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

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.

A List of Engineers in Video Games!

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! Grab a hard hat, some safety boots, a set of tools, some blueprint schematics and maybe a laptop with some Computer Aided Design (CAD) software loaded up because today, we’re talking engineers in video games! I’m not talking about the audio, video, software or the myriad of other engineers that bring our favourite games to life (although they should be celebrated nonetheless!), I’m talking about characters in video games who, at some level, act as engineers.

Merriam Webster defines the practice of engineering as follows:

2a: the application of science and mathematics by which the properties of matter and the sources of energy in nature are made useful to people

2b : the design and manufacture of complex products

While most professional engineering organizations, including the one I’m licensed with, define the practice as:

“any act of planning, designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising that requires the application of engineering principles and concerns the safeguarding of life, health, property, economic interests, the public welfare or the environment, or the managing of any such act;”

Anyways, with that set aside, let’s talk characters who are or operate as engineers! They may be playable characters or supporting cast that plan, design, build or invent solutions that are used to either advance the plot or help their team out of a tight spot. So, let’s introduce a few, in no particular order:

Miles “Tails” Prower

Sonic the Hedgehog’s best buddy does more than fly with his two tails and pilot a biplane; with an astounding IQ of nearly 300, he’s also the principal designer of a variety of gadgets and items that Sonic and Co. use to thwart the machinations of Dr. Eggman (who we’ll talk about next!). From upgrading the Tornado into a bipedal walker, developing a translator to understand the Wisp language and even engineering a duplicate Chaos Emerald to try and outfox (Ha!) the evil doctor, Tails certainly fits the definition of an engineer. When he’s not adventuring with Sonic, he can be seen tinkering around in his workshop, either upgrading the Tornado, or building his next big invention.

Dr. Ivo Robotnik/Dr. Eggman

Alas, not all engineers are good guys; some are villainous as well. Case in point is Sonic’s nemesis, Dr. Eggman. Also known as Dr. Robotnik back in the day, he’s on a quest to rule the world and does so by employing a robotic army of his own design. Eggman’s impressive mechanical genius has allowed him to build several engineering marvels, including space fortresses, like the Death Egg, filled with deadly traps, the highly advanced E-Series robots that are literally powered using small animals and even mechanical duplicates of his arch-enemy! Despite the fact that he doesn’t fulfill some of the aspects of a professional engineer (he’s not one to consider the safety of the public), major respect should be given in terms of his engineering aptitude and his perseverance toward his goal.

Roll Caskett

From the Mega Man Legends series, comes the titular character’s best friend/adopted sister, Roll! Officially, she acts as Mega Man’s spotter while he explores the underground ruins, looking for refractor crystals or other artifacts from Earth’s distant past. However, Roll does more than keep an eye out for danger; she pilots their airship home, the Flutter, is an impressive mechanic who’s not afraid to get down and dirty to repair things, even when they don’t belong to her and helps Mega by building powerful special weapons out of seemingly random junk!

There’s a wry, yet truthful, joke in engineering that goes: “Say that a client wants a product to be made cheap, quick and with good quality. Engineers will tell you to pick two of the three.” It speaks about making compromises, since it’s difficult to satisfy all three at the same time. Where Roll compromises in upgrading Mega Man’s weaponry is cost; while the weapons she provides are incredibly powerful and useful, the cost to upgrade them to their maximum potential is a bit exorbitant. Some would also say that they’re incredibly ridiculous. (Seriously Roll, several million Zenny just so you can upgrade the Shining Laser’s stats to their maximum? What do we have to do, rob a bank?!)

… Speaking of which:

Tron Bonne

On the flip side in the Mega Man Legends series, we have Tron, the hot-headed, middle sibling of the Bonne criminal family and the mastermind behind their mechanical marvels. Of her myriad creations, none are as iconic (or as adorable) as her loyal Servbots – tiny yellow and blue robots that assist Tron and her family in all their endeavors, from grand larceny and piracy to simple housekeeping and companionship. They are the O.G. Minions.

In fact, I think the guys from “Despicable Me” were inspired by (read: blatantly copied) the Servbots. But that’s just my opinion.

Her next greatest creation is the Gustaff – her personal, modular battle robot which was featured heavily in her spin-off game, “The Misadventures of Tron Bonne,” as well as the Marvel vs. Capcom series. It’s a versatile piece of machinery with lots of unique functions, the most useful being the Beacon Bomb, which marks a target for the accompanying Servbots to go after.

Remember that joke I mentioned earlier? While Roll compromises on cost, Tron compromises on quality. Many of her creations are made using second-hand or cheaper parts than the allegedly high-quality parts Roll sources for Mega’s upgrades. The two mech-heads square off against each other quite often during the series and their rivalry comes to a point where they butt heads over the best way to bring Mega Man back from Elysium at the end of Mega Man Legends 2. Roll argues for using quality parts that come at a high cost, while Tron’s rebuttal involves using cheaper parts to keep costs down. Whereas most would see this as a catfight vying over who would be the one to bring Mega home, to me, this is a typical Monday morning meeting at a construction site: lots of discussion around budgets, costs and keeping them down as much as possible.

Cid Highwind

While most engineers are characterized as meek, introverted individuals whom are sequestered in their cubicles, few are as iconic or as badass as Cid Highwind from Final Fantasy VII. Cid is the Final Fantasy version of Canadian astronaut and guy who covered “Space Oddity” while floating around in outer space, Chris Hadfield, if he was a chronic chain-smoker with a penchant for excessive cursing.

Cid’s dedicated his life to the aerospace field; first by building the airship Highwind and then the Tiny Bronco, a small plane, years after he aborted the rocket launch that would have made him the first man in space. After the events following Sephiroth’s defeat, Cid built a brand new airship; the Shera, after his wife and fellow scientist/engineer of the same name.

Despite his tough talk and rough nature, he does put the safety of others as a high priority; sacrificing his opportunity to go into space to save Shera is one example of this. And despite being originally bitter to Shera for her ruining his chances, he apologized once he figured out that she had it right all along with the oxygen tank in the rocket. It doesn’t make up for the years of abuse that he heaped upon her, but it was a start.

Cid, to me, reminds me of some of the more hardass engineers that I’ve either worked with or have encountered in my career. They work incredibly hard to get the job done, all while spewing a wealth of expletives in interesting combinations, (which I keep in mind for future reference).

There are a bunch of other Cid’s in the series who operate in a similar capacity as Cid Highwind. Some include the Cids from Final Fantasy IV and IX, who are master airship engineers, and the Cid from Final Fantasy XV, who was friends with the King and specialized in modifying weapons made from either Insomnian or Niflheim technology.

Dr. Hal “Otacon” Emmerich

First seen in the Shadow Moses Island incident; the setting of Metal Gear Solid, Dr. Emmerich was the principal designer of the new Metal Gear: codenamed REX. Originally, he had designed it to be used to defend against nuclear attacks, but upon hearing the truth from legendary FOXHOUND operative, Solid Snake, his whole world came crashing down. Luckily, he struck a fast friendship with the soldier and two have been inseparable ever since. Calling himself Otacon, he assists Snake by informing him that he intentionally designed a weakness in Metal Gear REX (read: a character flaw), which Snake uses to defeat his twin brother and the current head of FOXHOUND, Liquid Snake.

Following Shadow Moses, Otacon assists mainly as a hacker, but his engineering skills haven’t dwindled a bit! By Metal Gear Solid 4, he’s developed two tools to assist Snake, who’s appearance is now closer to a septuagenarian due to his genetics and the process that created him: the Solid Eye, an eye patch that uses AR technology and the Metal Gear Mk. II, a smaller scale Metal Gear, equipped with a stealth field and a prehensile appendage, built to assist Snake on his final mission.

Lucca

One of the three denizens from Truce Village in the year 1000 A.D., Lucca is Crono’s best friend and a scientific genius. Taking to science after a freak accident involving her mother and one of her father’s latest inventions, Lucca can be seen engineering her next innovation in her lab away from the town. When Chrono Trigger starts, she developed a teleportation device called the Telepod, which debuted during the Millenium Fair. She later invents the Gate Key, used to harness an unknown energy to open portals into time, after witnessing Marle’s pendant interact with the energy generated from the Telepod. Finally, once flung into the distant and bleak future of 2300 AD with Crono and Marle, she discovered a broken down robot, which she repairs easily, despite the technology being nearly thirteen centuries ahead of her time! Her engineering prowess knows no bounds!

These are but a few examples of engineers in gaming. Know of any others that I’ve missed/overlooked? Let me know in the comments below!

This post is dedicated to National Engineering Month here in Ontario: a whole month dedicated to advocating the importance of STEM subjects and engineering’s importance in the community. Click here to learn more about it!

And stay tuned for the next edition, where a Goddess of Wisdom will be receiving a letter from a certain mad scientist (who may or may not have been mentioned in this article! *wink*).

Once again, this has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, saluting our fellow engineers for a job well done and reminding you, as always, to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Koffi Trigger – The Journey Begins…

Good day gamers and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! My friend, Athena, has declared this year the to be the “Year of the RPG!” To celebrate, she and BadgersAndBowties have picked a bunch of iconic games and asked the community to contribute and show some love for this amazing gaming genre! Learn more about it here!

The first on this list is the much-beloved Chrono Trigger: a game I’ve played to death! Throughout their journey, my characters will be writing in about their experiences as they adventure onwards. With that, let’s begin!


Dear Athena,

I had an odd dream where someone was telling me to write a letter to you. Weird huh? I wasn’t going to at first, but that voice was pretty insistent. Or maybe it was my mom telling me to wake up? God, I overslept…

So, since I’ve already started writing this thing, let me start with my name: it’s Koffi. Like coffee, but with a K. If my name doesn’t make it obvious, I’m also a coffee addict. Can’t get my day started without it. I also practice swordsmanship, and I’m told that I got some talent in it. Must be from my father; he was supposedly a great swordsman or something. I dunno, he’s not here anymore. Whether he’s dead or disappeared, no one knows or asks about it… I wonder why?

Hm, what else… so, I’m a firm believer of doing the right thing, but at the same time too, I’m a bit of a rebel. Call it a byproduct of my training and a lack of a proper male role model, but I aim to be chivalrous and honorable and all that stuff to live up to my dad’s supposed ideals, and I also want to get out, see the world and experience all that it has to offer and maybe make a few new friends along the way. Mom says I’m too young to leave home; please, I’m 16! Four hundred years ago, guys my age were sent into the battlefield to battle some magic dude and his demons! If they can go do that, I can definitely travel the world on my own!

Anyways, today is the first day of 1000 AD and the kingdom is celebrating by holding a big fair in Leene Square. No big whoop. Except it looks to be an all year kind of thing, at least according to my friend, Perks. Seriously, does the monarchy really have the money to hold a year round event like this? I dunno… I bet they’re selling off items in the Royal treasury to pay for it! That has to be it!

Oh, whose Perks you ask? Well she’s my closest friend here in the village; her real name’s Lucca, but I call her Perks, since she gets all perky and weird around machinery. I joke that she should marry whatever the heck she’s working on, which always gets me a dirty look from her. Heh, classic.

Anyways, Perks is super smart, ambitious and headstrong, and is always making new inventions with her father, Taban. She wears glasses – that has to be a sign of super smartness, right? (Is that even a word?)

It just so happens that her latest invention is making its debut today at the opening of the fair. I hope it goes better than the last time she showed off an invention – it took me four months to regrow my eyebrows.

She invented something called a”flamethrower,” which she claimed it could be used as both a tool to aid ironworkers and a weapon to defend the kingdom, or something like that. She decided to use me as a guinea pig, which backfired spectacularly, giving me the name “No-Brows Koffi” until they grew back. Seriously, the people here have no originality…

Anyway, this letters becoming long-winded, so I better get going; Perks’ll kill me if I don’t show up on time. But first, coffee!

You know, this actually is kinda fun! Maybe I’ll keep writing to you? Though I’m sure it’ll be boring; nothing exciting ever happens around here, except when Perks’ experiments blow up to smithereens.

I’m sure today will be no different.

Later!

Koffi

The Games with Coffee Guide to Last-minute Christmas Shopping!

Another day, another edition of “Games with Coffee,” and what a great edition it will be! As of today, Christmas is a little less than a week away: are you ready for it? Or have you run right out of ideas for what to get for your favourite gamer? Or perhaps you’ve put Christmas shopping to the very last minute and don’t know where to start?

Well, God rest thee merry gentlepeople, because I got you covered! Below are a few ideas that you can either quickly run to the store and pick up, if you’re up north here in good ‘ole Canada, or order online: chances are, you’ll be able to get all of the below by Christmas (barring a few additional charges for expedited shipping). I’ll have plenty of links available to access, so no worries. So, keep that itchy trigger finger ready on your mouse and let’s make some magic happen!


Game Ideas

Well besides the obvious items on a gamer’s Christmas list (new systems, latest popular games, everything Nintendo, etc.), here’s an idea for you: how about trying something a little outside of the norm?

Stardew Valley, Axiom Verge, Cave Story+ and Shovel Knight are excellent choices to buy: all four are great games with retro-inspired graphics, poignant storylines, excellent controls and are available on all current generation systems, with the exception of Cave Story+. Check below on where you can find these games:

Stardew Valley:

Shovel Knight:

Axiom Verge:

Cave Story+


Gaming Apparel and Accessories

Graphic T-shirts: for the individual who loves to show off what they love.

Who among us used to hate getting clothes for Christmas? Well, with these selection of men’s, women’s and kid’s game culture T-shirts, your favourite person will hate you a little less this year.*

*Results may vary.

Men’s T-shirts:

Women’s T-shirts:

Kid’s T-shirts:

Ugly Sweaters: for the gamer who wants to rock this year’s Christmas party.

Ugly Sweaters are all the rage these days! Why not get something that reflects your favourite person’s gaming passion? Whether it’s Mario, Sonic or any of gaming’s famous faces, you’ll definitely have some heads turning at your next Christmas gathering! Here’s a few examples:

Satchels, Bags, Cardigans and Scarves: for the lady with a love for fashion and a passion for gaming.

If you’re looking for a great gift for an even greater gal in your life that enjoys gaming, check out these choice selections from EB Games (Canada) and ThinkGeek (everywhere else):

These aren’t limited to just gift-giving alone; ladies, in the words of an almighty master: Treat yo’ selves!


Toys and Games

Nerf Rival Guns: for the individuals who dreams of LARPing a Call of Duty scenario with their good friends.

With a variety of guns available, free-for-alls have never been so much fun! There are plenty of guns available, bit my personal favourite is the Artemis – a shotgun. Check em out!

Funko Pop’s, Nendoroids and Amiibo figures: for the consummate collector.

It figures that figures would be a great gift to give! From the highly collectible Funko Pop’s, to the picture perfect and adorable Nendoroids, to Amiibos that combine collectibility with function, there are plenty of options available! Now, there are too many for me to link, but check the stores; there’s bound to be plenty available!

Board Games: for those looking to game offscreen.

Want to bring the family together without resorting to playing Mario Kart? How about a few board games? Some of gaming’s biggest names have been associated with board game classics, like “The Legend of Zelda” Monopoly and Clue. Others, like Mega Man, have their own board games and there are even some video game inspired tabletop and card games, like Boss Monster. Finally, games like Settlers of Catan are a perfect gift for those who enjoy games like Civilization.

MegaConstrux Pokemon: for the kid or kid at heart.

If you’re kid’s like any other kid, they have vivid imaginations, a desire to build anything their minds can conjure up and a love for all things Pokemon. How do you combine the three? Easy: get them a Pokemon they can build themselves! MegaConstrux has several Pokemon related figures kids will go nuts over, especially Charizard and Gyarados! Heck, I’m a grown man and I want those for myself!

A Raspberry Pi, a Pi Case and the SNES30 Bluetooth Controller: for those who enjoy retro gaming as much as they love building things from scratch.

Ah, the good ol’ Raspberry Pi, giving you the ability to access all the games you used to play as a kid in a device the side of a credit card. If you got a tinkerer on your list who also loves dropping rounds of Super Street Fighter II Turbo on the SNES, then this one’s for you!

For gift ideas, I would go with the CanaKit Raspberry Pi 3 kit, available on Amazon; it has everything one would need to get started. Alternatively, if you have time and resources to spare, you can buy the board, a case and an SD card and really personalize it for the recipient. I highly recommend the Smraza case, again from Amazon: it’s a case divided into seven layers that comes with two heat sinks, a fan to plug into the GPIO on the Pi and a power supply with an on/off button! It’s a great little package!

But you can’t just the Pi and not get controllers? PS4 and Xbox One controllers work with Retropie, but if you want to give that real old-school feel, I recommend the 8bitdo SNES30 Bluetooth Controller. Easy to set up and use, this is the controller of choice to delve into old-school gaming! Here’s where you can find it:


Stocking Stuffers and Other Small Gifts

Books: for those who appreciate a great story on and off screen.

This might sound odd, but books are an awesome gift to give. I say this because some of the best presents I got, besides video games, were books. I’ve gushed many times about the Mistborn series, it’s perfect for those who are obsessed with RPG’s, magic systems and a deep, immersive world full of lore and legend.

Another book I recommend is Red Rising, a science fiction/fantasy set on a colonized Mars. This might sound a bit spoilerish, but I feel that the story is somewhat analogous to God of War, with Kratos’ struggles for revenge, mixed in with undertones of power and politics a la Games of Thrones. My description doesn’t really do it justice, but fans of the God of War series may enjoy it.

Finally, Ready Player One is the perfect book to give a gamer, either young or old. The younger generation will appreciate the plucky protagonist’s journey from rags to riches, while the older ones from the late 80’s and below will fall in love with the heavy retro gaming and pop culture influences that are scattered throughout the book.

Gaming Ornaments: for those who want to combine Christmas with Gaming.

Ornaments make for great stocking stuffers! Check out a few here:

Journals and Notebooks: for those who want to write the story to the next big blockbuster game.

I got this Legend of Zelda journal as a present from my wife and I’ve yet to stop writing in it. In fact, I picked up a second one for my birthday this year. There are plenty of others available, check out below:

Gift Cards: for when you’re truly stuck on what to buy this year.

If all else fails, there’s nothing wrong with giving a PSN, Xbox Live or Nintendo e-Shop gift card. Unlike most other gift cards, the receiver will definitely appreciate it. Bonus if you get them a year-long subscription to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold: you’ll be appreciated all year round!

If they’re a mobile game lover, an iTunes or Google Play gift card will also go a long way!

Coffee Mugs: for those who literally want to have their Games with Coffee.*

Didja see what I did there? Didja? Eh, I digress, coffee mugs make for excellent stocking stuffers: they’re statement pieces tailored to that person’s particularly favourite game or series and they can drink coffee out of it! Win-win. Here’s some examples:


And that’s that! Hope this helps with your last minute shopping. Today (at least up here in Canada) is the last day you can order online for it to reach before Christmas! (Additional shipping charges will be required…). So get cracking!

As for the next edition, I’ll catch up with you all near the end of the year, where I’ll talk about my Quest status in “The Year In Review.” Of course, I’ll be working on a few Espresso Shot Reviews, which will come in the new year, along with something else. What that is, you’ll have to stay tuned to find out!

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and hoping you’re spending equal time with loved ones and cherished games this holiday season, this is Ryan from “Games with Coffee”, 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.

Image result for cloud black materia

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!

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!