fielding their strongest lineups at least semi-frequently. This was a huge step towards making career mode not fundamentally broken, but whether or not the other most glaring issue of teams like Juventus signing 9 80+rated strikers (yes, that happened in my game once) has been solved remains to be seen. Given that I mostly gave up on the series after Fifa 19 continued the same problems of its predecessors, I don’t think it’ll be me that finds out.

  • Evan Lindeman
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‘Atelier Ryza’ Warms the Heart No Matter the Season

Atelier Ryza excels at creating a sense of warmth and familiarity, and could be just what you need during the winter months.

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atelier ryza

The Atelier series is something of a unicorn in the JRPG genre. It isn’t known for its world-ending calamities or continent-spanning journeys; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The small-town feel and more intimate storytelling of Atelier games has made them some of the most consistently cozy experiences in gaming, and Ryza is no exception. No matter if it’s this winter or next, here’s why Atelier Ryza is the perfect type of RPG to warm your heart this winter.

Ryza starting her alchemy journey.

Like a Warm Blanket

Unlike protagonists from other entries in the franchise, Reisalin Stout (or Ryza for short) has never stepped foot in an atelier or even heard of alchemy at the start of her game. Instead, she’s just a fun-loving and mischevious girl from the country who spends her days in search of adventure with her childhood pals Lent and Tao. It’s this thrill-seeking that eventually leads the trio to meet a mysterious wandering alchemist and learn the tricks of the trade.

The entirety of Atelier Ryza takes place during summer, and it’s clear that the visual design team at Gust had a field day with this theme. In-game mornings are brought to life through warm reds, yellows, and oranges, while the bright summer sun beams down incessantly in the afternoon and gives way to cool evenings flooded by shades of blue and the soft glow of lanterns. Ryza’s visual prowess is perhaps most noticeable in the lighting on its character models, which are often given a warm glow dependent on the time of day.

The cozy sensibilities of the countryside can be felt elsewhere as well. The farm Ryza’s family lives on aside, the majority of environments are lush with all manner of plant life, dirt roads, and rustic architecture. Menus feature lovely wooden and papercraft finishes that simulate notepads or photos on a desk. Townspeople will even stop Ryza to remark on how much she’s grown and ask about buying some of her father’s crops. Everything just excels at feeling down-to-earth homey.

The titular Atelier Ryza.

An Intimate Take on Storytelling

Kurken Island and the surrounding mainland feel expansive as a whole but intimate in their design. This is partially due to the readily-accessible fast travel system that Atelier Ryza employs; instead of a seamless open world, most players will find themselves jumping from location to location to carry out quests and harvest ingredients for alchemy. However, there’s still strong incentive to explore the nearby town thanks to tons of random side quests and little cutscenes that trigger as players progress through the main story.

It’s an interesting way to tackle world-building. Instead of relying on intricate dialogue like The Outer Worlds or massive cinematic cutscenes like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Atelier Ryza lets players get a feel for its world rather naturally through everyday conversations. These scenes run the gamut from Ryza’s parents yelling at her to help more around the farm to running into and catching up with old friends who’d moved overseas. They’re unobtrusive and brief, but the sheer number of them gradually establishes a cast that feels alive and familiar.

The town drunk and Lent's father, Samuel.

Of course, post-holidays winter is also the season for more somber tales. The relationship between Lent and his alcoholic father is striking in its realistic depiction of how strained some father-son relationships can become.

The narrative escalates subtly: An early cutscene shows Mr. Marslink stumbling onto Ryza’s front lawn thinking it’s his. Then an event triggers where the neighborhood jerks tease Lent about being the son of the town drunk. Lent’s house is a small shack pulled back from the rest of the town, and visiting it triggers one of the few scenes where Ryza can actually talk to Mr. Marslink himself. The situation eventually reveals itself to be so bad that it completely explains why Lent is gung-ho about being out of the house whenever he can.

Though Lent’s general character motivation is wanting to get stronger and protect the town, it’s the heartfelt insights like these that make him much more relatable as a party member. Atelier Ryza features no grand theatrics or endless bits of exposition, but instead favors highlighting interpersonal conversations as Ryza continues to learn more about the people and world around her.

Atelier Ryza

Cozy games rarely get enough credit. Just like the Animal Crossing series or Pokemon: Let’s Go provides players with a warmth that can stave off the harshest of winters, Atelier Ryza succeeds in being the lighthearted, touching JRPG fans wanted. It’s both aesthetically pleasing and heartwarming in the way it builds out its world and cast of characters, and seeing Ryza gradually grow more confident and capable is a joy unto itself. If you’re in need of a blanket until Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes out in March, you can’t go wrong here.

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