Every Friday, several A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
There are certain things that are always going to happen when I dive into a Fire Emblem game. At one point, I’m going to go, “Man, why don’t I play more Fire Emblem games?” and at another, I’m going to have to restrain myself from screaming “Fuck this shit!” and hurling my 3DS across the room. I just hit the latter point with Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows Of Valentia, and it has its roots in one of the few tweaks the game makes to the tried-and-true FE formula: 3-D explorable dungeons.
Up until my latest play session, I was happy to write these sequences—in which your hero wanders through generic caves and evil temples, smacking enemies in the back to initiate traditional Fire Emblem turn-based battles—off as “pointless but harmless.” (I can safely say “real-time exploration” has never been something I’ve been looking for from these games; I’m more a “cute romances between magic-wielding murder monsters” kind of guy.) But last night, I hit the first real sticking point in the dungeon side of FEE, and it’s sent these sequences all the way across the scale to “actively odious.”
Call it pride, or an honest effort to play the games the way they’re designed to be played, but I always play Fire Emblem games on Normal difficulty, with perma-death enabled. (That is, if a unit hits 0 HP, they’re gone for good.) Dungeons turn the game into save point-free marathons, though, forcing the player to fight 10 or 15 battles in a row without the chance to save. Most of these fights are trivial—a problem in their own right—but some of them decidedly are not, and the loss of either an hour’s worth of playtime or one of my precious characters to an enemy’s lucky critical hit is a real bummer. The game tries to mitigate this by giving the player a rewind-time ability, but it’s limited, and if it’s you’re main character who goes down, it’s an automatic game over. Maybe the problem is with me (I should probably be more cautious, although the glut of trash fights makes that difficult), but it’s the sort of experience that can bring me close to firing my gaming hardware through the air.
It’s been many, many years since I last got into a Tekken game, but everything I’d seen from Tekken 7’s lengthy existence as an arcade-only game in Japan has been incredibly exciting. Unfortunately, I’ve only had the PlayStation 4 version for a few days, but hot damn does it make a good first impression. Unlike Injustice 2, which is another new fighter I’ve been dabbling in, there’s a real impact to the blows that’s immensely satisfying. It’s something Tekken has always done well, with your punches and kicks setting off fireworks when they connect and the heaviest hits ringing out like gunshots.
And the game is as accessible, yet mind-bogglingly deep, as ever. While I’m diving into practice mode and shaking my head at the dozens of moves assigned to each character, my girlfriend, who isn’t generally a fighting-game fan but has fond memories of sparring with her dad in Tekken 3, is having plenty of fun just wailing away at the buttons and watching the sparks fly. But there’s a good chance she’s ready to start following me down the rabbit hole of learning how to play this beast, and it’s all thanks to a lady who fights with a pet tiger. Yes, this game is insane, and I love it.
Every time I play Kentucky Route Zero, the episodic magical realist game now stretching across four episodes, three interludes, and four years, I remark again how little there is like it out there. Even within the field of experimental games and alt-games, it remains a completely bespoke blend of classic adventure game, experimental cinema, and ambient music. I’ve been meaning to write about Carl Burton’s Islands: Non-Places since I played it earlier this year, in part because it’s the first piece of interactive media that conjures the same slow-building, surrealistic pleasures as KRZ.
The game plays out as a series of dreamlike vignettes, each featuring a semi-familiar object divorced from all context and placed into a hazy abyss. You can rotate it and press various glowing lights to unfold a short scene. The patient, often abstractly comic narratives recall the dark wit of Roy Andersson’s films, and their field-recording audio blooms like the quilted recordings of Fennesz. The game’s “non-places” are, largely, interstitial ones—lobbies, bus stops, public parks, and so on—that are given a sense of wry life. While all of these influences—as well as the game’s spare, low-poly art style—conspire to make it seem like the first truly post-KRZ game, the characteristic they share most is the way both games linger in the mind afterward, like a half-remembered dream.