By Patrick Young
As the worries of the Coronavirus were escalating, my girlfriend and I debated whether we should still go to the convention. We had tickets for this year’s Penny Arcade Expo East 2020, and we just learned that some video game publishers were pulling out from the show. “Should we still go?” we pondered.
We decided to go. Some people at the convention were wearing masks, but most weren’t, giving the illusion that everything was okay. No amount of lights, games or free merch were enough to mask the subtle fear of the future that was looming throughout the conference. I even got to play the not-yet-released Final Fantasy VII Remake demo
and despite having a blast, the swarming gloom was unmistakable.
On our way home, waiting for a bus to take us to our train, we noticed a woman from afar that was not well. She was barely clothed and was hacking up a lung. I don’t know if she had the virus but it felt like a sign of things to come. What if this virus becomes that bad?
Nine months later and we know what happened with the virus––in some ways it definitely became that bad: hundreds of thousands of Americans died, on top of the catastrophic world tolls; being forced to stay inside and become distanced from our friends and family. The way we carried ourselves in public entirely changed. School became predominantly online and everyday started with a search for motivation.
There was a saving grace though, that emerged during this pandemic: video games.
From the outset, video games were the levity that helped many. They kept us connected to one another when we couldn’t physically be with them. When not working or out of work, they kept us entertained and motivated, being something for us to invest in. And as games kept releasing, they were sources of excitement in what was an otherwise miserable year. it’s hard to imagine what quarantine would’ve looked like without them.
As a token of my thankfulness for the industry, the medium and the tireless developers who moved from their studios to their homes to keep working, here are some of my favorite gaming moments from this year.
Stepping onto your friend’s island for the first time in Animal Crossing: New Horizons
There couldn’t have been a more perfectly timed game release.
For the first month of the pandemic, Animal Crossing: New Horizons the cutesy-simulator game was all that anyone was talking about. Booting up the game, seeing your avatar and starting to interact with your island was fun and all, but the fun really began when you started travelling to your friends’ islands.
One of the game’s many mechanics involves your island’s domestic fruit. With six total fruits in the game, and your island only having one, the game incentivises you to go out and explore other islands and bring back the other fruits. Although it is a very simple form of multiplayer, going to your friend’s island and seeing how they are setting it up, what sort of Villagers are living there and trading your fruit with them was a magical experience the first time around.
Although I fell off the game really quickly, I will cherish that month or so I spent with the game and my friends. Who knows, maybe I’ll jump back into it someday––I hope my villagers haven’t left!
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has gone on to be the second highest grossing Switch game so far for Nintendo according to Nintendo financial reports, and it is closing in on the top spot.
Losing my mind while playing Final Fantasy VII: Remake.
Image of Cloud Strife and Tifa Lockheart from Final Fantasy VII: Remake. Image courtesy of Sony.
I waited until the end of the Spring semester to play this game, and I am so glad I waited, because I was consumed for a good two weeks when I finally got into it.
Final Fantasy VII: Remake was everything that I wanted, and gave me things I didn’t even know I wanted! More comradery between Cloud and the original game’s background characters, Jessie, Biggs and Wedge? Check. The best 3D depiction of these characters since their original appearance in 1997? Check. Remaking the original Final Fantasy VII so that it also doubles as a sequel to the entire franchise, reframing the narrative of the original game with twists to make the experience fresh? Are you kidding me?!
Although this last point definitely had mixed receptions amongst fans, many wanting a pure remake of the original game, I could not have been more entranced and enthusiastic about it! As a long time fan of the series, the decision here to simultaneously tread old ground but also venturing into the dark was a bold decision that I think worked brilliantly. These decisions have subsequently allowed Square Enix when making Part II and presumably Part III (three-act structure and all) to toy with our understanding of the game and what we expect to happen, and I’m all here for it.
You do not have to have played the original game to appreciate this game, but man, it is quite the amazing experience when you realize really what is happening here.
“Seattle Day 1” in The Last of Us: Part II. (Mild spoilers below!)
Screenshot of a silhouetted Ellie as thunder crackles above her in The Last of Us: Part II. Picture taken in-game by me, image courtesy of Sony.
I spent fifteen hours in The Last of Us: Part II so far, and I thought I was coming upon the climax.
Ellie has tracked the antagonist Abby down to multiple locations all over Seattle for 3 days and still hasn’t found her, killing her friends instead. Then all of a sudden, Abby is in Ellie’s base of commands, has killed one of my friends and is holding another at gunpoint. I remember gripping the controller tightly, getting ready for a boss fight, to finally be able to kill Abby, when the screen goes black, and when it returns, I am playing a younger version of Abby.
“Oh okay,” I remember musing. This is probably just a flashback before we get back to the action like all the other previous flashbacks, I thought. But it just kept going, until eventually the words “Seattle Day One” appeared on the screen, like it had ten hours prior when Ellie first arrived in Seattle.
‘I am going to be seeing Abby’s side now aren’t I?’
Sure enough, I would go on to spend another ten hours doing what I did as Ellie, but with Abby––scavenging for gears and supplements, upgrading my stats and my guns, fighting Clickers and humans alike. Never have I played a game whose story was so tailored, so directly confronting the expectations of gameplay and storytelling; to build up that suspense for fifteen hours as Ellie, and then being told “Wait,” so that we can get back to that point as Abby was such a daring decision, that will sit with me for a long time.
I understand the problems that people have with this game’s narrative, and I have my own problems too, but this story, told in this medium, is too remarkable to be simply tossed aside.
Winning the crown in Fall Guys.
Image of a bunch of Fall Guys running in…Fall Guys. Image courtesy of © MediaTonic
Say what you want about Fall Guys, but when this game launched for free on PS4 back in September, it set the world on fire! This outrageous game finally did something I had not seen yet: combine the battle royale and platforming genres.
Surely there have been projects in the past with similar premises but they never reached the highs or success that Fall Guys did. The game’s use of semi-reliable platforming mechanics with unreliable player encounters and an ever changing roster of stages was MediaTonic’s recipe for success.
Tweet to be inserted in article: https://twitter.com/pyoung729/status/1298383304866115584?s=20
At first winning or “Getting the Crown” as it were, seemed like a lofty, almost unattainable goal, especially when you make it to the final stage and there are only 6 or 7 players remaining; your hands get sweaty, you grit your teeth, and pray that luck is on your side. While leaping over the rotating bar or jumping from hexagon to hexagon, the pressure keeps mounting as you hear the individual Fall Guys’ screams with every disqualification. And then it’s just you and the other player remaining, jumping with your life on the line––all your concentration in that moment on the timing of the X button.
Then, you see the final victim being flung off the stage and all is well. The fanfare starts and your goofy Fall Guy looks like he doesn’t know where he is or what is happening as he is hoisted onto the victor’s podium. It is such a gratifying experience, and you just want to get back there as soon as possible.
Winning in any battle royale is difficult, but in Fall Guys, it’s some of the most fun and endearing pain you’ll ever have.
Seeing familiar faces in Astro’s Playroom.
Screenshot of Astro jumping above the Buster Sword from Final Fantasy VII in Astro’s Playroom. Image taken by me in-game, courtesy of Sony.
I have described in various places some of my experiences in Astro’s Playroom, as well as my overall thoughts on the PS5, so this will not be a regurgitation of those points. What I want to emphasize here is how Astro’s Playroom embodied my excitement for the PS5 when I got it: it being both a technical marvel, ushering in the new generation of video games, while also being a charming homage to the games and consoles that preceded it.
What better way to learn about what your PlayStation console can do, than to literally play inside it while also learning about PlayStation’s history along the way.
I traveled around the PS5 to levels inspired by its components, featuring “SSD Speedway,” “GPU Jungle,” “Cooling Springs” and lastly, “Memory Meadow.” As I explored each world, I was collecting coins to spend on a vending machine that dispensed cute dioramas about PlayStation’s history portrayed by the Astrobots. One in particular shows the Astrobots trying to decide which logo they want to use for the PlayStation, a clever reference to the multiple different designs that surfaced a while back. In addition to these are puzzle pieces for murals in one of the player HUBs and literal PlayStation relics, from multiple iterations of the PS1, to the obscure gun device for the PlayStation Move.
Screenshot of Astrobots portraying Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us in Astro’s Playroom. Image taken by me, courtesy of Sony.
The best part of this experience though, is the litany of cameos from beloved PlayStation mascots throughout all of the game’s levels––all portrayed by Astrobots. In my playthrough I found a Jin Sakai Astrobot in a field, practicing his sword stances, referencing this year’s Ghost of Tsushima. At the end of another level, I saw another Astrobot dressed as Sly Cooper, trying to crack a safe; as I tried to get close to him though, he would jump into the safe, not letting himself get caught. I even found Crash Bandicoot doing his victory dance near a stack of Wampa fruit boxes! It is all just so amazing.
There are so many more references here that I would like to name, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise for other players. Astro’s Playroom blew me away and I’m so thankful I was able to be swept through on the exciting nostalgia trip it offers.
Despite the many challenges that we faced this year, it has been an amazing year for games. We traveled to worlds both new and old, saw familiar faces and met new ones, and made a console jump with the highest demand ever seen! The passion for this community is as large as it has ever been. Most importantly though, we remained connected to those we care about through the medium we all share. Although our future is uncertain, we can rest assured that we will have video games to help us keep going and provide a connection when we need it most.