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Remedy’s ‘Control’ Ending, Explained

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“Maybe I’ll never understand. Maybe I don’t need to.” – Jesse Faden

SPOILER ALERT. This article deals with the ending of Remedy’s ‘Control,’ and contains SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS. If you haven’t played the game yet, check out our review, and decide if the title is for you.

We know why you’re here. No, it’s not supernatural skill, because we feel exactly the same. You probably just finished Remedy’s newest title Control and were like, “Whoa, what was that? Did I just see what I thought I saw?”

Currently, Remedy’s Control is tearing up the review charts, and is being praised for its unique story, visceral gameplay, and worldbuilding skill, amounting to a memorable release that establishes Remedy as one of the premier action/adventure developers in the industry. That being said, the ending has been met with mixed reviews by some, and confused looks by all. Whether viewed positively or negatively, the ending is — without a doubt — an incredibly convoluted and important part of the narrative. So, let’s go slowly:

Break It Down and Save the World

In search of the paranormal slide projector and her brother, Dylan, Jesse ventures into the Dimensional Research sector of the Oldest House. Wading through a reddish desert sand, she climbs the stairs to find a large projection room where she sees an “echo” image of  five pillars surrounded by amber sand — evidence that the object of power was once used in the room to contact what is believed to be Polaris, the dimensional being traveling in Jesse’s mind. Once inside the lab, Jesse finally stumbles upon Dr. Darling’s best kept secret: that Polaris is being kept prisoner in dimensional research, and is called Hedron by the staff.

With this reveal, the underlying backstory of Control comes into greater focus. The HRAs — or Hedron Resonance Amplifiers — that allowed some of the FBC staff to escape possession by the Hiss channels are really devices that channel the energy of Hedron to keep away the demons from other dimensions. Hinted at for a majority of the game, Jesse’s immunity to the Hiss comes from the fact the Polaris lives within her, protecting her psyche from their penetrating effects.

Control Ending

Described as a living being with a geometric shape, Hedron is supposedly kept prisoner in a large, egg-shaped orb in the next chamber, and is protected by a giant HRA. To get in, Jesse rips the shield down and bursts into the room, exposing Hedron’s cell to the evil of the Hiss. After fighting her way to the center of the chamber, the cell is ripped open to reveal…nothing.

At this point, Hiss chanting begins, and the screen is awash with red. Jesse is shown to be fighting against the Hiss, and is in pain. She succumbs to the force, and becomes a part of their hive mind, chanting the “you are a worm through time.”

At this point, the credits for Control roll, implying that the game has ended and Jesse’s battle has been lost. After about fifteen seconds, the text begins to fragment and distort, transforming into the Hiss chant that has dominated the game and tortured Jesse. The screen fades to white, then to black.

Control then continues, as Jesse awakens in business clothes on the executive level of the Oldest House, which is shown to be functioning as if the Hiss never invaded. She is tasked with menial office work, like making copies, delivering letters, and cleaning up coffee cups, all while being verbally abused by side characters from earlier in the game. She delivers mail to Director Trench’s office, and has a vision of herself in the director’s chair, with Dylan killing her using the Service Weapon. She says “this isn’t me, I’m not me. Why can’t I feel you?” as she calls out to Polaris.

She is then transported again to the same part of the executive level of the Oldest House, and is tasked with the same office work. Jesse goes back to Trench’s office and finds him lost in thought, rambling about the dangers of Hedron, and that the Hiss will save them. He says that he has a special slide for the Projector that first exposed him to the possession of the Hiss. In a flashback, he is shown turning the projector on and then being shot by Dylan, who is subsequently seen sitting in the director chair.

Control Ending

Jesse is now once again transported to the floor of the Oldest House, which has gotten redder and more ominous. She makes her way to Trench’s office, and finds the Director chanting the Hiss’ speech, bathed in red light. She shoots Trench, and takes his chair, saying “I am the Director.” She receives a call from Dr. Darling that tells her to go to his office to find the endgame.

Inside, Jesse finds a pullcord to the Oceanview Motel, and uses a key to open a new hallway door. Inside, she find Polaris, embodied by Jesse’s form. Polaris tells her to “Grow brighter. Around one constant, they revolve.” Jesse concludes that Hedron put Polaris in her head, or that Polaris was triggered by the dimensional being. She says, “Maybe I’ll never understand. Maybe I don’t need to.”

Jesse makes her way to the Nostalgia department to confront Dylan, who is seen after she uses the slide projector. She fights her way to Dylan, and cleanses him of the Hiss. Dylan then lapses into a coma, and Jesse is shown taking up the mantle of Director of the Oldest House. She ends by announcing that she is working with Polaris to continue fighting the Hiss to clean up the Department of Control.

On to Speculation

Now, despite Control’s ending being spelled out, the ambiguity and depth of Sam Lake’s writing leaves an incredibly large amount of plot up to speculation and guess. Sure, a large number of clues are buried deep within the game’s enormous amount of lore pieces, but even with these details there is still a lot that is open for interpretation. What follows is my best guess about what Control’s ending means.

Hedron and the Hiss

It’s no surprise that Hedron and the Hiss are two most important plot elements in Remedy’s Control. Described as inter-dimensional beings that were accessed through the altered slide projector, these two forces battle for control over the Oldest House. Hedron, in the vaguest sense, embodies the light and hope in the world, while the Hiss exemplify darkness and slavery. Together, they form a yin/yang relationship that aligns with the good and evil dichotomy seen in a number of narratives throughout history.

This balance-of-opposites relationship is symbolized by both of the beings through their representations in Control’s ending. Hedron, named because of its shape, is shown only in Jesse’s psyche as a geometric, angular creature — almost like a strand of DNA. The Hiss, in contrast, are shown as flowing and shapeless, like a smearing of blood on a glass tile. Polaris, a representation of Hedron, is light, flowing, and angelic, while the Hiss are crimson-colored, quick, and oozing.

The Struggle for the Director’s Chair

In this dimensional struggle between literal good and evil, Jesse and Dylan are the symbolic representations of their respective force. Jesse, literally in tune with Hedron through her Polaris connection, is the representation of the forces of light in the narrative. On the other hand, Dylan is the physical embodiment of the Hiss throughout the narrative, and is used interchangeably in cutscenes to represent the force. For both of these characters, the Director’s chair and role symbolizes the control that each of these characters want; taking the chair means possessing the inter-dimensional realm of the Oldest House.

In the cutscene that shows Trench’s suicide and Dylan holding the Service Weapon, Dylan represents the Hiss’ power within Jesse and the Director’s mind. While Dylan is shown pulling the trigger to kill Trench, it is literally the power of the Hiss possession within the Director that make him end his life. Similarly, Jesse is shown with a gun to her head and Dylan holding the gun interchangeably, implying that the Hiss were going to have Jesse end herself as well. Dylan was not the killer — it was the power of the Hiss that forced them to commit action outside of their control.

Ahti The Janitor

One of the best mysteries of Control’s ending has to do with Ahti, the janitor for the Oldest House. An interesting and well-written character, many speculate that he is a physical embodiment of the Oldest House, or some sort of a ghost that haunts its halls, but he is really another inter-dimensional force — similarly to Hedron and the Hiss — that balances the scales of the universe to ensure that everything is harmonious. There is even the possibility that Ahti is connected to Polaris in some way, as he appears to have the ability to read Jesse’s mind. This detail comes from Trench’s dialogue during Control’s ending that appears to reference Ahti: “there was this man. Sometimes he was a plumber…unclogging the drain — because there was a big fish stuck there, a big fish — but sometimes he was an old god, you see, and he had put the fish there to keep the waste, there was rising waste, from leaking out. So, he was conflicted.”

It seems very likely that Ahti is the old god mentioned in the Director’s ramblings, balancing the order of the universe in order to keep everything working smoothly. Working like an all-knowing diety, Ahti orders and aligns the dimensional forces that are fighting for control of the world, both helping things flow while clogging things up in order to prevent the spread of unbalanced evil, all while allowing both sides to struggle against each other to create harmony. In this balancing act, he is shown to be conflicted and unsure of his role, growing tired with the struggle to maintain the delicate balancing act, and seeking a way out.

As for his long-awaited vacation, Control’s ending is significantly more vague. It could be that Ahti is done ordering the universe and ready to give up his overseeing role, receding into the darkness and leaving Jesse and her connection with Polaris to handle the world. If he is somehow connected to Polaris, it would also explain why he chose her as assistant in taking care of the Oldest House, eventually giving her the role once she was trained enough.

The Poster

The poster is one of the most frequently reoccurring motifs in Control, being constantly referenced from the beginning to the end. An overt reference to the film The Shawshank Redemption, the poster symbolizes the veil of normalcy that covers the opening of paranormal horrors that lie beneath. In the film, the poster covered a hole dug by one of the prisoners that was used to escape to freedom, and the game adopts a similar view. In Control, the poster represents the perceivable reality that takes place in everyday life, and it is this reality that covers the darker secrets of the universe. These mysteries are exposed and released once the poster is removed, affecting anyone and reshaping their view on the nature of reality and existence.

The Motel

The Oceanview Motel is an incredibly interesting concept within Control, and although it doesn’t factor much into ending, it still plays a small part. It is described as a meeting place for dimensions that is connected to the Oldest House; there are other doors within the Motel that can’t be opened, presumably linked to other paranormal places within the world, but no one from the Department of Control has ever walked through them. It is implied that Ahti spends time there, namely due to his janitor closet, and Polaris is accessed through a door at the end.

While the Motel is definitely a concrete place on earth, it does not adhere to the common laws of reality, making it some sort of liminal space between realities and dimensions. In Control, it seems to exist as a paranormal hub between worlds, bringing people from all kinds of places and realities to one unified location.

While these are speculations about Control’s ending and lore, there are likely plenty that we have missed. What do you think about our ideas? What did we miss? What are your speculations about Control? Leave a comment below!

Ty is here to talk gaming and chew bubblegum, but he's all out of gum. Writer and host of the Stadia Wave Podcast, he is an Animal Crossing Fanatic, a Mario Kart legend, and a sore loser at Smash. Add him on Switch @Creepshow101, PSN/Live at Grimelife13, or Stadia at Grimelife and play!

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. locdog

    September 5, 2019 at 11:57 am

    Spoilers to follow, obviously.

    So this was a solid evaluation of an ambiguous conclusion, thank you. While I agree with much of what you’ve said, there’s one key omission, which as I see it is the Board. The Board maintains nominal control of the FBC via the director, and in attempting to wrest control of the oldest house from the bureau, it is the Board, and not Hedron, the Hiss must overcome. The Board selects Jesse through the service weapon, provides Jesse with much of her focus through the bakelite phone, and ultimately empowers her to reach Dylan and defeat the Hiss, which was clearly described as a direct act of self-preservation on their part. It’s not entirely clear to me that there ever even WAS a Hedron – at least not as a separate entity. One interpretation of the empty Hedron cell and the encounter with “Jesse Polaris” in the Oceanview is that the “entity” Jesse thought of as Polaris was never anything more than a manifestation of her own power, awakened by contact with an alternate dimension through the slide projector. She herself became the Altered Object, and Polaris was never anything more than Dumbo’s feather. If that’s the case then the Board’s role as the central manipulators in the story becomes paramount.

    But even if it’s not the case (and this is all sheer speculation on my part, admittedly) the Board plays too significant a role in the events preceding the ending to be ignored in a discussion of the endgame. Aside from selecting Jesse and dispensing quests, they are easily the most meta aspect of the game, given some of the games funniest and borderline 4th-wall-breaking lines. (It’s not all that hard to see them as a stand-in for the development team – the ultimate power behind any game world.) If it truly is Hedron vs. Hiss, then the Board is between them, balanced at the blade’s edge. The character this seems to most closely align with is Ahti, who may well have been an agent of the Board, sent to ensure their interests were being looked out for until a strong director finally arose.

  2. Kindred

    September 6, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    Well Ahti is a god in Finnish folk lore

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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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