Now Playing: 2013 Holiday Edition

2014 is right around the corner and Stacey’s catching up on her 2013 backlog. Jaylee is busy spending time with his family (around the holidays! The audacity!)

Stacey’s Picks

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo

Fire Emblem: Awakening was a game Jaylee coerced me into buying for Nintendo’s $30 eShop credit campaign earlier this year. Prior to Awakening, my familiarity with the franchise began and ended with Super Smash Bros. It turns out that Fire Emblem is a lot more than just fighting for my friends—it’s a tactical RPG-turned-bizarro-dating-simuator!

I’m now playing the game on the “Normal” difficulty suggested for beginners; I also have the “Classic” setting turned on. As the name suggests, “Classic” refers to the traditional games’ rules that any unit that falls in battle falls permanently, or, as the game ominously puts it, every decision counts! At first it wasn’t immediately clear how my decisions counted. Units became unusable, sure, but I also found it strange that none of the surviving party questioned my tactician, Caterina’s, skills after half of their squad had fallen. At it’s most surreal, losing the hero’s little sister in battle somehow resulted in a confrontation not in which the hero mourned his loss or rightfully ripped into Caterina’s strategy, but proposed to her.

However, as I continued to play the game—and got marginally better in my tactics—I realized that the real cost of losing team members was missing out on side conversations with other characters. These conversations are always short and usually silly, but they carry the brunt of the game’s world building. They set the tone for the story and create small character moments that infuse battles with extra narrative meaning. Furthermore, losing supporting characters also leaves me to to wonder how the cast might have otherwise expanded. You see, the weirdo-dating simulator part of the game is that, as characters are paired together in battle, they not only become more formidable with improved statistics, but they narratively build trust. If they are of the opposite sex, that trust cumulates in marriage. While this mechanic is indefensibly silly (in no small part because it a) denies the possibility of gay relationships and b) denies any platonic relationships between men and women), it does produce children who both join the fight and provide additional, world-expanding conversations for the existing heroes. To this end, I found myself wanting to start over with my improved prowess to see who would join up if I kept everyone alive in the beginning. However, whenever I am tempted to abandon my current hero, my desire to see what happens next ultimately wins out.

I feel that I am at the point of no return with my tactician Caterina. I need to see her journey through—losses and all. Maybe I’ll start over with a more skilled tactician later?

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 505 Games (currently playing on Playstation 3)

I am not very far in this one, in part because I can’t make the boys walk in a straight line to save my life. Each of the two brothers is controlled with one analogue stick and shoulder button, while this works for climbing, it becomes unnecessarily confusing when walking. It also becomes borderline-physically-painful in some puzzles that call for holding down a shoulder button and moving the adjacent analogue stick at the same time. Part of me hopes that this indie darling has a good payoff that justifies actual pain, but right now it feels suspiciously like an unfortunate design choice in porting it to the PS3.

When not having to work distant buttons congruently, it’s easy to see the love that went into Brothers; it’s a beautiful game with a compelling world. The setting has a wonderfully eerie, almost sinister element when the sweet soundtrack and beautiful color palette are undermined by a population that is inexplicably hostile. For example, while passing through a picturesque town, I discovered a man banging on someone’s door. He only stopped to give the boys the stink-eye as they passed. The effect was unsettling–why was he doing this? In most games, this would be cause for my hero to intervene, but I couldn’t figure out a way to approach him. Was I supposed to? Or was I supposed to accept this as evidence of the kind of world the brothers lived in–one in which they are viewed with hostility and disgust? What did it mean? Additionally, I was delighted to find that the game conveyed each of the brother’s strengths not just through puzzle solving, but in the way in which they react to the world and how the world reacts to them. After passing the strange man in the village, I discovered that trying to pet a cat as one boy resulted in a frenzy of claws and hissing, while the other brother was able to instantly subdue it into contented purring. It is in these quieter, more subtle moments that I enjoy Brothers the most, both marveling at the developer’s attention to detail and finding myself intrigued by the greater world such details promise.

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