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!

Koffi Trigger – Letter from a Mad Scientist Woman

Hey all, welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! I had so much fun writing the first letter to Athena for the Year of the RPG, that I decided to make this an ongoing thing for the rest of the year! I’ll be writing in the perspective of the main characters of the series and (if time allows) maybe have some of the secondary characters write in as well! Hope you enjoy it!


Dear Athena,

So, the letter you’re about to read was written on parchment made using outdated production processes and materials that aren’t used in present day paper manufacturing. Why am I mentioning this odd, out of place tidbit? Well, because I’m writing to you from a tavern in Truce Village in the year 600 A.D.; four hundred years in the past!

Before I get around to explaining how exactly I found myself in this era of time and the events that followed, allow me to introduce myself: I’m Lucca, the beautiful, brilliant scientist from Truce Village circa 1000 A.D.

… Well, truthfully, people in the village call me by a different name: Perks. My best (only) friend in the village gave me that name – Koffi. You might know him; he’s a fairly talented swordsman with an unhealthy obsession with coffee, hence his name. I don’t get why he calls me ‘Perks.’ Koffi says it’s because my obsession with machines and science rivals that of his coffee addiction and that I apparently ‘perk’ up whenever I see any piece of technology. It’s annoying, but I digress. Your name popped up when he told me about you and how he wrote you a letter on a whim, hence why I decided to write one myself. It’d be nice to vent to someone else for a change… I’m just hoping you get this.

Anyway, this fiasco started out at the Millenium Fair, back in 1000 AD. I had just fired up my latest invention – The Telepod – when Koffi showed up… With a girl in tow! A cute one to boot! I was so proud of him…

Mind you, while I care for the caffeine addicted swordsman and cherish him as a close friend, in no way would I want to pursue a romantic relationship with him. Why? Well, he’s kind of a dimwit. But I mean it in the nicest way possible!

When I first met Koffi’s companion though, something about her was incredibly familiar, but at the time, I couldn’t put my finger on why she was so familiar in the first place? Odd to put in here, I know, but it becomes relevant later on.

After a quick chat (in which you were brought up), I asked Koffi nicely (read: forced him) to try out the Telepod. I only wished you could see the look of fright upon his face when I told him to try it out; he still remembers the flamethrower incident (which I won’t go into specifics; he might have mentioned it already)! Either way, he tried it and it was a complete success! I’ve successfully teleported a person from one point to another! And I can’t believe it worked! I mean, I did the math and there was a large statistical chance that it would fail spectacularly and splice the poor guy in two, but hey, I avoided it! Hooray for science!

And here’s where everything got crazy; the girl Koffi brought (her name is Priss), wanted to try it out. Here I thought “This would be excellent publicity! If the Telepod gets popular enough, I might get that coveted research and development grant from the Royal Family!” So, I threw sheets to the wind and decided to let her on.

That… Turned out to be a huge mistake.

I still don’t quite understand how it happened, but as she was teleporting to the receiver pod, it seems like an unknown energy source – possibly originating from her pendant – overloaded the Telepod and somehow tore open a hole in space-time. Instead of arriving on the receiver pod, she fell through the hole and vanished.

Naturally everyone panicked and fled from the scene. My father and I argued as to whose fault this was; either he inadvertently increased the Telepod’s power to beyond the overload protection, or I missed a zero when I recalibrated the sender pod prior to her getting on. Anyways, it was no surprise to me that Koffi picked up the pendant that was left behind and told me to fire it up again. He looked hellbent and he only has that look on his face when the ferry comes in with his latest coffee shipment: 200 lbs of roasted beans.

So, my father and I overloaded the Telepod to achieve the same effect of tearing a hole in space-time, with help from the pendant. Koffi was flung into it while I pondered as to what these holes were, why have they appeared and how do I get one open without using the Telepod or the pendant?

Long story short and without going into immense scientific explanation (which, if I’m honest, would turn this letter into a book), I postulated the theory that this space-time energy is naturally occurring, and that Priss’ pendant acts as a sort of conductor for this energy. Using that theory, I built my most amazing invention yet: the Gate Key. When used near a large concentration of this space-time energy, it would create a stable, temporal portal out of it (which I’ll call Gates). I tested it back at the fairgrounds and successfully opened the portal where Priss and Koffi entered! So, naturally I followed along, where I landed 400 years in the past, in the middle of the war between humans and Mystics.

Midway through travelling, I finally realized to my horror who Priss reminded me of and what the consequences of her being in this moment of time would be! I rushed to Guardia Castle of the past and discovered that my fears were founded; Priss is really Princess Nadia, the current heir to the throne in our present time! Also, this year is significant in our country’s history, because it’s when Queen Leene, Nadia’s ancestor, mysteriously disappeared! She would have been brutally murder if not for a trusted knight who rescued her at the last moment. But because Priss is a dead ringer for the Queen, the castle guards called off the search when she was found, meaning that the real Queen was still in danger. If she was killed, it would create a time paradox which would have untold consequences on the space-time continuum! To top all of it off, Nad- sorry, Priss disappeared in a flash of light, meaning that the paradox activation would be imminent, if my theories were correct.

… Basically in a nutshell, unless Koffi and I found the real Queen Leene and returned her to the castle safely, we would all be royally screwed. Pun totally not intended.

As we left the castle to search for the Queen, we were stopped by… a frog man. No, I’m not kidding you; he was a short, ugly and slimy looking frog that stood on two feet, wore travelling clothes and had a sword sheathed on his waist. He insisted (in a very medieval dialect) on joining us to find the Queen. I was initially grossed out (I really don’t like frogs) and almost told him to get lost, but Koffi took a shine to him. It might have been a swordsman thing between the two, but Koffi decided to let him on. While he called himself Frog (wow, that’s an imaginative name…), Koffi decided on a different name: Sir Beans. I actually laughed at that one.

Despite being dismayed at the name choice, Beans joined up with us as we canvassed the village for information about the Queen’s last known whereabouts. We’ve discovered that a day or two ago, the Queen went to the Cathedral near the castle with the Chancellor, but only he returned, citing that the Queen was staying to pray for our troops on the Zenan Bridge. When the report went out that she went missing, the first place they searched was the Cathedral, but they found nothing. We all though this sounded suspicious, so we’ll be heading there shortly. Koffi and Beans (I snickered so hard when I wrote that out) went to gather up supplies, leaving me time to write this out to you.

Looks like they’re back, so I’ll end it here. Wish us luck.

-Lucca (Perks)

PS: You know, I wish I could send you pictures – photography wasn’t invented until late 800 A.D. or so. Maybe when (if, really) I get back to our current time, I’ll invent an instant photo device or something… (I’m actually writing this idea down as we speak.)

PPS: …Koffi says hi and also says thank you for the response, he just got it.

Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior: Espresso Shot Review

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

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

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


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

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

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-0

Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-1

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

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

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

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-2

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-8

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

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

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

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


Visuals

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

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-0

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

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

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-5

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-6

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-7

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

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

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-13

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-14

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-15


Music

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

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

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

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

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


Replayability

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

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


Wrapup

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

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

4 out of 5

4/5

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.

Image result for headless jenova

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!