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The 60 Best Nintendo Switch Games

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Best Switch Games Guacamlee 2

40. Guacamelee! 2

The original Guacamelee is a game with a celebrated reputation as one of the best Metroidvanias in the history of the genre, so fans could be forgiven for expecting a lot from the long-awaited sequel. Luckily, Guacamelee 2 fires on all cylinders, delivering a worthy successor to its forebear. Nixing much of the bothersome side quests that dragged things out the first game, as well as adding in a string of new moves and upgrades, Guacamelee 2 doesn’t just match the quality of the original — it improves on it in nearly every conceivable way.

Fans of the more silly aspects of the original will be pleased to find that Guacamelee 2 is just as bananas as you’d expect, but the real surprise comes with the amount of depth and heart that it packs, especially in its ending. Even as there are more and more indie gems to pick from these days, Guacamelee 2 is still well worth your time. It stands apart from the pack as one of the best indies on the Swicth. (Mike Worby)

owlboy-story

39. Owlboy

Owlboy, a love letter to adventure platformers of gaming past, is a game almost a decade in the making. It actually took the five-man team at D-Pad Studio nine years to finish the game before it launched on PC, and while that may seem like an unusual amount of time to create an indie game (especially one that consists of roughly ten hours of gameplay), the hard work paid off in spades. For a retro 2D Metroidvania-style indie game that places a heavy focus on exploration and combat, you could be forgiven in thinking that Owlboy has nothing new to bring to the table, but in fact, the game boasts qualities that are usually missing in platformers: tingling observations, unforced comedy, an engaging story, and quirky, enduring charm.

While everything about Owlboy is done with extraordinary care, what really sets it apart is the story and writing. What we have here is an exceptionally well-crafted coming-of-age tale full of really dark moments, as well as some heart-wrenching scenes. It follows the story of young Otus, a mute protagonist who studies under his domineering mentor, Asio, a curmudgeonly owl who routinely criticizes our feathered hero and chastises his inability to speak. What at first seems like a simple 2D platformer quickly reveals an incredibly deep plot involving ancient owl societies, dark secrets, abuse, and a recurring theme of failure. When sky-pirates attack the peaceful surroundings of Otus’ world — threatening to destroy the city and steal powerful relics in the process — Otus teams up with a military mechanic, Geddy, and other trusty companions he meets along the way to put a stop to the pirates before their home is destroyed.

From its heartbreaking opening (a sequence of cold verbal abuse leaving Otus with his head bowed) to its equally devastating conclusion, Owlboy ends up being an extraordinarily intimate portrait of a life unfolding, and an exceptional, unconventional game in which a boy with a disability must overcome his insecurities, find courage, and more importantly, gain confidence to save those he loves. (Ricky D)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Grim Fandango

38. Grim Fandango

Grim Fandango remains one of an elite group of 90s games that don’t seem to age. Even after a remastering, it still manages to maintain a nostalgic atmosphere, smothered in witty humor and dark themes that ensure it’ll stay a masterpiece for as long as humans are gaming. So naturally, its introduction onto the Nintendo Switch was one of momentous applause, allowing another generation to explore the Eighth Underworld just like the generation before did.

This game is a reminder as to how clever story writing can immerse a player without the need for dynamic gameplay. There are so many different emotions sharing this tale — a story of hope being driven away by greed, lust, and reluctance, all tied together with a humor that makes the journey compelling. So many games deliver on their story, but none have had the potency that Grim Fandango manages to inject.

This might be a twenty-year-old game that’s been remastered and placed into the Nintendo library, but it’s such an amazing accomplishment that it could be re-released in twenty years on a future console and would undoubtedly still stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest. If you didn’t visit Grim Fandango in the 90s, now’s the time to do it. (James Baker)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Pokken Tournament

37. Pokken Tournament DX

Whether you’re in it to catch ‘em all, battle to be the best like no one ever was, or simply love the world, the lasting impact of the Pokémon series can’t be understated. However, the turn-based RPG nature of the games leaves a lot to the imagination when considering pokémon battles. Don’t get me wrong; I love the turn-based battle mechanics central to the main series titles. However, the concept of a fighting game where players can control their favorite pokémon in bouts for glory has long been dreamed of, and it’s surprising that it took so long for that to appear. The wait, however, was worth it. Pokkén Tournament, from the makers of the popular Tekken franchise, not only fulfills a long term wish of Poké-fanatics, but is a brilliantly novel new fighter all the more brilliant for its clever fan service and celebration of the franchise.

At the game’s core is a colorful cast of Pocket Monsters comprised of fan favorites, and a blend of the franchise’s many types of pokémon. Each pokémon has its own unique move set, despite being grouped into one of four categories of fighter — Standard, Power, Technical, or Speed — with types assigned to give a general impression of how the character will play. Despite having a roster of totally unique characters, as well as two variations of featured pokémon that play completely differently than the ones they’re based on, Pokkén is remarkable for its overall balance and ease of use. Mastery of its unique characteristics, however, will separate the simple trainer from the Pokémon Master.

Most notably, Pokkén Tournament DX features two different styles of battle in a single match. The first, Field Phase, is a free-range, 3D arena mode where players can traverse the entire map. Dual Phase plays more like a standard 2D fighter. Both phases impact character move sets and play to character strengths differently, and only by landing a heavy hit can a player shift phases. Consequently, mastery means having a handle on a pokémon’s move set regardless of phase. Fairly unique to fighters, Pokkén Tournament also features Support Sets, duos of pokémon that can be summoned once a specific meter has been filled. These support pokémon feature varying charge times and abilities, and provide an interesting level of strategy, as only one pokémon can be selected per round, while the other will be fully ready for the following round, providing a decent amount of strategy and plotting on the part of the player.

The game also features a Synergy Meter that allows pokémon to unleash a special move or transformation when ready, and feature some fantastically designed cut scenes when these moves are pulled off. The result of all this is a diverse fighter featuring some of the most recognizable pokémon around, enjoyable fighting mechanics and gameplay — including a sort of rock, paper, scissors take on different move types — exciting special moves, fun supports, and an incredibly unique phase system to keep players on their toes. Pokkén Tournament DX is a fun fighting diversion for fans of the franchise, and a refreshing fighting escapade for fans of the genre craving something new. (Tim Maison)

Oxenfree Best Nintendo Switch Games

36. Oxenfree

Teens alone on an island squaring off against deadly forces is nothing new in the horror genre. One doesn’t need to look far to come up with a list of similar stories and truth be told, Sony’s Until Dawn quickly springs to mind when thinking of a comparison point. On paper, the premise of Oxenfree may seem like a clichéd thriller, but really, Oxenfree is a near masterpiece, a blend of mind-boggling sci-fi, and subjective storytelling that serves as a singular and timeless piece of gaming. These high school seniors aren’t just fodder — they’re three-dimensional characters with complex inner lives that you don’t often see in video games. The mystery that unravels as you explore every corner of the island is really just a MacGuffin, an excuse to navigate the heady dynamics inherent to a group of hormonal, troubled teens. The real charm in Oxenfree is the character development, and like the majority of great horror films, Oxenfree explores the theme of isolation, both in a literal sense and in a figurative sense.

Like most walking simulators, Oxenfree‘s story also branches depending on the choices you make, and it’s possible to get one of a few different endings. But no matter what ending you get, sacrifices must be made. And that’s the beauty of Oxenfree — by giving players the agency to tell the story they want and creating emotional connections to the characters, every ending comes with a heavy price to pay. While the horror elements are what grant Oxenfree its narrative urgency, the character interactions are the best part of the journey, and like most games that offer players a choice, the results of your decisions — much like with life itself — aren’t always satisfying.

In closing, Oxenfree is an astonishingly imaginative, poignant, genre-defying tale of loss, grief, guilt, revenge, and time travel wrapped in a ghostly mystery that’s just as dark and disturbing as adolescence. (Ricky D)

FURI Best Nintendo Switch Games

35. Furi

Released by French indie studio The Game Bakers, the fast-paced action game Furi is a combination of hack-and-slash swordplay, twin-stick shooting, and non-stop action. It’s also a game consisting entirely of boss fights of escalating difficulty. There are no levels to explore, no disposable cannon fodder, and no puzzles to solve. It’s essentially a series of extremely difficult boss fights strung together by extremely stylish animated cutscenes.

To note that Furi is not for everyone is to belabor the obvious. Not that any game will please everyone, but truth be told, Furi is one of those games that only a small percentage of gamers will appreciate. On the surface, Furi may seem like it’s all about style, but dig deeper and you’ll appreciate the level of craftsmanship that went into making this indie gem — that is, if you have the patience and skill to progress far enough.

Furi is a difficult game to enjoy because it’s so damn difficult. To enjoy Furi is to master your attack, a process that will involve having to start over again and again, causing immense frustration. Regardless, Furi is the product of a studio to watch out for, and may prove to be one of the more rewarding and rage-inducing gaming experiences in many a year. (Ricky D)

DarkestDungeon

34. Darkest Dungeon

Intense and oppressive, yet lacking any particular need for rhythm, Darkest Dungeon is a tactical, squad-based dungeon crawler with team management mechanics. It features permadeath, so your many heroes are always at risk, and there’s no save-scumming to pull them back, making it especially devastating to lose a high-level hero you’ve been with for some time. However, not only is mortality an issue, but so is sanity. A heavily Lovecraftian game, Darkest Dungeon inflicts all kinds of mental and emotional strain on your heroes, leaving you to manage who risks going back into the dungeon, and who sits the next one out.

With awesome Mignola-esque artwork, the actual best narration ever by Wayne June, and brutally tactical combat, Darkest Dungeon is not only one of the best indies in years, but one of the best games, period. (Michael Riser)

Best Switch Games The Messenger

33. The Messenger

Sabotage Studio’s debut game The Messenger was one of 2018’s breakout hits, garnering positive critical reception and even winning Best Debut Indie Game at The Game Awards. The game begins as an action-platformer that is very reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden on the NES, complete with a retro, 8-bit aesthetic and killer soundtrack.

Initially, the story presents itself as a generic quest requiring you to journey to the peak of a mountain and deliver a mythical scroll in order to save humanity. However, about halfway through you encounter a twist in the narrative that grants a special ability that not only changes the fundamental game design, but the graphics and music update to reflect a SNES-era 16-bit game!

Gameplay is very straightforward in The Messenger, and is centered around a ninja who wields a sword that can be used against a variety of enemies. As you progress, more abilities are unlocked that allow you to traverse levels differently. Though it’s mostly a solo experience, The Messenger does feature a small cast of memorable characters, including the incredibly funny Shopkeeper, who will undoubtedly give you a few good laughs.

The game is well-paced and features a challenging set of well-designed levels that contain many optional secrets to be uncovered. The second half of the game really opens things up to become an unforgettable experience, with boss fights that are fair, but will test your skill as a player. If you’re a fan of retro or indie gaming, or looking for a new game to sink your teeth into, The Messenger is one of the best indie platformers available on Nintendo Switch. (Matthew Adler)

FireEmblemWarriors

32. Fire Emblem Warriors

The Fire Emblem series has a lot to do with the overall success of Nintendo in 2018, thanks to Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia for Nintendo 3DS (a faithful remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden) and Fire Emblem Heroes, the free to play mobile game that proved a financial hit for Nintendo. Warriors may not fully please hardcore fans, but it’s great for those new to the series. And while it may not be perfect in its execution, the charming cast, addictive gameplay, and various modes are reason enough to sink plenty of hours into this game.

In short, Fire Emblem Warriors is an orgy of frenetic combat, a blood-letting on a titanic scale, a ballet of butchery that moves in perfect harmony with its thunderous gameplay. Needless to say, I loved every minute of the game! (Ricky D)

31. Into the Breach

A turn-based strategy game from the makers of FTL: Faster Than LightInto the Breach pits players against the monstrous Vek in a fight over the future of mankind. Lest its narrative sheen seem superficial, Into the Breach is actually one of the deepest strategy games of the generation, but it’s the especially tight design that makes it stand out from other great TBS’s like X-COM 2 and Mario and Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.

Here, battles take place across small eight-by-eight grids that ensure every nano-choice carries weight. Meanwhile, a broad swathe of deeply customizable characters and units add a personalized depth to every encounter. This is a game for people who love their systems intricate and deep, yet Into the Breach is somehow also a roguelike, meaning that despite its finely tuned pacing and balance, a wide array of randomized elements make every round unique. Along with its roguelike constitution and customizable combat units, Into the Breach also features multiple difficulty levels and an enjoyable in-game achievement system that make it endlessly replayable. For those Advance Wars fans left out in the cold or Fire Emblem devotees devastated by delays, rest assured there is already a strategy game on Switch whose bite-size matches pair especially well with Nintendo’s hybrid console. (Kyle Rentschler)

puyo-puyo-tetris-screen-shot-4-21-17-316-pm-5-1-1493013624690_1280w

30. Puyo Puyo Tetris

Puyo Puyo Tetris was released alongside the Switch in Japan when it launched, and within a few months everywhere else. It, like many early Switch games, was buried under the success and rave behind Breath of the Wild, but Puyo Tetris definitely deserves some time in the time spotlight for being one of the best multiplayer games on the console. While the game was released on just about everything prior to the Switch, it remained Japan-exclusive until the Switch port.

Puyo Puyo Tetris combines all the elements of its two namesake games into one chaos-induced puzzle game. There are five different game modes to play from, but the real draws are the Swap and Fusion modes that combine both Puyo Puyo and Tetris on the same grid, and force players to stay on their toes to rack up combos and clutter up their opponent’s field. There are bright colors, goofy looking characters, and funny sound effects to go along with a crazy amount of depth to the game thanks to how well the mechanics of both Puyo and Tetris mix.

The portability of the Switch also makes it really easy to play. You can very easily move and rotate pieces with just one joy-con, making it one of the few games you can comfortably play with just the two joy-con halves included with the Switch. There’s a somewhat healthy online community for the game, so you’re not stuck with only playing local if you can’t constantly round up a Puyo posse. There also a rather eccentric and funny story mode to the game that takes itself about as seriously as you would expect it to.

Cheap, fun, and great on-the-go are all reasons that Puyo Puyo Tetris should be in every Switch owner’s library. (Taylor Smith)

29. Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!

Nostalgia is an addiction that the older generation is often powerless to resist. When Nintendo announced Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee!, they knew it was the children of the 90s that were going to buy into this charm offensive, with any doubts about the two games being quickly dispersed.

Curiously, the nostalgic elements of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! are merely a facade, with much of the gameplay mechanics drawing from Pokémon Go in one form or another. Notably, catching a pokémon is borrowed straight from that mobile title, with much of the gameplay centered around catching as many as possible. This is made easier by wild pokémon that appear visibly on the screen, with the tall grass acting as a loose spawn point. While it’s easy to argue that Pokémon: Let’s Go is an experiment by Game Freak, many of the mechanics introduced could easily be used in any future Pokémon adventure.

Creating addictive gameplay and wrapping it all up in memories of Pokémon Yellow is the best present we’ve had from Nintendo this year, and we didn’t even know we wanted it. Essentially, what has made Pokémon: Let’s Go such a raving success isn’t that it’s what we expected, but it’s everything we thought we didn’t want, but now do. We’ve been seduced by Nintendo, and now we’re craving more; the new generation can’t come soon enough. (James Baker)

28. The Binding of Isaac

From the brilliant mind of Super Meat Boy creator Edmund McMillen, The Binding of Isaac could best be described as the perfect Nintendo paradox, both staying true to a classic Miyamoto formula while diverging into thematically dark territory. It is a game that seeks to explore religious fanaticism through a comical lens, offering both great surface gameplay and deep lore for longtime fans. Despite its controversial religious themes, The Binding of Isaac‘s core elements are as classic Nintendo as a game can get. Inspired by the dungeon crawling gameplay of The Legend of Zelda, developer McMillen combines the standard stage bosses, powerups, and treasure rooms with a modern procedurally generated level design to ensure that no playthrough is ever the same. By mixing the roguelike elements with a top-down viewpoint and twinstick gameplay, the game combines the stressful and fast-paced appeal of Ikaruga with the nostalgic charm of A Link to the Past.

Drawing inspiration from a biblical tale, the game places the titular Isaac on the run in his basement from the fervent Mom. Convinced that God is testing her faith, Isaac’s mother seeks to sacrifice her son because of her religious devotion. Over the course of a single playthrough, players will battle skeletons, monsters, embodiments of sin, literal poop, and much more, eventually having a bullet-hell showdown with a very powerful Mom in one of many possible final boss fights. Along the way, Isaac will power up his shots and abilities with a plethora of different items, taking various morbid and comical goods to increase his damage, health, and stats.

The eventual Switch release of The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth is truly the definitive edition of the adventure. The title boasts numerous unlockable characters, hundreds of additional powerups, and a variety of different game modes, ensuring that plays will continue descending through the basement, battling Mom and more in increasingly various ways for countless hours. A favorite of speed runners and Let’s Play streamers, The Binding of Isaac is easy to pick up yet almost impossible to master, offering a steady challenge for players of all skill types, and guaranteeing the ‘just one more run’ level of addiction. (Ty Davidson)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Salt and Sanctuary

27. Salt & Sanctuary

Salt & Sanctuary wears its inspirations on its sleeve. It borrows the lore, character progression, class system, and even checkpoint system of the Dark Souls series along with the world progression, level design and the non-linear landscape of the earliest Castlevania games. Paying homage to two of the most beloved video game franchise while still finding your own voice is no easy task, yet the two-person team at Ska Studios made not only one of the best indie games in recent memory, but arguably the best couch co-op game available on the Nintendo Switch. After sixty-five hours exploring every nook and cranny, fighting every beast and villain, collecting every weapon and item, and memorizing the labyrinth of environments you must journey through, all I wanted to do was play the game all over again. Salt and Sanctuary is so good, I honestly think this might be one of the most under-rated games ever made.

The game may not be original, but it’s undeniably exciting and at times awe-inspiring. From the electric guitar/synth soundtrack to the predominantly hand-drawn animation to the gratifying combat, as well as local cooperative play, Salt and Sanctuary puts a lot of triple-a titles to shame. (Ricky D)

26. Katamari Damacy ReRoll

Katamari Damacy is the ultimate video game safe space. Imagine you could take all your worries and annoyances, then roll them up into a giant ball and shoot it into space — sounds good, right? Then imagine if you could also roll up almost literally everything else in the world, causing absolute chaos to help your dad — the giant King of All Cosmos — repair the galaxy, all while listening to a funky Japanese soundtrack. No matter the mood, Katamari Damacy will make you smile, and a port to the Switch must have been an absolute no-brainer to maximize its addictive ‘one more go’ appeal.

There’s very little to the game: you start off with a small katamari ball, collecting small objects like sushi and paper clips, and gradually increase its size to eventually collect enormous things like giraffes and cars. To assume there is no challenge in Katamari Damacy is foolish, however, as there are numerous levels that add a puzzle element to rein in reckless rolling. Sometimes you might have to collect as many swans as possible (don’t even think about collecting more ducks than swans — that’s just not graceful), while other times you might have to collect the biggest bear you can find. The game can be made more difficult if players fail to grasp what is a pretty bespoke control system that exclusively consists of different combinations using both analog sticks simultaneously (don’t bother with the motion controls), but perseverance can make it second nature in no time.

Being a remake of a cult classic, many will already know the appeal of this beautiful, chilled-out game, but it retains a niche appeal today, and there’s no better time or place to get into the series than with this faithful hi-res remake of where it all began — one that you can take with you anywhere. (Alex Aldridge)

PART 1  | PART 2  | PART 3

Humans by birth. Gamers by choice. Goomba Stomp is a Canadian web publication that has been independently owned and operated since its inception in 2016.

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Games

‘Pokémon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass’ Announcement Deep Dive

A deep dive into the announcement of the Pokémon Sword and Shield Expansion Passes.

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pokémon sword and shield expansion pass

What? Pokémon Sword and Shield are evolving! The eighth generation of Pokémon brought many changes to the tried-and-true formula of the beloved franchise, but perhaps none so drastic as the Sword and Shield Expansion Pass. Presumably replacing the third or sequel installment title of previous generations (ie. Platinum or Ultra Sun), the Expansion Pass will be a continuation of players’ adventures in Sword and Shield using existing save data and not a brand new adventure. 

There’s certainly a lot to be gleaned from the announcement trailer and accompanying Pokémon Direct, but, given more than a cursory glance, the Direct provided a surprising depth of information for those willing to dive for it. Here’s a deep dive into the announcement of the Pokémon Sword and Shield Expansion Passes.

New and Semi-Familiar Faces

The footage, broken up between the two sets of new content (The Isle of Armor due out in June, and The Crown Tundra coming in the fall) begins with some very quick cuts followed by a map of Galar before the camera pans east and settling into setting concept art. If Galar were an upside down map of the UK, The Isle of Armor could be comfortably situated on the Isle of Man, a theory the title of the expansion supports. 

This is immediately followed by the reveal of the expansions’ seeming representative Galarian Slowpoke and a brief tease of a concealed Galarian Slowbro, notably with no Shellder on its tail and whose face is briefly visible just before the zoom into Slowpoke, eliminating the possibility of something on its head like Slowking. Perhaps something will have latched onto its left arm? 

Similarly, the second half of the trailer unveils the existence of a Galarian Slowking that’s also being obscured. While nothing was shown of Slowbro and Slowking beyond a few purple appendages and a cape in the case of Slowking, a lot can be inferred about the enigmatic evolutions. For starters, the existence of a poison move in Slowpoke’s movepool, Acid, might suggest the mono-psychic type will become psychic/poison when it evolves, as does the purple coloration. 

The preferred typings of the Isle of Armor’s new rivals, poison in the case of Sword‘s Klara and Shield‘s psychically-inclined Avery, further purport this assumption as both rivals could then use the new forms. What looks like a bent spike on the right of Galarian Slowking’s face already has some speculating Slowking’s new form came about by being bitten by a Mareanie in place of a Shellder, not unlike how Team Rocket’s James is frequently bitten by his Mareanie in the Sun and Moon anime series. That’s all assuming Slowbro and Slowking retain the same typing as one another like their water/psychic Kanto and Johto counterparts and Slowking’s cape isn’t in reference to, say, Lance, the dragon user from Kanto’s Elite Four. 

Speaking of Klara and Avery, they too might be hiding information in their designs. Klara’s bow, for instance, matches Dustox’s wing pattern perfectly but is colored white and black with pink circles as opposed to two shades of green and with reddish circles. This could indicate the Pokémon’s inclusion in the expansion, likely used by Klara as a bug/poison type, or could even indicate a new regional variant of the third gen Pokémon. 

There’s less to note about Avery save that he’s sporting the psychic gym uniform available to players in the game, the insignia of which is two spoons twisted together. This same icon is also on his top hat. Again, this design was already in Sword and Shield prior to the expansion, but it could implicate the presence of Alakazam, the psychic Pokémon that infamously wields two spoons.

CMYK

Some new Gigantamax Pokémon are shown off (yes, Intelleon has a sniper finger) before the first set’s title and logo are given, The Isle of Armor. There’s a lot to note about this alone. To begin, the design is very similar to Sword and Shield‘s with the central figure looking straight forward as opposed to left like Sword or right like Shield. It also concludes the armaments of a knight: sword, shield, and armor, putting Pokémon Gun to rest (though, again, sniper finger). The logo’s color is notably yellow, simultaneously representing all primary colors between both games and the expansion. This isn’t unlike the original non-Japanese titles and appropriately concludes the CMYK color model Zacian and Zamazenta started (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key). What’s particularly intriguing about this is that the central legendary, Urshifu, may not singularly complete the model.

From markings to fur patterns, Urshifu…bears…striking resemblance to Zacian and Zamazenta. Evolving from Kubfu into one of two forms depending on the player’s choices in the expansion, each of Urshifu’s Gigantamax forms seem to echo the coloration of the lupine legendaries. However, just before Kubfu and Urshifu are properly revealed, a black screen with white text describes Urshifu as “the legendary Pokémon that holds the key to the story,” with key highlighted in yellow. Following this, Kubfu is introduced with a black background and white text, how key (black) from the CMYK model is always represented. This seems to signify that Urshifu is key in the color model and the Pokémon’s coloration echoes this. Does this mean there’s another lupine or perhaps ursine legendary associated with rusted armor and the color yellow? Is there a Zazellow out there? 

Continuing this color scheme, the mentor who trains the player in this set is coincidentally named Mustard and his apprentice’s uniforms are appropriately yellow to match with the logo and this potential missing legendary and complimentary armor. That is, unless it’s all just Urshifu–both yellow and key–in which case he really Urshi-fooled me.

Regi-Ruins

Following The Isle of Armor‘s title reveal, the screen goes dark before the camera zooms through wind and snow and finally fixes on a map of Galar once more. The camera pans south, situating the next set of content, The Crown Tundra, in Scotland, this time taking heavy inspiration from the Scottish Highlands. Seemingly central to the set is a cathedral-like structure atop a mountain with an immense white tree or unrevealed Gigantamax Cursola behind it (I choose to believe the latter regardless of the fact that I just made it up). A mysterious new character and the player characters are shown wearing mountain expedition gear, alluding to the theme of exploration for the Expansion Pass’ second part.

The footage then reveals several ruins themed after Hoenn’s “titan” trio Regice, Regirock, and Registeel, who are presumably catchable here and are the first of many legendary Pokémon shown to be returning. This isn’t too remarkable by itself save that the titans are integral to the appearance of Regigigas, a Sinnoh native Pokémon notably absent here. Sinnoh remake confirmed! Well, not really, but fans can hope.

Connections to Kalos

A fourth ruin is, in fact, shown, though not representative of Regigigas. Instead, there are two all-new Regis who appear to be an electric (Regilectric?) and a dragon-type (Regivern? Regiwyrm? Regidrake? Arceus forbid, Regidragon?). This is exciting in and of itself–especially considering the sensational designs–but there is a lot potentially hidden here. The dragon Regi’s design, for example, seems like a call back to the enigmatic dragon of Hammerlocke’s past, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Gigantamax version of the Pokémon shaped like a more traditional dragon, perhaps with wings matching Hammerlocke’s unique central structure. 

Even more curious, the Pokémon’s coloration is not only identical to that of Yveltal, Pokémon Y‘s cover legendary, but the formation of its eyes–again, identical in color to Yveltal’s–are in the formation of a “Y.” Conversely, the seemingly electric-type Regi’s coloration might not be exact, but it’s vaguely reminiscent of Xerneas, the cover Pokémon from X, albeit with a more electric hue of yellow and a distinct “X” formation of the eyes. With X and Y taking inspiration from France, it’s understandable that Sword and Shield–based on the UK–would have ties back to the Kalos region and the sixth generation of Pokémon. 

In fact, that’s far from the only call back to Kalos in the announcement trailer. Talonflame, a fan favorite and iconic Pokémon from Kalos, is prominently featured on a monitor at the very beginning of the trailer and again featured in some of the concept art, potentially simply informing the Pokémon’s return (though that hardly seems coincidental). Further, the mysterious individual wearing mountain climbing gear from The Crown Tundra expansion bares resemblance to Grant, the rock type gym leader from X and Y known as a proficient rock and mountain climber. 

What all of this amounts to has yet to be seen, though many fans have clamored for the opportunity to return to Kalos, the only generation of Pokémon to not receive a third or sequel installment. Perhaps Game Freak is teasing such an opportunity via Sword and Shield, perhaps in an additional Expansion Pass, or it could simply be establishing the regions and melding them together.

Stuff of Legend

The footage quickly flows from one legendary trio to another, this time with the reveal of Galarian forms of the original trio, the legendary birds Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres. Since Gigantamax transformations don’t alter a Pokémon’s typing, it’s fairly safe to assume these are Galarian forms and not Gigantamax transformations. As to those new typings, the appearance of each Pokémon and the animation during their reveal gives a pretty good indicator of what to expect. 

The screen visibly darkens as it focuses in on Moltres, whose new fiery black and red design further suggests a dark/fire typing. Articuno’s new soft purple and black coloration with blaring blue eyes and an accompanying glare animation brings psychic/ice typing to mind. Finally, Zapdos’ ostrich-esque appearance with strong legs and shocking accents, paired with its clashing animations, is presumably fighting/electric. This would not only allow each bird to retain its signature elemental type, but also create a proper effectiveness triangle for the birds courtesy of the dark, fighting, and psychic typings. 

At the center of The Crown Tundra and featured in the logo’s artwork is Calyrex, the psychic/grass type “King Pokémon.” Interestingly enough, the revealed form of Calyrex doesn’t perfectly match the logo, likely meaning the new legendary has a Gigantamax form or some other alternative form in the expansion. And, no, that isn’t the Triforce prominently featured in Calyrex’s design (Pokémon is merely published by Nintendo and not actually developed or produced by them, after all). 

The symbol is actually Mitsuuroko, translated as “three scales” and the family crest of the Hojo clan. Nintendo repurposed it in The Legend of Zelda way back in the day. Calyrex isn’t the king of Hyrule or even a promotion for Breath of the Wild 2. I’m not sure what the implications of this are (perhaps a tie-in to the three birds?) but it’s still worth noting. 

The People Behind the Pass

Speaking of Game Freak, the developer behind the Pokémon franchise has overlapped the production of its games since the days of the Japanese Pokémon Blue, Gold, and Silver. This is still the case. Sword and Shield‘s director, Shigeru Ohmori, is not working as the director of the Expansion Pass; that title has been passed to Hiroyuki Tani. Instead, Ohmori and the main team are likely hard at work on the next main series title and/or remake. What that is remains to be seen, though one would think a Diamond and Pearl remake is in order for 2021 as that marks the titles’ fifteenth anniversary. Sword and Shield producer Junichi Masuda has previously professed to enjoy surprising players, though, so there’s truly no saying. 

What’s emphatically clear is that there is a lot to look forward to with the Pokémon Sword and Shield Expansion Passes. With so much going on in the brief trailer and the Pokémon Direct, I don’t doubt that there are countless secrets I missed and many others waiting to be unveiled when the first half of the Expansion Pass, The Isle of Armor, launches later this June. Be sure to let me know if you catch something I didn’t, and I’ll see you in the far reaches of Galar as our adventure continues!

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Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories – The Best (and Only) Card-Based Action RPG on the GBA

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is memorable more for what it did differently from the original than for anything else.

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Card-based RPGs aren’t for everyone, especially not for those expecting an action RPG. Such was the case for many fans of Kingdom Hearts when Chain of Memories was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2003. Announced and developed alongside Kingdom Hearts II, Chain of Memories was designed to fill a one-year gap that series director Tetsuya Nomura had envisioned between the first installment and its numbered sequel. That alone was enough to sour fans of the original who didn’t own a GBA, but the sudden shift in both core combat and game design philosophy resulted in a title that, while aesthetically similar to Kingdom Hearts, was its own beast entirely. One could say “for better or worse,” but the fact of the matter is that Chain of Memories is undeniably all the better for it. 

Chain of Memories

Kingdom Hearts’ 3D combat was never going to translate to a 2D plane, at least not without some heavy compromises. Rather than attempting to replicate the original game’s gameplay outright, cards would serve as a justification to shake up what series protagonist Sora could pull off during gameplay. Early concept art for Chain of Memories even seems to indicate cards were to be used in a turn-based capacity, a rather traditional approach to the card-based RPG. While such a tried & true approach certainly would have worked, and likely well, a turn-based Chain of Memories would likely feel too out of place in the context of Kingdom Hearts. The series has always had Final Fantasy flarings, but the first game established a very clear mechanical identity independent of Square’s flagship franchise. 

Kingdom Hearts is fast. It’s a game about moving in combat, flowing from target to target. Some enemies are spongier than others, but Sora’s mobility and skill set allow him to chain in and out of combos, dodge, and access a rather generous roster of magic. Better yet, the game’s “Command Menu” allows players to access all of Sora’s unlocked abilities at any given time through the use of the D-pad. It’s a rather ingenious approach to the action RPG genre, and while the original Kingdom Hearts doesn’t exactly excel when it comes to combat, its unique approach to action ensures that it’s an engaging playthrough even today. It goes without saying, but Chain of Memories lost quite a bit of what defined the first game’s combat. At the same time, this results in an opportunity for Chain of Memories to define its own identity.

Chain of Memories
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories beta screenshot.

“To find is to lose, and to lose is to find.” 

To Chain of Memories’ credit, there is a clear link between itself and its predecessor as far as the very basics of combat go. Battles no longer take place on the overworld, but running into enemies trigger fields that Sora can move about freely. While attacking requires cards, Sora’s swings can be chained together into combos not too dissimilar to what he could pull off in KH. On top of that, while the Command Menu is gone, a player’s deck essentially fills the same role, albeit with more customization and far less freedom. Beyond all this, however, Chain of Memories wastes no time in asserting its unique gameplay identity. 

Chain of Memories

Cards dictate everything in Chain of Memories, from what Sora can accomplish in battle, to where he can go in each world. On the subject of worlds, World Cards are the first of the three major card types that players will interact with. While the first world will always be Traverse Town, Chain of Memories allows players to pick their next five worlds in any order via the World Cards. After exhausting those five worlds, Sora is then given four more World Cards which can again be tackled in any order. Traverse Town, Twilight Town, Destiny Islands, and Castle Oblivion will always fall on the 1st, 11th, 12th, and 13th floors respectively, but the rest of the game has no intended order, making for some nice replay value. 

Map Cards play a similar function within the worlds themselves. Worlds are no longer traditionally designed and are instead wholly randomized. At the end of each battle, enemies will typically draw a Map Card, a card that allows players to choose the next room they enter into. While the layouts of stages are random, the actual structure of each World is at the mercy of the player. Map Cards themselves are divided into three types: Enemy, Status, and Bounty – represented by the colors red, green, and blue respectively. Enemy Cards summon rooms ripe with battle, Status Cards either buff Sora or nerf enemies, and Bounty Cards allow players to summon chests, shops, or save points. 

While players will have plenty of freedom with how they approach each world, the majority of the gameplay is dominated by combat – and Battle Cards are significantly more hands-on than either World or Map Cards. Although Sora can fit a maximum of 52 cards in his Deck, players need to deal with CP (Card Points). Each Battle Card has its own CP value, and the total CP in Sora’s Deck cannot exceed his maximum CP at the time. CP can be increased via leveling up, but leaving it at that would only be scratching the surface of CoM’s leveling system.  

Chain of Memories

Battle Cards aside for right now, players can choose one of three options whenever Sora levels up: raise HP, raise CP, or gain a new Sleight (more on those much later.) It seems straightforward, but having to choose only one stat per level ends up having serious consequences for the early game. Players who go all-in on health will soon find themselves lacking the CP to make competent decks. Conversely, players who dump everything into CP will have next to no health, demanding near mechanical mastery just to stay alive. The key to having a good experience with Chain of Memories lies in understanding that while CP is Sora’s best friend, he’s going to want at least one full health bar before the final boss. 

Leveling up can be very frustrating in this regard, especially for players who skew towards HP and find themselves lacking the CP necessary to comfortably keep up with late-game bosses and their aggressive decks. Even with low CP, however, it’s entirely possible to beat the game by playing strategically. Players are offered so much variety with how they customize their deck, that there’s always some solution to the hardest bosses. Before getting into the nuances of deck building, however, it’s important to understand how Battle Cards actually work in battle.

Battle Cards are divided into six distinct types: red Attack Cards, blue Magic & Summon Cards, green Item & Friend Cards, and black Enemy Cards. Enemy Cards will be the most expensive fixtures in a player’s deck, along with the least prominent. Every single enemy has its own droppable Enemy Card, but whereas bosses will always drop their cards, enemies are more likely to drop Map Cards. Anyone who actively fights enemies will have at least half a dozen non-boss Enemy Cards by the end of the game, but no two players will have had the same drops. Perhaps this can be frustrating for completionists, but it’s an element of randomization that keeps the game perpetually fresh. 

There’s an inherent entitlement that comes with playing video games where we want to be able to consume all the content without factors like luck or randomness preventing us. That’s a fair and reasonable want, but it’s important to recognize that RNG does have its place. Random drops in Chain of Memories mean players can’t just coast on other people’s deck ideas. You need to work with what you’ve got. That leads to a far more compelling playthrough, one where your fingerprints are left all over the game. Naturally, all this to say: don’t be too bummed out when CoM inevitably does you dirty with Battle Card drops. 

Chain of Memories

There are only three consistent ways of getting Battle Cards in the game: by summoning a Moogle shop & purchasing them, by summoning a room with a treasure chest, or by interacting with the overworld. It goes without saying, but there’s no way to guarantee what Sora gets from any of the shops, a chest, or the overworld. It’s all random. If nothing else, Moogle shops will always give Sora five free red Battle Cards whenever they’re summoned, ensuring that– if nothing else– a diligent player will have a healthy amount of Attack Cards to work with. 

Magic, Summon, and Item Cards are more scarce in comparison with the Moogle shop the only reliable place to buy them. Moogle Points aren’t easy to come by either – only found via interacting with the overworld – so it’s not unusual for players to find themselves hurting in that regard. Magic Cards are the only consistent means of healing in battle, which speaks for itself. Even if players do have a surplus of Magic and Item Cards, there’s no way to control value. Ranked from 0 to 9, each card has its own value which affects CP cost and Breaks. The lower value a card is, the less it costs, but low valued cards can also be broken by higher value cards in-battle. 

To finally dive into combat, Breaks make or break any given battle. Both players and enemies can activate their cards at any given time during combat. Naturally, this is going to result in a lot of clashing. Should two cards of the same value be played at the same time, they’ll cancel each other out. Otherwise, the higher value card gets priority. Unless, of course, the card being played is a 0, in which case it can break any card. At the same time, a 0 can be broken by any card. By double-tapping right or left, Sora can dodge some attacks, but if an enemy’s card is locked in, it’ll usually hit the player head-on. 

Should players use a card in battle, said card will remain exhausted until Sora either plays an Item Card to refill his deck or manually reloads by holding A and standing in place. Each reload makes the subsequent one longer until reloading caps out at taking three times as long as default. Not just that, reloading shuffles the deck in real-time meaning that larger decks will take even longer to reload – something important to take into consideration with deck building, especially since Item Cards can reload instantly. Combat isn’t as simple as just fishing for Card Breaks and reloading, however. 

Any card that’s broken by a 0 is removed from either the player or the enemy’s deck for the rest of the battle. It becomes important not to just blindly throw out Attack Cards. There’s an impulse to play aggressively because that’s the style of gameplay the original prioritized, but Chain of Memories requires a strategic and thoughtful approach to combat. Players can still fight aggressively, but they need to arrange their deck properly to do so while also keeping an eye on what cards enemies are tossing out. 

As a result, it’s easy to dismiss Chain of Memories’ as a numbers game where RNG determines how well a player can progress. It’s not hard to see why someone might feel that way, but there is never a scenario where just “having the right cards” will just get one through the game. It’s entirely possible to brute force some bosses, but CoM constantly throws roadblocks at players to remind them to actually engage with the core mechanics. If bosses like Hades, Captain Hook, and Vexen are frustrating, it’s not because you don’t have the right cards, it’s because you’re not using your cards in the right way. Chain of Memories is just as much an action game as it is a card game. 

Chain of Memories

“What, you still want to fight?” 

Beyond card breaks, values, and CP, there is an incredible amount of depth within the combat. Sora can actually still chain in and out of traditional combos in Chain of Memories, but it requires an understanding of the nuances at play. Just frontloading a deck with high-value cards gets a player absolutely nowhere. Each Attack Card Sora plays is actually just one part of a longer combo chain and the key to doing consistent damage is realizing when to pursue a chain and when to go for a Break. This isn’t an easy task, however, as Attack Cards have unique stats that affect how useful they ultimately are in battle. 

By checking the Journal, players can cross-reference when it’s best to use a certain card in a combo. Attack Cards are broken down into seven key stats: Strike, Thrust, Combo Finish, Swing Speed, Element, Break Recovery, and Required CP. Of these seven stats, the first three are the most immediately important to make note of while also the most difficult to make sense of. 

If Sora is in short range of an enemy, or not locked on to anyone at all, he’ll Strike at the start of a combo chain before following into a Thrust. If Sora is locked onto an enemy but further away, he’ll start his combos with a Thrust before going into a Strike. All combos end in a Combo Finish only after Sora Strikes and Thrusts. This is important to take into consideration since certain cards are better suited for Striking, Thrusting, or ending combos. Swing Speed also speaks for itself and a faster swing means there’s less time for an opponent to trigger a Break in their favor. 

Chain of Memories

Although Chain of Memories has 17 different Attack Cards that Sora can choose from, for the sake of simplicity we’ll only focus on the following three: Kingdom Key, the weakest but most reliable Attack Card in the game; Olympia, one of the most inconsistent Attack Cards for better or worse; and Divine Rose, a powerful late-game Attack Card with otherwise glaring weaknesses.

Kingdom Key has a D+ in Strike, Thrust, and Combo Finish, meaning that it can fall anywhere in a combo chain and do consistently reliable damage. Olympia, however, has a C+ in Strike, a D+ in Thrust, and a B in Combo Finish, whereas Divine Rose has an A in Strike, a D+ in Thrust, and a C in Combo Finish. Logic would dictate to strike with Divine Rose before thrusting with Kingdom Key and finishing with Olympia, but there are other important factors to consider. Notably, Break Recovery. As Divine Rose is tied for the worst Break Recovery in the game (a C), leading with it only to suffer a Break leaves Sora vulnerable for an uncomfortable amount of time. A smart strategy around this would be to start a combo by triggering a Break with a 0 value Divine Rose from close range. 

Of course, this is easier said than done. Certain enemies attack faster than others, and fighting some bosses close range is just asking for trouble. At the same time, it’s just necessary to face danger head-on. Chain of Memories is a game that wants aggression. It wants to test one’s reflexes just as much as it wants to test one’s mind. Coupling these two ideas together mid-battle makes for some of the most memorable boss fights in the franchise– where it’s just as important to think fast as it is to react fast. In many respects, it’s like solving a puzzle that’s trying to kill you. There are three bosses in particular that shine a spotlight on how well designed CoM’s core combat is, and, interestingly enough, they’re all fought back to back to back on the 12th floor.

The first fight in this Holy Trinity is against Darkside. His boss battle is slower-paced and more strategic than the usual boss. Players can’t go in expecting to wail on him, even with a high valued deck. For the most part, attacking him requires pulling off an aerial combo, and more often than not he’ll pull away before Sora can inflict a Combo Finish. In turn, this is a boss fight where players should bide their time and try to react to Darkside’s attacks instead of instigating themselves. More importantly, this is also an endurance match– a test of how long players can keep their cards active. 

Darkside takes a long time to kill, and anyone trying to throw too many Sleights at him will soon find themselves lacking the cards to continue. On that note, now’s probably a good time to finally discuss Sleights. Sleights are going to be a player’s best friend and their worst enemy. By pressing L & R together, players can stock cards away in the upper right-hand corner. A maximum of three cards can be stocked at any given time. Certain combinations of cards end up triggering Sleights. The first Sleight Sora can learn at level 2, Sliding Dash, can be triggered by stocking away three of the same Attack Cards valued at a total of 10 – 15. When triggered, Sliding Dash lunges Sora across the field, doing some decent damage in the process. 

Chain of Memories

Not only do Sleights hit harder than chaining combos, but they’re also just more fun to play around with. Blitz, which is learned at level 15 and triggered with three differing Attack Cards valuing 10 – 15, lets players just go hog wild on enemies, bashing them with the A button until the Sleight is either broken or the players miss a button press. Sonic Blade, Blitz’s successor now valuing 20 – 23), lets Sora zoom across the screen with A presses, doing great damage whenever he connects with an enemy. Ars Arcanum is a dangerous Sleight to play, valuing at a measly 6, but players can potentially hit enemies thirteen times if they can pull off the full Sleight. It’s incredibly fun experimenting with different Sleights in different boss fights. Whether they’re just to cover distance or gain a brief advantage. 

Logically, the name of the game should be Sleights then, right? It can be, but keep in mind that the first card in any Sleight is removed from Sora’s deck once played. Too many Sleights played back to back and suddenly there aren’t enough cards to play Sleights, let alone Break or chain combos. It’s certainly doable (and even safer) to front-load certain bosses with Sleight after Sleight, but a boss like Darkside can be hard to deal with if you exhaust everything right away. He’s easy enough to break and counter, but he takes punishment. Thoughtlessly throwing Sleights at a boss can leave Sora defenseless. Worse if players decide to lead with cards like Cure in their stocks.

Darkside is a boss about patience. It tests whether or not a player is actually paying attention to the cards the game throws at them. You can always tell what a boss will play next. Their stock is always on screen, as is their next card. It’s here more than ever where Chain of Memories tasks players with understanding the game they’re playing. This is a nice lesson because the next boss is the single hardest in the game. 

The fourth fight against Riku comes immediately Darkside, and his boss battle is a playthrough killer unlike any other. Riku is viciously fast, hits unreasonably hard, and uses the most dangerous Sleights in the game against Sora. He might very well be the best boss in the game. This is a fight that’s going to be over quick whether you like or not. Riku is basically Darkside’s antithesis as far as boss design goes. Both require you to fight strategically, but where the former has plenty of breathing room, the latter offers no respite. Riku also has five cards valued at 0 in his deck, meaning that he can realistically remove some of your most important cards at any given moment. Playing conservatively isn’t going to fly, and players are going to need their Sleights to keep Riku in check. 

At the same time, it’s important not to go too gung ho. Riku’s a fast fight, but sooner or later you’re going to have to reload, and if you use too many Sleights too early, Sora won’t be able to chain basic combos during those brief windows where Riku can take uninterrupted damage. A smart player will have Sleights ready while prepared to Break Riku with any 0s they have lying around. A smarter player will have their deck set up so they can Break, chain into a combo, Break again, and then Sleight. Riku’s not an unpredictable boss even if he can be an overwhelmingly hard one. 

It’s good that Chain of Memories indulges in this level of difficulty. It has such a unique battle system that it would be a shame to not have at least one brutally hard fight that demands some semblance of mastery. Players can dodge some of Riku’s most dangerous attacks, and it’s not unusual to go back & forth Breaking one another for a bit. It’s important to close the gap between Sora and Riku, and chaining combos at the right time can keep Riku relatively in place. Beyond that, Sleights and 0s are a necessity, and any Sleights that take too long to fire up are at risk of being broken by Riku’s 0s. 

Magic Sleights can go a long way in making the fight against Riku feel less hopeless. Beyond just healing with Curaga (Cure + Cure + Cure), Fire Raid (Fire + two Attack Cards) has Sora toss a flaming Keyblade from afar for solid damage and Omnislash (three Cloud cards) summons Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud to tear into everyone on screen. Even with the hardest bosses, Chain of Memories offers some kind of workaround. Building a magic deck won’t make Riku easy, but it might make him easier. Maybe a physical deck wasn’t your forte all along and magic is. There’s no way to know without engaging with the cards. 

After defeating Riku for the final time, players face off in a rematch against Larxene. She’s not as difficult as Riku, but she can be quite punishing. Where her first fight was frantic but otherwise short, her rematch is chaotic and reflex heavy. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think of Larxene as a faster, more hands-on version of the Darkside boss fight. It’s important to react to her strategically, but react a hair too late and she’ll launch into a devastating combo of her own. Larxene also has nine 0s in her deck, which she loves to Break Sora with. Let her, and Larxene can even kill Sora with a single Sleight. She’s manageable, but she leaves very little room for error. 

Larxene’s make it very dangerous to even attempt using a Sleight, so a good chunk of the fight will be spent weaving in and out of regular combos, with the hopes of Breaking Larxene in the process. Since Larxene is fast, however, players run the risk of just spamming their Attack Cards, recklessly whiffing their best attacks. Navigating the deck in real-time with L and R becomes an important skill in fights like these, where players need to jump between different valued cards in their deck so they’re not wasting anything. It can lead to a lot happening at once on the GBA’s relatively small body, but, for what it’s worth, the Game Boy Advance SP is practically tailor-built for Chain of Memories’ control scheme and makes for very comfortable playing.

These three fights also shine a light on an important aspect of the combat: deck variety. No one deck is going to get you through the entire game. In fact, it’s encouraged that players rebuild their decks every few floors, perhaps every other. Chain of Memories is a game that punishes complacency. No two bosses are alike, even the few that repeat over the course of the game. Anyone who tries running the same deck the whole game will very quickly find themselves beaten into the ground. It’s honestly kind of surprising how much depth lies under the surface with a game that many right off as a spin-off that’s not really worth playing. Chain of Memories is one of the most engaging games on the Game Boy Advance– and one of the most high quality from as presentation is concerned. So why isn’t its reputation better? 

Well, because it’s still a sequel to Kingdom Hearts. And an important one.  

“Forgotten, but not lost.”

Chain of Memories is such an essential entry in the series’ canon that skipping it outright simply isn’t reasonable. Naturally, this makes it quite a frustrating entry for fans who don’t want to play with cards. Chain of Memories is an incredibly well-designed game in its own right, but it’s still the direct narrative sequel to a pretty straightforward action RPG. Not helping matters is the fact that that Chain of Memories is the only means of understanding certain details in Kingdom Hearts II that otherwise get left to the wayside. 

Chain of Memories inherently loses much of what made the original game compelling. It’s not in 3D, there’s no real sense of exploration, all the Disney Worlds are repeats from the first game, and the story is far more limited in scope, taking place in a single setting. But to lose is to find as far as Castle Oblivion is concerned, and everything Chain of Memories loses from its predecessor simply led to the developers finding new ways to make the Kingdom Hearts experience engaging. A 3D space isn’t necessary when the card system keeps combat fast & hands-on. Randomized level layouts keep Worlds unfamiliar, keeping with the theme of memory loss, and the reuse of Worlds from the first game reminds us of what’s being lost in the process. Above all else, this approach just lends itself to a stronger story. 

This is not a sequel that shies away from embracing how much it resembles its predecessor on a surface level. The level design wears its reused Worlds with pride, with a considerable amount of effort put into ensuring the first game’s aesthetic translates near flawlessly over to a much weaker, 2D oriented handheld. Chain of Memories wants players to expect the original Kingdom Hearts, but not out of spite or as a trick. Rather, it’s as a means to explore the complicated theme of memory in a very digestible and immediately understandable way. Revisiting the first game’s Worlds immediately telegraph to the audience that they’re diving into Sora’s memories. At the same time, anyone who’s played the first game will recognize that each World’s story is completely different. 

Instead of Worlds following traditional three-act plots, Sora and company mainly just find themselves stumbling from beat to beat with no real regard for character or plot development. This doesn’t mean nothing happens inside the Worlds, though. Familiar characters and plot points are twisted to highlight not only how Sora’s memory is failing him, but how even in losing his memory he can still reconnect with the emotions behind what he’s lost. Worlds taking a narrative backseat also suit the sensibilities of playing on a Game Boy Advance better. This ensures that players can pick up and play Chain of Memories at any time without much in the way of distraction. 

Not that the story is distracting. For many, it’ll be the highlight of the game and it’s not hard to see why. Chain of Memories’ script is both thematically rich and genuinely mature. Sora is an angrier protagonist than he was before. Losing his memories leads him down a path of insecurity, one that results in him lashing out and clutching onto fake truths just to cling onto his “reality.” It’s an arc that forces Sora to lose the bonds that define him, and he only realizes what’s happened when it’s too late. Sora even abandons Donald and Goofy on the 12th floor, paralleling how they abandoned him in Hollow Bastion in the first game. Chain of Memories plays with these similarities, but twists them, often resulting in more interesting storytelling. 

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is a game intentionally at odds with its own predecessor.” 

The story’s greatest strength ultimately ends up being its role in the series’ chronology. As a bridge between Kingdom Hearts I and II, Chain of Memories can afford to end with the heroes at an absolute low. Sora, Donald, and Goofy have forgotten just about everything important to them. While Sora’s managed to take out a few villains along the way, he’s fundamentally lost a massive chunk of his identity. All he “remembers” is a false attachment to Naminé, the witch who manipulated his memories over the course of the game. Naminé herself is a profoundly sad character, and her role in the story only adds to the somberness that comes with the ending. 

Even knowing that Naminé’s manipulated Sora’s memories and forced herself into his heart against his will, he still chooses to protect her. Sora has every reason to hate her by the end of the game, but he chooses to embrace what he feels, even if they aren’t genuine. It’s enough to give you the impression that Sora will embrace amnesia so he can maintain his connection to Naminé, but to lose is to find, and that goes both ways.

After giving up everything for Naminé, Sora has to give up Naminé for everything. It’s not that big a loss for Sora himself, but all Naminé has ever had is a brief, disingenuous tie to Sora. Their friendship was never real, and whatever bond they developed after the fact is thrown away as the credits roll. Naminé is left alone and friendless as Sora forgets the entirety of Chain of Memories– a poignant ending to what is otherwise a card game. 

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is a game intentionally at odds with its own predecessor. It hopes audiences will be open-minded enough to embrace this fact, but it commits to its core principles the point of potential (and inevitable) alienation. CoM is Kingdom Hearts making a bold statement few franchises can lay claim to: things change. Sure, Kingdom Hearts II serves as a direct mechanical sequel to the first game, but Chain of Memories set an important precedent that would keep Kingdom Hearts experimenting with handheld titles for years to come. A story-driven card-based action RPG that’s a direct sequel to one of the PS2’s most critically acclaimed games, Chain of Memories shouldn’t work. Yet it’s somehow one of the most thought-provoking and mechanically gripping games on the Game Boy Advance. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is one of a kind.

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‘Apex Legends’ Could Use Some Permanence

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Apex Legends Grand Soirée

Coming up on its one year anniversary, Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends has been through some changes since its surprise release back in February of 2019. Dubbed “The Next Evolution of Battle Royale” on its own website, Apex Legends was a breath of fresh air in the battle royale genre with its strict team-based gameplay that utilized unique character abilities. The hardworking team at EA’s Respawn has kept up a constant flow of updates to satisfy its growing fanbase all while delivering new content with each “season” every few months. Since its launch, players have seen new characters, new weapons, new weapon modifications, and a brand new map to slay other teams of three on. What there hasn’t been a lot of, however, is permanence. What Respawn giveth to the community, Respawn taketh away.

Each past season players were challenged to try new game modes that deviated from the standard team-of-three style matches. First came Solos in the Iron Crown Event back in August, where players were forced to rely on their own survivability in an every-man-for-themselves game mode. In November, Duos was added so that players finally weren’t forced to find a third wheel to complete their team. Both modes were very welcome changes to the normal formula the Apex community was used to. But each time a new game mode was announced, it came with a catch… They were for a limited time only. 

Limited-time events are nothing new to fans of even the most popular battle royale games. But typically, a limited-time event will just include a simple map change or add some kind of new gameplay element. Apex Legends is certainly no stranger to this kind of event scheme as players have seen multiple changes to the original King’s Canyon map, with character thematic changes being added to the landscape over time. 

Apex Legends Grand Soirée

But when gamers boot up strong competitors like Fortnite and PUBG, they always have multiple choices in how they want to play. Whether they want to play alone, with a friend, or with multiple friends, they have the options readily available to them. So far, Apex Legends let their community experience this kind of freedom only for a mere couple of weeks before they were once again confined by their limited ways to play.

At the same time, Respawn deserves all the credit in the world for building and retaining such a loyal fanbase. From the spooky Halloween themed event that turned dying legends into swift-moving, one-hit-killing zombies, to the most recently added Mirage’s Holo-day Bash that gave a new take on King of The Hill, Respawn is constantly giving it’s players new ways to show off their skills in the Apex arena. 

These limited-time events are great ways to keep fans interested, but the core game has remained the same for a full year now. If players aren’t keen on the limited-time game mode(s), they still have to drop into the arena as a team of three whether playing in ranked or non-ranked matches. They’re forced to either play the original game type or try something new that will ultimately be taken away from them. So in reality, there’s only a couple of options available to play at a given time. One option is constant, the other is constantly changing. 

Grand Soirée

Starting January 14th, Apex Legends will launch the “Grand Soirée” arcade event which will bring 7 new game modes as well as new cosmetics. Following the same pattern of their previous limited-time events, these game modes will be short-lived and even shorter-lived than the others. Each game mode will be available for just two days each, urging players to get in on the action before the fun is gone forever. 

Apex Legends is currently in its third season which will soon be ending on its one year anniversary come February 4th. With a new year beginning for the battle royale juggernaut, it may be time for a little more permanence in its culture. As of now, fans can’t get too attached to a new game mode for the knowing fear that it will be ultimately deleted. But there is hope that fan-favorite game modes can make a return, as Respawn is constantly taking in feedback from the passionate community on social media. But for now, fans will just have to be patient and see what’s in store for Apex Legends year two.

Andrew Haverty

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