Every Friday Paste’s editors, staffers and games contributors share what they’ve been playing that week. New games and old, TV and tabletop, major hits and wild obscurities, action-first knuckle-busters and slow-and-stately brain-stokers: you can expect it all, every week, in The Games We Play.
Platforms: PlayStation, PlayStation Network
I’m rewriting my blurb for this week because at 3:30 AM EDT I finished downloading Chrono Cross. I know, I’m skeptical too. At the time I had such a conflicted relationship with the game—its ponderous battle loadtimes, and a UI that could be summed up as “graphic design is my passion.”
But I put an hour in. And you know…
I think I’m going to stick with it and see where we end up.
There’s some big beats in this that have big implications for the overhyped (though still delightful) older sibling, Chrono Trigger. In the immediate wake of Final Fantasy VII: Remake, and separated by 20 years, it’s hitting differently.
Maybe this is a good lesson in release and reunion.
If nothing else, the soundtrack absolutely rips.—Games Contributor Dia Lacina
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
I poured a rather ridiculous amount of time into Failbetter Games’ first project, 2015’s Sunless Sea, a game anchored by a setting that often seemed crafted specifically to appeal to me and me alone. Taking charge of a creaky little Edwardian-era steamboat, adrift in a sea of Lovecraftian monsters and bizarrely memorable islands, imbued Sunless Sea with a flavor of both true adventure and the ever-present, prickling fear of perma-death. I’ll never forget one of those deaths in particular, weeks into my initial playthrough, which sent me back to the beginning to start again … frustrated, but a little bit wiser.
Unsurprisingly, then, I was quite looking forward to the full launch of follow-up Sunless Skies, which transplants the setting from the Unterzee to the wild heavens themselves while making a bevy of adjustments and improvements. In many ways this is inarguably a better games—the combat has been improved in terms of responsiveness and how it rewards the player’s contribution and skill, and the overall suite of maps is much, much larger. At the same time, though, Sunless Skies struggles more in recapturing the first game’s wondrous tone of dangerous exploration, and its writing (though often amusing) seems less memorably audacious by comparison. Perhaps it’s the quest rewards, though, that contribute most to making it ultimately seem like a somewhat less satisfying experience—there’s just nothing here that measures up to the feeling of accomplishment the player possesses in Sunless Sea after completing the quest for the Fulgent Impeller, the game’s most powerful ship engine. If Sunless Skies can dream up rewards—both tactile and narrative—of the same caliber for the player’s investment of time, it would be that much better off. —Staff Writer Jim Vorel
Platform: PlayStation 4
Persona 5 Royal is the crystallization of what may be the finest turn-based RPG of all time. With slick visuals and tons of new content, including a charming new female lead, Atlus continues to prove themselves as providers of the definitive roleplaying experience. While the game may feel padded and occasionally choke on its own progressive themes (Final Fantasy VII Remake is far more committed to these ideas), the emotional payoff is still resonant and has a relevance in 2020’s America just as much as it does in Japan. It’s a great place to start whether you played the original or not, and hopefully will be a gateway for fans to return to or engage with older Persona titles and the larger Shin Megami Tensei franchise. With over 90 hours of social-centric gameplay, it’s the perfect opportunity to pretend like I have a stacked schedule of buffet runs at lunch, experimental drug trials at dinner and spelunking into the deep recesses of the public’s consciousness just before bed.—Editorial Intern Austin Jones
Platform: Your tabletop, I guess?
If you need a break from endlessly revisiting the Harry Potter books and movies, may I suggest diving into Hogwarts Battle? In this deck building game, two to four players can choose to be Hermione, Harry, Ron, or Neville (each with unique bonuses), gathering spells, allies, and items to beat back villains from the Harry Potter canon. Each book is a new game, with new (or stacking) villains; by the time you get towards the end and must fight two villains at once (leading up to Voldemort), the game not only becomes incredibly hard—requiring no small degree of strategy—but also long. It will fill your quarantine days! Further, it’s a collaborative experience; you aren’t playing against one another, but with one another to protect Hogwarts and other landmarks, and your very lives! It’s one our friends request every time we’ve done a game night, and for good reason—winning and losing (and close calls) provoke true emotional investments and reactions. The spell cards also come with a picture of how to mime them if you want to get that nerdy with it, and you should. The game is incredibly familiar and fun, easy to learn, sprawling, and you never have the same experience twice. Retailing for around $60 USD, it’s worth every galleon. —TV Editor Allison Keene
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Well, things are still not looking too good, and when things are rough I often find myself shutting down. After a long day of work, school, and mental anguish the last thing I want to do is give my full attention to a videogame. I can commit to movies, books even, but I just cannot bring myself to play any videogame right now that is story-focused and/or demands my full attention. There is enough shit going on—I don’t care about what is happening in the lore of Doom: Eternal. So, I shelved it. I’ll get back to it at some point when I don’t feel like my brain is submerged in black sludge. Thus comes the eternal question that we all must answer: just what in the hell am I playing?
Well, the answer is simple—Rocket League. There is no lore to follow, no story to get wrapped up in, and no NPCs that make me feel bad for letting them down. Yes, there are my online teammates but I don’t really care how xXxNeva4GetWheelmanxXx feels. And I mainly play 1v1s, anyway. Driving space cars into a big ball in the hope of shooting said ball into a goal is just a simple joy. I can mute my TV and listen to a podcast or record while I play what will inevitably be a plot point in a Fast and Furious movie. Car soccer is enough for me right now. —Games Contributor Cole Henry
Platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, 3DS
Animal Crossing: New Horizons might be all the rage in terms of life simulation or “sandbox” videogames right now, but The Sims is still a classic. I’ve been playing The Sims 3 ever since we’ve begun social distancing, and it’s a bit disconcerting how free the characters are in this game in comparison to humans in real life—even if they’re still restricted to a finite amount of activities. So far, my sim (whose name is my own with my initials switched) has had a pretty good life. Firstly, I’ve used the cheat (or glitch?) that allows you to sell catfish to the supermarket and give your character unlimited money, so Mizzie is decidedly unemployed. She’s also befriended the Goth family (that’s their last name, but they also embrace all things gothic), become a pro at guitar and broke off an engagement and married someone else—it was a bit of a scandal. I will say one thing so integral to The Sims—their gibberish language, Simlish—definitely bothers me. It would be way more interesting to interact with other sims and know what’s actually being said, but despite this qualm, Mizzie seems to be thriving in her relationships, apart from the one with her nemesis Karen. Overall, The Sims 3 is a spontaneous time waster, but not quite engrossing or whimsical enough to captivate me for more than two hours at a time. —Assistant Music Editor Lizzie Manno
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4
Playing through Final Fantasy VII Remake last week reminded me of Final Fantasy XIII and why I love it so much. The battle systems and map design are immediately and noticeably similar, though other commonalities—such as the ethereal, extremely diverse soundtracks and willingness to take risks that don’t appeal to everyone—are a bit more subtle. XIII is a flawed game; it’s something I happily acknowledge as one of its biggest fans, considering I tried it twice before it clicked for me. But all these years later, it’s still the game in the series with the most balanced and well-written cast. Each character is multidimensional, flawed, and realistic, and the story manages to give each one an equal amount of development. The characters grow as not just compelling individuals with emotional traumas that they learn to overcome on their own, but also as a family of people who acknowledge one another’s pain and try to heal and move forward together. I love many other things about this game, but I’ll always remember it most for the nuance of its main cast. As much as I adore Final Fantasy XIV, it’s been a joy to remember what it’s like to play a single-player Final Fantasy game with a moving story and characters.—Games Contributor Natalie Flores
Platforms: My living room, pinball arcades, late ‘70s bowling alleys and bars, the Chasing Rainbows Museum at Dollywood…
Considering it’s entirely built around communal touching, nobody should be playing pinball right now, unless you happen to own your own machine. Fortunately I’m lucky like that. In lieu of kids my wife and I have blown our bank account on old pinball machines, among other things, and believe me, baby, they’ve been getting a workout the last two months. Dolly Parton isn’t our newest pinball machine, either in terms of when it was made or when we bought ours, but it’s the one I come back to the most. Not only do I love the way it looks, with its pink and light blue color scheme, and generous amounts of musical notes, butterflies, and vinyl record imagery, but it’s one of the two machines we own that are simply the most fun to play. Released in 1979, this early solid state machine bridges the gap between two eras of pinball. With its digital scoreboard and sound effects, it feels a little bit more modern than earlier electro-mechanical machines, but the actual playfield and game rules are still fairly straight-forward and not nearly as complicated as pinball quickly became throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. The goals and shots are clear from the first plunge, and although that makes it simple to understand, that doesn’t make it easy to play. You’ll still need to have instant reflexes, a good eye for angles and trajectories, and an almost preternatural ability to keep the ball alive to stay on top of the action. Dolly Parton wraps some meat-and-potatoes pinball inside an awesome theme, making it one of my top stress relievers during these incredibly stressful times.—Games Editor Garrett Martin