Tomb Raider – The Legacy of Lara Croft

Good day and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! As a part of my friend NekoJonez’s “Writer’s Raid” collaboration, today I’ll be talking about the first game of the Tomb Raider series titled Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. We’ll cover the history of the game, my experiences with it and I’ll be delving deeper into the enduring legacy of Lara Croft herself, one of gaming’s most iconic characters.

Background

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’s development started back in 1993 by the now defunct Core Design, a British-based developer consisting of six people. The director, Toby Gard, was the individual credited for Lara’s creation; he initially started with a male character but then added in a female character to give players a choice on who to play as. Realizing that the second character would double the work required for cutscenes, Gard cut the male character and instead developed the female further, intending to counter the stereotypes surrounding female video game characters. He notes that Lara was inspired by Swedish songwriter/rapper Neneh Cherry and the comic book heroine, Tank Girl. He also cited Virtua Fighter as an influence, saying:

“It became clear to me watching people play Virtua Fighter, which was kind of the first big 3D-character console game, that even though there were only two female characters in the lineup, in almost every game I saw being played, someone was picking one of the two females.” – Toby Gard

Originally, Lara was to have a cold and militaristic personality and hail from South America under the name “Laura Cruz.” Gard and his team decided instead that she should be British and for her personality to be a combination of Indiana Jones and a proper, English lady. This expanded Lara’s character and showed players that she was more than some grave robbing adventurer with a knack for murdering vicious creatures using dual-wielded pistols. We’ll go into this a bit later.

As for her first adventure, bringing Tomb Raider to life was not an easy task. Programmer Gavin Rummery explained that the game was only possible by building it on a grid-like system. It’s the reason why squares, rectangles, slopes and planes are so integral to the gameplay, in terms of lining up for jumps, finding pathways through levels and even discovering secrets, among others.

Musically, the game was scored like a film, playing at certain times for dramatic emphasis, like finding secrets or during action sequences. For the most part, the only audio that was played throughout the game were atmospheric in nature, such as footsteps, Lara’s grunts the growls of animals, rushing waterfalls and the like. It made Lara’s journey far more isolating and increased tension within the player, forcing them to listen closely to see what may or may not be ahead.

header

Tomb Raider was released for both the Sega Saturn and the Sony Playstation. Despite the game being developed for both systems, it was first released for the Saturn as a timed exclusive as part of a deal between Sega and Core. Timed exclusivity meant that the game would only be released exclusively on one console and would be released on other consoles after the exclusivity period expires. After its release, Core Design discovered that the Saturn version was riddled with bugs that would also affect the Playstation version. Since the game was a timed exclusive, the team was able to fix the bugs for the Playstation version. While three sequels were released for the Playstation, no subsequent titles were released for the Saturn.

Tomb Raider was critically acclaimed on its release in 1996. The cinematic approach with its gameplay and music combined with state-of-the-art graphics was a sight not seen in gaming until its release. Major publications, like GameSpot and EGM praised the title, with GameSpot calling it a potential Super Mario 64 killer, referencing the iconic Nintendo game released in the same year. Finally, Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider herself, cemented herself as one of gaming’s greatest icons, her appeal as a character and as a strong, independent woman captivating gamers and non-gamers alike.

The Legacy of the Tomb Raider

Lara Croft was considered a revolutionary when her first adventure was released. Her introduction changed the conversation about women in video games, in that their games can tell a story similar to or even surpassing that of their male counterparts at a time when female protagonists were scarce. Just like what Chun-Li in the Street Fighter series did for female representation in fighting games, Lara too was instrumental in ushering in a new age of games starring charismatic and strong female protagonists.

cover-image

Lara is a statuesque and athletic individual with brown eyes and auburn hair traditionally tied in a plait or a ponytail. Her standard outfit consists of a turquoise tank top, brown shorts, calf-high hiking boots, fingerless gloves, a backpack to hold various items and holsters for her arsenal of weapons, such as her iconic dual pistols. She is highly intelligent, having excelled in various scholarly pursuits and is fluent in several languages; useful for navigating the locales of where her next raid is going to take place. Unlike the stereotypical female characters gamers we were used to seeing before, Lara was not a woman to be trifled with, thanks to her no-nonsense attitude and her dry wit and it really showed itself in her first game.

tomb-raider

Throughout the campaign, Lara had to face insurmountable hurdles in recovering the fabled Scion of Atlantis. Examples include deadly traps that activate if Lara makes a wrong move, tricky puzzles that required logic, speed and a little luck to solve and a plethora of nasty beasts out to kill her, either for food or for sport. However, she faced them all, head-on and, most importantly, on her own. Lara required no help from anyone – male of female – to overcome the challenges in front of her. I believe that her strength, her determination and her perseverance in overcoming anything and anyone that stands in her way garnered her claim to fame more than her looks.

Culturally, Lara forged a path for more female leads in video games. Without her, we would never have had the opportunity to experience the stories of other strong and inspiring women, like Aloy in Horizon: Zero Dawn, Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII, Yuna in Final Fantasy X, Faith Connors in Mirror’s Edge and 2B in NiER Automata. Even video game heroines from established series, like Samus Aran from the Metroid series for instance, had their characters further fleshed out. Lara’s influence extended beyond gaming and into mainstream media: she currently has three live-action movies under her belt, has been featured on several hundred magazine covers, been involved in various print and television advertisements and has been a spokesperson for various causes. Furthermore, she has several Guinness World Records to her name, including most recognized female video game character and most official real world stand ins.  

Furthermore, even though the game was developed with a male audience in mind, Lara ended up garnering a serious female audience. Authors from several publications stated that the character appealed to women and drew them more into gaming simply because they see in Lara an emancipated heroine that they could emulate.

However, with accolades also comes controversy and Lara’s introduction to the gaming industry sparked quite a bit of it over the years.

Controversy

Much of the controversy surrounding Lara centers around her looks. Lara is an attractive, tall and buxom woman and has been described as a sex symbol because of those traits, despite Toby Gard originally intending for her to be “sexy only because of her power.” Critics have argued that Lara reinforced unrealistic ideas about the female body and that she was developed as the embodiment of male fantasies. That latter point fueled rumors in print magazines and the internet about a potential code to remove her clothing; it was revealed that there never was one in the first place. There was, however, an unofficial patch that could be used on the PC version known as “Nude Raider” that was used to remove Lara’s clothes. Eidos eventually shut down the website hosting the patch, but the damage was done nevertheless and it remains as an infamous footnote in her history. Further criticisms include that the character was developed in a way to make male gamers feel like “chivalrous protectors” who were trying to protect Lara from harm and that her character’s appearance does nothing to detract men from the notion that women are sex objects.

The Last Drop

I’ve first started playing Tomb Raider in 1998, right around the time that puberty hit. I’ll admit, I had a huge crush on her when I first played the game; she was extremely attractive, not just in looks but in attitude as well. However, I’m sad to say that at that young of an age I felt that I gravitated more to her looks than to her character, which was in line with the criticisms noted above. As I grew older and more mature, I revisited the character and found that I resonated more with her spirit, her determination and the fact that she could do such impressive feats of physical and mental strength. She was really like the female version of Indiana Jones (a character that I rather enjoyed) and I found myself wanting to learn more about her, beyond the original versions (which I found to be a bit one-dimensional). To that end, I’ve picked up Tomb Raider Anniversary – a remake of the original taking place in the rebooted world of Tomb Raider: Legend and the recently rebooted (again) Tomb Raider (2013), an origin story featuring a more realistic depiction of Lara. I’ve played through the majority of the Anniversary edition and I’ve yet to play the Square-Enix reboot, but I’m looking forward to it.

I do want to argue that, despite the various criticisms surrounding her, Lara represents a step in the right direction towards more female representation in video games. As a guy myself, I personally want to see more stories of women in gaming, as their stories are just as important (and in some cases, more important) than the stories of overly-masculine, broody and square-jawed males (think Joel, Nathan Drake, Cole MacGrath, etc.) that have been the focus for the last decade or so. I, for one, feel like the future of women in gaming is a bright one, all thanks to Tomb Raider and one Lara Croft.

Hope you enjoyed this introspective into Lara Croft: Tomb Raider! If you want to delve further into the Writer’s Raid, I suggest you check out the hub at NekoJonez’s blog for the full list of other posts written by other amazingly talented bloggers!

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

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!

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!