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!

Final Fantasy VII: How the Game and its Protagonist Changed My Life Forever

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” May the delicious brew in your favourite mug give you +1 in both your wakefulness and energy stats!

Today’s topic is a very special one for me: 20 years ago, on September 7, 1997, Final Fantasy VII was released in North America. I don’t need to explain how much of an influence this game had on its release; from graphics, to story, to cinematics and gameplay, you can argue that this installment revolutionized and popularized the RPG genre for years to come.

For me though, my love affair with this game and the series started roughly two months after its release. November, in the year 1997 was when I rented and first played Final Fantasy VII. I still remember it like it was yesterday…

(Oh, by the way, MAJOR spoilers for the plot of Final Fantasy VII)


The neighbourhood where I grew up in was still in development in 1997, with the suburban sprawl ever creeping up northward into the farmlands. In the year before, a brand new strip mall opened up, which was a ten minute walk from my home. It had the usual stuff, like a grocery store, a dollar store, some fast food joints and other small retailers, but what made it different was an independent video rental store called “Ambassador Video,” where an enormous selection of movies, music and video games were available to rent. Now, this video store was replaced by a sports bar sometime in the early-2000’s, but at the time, it was THE place to be at for a kid.

On a cold Friday night in November 1997, my parents let my brother and I rent a video game as a reward for doing well in school that week. The two of us argued for a few minutes about which game we were going to take home, before settling on Final Fantasy VII. The moment we got home, we booted it up and were blown away at how amazing it looked.

The first thing about FFVII that differentiated it from games that I played previously was how it started. No tutorial level, no sitting down with the King and him explaining your quest and no cheerful, happy environment. I was instead thrust into the action in a dark, gritty metropolis, my character jumping off of a train and beating down soldiers armed with machine guns with his giant sword. Following a man with a gun for an arm up the stairs leading to the surface, the spiky-haired individual spoke to a group of three people, huddled in front of a large metal door. The one in the headband asked for his name. His response, in a cool, collected tone:

“…Cloud.”

And it was all it took for ten year old me to declare that he was the coolest dude in the universe.

Image result for cloud strife

Seriously, spiky hair, giant-ass sword AND badass demeanor? Triple threat right there, folks (Image from Final Fantasy Wiki)


Cloud was the kind of guy I wanted to grow up to be. He was strong, cool and calm under pressure. He was so confidant in himself, even when things were going downhill for him and the gang and he was also determined to find and defeat Sephiroth, his hero turned mortal enemy. There were days during the dark times I was being bullied and made fun of for being so different, that I thought, “Man, I wish I could be like Cloud… He wouldn’t have put up with this.” But my perception of the hero changed after I experienced, what I believed were, the two most pivotal points in the game.

Here’s a question to throw at you guys: Do you remember where you were when you played through Aerith’s death? I was sitting in the living room with my brother on a summer night, our parents were out at a party and he and I were going through the City of the Ancients, hunting down Aerith. When Cloud and the gang caught up with her, I thought “Yeah, this is good, everything is good!” I didn’t expect what happened next.

Suddenly, we saw Cloud draw his sword and I started to freak out a little bit. Here he was, spazzing out, slowly approaching the flower girl with sword in hand and no matter what I did with the controls, I couldn’t get Cloud to stop. The same thing happened at the Temple of the Ancients, but I thought it was a one-off (or two-off?) deal. It took a while to understand, but after Sephiroth murdered Aerith in cold blood, I realized the hero that I idolized wasn’t who I thought he was. He did nothing, couldn’t do anything because, like JENOVA said to him after the battle; he’s a puppet controlled by Sephiroth.

Fun fact: I died immediately at the hands of JENOVA: LIFE. I had the controller in my hand but couldn’t do a damn thing about anything; Aerith was gone, Cloud was no hero, Sephiroth was winning and I didn’t understand it. I actually stopped playing for a week until I mustered up the courage to redo that dreadful event, beat the boss, watch the impromptu funeral and continue on to the next bombshell: that Cloud really wasn’t “Cloud” after all; his memories of all of the defining moments of his past, including the incident five years ago and him being a SOLDIER, were are all screwed up.

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And after that reveal, he went and gave his mortal enemy the key to their destruction. Dick move, Cloud.

Cloud redeemed himself in my eyes after Tifa, his childhood friend, dug up the truth of the events that occurred five years ago, while she and Cloud were both in the Lifestream. The reason why Cloud wanted to be in SOLDIER, was to be noticed by others, particularly by her. He was always alone, had no friends growing up and was always picked on for being different. He thought himself weak, that he could never belong because he never liked his fellow peers and was always looking to prove himself both to the villagers, who looked down on him, and to Tifa, whom he harboured a major crush for. In essence, the true Cloud was exactly like me; I was also alone, had very little friends growing up, was weak, disliked the people around me and was picked on for being so weird and different. Because of that, I felt that I related to him more than any other character in any story I’ve read or video game I’ve played.

In truth, Cloud never made it into SOLDIER – he was just an infantryman, a weakling, in his own words. But that same “weakling” took on and fought off the greatest and most powerful swordsman the world had ever seen, was subjected to brutal experiments that included having alien matter injected into his body, suffered a major identity crisis thanks to said alien matter, was poisoned twice (the first during the experiments, the second after giving Sephiroth the Black Materia) AND through all of that, he regained his sanity, defeated his nemesis (for the second time, I might add) and saved the world with his companions. I realized then that Cloud Strife wasn’t cool because he was strong and tough, he was cool because he survived the ordeals of his past and rose above it. It showed that I could do the same; that I could rise above the teasing about how odd I was and my own weakness and be better.


When I first rented the game, consoles like the Playstation never had those fancy, internal hard drive storage to save our games on; we had to rely on old-school storage devices called “Memory Cards,” which were bought separately from the console. My parents wouldn’t have known that a Memory Card was required to save the games; they thought it would be saved directly on the console itself. So, during the course of the seven day rental period, I played the beginning part of Final Fantasy VII over and over again. When I died and got Game Over, I didn’t mind because I got to experience the awesomeness of Cloud and the gang once more from the very start. The farthest I ever got without a Memory Card was rescuing Aerith (Aeris?) and seeing the horror of a headless Jenova in the Shinra Building and it took me a whole day to get to that point, after dying and restarting several times.

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This headless thing, along with the spooky “Who Are You?” theme playing during this sequence, freaked me right the hell out as a kid. It still does to this day… Scary… (Image from Final Fantasy Wiki)

My dad finally asked me on the last day before the rental period was up why I kept starting from the beginning after noticing the “Continue” option on the title screen and I told him I can’t save the game because I had no Memory Card!

And so my mom went to the store that very same day and bought me my very first Memory Card.

After several months of on and off renting, we finally got a copy of the game for ourselves, which we picked up at a flea market. Too bad though that we bought a lemon of a game; the third disc was so heavily scratched that the game would end up being unplayable at some points. To top it all off, my little brother was kind of an idiot and sold off our “Chocobo Lure” Materia by accident late in our adventure and saved the game, meaning no Gold Chocobo to pick up Knights of the Round and no easy way to defeat the Ruby and Emerald Weapons. I still pick on him to this day about it.

In fact, the music of Final Fantasy, particularly VII, was one of the main reasons my brother and I became close to one another. Back then, we were always at each other’s throats; he was the favourite and I was the oddball, so we didn’t get along well. Over time though, thanks to a growing love of RPG’s, the music behind them and both of us being exposed to band class (we’re both kind of musically inclined), we bonded. About five or six years ago, I took him to the Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds concert in downtown Toronto and it’s one of the my most cherished memories.

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that I’m writing a fanfic using the FF VII plot as its backbone, which I’ve been working on for the last ten plus years. It’s an ongoing love letter to the game, to be honest. On top of that, I picked up two collectible figures: one of Cloud with the hardy-Daytona bike, before he modified it to the Fenrir, and another of Cloud in his Advent Children outfit.

20 years later, the story of Final Fantasy VII, its complex cast of characters, its themes of life and overcoming your past and its music are still a reflection of who I am as a person. Despite playing the other games in the Final Fantasy series over the years, VII was still the game that had the most impact. I can count on both hands the number of times my wife has rolled her eyes at me whenever I talk about Cloud or Final Fantasy in general – she knows all too well about my obsession with the series. I definitely think that this game has been an incredibly positive influence on me, and with the upcoming remake being released soon, I can’t wait to dive back in and experience it all over again.


And that’s it for today’s edition! Any fond memories of Final Fantasy VII or any other installments of the series? Let me know in the comments below! Stay tuned for the next edition, where I’m back to Path of Exile, along with hardware and gaming reviews, just in time for the holidays!

With that, this has been Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

The Nintendo Switch: Does It Live Up To The Hype?

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” Happy Video Games Day!

So, as you probably know, either through my recent posts or from my Instagram feed, I got a Nintendo Switch for my birthday! Today, I want to share with you the system itself, my impressions on Nintendo’s latest console after a couple months of owning it and if it lives up to the hype it generated from its announcement almost a year ago.


The Back Story

The Wii-U was a major failure for Nintendo.

Since it’s debut in November 2012, the Wii-U failed to capitalize on its predecessors massive success. Despite delivering innovative technology in the Game Pad, the additions low battery life, the lack of third party support from developers and lack of clear goals for the system had led critics to believe, at the end of its production, that the system was nothing more than a glorified Wii with a controller/touchpad hybrid.

Now, I’m not knocking down the console or anything. My brother has it and it’s not a bad system, all things considered. The Wii-U’s had some big hits, including Super Mario Maker, which allows the player to create their own Mario levels and the latest installment of the ever-popular Super Smash Bros. series, which included the return of fan favourites, such as Sonic, Dr. Mario and Zero Suit Samus, along with newcomers like Mega Man, Pac-Man and Little Mac from Punch-Out. On top of that was the underdog inky shooter game Splatoon, which was a rousing success. And let’s not forget about the ever-enduring Mario Kart series, of which it has reached its eighth installment. There’s were some not-so-great games, like Star Fox Zero, which was lackluster due to its odd control scheme and its focus on re-imagining the series. And the fact that third party development focused their efforts on developing games for the latest Sony and Microsoft console releases didn’t help its case. Overall though, there were some good games, but good first party games don’t make a successful console, considering that the Wii sold more in its first year than its successor could in its entire lifetime.

So, Nintendo did what most don’t: re-innovate, re-structure and re-imagine what a console should be. Using what they learned from the Wii-U’s Game Pad device, coupled with their dominance in the handheld gaming segment (the 2DS/3DS has effectively monopolized that market), their vast experience with motion controls and lessons learned from their previous missteps, they unveiled the Nintendo Switch.


The System

The Nintendo Switch, a hybrid between a console and a handheld system, was announced in October 2016 and released on March 3, 2017, along with its launch title: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The main unit is a tablet-like device, with two housings on each side uses for its main control inputs, called the Joy-Con’s. The system comes with two Joy-Con controllers, a dock, an AC adapter with USB-C input, an HDMI cable and two straps for the Joy-Con’s.

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Pay no attention to the nose, glasses and forehead on the screen…

The console itself is a tablet with a capacitive touch screen. On the top of the unit is the power button, volume up and down, a 3.5 mm audio jack and a cartridge slot for games. The back of the unit has a kickstand, used to set it on a surface and a micro-SD card slot, housed underneath the kickstand. On the bottom is the USB-C charging input and the intake vents. The display is 6.2 inches wide, corner to corner and displays at a resolution of 1280 x 720. When docked, the console’s display resolution bumps up to 1080p. The system is powered by an Octa-core processor clocking in at 1.02 GHz, has 4 GB of RAM and uses the Nvidia Tegra X1 as its system-on chip (basically, a jack-of-all-trades chip made up of many components that perform an array of functions). There is 32 GB of internal storage in the unit, but with the micro-SD slot, that capacity can increase up to 2 TB. The battery life on the unit averages about 3-4 hours per charge.

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Behold! My (tiny) library of games!

About half the size of the Wii-mote, the Joy-Con’s can either be used together as a single player controller, or individually for single or multiplayer games. Each controller has an analog stick, four face buttons, a plus button and the home button on the right hand controller and a minus button and a capture button on the left hand controller, and two trigger buttons on the top (The L/R and ZL/ZR buttons).

Whether the Joy-Con’s are held in each hand, attached to the system for “Handheld Mode” (more on that below), or slid into the Joy-Con Grip, the control scheme is analogous to that of the PS4 and Xbox One and is how most AAA single or multiplayer games (like Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2 and the upcoming Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim) are played.

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It looks like a puppy with odd eye placements… and now you cannot unsee that image. Enjoy!

When turned on its side, the Joy-Con’s button layout looks and feels similar to that of Nintendo’s best selling console, the Super Nintendo. There are two additional trigger buttons on the top (SL and SR), which are more easily accessible by sliding in the hand straps provided with the console. This control scheme is used mainly for multiplayer games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or the upcoming Pokken Tournament DX, but can be used for a few single player titles as well.

 

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Pro-tip: Hit the SL and SR Buttons together to use the controller on its side.

Each Joy-Con is equipped with HD Rumble, a feature that simulates realistic vibrations, like feeling several cubes of ice clinking in a glass, as shown in the technical demonstration. Along with the rumble feature, the motion controls of the Wii have also been integrated into the Joy-Con’s and are primarily used for motion controlled games, such as the Wii Boxing-inspired game, ARMS and the party game, 1-2 Switch. Motion controls are also featured in Breath of the Wildas well, in that you can aim your bow by tilting the controller (or the unit itself when it’s in Handheld Mode). The controls are also used to solve a few motion-based puzzles in game.

A Pro Controller is available to further mimic the traditional console gaming feel. For those who are looking for a more budget-friendly option, the wireless controller company, 8bitdo recently released a firmware update for their NES30 Pro controller, allowing it to work on the Switch.

The Nintendo Switch can operate in several modes, depending on your situation. Attaching the unit to the dock puts the unit in “TV Mode”, allowing it to operate like a traditional console. The dock itself is compact and minimalist in design, compared to the bulkier PS4 and Xbox One systems. The HDMI and power inputs, along with a USB 3.0 port, are located on the back of the dock and are kept hidden by a panel, with an opening to allow the power and HDMI cable wiring to come out. It results in a clean, wire-free look that adds to its minimalist design. There are also two additional USB ports on the side of the dock.

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Simplicity, thy name is Switch.

Slapping the controllers onto the side of the tablet and removing it from the dock “switches” (Ha!) the console to “Handheld Mode,” where the console behaves as a handheld device. Games played in Handheld Mode are the same as in TV Mode, with the exception of graphics resolution (no 1080p in this mode), meaning that games like Breath of the Wild can be played on the go.

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On-the-go gaming has never looked so good.

Finally, popping out the kickstand, placing the console on a surface and taking out the Joy-Con’s enables “Tabletop Mode,” which can be used either for single player game play, or more commonly for local multiplayer gaming away from a dedicated screen.

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Woo! Sonic Mania! I asked my wife to pick up the other Joy-Con and play along with me as Tails… She said no… 😦

That’s all the technical mumbo-jumbo out of the way. (Phew!). Now, you’re probably asking, “Thanks for that boring lecture, professor, but what do YOU think of the system so far?”

Good question. Here’s my answer.


The Verdict

After about two months of owning the system, I can safely say this with as little bias as possible: Nintendo did pretty well here. The system is incredibly unique in the sense that you can play it at home on the TV and on the go. It’s like having two systems in one! These days, I’ve been playing it solely in Handheld Mode and it’s been a great experience so far. Playing a full-fledged Zelda game on a device roughly twice the size of my smartphone has never felt so fulfilling.

I honestly don’t gripe about the battery life on the Switch when it’s in Handheld Mode. Three to four hours is plenty of time for a mature, distinguished gamer to play in bed while their significant other sleeps beside them, though I usually play for about an hour or two. What I love about the system is how quickly it boots up from sleep mode, the Switch’s “Off” setting, similar to that of the PS4’s “Rest Mode.” I press the power button on the top of the system or the home button on the Joy-Con’s/Pro Controller and the system boots up immediately and I’m back in the game while my wife’s asleep. It’s incredibly satisfying.

I also think it’s cool that Nintendo designed the system in a way that a second controller for two-player games comes included right out of the box. Highly useful for when the wife and I want to play Mario Kart (One of the few games she’ll actually play with me when I eventually get it!). For games like ARMS though, you’ll need a second set of Joy-Con’s to play locally.

Switching from TV Mode to Handheld Mode and back again is seamless. There is no discernible delay when the system switches between modes, which, again, is very rad.

There were a couple of things slightly affected my experience. One was the small game library available right from the start, even several months after release. When I first booted up the system, the Nintendo e-Shop had a whole bunch of downloadable titles, along with digital copies of their physical releases, but nothing really stood out to me in the store, besides Mighty Gunvolt Burst. That might change as the holiday season rolls around. (Correction, it has: Sonic Mania dropped a couple weeks ago. I picked it up and it’s AWESOME!)

Another thing was the internal storage space. 32 GB may seem quite sizable compared to that of the PS Vita, with its 1 GB internal storage, but when you look at the size of some of the downloadable titles, plus the fact that you can save screenshots directly to the device, that storage can get eaten up pretty quickly. It’s a good thing I had a spare 32 GB micro-SD card lying around to expand my storage capacity!

Finally, while it’s not a huge deal for me, I’m sure many people are a bit miffed that the Switch doesn’t play at native 4K resolution, unlike the PS4 Pro and and the Xbox One X. Truthfully, having the system run on 4K resolution at 60 frames per second isn’t a priority for me: I’m more concerned about playing good, quality games and I’m quite happy with the Switch’s native resolutions.

Overall, the Nintendo Switch was built for the mature, distinguished gamer in mind, giving the user free range on wherever they want to play it and presenting it in a compact, minimalist package. Whether it’s on the TV, in bed playing in Handheld Mode, at a friend’s place playing in Tabletop Mode or whatever the case may be, the Nintendo Switch has lived up to my expectations and thus, I declare that the hype surrounding the system was well justified, although that’s just my opinion. With the upcoming holiday season approaching and the games being released in that period, I believe that Switch and the Big N itself are well positioned to make a significant comeback after the stumbles with the Wii-U.


So that’s it! What do you guys think? How’d I do? Gimme some feedback in the comments below! (I need those like I need a strong cup o’ Joe, know what I’m sayin’?). And stay tuned for the next edition, where I continue my playthrough of Path of Exile with my Witch, Rhuki! (Who’s a total badass IMO). Plus, coming after that is my brand new segment – “Espresso Shots!” I cannot wait to share this with you!

And with that said, this has been Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” wishing you a Happy Video Games Day and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing! See ya!

Clash Royale: Decks, Tips and Tricks to Help Conquer the Arena

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” Hope you’ve got you’re game face on, because today I’m going to share with you some tips, tricks, decks and strategies on my favourite mobile game: Clash Royale!


If you haven’t realized it already, Clash has kind of become an obsession of mine. These days however, I’ve been in a love-hate relationship with it. Partially because I’ve been on a losing streak of late, partially because I’m hovering between arenas due to said losing streak and mostly because I get matched with opponents that completely decimate my deck strategy…

The good thing that’s been keeping my spirits up is the new 2v2 Mode, introduced over the summer! This mode works like a tag-team match: you and a clan member (or a random person) vs. another pair of battlers. First pair to destroy the other sides towers is the victor! Naturally, four people sharing an arena gets incredibly chaotic and that chaos can either help or hinder you based on your’s or your partner’s actions. It’s a great addition to an already good game and I recommend that you try it when it returns this week! It’s especially fun when you and your friends are in the same clan together; best friends sometimes make the best teammates!

Despite my frustrations at Clash, I’ve discovered a couple of tricks and made a few awesome decks to both help keep me in the win column and to help my clan with the weekly Clan Chest and 2v2 events. Without further ado, I’ll start off by sharing a couple of my favourite decks and strategies to use them.


My Favourite Decks and Strategies

Going from Arena 7 (Royal Arena) to Arena 8 (Frozen Peak) was a slog for me. My go-to deck with Lava Hound and Balloon (LavaLoon) just wasn’t cutting it, so I needed to make a new deck.

Sometimes, special chest offers appear in the shop. If you have gold or gems to burn, this would be a good opportunity to use them. In one case, I opened up a Legendary Chest, which can contain a Legendary card from any Arena and lo and behold I got the Lumberjack!

This guy is a badass: swings hard and fast and leaves behind a Rage effect (increases attack, movement and summon speed) when defeated.

And so (with help from the online deck building database), I built a deck around the Lumberjack and Balloon that can be described as insanely fast and extremely defensive.

Do you see that average?!

Brings new meaning to the phrase “Fast and the Furious”

The main strategy entails the use of the Ice Golem as the tank, followed by the Lumberjack placed behind the Golem to get to the tower. Once there, I summon the Balloon; the Lumberjack at this point is either nearly dead or all dead, at which he drops the Rage bottle, speeding up my Balloon and finishing off the tower before the opponent can counter.

Speaking of counters, I employ the use of my trusty sidekick: the Fireball as well as the Zap card. Defensive counters include the use of Skeletons (not the army, just the four three of them), the Ice Spirit and Ice Golem and the Minions. All in all, this deck clocks in at an average elixir cost of 2.8, meaning that I can cycle through cheap cards to build up my defense while waiting for the right opportunity to launch my counter-attack.

It’s not without its weaknesses though: The Executioner’s axe throwing can really mess up this strategy in a heartbeat. Plus, with no buildings to protect my towers, I’m potentially leaving myself open to the dreaded Hog Rider (the name and high-pitched cry of “Hog Riiiider!” may not inspire much dread, but he’s OP for a good reason: he decimates towers with ease). Finally, while this deck is speedy, it still requires a bit of patience and great timing to use; jumping the gun will result in you getting annihilated very quicky, so if patience is not part of your play style, then this deck isn’t for you.

After reaching Jungle Arena (Arena 9), I found that my LumberLoon deck wasn’t cutting it either (Mainly because players with Executioner’s kept cutting me down to size…). However, I got lucky and won a Legendary Chest from battling! It took a whole day, but I recieved this sneaky beauty upon opening it:

Hellooooo Thief!

With help from my brother from another mother, fellow clanmate and favourite 2v2 partner, Anthony, (who is also my go-to person regarding Clash), I built myself an awesome, winning deck centered around the Bandit, Battle Ram and the Witch:

The Dream Team

Depending on what cards I start out with, I lead off with the Witch and the Knight in the back, the Knight acting as both a tank to protect my Witch AND a way to invest elixir. Reading the situation on the other side of the field, I either counter attack with my trusty Fireball, Minions or Tombstone while I regroup my forces, or drop the big guns with the Battle Ram and Log, followed closely behind with the Bandit, who acts as cleanup. This deck is quite versatile, but again, requires patience and the ability to read the opponent’s battle strategy in order to counter.

If my Knight or Witch isn’t in my starting lineup, I either play defensive by using the Tombstone or the Bandit or go on an early offense with the Log and Battle Ram. Sometimes, these moves can completely occupy my opponent’s attention, leaving me free to set up my strategy above.

Even winning decks like this one have their weaknesses: in my case, the Baby Dragon (especially at higher levels) can be a troublesome pest. Also, I notice a lot of players in later arenas throwing down the Golem card in the back and waiting until it reaches the bridge before launching a full-on assault. This deck makes it difficult but not impossible to defend against such a push. Again, the Hog Rider is a threat, along with the aforementioned Golem. Their effects can be mitigated by the Tombstone and other support units.


Additional Tips and Tricks

In my current deck, using the Knight as an attacking tank reduces the effectiveness of a lot of popular cards used in the meta, such as Executioner, Valkyrie, Witch, Bandit and Ice, Electro and normal Wizards (all three are my arch-nemeses). This is especially apparent when he’s backed up by the Witch or Bandit or support cards like Minions and spawning buildings like Tombstone. Sometimes a tank that can attack troops can be more effective than a traditional tank, such as the Giant – keep that in mind as you build and develop your deck strategy.

Also, another tip I have is to have faith in your troops and your towers.

Believe in the Heart of the Ca- Oh wait, wrong series. (Image from Kokorononaka)

I’m sure you’ve made the following mistakes as well: dropping several troops to dispatch one enemy attacking your tower, or dropping support troops just as one of your guys takes out a tough unit. While it may look like you’re up in the numbers, you’re actually suffering a net elixir loss (you’re opponent will have more elixir than you do), meaning that if he or she starts a big push, you may not have enough elixir to counter it.

Instead, drop a single unit and let both it and your tower take care of the enemy, unless it’s a big push. If your opponent drops another unit, play something you’re confident will effectively counter it and let it be. It’s a good way to save up your elixir without wasting it.

A caveat to the above is to try and use cards that have a lower elixir cost than then the card your opponent plays. A good example would be if your opponent plays the Minion Horde (5 elixir cost) and you counter with the Fireball (4 elixir cost) or Arrows (3 elixir cost). Thanks to the effective counter, you would now have one or two more elixir than your opponent would. Even the Knight and Bandit in my deck, or other cards such as Mega Minion or Valkyrie, can effectively counter some of the more powerful cards, like the Wizards or Elite Barbarians for instance, and save you elixir while doing so. It’s therefore very important to keep costs in mind while battling in order to maintain a positive net elixir gain.

My final tips for this post are to pay attention and keep a mid-cost, mid-damage spell card in handy. Towards the end of a match, all kinds of craziness will ensue; your opponent will try to make a big push or defend your own push, while you will try to do the same. Somewhere along the way, one of your troops may break through and start wailing on the enemy tower, bringing it down to between 200-300 hitpoints before they die; perfect range to launch a couple of spell cards and end the match. At this point though, you might not be paying attention because you’re focusing all your efforts into defending your own tower. You clear the field using a Fireball or Lightning, hoping that will stop that push only to find that your opponent drops a surprise attack on the other side of the field or uses a Lightning of their own, leaving you unable to counter and costing you the match. You’d take a look at your opponents tower and kick yourself, because you could’ve ended the match thirty seconds ago.

It’s happened to me more than once.

The moral of the story here is to both monitor your opponents remaining health and to have a spell card or two handy to end the match. It makes a big difference having a clutch spell card that can either keep you in the game for the overtime match, or grant your victory.


So, there you have it! With these decks, strategies and tips in your arsenal, you’ll dominate the arena for sure! If you got suggestions on further tips or decks/deck strategies you’d like to share, drop a line in the comments below.

On the next edition, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the Nintendo Switch and I’ll tell you if the hype generated in the last six months since its release has lived up to my expectations of the system.

For now, this is Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

How Mega Man X Gave Me My Artistic Groove

Hey all! Welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! I hope everyone’s weekend (whether it was a long one or not) was well!

Today, I’m going to share a personal story about the Blue Bomber himself: Mega Man! Mega Man (A.K.A Rockman in Japan) holds a special place in my heart, along with other characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Link and Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII. But what’s special about Mega Man, specifically Mega Man X, was that he pulled me out of a very dark place in my childhood and helped me discover something about myself that I thought I never had before – that I can be a creative and artistic individual.

(Warning: This may get a little heavy. Bear with me.)


Let me cut to the chase: Growing up, I’ve had lots of self-esteem issues. As I mentioned somewhere on this blog, I was a very awkward kid and by awkward, I mean I was never good at making friends. I was disruptive, unable to sit still, had a very short attention span and I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, which got me into tons of embarrassing and problematic situations. My teachers, frustrated by my irregular behaviour, urged my parents to get doctors involved. They first diagnosed me with Tourette’s Syndrome, before performing a battery of tests and settling for the catch-all adolescent boys issue made popular back in the 90’s: Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, or ADHD.

On top of taking meds that would turn me into a vegetable, produce violent mood swings and made me chubby due to water retention, I also had to start wearing glasses from the third grade on, due to becoming near-sighted. All of this, along with my last name sounding eerily similar to a delicious dairy product and my penchant for being too trusting and gullible in an attempt to be likeable and friendly, made me a very easy target for bullies and set me down the path of isolation and loneliness. Academically, the medicines didn’t really help (since I was more or less a carrot at that point, so concentration was non-existent) and my teachers (bless their souls for putting up with me…) were even more frustrated at my obvious lack of effort, despite the fact that it was because I dreaded going back to school to face both meds and savage classmates that I didn’t want to try in the first place. The constant slog of side-effects, brutal teasing, loneliness and the inner disgust I directed to myself for being so abnormal compared to everybody else eventually snowballed into me feeling completely worthless and useless; that I had nothing to offer to this world and that I was just a burden to everybody.


It was some time in fourth grade that Mega Man first came into my life; both the animated TV series by Ruby-Spears and the video game “Mega Man X.” While the TV series was enjoyable (yet cheesy), it was X’s struggle, both against the forces of evil and within himself, that I really resonated with. For you see, X was unlike any robot ever built.

His creator, Dr. Thomas X. Light, designed him with a revolutionary neural structure that gave him the ability to think, feel and make his own decisions, essentially making him as close to human as possible and making him VERY different compared to his fellow robots. While a robot’s only concern was to obey the orders given to them by their human masters, X thought about things that were highly abstract from typical robot-think: Why was he created? What was his purpose? And if he was intended to bring peace between humans and robots as Dr. Light intended, why was he then given such a sophisticated battle interface, including the powerful X-Buster and Weapons Copy system?

On the introduction screens of the game, Dr. Light explains his intentions for X, that his unique neural structure and limitless capacity for thought would usher in a new generation of robots that could bring peace between man and machine. A part of his explanation eventually helped me to understand how ADHD affected me, four years after I was diagnosed with the disorder. A therapist I once saw explained it to me simply – that because of a chemical imbalance in my brain (which apparently is the cause of ADHD), it’s as if my head was rewired in such a way that I thought, saw and felt things differently from others. It’s that configuration that brings about the potential for immense creativity, just like X and his limitless potential for anything he puts his highly-advanced mind to. I initially took it as hogwash; I didn’t think I had it in me to be that creative at that time, but thinking about it years later and even now when I’m writing about this, I realize that the explanations, given by both the therapist AND Dr. Light, made sense.

X really helped me out in the seventh an eighth grades in school though. Those were the years when I was at my absolute lowest; I was always angry, got into fights at the drop of a hat and hated everyone and everything (typical pre-pubescent angst). One day, I rented out Mega Man X4 for the Playstation and, either it was X’s battle against Double, the traitor he thought he could trust or Zero’s story of love and loss on the battlefield, I don’t remember, I felt so inspired by the game that I pulled out a sketchbook I got from taking an art elective, took the cover art from the game manual and freehand drew the cover art. It wasn’t half bad, to tell you the truth. I’d show it to you all… but I seem to have lost my oldest sketchbook…

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So instead, here’s an old sketch I drew, loosely inspired by X’s base armour design. I made this… roughly ten years ago?

It was that one drawing I did of X and Zero, side by side that started to convince me that “Hey, you know what? I’m not half bad at drawing, let’s keep practicing!” I was really surprised at myself. And so, I drew. I drew as I weaned myself off medications, I drew as my classmates liked my work instead of teasing me about it. I drew when I was happy, I drew when I was angry and I drew when I was stressed. Drawing became a therapeutic release for me.

Since those days, I’ve moved on from drawing Mega Man, drawing other characters like Sonic and even creating some of my own content. For example, for my wife’s 18th birthday (when we were still dating), I drew her a full comic book, listing eighteen reasons why I love her. She still has it to this day, laminated and preserved in our shared memory box.

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I’d also show you that, but it’s way too embarrassing… So, here’s one of my favourite Sonic sketches instead!


I used to feel that I was useless, but because of X, I learned that I had hidden talents I never knew existed before and I gained the confidence to work on them. These days, I write more than I draw, but I can safely say to myself now that I’m not so useless after all. And that’s a good thing.

So, that’s my story for today. What do you think? Was there ever a character or a game that inspired you to be more creative or get out of your comfort zone? Let me know in the comments below.

Also, stay tuned for the next edition of Games with Coffee because I’ll be talking about another personal subject. Since the beginning of this year, 2017, I’ve been undergoing a Quest for personal development, doing several tasks to help me grow both creatively and in my career. Starting this blog was one of those tasks. With my 30th birthday coming up in the next two weeks, I want to share with you all what this Quest is all about; what inspired it, how it works and my progress six months into it. Maybe it’ll even inspire you to go on your own Quest as well?

With that said, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

“The Legend of Zelda:” How Link’s Altruism Helped Me to Channel My Inner Hero

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee.” How’s everyone today?

Here up north, we’re winding down the Victoria Day long weekend*, the unofficial start of the summer. We’ve finally left behind the ice, snow and frigid temperatures associated with winter and are left with gradually warming temperatures, the sweet smell of the air after a rain shower and seas of vividly verdant greenery rolling along the hills and valleys around the little town I call home.

The colour green always makes me think of Link, the Hero clothed in green, wielder of the Master Sword and holder of the Triforce of Courage from the Legend of Zelda. His back story varies between entries; he was once a wandering swordsman, an apprentice of his uncle’s, a child of the forest, a boy who came of age on a remote island of the Great Sea and a goat herder on a ranch, to name a few of his incarnations. Regardless of his origins, he is characterized as a strong, noble man who is eternally destined to assist the holder of the Triforce of Wisdom – the titular “Princess Zelda” – in taking arms against Ganondorf, the holder of the Triforce of Power. An accomplished sorcerer and power-hungry leader of the Gerudo desert thieves, he seeks the other two pieces of the Triforce to complete them and fulfill his desire of conquering Hyrule.

While Link is known throughout the gaming community as a character with great strength and bravery, he also possesses untold amounts of kindness and humility towards others. Whether it’s helping a girl round up her Cuccos, making deliveries across kingdoms, islands and oceans, paying for bridge repairs out of his own pocket to help a town’s emerging economy, or even rounding up golden bugs for bug-obsessed princess, there’s nothing Link wouldn’t do to help his fellow man. It’s his altruism**, not his strength or his fighting ability, that inspired many, both in game and out, to become better people.


The first “Legend of Zelda” entry I played was the black sheep of the family: ‘Zelda II – The Adventure of Link’. I was introduced to this game from one of the first friends I made in my new neighbourhood back when I was six. Despite being the odd one out of the whole series, its Action-RPG and side-scrolling elements, as opposed to the traditional top-down views and multiple items to solve puzzles, made me fall in love with the game. More importantly, this was the first entry to really display Link’s altruistic side, like retrieving a trophy from Goiyras for the town of Ruto, picking up the Medicine of Life for a sick child in Mido and even rescuing a kidnapped child in the Island Maze and bringing him back to Darnuia. Even though these ‘fetch quests’ were only used as a plot device to advance you further into this punishing game, it really helped to showcase Link’s character as a guy who’s willing to go the extra mile to help out, something that the first entry (which I played years later!) didn’t really show in my opinion. To this day, I still consider ‘Zelda II’ to be one of my all-time favourite Zelda games.

It wasn’t until after I played ‘Ocarina of Time’ and subsequent entries afterward that I really saw Link’s altruistic personality shine through. Whether it’s in town, on Hyrule Field or deep in enemy territory, I watched as Link took any opportunity he could to assist in any way he can. Granted, it’s the player’s choice in whether or not they accept the task, but the rewards are usually worth it.

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Yep, definitely worth it. (Image from Zeldapedia)

Doing these quests always put a smile on my face whenever I completed them. And I found that it felt really good when the person I helped was truly grateful. I imagined that’s how Link also felt when he helped someone out with their problems, whether it’s fetching something for them, playing songs on the Ocarina to soothe their troubles, or just being there, listening to and acknowledging other people’s problems. I found that the gratitude one receives after helping someone out is the best kind of reward, not money or valuable treasures. In that way, I started to find ways to help out the people around me, regardless of how big or how small that act may be.

However, being an altruist isn’t the same as being a doormat – there are times when you’ll have to say no, even if you really want to help. That’s especially the case if you’re already overburdened with other promises you’ve sworn to keep. Just like Link, you have the choice in whether to say “Yes” or “No” to someone requesting your help. It doesn’t do anyone any good if you burn yourself out trying to uphold all the promises you’ve made to others. It’s a hard lesson I’ve learned over the years; breaking a promise or an obligation to help harms that person’s trust in you and harms your credibility and reputation, a difficult thing to get back. The point I’m making is, make your promises sparingly and only if you have the capacity to keep them. In most cases, after you’ve taken care of your other obligations, you can usually go back to that person you declined earlier and assist them with their problems. It’s the smart thing to do, the right thing to do and the mature and distinguished way to be a successful altruist in this day and age.

So, has Link also inspired you to be altruistic? Mildly related tangent: What’s your favourite entry in the “Legend of Zelda” series? Share your thoughts on the comments below! And, if you haven’t already, subscribe to the e-mail list or click that Follow button to keep up with the latest on “Games with Coffee!”

Enjoying the rest of my long weekend, this is Ryan telling you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing.

 *Canadian holiday celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday, usually on May 24th. It’s colloquially known as the” May Two-Four” weekend, signifying the opening of the cottage season. It’s also the number of beers traditionally required to celebrate this particular long weekend, which is known as a “two-four” in Canadian lingo. The more you know.

 **For the uninitiated, Google’s definition of altruism is as follows: Altruism (noun): the belief in, or practice of, the disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. In other words, it means helping those without expecting any reward in return.

 

Clash Royale: Life Lessons from a Mobile Battle Arena Game

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee.” How’s everyone doing?

While I consider myself a traditionalist in the sense that I play games mainly on consoles, handhelds and sometimes on PC (*cough*emulation*cough*), I do enjoy the odd smart phone game here or there. The ones I’ve played recently are usually single-player freemium games that involve little-to-no Player vs. Player (PvP) interactions.

So I blame my third cousin/best friend/blood brother Anthony (he’ll be mentioned a lot here), for getting me addicted to this game that clashes elements of a collectible card game, tower defense and multiplayer online battle arena together to bring forth a mobile sensation that can only be described as “A Most Ridiculous Duel.”

Yep, I’m talking about Clash Royale.


I was at a small Christmas dinner at Anto’s last year when he introduced me to Clash by showing it to me and saying, “Yo, I’ve been playing this game, man. It’s awesome, you should check it out.”

Naturally, I was intrigued. I’ve heard of the game before on YouTube ads and pre-movie trailers in the theaters, but after showing it to me, I thought ‘Why not?’

After I downloaded it from the Google Play Store, I spent the rest of that evening being trained in the ways of Clash instead of playing Smash Bros. or Monopoly (We are hardcore when it comes to Monopoly) like we usually do whenever we meet up. Since that day, I’ve been hooked on it.

Below is a primer on “The Rules for the Duel”:

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This is a replay, since normally you wouldn’t be able to see other player’s cards, otherwise I would’ve smoked this guy.

  • You fight one on one in a battle arena. Each player has two smaller towers called Crown Towers and a larger one in the middle called the King’s Tower. Crown Towers defend by shooting arrows and the King’s Tower uses a slow, yet powerful cannon.
  • Each player has a deck consisting of eight cards that can be reused indefinitely. At the start, four cards will randomly be selected from your deck to your hand, with your next card showing up just to your left.
  • At the bottom of your screen is your elixir meter, which continuously fills up as the battle progresses, up to a maximum of 10 units. Elixir is what you need to play your cards.
  • Each card has a type (Troop, Building or Spell), a rarity (Common, Rare, Epic and Legendary) and an elixir cost.
  • Each battle lasts three minutes. In the event of a tie, a one minute sudden death happens: the first player to destroy an opponents Tower at that point wins the match.
  • The winner wins trophies (currency required to either advance to the next arena or join a clan), gold (used to level up your cards, or buy new cards in the shop) and a time-released chest (contains some gold and some cards).
  • Also, the number of towers destroyed awards you ‘Crowns,’ which are used to open a ‘Crown Chest;’ a special chest that contains lots of gold, cards and gems, special currency used to open chests quicker, enter tournaments and buy premium items in the shop. Free chests (available every three hours or so) also contain gems  on occasion.

Sounds simple on paper, but there’s a lot of strategy behind the scenes: what cards should you put in your deck? Should you build a well-balanced team? Work on creating a defensive wall with a few heavy hitters to get your Crowns? Go spell-crazy to really mess up someone’s game? Go with the all-out, offensive approach? Or employ my personal favourite: Divide and Conquer. The possibilities are endless.

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Actually, at the time of writing, there are approximately 9,440,350,920 deck combinations, but it’s not like I counted or anything…


In the short time I’ve played Clash Royale, I realized that some of lessons I learned in-game could easily be applied to real world experiences and vice versa. For instance:

Sometimes, it’s better to wait:

One of the tips shown on the waiting screen as the system searches for an opponent says: “Sometimes, holding on to a card is the best play to make.” It’s a tip that, I feel, is overlooked, especially for beginners (like myself) who play cards as they came up in my hand. The message here is patience – should I either play my best card now, combo it with other complementary cards or have something set up first before playing it.

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Easily one of my best cards

Sometimes, waiting for the right moment can mean the difference between victory and defeat, both in the game and the real world. When you’re in a difficult situation, such as the critical team meeting before starting a new project or a sales presentation to secure a major contract or even just the school debate team, do you rush in to play all your cards at once and leave yourself open to counterattacks with nothing to back you up or secure your victory? Or are you patient enough that you can play your best card at the right opportunity and establish yourself as a pro?

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Hmm… What to choose? Decisions, decisions…

Develop a strategy:

Going back to my first point on waiting for the right moment, you also need to build a strategy around playing your best hand to achieve victory. For me, I seriously started thinking about strategy when I was trying to get into Arena 7 – up until that point, I wasn’t thinking too hard about it; I just played cards whenever I had enough elixir and was lucky enough to have a few win streaks to coast through Arenas. However, it was after I left Arena 5 that I felt that my luck ran out.

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The Builder’s Workshop: the arena that separates the amateurs from the pros.

My usual tactic of throwing everything and the kitchen sink just wasn’t working for me at all; the players at this stage either had higher level cards or had a strategy that I fell for hook, line and sinker. I started hitting a string of losses and I hovered between Arena 5 and 6 for a good long while. At one point, I lost 400 trophies, almost downgraded to Arena 4 and I was feeling pretty discouraged, since nothing I played worked. It was at that moment that I remembered something:

Just like if I was writing a major paper for school, or preparing a presentation for an important client, or even unveiling a product or service to the public that can change lives, running into each of those situations flying through the seat of my pants would cause me to either fail my class, lose my client or instigate a public hanging (not joking on the last part – engineering is serious business). To get that A+, to land that ultra-important client and to get the people to understand how this product or service will help them, I needed to execute a strategy for the task at hand. This too, applies for Clash Royale.

And so, I needed to re-tool my deck and focus on an actual plan to victory. I started out by thinking “What approach should I use?” (Hint 1: It’s said that Alexander the Great’s daddy first uttered these famous words. Hint 2: I mentioned it before). Then, I weeded out the cards that weakened my deck and played around with a couple of combinations that I enjoyed (example: Rage + Lava Hound + Hog Rider = instant devastation!). I then supplemented that combination with troops that had a cheap elixir cost AND were adaptable to air and ground combat (Skeleton Army, Minions, Musketeer, Baby Dragon etc.). Finally I added spells to use to either thin crowds (like Zap or Arrows) or to take a chunk of HP off of a serious target (Fireball or Lighting come to mind). I then practiced my plan of attack using the Training Arena, tweaking my deck here and there before hitting the main battle circuit. It didn’t take long for me to hit Arena 7, thanks to all that planning.

Recently. there was a post on the News Royale feed with a link to the Clash Royale Deck Shop: a site that can help build a deck from cards you currently own, or show you the best decks most suited for the arena you’re on. It’s also used to determine the pros and cons of your current deck and what you can do to make it better. Use it to your advantage!

Don’t get discouraged, but take a break if you do:

Your patience and strategic planning are starting to pay off and you’re suddenly hitting a hot win streak. You’re on fire and nothing can stop you! But, as the saying goes, you win some, you lose some.

Suddenly, your opponents are reading your moves and deploying effective counters, stopping you in your tracks. Then, they whip out their big guns, all the while keeping you at a standstill. At that point, all you can do is watch in despair as your towers fall one by one.

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Goddamnit! Not again!

‘No problem,’ you think to yourself. ‘I’ll win the next match for sure!’ But it happens again. And again. AND AGAIN. It’s there you realize that you’re stuck in another rut, which, understandably, will make you pretty mad.

My point here is that at some point while you’re playing the game, you’ll find yourself feeling pretty discouraged, frustrated and thinking the system is against you, much like you feel when you have an impossibly tall mountain of work to do at your job with very little time to do it, or when you have backstabbing coworkers who stonewall you every chance they get. Or perhaps even a difficult friend or family member that just won’t listen to reason, no matter how many times they complain.

And honestly, it’s OK to feel like that.

So the best thing you can do is to settle down, take a break, brew a cuppa, hang out with loved ones and then get back on that damn horse when you’re ready. Stepping away from what’s frustrating you, even if it’s just from getting your butt royally whooped in Clash, can help give you a fresh perspective on things, and it’ll help open your own royal can of whoop-ass on whatever life (or the arena) throws at you.

Most importantly – Have fun:

Ever been down 2-0 in the middle of a battle, only to pull off a come from behind win? Or when you’re in an epic sudden death match and if you only had played a card a second earlier, you would’ve taken out your opponent’s tower before they took you out? How you feel in either of those situations?

To me, feeling the euphoria of an upset-of-the-century win or the determination to win my next match after suffering a crushing defeat makes this game worthwhile. Bottom line, Clash Royale is fun. and I’m sure you guys will enjoy it too. So what are you waiting for?! Give it a try!


Play Clash yourself? Let me know of your experiences or if you agree with me in the comments below. I’m going to take the next couple of weeks off, but the next post is going to cover one of my favourite topics: Video Game Music!

Until next time, this is Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” telling you to keep gaming and keep brewing.

This content is not affiliated with, endorsed, sponsored, or specifically approved by Supercell and Supercell is not responsible for it. For more information see Supercell’s Fan Content Policy: www.supercell.com/fan-content-policy