Beans and Screens – Daniel Flatt, The Mail Order Ninja Mage!

*This interview has been edited for clarity, but definitely not for conciseness…*

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Beans and Screens! I’m your host, Ryan.

Most times, shows like these start with me going through some sort of monologue, but there’s two problems: 1) Monologuing is not really my strong point (I tend to ramble) and 2) we don’t have the budget for it. So, let’s go right into today’s guest on the show!

He’s a father of two wonderful children that is happily married to the love of his life, a hardcore gamer who plays every system, an anime fan, martial artist and an avid reader, writer, and consumer of most things that can be defined as geeky. His 90 WPS typing speed allows him to churn out content at blazing speeds, of which I’m super jealous about! (Just kidding!). Combined together, they form a super geeky but amazing individual, not unlike the defender of the universe, Voltron.

He is the owner of the blog, Home Button Gaming, a fellow Mage, a sparkling conversationalist and a totally awesome guy to hang out and talk gaming with, please welcome to the stage, Daniel Flatt, the Mail Order Ninja Mage!!!

*Applause and cheers fill the studio as Daniel enters the stage wearing his Ninja Mage Garb. Despite his imposing height and build, he comes on with a good natured, goofy smile on his impressively bearded face. The studios lights reflect perfectly off of his polished bald head and accidentally blinds an audience member.*

*Daniel takes his seat on the couch amid the cries from the blinded audience member (“My eyes!”). He leans back and makes himself comfortable. The cheers start to die down as the interview commences*

Ryan: Welcome to the show! It’s an honor to have you here today to plumb the depths of your psyche. But first, anything to drink? Tea, beer, soda… Coffee perhaps?

Daniel: *Pats his considerable stomach* Just water for me, I’m trying to ‘drop the LBs’ as the hip young kids say nowadays.

R. Great! Just gotta dig behind my seat here, mini-fridge is behind it. *Digs up a bottle of water and places it on the table.* And this is the reason why we can’t afford a monologue!

Right, so besides the awesome intro I belted out, let’s get a little personal here: tell us a bit about yourself?

D. Whoa boy, that is quite the open question isn’t it?

You pretty much nailed the highlights about me, but I’m happy to reiterate. I consider myself a gamer and geek as self definition, but what defines me most is likely the fact that I’m a married father of two, as my children come first in everything I do. I’ve been dabbling quite a bit in writing again after a long hiatus from it, and am currently trying to bring more attention to Home Button as my primary gaming blog, since gaming is the hobby I’m most passionate about. I’d love to turn it into a career someday, but that is pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff.

I do have two other blogs though, one that focuses on all of my writing outside of gaming, and another that I just started that is designed to motivate me to lose weight. Outside of that I’ve started back to Tae Kwon Do after 17 years away, and in between all of that I’m juggling a full time job.

Not really an exciting life per say, but it certainly keeps me more than a little busy.

R: It definitely sounds like it! How you’re able to do all that with two kids is pretty inspiring. I have a son and he’s practically everything to me, so I can see where you’re coming from!

So, fun fact: I’ve also practiced martial arts! I was a blue stripe in Tae Kwon Do and a yellow belt in Karate! I had to give it up after I got married, but I try to keep practicing at home so I don’t get too rusty. Might I ask what rank were you when you left?

D: Awesome! It is always cool to meet a fellow practitioner. I never was really into sports growing up, but Tae Kwon Do was immediately satisfying to me on a number of levels. It is a long story really that involves a con-artist, but I only ever got my green belt certificate from Korea, even though I was higher than that.

Either way my son joined recently, and I guess my wife caught the longing looks I had when he was in class. One day I took him to the Dojang and they had a uniform ready for me, and my wife had paid for a full month. Call it a mid-life crisis if you must, but I must say it has felt like recapturing a bit of who I used to be.

I had to start over as a white belt because I forgot a lot of the forms, but coming up through the ranks with my son should be a memory he will cherish forever. I know I certainly will!

R: Wow that is so sweet of your family to do that! What I admire about martial arts of any kind is that it teaches modesty, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit and it’s great that you and your son can experience that together. It will make both of you stronger physically and mentally!

Now, regarding your blog, Home Button Gaming – what got you to start it and what’s the significance of the name?

D: I’ve actually worked as a very modestly paid part-time writer for video games before, but that was almost six years ago now, and I really missed it. I had disagreed with a lot that went on the site, and had always wanted to try my hand at my own site, but there was always some sort of excuse there.

Not to be a downer, but my father passed away suddenly in October of 2017, and after recovering from some of the shock I realized the cliche about life being horribly short was all too real. I found myself realizing I was sleep walking through life, using my age and children as an excuse to not try. Regardless of a chance to fail, I started writing again and doing Tae Kwon Do, things I used to love, but found reasons not to have the time for.

So I started the blog back in January, with an ultimate goal of maybe making a career out of gaming in some form, though I knew it was probable that it would never happen. The surest way to fail though is to never try, so why not give it a shot? In the interim I love writing and sharing my passion on gaming, so I really couldn’t find a reason not to.

The name was simply wanting to find something that was related to video gaming, without being confined to one device. I believe in playing all the systems with none of the fanboy nonsense, and things like The Start Button were taken. However, nowadays every platform has a Home Button of sorts, and believe it or not their weren’t any gaming sites already claiming the name.

R: It’s interesting that you bring up your dad, he’s a subject of another question I have later on in this interview. I’m especially intrigued at your realization that you were coasting through life; not many people can admit that, so I applaud your self awareness. I’m also glad you made the decision to give writing another shot because without it, we wouldn’t be sitting here today and I wouldn’t have gotten to know such an inspiring fella! The term “Home Button” for some reason also makes me think of home and family itself and I like the focus on a family of systems and games as opposed to focusing on one console or one type of game. It’s very refreshing to see!

One of the things I like about your blog are your Photo Mode posts, they are very creative! *Turns to the audience* I have here some of my favourites if you want to take a look:

Pirate Brothers

A Journey Begun

A Champion’s Embrace

Lost Beauty

Reflected Glory

Adventure’s Bend

Mountain Mist

*Turns back to Daniel* So what made you want to start them anyway?

D: *Blushes a bit* I don’t know that I would say all of the inspiring bit.

One of the most wonderful things about gaming is its ability to transport us to fantastical worlds, or even places on this Earth we may not get to venture to. Just like spectacular views or stunning backdrops in real life I feel that these moments created by digital artists should be shared. Not only that, but each screenshot I take tells some story, and it is fun to go back through them like a digital journal of sorts.

I’ve always wanted to be a digital photographer of sorts, but before this current generation of hardware that took additional tools in order to do so. Now that sharing screenshots is built in to all of the current gen consoles, it became easier than ever to take shots of the wonders we see when playing through a game. Sharing them may be a little strange, because I can’t take credit for creating these wonderful moments. However, we can’t take credit for the beauty we see in nature either, we can just photograph and share it.

Photo modes especially in games are the most wonderful thing, because it allows me to move the camera, remove characters, and otherwise play with the shots. The coolest thing about sharing these shots I think is for people that may not have played the game, or may never play games period, to let them see the beauty inherent in some of these video games. It was nearly criminal that we didn’t get a photo mode in Breath of the Wild, but I did the best I could capturing my favorite places and moments in that game regardless.

I have something like 400 screenshots on my PS4, and over 2500 on my Switch. The Switch especially makes it so easy to capture moments, but because sharing them requires a little more work I’ve gotten a little lazy with it lately. The Xbox is pretty easy to share through their app, but to take a photo with out the Kinect takes some doing. On the other hand the PS4 has a lot of games that have photo mode, but sharing through their program is currently very difficult, so I hate to say that Photo Mode has slowed to a trickle lately.

Funny you should ask about Photo Mode though, I’m committed to uploading a ton of shots this weekend, so people should look forward to that coming back. I also have plans for some Photo Mode community events coming up, possibly even competitions, so people that are interested can look forward to that also. Sorry, that was a bit of a long winded answer! *Laughs*

R: No problem! I’m especially glad the Photo Mode posts are making a return! I loved the concept and it’s inspired me to pay closer attention to my surroundings in games just in case I get an opportunity to take the perfect screen capture. I’m stoked to hear that they’re may be Photo Mode Competitions in the near future! I’m definitely gonna sign up for one!

Another segment of yours that I enjoy is the Weekend Whatcha Playing. It always makes me consider to myself “Hm, what AM I playing this weekend?” *Strokes chin in thought*

Let’s talk about a few specific games now. You’ve recently got into a spat with the Well-Red Mage regarding the latest Pokemon release, Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee for the Switch. As I understand, your vehemence against the games was quite severe; care to tell us what got you so riled up?

D: *Smacks forehead playfully* Oh man, this was something of an embarrassment for me. To be honest, I had a knee jerk reaction to the original trailer. Funny thing is that I don’t really even play Pokemon, but I was really looking forward to something deeper on this iteration, as were a lot of fans. You remember earlier I said that I play all consoles? Well that is true, but I certainly favor experiences from Nintendo in a lot of ways. I have this strange thing with Nintendo that I don’t get with any other platform, and that is that I really want to like everything Nintendo does.

I was someone who owned a Wii and played pretty much every hardcore title they had on it, but I think they lost their way a bit chasing that “Blue Ocean” philosophy of creating new gamers with a more casual approach to gaming (i.e. Wii Music). What happened is that everyone bought one as the latest craze, but dropped it like a rock to move on to mobile gaming. You saw a lot of people buying a Wii, but with hardly any software attachment, which means people were buying the system and not buying games for it.

Nintendo went a long way to addressing some of that with the Wii U, but made other mistakes in marketing and in trying to tie it to the Wii. Those consumers had moved on, and the hardcore gamers that built their business were disgusted with them at this point. The Wii U is written off as a failure by a lot of people, but it had a ton of really good games, however it was too little too late for most people. That is why the Switch has done so fantastic, they refocused direction on the more hardcore gamer, while also having a concept that it is easy for more casual people to understand. You can take this console anywhere, it kind of sells itself.

Now here we had this trailer of something that is a clear play for more casual players and the cultural phenomenon that was Pokemon Go, and not at all the more hardcore Pokemon so many wanted. It makes perfect business sense as they can use this to possibly get new gamers interested in the franchise, but honestly how many people that downloaded a free app to be involved in a social movement are going to buy a $300 dollar device to get deeper in?

Either way I broke a cardinal rule, which is writing off something that clearly wasn’t made for me, not to mention judging a game I haven’t played by a trailer. I’ve since been informed by my daughter that we absolutely have to buy it, so that she can play her first Pokemon game. As a six year old she can’t read through the bigger games, so this is something she can drop in and out with Daddy. So maybe it is for me and my family after all.

I still can’t help but worry though about this direction meaning another move toward that “Blue Ocean” for Nintendo, after all we’ve seen it happen before, so it isn’t out of the question.

R: Gamers like us do get a lot of flak for writing off something before trying it. I recall in my youth that I would write off Mario games because they were too childish, not realizing that I missed out on some of the best platformers Nintendo had released! I do understand how you feel about Nintendo once again possibly shunning the hardcore crowd to draw in new gamers though. It’s a situation I hope Big N avoids this time around.

I also recall you were quite critical about the Nintendo Labo when it was first announced, but you made a full 180 upon trying it out with your kids. If you had the chance to go back to when you were initially critical about the product, what would you say to yourself? Do you think the same thinking should apply for the new Pokemon games as well?

D: In the case of Labo I think it was entirely on Nintendo and their withholding of a lot of information. I wasn’t extremely critical of it, I just wasn’t sure who the demographic was, and I was hesitant about the pricing. For some reason they never let anyone know the prices of replacements, if those replacements for the pieces would be available online, and for how much. In that case I assumed the worst, especially considering the cost of the initial starter packs and their refusal to comment on it.

On top of that so many people kept lauding how much creativity this would bring to the table, but this was far before we knew about Labo garage, which again they didn’t tell us about till far later. Without the garage I still think that the value proposition there is problematic, as these games are incredibly simplistic, akin to mobile games. The whole idea of learning and engineering wasn’t really ringing true, because after the initial build, then what?

Once they announced the garage I was on board, because I saw the potential there. I also should have accounted for the sheer Nintendo charm, and how much fun these things would be to build. Largely these pieces of cardboard now lie discarded in my house as I predicted, abandoned for deeper gameplay that is far more readily available, but they were novelty things that were worth the price for the experience alone.

As for Let’s Go, sometimes I get too caught up in the idea of what this does for the industry, so while I didn’t care personally, it is a worrying trend when companies push for the casual dollar. It almost never goes well for the end consumer, even when it does for the company making the money. I am still worried about how this will impact Nintendo in the future; especially since we know it will sell well just because it has the Pokemon brand on it.

Still, I need to learn to distance myself from industry impact when personally responding to news especially where Nintendo is concerned, and if the Big N fall on their face again just realize there is plenty out there that isn’t Nintendo to play. I love Nintendo, I’m extremely passionate about them and want to see them succeed, but they are a company that I’ve seen over and over take 2 steps forward and 4 back, so I’m very wary of things like Labo and Let’s Go.

R: That’s a solid answer. I too worry about Nintendo’s track record of trying to be innovative but falling on their faces (see the Virtual Boy). However I’m confident that the company will not forget it’s roots, given the lineup of games that coming out in the next few months. Which now takes us to E3… You have to agree this year’s show was pretty alright: great games, not so exciting conferences and presentations. You’ve written at length about each of the conferences, even going so far as grading their performance, but who would you say ultimately won this year’s event and why?

D: I agree with you ultimately, I think Nintendo are at a good place and the E3 lineup was very promising.

As for E3: the gamers won.

Ok, I know that is a lame answer. It is hard to say who “won” E3, because I felt all the big three did a solid job, and in this case it really came down to what games you like. If you look at all my articles side by side I gave Nintendo the best score, but I admit that is 100% my bias and my love for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

If we were grading for sheer excitement and fantastic pacing I would say Microsoft won, as they had exactly what people want from E3. However, they were a little light on exclusives we can play now, and I think they are getting ready for their next console, very similar to what Nintendo did the last year of Wii U coverage. We see how that turned out for them with Switch, so maybe Microsoft is conceding this generation in order to wow everyone in the next gen.

Sony easily had the most promising exclusives, if I had to pick a game of the show I would be hard pressed between Smash and Ghosts of Tsushima. However their pacing was really bad out of the gate, though they managed to recover and have a great show by the end. So really Microsoft put on the best conference, Sony had the best slate of exclusives present, and Nintendo had the ultimate version of one of my favorite franchises of all time.

I won’t leave you with a half way answer though, so I’ll go Microsoft. They clearly knew where they were at going in and they brought a stellar show of games. They might not have been all exclusives, but if we are talking about the sheer hype of E3 and how to put on a conference, they really did a great job.

R: “The gamer’s won.” That’s not a tacky answer, I also think it’s the truth! I mean as I once said, we are in a period of renaissance in the gaming industry. We have so many amazing games available to play in the next 6-8 months from this year’s showing and there’s virtually a great game for everyone. So it’s no stretch that we all win in the end! *Grins*

I agree that Microsoft’s conference was quite well paced. Sure, there were a lack of exclusives but the hype around a new console release in the next few years definitely made a buzz. I honestly thought Nintendo was the clear winner, simply because of the games that will be released in the near future. However, it’s as you said: we gamers are the clear winners!

Alright, I alluded to this question earlier, but now’s a good time to bring it to the forefront. I read a very powerful piece of yours surrounding the game Rime and your father’s untimely passing last year… It was extremely moving to read and I urge the audience to go and read it. You can find it here.

Daniel, I want to ask you, how difficult was this to write? I understand that you are still grieving over your loss, so I’m curious to know what inner strength allowed you to produce such a wonderful piece?

D: I’m not sure it was any sort of inner strength really. I should probably be in therapy or on medication, but in the meantime one of the very few things that makes me feel better is putting my feelings on paper, however sad they are. It is why I started a writing blog outside of Home Button, just to dump a bunch of my writing as a repository, like a digital journal. If someone reads it, great, but I don’t advertise or publish it at all typically.

Writing allows me to make my feelings physical in a way, not purging them, but getting them out in the opening. Once I write about something it is easier for me to dissect how I feel that way, so in a way it is a crutch I can lean on in these hard times.

Rime was a case of something at the exact right time, as if the universe conspired to have me experience the message at the time when I needed it most. When I had completed the game I felt sorrowful, of course, but I also felt a deep sense of a calm I hadn’t felt in months. As a light spoiler the game is about death, and the sorrow of losing someone you love. Acceptance seems like such an easy thing, after all how can you not accept the reality of a situation? However, the truth is that everything I did from then on I would only compare against when my father was alive. I kept asking myself how this happened, why it happened, replay the situation over and over again hoping for a different outcome that obviously would never come. I couldn’t believe or accept he was dead, it was easier for my subconscious to deny the trauma in a way.

R: It’s good that you did share it. I personally resonated with the post and it was the first one I thought of when my wife’s grandmother passed away recently. It helped me to understand that writing out your feelings is a critical tool to aid in the recovery process after losing someone close to you. It’s a great piece and again I urge you members of the audience to check it out!

Now let’s get back to a lighter subject: your kids. So, you’re a gaming dad with older children: a little daughter and a son approaching his teen years. And I’m a gaming dad with a 5 month old who shoves everything at arm’s length into his mouth, regardless of whether it’s edible or not. Seeing as you have been in the fatherhood game for some time and have experienced the highs and lows that it brings, what kind of advice, tips or wisdom would you be willing to share with fellow gaming dads who have younger children, like myself for instance?

D: Gaming with children presents its own joy that can also be a burden at times. At first my kids were happy holding a controller that wasn’t plugged in, but they swiftly came to understand that did nothing to control the character on the screen. Since they want to always mimic their parents, they really want to game with you, and I decided to embrace that instead of discourage it.

One of the great things about being a gaming dad is that is you can relate with the things your children love more easily. I’m always the cool Dad at any of my son’s friend’s birthday parties , because I can talk Overwatch, Minecraft, or Fortnite with the best of them. My daughter fell in love with gaming also, let me tell you that she plays a pretty mean Charizard on Smash Bros. for the Wii U, and can name nearly every Nintendo character I have an amiibo of, and I have a lot of those.

On the other hand you always want to be careful not to allow them too much video game time, and of course it is something where you’ll have to defer your violent video games to later in the evening after their bedtime. We have a rule of one hour a day of gaming time in my house, but they can lose minutes or gain minutes depending on certain behaviors. Also, playing with Dad doesn’t count towards their game time, because I can cheat like that since I’m the father.

There are some games I recommend especially when your child is younger. My personal favorite to start my kids with was Kirby’s Epic Yarn, because they can easily bubble up or fly with no issues, and you can pull them along with you if they don’t have the skill to tackle obstacles early on. The new Kirby Star Allies game is good for that too, as there are 3 other companions in total, and so there is never an impetus on your child to do extraordinarily well.

I also have raised my kids on Little Big Planet, because you can search literally anything on there. Kid’s interests change so rapidly when they are young, and they always get a thrill seeing their favorite thing represented in game form. A lot of them are poorly done, but playing through them with your child is a lot of fun. My son made a lot of progress learning his alphabet when he was younger thanks to a cool level someone made in Little Big Planet 2.

Either way I don’t like the idea lately that gaming is something that is bad for children, because like anything it just needs to be moderated and not used as a free babysitter. However, gaming has brought my family closer together, taught my children the idea of friendly competition and good sportsmanship, and affects their strategic thinking as well as their hand-eye coordination. Worlds like Minecraft especially give children a sense of ownership and agency that, since they are young and being guided so much, they may not get a lot of in their lives. It is a huge benefit to confidence and creativity.

R: Well done! It’s awesome that you and your kids are able to bond so well thanks to video games. And I totally agree that, in moderation, gaming can really foster creativity, sportsmanship and critical thinking and problem solving skills. Not to mention hand-eye coordination can be extrapolated to other fields, such as team sports or (in our case) martial arts. I’m really excited to bring gaming to my own son when he’s old enough and I feel like Kirby or even Yoshi games will be an excellent introduction to gaming.

Also, I didn’t realize that games like Little Big Planet could be used as an educational tool!? That’s fantastic! I assume that this can also work with other level editor games, like Super Mario Maker and Minecraft.

I will definitely use your arguments to make my case be heard with my wife! She’s not overly fond of gaming, but I feel that your experiences really codify a great example of how to be a gaming parent.

So, tell me Daniel, what’s coming down the pipeline for Home Button Gaming? Any upcoming projects or collaborations we should keep an eye on?

D: As I mentioned earlier I plan on doing a lot more to insure that people see Photo Mode at least three times a week again, because it appeared to be such a popular item that I feel bad it fell by the wayside. In addition I’m excited by my new set of articles called +1 to Joy, where once a week I discuss something that I love. The great thing is that this doesn’t have to be only video games, so if people want to learn more about me or maybe discover some cool book series or TV show that will be the place to do it. In addition it just lets me bring a little more positivity to the video game space, as well as remind myself all the wonderful small things I am grateful for.

I also contribute as one of the venerable Mages to The Well Red Mage with regularity, and have been doing a series of interviews with the Mages. So far I’ve interviewed the admin of the site, Moses, and this incredibly talented coffee addicted individual I can’t quite remember the name of right now. *winks at audience*. People can look forward to much more of those coming in the future, and just recently, I was featured on The Well Red Mage in the 30 Day Console Challenge where we rank the 7 best games of the system as we see it.

If we are talking big future plans I want to establish a podcast and a YouTube channel, but those things are pretty far down the road, as I have little expertise in such things.

R: Wicked! Looks like there’s a lot going on in the near future! I especially excited about the +1 to Joy articles, I feel we as gamers all need some more positivity in our lives, so this is a wonderful initiative!

*Turns to the audience* If you all want to see some of Daniel’s interviewing chops, definitely check out his talks with Moses from The Well-Red Mage and with this truly mysterious Coffee addict… Who seems rather familiar, don’t you think audience? *Grins maniacally*

*Turns back to Daniel* Right, now final question before we hit the lightning round: 90 WPS. How in the name of the Coffee Gods are you able to type so bloody quickly? *Laughs*

D. *Laughs* I have no earthly clue really. I took typing in middle school, and have been jamming away ever since. I think when we finished class I was at 50 WPM in middle school, and I guess working in admin the last 13 years or so combined with writing on my off time has jacked that up tremendously. It isn’t something I brag about at parties or anything, but it certainly helps with pumping out content when writing and at work.

R. I theorized that your typing skills were developed through some secret and ancient ninjutsu training, but I like your answer better. *Shrugs* Still it’s an impressive accomplishment! I mean the fastest I can type is barely over 65 WPM… And that’s not taking into account me being distracted either with games by or drinking coffee!

OK! So it’s time for the Lightning Ninja Round!!!! *Pulls out a percolator, a bag of coffee grounds, a filter and some water.* In the time it takes to brew a coffee, you will answer the following questions! Each answer yields a point, but like the show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” The points don’t really matter much. *Starts preparing a brew.* And I was also craving more coffee anyways, hence why the percolator is the timer. Now, onto question 1!

If you were ever in a jam and needed a giant-ish robot to bail you out, who would you choose between Optimus Prime, a Gundam of your choosing or Voltron? No need to give me reasons why! *Grins*

D: The defender of the universe of course. Voltron, no question.

R: All time favorite anime of any era?

D: Oh man, that is a tough question. Rapid fire off the top of my head? Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood. This answer shall come to haunt me as I change my mind daily.

R: Can’t take it back! Next: Pick two of three: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch.

D: Diabolical question. Switch and PS4.

R: Ooooh tough choices. Next: Favourite Splatoon Loadout?

D: I’m an Aerospray man myself, with curling bomb special. I’m starting to tinker with Brush and Baller though.

R: Nice! I do like the Aerospray, but I hardcore rep the Dualies with the Tenta Missile special. It’s such a great combo *Grins*

Next: What recent game have you played frustrated you to no end?

D: Ni No Kuni 2 actually. I want to play it so bad, but I’m having to grind to proceed and I hate that in a game.

R: Hmmm… I recall you mentioning that in our various, magely conversations. *Winks.*

*Checks the percolator.* Got time for one last question: What game have you started that you were really into initially, but can’t get around to finish it?

D: There are way many of these than I care to admit, but the first one that leaps to mind is Halo Wars 2. I played it, I adored it, but the gaming calendar was so packed I just fell behind. *pulls out phone, holds receiver towards mouth* Hey Google, remind me to install Halo Wars 2 when I get home…Again.

R: *Laughs hard, tears start forming on the corners of my eyes* Oh-ho-ho man! That was good! Hopefully you’ll get it installed this time! *Percolator dings* And just in time too! Coffee’s done and so’s the Lightning Ninja Round! You did well!

And thus, another day, another episode completed! Daniel, I want to thank you so much for joining and sharing your story with us. We were really happy to have you here today! *Audience claps and cheers raucously*

D: *Smiles and waves at the audience* It has been a real pleasure. My job here is done.

*Daniel tosses down a smoke pellet to escape in true ninja style, but it is apparently a dud as it gives off no more smoke than a cheap 4th of July smoke bomb. It barely curls around the ankles and certainly doesn’t obscure him in the least. He shrugs and dashes from the stage awkwardly, his arms out behind him in a dorky approximation of a ninja run.*

R: …Daniel Flatt, the Mail Order Ninja Mage everybody! And join me on the next episode, of which I will host a secret and special guest! Until next time, this is Ryan from Beans and Screens, signing off! See ya next time!

Espresso Shot Review – Alundra

Good morning and welcome back to another edition of Games with Coffee!

Today, I’m talking about a game that’s both close to my heart and one of my favourites for the original PlayStation (PS1) era – Alundra! It’s an underrated gem that’s similar to Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda, but with tougher puzzles to solve, lots of platforming elements and a great story with a compelling cast of characters that focuses on humanity, religion and the power of dreams.

I was introduced to the game back in 1998, in the sixth grade. I rented it at the same place where I rented Final Fantasy VII for the first time and I was surprised at the open, vibrant world and the quirky cast of characters that occupied the modern-looking village of Inoa. The game was much more challenging that I realized; the puzzles required a lot of thought to figure out and I needed to read the clues a couple of times until I could figure out the correct solution. One memorable puzzle in a crypt required me to speak to five spirits in a particular order. It stumped me, even after my rental period ended. Determined to solve the puzzle, I was led to a site called GameFAQs.com (formerly known in 1998 as gamesages.com and currently bought over by Gamespot) where I took a post-it note and wrote down the sequence: 3, 2, 4, 1, 5. That post-it note sat on my bedroom mirror for roughly 7 years until I eventually lost it.

This game had such an impact on me that I used it as a premise for (yet another) fanfiction-turned-creative writing assignment. I should mention that this particular assignment was part of a standardized test given to all Ontario students in the sixth grade. Needless to say, I bombed spectacularly. It was a terrible piece of writing (I think I threw in a spatula or something… I don’t know why), but I still had lots fun with it.

After the rental place shut down in the beginning of the 21st century, I was certain that I lost the opportunity to complete the game. While I spotted it in some niche gaming stores here and there, I didn’t have the money to pick it up for myself (I was but a somewhat humble, yet very broke high school student at the time).

All that changed when I got my PS3 and saw it was on the PlayStation Network, over a decade later. I instantly snatched it up, intent on finishing what I started. After getting past the crypt dungeon, I had discovered that the world Alundra and company inhabited was much darker than I realized. And once I finished it, I felt that I stumbled upon a masterpiece that was on par with games like The Legend of Zelda.

But questions remain here in 2018, what with the release of blockbuster games like God of War and other similar adventure games made by indie developers: does this feeling still hold true? Can this game be considered a masterpiece almost 20 years after its initial release? Top up your brew because I will attempt to answer these in the Espresso Shot Review:

Background

Box Art

Alundra was developed by Matrix Software and published in North America by Working Designs. Matrix Software, established in July of 1994, was partially made up of former employees of another developer called Climax Entertainment. This point is important to make, as Alundra itself is considered a spiritual successor to a little-known Sega Genesis Action/Adventure game made by Climax called Landstalker. Landstalker’s isometric views, multi-leveled platforming and puzzle mechanics and storyline were the blueprints that gave Alundra life, although the isometric view were ditched for the more traditional top-down view.

Matrix Software, in particular, is well known developing remade ports of the Final Fantasy series, starting in 2006 with the Nintendo DS remake of Final Fantasy III. It’s interesting to note that while they made their start in the action-adventure genre, they ended up developing ports for popular, classic RPG’s. Alundra was the company’s very first game, which took the better part of three years to develop and was released in Japan on April 11, 1997 and in North America on December 31, 1997.

Story

Alundra tells the story of the titular adventurer travelling to Inoa Village, in the land of Torla. He is summoned there at the behest of a mysterious figure who appeared in his dreams, begging him to help the residents overcome a malevolent force. While en-route to Torla, a sudden, violent storm scuttles the ship he’s travelling on, leaving many individuals dead and Alundra on the Torlan coastline, unconscious.

ON the shop

He is found and nursed back to health by Jess, Inoa’s resident blacksmith and a good-natured man, who fills him in on the situation. Since the King forbade the worshiping of idols some five years ago, the people of the land had lost their ability to create. In return, they found that they had the ability to control their dreams. Soon enough, those dreams warped into twisted and horrifying nightmares whose effects manifest in the waking world, affecting the villagers in a myriad number of ways. One resident – Nadia – causes explosions when they sleep, so she is forced to stay awake, losing her sanity all the while. A child named Sybil has prophetic dreams of the future while awake and she shares these with Alundra, giving him clues as to what he should expect from his journey.

Soon after Alundra is rescued by Jess, an elderly resident of Inoa –  Wendel – is stricken with a nightmare. Alundra is then introduced to Septimus, a scholar who relocated to the village to investigate the nightmares. After travelling to the scholar’s teacher’s house near the village and obtaining a tome for Septimus, Alundra learns of his true heritage – that he is a Dreamwalker of the Elna Clan, gifted with the ability to enter and influence people’s dreams, most times for the better. Using that power, Alundra starts to defeat the demons that haunt the villagers nightmares. However, despite his valiant efforts, some villagers still end up dying.

Jess 2

It isn’t until after the first few villagers pass away that Alundra finally meets the mysterious figure he saw in his recurring dreams. The figure introduces himself as Lars, who tells him that his true enemy is a being named Melzas – a demon who desires humanity’s destruction. Despite being sealed up in a lakeside palace by Lars and six others, he can still influence and control people through dreams and worship. Lars instructs Alundra to gather the seven crests held by the guardians that keep the seal of the palace intact, enter it and destroy Melzas once and for all before he truly awakens and brings ruin to all.

However, it appeared that Melzas was a few steps ahead of the Guardians before Alundra arrived. The demon employed the white-haired monkeys known as the Murgg to infiltrate and steal the crests, thus hastening Melzas’ reawakening. As the plot starts to thicken, the Murgg have managed to steal two of the seven, meaning that Alundra would have to work double time to hunt down the remaining five and find a way to regain the two that were stolen.

Melzaz

Midway through the game, another Dreamwalker named Meia arrives in the village. Initially cold towards her fellow clanmate, she warms up to him after he learns of her tragic past and actively assists him in saving the villagers from Melzas. She’s also a great foil for Septimus; her sardonic outlook on life counters that of the scholar’s eternal optimism and makes for interesting conversation.

Meia

The story makes many dark turns as it progresses and the game is not afraid to kill off the odd character or two. Some deaths were shocking to behold, specifically, those where a child and a character central to the plot were murdered. The villagers are affected greatly by these deaths, their conversations changing as the game progresses, up to the point where they become despondent enough to place the blame solely on Alundra. Although it’s not without some influence.

Enter the priest Ronan. Religion plays an important role in the game, in that the priest and his disciple, Gilles, are highly circumspect of Alundra and his miraculous dreamwalking powers. He preaches to the villagers to reject the notion that Alundra is a savior and instead reaffirm their faith to their god, which the player eventually learns is Melzas himself. Through Ronan, Melzas attempts to discredit Alundra and turn the villagers against him by pointing out that those he attempts to save usually end up dead and that everything was fine until he showed up. Ronan’s descent into madness and fevered devotion to his false god are what makes him both so reviled and so interesting as a character. He’s killed innocent people to satisfy the status quo, rejects all notions that his faith is so badly skewed and truly believes in Melzas’ twisted message of salvation, so much so that he’s willing to sacrifice his own humanity for that cause. He makes for a very interesting villain.

One last note in this section: the English translation of the game’s script is incredibly quirky and entertaining to read. Characters exude plenty of charm and some of the things they say are hilarious to behold.

Gameplay

Alundra is an action/adventure platforming game displayed from a top-down perspective, similar to the The Legend of Zelda games. The character can move in all directions, jump, attack with a weapon, execute a dash and shoulder charge and use equipped items, like recovery herbs, bombs and capes and magic items.

Platforming in this game can be an exercise in patience since it’s sometimes difficult to judge both how far Alundra can jump and the distance between platforms themselves. To add to that, platforms can be hidden behind objects or backgrounds, meaning that the player must investigate every nook and cranny to advance. One area in particular that frustrated me to no end was an underwater section, where the water physics affected the timing and length of my jumps. I would over or underestimate the length and timing of my jump to the next platform and fall to the bottom level, where I had to maneuver through a maze to find a bubble to get back to the upper floor in order to try again.

Two things make this game stand out. The first being the fiendishly difficult puzzles. There is an enormous variety of puzzles to solve in this game, including pushing ice blocks, stepping on or flipping switches in a particular order or arranging items in a certain order. Many puzzles require close reading of the clues in order to solve, such as the puzzle at the crypt entrance, where a spirit tells you to speak to five coloured spirits in order from most revered to least. Another example is stacking a set of symbol blocks in reverse order, which the clue mentions briefly. For the majority of the time, however, it’s a word or a phrase that is overlooked that’s the main cause of confusion for solving these puzzles. Some require a combination of timing and thinking outside of the box to solve as well and some solutions, especially in the final dungeon, span multiple rooms and may require solving smaller sub-puzzles to advance further. I’ll be honest, I needed a guide at some point to solve some of these.

The second is the amazing dungeon design, especially the Dream Dungeons. Each of these dungeons are specific to the character affected and alters the dungeon mechanics to reflect that character’s personality. Take for instance Elene, who suffers from disassociative identity disorder or multiple personalities. Her Dream Dungeon is actually four mini-dungeons that reflect the four personalities Elene possesses. Another great example are the identical twins, Nestus and Bergus, whose connection to one another allows Alundra to travel between both brothers via their dreams. This reflects on their dream dungeon, where everything is a mirror image of each other! It’s quite well done.

There are three collectibles, of which two are vital to your quest. They are the Life Vessels and Magic Seeds. Life Vessels permanently add a point of health to Alundra’s HP, which maxes out at 50 HP. The Magic Seeds increase Alundra’s magic ammunition, to a maximum of four uses. Gilded Falcons are optional collectibles, but they allow Alundra to access special items and additional Life Vessels once you’ve obtained enough throughout the game.

Gilded Falcon

One complaint I have is that some areas become inaccessible later on in the game, meaning that constant exploration is needed to avoid missing collectibles, like Gilded Falcons and Life Vessels. This is especially apparent in the Dream Dungeons, since you can’t reenter a dream once it’s over. It’s an annoyance, albeit a minor one really.

Alundra_Life_Vessel_1b

Alundra has access to a variety of weapons, each required to accomplish a certain action. Along with his sword, he also uses a Flail to break blocks, a Crossbow to activate switches from long range and the Fire and Ice Wands to both solve puzzles and deal elemental damage. The Sword and the Fire and Ice Wands all have access to a charge attack when you get them (Alundra starts with a dagger with no charge attack), while charged attacks for the Flail and Crossbow are obtainable once you pick up their upgrades. Alundra also has access to spells of the four elements: Fire, Water, Earth and Wind. Each spell can be upgraded (from scroll to book) and they’re ridiculously powerful, to the point where they’re game-breaking.

There is also a secret, incredibly powerful sword called the Legendary Sword that can only be obtained if the player dies multiple amounts of times. This is akin to an easy mode combat-wise, because it one-shots virtually every enemy and makes Alundra absolutely unstoppable. Getting the sword does not make the puzzles any easier, I’m afraid.

Alundra also has access to armor, which reduces the damage he takes from enemies. He starts with basic cloth armor and can obtain upgrades as the story progresses. His boots are also upgradable; each new pair increases his jumping ability, grants him the ability to swim and allows easier travel through difficult terrain, like sand and shallow water. Two of these are required to complete the game while the final and ultimate version of the boots is a missable item.

There are a lot of enemies in the game. One thing I’ve noticed is how much endurance even the simplest of foes have. The Pukas and Slimes (similar to the Zols in the Zelda games) basically take five hits to beat at the start of the game and they’re found all over the land. There are ogre-like warriors called Gragg, monkey warriors named Murgg, mud golems, reapers, Lizardmen, Evil Trees, Mummy Guardians, you name it. Some of the most interesting monsters are found initially in the Nightmare dungeons, like Soul Devourers; odd, Lovecraftian monsters with tentacle-like appendages that extend from their abdomens and that can teleport all over a stage.

I find that some enemies, like the Sand Worms and the Bug Bags, are supremely annoying to deal with or hard hitting for the stage of the game that you fight them in. Sand Worms make an annoying squelching sound whenever they appear and disappear, which aggravates me to no end. Furthermore, once hit, the worms immediately enter the ground again. Bug Bags can surround you, take off a chunk of health and they can absorb a large beating before dying off. Plus, they leave behind residual bugs that do contact damage once defeated, which only adds to their annoyance factor. Lizardmen are also tough fighters to attack and defend against; they are quick with their shields and have a powerful dashing attack, which makes for a challenging set of foes.

The first two or three bosses are not very impressive to start with. This changes after the Coastal Caves – the boss here is an water demon with various area-of-effect attacks and is a challenge to defeat. Subsequent bosses afterwards require certain strategies to defeat. The Giant, Nirude, is an interesting fight in that you don’t fight at all; you have to survive his onslaught long enough to prove your worth. My only gripe is the last few bosses in the game. Apparently, because your weapons at the later stages of the game are so powerful, the game’s designers nerfed their effectiveness against some of the late game bosses, including Melzas. Regardless of what weapon you use at that stage, it will take roughly 30 to 60 hits to defeat these powerful foes. Magic is an exception in that they are much more effective than standard weaponry alone.

Visuals

Alundra is a very pretty game to watch. At the time of its release, 2-D graphics were slowly on the outs, replaced by flashier (and blockier) 3-D polygonal models. It’s in the present time however, with the resurgence of retro graphics in indie releases, that Alundra’s visuals really shine forth. The level of detail and polish on the sprites and backgrounds are stunning; shadows, colours, textures effects and the like really brings the fantasy elements of the story to life. They are charming to look at.

I really liked the design of Inoa Village: It has a nice, modern look to it and it appears  like a pleasant village to stay in, despite the fact that the residents are plagued with violent nightmares. It somewhat reminds me of Kakariko Village in Breath of the Wild, minus the Asian influence.

Inoa Village

Visually speaking, Alundra is a red-headed version of Link, elf ears and all. The only differences are that he doesn’t wear a hat or green clothes and that he can jump. Nevertheless, Alundra’s animations and actions look very smooth.

The only complaint I have is in regards to the platforms. Alundra’s visuals sometimes makes it difficult to gauge your distance between platforms; you’re either over or underestimating the distance between ledges, pillars and overhangs. In any case, it’s only a minor annoyance.

Enemies also look visually appealing, in the sense that they look tough and intimidating. The bosses from the Coastal Cave and beyond are also particularly impressive looking. The bosses in some of the Nightmare dungeons are truly terrifying, including one that attempts to suck you into its gaping stomach like a grotesque version of Kirby.

Kirby boss

Audio

I personally adore Alundra’s soundtrack. The theme for Inoa Village is one that stuck with me for years before I replayed the game and is one of my favourite tracks. It’s upbeat and catchy nature juxtaposes against the despair of the villagers, creating an interesting contrast.

The Wind That Shook The Earth is Alundra’s overworld music. It really captures the spirit of adventure and exploration, in that it’s powerful and epic and has the propensity of making me smile whenever I hear it. I honestly can’t get bored of listening to this song.

Alundra also has some great dungeon music. The House of Tarn, which you hear in a couple of dungeons, is a tense and mystery-filled piece that makes me feel like there’s something lurking in the dark corners of the dungeon. The generic Nightmare dream dungeon music really reflects the nightmarish feeling that Alundra encounters when he enter’s the villager’s dreams.

My personal favourite song in the game is the first one you hear when you start a new game: the track that plays when you’re on the ship, heading for Torla. It really makes one feel that they are travelling to a foreign land and starting a brand new journey. I love it.

The SFX in the game are also pretty good and remind me strongly of The Legend of Zelda, specifically Ocarina of Time.

Replayability

This game is pretty long, clocking in at over 20 or so hours of solid gameplay, possibly 25 if you’re a first time player thanks to the brutally difficult puzzles. After beating Melzas, there’s not much to do post-game – you could try your luck in the secret casino area? That’s assuming you picked up the Secret Pass in Inoa Village. You could try your hand at hunting down all 50 Gilded Falcons (Good luck with that…) and trade them in to get an extra special item that virtually makes you all but invincible. I’d play this game again and again because of how great this story is, but that’s my personal opinion. (To date, I’ve replayed it about six times now – I’m currently in the middle of a playthrough as I speak!)

The Last Drop

Pros:

  • Beautiful visuals and sprite art.
  • Interesting and intelligent dungeon design.
  • Quirky characters and a great story.
  • Open world exploration with lots of hidden secrets and collectibles.
  • Soundtrack is well done.
  • Boss fights are challenging and engaging.

Cons:

  • Brutally difficult puzzles, some which may require a guide to solve.
  • Developers nerfed the damage done to some of the end game bosses since Alundra is incredibly powerful at that point of the game.
  • Platforming can be tricky and frustrating at times.
  • Some enemies can be downright annoying to deal with (eg: Sand Worms, Bug Bags, Lizardmen, etc.).
  • Lots of missable items that requires paying close attention to detail in dungeons and/or backtracking throughout the land at every opportunity.

Alundra is truly one of the PlayStations’s Hidden Gems; a game that you come across at random, but yet leaves a lasting impression on you after you play it. Even though the puzzles and platforming elements can be on the difficult side at time, it’s story, combat, open world and quirky dialogue more than make up for it. If you’re a fan of open world adventure games or of the Legend of Zelda, this game is definitely for you!

4.5/5

4.5 out of 5

Beans and Screens – Link and Zelda!

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to another edition of Beans and Screens! I’m your host, Ryan.

On today’s episode, we have two guests joining us, but only one of them will do all the talking! Fresh off of saving Hyrule from Calamity Ganon in the epic, Breath of the Wild and here to talk about their latest exploits, they are two of the industry’s biggest icons. Please welcome the Princess Queen of Destiny, Zelda and the Hero of the Wilds, Link!

*From the side of the stage, two Hylians walk out to the applause and cheers from the audience. Both wave and smile politely as they make their way to the couch.

The man, no older than seventeen in age, is dressed in a blue tunic emblazoned with intricate, light blue designs, with loose beige pants and brown, traveler’s boots. On his arms are worn leather gauntlets and on his waist is a Sheikah Slate, bouncing lightly against him with every step. Strapped to his back is a sturdy blue and silver shield adorned with the Hylian Royal Crest and the Triforce. Behind it, safely tucked away in its sheath is the Blade of Evil’s Bane – The Master Sword – it’s indigo hilt gleaming in the studio lights. Even while smiling at the crowd, his sharp, piercing blue eyes sweep the room, scrutinizing everything and identifying all possible threats. His dirty blonde hair is tied up in a loose ponytail.

Walking alongside him is a woman of the same age, a few inches shorter than the man. She wore a long sleeved blue garb similar to the man’s tunic but with black and gold accents, along with beige tights and riding boots. Her long, honey blonde hair is tied in a loose ponytail, gently swishing to and fro as she walked. She projected an air of confidence and poise befitting that of a ruler and yet in the peaceful blue eyes that scanned the crowd elatedly, there lay a shimmering, vast trove of wisdom and knowledge deigned from countless years of study. Tucked under her arm was a weathered tome with bits of paper sticking out; likely notes and scribbles from her research that she haphazardly added in.

They both reach the couch and take a seat, the male unbuckling his sword and shield, placing it nearby, his fingers dancing on the hilt. The woman sits beside him, her shoulders square and back straight, her hands clasped on top of the book in her lap. The audience’s cheers and claps die down as the interview begins.*

Ryan: I’m so glad you two were able to make it! Was the journey hard? I understand that realm travel is a bit on the difficult side, correct?

Zelda: Oh no, it was very little trouble. While being able to use the Triforce would have made things much easier –

Link: *Nods*

Z: – We did have a little help from one of the three Dragons that circle our land. They deemed that it was the least they could do, as they were very grateful for our efforts in stopping Calamity Ganon.

L: *Frowns* Hrmm…

Z: Oh, cheer up Link! At least this time Farosh was not trying to electrocute you. Although, you did have it coming; you kept troubling the poor beast for its scales, claws, fangs and horns!

L: *Rolls eyes, crosses arms* Hmph.

R: *Laughs* OK you two, settle down. So let’s get to it: Ganon’s been defeated, your kingdom is in ruins: what’s the plan, Your Highness?

Z: Ah, great question! Well, despite the castle and the town being in ruins, the rest of the kingdom is intact, thank the Goddess. The plan is for us to rebuild with the Gorons, the Zora, the Rito and the Gerudo and bring Hyrule back to its former glory. To do so, I must form a council with representatives of the four races and start building up a government, fairly similar to what we had a hundred years ago. I hope that through cooperation with one another, we can strengthen ourselves for when Ganon reawakens. Another thing I would like to investigate is how it was even possible for Ganon to take over and corrupt the Divine Beasts and Guardians so easily. I have spoken to some of the Sheikah about this and I am hoping that they will have some theories to present once we return to Hyrule.

However, one of my grandest desires is to let the lands beyond our own know that the people of Hyrule have emerged victorious against the war with Ganon and that our borders and shores are open for newcomers to visit and live in. Despite how vast Hyrule is, my time with the Triforce has shown me how isolated our land has been. I want to change the notion that we are an insular country and expand our horizons, invite new talent, bring in new cultures and create new experiences for both current and future residents that will only make our land that much stronger. *Audience claps and cheers ecstatically*

R: That’s a bold proclamation there, your Highness!

Z: *Grinning amid the applause* Oh please, please call me Zelda. And yes, it does sound highly ambitious, but I am confident that we will succeed. In fact, before we came onto the stage, Link and I were approached by a rather enigmatic individual.

L: Ah. *Nods and smiles*

Z: He has invited Link and I to represent Hyrule in a vast fighting tournament spanning many lands. While Link jumped at the opportunity to test his skills without hesitation –

L: Hyah! *Grins confidently*

Z: *Continuing on as if Link didn’t interrupt* – I, on the other hand, am more of a researcher than a fighter and thus declined the invite. To that end, this individual told me that it would not be a problem. Instead, he would ask one of my previous incarnations to join the tournament!

R: Woah, hold on, that’s crazy! Who is this guy?

Z: *Taps a slender finger on her chin, her head tilted to the side and eyes looking up in thought* Hmm… well he did not give me his name. *Turns to face Link* Link, were you able to record an image of him on the Sheikah Slate?

L: *Shoots Zelda a beaming smile* Uh-huh!

R: Well then, show us!

*Link removes the Sheikah Slate from his waist and activates it. Going into the photos, he scrolls down with his finger until he finds the image he seeks. He turns the Slate towards me. I recoil back in shock.*

R: What!? No way, that’s Masahiro Sakurai?! *Audience whoops and cheers* Masahiro Sakurai, hah! Now I understand! He’s invited you and your previous incarnation to join other battlers in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate! That’s amazing!

Z: Really? Is that what it is called? It is rather an odd name, but nevertheless I am glad for the invitation. Link would be an excellent ambassador for Hyrule in this regard since he is our land’s Champion; I am certain he will bond well with the other fighters.

On top of that, this ‘Sakurai’ individual had asked me if the Great Plateau Tower could be used as a battleground. Mulling it over, it would be a boost to local tourism – the view from that particular tower is spectacular – so I heartily agreed. My only concern about this tournament is for my friend Link; I do not want to see him to get severely hurt.

L: *Turns to her and gives her a reassuring smile*

Z: *Turns to him and smiles back* Oh, I know you will be fine, but I do worry about you.

L: *Grins* Hah.

R: How… are you doing that?

Z: *She blinks before whipping her head around to face me, a startled expression on her face* Oh! Oh this? Well, our connection between one another during Link’s travels around the realm had allowed me to truly understand him. He speaks little, but his actions and gestures give away what he would like to say.

R: Hm… Wish I had that same connection with my wife. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re linked through destiny and a magical godly artifact. Anyways, back to our discussion: Besides the fighting tournament, what else do you have planned for Hyrule’s grand comeback?

Z: Throughout Link’s adventure, he has discovered many forgotten ruins that were buried long before Ganon awakened a hundred years ago. Age estimates have come in from between centuries to millennia, so that has me quite thrilled at the prospect of discovering more history about the land! What I would like to see happen is for tours and expeditions to occur within these lost ruins and monuments to the past. I dare say that both the local and foreign populations would benefit greatly from the knowledge and appreciate the history and heritage of the land, should they choose to pursue it. *Applause*

R: Hm, indeed. It’s always interesting to learn about the history and culture of another land. Speaking of history, Zelda, could you take us back one hundred years before Link awoke. Tell us, what were you feeling right after you placed him at the Shrine of Awakening?

*Zelda bows her head and her hands tighten up in her lap. Link places a gentle hand on her shoulder before glaring daggers at me.*

Z: *Whispers softly to Link* Link it’s OK. *She lifts up her head to face me, giving me a saddened but gentle look* To be honest, I felt dread and anguish. Dread that I could not hold back the unstoppable power of Calamity Ganon. Anguish over the loss of Hyrule’s Champions – the tamers of the Divine Beasts – … as well as my father, the King. I nearly… *she pauses for a brief moment to compose herself, her voice trembling slightly* I nearly lost Link, who had so valiantly protected me.

However, I knew that there was a sliver of hope remaining. Link was not lost, only injured. The Shrine of Awakening, while experimental, would be the key to restoring him to full strength. I knew that he would awaken and I knew he would do whatever it took to help me defeat Ganon. What I did not count on was… his memory loss.

*Link’s eyes move to the side and downward, his mouth set in a grim line.*

R: Memory loss?

Z: Yes. Amnesia is an unfortunate side effect of using the Shrine of Awakening.

L: Oh! *He snaps out of his funk, pulls up the Sheikah Slate and shows me a set of pictures.* Aha!

R: What’s this?

Z: Oh yes! It seems that there was some residual data left over on the device; pictures that I took before the Calamity. It became corrupted over the hundred year period, but after the data was repaired by the Sheikah, Link traveled to each of the spots where we took the photos and it seemed to trigger some of his lost memories! So, while Link had amnesia, it was not as permanent as I feared. *Applause, some cheers ring out*

L: *Link nods happily.*

R: That’s good to hear Link! Zelda, I have one last question before we turn to our silent hero here: What research are you thinking of looking into next?

Z: *Taps a finger on her chin* Hmm… I suppose I would like to take an in depth look at my bloodline and heritage, including how the power of the Triforce is activated in the female line of the royal family. It seems to me that prayer and study are not enough to activate the power – there also must be some distress involved, such as when I jumped in to protect Link from a Guardian, knowing full well I would be killed myself. That is only a hypothesis at this point and it would be hard to test that out in the real world… but I must find out, at least for my successor’s sake. *Eyes widening suddenly, she opens her notebook, pulls out a pen and scribbles down some notes in it before closing it and placing it back in her lap.* I apologize, I wanted to make sure I had this in my notes. Being both a ruler and a researcher is extremely hard work and sometimes I forget things that I think about, so I must write my thoughts down or else I would never get to investigate and probe them for answers.

R: Not a problem! Sometimes, with so much going on in our lives, it’s good to keep things written down, it helps to keep you on track of things. *I turn to Link* Now Link, I understand you’re not much of a talker, but I’d like to ask you a few questions about your adventure.

L: *Link pauses for a moment and thinks it over. He nods slowly in acceptance.* Hm.

R: Great! Now, Mr. Hero; I heard you had to do some disguise work to get into a certain city? Care to tell us about it? *Zelda breaks out in a fit of sniggers while Link looks at me darkly*

Z: Oh come on Link, you knew this was coming! I’ll tell the story actually; In the Gerudo region, men are strictly forbidden from entering the capital city. Gerudo City’s population consists solely of women and Link needed to enter the city to gain information to conquer the Divine Beast, Vah Nabooris. So, in order- *she starts cracking up* In order… to… *starts to laugh, but composes herself.* Ahem! Whew! In order to get into the city, he had to dress like one of the Gerudo! *bursts into laughter, along with the audience*

*Link looks at Zelda glumly as she laughs harder, tears starting to stream from her eyes.*

Z: *Laughter starts to subside after a few minutes* Come now Link, we only jest. If you had not dressed like a girl, Hyrule would still be under the thrall of Ganon.

L: Mm. *He nods, a small smile on his face.*

R: She’s right you know! It’s a heroic cross-dressing moment!

Z: Oh wait, I have another story to add in here; once in the past, I was doing some research on the local flora, when I spotted a Silent Princess – my favourite flower – and spoke about its decline in the wild. Link was sitting nearby, listening to me talk in his usual stoic self, when I happened to spot an extremely rare amphibian specimen, one that could potentially augment certain abilities if ingested. I caught one and… well tried to force him to eat it. *Grins*

R: You forced him to eat a frog?!

L: *Frowns*

Z: *Giggles* Funny enough, he ate it too! And he got sick in the process: Turns out that the frog I gave him was the wrong one… I felt terrible after that. However, Link forgave me after he recovered, never blaming me once. That’s the kind of person he is.

R: Well, I can certainly take a page out of his book. Having the capacity to forgive is an important quality to have. OK Hero, let’s move onto some more serious question: You journey was a very isolating one and you were given very little support in it, so what was it that kept you so motivated?

L: *Link strokes his chin for a moment, before pointing to Zelda. She lets out a light blush. Audience lets out an “Awww…”*

Z: Oh Link… That is very thoughtful of you.

R: Aww, isn’t that sweet, everyone? That answer can warm even the most frozen of hearts… Well, except Ganon I suppose… Anyhow, Link, here’s a two-parter for you: One, how are you feeling now that your quest is over?

L: *Let’s out an exaggerated, relieved sigh, followed by a smile.*

R: Hm interesting… And two, how are you feeling about the upcoming Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament?

L: *Narrows his eyebrows and looks determined* Hyah!

R: Looks like you’re pumped and ready to win this! I wish you good luck! Last question Hero before we finish things off: What’s the coolest or most amazing thing in your arsenal right now?

L: *Suddenly shoots an excited, yet maniacal grin.*

Z: *Places a palm on her head exasperatedly.* Oh Goddess Hylia help us… You have opened the proverbial floodgates.

*Link again whips out the Sheikah Slate and stands up. He holds it upright and taps on the screen. A blue circle appears on the floor, just in front of him. He taps the screen again and suddenly, a strange machine appears in the studio! It looks like a dirt bike designed with a stallion in mind and features the same architectural details as the four Divine Beasts. Link outstretches his hands as if he’s dramatically unveiling it. He looks to Zelda expectantly.*

Z: * let’s out a deep sigh and deadpans* Behold, the Master Cycle Zero, the Divine Beast of Champion Link.

R: Woah, now that’s cool! Can I take it for a spin?!

L: *Gives me his darkest stare yet. It’s almost as if he’s saying “Don’t push your luck.”*

R: *Relents* Alright, alright, jeez… Oh well, at least I tried! Well, Link, Zelda, it was truly a pleasure having you here in the studio: Link, we’ll see you again in Smash Bros. Ultimate, hopefully with Zelda here cheering you on! Best of luck in the tournament!

*Link recalls the Master Cycle Zero. He stands up and buckles his sword and shield. Amidst the raucous applause, Zelda stands and shakes my hand, followed by Link. Together, they walk off the stage into the backstage area, waving to the audience as they depart.*

Link and Zelda everybody! So, that’s today’s episode, but join me for the next one, because I’m welcoming my first blogging guest on the show! I’m keeping his identity a surprise and I’m telling ya, this interview is gonna be a fun one filled with lots of Ninja-like surprises! Stay tuned for when it drops!

And so, to my dear audience, I bid you farewell! This is Ryan from Beans and Screens, signing off and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Console Challenge Day 11: Top 7 Hidden Gems for the PlayStation (PSX)!

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!

Today, I’m listing the top seven hidden gems of the PlayStation era! This is a sister article to the one I wrote for The Well-Red Mage on the top seven all-time best games of the console. Check it out here.

The PlayStation had an enormous library of games, some amazing, others… not so much. However, there are a great deal of games for the console that many people have missed out on (besides the one’s I’ve deemed the best on the system) and it’s a downright shame they haven’t received enough attention. So, my mission today is to rectify that mistake and share these top seven hidden gems! Grab a coffee and get comfortable as we start the countdown with:

7. Crash Team Racing

What do you get when you combine the craziness of Mario Kart with a really good story mode? You get Crash Team Racing! Literally the best part of this game is the aforementioned story mode, where you have to race around tracks to earn trophies and defeat bosses in order to proceed to the next hub area and eventually get the chance to race against Nitrous Oxide, an extraterrestrial racer who wants to turn Earth into a parking lot!

There’s a bunch more things to do once you best him though: you can revisit tracks to earn CTR tokens and open the Gem Cup Challenges or you can also try your hand at earning Relics through Time Trial mode. Earning the Gems and Relics and challenging Oxide once more earns a neat and hilarious post-credits montage of what each character is up to, post-game. Highlights include Crash getting a movie deal with Universal Studios. Beyond that, the driving mechanics are fun and fast-paced, the dialogue is great (“TINY SQUISH PUNY CARS!” Classic.) Last but not least, there are plenty of hidden secrets to discover, including secret characters that can only be obtained through the time trial mode! I’d really love to see CTR remade or remastered with online capabilities!

6. Rayman

If you’ve played Rayman Origins recently, you may recognize the name and the character. Rayman, a 2-D side scrolling platformer, is the first game of the series and featured the titular character on a quest to both recover the Great Protoon and rescue the resident Electoons from the sinister Mr. Dark. Despite the vivid animations, the whimsical visuals and it’s charming soundtrack, the game is a lot tougher than it appears to be. Despite the difficulty, Rayman gains new abilities, like hanging off ledges, improved punching ability and gliding, as he progresses. Further, to access the final area of the game, Rayman must find all the Electoons in every level, with some found in tricky, hard to reach areas requiring a slew of abilities to access and which can really test one’s patience. It’s a great platformer and a wonderful way to explore the origins of the character.

5. Xenogears

From the publisher of the Final Fantasy series comes an interesting RPG that deals with plenty of issues, such as disassociative identity disorder, religion, war, love, death and reincarnation and the rise and fall of civilizations. Oh and Giant Robots. Can’t forget about those.

Xenogears’ story is vast, epic and a bit of a convoluted mess. However, it’s a great mess to get lost in. For instance, one of the main antagonists is the protagonist’s darker persona; a highly destructive individual named Id, many characters have hidden agendas or buried secrets and three of the game’s primary characters (Fei, Elly and Miang) undergo constant rebirth and reincarnation as the Contact, Anti-type and the Complement respectively. One of those incarnations (the Contact no less) discovers the cause of the cycle of death and rebirth that binds his and Elly’s souls (an all-powerful, sentient alien artifact), becomes evil and disillusioned, learns how to transfer his consciousness to various bodies (thus freeing the Contact to reincarnate to his next body) and finally becomes a seeker of power with desires to end the world, complete with a slick catchphrase (“Doth thou desire the power?” Awesome.). These are just some of the many side stories that happen all at the same time.

Oh, and lest I’ve not stressed this enough: GIANT. ROBOTS. Because, as both Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion have demonstrated, giant robots make everything better!

4. Parasite Eve

Another inventive game from the folks at Squaresoft, Parasite Eve is actually the sequel to a Japanese novel of the same name written by Hideaki Sena. Parasite Eve is an action RPG with horror elements set in Manhattan, on Christmas Eve in 1997. It stars a rookie cop named Aya Brea, who attends a Broadway show featuring an up and coming opera singer named Melissa. Midway through her solo performance, the singer’s fellow actors and members of the start to spontaneously combust. The singer escapes in the chaos and Aya pursues her only to see animals like rats and birds horribly mutate into gruesome creatures, right before her eyes! After finally catching up to her, Melissa suddenly mutates into a being calling herself “Eve.” Declaring that mitochondria have begun to rebel against their host cells, she awakens a power within Aya that forever changes her. Over the next six days, Aya chases Eve across Manhattan and attempts to stop her from giving birth to the “Ultimate Being,” all while learning about her mysterious new powers and a supposed connection with her long-dead twin sister, Maya.

Parasite Eve is Squaresoft’s first Mature rated game and with good reason: the visuals and subject matter are quite disturbing. However, the narrative is gripping and the action-RPG combat mechanics are very well done. The game also makes great use of horror elements, like the use of foreboding silence and jump scares, to make the player feel on edge about what will happen next. Plus, Aya is a total badass who faces all challenges head on, no matter how gruesome it gets, much like Samus Aran and Lara Croft. Parasite Eve is a wholly underrated game and one that definitely deserves more recognition.

3. Soul Edge/Soul Blade

From the makers of Tekken comes this fantastic weapons-based fighting game! Set in the 16th century, nine characters from different countries and versed in various fighting styles set off to find a tenth individual who is purported to hold Soul Edge – the ultimate weapon. To some of the characters, it’s a weapon of salvation and to others, it’s a weapon that must be destroyed due to its evil nature. It’s the first game of the Soul series and is the prequel to SoulCaliber – one of the best fighting games ever made.

The PlayStation port of this game (which was originally released in arcades) came with a whole slew of extras. It introduced a story mode in Edge Master Mode, where the player follows a character’s journey to find Soul Edge while fighting opponents under certain conditions and handicaps. Defeating opponents yielded tons of really cool weapons with various stats and special effects which could then be used in all other game modes! On top of that, Soul Edge boasted three soundtracks: the original, an arranged, orchestrated variant and the Khan Super Special Soundtrack, which was exclusive to the PlayStation edition. To top it all off, this edition included a third alternate outfit for each character and five secret characters including the final boss, Soul Edge. Seriously, that’s a lot for a fighting game! Sadly, you can only play it via a physical copy or through emulation. I don’t understand why Bandai-Namco hasn’t released this digitally yet. It’s an absolute travesty.

2. Tomba!

Number two on the list is this colourful, zany and fun platformer starring a pink haired wild boy named Tomba! It reminds me a bit of Zelda II and Metroid in that there’s a heavy emphasis on exploration and backtracking. There’s a whole slew of items and tools available at Tomba’s disposal to use in his quest to recover his grandfather’s bracelet, which was stolen by the Evil Pigs; greedy, treasure-loving piggies who’ve been terrorizing the local populace. On top of the main quest, there is a whole bunch of side quests to pursue that yield rich rewards, like extra lives and power ups and even access to new areas. What’s especially interesting is, like number six on the list (Rayman), that behind the cute and funny visuals, there are plenty of difficult platforming sections which require patience and a degree of trial and error to figure out.

As we round out the top seven, there’s one game on this list that’s both incredibly amazing and frustrating, requiring more patience than a saint to complete. However, this game is one of my all-time favourites for the system and is hence on the number one spot on this list of hidden gems:

1. Alundra

I honestly have gushed enough about this game on Twitter and for good reason: if there was a poster boy for the term “Hidden Gem,” this game would be it!

Take the gameplay of the Legend of Zelda, add in platforming mechanics, a story darker than Majora’s Mask (complete with discussions on religion, death, depression and nightmares that can really kill you), the ability to walk through dreams, an intricate dungeon design with puzzles that are guaranteed to obfuscate and befuddle the most brilliant of minds and a stellar cast of characters who reflect on their reality with a combination of abject horror, dark humor and apathy. That is Alundra in a nutshell. It’s quite difficult to complete thanks to the difficult puzzles, but the game’s story is great and the writing is well done! And while Ronan is no Sephiroth, he’s still an interesting villian in that he impedes Alundra’s quest at the orders of his “God”, even if it means he has to do unspeakable things, like murdering innocent people, including children. It’s also the subject of my next review (insert shameless plug here).

So there you have it! My top 7 Hidden Gems! Do you agree? Disagree? Have some games to add to this list or replace? Drop a line in the comments below!

Big thanks to The Well-Red Mage for issuing the challenge and for letting me join in on the fun! You should definitely check out the other console entries written by my fellow mages and other writers, they’re worth the read!

Until next time Mature, Distinguished Gamers, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Reflecting on Death Through Gaming

“At times of strife and anguish, we turn to our craft in the hope that it will light our way forward.” – Unknown

Good day and welcome back to another edition of Games with Coffee.

It’s a sad time for my family as my wife’s grandmother, who we all call Aaje (pronounced “Aah-gee”), had passed away from cancer this past Monday, May 28. What started as an exam two weeks prior to investigate problems in her digestive tract, ended with a diagnosis of terminal colorectal cancer and her subsequent decline in health until her passing in palliative care.

My wife, Usha, was incredibly close to her Aaje. Growing up, she lived at her house with her grandfather, who they call Aaja (pronounced “Aah-jah”). It is there that they both instilled within her a love of the creative arts, the importance of getting a good education and a strong desire to live good through the tenements of Hinduism and our many Gods. Ush would have long, storied conversations with her grandmother on the phone almost every day; sometimes multiple times in one day! Whenever she called, I always made an effort to say hi, to which she would reply, “Hi Beta (Son)!” and then ask how I’m doing, despite still talking with her granddaughter. And this was all despite the fact that she suffered a stroke over 15 years ago that handicapped her physically. Luckily, her mental faculties were intact and so, Aaje was able to share with her grandchildren (and myself, by extension) stories about her life living in Guyana, owning a store, getting married at an early age, being involved with the Arya Samaj church (a sect of Hinduism) and the sacrifices she and her husband made to get her children a good education in Canada.

Aaje was an incredibly strong woman, who raised incredible children and grandchildren and inspired those around her. I’m lucky she also considered me a grandson of her own, despite not sharing any blood relations with her. Her kindness, straight-forward nature and her love of gardening are what I’ll remember the most about her. She would always ask me how my vegetable garden is doing and if there’s anything ready to harvest and eat. It makes playing games like Stardew Valley hard now, because I could always hear her voice in the background telling me to water my plants or put fertilizer so I can get more from my crops. I’ll miss that greatly.

Her dying wish was to hold her first great-grandchild – my son, Arjun – so I’m comforted by the notion that her wish was granted in the end. Having her not see my boy enough, however, is my greatest regret. My wife, Usha, always told me that once she could see her first great-grandchild, she could pass away without regret, but still, I feel sad that she didn’t get to see him enough.


On the ride to work on Tuesday, the day after she passed away, I was listening to the God of War (2018) soundtrack. As I listened, I reviewed certain scenes in my head and then correlated them with my current situation. God of War deals with the passing of loved ones and the journey one goes through to fulfill the last rites of the dead. Much like the events in the game, Aaje will be cremated as per Hindu customs and her ashes scattered, either in a body of water or possibly in her home village (it’s not 100% determined yet). As I was thinking about that, it made me appreciate the game more, as Kratos and Atreus grow both as individuals and as father and son through Faye’s passing. With that said, I also believe our family will grow from this death and be stronger for it. The song that really struck me was “Ashes,” it is a very powerful piece in the soundtrack and I teared up a little because of it.

Prior to the news of her passing on Monday, I had this strange feeling that something was wrong: my throat and chest constricted and a feeling of foreboding washed over me When I got the call about half an hour after, I felt three things: Relief, since she was no longer suffering. Sadness, because she passed. And a spark of inspiration, which is how this post came to be. Prior to this, I haven’t had the same appetite I usually have for writing, because I was concerned both about Aaje’s health and Usha’s well-being regarding the situation. The day after she passed though, I suddenly had the urge to write. It reminded me of the events in one of my favourite games for the original PlayStation (and the subject of my next Espresso Shot Review): Alundra. In the game, Jess the blacksmith had the sudden urge to create something, usually an item or weapon to help Alundra, whenever someone in the village died suddenly, either from the nightmares or from an incident. That was the feeling I had when I started writing this down. I had some way to connect gaming to how I’m currently feeling about this death, and in a way, it’s helping me to process it all. It’s strange too how the Requiem theme from Alundra also runs through my mind during this time:

Tomorrow, Thursday May 31st, is the funeral and my last chance to say goodbye before she’s physically gone forever. As I sit here alone with coffee in hand (it’s just my boy and I at the house; everyone else is at the viewing) and think about what I should say, I realize I said everything I needed to here. So, all I’d have left to say here is…

Goodbye Aaje. We love you. And may the Gods grant you respite.

Presenting The Ultimate Emulation System – The RetroPie!

Salutations! Welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!

Today, we’ll be talking about a wild addition to my gaming repertoire; the RetroPie! I’ll also mention the controllers that I’ve equipped onto this versatile, little system. So, without further ado, let’s begin.


What is a RetroPie?

RetroPie is an OS that can be loaded onto a Raspberry Pi – basically an inexpensive microcomputer – and transforms it into a retro gaming emulation machine! RetroPie can be loaded as its own OS or it can be overlaid on top of an existing full OS. In my case, I loaded it up on a Raspberry Pi.

20180429_105010

To put one of these bad boys together, you’ll need the following:

  • A working computer to download the software, games, and the like.
  • A Raspberry Pi 3 (Model B or higher is recommended)
  • A power source for the Pi (must be rated at 2.5 amps)
  • a Micro SD card (16 GB minimum, but I use a 32 GB card)
  • A USB-capable controller or keyboard
  • A 16 GB minimum USB stick (I recommend getting a fresh stick, but reformatting an old one works too)
  • A Micro SD to USB adapter
  • An HDMI Cable
  • A HDMI compatible screen
  • A case (completely optional, but good to have nevertheless)

Installing RetroPie on the Pi computer is not too difficult to do – just follow the steps listed here.

Pro tip: once the software is written onto the MicroSD card, your computer may tell you that it can’t read the device and will recommend to format it. DO NOT FORMAT IT! Just remove it once the writing process is complete and insert the SD card into the Pi. This happened to me a couple of times until I figured that out.


What Games Does RetroPie Play?

In a nutshell, practically all generations of consoles and games up to and including the original PlayStation. There are emulators that can play beyond that system, but the Pi isn’t powerful enough for them to work properly.

In general, a majority of games are compatible with the emulators on the system. In other words, I’ve yet to find a game that doesn’t play perfectly on here.

There are also some homebrew games and ports available to play, such as Duke Nukem and Doom. These can be found through the Manage Packages option on the main RetroPie menu.

Getting the games into the Pi is as simple as inserting a fresh/formatted USB stick into the Pi and taking it out after it creates all the directories on the stick, which usually takes a few minutes. Next you insert the stick into a computer, copy your games into the respective console folders and put the stick back into the Pi. If all goes well, you should see a list of systems appear on the main menu of the RetroPie interface, which will contain the games.

Options and RetroArch

Once you launch a game, you can access a list of options that allow you to modify the screen resolution to fit your screen or change the default emulator for the game, among others. This is done by pressing any button before the emulator starts.

RetroArch is a front end that’s accessed while the emulator is running and provides options to save and load states, modify control configurations and adjust settings. The default command to access this menu (assuming you’re using an SNES controller) is Select + X.


What about Controllers?

Thanks to the Pi’s Bluetooth capabilities, you can easily use wireless controllers to play your favourite classic games! While you can connect PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Xbox controllers to the system, I find that the perfect controllers to use are the ones by 8bitdo.

I have the SNES30 (or the SN30) Bluetooth controller and it’s a BLAST to use! The controller feels exactly like the Super Nintendo controller, down to its weight, the feel of the buttons and grip.

20180429_105018

The setup is a bit of a chore, but once it’s all done, you just turn on the system and the controller and you’re good to go!

If wired is what you’re looking for, you can use a USB wired controller or, if you have some classic controllers lying around, a USB to (insert console here) converter also works great!


Where Can I Get All This Stuff!?

Luckily, you can get a complete Raspberry Pi kit on Amazon for a relatively modest price. Either check Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

As for the case, there are plenty to choose from! There are even some cases that look like classic consoles of yore! The one I used is this one – the transparent, seven-layer construction is stylish, it comes with plenty of heat sinks and it has a fan that you can connect to the Pi’s GPIO board to keep the unit cool. It’s very useful!

Amazon also has a plethora of controller options available. You can also find wireless controllers, including the popular 8bitdo controllers, at any electronic big-box store or gaming stores, like Best Buy (CA) or GameStop/EB Games for example.

As for games, well emulation is still a very gray area in legal terms. I won’t tell you where you where explicitly you can find any, but Google is your best friend in that regard.


So, there you have it. All the tools you need to build your very own retro arcade system! Whether you’re looking to play the finest offerings of retro gaming for the first time or the millionth time, the RetroPie is probably the best option available, in my opinion.

With another edition concluded, this has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, off to play some Mega Man X on my own RetroPie setup and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

God of War (2018) [PlayStation 4] – First Impressions

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! It’s the weekend, and what better way to celebrate than to brew a cuppa and play some games first thing in the morning? Well, that’s what I’m doing at least, after feeding my Mini-Me of course.

So, a highly anticipated game was released last Friday, April 20th. There has been much talk about it over the last several months since its announcement and… I’m sad to say that I haven’t picked it up yet. Of course, I’m talking about the unfathomably amazing Nintendo Labo! It’s cardboard that you build and play with using the Switch and judging from the initial reaction from my fellow gamers, it’s fantastic, easy to use and so much fun!

Alas, that’s not what this post is about, because on that same Friday, another highly anticipated game was released and is the one I picked up. That game is God of War!

(Spoilers for God of War III)

The series’ developer, Santa Monica, announced the game at 2016’s E3. It is the sequel to God of War III, where our erstwhile embodiment of rage and vengeance, Kratos, finally exacted his revenge against his father, Zeus, only to discover that he was a pawn for the goddess Athena (not you Athena, the other Athena). Athena desired the power of Hope that she had put in Pandora’s Box after Zeus sealed the evils of the world long ago, as she told Kratos that only she could use that power properly. She explains that when Kratos reopened the box and unleashed the evils back into the world in the first game, that power of hope was transferred to him, giving him the strength to overcome his many obstacles, such as defeating Ares, changing his fate after being betrayed by his father, Zeus, and eventually defeating him at the end of the third installment.

Kratos realized that to undo all he had wrought in his mad quest for vengeance, he needed to sacrifice himself and return the power of hope to the people of Greece. To that end, he impaled himself using the Blade of Olympus, releasing the power instead of giving it to the goddess, who left the warrior to die, disgusted over his decision. Post credits, we find Kratos’ body gone; the blade discarded to the side and a trail of blood leading into the churning waters below, his ultimate fate unknown.

(Spoilers end here)

The latest installment of the series shows that Kratos is alive and well, years after his conquest of the Greek gods, and living deep in the Wildlands with a wife and son in the Norse realm of Midgard. He’s also sporting a wicked beard.

The demigod lived a life of solitude with his new family until his wife’s untimely passing. It is here that Kratos’ latest adventures begins, as he promised his late wife that he and his son shall scatter her ashes at the highest peak in Midgard.

But an even greater challenge awaits the former God of War; being a parent to his son, Atreus.

After spending a week in The Nine Realms, I have to say that I’m incredibly impressed. Granted, I haven’t gotten very far in the game, but I’m enjoying my experience nonetheless. Four things stood out the most for me: Combat, Exploration, Story and Characters.

Combat

Combat in the game is vastly different from previous God of War games. The weapons that were ubiquitous in the earlier series have gone, replaced by a runic axe called the Leviathan Axe, imbued with the power of ice and given to him by his wife before her passing. It’s one of the most fun weapons I’ve ever used in this type of game! The neat part about the axe is it’s Thor-like ability to return to Kratos’ hand. You can arm the axe and throw it at enemies or objects and then recall it to your hand using the Triangle button. When the axe is thrown at enemies, Kratos can still defend himself using his fists and shield. Despite being weaker, these attacks can build up an enemy’s stun gauge enough that he can perform a finisher, a staple in the series. The battles themselves can be pretty tough and will require a combination of melee combat and axe throwing to get through them.

Another returning staple is the Rage of Sparta. When activated, Kratos becomes enraged and simply uses his fists to inflict massive damage to anything around him. As he pummels his foes, his health regains slowly, making it tactical to use in case you can’t find any healthstones (used to heal Kratos this time around). It’s very fun to use, but should only be used in a pinch.

Magic in this game is achieved through the use of Runestones, which can be equipped on the Leviathan Axe. There seem to be lots of spells to use. Magic has a cooldown period before they can be used again, which can be affected by Kratos’ Cooldown stat.

Kratos’ son, Atreus, is more than just a tag-along character – he actively assists his father using his bow to inflict stun damage, or can jump on an enemy and distract it long enough for Kratos to get in a combo or finish it off. He also warns Kratos of any hazard, allowing the player some time to react accordingly (either by blocking or dodging).

Finally, Kratos earns experience from every foe he and Atreus defeats, which is used to purchase skill upgrades, much like the Red Orbs of the previous games. It definitely give the game an RPG-like feel.

Exploration

A significant departure for the series is how open the world is, compared to the linear feeling of the previous games. I really like this change a lot! There’s a lot to see and do in the game. Atreus also provides a lot of context for the Norse world and its mythology, something that Kratos (and the player by extension) has little familiarity with.

The environment is very puzzle driven and reminds me strongly of the Legend of Zelda. Kratos and Atreus must work together to solve them; the father using his vast strength and axe and the son using his small size and light weight to fit into passageways and vault upwards to higher ground. The axe has a significant feature in that it can freeze objects when thrown. This is necessary to navigate puzzles where bridges or ceilings need to be locked in place to proceed, much like the Stasis rune in Breath of the Wild.

Like with its predecessors, secret areas hide chests filled with hacksilver or resources (used to purchase equipment and upgrades), Enchantments and Runestones, among others. There are also locked chests that can only be opened with Kratos throwing his axe at the ruins associated with the chest. The environment also has tons of breakable objects in which you can obtain spare hacksilver or reveal hidden passages.

Story and Characters

What I love the most about this game is the character development. Gone are the days of rage of vengeance that fuels Kratos; instead, he has a more quiet, stoic presence about him. He is also a man in mourning as his second wife, Faye, passed away to start the game. You can see the stoic mask drop momentarily in the opening scenes as he’s about to cut down the last tree for the funeral pyre, which I liked.

Through out the game, Kratos is at a loss on how to approach his son, Atreus, given that he both had no proper father figure growing up and that his warmongering, Spartan upbringing was the only thing he had ever known. He is very cold towards his son, addressing him as “Boy” and distancing himself from him. There are times that Kratos wants to reach out to him in comfort, but he hesitates, unsure of what to do in these situations, only to retract into his shell. I feel that Kratos can see his own vulnerabilities in Atreus, which is why it’s hard for him to reach out.

I really like this direction for the character, it shows that he has more of a human side that we all realize.

As for Atreus, he isn’t an annoying sidekick. Rather he sounds incredibly genuine. His quick wit and childlike innocence is an excellent foil to the brooding Kratos. He also provides his father valuable knowledge about the Nordic gods and the realm itself. Atreus is also helpful in battle, warning his father of dangers he cannot see, assisting him in general and adding research notes on the enemies they face, along with strategies. There’s also hidden depth to him, in that he doesn’t know his true nature as a demigod. His godhood manifests in strange ways, such as his mysterious illnesses mentioned in passing and bouts of unbridled rage.

I love mythological history and I appreciated the efforts Santa Monica made with adapting Greek mythology to Kratos’ story. It looks like they took a more in-depth approach with the Norse mythology, given Atreus’ vast knowledge of The Nine Realms. I personally can’t wait to see how Kratos and his son fit into the grander scheme of Odin and his pantheon of gods.

Right from the start with the appearance of The Stranger, it seems like the gods don’t take kindly to strangers in The Nine Realms. It also seems that both father and son will be drawn into the affairs of the gods on their journey up the mountain.

The best part so far? Meeting the World Serpent (Jormungandr). I thought the Titans from the previous games were huge, but the massive snake takes the cake.

Image result for world serpent god of war


So, that’s it for this edition. What do you guys think about God of War? Let me know in the comments below!

This has been Ryan, getting lost in one of my favourite mythologies and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Path of Exile Playthrough Part 6 – Ruin Raider

Greetings Exiles and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!

After an unplanned hiatus of nearly two months (courtesy of computer issues and a tiny, milk-demanding Exile who has created havoc with my schedule…), I’m back with my ongoing Path of Exile playthrough! If you haven’t caught up yet, check out the following links to rectify that problem:

  1. Part 1 -A Vacay in Wraeclast
  2. Part 2 – So Close, Yet Still So Far
  3. Part 3 – Finally at Act 2!
  4. Part 4 – Into The Woods…
  5. Part 5 – Dealing With Bandits

The Root of the Problem

To recap; I’ve defeated two of the Bandit Lords and spared Oak, who has rewarded me with some passive health regeneration and strength abilities for siding with him. The villagers in the Encampment, Eramir especially, were… modestly pleased? I mean, there’s only one Lord to deal with instead of three. I’m sure they’ll be fine.

In the meantime, I had other things to deal with, namely that the entrance to the Vaal Ruins, my next point of interest, was blocked off. I decided for the time being that I would complete Silk’s quest (mentioned briefly in the previous installment) to retrieve his long, sharp object in the Eight-Legs nest in The Western Forest.

Backtracking and finding the nest in question, I ventured forth to hunt the dreaded Mother Eight-Legs Silk spoke about. I headed through The Weaver’s Grounds and made my way through the spider-infested lair to the Nest, where the Mother lay.

I easily laid waste to the giant spider using my trusty area-of-effect skills and obtained Maligaro’s Spike; which was in Silk’s possession before he lost it. Returning to the Forest Encampment and presenting it to him, Silk offered me some Support Gems! I selected Controlled Destruction; It’s a useful support for my Firestorm gem!

After speaking to Helena about Maligaro’s Spike, she informed me that I would need to use both it and the Baleful Gem I found in the Chamber of Sins to access the Vaal Ruins. I combined the items and approached the tree with them.

screenshot-0031

With the path opened, I decided to undergo another side-quest first, before tackling the ruins.

Masters, Ascendancy and Crypts Galore!

Yeena had asked of me to head to a Crypt, east of the Forest Encampment, to find the hand of “a good man.” After warping to The Crossroads and travelling through The Fellshrine Ruins, I entered the first floor of The Crypt. I was assailed on all sides by many undead creatures, including skeletons that cast elemental magic!

screenshot-0004.png

Soon enough, I ran into an old friend; the Master of the Hunt, Tora! There was a pack of infected beasts roaming about and she asked me to take care of it before they become a problem. She handed me an item infused with thaumaturgy that allowed me to track the creatures by following pools of their blood.

screenshot-0006.png

Following the trail, I found myself face to face with a horde of Infected Watchers – floating tentacle monsters which cast lightning magic and became enraged at low health.

screenshot-0007.png

After killing nearly twenty of them, I encountered their leader, a Mutated Watcher, with the same buffs as its brethren along with an addition skill: it casts Lightning Warp!

screenshot-0010

It took a bit of time, but I eventually endured. From its carcass, I ended up picking up my very first Unique weapon; a Goredrill Skinning Knife! Granted, it doesn’t fit with my current build, but hey, I’ll take it!

screenshot-0011screenshot-0012

After reporting in to Tora, she instructed me to visit her back at the Encampment; she would have new goods for me to purchase. Meanwhile, I continued onward through the Crypt and found another Bronze Monograph, which meant it was time for another Trial of Ascendancy!

screenshot-0014.png

For this Trial, I had to face spinning columns equipped with deadly blades. These columns moved on a fixed track and their movements can be altered through the use of switches. Getting caught in these blades HURT, so care should be taken when going through this section.

Eventually, I passed the Trial. I’m one more step further to Ascendancy!

screenshot-0018.png

Travelling down the second level, I ran into Tora again. Another day, another Master mission; this time she wanted me to eliminate several packs of creatures. Once again, I got my tracker ready and was on the hunt!

screenshot-0020.png

I ended up slaying roughly forty creatures that attack with powerful leaps, which also gained me a level up as well as some additional reputation with Tora!

Travelling into the deepest part of the Crypt, I defeated the vault guards, opened the Altar and obtained The Golden Hand. This must be the hand of the good man Yeena was talking about…

Returning to the encampment, I handed it in to Yeena, where she rewarded me with one of three Jewels to equip onto my Passive Tree as well as the Book of Regrets, which granted me two respec points!

screenshot-0029screenshot-0030

Raiders of the Lost Vaal

WIth that completed, it was time to enter the ruins at last! The enemies here are tough – the constructs either use projectiles or are extremely quick, while the humanoid enemies have strong energy shields and heightened elemental resistances. As I rounded the corner, I ran into my old friend Haku.

screenshot-0034.png

Once again, a warrior spirit of Karui needs rescuing in a corrupted area and quickly, as when I entered the Haunted Lair, a two minute timer started counting down! I quickly headed to the back of the lair, using quick skills like Lightning Tendrils and Detonate Dead to mow down the large spiders blocking my way. At the back, I encountered a corrupted Totem with the captured spirit. Defeating it freed the spirit and I quickly escaped to deliver it to a relieved Haku.

Travelling deeper into the ruins, I found myself in front of an Ancient Seal.

screenshot-0037

Everything about it smelled Trap, but nevertheless, it was in my way and I had to proceed. I touched it:

screenshot-0038

Well… that doesn’t look good. I opened a portal back to the Encampment and discovered, to my horror, that the whole land was covered in darkness and I was the cause of it! Speaking to Yeena first about the Apex and then Eramir afterward for additional information, my next objective was revealed – I had to travel to a pyramid beyond the Ruins and use the Apex to find and defeat this source of the darkness. Doing so would both save the land and ease my guilty conscience at the same time.

Today’s Tip: Jewels

As I mentioned above, Yeena gave me a Jewel as a quest reward. Jewels are used to grant additional passive effects on the Passive Skill Tree. In order to use them though, you must progress through the tree until you reach an empty Jewel Socket, which you must allocate a skill point for. Only then can you equip the Jewel and reap the benefits!

Jewels, like all items in the game, are also treated as currency, meaning that they can be traded to other players! You can also save unused Jewels in your stash, just in case you either want to make space for new Jewels on your skill tree or you want to transfer them over to your other builds.

Looking for some of the aforementioned items in this post? Be sure to check out the Path of Exile Items store at Playerauctions.com: they have a wide selection at a reasonable cost, and all transactions are safe and secure.

Hope you enjoyed today’s play-through post! Until the next edition, this has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, wishing you Exiles good fortune on the battlefield and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior: Espresso Shot Review

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! Let thy cup runneth full of beany goodness!

If the slight Olde English hasn’t tipped you off yet, today I’ll be talking about the very first RPG I’ve ever played: Dragon Warrior for the Nintendo Entertainment System! Also known as Dragon Quest in Japan, this is the first installment of the long running Dragon Quest series.

This game has many memories associated with it – every game I’ve played on the NES as a child was a challenge, but few have challenged me so like this one. But now I wonder, after almost 32 years since its original release and 29 years for the North American version, how does it fare in my eyes in the present day? Well, its the subject of today’s Espresso Shot Review! Let’s take a look:


Dragon Quest was released on May 1986 in Japan and in North America in August 1989 under the name Dragon Warrior, by Enix, a company producing RPG games before they merged with their rival, Squaresoft, in the early 2000’s to create Square-Enix. Dragon Warrior is considered to be one of the grandfather’s of Japanese RPG’s, setting the base template for all modern JRPG’s to follow.

I will be reviewing Dragon Warrior, released in August of 1989 for the NES, just over three years after Dragon Quest was released for the Famicom.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-0

Story

Dragon Warrior takes place in the kingdom of Aelfgard, a series of modestly sized lands with rivers, islands and the like. Many years ago, when darkness covered the land, a hero named Erdrick brought peace to the kingdom by slaying a great evil and using an artifact called The Ball of Light to banish the remaining dark creatures. He handed it over to the King in Tantegel Castle, ensuring that the kingdom would be protected.

One individual was not a fan of the Ball’s radiance; he was the Dragonlord, a man corrupted by evil magic and who could control dragons. He gathered an army, invaded Tantegel Castle and stole the Ball of Light, casting the kingdom back into darkness. He then went on a reign of terror, razing towns and causing generic havoc before settling down in his castle, Charlock, on an island surrounded by impassable waters near Tantegel.

Years later, a prophet proclaimed that a new hero will emerge – a descendant of Erdrick himself – to save the land. After the Dragonlord kidnapped Tantegel’s beautiful princess, Gwaelin, a man (the player character) arrives at the kingdom, proclaiming himself to be that descendant. The current King, believing him, instructs him to save his daughter, defeat the Dragonlord and bring the light back to Aelfgard.

dragon-warrior-usa-rev-a-1-e1519351446161.png

This is the hero of our story! His name is Roast.

As far as story goes, this is pretty cookie cutter: save the princess, defeat the bad guy, save the world. It was a common storyline at the time when the gaming industry was slowly transitioning to a more narrative structure as opposed to typical high score arcade fare. While common and accessible in its time, today, the storyline wouldn’t find as much traction, given that, in this writer’s opinion, older gamers yearn for more complex narratives. And yet, the simplicity of the story presented in Dragon Warrior makes this game a great, entry-level RPG for a child aged 7-10.

The most charming aspect of the story is the English translation’s use of Elizabethan (aka Olde) English. It gives the story and the dialogue a more Shakespearean, medieval tone and helps make the player feel like they’re in the middle of a fantasy world.

Gameplay

Dragon Warrior is a heavily text-based game. Every action, from talking to NPC’S, to searching for items and opening chests and to attacking and using spells, is controlled through several menu-driven options, accessed using the A button. Menu options include context specific actions like Talk, Search, Take and Door, along with traditional RPG staples like Item, Magic and Status. The interface was designed to be as simple as possible, given the limited number of inputs available to use.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-1

On the field, opening the menu and selecting an action will execute that action in the direction the player character is facing. So, if you wanted to talk to someone or examine an object of interest, you’d have to face in that direction, otherwise you’ll get a notice saying no one is there. Also, to use the Door command, you’ll need Magic Keys. This is a bit irksome, since it would be easier to walk up to a door and press A to open it as opposed to opening the menu and selecting the Door command itself. Future installments, along with remakes, have addressed this, but it’s still a slight chore.

The field is separated into three types: Towns, the Overworld map and Dungeons. Towns are where you can obtain information for your quest from townspeople, buy items and gear and rest to recover HP and MP.

The Overworld is the area where most of the time is spent; players must travel to towns and dungeons to progress with the story. You’ll find random encounters with various monsters. Players will encounter stronger monsters or experience higher encounter rates depending on the terrain. An interesting thing about the hilly terrain is that there’s a slight pause as you walk across, making it feel like you’re actually crossing hills.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-2

Bridges serve an additional purpose besides connecting landmasses, as players will see a clear difference in enemy strength once crossed. This invisible difficulty barrier helps players identify which areas to avoid until they get strong enough to go through without trouble.

dragon-warrior-usa-rev-a-31.png

In dungeons, players will encounter stronger monsters at an increased rate, but they will find rare weapons or items necessary to complete the game. Also, since these areas are shrouded in darkness, a torch or the Radiant spell are required to be able to see your surroundings.

When a monster is encountered, a different set of commands become available: Fight, Magic, Item and Run. Fight makes your character attack with an equipped weapon, with its effectiveness dependent on the players current strength and the weapon’s attack rating. Magic casts spells in your repertoire, like Heal and Hurt. Item allows the use of items in your inventory to use in battle and Run makes your character attempt to run away. You won’t be able to escape all the time; your success rate is based on how high your agility stat is. Upon wining the battle, you gain experience points and gold.

Regarding stats, they are easy to follow and keep track of. Besides HP and MP, strength, as mentioned above, relates to fighting prowess, defense is for taking monster attacks and agility indicates if you attack first before the opponent does, if you are able to strike without missing and if you are able to run away from the fight. Status effects are limited to falling asleep, being prevented from casting spells via Stopspell and being cursed by wearing cursed items; this is expanded in further installments. Compared to the intricacies and nuances of the modern RPG, with its various stats and ailments, Dragon Warrior simplifies it all, making it very accessible to newcomers.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-8

At death, you get a message, saying “Thou art dead.”

If you die, either on the field or in battle, you return to the King with half your gold missing. It’s good in a sense, since you don’t lose progress in terms of leveling up, but if you’re trying to save up for the more expensive items for your quest, then you’re out of luck.

A few problems players could encounter are that the difficulty level ramps up quickly as you progress and that the only way to save is to return to Tantegel Castle and speak with the King. It’s wise to keep some Wyvern’s Wings with you, in case you’re knee deep in more difficult parts of the world, you’re out of magic and need to make a hasty retreat (or if you’re finished playing for the day and want to turn it off.). This archaic save mechanism continued to be a staple in later installments, (instead of speaking to a king, you’d confess in church), whereas other RPG’s settled for allowing players to save on the Overworld or save points within dungeons.

Another major problem is that, besides sleeping at an Inn or speaking to an wizard behind a desk at Tantegal Castle, there’s no way to recover spent MP. This makes conserving magic extremely important, as you can run out of it fairly quickly if you’re not careful.


Visuals

Legendary manga artist and creator of the Dragon Ball series, Akira Toriyama, lent his artistic talents to the Dragon Quest series. He created the artwork for characters as well as monsters, the most famous being the Slime creature, the mascot of the series.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-0

It’s interesting to see how his art style influenced the series over the years, especially Dragon Quest VIII, my favourite of the series. But we’re talking about the very first game, so let’s segue on back…

Graphics-wise, the 8-bit style hasn’t aged well. Colours and textures are very simple and conservative in nature, but in the present day, they look very dated. The overworld sprites, emulating the Chibi art style, look cute and animated.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-5

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-6

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-7

My biggest criticism has to be the dungeon design. It’s very bland in nature. Only when you reach the last area where the Dragonlord lies is there any difference in how dungeons look.

The biggest strength to the game’s visuals is the monster art. Toriyama’s art style ensures that the enemies silly appearances belies their terrifying strength.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-13

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-14

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-15


Music

There’s very little music in the game, but some are quite memorable. One in particular is the title theme when you turn the game on. This title theme would go on to be used in all subsequent entries of Dragon Quest, making it a well-recognized theme.

I’m particularly fond of the overworld music. It gives off a medieval, I’m-crossing-the-land vibe and adds to the atmosphere.

What I found interesting is that the dungeon music drops in octaves as you descend deeper down the floors. It’s an unique approach to identifying which floor you’re occupying, since most times you have no idea which one you’re on in the first place. This has also carried on into later installments.

There are also a few jingles that either have carried over to future installments, like the music that plays when you level up or when an enemy is defeated, or stand out, like the death theme.

The rest of the music featured in game are simple and repetitive, yet pleasant to listen to.


Replayability

In terms of post game content, there really isn’t any. Once you finish the game, you finish the game. This was standard practice at the time for early JRPG games; it was not until the mid 90’s where, as an additional challenge, optional bosses could be fought for great rewards.

The few things one could do would be to either grind for experience to max your character’s levels or to try beating the game at a low level. Both are a slog. The hardest thing someone could accomplish, however, is to speedrun the game. Yes, you read that right; Dragon Warrior can be speedrun. Check out the video below as this runner for Games Done Quick manipulates the RNG to complete the game in less than half an hour! It’s insane!


Wrapup

As I mentioned at the start of the review, Dragon Warrior is one of the original RPG’s in which future JRPG’s modeled themselves after. Positives for the game include its story. which is easy to follow, the pleasant music, the excellent enemy art done by Akira Toriyama, and the accessible, if clunky at times, menu interface. Negatives include the dated graphics, the bland dungeon design, the odd game save mechanics and the steep difficulty curve, which may throw new players out for a loop.

Overall, Dragon Warrior is a fun retro game to play and an excellent way to pass time. I give it:

4 out of 5

4/5

Answering Big Questions: A Favourite Game for Every Year of My Existence

Another day, another edition of Games with Coffee! This one’s brought to you by the Mage who wields magics of black and white, wears red all over and is a shining paragon of good, long-form video game journalism – The Well-Red Mage!

His Mageliness (I’m fully aware that’s not a word) of the Well-Red persuasion has asked in a recent post: “What is your favourite game for every year you’ve been alive?”

An excellent question, one that I’m more than willing to answer! And because I’m actually overdue for a music post as well, I’ll even throw in a favourite song/remix, just to spice things up!

We begin this rollercoaster almost 31 years ago (based on North American release dates) on the year of my birth, 1987:


December 1987: Mega Man (NES)

Favourite song: Cut Man’s Theme

Original Mega Man was HARD! I only got around to playing it in my twenties, but wow, I found it difficult. I particularly hated the Yellow Devil.

So. Much. Hate…

What I liked the most was the music, particularly Cut Man’s Theme! Check out this fun Western-like remix in which Cut Man gets ROASTED! It’s quite enjoyable:


December 1, 1988: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Favourite song: Dungeon Theme

OK, this is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite NES game! It was tough, but man I was obsessed with this title for years, until I beat it in my late teens. I still continue to play it to this day on either the Zelda compilation for the GameCube or through my Retropie. Even though it’s considered the black sheep of the series, it holds a special place in my heart.

The dungeon theme from this game is the most ubiquitous, having been featured in Super Smash Bros. Melee and onwards. I got here, like, a totally tubular surfer version of the theme, dudes. It’s pretty rad.


June 1989: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

Favourite song: Stage 2 – The Hudson River

I loved the Ninja Turtles! The first of three TMNT games for the NES, it was both unique and difficult, but still so much fun! Donatello was so overpowered…

Fun fact: the Konami code totally works for this game!

The Hudson River level was arguably where the game’s difficulty level skyrockets. The music, however, is really chill and nice to listen to. Check out chiptune remix of this awesome (but super hard) level!


February 12, 1990: Super Mario Bros 3

Favourite song: World 7 – Pipe Land

Honestly, this post can sum up how much I love this game. It was the first video game I have ever owned as a kid!

Here’s an awesome mix of the World 7 map theme to listen to! It’s a peppy and fun EDM track!


June 23, 1991: Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)

Favourite song: Marble Zone

Ah, my good friend Sonic. He was one of my many heroes that I looked up to as a kid. This was the game that stated it all. Since then, Sonic’s had further successes in gaming, cartoons and comics and has become a household name across the world, thanks to his blistering fast speed, his strong sense of justice and his snarky, devil-may-care attitude.

Out of all the music from the Sonic series, my absolute favorite is the Marble Zone. I have no idea why I love it so, but alas I do. Here’s a mix that I’ve recently gotten into; it’s a jazzy, funky rendition of the theme!


November 21, 1992: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis)

Favourite song: Chemical Plant

And back again with some more Sonic! This one introduced Tails, Sonic’s two-tailed sidekick, the seventh Chaos Emerald and the Super Sonic mechanic. This was the first Sonic game I’ve ever played and, by far, my favourite of the retro Sonic games.

Chemical Plant was one of the more creative stages of the series with a killer theme to boot! The remastered version from Sonic Mania by Tee Lopes is my go-to favourite out of all versions of the level’s theme.


March 1993: Star Fox (SNES)

Favourite song: Fortuna

Star Fox, the pseudo-3D, on-rails starcraft shooter starring the team of the same name blasted its way into our screens in 1993. I really adore this game – I spent many a night trying to clear the first (and easiest) course as a kid, to no avail.

However, I did attempt the second course and really enjoyed the theme music for Fortuna. The One-Ups covered this theme in their signature sound; it’s smooth and funky, which I hope you enjoy as much as I did!


January 1994: Mega Man X

Favourite song: Opening Stage – Highway

1994 was a hard one – So many good games came out that year! Ultimately, Mega Man X, released in January of 1994, won in the end, simply because the character is so close to my heart, which I talk about here.

The opening stage music sets the tone of the game and the series itself. It’s gritty and tense, underscoring how grave the situation is, but is full of energy, with a great, pumping tempo and an excellent beat. It’s a stark difference to more peppy and happy tunes in the original Mega Man series. Featured here is an electronica/DnB mix with a jazzy saxophone added in, just to give it some flavour. It’s awesome!


August 11, 1995: Chrono Trigger

Favourite song (besides Corridors of Time): Chrono Trigger

One of the all-time greats, Chrono Trigger, the memorable, time-travelling RPG was released in this year. I don’t need to explain how amazing this game is; it’s well-documented. It’s even given a special distinction as one of the games featured on the AmbiGaming blog for the “Year of the RPG.” You can check out my contribution to this event here.

Now, I’m not going to share yet another Corridors of Time remix (because, while it’s an AMAZING track and my personal favourite, honestly it’s been remixed by everyone and their dog); instead, I’ll go to my next favourite: Crono’s theme from Chrono Trigger! This mix is a britpop-inspired, gorgeous version of the main theme; check it out!


September 9, 1996: Crash Bandicoot

Favourite Song – Title Theme/N.Sanity Beach

Oh man, Crash Bandicoot! I got so many good memories of my bros and I going through this game together. I used to stay up all night playing it and even tried to squeeze in a level before going to school in the mornings! I even wrote/illustrated a sequel of sorts to the game for my fourth grade creative writing class… needless to say, my teacher didn’t appreciate a story about a video game character, so I ended up with a pretty bad grade…

The title/first level theme for the game is the memorable one for me; just hearing it lights up my face like fireworks on Canada Day. I especially liked the remastered version of the theme – the folks in charge of the remaster modernized it while retaining its zaniness, which I appreciated.


January 31, 1997: Final Fantasy VII

Favourite song: Opening ~ Bombing Mission

(A third of the way through! Woo!)

I knew this list wouldn’t be complete without me mentioning at least one Final Fantasy game, let alone the best of the bunch (My personal opinion!). I’ve already waxed poetic about how this game and it’s protagonist inspired me, so check it out here.

Honestly, it was hard narrowing down a favourite song, but ultimately, Opening ~ Bombing Mission won out. It’s such an epic and intense track that sets the tone for the whole game, especially when it’s orchestrated, as demonstrated on the Distant Worlds soundtrack.


November 23, 1998: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Favourite Song: Hyrule Field

Quite possibly the greatest game ever created. Well I say that about a lot of games, but this one is certainly a contender for that title. This title, I feel, also expanded greatly on Link’s character as an altruist (based on player input, of course). You can read my thoughts on that here.

As for my favourite theme, it has to be Hyrule Field. It instills a feeling of adventure and intrigue that’s just waiting to happen! I have before you the 30th Anniversary Concert edition of the theme; it sounds majestic and makes me picture Link travelling the vast, rolling plains of Hyrule with his faithful steed Epona. Give it a listen!


September 9, 1999: Sonic Adventure

Favourite song: Welcome to Station Square

09/09/99 – Those numbers live in infamy as the North American release of Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast. I remember playing this at a Blockbuster (remember those?) around the first time it came out and I was blown away at how awesome Sonic and the gang looked in 3D.

A tune that really stuck in my head for the longest time was the theme to Station Square. It sounds so inviting and makes Station Square a real chill place to kick back and hang out.


October 24, 2000: Mega Man Legends 2

Favourite Song: Mother Zone – Library

While the first Legends game focused on the events of Kattelox Island, including the mysterious Master System and Mother Units, the second expanded on Mega Man Volnutt’s story, including his origins as a Purifier Unit. It cumulates into a final clash at the very end between himself and Sera, the Mother Unit that wants to fulfill her programming and activate the Master System.

My favorite song from this game is the library in the Mother Zone on Elysium, right before the final confrontation with Sera. It’s haunting, and it has a real “about to enter the final battle” feel to it.


December 3, 2001: Super Smash Bros. Melee

Favourite Song: Great Bay

Man, 2001 was a stacked year for gaming! Final Fantasy X, Jak and Daxter, Rogue Squadron II, Metal Gear Solid 2, and the list goes on! Ultimately, my pick for this year has to go down to Super Smash Bros. Melee. I have so many good memories of this game: particularly one where, back when I was in high school, a bunch of us set up a TV in an unused classroom during lunch, hooked up a GameCube, got four controllers and set up some EPIC tournaments! Those were good times…

Presently, Melee is still one of my go-to games to play during game night with friends. Of all the stage music that exists, my absolute favourite is the Great Bay stage music. It’s a fantastic, orchestrated version of the Legend of Zelda Overworld theme! I can honestly put it on repeat and listen to it over and over again, it’s so good!


September 17, 2002: Kingdom Hearts

Favourite song: Hikari (Simple and Clean)

2002 was also the year I upgraded to a PS2! My first game on it was Kingdom Hearts and much like when I first played Final Fantasy VII, I also didn’t have a memory card to save my game with at first! Regardless, I love the series, with its emphasis on friendship, teamwork and never giving up on someone, even when they’re at their lowest point (ie. corrupted by darkness).

Hikari is my personal favourite from the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack. I consider this the secondary main theme alongside Dearly Beloved, the game’s title/official theme. It’s uplifting, bright and makes me feel hopeful, which sounds a bit corny, but still. I found a track that mixes the two aforementioned themes in a groovy, jazzy motif, with the focus on Hikari. Check it out!


March 24, 2003: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Favourite song: Dragon Roost Island

Ah, Wind Waker. With its eye-popping cel-shaded visuals, robust story and gameplay and expansive, ocean-based world, this game quickly became a favourite of mine. I especially loved the sailing aspect; it’s just Link, the open sea dotted with tiny islands and his magic talking dragon boat.

Image result for wind waker boat meme

Oh, and underwater castles in magic bubbles. Can’t forget those.

The best theme from this game has to be Dragon Roost Island. It’s catchy and fun to listen to. In fact, it’s so good, they remixed it for the Rito Village in the latest installment, Breath of the Wild. Check out this version done by the London Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the Greatest Video Game Music concert!


November 24, 2004: Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

Favourite song: Temple Grounds

I remember picking up Metroid Prime 2 the day it was released. I was still in high-school then, bought it on my way home, plopped down on the couch that very night and was blown away at how different it was from the original Metroid Prime. Every aspect of the game was improved, and I really liked the new ammo-based beam system; it made playing through the game much more dire, since you have to manage your ammunition carefully. Last year, I read an incredibly detailed review on this game by one Red Metal from Extra Life, in which I learned that Retro had all of three months before the holiday season in 2004 to complete the game, when they were only 30% done! It’s surprisingly amazing, given that the final product hardly looked like it was rushed at all!

I really like the Temple Grounds theme. The grounds are the main hub throughout Samus’ adventure and it has a chill, calm, almost hopeful atmosphere to it, like you’re helping our favourite bounty hunter make progress in saving the Luminoth from the Ing. Check it out.


October 12, 2005: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Favourite Song: Turnabout Courtroom – Trial

The first entry in the Ace Attorney series, I actually played this game and its sequels through my university years. Its visual novel style, which focuses on investigating crimes and presenting evidence in court, was something I enjoyed a lot.

My favourite tune is the Trial theme, right before the trial starts up. I feel psyched up whenever I listen to it – it’s like I’m ready to face the world, present evidence and yell Objection! I found this amazing hip-hop track that uses the theme as its base, the lyrics are great and the flow is smooth like butter. Give it a listen.


August 15, 2006: Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus

Favourite Song: Counteroffensive

Part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, Dirge of Cerberus stars everyone’s favourite former Turk-turned-immortal experiment, Vincent Valentine. It clears up a few plot holes from the original game, but opens up a whack of new ones, particularly revolving around the mysterious Genesis…

Image result for dirge of cerberus genesis

Most definitely mysterious…

Dirge’s gameplay also differs from the traditional Final Fantasy structure, in that it’s an over-the-shoulder, third person shooter with RPG elements. It was a bit odd, but I found it to be quite fun and different! The additional post-game missions were a plus too!

Counteroffensive is a great track; it’s the kind of track you want to put on when you know you got things to do. It’s a damn good jazz/orchestra* fusion with a crunchy electric guitar in the background in the first bit, before going all out with the orchestral elements while adding a few extra touches with the guitar. Bottom line, it’s pretty good.

*Who here bets they know my favourite genres of music by now? I mean, c’mon, I’m a coffee guy! Coffee & Jazz are a match made in heaven! And who really can hate orchestrated music?


August 14, 2007: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3

Favourite song: When the Moon’s Reaching Out Stars

(Two thirds of the way through!)

Persona 3 is a heck of a fun game: it’s part dungeon crawler, part dating sim and all classic RPG goodness with a great story and interesting battle mechanics (I mean, the characters shoot themselves to summon their Personas, how crazy is that?!). I lost hours of my life trying to max out my social links; The most stressful thing about this game isn’t the tough fights or boss battles, but worrying about running into and upsetting one of your friends because you’re hanging out with another friend. I mean, it’s ridiculous, but a great time nonetheless.

When The Moon’s Reaching Out Stars is probably up there on the list of oddly named song titles, but it’s real catchy, even if the lyrics sound slightly depressing. It’s bubbly, J-Pop-like beats really capture that after-school feel, when all you want to do is skip homework and head to the mall, the arcade or the local cafe for your caffeine fix.


March 24, 2008: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

Favourite song: Under the Apple Tree

Zack! While most found him annoying, I found him to be quite endearing, mostly because he’s as hyperactive as I am at times. It was nice to see firsthand how he fits into the whole narrative for Final Fantasy VII, including how he met Aerith and Cloud, how he inherited the Buster Sword, from his honor-obsessed mentor, Angeal, and his interactions with pre-crazy Sephiroth. Also included was Genesis, introduced in Dirge of Cerberus (See 2006). Whereas the DoC version was mysterious, Crisis Core Genesis was a prat with a penchant for reading and endlessly quoting “Loveless”. One good thing about him though is that he makes a mean dumbapple pie.

Speaking of apples “Under the Apple Tree” is my favourite from the soundtrack. It’s a simple, yet soulful acoustic theme, of which I consider this to be Zack’s theme.


October 27, 2009: Tekken 6

Favourite song: Edge of Spring

One of the two fighting game on this list, I spent an ungodly amount of time playing this game, practicing and trying to beat my cousin, who rocked as Jin and Asuka. I mained Raven and Hwoarang, my two favourite characters in the series and my favourite stage was the Mystical Forest, mainly because of the stage theme, Edge of Spring. It’s such a peaceful, uptempo track. It also works as a great workout track!


March 9, 2010: Final Fantasy XIII

Favourite song: Blinded by Light

The thirteenth installment of Final Fantasy garnered a mixed reception – you either loved it or hated it. I personally enjoyed the frantic battle system, the characters and its story, which the majority of it surrounds the protagonist, Lightning, and her sister, Serah and spans two additional games in the series. Lightning herself is a badass; her no-nonsense attitude, strong will and determination to achieve her goals being an inspiration to many, including my good friend, fellow Canuck and Lighting’s #1 fan, LightningEllen (who you should definitely check out; she’s awesome!)

As for my favourite track, it has to be Blinded by Light. It’s one of the best battle themes in the series, in my honest opinion. I’ve taken a shine recently to the Dissidia 012 version of the theme, since it also mixes in a bit of Defiers of Fate and makes it sound quite epic.

Oh, speaking of Dissidia…


March 22, 2011: Dissidia 012

Favourite song: Reform

The second fighting game on this list, I got Dissidia 012 the day it came out. I remember that I wanted to get both this and the original, thinking that 012 was a completely different game. Imagine my surprise when I was told that the original Dissidia (013) was unlocked by playing through the 012 scenario. To top it off, an additional scenario could be unlocked after playing out the 013 scenario. Seriously, this game was chock-full of content!

The song, “Reform” always makes me smile – it’s the theme that plays in the menu when you start up the game. It sounds powerful and majestic and really makes one envision that they’re about to enter an arena to participate in a great battle. At least, that’s how I interpret it!


September 18, 2012: Borderlands 2

Favourite song: Short Change Hero

I really like the Borderlands series. It combines RPG and FPS mechanics and ties it into a humorous and over-the-top story with fun characters. Its sequel improves on the original’s formula, with a new cast of characters, a crazier story, new status effects and guns (LOTS of guns!), among other things!

The song that plays on the opening, Short Change Hero, has been featured in several other games (Arkham City) and movie trailers (uh… that one with The Rock in it?). Nevertheless, it’s a great song to start your adventure on Pandora; it really sets the scene, know what I mean?


July 9, 2013: Metal Gear Solid: Legacy Collection

Favourite Song: “Metal Gear Solid”: Main Theme

I got this compilation series, spanning the 25 year history of Solid Snake from my wife (We got married in November of 2012) for my birthday! I didn’t even ask for it; her co-worker recommended her to buy it for me, so that was awesome! Metal Gear is one of my favourite series, so it was a great birthday present to get!

The main theme from Metal Gear Solid is my choice track for the whole compilation. I mean, there’s not much to say about it – it’s the main theme and it’s awesome! Y’know what would make it more awesome? A jazz remix (surprise, surprise…). Check this mellow piano version of the theme.


February 11, 2014: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Favourite song: Luxerion

Another year, another Final Fantasy! I got this as a Valentine’s day gift from my wife, also on recommendation from that same co-worker. It was nice to see Lightning and Serah’s story end on a happy note – they suffered for too long.

Luxerion is up there on my list of my top RPG town themes of all time. It gives off a relaxed, European town vibe and makes you forget that the world is ending in seven thirteen days.


May 12, 2015: Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster (PS4)

Favourite song: Battle Theme

I feel this is the superior of the available remasters of Final Fantasy X and X-2, simply because you can switch between the original and remastered soundtracks, while enjoying the updated graphics and extra content available.

I personally enjoyed the updated battle theme music. It sounds so much more intense than the original version, thanks to the addition of that crunchy electric guitar (which was a controversial move if you check the YouTube comments…).


November 29, 2016: Final Fantasy XV

Favourite song: Galdin Quay

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this game for quite some time and, honestly, it was well worth the wait in this writer’s opinion. I loved the setting, the main characters, the battles and the music. And while some of the secondary characters ended up being too underdeveloped and the endgame sequence could have been reworked to make it less rushed, I’m still of the opinion that it’s a great game and a well done effort by Square-Enix.

There’s lots of good music by veteran composer Yoko Shimomura, but my favourite is Galdin Quay. Something about it reminds me of going on vacation. It could be the soft acoustic guitar when you’re out on the beach area or the swanky piano that starts up when you enter the restaurant, I’m not sure, but damn is it good!


March 3, 2017: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Favourite song: Temple of Time

Who here would have thought the Nintendo Switch would be such a big hit? Not me, that’s for sure. The majority of the credit for succeeding so well goes to the 2017 Game of the Year, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It has forever changed how I look at Zelda games. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Because the soundtrack was so minimalist, it’s hard to pick out a favourite theme. In the end, I picked the Temple of Time theme. The haunting, slow piano really showcases how ruined and decrepit the once glorious temple had become in the 100 years since Link’s slumber. Naturally, I’ve found a remix to it; a slick trap version. The vocal samples may throw you off, especially if you hated the English voice acting, but overall, it really plays with the minimalist style while adding some sick beats! Check it out.


Finally! The list is done! Shoutouts to Wikipedia for helping me with NA release dates, OC Remix for the dope tunes and YouTube, because why not make a playlist to coincide with the post? Also, a big shoutout to the Well-Red Mage for asking the big question in the first place!

As for 2018, I’m not sure what my favourite game will be? I guess I’ll have to find out as the year progresses!

I hope you enjoyed this romp through gaming history! Drop a line if you agree or disagree with my choices, or if you’re enjoying the tracks I’ve selected. And stay tuned for the next few editions, where I continue to celebrate the Year of the RPG by downing an Espresso Shot over one of the grandaddies of the JRPG genre: Dragon Quest (or Warrior here in North America)! And speaking of our erstwhile Goddess of Wisdom’s RPG event, it seems that a good friend of Koffi’s might have a letter for her as well! What could it be about? Keep it locked here to find out!

Oh, and one last thing; I’m about to get involved in something BIG (writer-wise – I’m already in deep with my little baby boy, who’s now a month old! He’s so adorable!). I can’t reveal anything yet, but come around mid-March, some sorcery will be afoot. Stay tuned…

With that, this has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, hoping you’re enjoying the tunes I’ve selected (over a cup of your favourite brew, of course) and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!