The Beginner's Guide
A game. A conversation. A game about games. A game about game makers. A conversation about game makers. A conversation about games. A game maker about some business with some games. A frankly depressing narrative about the creative process of game makers and creative artists in general, told within their own medium. A battle between two ways of thinking. Two forces in contrast, but are linked by nature. It really is something I can relate to with all of my neuroses that cause art block, self hate, frustration, isolation. It's a very emotional experience, and it has some very powerful things to say, and uses small games as a backdrop for it.
The Blackwell Series
A very difficult series of five games to talk about. It's about a psychic medium just developing her powers in place of her aunt who had recently passed away. A ghostly companion fills her in on the nature of what she is and what she must do, and things unfold in a very bleak sort of story, but with a silver lining of helping lost souls into the next life. The story gets more complicated and the stakes get higher, more information about her aunt is revealed, and by the last several episodes it becomes a tearjerker with a beautiful and cathartic ending.
A grim gothic horror video game set in an apocalyptic demented reflection of Victorian London, with an ever creeping, all consuming eldritch presence. It has my favorite controls of any FromSoft game, as it requires you to act fast, and your only defense is a quicker offense. Everything from its prop design, to environment design, to character and clothing design is an absolute inspiration to me as a 3D artist. It's story and lore has something to sink your teeth into if you're fascinated by that element of FromSoft games. It's a wonderfully dark game that will test your patience, and reward you with an exhilerating, visceral experience. And just.. It's so damn beautiful.
The second Souls game, and one that almost literally shook the edifice of gaming to its very core, for better or for worse. It's a dark fantasy game, and a new iteration of what began with a little dungeon delver called King's Field. It's known to be a very difficult game, with a very big interconnected world with a lot of verticality and shortcuts all across. A very complex and robust combat system that has addicted what seems like millions, but is more likely just tens of thousands if we're really being honest here. But I love it. I eat that shit up so much. Not just because of the challenge, and the interesting level design. But because I'm a huge junky for dark fantasy. I love overwrought gothic sets, characters caught in tragedies, fantastical and gross environments that really make you want to wash your hands and get a tetanus shot. There is beauty in such a dark story, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. And the story and lore of the game isn't too shabby either, telling a story of a cyclical kind of process of delaying the inevitable in service of a powerful few that's ever shrinking. All that's left are the dregs of society, feral, eating each other until it all goes dark. Perhaps the cycle can be broken.
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin
The second Dark Souls game, more specifically, the definitive edition, with all of the DLC, a large spike in difficulty, and a new ending. This game isn't at all like Dark Souls 1 where it matters, it carves it's own identity, and personally, it's my favorite of the three for several reasons. For one, it tells a story of a sort of demententation of the social consciousness and of the self. Drangleic is a place where those who bear the darksign go on a pilgrimage, and lose all sense of who they use to be. They're all part of a cyclical curse where history and humanity keeps repeating itself. Only this process of dementation has clouded the truth. Is it inherent to humanity? No, it's always the consequence of people who ought not to have power, and everyone else bearing such a horrible burden in place. But it's more than just that too. The game explores this curse in a much more personal way, with a higher volume of NPCs, with considerably more characterization, exploring their individual tragic journeys and how there's a sort of commonality between all of them, and with us, the world we live in now. It's the most personal game. It also happens to have wonderful environment designs that go across the full visual spectrum unlike the other two games. So many breathtakingly beautiful places, with so much color, while adhering to the dark fantasy genre. The environments are mismatched a lot, and it ties into the narrative of dementation, because the collective consciousness is clashing together in bits and pieces as everyone is losing themselves, as everything is falling apart. Also, the gameplay requires a lot more practical tactics to be used, and the DLC has some of the most amazing and fun level design of the entire series. Just.. God.. This is the one.
Dark Souls III
This is the final Souls game (probably, for now), and I have some mixed feelings on it but ultimately still consider it a personal favorite, and love it more than 1 but less than 2. It gives all of the lore that people from Dark Souls 1 want. It gives the narrative of the cursed cycle of humanity a conclusion, like fans of Dark Souls 2 want. It considerably increases the general difficulty, reduces the cheap bullshit, and increases the speed and fluidity of the combat system, like Bloodborne fans wanted. It makes improvements across all fields and appeals to every kind of Souls fan, I think. But it doesn't particularly excel in anything except probably how it perfected it's limited palette and environment design. It's stylistically not my favorite, but it really is quite exceptional when you take a step back and look at everything. It's also probably the most replayable Souls game. I'm having a good time replaying it with my friend Eyeshadow 2600 FM at the time of writing this.
Final Fantasy V
I really love this game because it just has everything I want. A unique fem leaning cast, a complicated skill and class system where you invest into the classes you want to mix and match their powers in a post-class build in the mid-late game. Fun bosses, a villain you can pal around with and eventually befriend (Gilgamesh). It has a really light-hearted and fresh vibe to it that you just don't see with the more complicated RPGs like it.
Final Fantasy VII
The one everybody loves to hate, but shouldn't. Why? For one, it's a perfection of the plot formula of FFVI and without any of the creeper shit. In addition, it's an absolute dirge of a story about the planet dying from capitalists literally extracting the life out of it for profit, playing as an ecological liberation group trying to bring the corporation down. Only everything goes into disarray when a rogue soldier of that corporation taps into a primordial power that threatens them all. So not only is the corporation killing the planet, but it cultivates monsters that will continue and destroy without them. It also has some damn good music, and a very fun skill and equipment system similar to FFV.
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
A one of a kind experience, about a pict woman, carrying the remains of her lover to the gates of Helheim, the realm of death in the words of the conquerers who took her partner, to demand Hel restore him to life. Senua suffers from psychosis, and a lot of the game is about her psychosis, and is from the perspective of her suffering from it, coming to terms with it, understanding some of it is a blessing, and that the experience of suffering from psychosis is a lot of the time just suffering at the hands of people refusing to understand. An absolutely emotionally explosive, cathartic, and overall uplifting experience of bereavement. It has stellar environment, character, and visual design from head to toe, and uses a lot of mixed media to tell it's story. All throughout the game it sheds insight on the picts, and also nordic spirituality, asatruism. The game was vetted and overseen by a group of schizophrenic people and psychologists to make sure it was being portrayed in a human and proper way.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Stop me if you've heard this before: in war torn nations ravaged by imperialist powers, private military companies swoop in, traffick child soldiers, and terrorize the public, all funded and overseen by US politicians and weapons corporations. Only, it's the future now, and Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 2 has gone through the imperialist wringer and has come out a near misanthropic cyber soldier looking to atone for his history as being a tool for state terror. What does he do but extrajudicially murder the anarcho-capitalist private military company that terrorizes the nation he's found himself in currently. One by one he fights each desperado, not just in a showdown of cyber ninja tech and swordsmanship, but also philosophically, as Raiden has to reason with himself if what he's doing is truly noble, or if it's merely an excuse for him to continue the cycle of violence. Violence begets violence, as they say. Raiden seeks to end the cycle of war, terror, exploitation by attacking it at root sources. It ends with him fighting a.. very eerie depiction of a US senator at the end of the game. Also it plays like Devil May Cry, and has incredible fucking music. This is one to pay attention to.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
An anti-state, anti-war, anti-nuke video game that takes a lot of creative liberties to make a truly post-modern work of art that interacts with the player in a lot of unique and interesting ways to tell a meta-narrative. Things repeat themselves eerily in this mission to rescue hostages from an oil filtering facility that's been taken over by mercenaries, and a group of five terrorists, one claiming to be the infamous Solid Snake. Meanwhile, a guy who isn't snake, but just has two snake themed nicknames, has come to the same facility to do some whistleblowing, blow the lid off of new plans for an even more devastating nuclear weapon, Metal Gear Ray. It takes a million twists and turns, all with a fresh new look, and a new character, Raiden. The beginning of Raidens journey that arcs across three games. He goes from pawn of Imperialism, to straight up anti-imperialist vigilante before you know it.
Night in the Woods
It's a heavily stylized furry game about the decline of the rust belt because of capitalism, and the alienation and ennui felt by all the people in it. It's also a lovely coming of age story about a college drop out returning to her small town in the rust belt, but everything is different and she has to navigate these differences, spending time with her childhood friends, contrasting each others problems, trying to hold onto some of what may be left over from those times before. etc. Really damn good shit. But then some shit is going on in the town... the scooby gang investigates. So where Oxenfree is a Breakfast Club, NITW very much is a Scooby gang.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
A wonderfully ambient game set in a dreamworld, following the adventures of NiGHTS, who watches over Nightopia. Is in conflict with a nightmare realm, and their dark antagonist, Reala. It has such beautiful, soothing, nostalgic music, all restored to a higher fidelity format in contrast to the more rudimentary first game for the Sega Saturn. It expands upon the content, and improves everything in a general sense. It has legitimate nonbinary representation, conscious or not. It's a very relaxing horizontal scrolling flying platforming game. It's a dream world. It's precious.
A French freeware RPG Maker game set in a very surreal, cold, and grim world. You're a little baseball man who must purify various monsters within the world. The natural elements of the world have all been replaced wth meat, metal, smoke, plastic.. It has a very scratchy aesthetic and leaves a lot of room for the imagination, while giving a good enough RPG core to keep a sort of narrative focus. It perfectly nails the tone, atmosphere, and dark ambient music.
Pathologic Classic HD
I have a very hard time describing this to people. I have been drafting and discarding multiple essays trying to break down what is so special about this game. What you need to know is, it's a very difficult game that was made to be difficult and grim and horrific in how little control you have over your situation. You are in open conversation with the designers of the game for a good portion of the game, and are playing an actor who is performing a play, deliberately displacing yourself from the character. It's a game about a plague that has begun to spread across this town in the Russian steppe, as you take control of 3 different healers with 3 different narratives the game is trying to tell you. Essentially, it's a trilogy. One game, where you are the naive city doctor who foolishly tries to stop death, and only ends up preserving the affects of the privileged and lofty. Another, you're a native of the steppe, steeped in the cultural traditions, but are hated by all for your ends that may not justify your means, as you're an organ harvesting surgeon. The last story, you're a woman who performs miracles and has an acute nature of the impossible conflict you've been placed in, and attempt to bring about a way to break the wheel. Essentially, this is a game about misery, bleakness, and still managing to try to do right no matter the circumstances, to show futile heroism. Among many other things. The game is complicated. This is just a primer. I could literally write dozens of pages I need to cut myself off right now.
The Penumbra Trilogy
Three games that contorted the survival horror genre into an entirely new microgenre that took off, and eventually merged conceptually with adventure/exploration games down the line. A type of game where you're mostly walking around and reading things, until you find yourself being pursued by an unkillable threat that you have to outsmart or outrun. Nonetheless, it's a series about a man who gets a letter from his supposedly deceased father, warning him to never go looking for him. Naturally, the protagonist treks to the nordic mountains to seek an abandoned mining facility his dad was holed up in, only inside are unspeakable horrors that should've stayed unearthed. It really is a beautiful set of games that runs the emotional gamut, has very interesting choices in horror monsters, and has fantastic dark ambient music.
Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution
A very dark, ambient, moody game with anti-colonial and anti-ecocidal theming. All of the characters have rich emotional and personal lives that you can talk about them with inbetween missions, fleshing out the story even more, but it's very hard to miss. It's also probably the most fantastic music in a Sonic Team game, even more fantastic than NiGHTS overall, which is difficult for me to say. The gameplay is essentially a turn based strategy game with cards. The anti-colonialists fight with nano-tech clones of the local fauna, and the colonists fight with the traditional weapons of the PSO games. By the by, this is nothing like other PSO titles.
A Plague Tale: Innocence
A game about the children of a lordship in medieval France in the era of the plague, with a supernatural and political element. The younger brother is touched by a sort of blessing or curse that has a connection with both the plague and inquisition. You evade the rats and soldiers, you get together a group of other young kids and carve out a good existence for yourself. So it has a lot of darkness, nastiness, and bleakness, but also has a light at the end of the tunnel and a very positive and healthy outlook overall, and is mostly a coming of age story with an array of different children stepping up in the absence of their parents.
For starters, it's the only Persona game that doesn't have transphobia, which instantly shoots it to the top in contrast to the others. This specifically is a localization that removes a secondary story from the original game, gives an American look to all of the characters, and inexplicably makes one of them black. It's a bit novel and where it could be bad, none of their localized changes are harmful. And where the PSP game doesn't have these weird idiosyncracies and includes cut content, it removes the absolutely iconic town map system and replaces the ICONIC music with a bunch of crap. Everything about this game, it's style, the Pokemon-ness of collecting demon cards, the ability to talk and negotiate with enemies? It's all so good. And the story is fantastic too. Essentially it's another demon invasion story, as this thematic genre rarely falls too far away from Devilman and Digital Devil Story... But it twists it around and makes it a narrative about self acceptance and understanding the relationship between you (ego), what you want to see yourself as (persona), and what you can't accept in yourself (shadow). It gets more interesting than just that but you'll have to see for yourself :^)
Silent Hill 2
An incredibly dark game, and in my opinion the first really spectacular Silent Hill game. If you don't already know, it's a foggy town people get lost in, and their inner demons manifest themselves as the monsters and environment of the city itself. We take control of James, who's trying to mourn the loss of his wife, as he explores that emotional burden through some truly horrific sights and threats, in a city that just might be hell itself. It's very inspired by the movie Jacob's Ladder, and has a mind blowing ambient soundtrack.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut
An expansion pack for the Shadowrun: Returns game, essentially an entirely new game, but with the same borrowed assets, gameplay, level building kits, etc. It's set in an Anarchist autonomous zone in Germany in a supernatural future with magic, dragons, capitalist exploitation, and freelancers who actively try to fuck up and undermine it. You stick with essentially the same group of people for the whole game and build relationships with all of them, and so much depth was put into each character that they feel pretty real. So there's a mystery, there's a dragon, there's a rogue AI, and there's a vastly customizeable CRPG system to play around with to your hearts content.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong - Extended Edition
A proper sequel to the Shadowrun Returns core. Set in the triad run Kowloon City of the future where there's very little hope for people trying to organize and make a peaceful living for themselves. The giant crammed walled city is where hope goes to die. You're fresh out of Seattle and meet up with your adoptive brother to see your adoptive father and things go sideways. You're SINless, you're a runner now, and have to tango with the criminal underbelly. Same deal as Dragonfall, a very closely knit cast of very well written characters, exploring the mystery of why the chi in Kowloon is soo horrid.
It kind of has become a meme, but it's a genuinely special game about violence among other things, and tackles a lot of serious subjects with a quirky charm to it. Has amazing music, strikingly memorable characters, too many funny moments to name, and an SMT like combat system where the idea is typically more to reason with the enemies or find some way to de-fuse the fights without attacking them. Oh... you could fight them. But you really don't want to do that. It changes your game.. permanently. You will have consequences for being a bad person. But if you try to do the right thing, then it'll be okay. Sans,
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
The motherfucker of the RPG genre. Brought to video game form. I spent a whole lot of my teenaged life playing Vampire: The Masquerade, both the video game, and the real life tabletop game, with real ass people. God.. Such wonderful times. The prodigal RPG about making a monster and writing a multi-person personalized horror narrative around how horrible your monster really is, no matter how much they've deluded themselves into thinking they aren't a blood sucking monster. The video game is a masterpiece in punky and quirky writing, while also capturing the tone of the tabletop game. It has everything you want. Serious shit, hilarious shit, stuff you can't take seriously. It runs the spectrum of every VTMB session I've been to, and then some. On top of that, it plays like Deus Ex, and really is just a romp and a half. This is THE RPG to play. Be a piece of shit. Kill a security guard. Dance the night away. Discuss vampire Atheism with a famous nerd. Topple the Capitalistic hierarchy of the Camarilla with your new Anarchist friends. Beat someone to death with a severed arm. Take a trip to the museum. DON'T OPEN IT!
One of the most breathtaking and stylish shoot em up games I've played. Also unfortunately one of the most difficult. It adheres to a teal and orange color scheme, and uses a lot of Buddhist themings across the game both aesthetically, and also narratively/thematically. The game itself is about Samsara, the infinite cycle of life, impermanence and permanence. Also it's all girls and you got drills and get into a drill battle against a bigger drill. And the music is INSANE. An unforgettable experience, and recommended to anyone who plays danmaku / bullet hell games.