YIIK’s demo probably has everything you love about 1990s JRPGs

To say the Japanese role-playing game is a prominent genre is an understatement—it has influenced videogames tremendously over the years. From Final Fantasy VII (1997) to Earthbound (1994), Dragon’s Quest (1986) to Persona (1996), JRPGs introduced expansive stories and memorable characters that still live on in popularity today. Not to mention, the JRPG is a genre that’s constantly reinventing itself, exploring new problems, themes, and design styles. You can look at the overlapping cartoon realities of Kingdom Hearts and the World War II narrative of the Valkyria Chronicles series for a taste. Ackk Studios’s upcoming game YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is not only interested in…


Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire only adds to the noise

According to its Kickstarter campaign, the first seed of what would become Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire was the game’s emblematic image: a woman in blue looks down at her red, burning city. There’s a paucity of details that add to the drama; the mountains are uniformly dark, while the desert is boundless and bare. Both are supported by the game’s plain, unsophisticated aesthetic, charmingly complete with rotoscope animation. All of the above combine to create an interesting drama out of drabness: two splashes of color set against a dun disaster. But this image represents the whole of Tahira…


Undertale, one year later

September 15th marks a full year since the arrival of Undertale, Toby Fox’s 16 bit-style role-playing game for PC. Its auspicious reception, which even delivered the game into the Pope’s hands, seems now more than ever to have been a flashpoint in current debates as to what constitutes excellence in videogames. Standing apart from the colossal world-building efforts that typically crowd year-end lists, Undertale offered something else: an epic-in-miniature, the latest entry in a tradition that might also include the animated shorts of David OReilly, Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), and Chopin’s preludes, which served…


Moon Hunters is about legends, but isn’t quite legendary

Our ancestors courageously spoke their minds, fought against tyranny, ended wars, and along the way also probably made a lot of really stupid mistakes. Just because we don’t care as much about our time-honored heroes’ failures doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, it just proves that history has a way of selective forgetfulness. The truth? Our legends aren’t always necessarily as legendary as we’d have liked them to have been. Johnny Appleseed’s countless apple trees bore mostly inedible fruit, designed to produce lucrative cider, rather than out of an altruistic goal to feed the masses. Paul Revere may have ridden to…

Lotus Dimension

New boardgame is like Dungeons & Dragons without all the violence

Lotus Dimension, a tabletop game by Scott Wayne Indiana that’s currently on Kickstarter, riffs on the best-known parts of Dungeons & Dragons (1974)—lots of adventure, deep storytelling, and actively encouraging creativity—but removes another: combat. Gone is the hack’n’slash, the destructive sorcery, the sharp but hidden blades that sawed your way through oh-so-many dungeons; you’re going to have to be more clever now. Lotus Dimension has sworn a vow of nonviolence, and you have no choice whether to follow it. Now pacifism has outgrown its adolescence of achievement runs and takes a seat with its grandfather at the tabletop, it’s time…

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The Banner Saga 2 still goes at it hard

The world is breaking. This is what you’re told at the outset of The Banner Saga 2. It’s delivered in a sigh, an exhale, and carries with it the weight of responsibility you bear—not all of those entrusted to your care will make it through the ordeal. There’s an inevitable doom to the proceedings but your choices will give those that follow you a chance, at least. Those choices are there in the dialogue, in the small esoteric details of conversation, in the events that unfold, and in the combat that ensues. Decision-making is woven into the tapestry of play…

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided can’t wait to be interrupted

There’s an apartment in Golem City littered with dead bodies. Normally, I’d be the one to put them there, but not this time. One of them was probably named Ana, at least according to the emails in a computer nearby. The messages are from her doctor informing her that she’s pregnant. This would normally be good news. But Golem City’s daycare was recently shut down, the doctor informs her, and infant mortality is through the roof. Without actually coming out and saying it, the doctor seems to suggest that Ana should get an abortion. Given what I’ve seen so far…

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Magic and gender in Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI (1994) is deeply concerned with the relationship between human beings and technology. The game liberally borrows elements from Western heroic fantasy and science fiction, yet the story and action are centered around two young female protagonists, Terra and Celes, who are variations on the “magical girl” and “beautiful fighting girl” archetypes of late-20th century Japanese pop culture. Placing Final Fantasy VI within the broader context of Japanese society in the 1990s can give us a new perspective on a classic and iconic videogame while also enhancing our understanding of many of the narrative tropes and conventions of…

Lonely Star

Lonely Star brings a lo-fi apocalypse to the Weird West

“FAIR FIGHTS ARE GOOD, IF YOU ARE IN A MOVIE, OR WOULD LIKE TO BECOME DEAD.” This is told to me by a crystal in the middle of a desert, surrounded on all sides by dust and cacti and one single, solitary highway. It’s the third of these I’ve found, sprouting carelessly out of the cracked earth, there for no other reason than to give advice, vehemently and repeatedly. Their surreality never comes into question. Lonely Star, it seems, doesn’t like to spell things out. I found the first crystal one map south of the demo’s introductory map, a conclave…