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Why the Representation of Minorities Matters

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The last decade has brought many changes to minority groups, notably to the Western LGBTQ community who started seeing a drastic difference on how our patriarch society perceives them. Sexuality and identity slowly became a more natural and recurrent topic, as did the discussion of black culture and how women are portrayed by the media. Yet, none of these groups managed to reach their desired utopias.

As a gay man, I see the change. I understand when people say we’re far better now than we were ten or fifteen years ago. But as many in the community, I don’t think it’s time to hang the hat and call it day just yet. Living in Northeastern Brazil, I’ve always had to be very careful when going out with guys. We could chat and look intimately at each other, but so much as holding hands would put our lives in danger. Although that’s changing, no one can say it’s completely safe to hold your partner’s hand in the middle of the street if they happen to be of the same sex as you.

Unfortunately, this reality is not exclusive to Northeastern Brazil and the struggle the LGBTQ community has with representation is not exclusive to movies, TV, and music. Video games are far more relevant now than they were ten years ago, but the industry is still plagued by many issues including its portrayal of minority groups.

“Why should I care?”

That’s usually the sort of question I see in discussions regarding minorities in video games. It’s far less common when the topic revolves around women and black people, yet alarmingly prominent when it involves gay people. Recently, we received a reality check with the news that Russia could ban FIFA 17 from the country should EA not remove the “gay propaganda” present as part of the Rainbow Laces campaign promoted by the Stonewall group. The general mainstream media sided with EA, a company known for its social inclusion. But scrolling down to the comments section of most articles and informative videos, we see different reactions.

Notes along the lines of “It seems Russia got more morals than our country. Homosexuality is wrong.” and “This is football, not a faggot propaganda.” aren’t difficult to find. Most people would say to ignore such behavior, to “stop feeding the troll”, but the fact it exists at all is part of the problem. Although the general public and the mainstream media are very supportive of the cause, discrimination is still a part of our lives. Sometimes people don’t even realize they’re being condescending when they say “we don’t care who you sleep with, but we find it sad that your identity revolves around sex.”, then using freedom of speech as an excuse for the offensive remark.

Everyone has problems no matter who they are or where they come from, but other complications may arise should the person not meet society’s standards. Black people are historically taken for granted because of their skin color and women are expected to behave a certain way due to their stigmatized social role. In the same manner, the LGBTQ community is supposed to hide their opinions and desires because they’re an insult to tradition. It’s important to stress that times are changing for those groups, that their situations are far better now than they were fifteen or twenty years ago, yet not everyone can say their problems are related to their skin color, their gender, or their sexuality.

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Ellie

We have seen a major change in how gay people are portrayed in the media with the aggressively flamboyant man and the extremely masculine woman being replaced by regular personalities and traits. That helps show how normal we are whilst being inclusive. However, not everyone welcomes the change of pace even when it’s meant to help others. Developers have been criticized for including emotional and intimate scenes between two men or by making an NPC be suggestive towards the player.

First released in 2013 exclusively for the PlayStation 3, The Last of Us is considered by many one of the most progressive games of its generation for how the character Ellie (Ashley Johnson) is presented. Players only came to know of her sexuality with the DLC ‘Left Behind’ in which she kisses her friend Riley (Yaani King), whereas in the base game that aspect is subjective. The bonding formed throughout The Last of Us and Ellie being such a regular teenager in both her personality and appearance triggered a very positive reaction in the DLC as players were already attached to her.

Ellie, much like Dorian Pavus (Ramon Tikaram) from 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, is a great solution for the struggles the LGBTQ community faces as a whole. Video games are the only fully interactive form of media, allowing players to experience realities they might never encounter in their regular lives, such as being close to a gay person. This sort of bond helps educate those who would otherwise never know what minorities go through, but it fails at explaining why they should be more conscious.

The good, the bad, the ugly

At one side we have developers and part of the community making a change by helping minorities. At the other, we have those who don’t accept any sort of change at the claim that it will affect their lives directly. In the middle the confused dwell, unsure of what to think or why any of this should be their problem. But what isn’t there to relate? Why is change so difficult to accept when it won’t take any of your privileges away? If we forget about skin color, gender, and sexuality for a moment, most gamers have a very similar story.

For example:

There once was a boy with an angelic name who always felt left out. His family had a strong opinion on who he should be and the friends he managed to make would sometimes suppress him. He struggled with grades and was always concerned with how he behaved around others lest they’d be offended by his mannerism. After he realized part of what made him so different, his family went on to fight against his nature. People he met along the way, while generally supportive, would still refuse him any moment of glory because of how irrelevant his situation was to them.

And then he found out he could be anyone. Not by watching a film or reading a book, but by taking control over someone else in a video game. All his doubts and struggles seemed like distant thoughts for those two or three hours he would spend in front of the computer, but in the back of his mind a voice would ask “where do you fit in this?” Finally, he had the chance to play The Sims 2. One of the first things his cousin mentioned was that he could be intimate and even marry people of the same gender. After being constantly reminded that he would always play a supportive role, it was time to be the lead of his own story.

Video games were very important for that boy as they helped him understand empathy whilst giving him the opportunity to lead the narrative. They helped him experiment with his social skills and discover the person behind the issues and taboos. Part of what that boy went through is exactly what most other gamers face, be they male or female, black or white, gay or straight. And yet, a large portion of the gaming community can’t relate to his story solely because of their choice of partner in The Sims 2.

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A conundrum

The general public is perfectly fine with a black or a female protagonist. The inclusion of such characters in the leading role may sometimes cause a stir, but at the end of the day, they’re not as controversial as an exclusively gay character. Video game fans throughout the years have been praising the industry for including people of color and women in major parts, but just the thought of a gay character is enough to originate hurtful memes and offensive comments.

Despite Ellie being so well received after the reveal of her sexuality and the fact she’s the main protagonist of The Last of Us Part II, the general consensus is that gay characters other than her don’t deserve the spotlight. Dorian Pavus is a beloved asset, but some consider his sexuality to be forced upon players. Many fans of Rockstar’s Bully refuse to acknowledge that the ‘Scholarship Edition’ offers a relatively large selection of boys who protagonist Jimmy Hopkins (Gerry Rosenthal) can date. Yet, everyone seems on board with the idea that Overwatch‘s Zarya is lesbian given her nationality and manly build–despite the many pejorative jokes the latter triggers.

Developers are left at an impasse. Plenty of them wish to include the LGBTQ community just as much as they include other minorities, nevertheless that often results in a severe backlash and a possible impact on sales. Forcing ideas is not the solution, but forming a bond between player and character also doesn’t seem to do much for the long run. As the first triple-A title to feature an exclusively gay protagonist The Last of Us Part II could be a great help in addressing the issue, but its restricted release for the PlayStation 4 largely limits its transformative capability.

In the end, no one has all the answers. As much as companies try, they can’t reach or be understood by everyone. There are many ways to teach about empathy, respect, and why minorities matter, but that’s not only a developer’s duty. As long as players are open to discussing and understanding the stories they experience through video games, we should someday reach a point where arguments like this are no longer necessary.

Born and raised in Northeastern Brazil, Gabriel didn't grow up with video games as many of his colleagues did. However, his dedication and love for the industry make up for his late start in the gaming world.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Saul

    December 19, 2016 at 9:55 am

    why is bowser always kidnapping princess peach?

    why do monsters want to have sex with girls?

    btw gaybriel, how you handle your gay situation?

    • Gabriel Cavalcanti

      December 19, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      I suppose because back when Mario was a nameless character, women were largely seen as a trophy, an object of desire. I haven’t played Nintendo games in ages, so I have no idea if Peach became something besides the damsel in distress.

      Do they? o-o I don’t think I’ve played that or those games, or I missed that completely.

      What exactly do you mean by how I handle my situation? You mean how I deal with possible hardships triggered by my sexuality?

    • John Cal McCormick

      December 19, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Please tell me you’re just not very good at spelling and you didn’t just seriously use ‘gaybriel’ as some kind of jab…

      • Gabriel Cavalcanti

        December 19, 2016 at 5:21 pm

        I’m so good at reading that I didn’t pay attention to that :/ So we’re getting to that level…

    • Oliver Rebbeck

      December 19, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      Perhaps when you graduate from primary school and learn how to talk to other human beings with the lowest modicum of respect, you’ll realise how immature you sound with the petty use of Gaybriel as some kind of insult. As to your questions I don’t get your point? Monsters are always after girls and we should all strive to be like monsters, because God knows they’re a beacon of integrity?

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

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Castlevania Bloodlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show

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

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

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

10. Everwild Reveal

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

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


9. ID@Xbox Lineup

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

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


8. West of Dead Reveal/Open Beta

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

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


7. Halo Reach Release Date

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

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


6. Grounded Reveal

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

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


5. Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal

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

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


4. Final Fantasy Blowout

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

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


3. The Reign of Project xCloud

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

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

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


2. Square Sharing the Kingdom Hearts Love

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

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


1. Yakuza Finally Goes Multi-Console

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

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

Honorable Mentions:

Bleeding Edge Release Date

KartRider Drift Reveal/Closed Beta Announcement

Last Stop Reveal

Wasteland 3 Release Date

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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures

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

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

Setting the Scene

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

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

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

Rebuilding a Community

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

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

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

Ambient Appeal

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

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

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

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