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A Retrospective Look at ‘Crash Bandicoot’ and Its Significance to the PlayStation Brand



At last year’s E3, Sony announced that their beloved character Crash Bandicoot was returning to PlayStation in the form of a remaster of the first three games that were originally developed by Naughty Dog. This was exciting to many people because Crash is a beloved icon of the original PlayStation era. It also could be argued that Crash was the flagship character of the Sony brand similar to how Mario is for Nintendo and Sonic the Hedgehog is for Sega. Unfortunately, Crash started to fade as Sony’s icon in the 21st century as they lost the rights to the character in 2001. But since appearing in the Skylanders game, along with the remaster and a potential sequel in development (not to mention the Crash Bandicoot easter egg in Uncharted 4), Crash Bandicoot is making a comeback. Let’s take a look back at this iconic character and his significance to the PlayStation brand in the 1990s.

Naughty Dog was founded by Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin in 1984 as an independent developer.  Ten years later, Naughty Dog signed on to work with Mark Cerny of Universal Interactive Studios after presenting their new game Way of the Warrior. This opportunity lead Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin to move from Boston to Los Angeles, which actually forced Gavin to bail on his M.I.T. Ph.D. midway. Their three-day drive from Boston to LA is actually where the idea of Crash Bandicoot began. Before leaving for LA, Naughty Dog hired their first employee named Dave Baggett who was a M.I.T. friend of Gavin and a fellow programmer. Gavin and Baggett created the development tool “Game Oriented Object LISP” (GOOL), which would be used to create the characters and gameplay of the game.

Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin. The creators of Naughty Dog.

Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin. The creators of Naughty Dog.

During their trip to LA, Gavin and Rubin noticed that several genres of arcade games such as racing games, fighting games, and shooting games were making successful transitions into 3D. This inspired the duo to create a 3D version of their favorite genre, character-based action-platform games. The game was jokingly called “Sonic’s Ass Game” because players would be forced to constantly look at the character’s rear. Mark Cerny liked the idea of “Sonic’s Ass Game,” and the development for Crash Bandicoot began. With the idea in place, the duo had to decide on what console they wanted to develop for. They chose Sony’s new PlayStation because it was the first time Sony was venturing into the game market and it had promising specs. Plus, Naughty Dog had a chance to potentially create the flagship character for this new brand. They signed a developer agreement with Sony that was pretty harsh and expensive, but it was a cost that would lead to bigger and better things.

In 1994, the two biggest rivals in the game market were Nintendo and Sega. While competing with each other, they both shared one major thing in common: they both had a flagship character that represented their brand. Nintendo had Mario and Sega had Sonic the Hedgehog. But Sony’s new console didn’t have one. This was a golden opportunity for Naughty Dog. Inspired by Sonic and the Tasmanian Devil of Warner Bros., Naughty Dog wanted an appealing animal that people really didn’t know about. They bought an animal book to find a potential mascot. Out of all the mammals to choose from, they chose the wombat, the potoroo, and the bandicoot. At first, they chose the wombat and named their new character “Willie the Wombat.” The name of the character wouldn’t change until two years later. Although they did always want Crash to be a goofy and fun loving character who would never speak.

Sketches of Willie the Wombat

The concept of their villain was actually created before Crash’s final design was completed. The concept of Crash’s arch-nemesis Doctor Neo-Cortex actually started in a restaurant. The idea the villain should be an evil genius with a big head just miraculously popped up in his head. The concept of the doctor was inspired by Brain in Pinky and the Brain and the weasel minions of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Naughty Dog wanted to combine the platforming of Mario or Donkey Kong Country with the animation of cartoons, such as the Looney Tunes. In order to do so, they hired real Hollywood cartoonists to help design the game. Cartoonists Charles Zembillas and Joe Pearson were hired for the project. Zembillas designed the characters and Pearson designed the backgrounds. Together, they were instrumental in the creation of the look of Crash Bandicoot. Since their title character was an animal who faces an evil genius with a secret layer, they decided that a mysterious island with several different environments would be the ideal setting of the game. With an island concept in mind, the idea of having tikis in the game emerged. In early 1995, several additional artists were hired, including Bob Rafei, Taylor Kurosaki, Charlotte Francis, and Justin Monast. All who would be key contributors in developing the game.

After months of development, the game became functional in April 1995 and was playable a few months later. The first three levels of the game were completed by August, but they were deemed too difficult for the game’s early levels by the developers so these levels were moved to the game’s power plant area. A month later, Naughty Dog revealed Crash Bandicoot to Sony Computer Entertainment behind closed doors. While playing game, Rubin realized that the game was full of empty areas since the PlayStation couldn’t handle multiple enemies on screen at a time. Plus, it appeared players were solving the games’ puzzles too fast. As a result, Rubin came up with the idea to add a variety of crates in the game to make it more interesting in boring parts of the level and make the game’s puzzles more challenging. This would become one of the franchise’s hallmark characteristics.

The idea of using crates also lead Naughty Dog to change Willie’s name into Crash Bandicoot since he breaks a lot of crates in the game. However, this name change was disliked by Universal marketing director Kelly Flaherty. She wanted the character to be named “Wuzzle the Wombat” or “Ozzie the Oztel.” She also opposed the character of Crash’s girlfriend, Tawna, who Crash has to save in the game. She believed Tawna’s character was sexist. Eventually, Naughty Dog prevailed and Crash Bandicoot became the iconic character people know today. Although Tawna would eventually be removed as a character in the game’s sequel.

Crash Bandicoot's final design

Crash Bandicoot’s final design.

In late 1995, Gavin and Kurosaki spent two days editing a two minute clip that was deliberately leaked to a friend at Sony Computer Entertainment. There were management issues with Sony in early 1996, so it took until March of that year for Sony to agree to publish the game. Before it was shown at that year’s E3, the music for the game was decided at the last minute. The producer at Universal proposed that they use ““the urban chaotic symphony,” which meant they use random sound effects like birds chirping, grunts, and fart noises. Naughty Dog rejected this, so they met with a music production company called Mutato Muzika and its founder Mark Mothersbaugh. He assigned Josh Mancell to work on the game’s music and sounds, and together they composed the soundtrack for the game.

Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto playing Crash Bandicoot.

Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto playing Crash Bandicoot.

At that year’s E3, Crash Bandicoot actually had to go up against Nintendo’s new console, the Nintendo 64, and its new game, Super Mario 64. Since both games were 3D platformers, people couldn’t help but to compare the two games. Plus Sega was in a decline, so this left Sony and Nintendo head to head in the console race. These two companies were actually partners in developing a console together before they became bitter rivals. This contributed to Crash Bandicoot becoming the de facto flagship character of Sony even more. Super Mario 64 was critically acclaimed and a huge financial success for Nintendo. Its gameplay was extremely influential on the transition of video games into 3D. Crash Bandicoot isn’t considered a masterpiece like Super Mario 64, but it did receive good reviews and became one of the best-selling games on the original PlayStation. Its success marked the beginning of Naughty Dog’s rise as a major developer in the game market.

While Crash Bandicoot may not be as influential as Super Mario 64, its art style and gameplay make it stand out compared to other games. As mentioned, Crash Bandicoot is a 3D platformer where players control Crash, who is a mutated bandicoot that traverses through several unique levels to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend from the sinister Dr. Neo Cortex. In every level, there are dangerous enemies and obstacles that players must overcome to progress to the next level. If Crash is hit even once or falls into a pit, he dies and the player loses a life. Crash can be protected by Aku Aku masks who shield him from enemy hits. Crash can hold onto two masks at a time and if he gets a third mask, he gains temporary invincibility (except for fall deaths). Players can gain more lives by finding them throughout the level and/or collecting 100 Wumpa fruits. Crash can defend himself against enemies by jumping on them and using his spin attack that will launch them away. Every level is full of crates for Crash to break and jump on. These crates contain Wumpa fruit and Aku Aku masks for Crash to collect. However, these crates are also surrounded by TNT that will instantly kill Crash if he spins into them. If Crash jumps on them, they countdown and will explode. There are also steel crates that are activated by finding crates with exclamation marks. If players complete a level without dying, they earn a gem. These provide access to new areas and collecting them all leads to the true ending of the game.

Naughty Dog would go on to develop two more sequels, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (1997) and Crash Bandicoot: Warped (1998) that many claim to be superior to the original. All three games were critically successful and huge hits for the original PlayStation, especially in Japan.  Crash Bandicoot: Warped was the first non-Japanese game to sell over a million copies in Japan. Naughty Dog also released a kart racing game based on the franchise titled Crash Team Racing (1999) that was critically and financially successful. After Crash Team Racing, Naughty Dog wanted to develop other games for Sony and they didn’t want to be contained by Universal Interactive. Being a successful developer for Sony, the company bought Naughty Dog from Universal Interactive and Naughty Dog would go on to become arguably Sony’s best developer. After Crash Bandicoot, they worked on the Jak and Daxter franchise for Sony’s new PlayStation 2 console. However, this meant Naughty Dog lost the rights to their beloved character since he was owned by Universal Interactive. Crash Bandicoot was no longer the de facto mascot of Sony as it became a multi-platform franchise.

The original gameplay and gameplay from the Remastered version.

In the 21st century, the Crash Bandicoot franchise essentially faded into just the memories of people who grew up in the 1990s. The Crash franchise couldn’t live up to the games developed by Naughty Dog. After Crash of the Titans and Crash: Mind Over Mutant received mediocre to bad reviews, developers turned the franchise into successful mobile games. But after 2010, Crash would not be mentioned again until 2016. Meanwhile, Naughty Dog creators Gavin and Rubin left the company after finishing the Jak and Daxter series. Naughty Dog would go on to release the highly successful and critically acclaimed franchise Uncharted and the widely respected masterpiece, The Last of Us. And with the easter egg in Uncharted 4, Crash’s appearance in Skylanders, and the remaster titled Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, it appears Crash has finally made his comeback to the PlayStation brand. Perhaps gamers will even see a new Crash game in development in the future.

Ken Kutaragi, the father of the PlayStation, actually didn’t like the idea of Crash being the mascot of Sony. There was a dispute between the United States and Japan in how to market the character. Kutaragi didn’t want there to be a mascot because he believed the PlayStation was not intended solely for children like Nintendo. But similar to the rest of the original PlayStation’s marketing, Crash’s advertising in the 1990s was definitely more mature compared to Nintendo. Anyone who grew up or lived in the 1990s probably remembers seeing these commercials.

Whatever happens in the future for the franchise, Crash remains in the hearts of everyone who grew up and played the original PlayStation in the 1990s. Many people would love to see the orange marsupial appear in more PlayStation games.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2017. 

Sebastian was born in the Sunshine State. Growing up at the dawn of 3D gaming, he has been playing video games since as long as he can remember. The first game he remembers playing was Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64. He has many favorite franchises and loves a wide range of genres. He has owned every console that has come out, but his favorite console of all time is still the PlayStation 2. Sebastian became a Pokemon Master in 1998 when he was 5 years old and has remained one since then. When he’s not being a gamer, he enjoys writing, especially about video games and sports. Sebastian is a huge Miami sports fan and follows his teams very passionately. Graduating from FAU with a Bachelor’s in English, he hopes to become a professional journalist. Preferably in gaming and/or sports journalism. When he’s not being a nerd, he enjoys hanging out with his friends and relaxing at the pool. Wait.. who is he kidding? He’s always a nerd.

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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



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



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.


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.



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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