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Top 10 Games with Staff Writer, George Cheese

I firmly believe that people’s favorite games are those they play in their teenage and early adult years, and, well, that’s where I’m at now.

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Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors, and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree.

Before we get really into this list, I think its worth mentioning that my list seems a lot more recent than some of the other Top 10 lists published on the site. I firmly believe that people’s favorite games are those they play in their teenage and early adult years, and, well, that’s where I’m at now. Come back to me in a year, hell, three months and the whole thing might be different. Certainly, my sights are firmly locked on both Dragon Ball FighterZ and Monster Hunter World in a couple of weeks…

I’d say most of the games I’ve chosen are modern classics, but please don’t be offended that I’ve left out your favorite Nintendo game from the ’90s or earlier. I simply might not have gotten around to playing it yet, and besides, it might not hold up–oh, I hear the lynch mobs coming down the road already. Those pitchforks are SHARP. I’d better get on with the list.

10) Journey

journey

Are games art? This question once haunted me for some time. Journey helped me to clarify the answer: profoundly, yes. Some of them, anyway.

Journey is a beautiful adventure game developed by thatgamecompany. Entirely wordless, the story is told simply through level progression and a moody, orchestral soundtrack. You are the Traveler, and you must walk from a dusty orange desert to the peak of a great mountain in the distance. As you approach the mountain, you begin to find relics from a bygone civilization, which display artworks that hint at the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of that ancient world.

Other Travelers join and leave you as you progress through the world; interacting with other players is a joy, as you help each other and communicate musically. Forget ‘your mum’ jokes; this game demonstrates the beautiful side of anonymous human interaction.
Not all games are art, but I believe that Journey certainly is, as well as all of my choices below. The entire game can be completed in one sitting, around two and a half hours, and I’d highly recommend showing it to friends who might not understand what this interactive medium is truly capable of.

9) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

This might be a controversial statement, but I’ve never loved the Legend of Zelda games. I like the art and design elements, enjoy the music, appreciate the archetypal fantasy story, but I’ve always found the actual game progression to be a little bit of a chore. I’d never find myself craving to beat the latest dungeon; rather, I’d want to force my way through them so I could continue to enjoy the elements I really like about the series. The only Legend of Zelda game I ever found myself going back to was The Wind Waker, simply because its art and graphical style is, to this day, compelling and unique.

That is, until I first played Breath of the Wild back in September.

I found myself almost immediately enamored with the title. This was the Zelda game I’d been wanting for years; a beautiful, vast open world experience, with vibrant characters and a rich story. The world of Hyrule feels really alive for the first time, with mechanics and minute visual details intersecting to fully immerse Link in the fantasy world. The combat and exploration have never once felt stale, and I’ve never felt like any part of the experience has been a slog.

I’ve not yet finished Breath of the Wild, which might make it a questionable choice for my top ten list. My reason for not finishing it is because I want to savor every minute of the game, and I am honestly intimidated by my active backlog. Once I clear a few games that I’ve previously started, I’m going back to Breath–and I feel like I’m gonna be staying in Hyrule for some time.

8) The Last of Us

the-last-of-us-screen-14-13mar14-ps3

When I first beat The Last of Us in 2013, I’d have probably said it was my favorite game of all time. This was just before I (somewhat begrudgingly, at first) played through Dark Souls and its sequel, which made me re-evaluate what I really wanted from the video games I played. Having more recently played The Last of Us Remastered, however, I still find myself enamored with the game.

The standout feature of The Last of Us is its humanistic narrative. It features a story, and visual look, that many of us have already seen in literature and cinema, with works such as McCarthy’s The Road and Cuarón’s Children of Men, but its strength of character and specific placement in the interactive medium allows it to transcend its influences and forebears. The burgeoning surrogate relationship between Joel and Ellie, and how their pasts define their present, is great to experience. The violence depicted in the game is morally ambiguous and deliberately uncomfortable.

In more recent years, some internet critics, professional and amateur alike, have derided the game as riding on its story and visuals, but I find the gameplay extremely satisfying and well-designed. Every encounter, with the fungal Infected or hostile survivors, is tense and visceral. Sneaking around in an attempt to conserve health and ammunition is nerve-wracking. Ammo is never abundant, and I felt a building sense of panic with every missed shot.

I can understand criticisms of The Last of Us. It is plausible that the game’s story would be equally as enjoyable in a television show, or movie, or comic series. However, I believe there is a place for games that blend a well-written cinematic narrative and taut, polished gameplay such as that seen in The Last of Us.

7) Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of Colossus Ending

Games these days often suffer from an overabundance of things to do. This is most prominent in contemporary open world titles, especially those designed by Ubisoft. While they’re often plenty of fun, many of the Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry titles would be improved by having a tighter mechanical and design focus.

Shadow of the Colossus suffers from none of those problems. Despite being designed around a large hub world, Shadow is incredibly minimalist, in every regard. The story is simple; you play as Wander, a warrior who travels to a forbidden land in hopes of slaying all of the Colossi bound there. This will resurrect his dead wife–or so he believes.

Team Ico’s design philosophy, as well as that used by Journey’s developers thatgamecompany, is one of design by subtraction. You can click here to view a great video essay here on how that philosophy applies to Ico. With Shadow of the Colossus, some small cutscenes and traversing the hub world are all that punctuate the gaps between giant boss fights. Those boss fights are exhilarating and challenging David versus Goliath scenarios, if David had to slay sixteen Goliaths that serve as both intimidating enemies and environmental puzzles.

Shadow of the Colossus was one of the first console games that I ever played to completion, and I’m hugely looking forward to playing through it at least one more time with the upcoming, beautified PlayStation 4 release.

6) Pokemon HeartGold Version

Pokemon Random Encounters

For most of my childhood, if you asked me what my favorite game of all time was, I’d have probably told you Pokemon Gold and Silver (although I might have lied and told you Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to seem cool). I don’t think I really need to tell you what Pokemon is. This Game Boy Color game was one of the first I’d ever owned and completed, and certainly the first I’d ever completed multiple times, over both cartridges. I’d never played the first generation Pokemon games, and didn’t really enjoy the 4Kids anime on the telly (was more of a Digimon kinda guy). Despite this, I was known as a Pokemon fanboy thanks to my love of those second generation games. This was probably around 2002.

Fast forward about eight years, and I’m playing and replaying Pokemon Gold all over again, only, this time, its even better than before. The top down pixel graphics are a genuine delight to look at, especially the battle critter following my player character. The game feels way more polished and balanced. There seems to be new content that I don’t remember experiencing in my pre-teens–

Oh, right, I’m playing the incredible DS remake, Pokemon HeartGold.

HeartGold was an improvement on the original second generation Pokemon games in pretty much every conceivable way. It didn’t have to change much; it simply modernized the graphics, music and balancing, added some neat, inoffensive features such as the first member of your party following you around, and included some additional content such as third and fourth generation Pokemon and extra side stories.

I suppose, technically, this spot should go to the original, but I believe that HeartGold improved upon its basis in every possible way. If, today, someone were to order me to play either Gold or HeartGold, I’d choose the latter. In fact, if someone put a gun to my head and told me to play any game on my 3DS, I’d probably dust off my old cartridge.

I can always make time for another Nuzlocke run.

5) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3

There are two giant open world, narratively-focused role-playing games in this Top 10 list, and both are similar in their scope and brilliant writing. It was particularly hard to rank these two, as, during the process of curating this list, I decided that both deserved a spot in spite of my rule of “no similar games”. The setting and gameplay are different enough to justify the inclusion of both The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Fallout: New Vegas, ranked below, even if the reasons I like both are the same.

The Witcher 3 was the first big RPG where I realized that you could both anchor the story to a solid, characterized protagonist, and also allow them to make morally ambiguous choices that are not tonally dissonant from that central character. Witcher 3 is, to me, the best parts of Skyrim, Mass Effect and a Telltale game merged into one, where your choices affect not only the story progression and possible endings but also, occasionally, the world state itself, with butterfly effects that ripple out through other quests.

The Witcher’s setting is a great world to explore, a fantasy world that still feels realistic and plausible. Most monsters are nuances more than epic foes, and for most characters, surviving from one day to the next is the only hero’s journey required. Geralt of Rivia is no exception. He might be a bad-ass magic-mutant, but he needs to earn a living, after all. Don’t let that fool you, though; this game’s main plot DOES have stakes. I just forgot about them most of the time, as I was too busy trying to get rich through monster hunting and mercenary work.

4) Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption is probably my favorite sandbox open world title. I say “probably”, because it is highly possible that Breath of the Wild might topple its position about sixty hours of gameplay into the future. It might also be beaten out by its upcoming sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2.

Redemption takes the classic Rockstar GTA open world formula–interactable and abusable NPCs, kooky story characters, a map that expands every narrative act, myriad fun side activities–and applies it to a spaghetti western setting. Fast cars become stallions (cue traditional joke comment about Grand Theft Equine). Gangsters become outlaws.

Rockstar’s classic game design stylings translate perfectly into the setting, but the icing on the cake is a meaningful, character-driven storyline that isn’t just zany and nihlistic (which one could accuse of GTA V’s story). John Marston is a character whose narrative arc matters, and many of the side characters feel more realistic than most in the Grand Theft Auto games. My heart was torn out by the story’s dramatic conclusion, and the epilogue side-story felt both satisfying and deliberately empty; the game didn’t end and the world continues. Nothing was undone, and I had to live with that.

3) Fallout: New Vegas

I love Fallout: New Vegas for almost exactly the same reasons that I love The Witcher 3. The choices your create-a-character make ripple out through the storyline, often drastically altering how later events will play out. While some of the changes are less grandiose and world-altering than those of Witcher 3, the apocalyptic and general wackiness of the setting are what pushed this game into the top spot, in terms of big open-world role-playing games.

The setup: you are the Courier, a traveler tasked with delivering a seemingly insignificant item known as the Platinum Chip to the elusive benefactor of the New Vegas Strip, Mr. House. Unfortunately, you’re ambushed by the scheming Benny and his conspirators on the outskirts of the post-apocalyptic Mojave. He puts a bullet through your brain… which is the perfect excuse for any personality you wish to inflict on the Mojave.

The huge variety of factions you can interact and work for, combined with a dazzling array of well written characters and a fresh, colorful take on the post-nuclear apocalypse setting, are the main reasons to play the game. The gun-play itself is pretty fun, although nothing special by 2018 standards. And, if after reading this and playing the game, if you fall in love with New Vegas; don’t bother with Fallout 3 or 4. Play Fallout 2, or The Witcher 3, or New Vegas again, and again, and again.

2) NieR: Automata

My top two choices were the hardest to decide the exact placement of. In the end, I simply based these two on the amount of hours I’d pumped into them at the time of writing this list.

I adore NieR: Automata. In many ways, it is a game concerned with similar things to The Last of Us; fantastic characters, a riveting narrative, ambiguous motivations and violent acts. What really pushed Automata this far up the list was its focus on consciousness and what it really means to be human, and the question of how to derive meaning from a world devoid of purpose. I wrote up my thoughts on Automata some months ago, so rather than rambling here for far too long, you should go read that.

Of course, the game’s themes and story are enhanced by satisfying PlatinumGames combat and a stellar, Game Awards-winning soundtrack. The game’s art direction and character designs are also top notch.

Basically, if you haven’t played NieR: Automata, go do so now. If you have, maybe you should do so again. I know that I’m going to, once this backlog’s cleared up a bit…

1) Bloodborne

bloodborne-moon-presence-boss-fightAhhh, good hunter. You’ve made it this far. I’m proud of you.

This entry is, spiritually, a stand in for most of the FromSoftware Soulsborne games. I didn’t want to include both Dark Souls and Bloodborne in my top 10, and it was really hard to choose between the two. In the end, the Lovecraftian aesthetic, faster combat, and general polish of Bloodborne won out over its spiritual predecessor, but both games are excellent, and Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls 3 are great, too (author’s note: at the time of writing this sentence, Dark Souls Remastered was recently announced. Day one purchase on my Nintendo Switch? Abso-bloody-lutely).

These iconic action role-playing games are both revered and infamous in the gaming world. They are often lauded and derided in equal measure for their perceived inaccessibility, and a return to a classic, retro style of game progression (ie. difficulty barriers). I do not believe that the Souls games are incredibly unfair or even that difficult (ignoring certain elements of Dark Souls 2 and its current-gen remaster). Instead, what they do is teach you the rules of the game through trial and error. Many games want to make the player feel powerful; the Souls games want you to earn that power.

Bloodborne takes the gold for both my top 10 games of all time and for my favorite action game because, boy oh boy, I really earned that feeling of power. Giant mutated beasts stalk the streets of Yharnam, a Gothic city plagued by an alien blood curse, to heavily simplify things. You are, supposedly, one of the last lines of defense against the snarling hordes; a hunter. You fight tooth-and-nail through a decaying city, sinister academies and, ultimately, nightmarish dreamscapes as you uncover the eldritch secrets of Yharnam and the universe.

People talk about the difficulty of this type of game, but you have to want to keep playing the game in the first place; if something is hard, but also bad, there’s no reason to stay. Fortunately, Bloodborne does everything right; the game feels great, looks great, sounds great. Exploring the winding, interconnected level design is a reward in-and-of itself.

There’s plenty of feature pieces about Bloodborne on Goomba Stomp and I agree with pretty much all of them about what makes this game legitimately epic. If you’re like me, when you overcome those final bosses, you’ll want to dive right back in and aim for one of the other endings.

Thank you for reading this list, and I hope you appreciate my taste!

Go on, good hunter…

Honorable Mentions: Dark Souls, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Thumper, resident evil vii, Animal Crossing, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Kingdom Hearts, Hotline Miami, XCOM: Enemy Unknown

George slumbers darkly in the wastelands of rural Wiltshire, England. He can often be found writing, gaming or catching up on classic television. He aims to be an author by profession, although if that doesn't pan out you might be able to find him on Mars. You can argue with him on Twitter: @georgecheesee

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Ricky D

    January 15, 2018 at 9:45 pm

    We seem to have almost the same taste. Minus Pokemon and one game that I haven’t yet played, I love the list.

    • George Cheesee

      January 16, 2018 at 3:01 am

      Thanks Ricky! 🙂 Pokemon was a tough call; while it doesn’t necessarily have similar qualities to everything else in the list above, its probably the series I’d spent the most time with over the course of my teenage years, and whenever I do play HeartGold I have a blast.

  2. Izsak “Khane” Barnette

    January 17, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    Glad to see a Nintendo game made your list, George. I hope it wasn’t as hard for you to pick ten games as it was for me, haha.

    • George Cheesee

      January 18, 2018 at 6:32 am

      I was actually surprised at how few Nintendo games hit my top 10! I think its because, growing up, I always used Sony or Microsoft consoles as my primary gaming outlet.

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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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