Every Friday Paste’s editors, staffers and games contributors share what they’ve been playing that week. New games and old, 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.
Platform: PC Engine; TurboGrafx-16 Mini
Here’s a thought I had while playing some of the old games on the the TurboGrafx-16 Mini earlier this week: It feels good to have a world that deserves saving. Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire (henceforth referred to exclusively as Sapphire, for both our sakes), an obscure late-stage PC Engine shooter known for its then-amazing graphics and for fetching high prices on the resale market, doesn’t just let us save just such a world, but lets us do it again and again throughout the millennia. I don’t play games like this for the story—this one’s some true anime guff about time-traveling lady cops in spaceships—but setting each level in a different time period pretty much forces Sapphire to vary up its art, resulting in a shoot ‘em up that never feels as repetitive or formulaic as the genre sometimes gets. Its approach to charging—when you hold down the fire button instead of tapping it rapidly—also opens up space for some strategy; instead of just building up a more powerful shot, different weapons have different unique capabilities when you charge them up. One emits a wall of energy that hurts anything that passes through it, for example, while another homes in on an enemy and damages them for a second or so. Sapphire is far from the best shoot ‘em up for the PC Engine, or even on the Mini, but it has style, and that counts for a lot. And at a time when literally every single story from the real world is depressing, frightening, or both, it’s extremely healthy to play straight-forward games with clear-cut goals that are so fast-paced that you don’t really have time to think about anything else. I would rather save the world of Sapphire seven days a week than the fetid hell swamp we’ve made of our own.—Senior Editor Garrett Martin
Platforms: PC, Xbox
Morrowind is old. Its NPCs walk like stiff wind-up toys. There’s fog used to keep even the highest-end PCs of its era from sputtering, the mostly abandoned art of obscuring the distance and creating a mythic liminal space that’s both transcendent and menacing. The UI is a monster that must be subdued. And none of the pages and pages and pages of text are voiced. And the combat? Let’s not.
But few games are as perfect at any point as Morrowind’s opening half hour, from the four lines of dialogue—the only lines—Jiub is given to the census taker (who turns being injected into an imperial machine into a sublime character creation). You’ll have the opportunity to fuck over Fargoth (a fetcher, a word you’ll intuit if not learn) just minutes after helping him out, and then fuck over the burly Nord who directed you to fuck over Fargoth. There’s a dead tax man, and the fucking hero who murdered him. If you’re clever, you’ll rob the imperial storehouse of everything you can carry and still walk. If you’ve been clever, you won’t even have to pick the lock. A friend will plummet from the sky and (kinda) give you the sickest hat ever.
And through all this, you’ll slowly come to learn the customs and slang and the shape of life in Vvardenfell. But imperfectly, in fits and spurts. No matter how you abuse the console commands, no matter how many books you read or conversations you drill deep into—mastery of this world will be elusive. You are an outsider, and in Morrowind it truly has meaning.
Make friends. Start with Jiub.—Games Contributor Dia Lacina
Platform: PlayStation 4
I’ve actually already finished Final Fantasy VII Remake, having lived and breathed the game since I started it when it launched last Friday night. But I’ll be thinking about Final Fantasy VII Remake, especially its last three hours, for the rest of the week—and for much longer. The ending of this game may just be the most difficult to process ending I have experienced next to Mass Effect 3’s. But where Mass Effect 3’s finale was hard to process because of the grief I was experiencing, Final Fantasy VII Remake’s ending makes me feel overjoyed, overstimulated, and overly-complicated. It’s impossible to talk about it in a spoiler-free manner, so for something like that, you can go read Garrett’s great review of the game.
But that is what I can say about it: the way I fell asleep at 4 a.m. once I finished it and woke up tired but unable to think of anything else; the way it has left me unsettled and excited in equal measure. It is possibly the boldest and most unfathomable game I have ever played in so many ways. I am as surprised by its simultaneous masterful restraint and total lack of hesitance in taking risks as I am by how well everything old and new came together to ultimately form something I’ve ended up loving. I barely kept up with Final Fantasy VII Remake’s promotional cycle; now, all I’m thinking about this week is how desperately I wish to get some answers for the millions of questions I am left overwhelmed with.—Games Contributor Natalie Flores
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch, PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Life is, uh, stressful right now to say the very least. I’ve never treated videogames as an escape, really. I’ve often seen them as extensions of whatever moment we are in, and choosing to play Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen right now feels oddly apt. It is a game of staggering beauty, but that beauty gives way to something else. The day/night cycle in Dragon’s Dogma is no joke—the dark is overwhelmingly dark. Go without a lantern or enough lantern oil and your illuminated journey through the monsters of the night will soon give way to flailing confusion. And it is in that flailing confusion that comes from being ill-prepared where, as of right now, the game feels most relatable.—Games Contributor Cole Henry
Platforms: Wii, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia
According to user stats, the number of people downloading and playing Just Dance has skyrocketed since quarantine. It’s no surprise! A fun and easy way to stay fit while being inside, Just Dance 2020 gives you points (and a count of calories burned) as you flail around to new and classic bops. You don’t have to be a good dancer to enjoy it; the kid-friendly game is a joy to jump into, whether or not you play competitively or do it for the endorphins. (A note on controllers: You can use a camera, your phone, or overpriced plastic sticks to play. The latter could be best for kids, but if you use your phone like I do, I recommend securing it to your hand in some way—running bands work well).
With a candy-colored, nearly kaleidoscopic user experience, the game is full of delightfully silly emotes, avatars, and sound effects. For a wider selection of songs, you can also join Just Dance Unlimited online, which is very worth it (and currently free for one month). And while it’s fun to shimmy to favorites, I encourage you to check out the curated playlists, which have introduced me to songs (and hilariously creative dances) I wouldn’t have otherwise found. Don’t be self-conscious or cynical; just, y’know, dance! —TV Editor Allison Keene
Platforms: Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, iOS, Xbox 360, Vita, Mac, Linux
It seems hard to believe that it’s been almost a decade now since Supergiant Games made an auspicious debut with Bastion. Their isometric combination of shooter and RPG was a hearty stew of idiosyncratic elements, most of which have since coalesced to form what can now be considered the studio’s house style, as seen in follow-ups Transistor, Pyre and Hades. Never were those elements as fresh and primal, however, as they were in Bastion, a game with deceptively simple run-and-gun gameplay that is often superseded in importance by its captivating art direction, music and storytelling decisions. Chief among those decisions is the importance the game placed on narration, using the gruff voice of the narrator in a living, breathing, reactive style that feels like a combination of a sympathetic coach and guilt-stricken survivor. The game ultimately places a heavy choice upon the player, who must decide between options that initially can be read as either selfless or escapist, but there’s more to the choice than meets the eye. Regardless, though the player takes on the role of The Kid alone, you can’t help but feel that you have companionship in making your choices, both thanks to the presence of the narrator and the perfection of composer Darren Korb’s soundtrack, which likewise feels like reuniting with an old friend. Individual tracks like “Build That Wall,” “Mother, I’m Here” and “Setting Sail, Coming Home” still stand as some of the most memorable pieces of game music in the last decade, and given that Bastion has recently been a mere $2.99 on the Nintendo eShop, I’m now experiencing them on my big screen TV for the first time. —Staff Writer Jim Vorel
Platforms: Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360, GameCube, PC, Mac
As someone who thinks god-tier racing games consist primarily of Mario Kart, SSX Tricky (2001), Nicktoons Racing (2000) and NASCAR ‘99, I’ve always had a soft spot for Need for Speed. I never really got into the higher production value games like Forza or DiRT, and though I admittedly enjoyed some of the insane action of Grand Theft Auto, like stealing tanks from the local military base, it’s a game I avoid for obvious reasons. Need for Speed: Carbon, the 2006 version of this long-running series, brings some of the off-the-wall excitement of GTA without any of the controversies, plus the well-rounded gameplay and competitiveness of Mario Kart. Its Free Roam mode allows for wholly exhilarating police pursuits, and even though my Career mode car now has level five “heat” (a meter based on how much trouble you’ve caused with the Palmont City police), making getaways nearly impossible, there’s no greater joy than ramming a cop car at 150 mph and seeing it hurtle through the air. I’m slightly above average at the traditional challenges (Circuits, Sprints, Speedtraps), average at the Canyon Duels and essentially a lost cause at Drifts, but this is the perfect game to mindlessly zone out to at night while blasting speedy garage punk or gangster rap. —Assistant Music Editor Lizzie Manno