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Visual Obesity: How Graphics Killed Final Fantasy

I recently revisited Final Fantasy VI – that long cited ‘alternative’ hipster favourite of the series – before breezing through the light and fluffy Final Fantasy XIII-2.



Vanille from Final Fantasy XIII

The experience left me shuddering, cold, wet and huddled in the depths of a motel shower as images of the latter replayed in my mind, replayed with a complete fantastical void. A void not born from under-developed characters, dull storytelling, schizophrenic sound design or automated game play, but a hollowness that existed in the visual spectacle of it all. I no longer felt immersed and shackled with that nerdy anticipation of the next slice of character development or plot twist. It is no secret that a cloud-sized cavity has cracked and worn away a series that has been exponentially eroding all sense of wonderment, awe and contentment for years now. Its drip-fed emotional cinematics having been punctured, dousing fan and critic alike with a masturbatory splurge of overwrought self-indulgence courtesy of an over-eager and premature art department.

For too long as modern gamers we’ve fervently gorged ourselves on consistently pretty aesthetics, lapping up every improved dynamic weather transition and wrinkle that lines our gruff protagonists face. But our thirst for graphical perfection and mind-blowing set pieces are never quite quenched, and our discontent over developers vanity as they redirect their franchises is only making things worse. It’s not all their fault though or ours. Remember a time when those FMV cut-scenes were the equivalent of gaming popcorn? You’d drop your controller to the floor to reveal raw-red thumbs sore from that boss fight. The one where you hammered x to give that that statutory JRPG gimmick character (you know who you are!) a phoenix down for the umpteenth time, and then there was that aneurysm caused from being simultaneously poisoned, confused, silenced, blinded and down right mortified when you saw that gap in the inventory where remedies used to be. But after that cruel and unforgiving ordeal there was the treat, a beautifully animated treat, both soothing, short and sweet that synchronized your immersion to 1000% (without staggering) and sent you off into an otherworldly state. A state that reminded you that those jagged polygons and micro-pixels you controlled were real people with vigour, heart and dreams of their own. Suddenly all that post-traumatic stress was worth it.

Just what happened to that gaming past-time of the 90’s where the cut-scene evoked a dramatic silence, a quick sssh and overtook any complaint about broken game-play mechanics or glitches through a brief yet well earned spectacle? Why now when given the choice do we skip through these sequences with as much finesse as delivering a swift limit break? Who is really to blame? I’ll tell you who. Graphics. Spurned by new hardware developers are forced to change a games structure beyond recognition because iconic franchises like Final Fantasy were born from an era where content was scaled up to make up for graphical shortfalls. So let us painstakingly denote how and when this visual binge turned our gaming world of balance into a world of ruin.


Final Fantasy I-VI – A Pixellated Beginning: Pravoka, Bafsk, Narshe, Tycoon

Squaresoft gained traction with its RPG series through the story, characters and sound design that inhabited these memorable locations due to the very fact that its graphics could not emulate realism in any shape or form. Like its text-based forbearers before it (Zork et al), Final Fantasy essentially blueprinted a new genre where customisation and exploration coincided with the developers inability to ground anything in a substantial and focused arena. Despite its small ‘bit’ era, the movement to more impressive pre-rendered backgrounds as it shifted from console to console boasted many high impact sequences with the opera house cut-scene in VI still continuing to resonate with more die-hard fans than anything before or after it. These ugly graphics by today’s impossible standards that caused endless door-entry fails allowed a vague almost literature-esque re-imagining where like a reader the player conjured up who these protagonists truly were and why you cared about them. We filled in the blanks. The experience was personal to you, and you only. With each instalment, the depth increased both narratologically and visually, as developers fixated more and more on making their blobs believable. It’s a quaint oxymoron when you consider that the more aesthetically recognisable our heroes became, the less believable they were.


Final Fantasy VII/VIII/IX – The Golden Balance: Or Final Fantasy went 3D…well partially.

This development meant animated pre-rendered backgrounds needed to be more realistic and in proportion to the fully rendered Tetris blocks…I mean characters in comparison to the top-down view point of its predecessors. To encompass this and the power of the 32-bit Playstation, Squaresoft began to use animated cut scenes (FMV) in a bid to make the series more relevant and combative with other emerging companies and genres. Whilst these were infrequent and fairly short, they made the whole isometric experience more bold and unforgettable (one word: Aeris) often providing that layer of exposition that made those dystopian worlds exciting and fresh. Unsurprisingly it was the most expensive video game ever made at the time, with the series making a risky jump on to a new platform that was beginning to positively ejaculate great releases each week. With visual ingenuity came more difficult decisions, more technical problems and ultimately more expense, but in the case of FFVII it paid off, inspiring a tsunami of imitators that made the genre a staple of the console. Unfortunately success set a template of risk that the company has continued to indulge.

Of course it wasn’t all about Midgar. With two more releases on Sony’s software (barring Tactics from discussion) the realism extended further, the futuristic nature of VIII coincided with the technological anxiety of the late 90’s whilst still embracing its predecessors format despite some controversial gameplay tweaks. The opening sequence remains one of the most evocative cut-scenes ever concocted (and its ending truly immeasurable in comparison to other entries) and for the first time our heroes were to scale, human, life-like, real, more relatable. Despite backtracking to a more familiar medieval aesthetic with IX (which was already in production before VIII was even released) after several dystopian futures, FMV continued to support the game-play rather than rule it, and the cartoony endeavour still evoked kinship. Squaresoft had struck gold by balancing the narratological elements of the original games with a prettier and more seamless aesthetic. The era would not last as new hardware was on the horizon that would quash this golden balance and record-smashing era of JRPG’s.


Final Fantasy X/X-2/XII – A Difficult Transition

Squaresoft’s debut on the PS2 initially split the hardcore Final Fantasy crowd who had grown weary of the anime angst that had began to latch itself onto to the series like a tumorous flan. Sadly its predecessors successes appeared to only make the developers even more determined to pander to its new-found Western audience. Despite The Spirits Within making a SINful mess at the box-office the company were also undeterred in their quest to make the series film-worthy. Now in full 3D, there was no excuse to not have voice acting in the 128-bit age: a decision which would annihilate a large portion of gameplay, content and immersion. ‘But isn’t this meant to be a role-playing-game?’ I cried on initial release. ‘Who are we supposed to project on to’? This leap to voice acting also relinquished the players ability to entitle their characters, and subsequently FFX lost a potential mythological date on the geek timeline where Tidus would have been named en-masse as Douche at the earliest opportunity.

The gaming industry grew at an unprecedented rate with the triumph of the PS2, and it became ever-inspired by the Hollywood business models, chasing blockbuster success and taking notes from literary film adaptations. The consequences of this indulgence whittled down the amount of personal involvement and say that players had with their characters (how YOU personally felt about your Terra to your Tidus). We were made redundant, relegated to a birth of art-department voyeurism that had began to infiltrate our games. We were being weaned off having our own experience, and they became petrified, set in an Americanised whining stone where Squaresoft forced you to play through their corporate version of events. Of course important to note is how the game space was reduced, linearity crept in, the world map and airship vanished for the first time and the dialogue grew more corny and fungal as the game developed. However, and it remains a rather large however, FMVs were still a treat, still well employed, earned and executed despite their growing tendency to be used to ham up the story itself rather than play a supporting or gimmicky expositional role.

With, FFX-2, cut-scenes became skippable for the first time. This very fact almost assumes that Square-Enix were aware of the vacant hole where plot and logic used to be as they pursued a ‘chicks with guns’ mantra  media campaign to attract a new testosterone fuelled audience. Square-Enix knew the series had to change, they had progressed too far visually to backtrack now. Final Fantasy XII side-stepped this: Continuing the tradition of releasing software at the end of a consoles life-cycle, 2006s XII was unequivocally a lot prettier to look at, and seen by many as the swan song RPG for the PS2 (I reserve that for Persona 4 myself) marching forward with its traditionalist aesthetic a year after the Xbox 360 began to balance things out with Sony. As a result and to compete and demonstrate the capabilities of the most successful console ever made, the visuals took huge precedence, and my beloved FMV’s dissipated after the impressive opening. Once again the world map was M.I.A., a seemingly permanent casualty of graphical excess and as for the story and characters?… Can anyone remember? Wasn’t there a rabbit/woman hybrid thing in there somewhere? After pocketing huge sums from their first online adventure (XI), XII moved away from random encounters, its combat a jumbled precursor of the pretty pirouetting paradigm system that would hit the next generation of consoles.


Final Fantasy XIII/XIII-2/Lightning Returns – The Art Department Years

With Squaresoft now defunct after the Enix merger in 2003 the newly resurfaced Square-Enix vowed to be an immovable graphical force, but as we approached the end of the decade content had been irreversibly drained with puzzles becoming Westernised fetch quests and the chocobo’s, moogles and monsters relegated to the nostalgia division. Upon its release in 2010, Square-Enix’s next gen iteration of the series, Final Fantasy XIII, received a muted reception from fans and Western critics alike. The developers responded accordingly. Blaming the openness of current gaming worlds, and more deplorably that we should expect linearity due to the spiralling costs of video games and visuals. Getting carried away isn’t unusual for an art department, just look at how every horror game post Silent Hill 2 has attempted to unleash and exploit its own version of pyramid head, or how Metal Gear Solids cinematic gluttony went into mind-numbing overdrive with the fourth instalment.

For Square-Enix at this point it seemed that the more garish the colour schemes became, the more frightening the haircuts grew, the more the combat resembled some space-age modern dance, and the more mentally unhinged those tacked on whacko characters got the closer they would get to Final Perfection. But they were wrong. These aspects became overwrought and overthought out caricatures of what once was. Being doubly pretty meant also being doubly shallow, and the very essence of what made the franchise stand strong despite tweaking the formula faded. With this instalment the game map – remember, a feature specifically employed to promote free-roaming – was used as a railroading method to force the narrative down gamers throats. The characters were merely fashioned from a pastiche bric-a-brac assortment of previous FF templates with developers seemingly more concerned about putting on an obscure fashion show to provide cosplayers with new fixations than providing anything that was remotely identifiable as a relatable personality. The cut-scenes too all blended into one homogenous show reel, that despite their bright attractiveness revoked those moments of wonder where less was more. Even the refined combat system, though fast and fluid was merely engaged as a means to centralise the best visual aspects of the game as S-E wrestled further control from gamers: a huge contrast to the mostly stationary action of previous instalments.

The sequel FFXIII-2 struggled to regain its predecessors depth too, often reeking of fan service with institutionalised carbuncle cameos and by making monster dress up as much a part of core gameplay as the combat. Despite having done the groundwork aesthetically, Square-Enix tied their cinematic weight to the docile story of its predecessor which was a poor move. But there were the improvements right? It was no longer linear right? Wrong. I’d seen more overhaul in a God of War game. NPCs, towns, a time-travelling chocobo serial killer/shop owner and puzzles reunited me with that content I used to love now in a shiny bloom of HD but they were few and far between, and so poorly implemented and disjointed that even that headache inducing story was a welcome break. Alas the Lightning trilogy will be completed next year, again at the end of a consoles generation…and if these findings are anything to go by, the worst is yet to come.


Final Fantasy XIV-XV – An Unplayable Future

Despite initially being labelled as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Square-Enix’s next pet project will be the now retitled Final Fantasy XV.  This came after their second online adventure proved disastrous, further damaging their reputation in conjunction with that despicable fan-baiting FF7 opening remake, and their latest ‘one year in development’ tech demo sinking the developer further into a cinematic lesion where games play themselves. Between the well-paced release of short beautiful FMVs that humanise pixel people to the flamboyant excess of modern AAA gaming, Square-Enix can no longer call upon their visually abused series for success, because it belongs to a bygone era. Necessity is often said to be the mother of invention, and as we travelled from 8-bit to HD we now stand in an era with all the gigabytes in the world yet there is still seemingly not enough space or chance to return to that considerate cinematic balance discovered in the late 90’s. In that era creativity was checkered by the limits of hardware. Such seemingly frustrating limitations provided a template for gamers to fill in for themselves, to add their own goals, experiences and challenges. That template is now already filled out, patented and brutally abused by Enix execs before you’ve even placed the disk in your console. Graphics cost money, graphics create buzz, graphics create investors and marketing rules the industry.

In essence the series died with Final Fantasy X-2 where the gameplay pragmatics favoured gaudy visuals together with redundant platforming, dire pop music and over sexualised fashion shows which converged in a lazy vat of formerly successful ingredients brewed together in a corporate cauldron of mass market and aesthetic appeal. If Square-Enix could only turn their attention to other devices, then perhaps, just maybe a platform like iOS could persuade them to evolve the franchise without remaking past successes or prioritising tech over gamers. Graphics and visuals are just one aspect of a video-game, and as developers become more and more bloated by self-fulfilling tech and as they flounder around and stuff themselves silly with a new generation of graphically obese mega-consoles I worry for content in video games. I worry for the franchises left that are set to be consumed and regurgitated again when they fail to meet impossibly set sales targets, but I pray for the day that the industries AAA Hollywood induced stomach explodes, in a beautifully garish mess that will let indie developers scavenge the remains.

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A JRPG activist, Brazilian cinema lover/blogger and full-time nemesis of modern grammar.


Dan Marshall: It was ‘astonishingly easy’ to add accessibility options

Dan Marshall, of Size Five Games, says adding accessibility features to Lair of the Clockwork God was “all pretty straightforward, easy work.”



Lair of the Clockwork God
Size Five Games

Dan Marshall, of Size Five Games, says adding accessibility features to Lair of the Clockwork God was “all pretty straightforward, easy work.”

The year is 2020. Technology has never been more advanced. And yet, we live in a bizarre, regressive world where anti-vaxxers are on the rise, the UK is leaving the EU of its own volition, and the President of the United States yells at an autistic teenage girl for daring to suggest that his generation perhaps doesn’t ruin the planet for future generations.

In the world of video games, one obvious symptom of this intellectual vacuum is the anti-accessibility crowd. From gatekeepers who want to preserve the rarity of their “achievements” to those who are simply incapable of human empathy, there are still people who don’t believe video games need accessibility features. In 2020.

They’re dead wrong, by the way. (And if you disagree with that, maybe don’t read our website? We’re big advocates of accessibility in games and we’re frankly better off without you, thanks.)

Dan Marshall, of Size Five Games, spent a few hours this weekend adding accessibility features to upcoming game Lair of the Clockwork God. A sequel to Time Gentlemen, Please! and Ben There, Dan That!, Clockwork God is a mash-up of indie platformer and the series’ classic point-and-click adventure mechanics. It’s obviously a text-heavy game.

We spoke to Marshall via email, to ask about the process of making Lair of the Clockwork God more accessible, and why it’s important.

“I have been useless at all this stuff,” Dan concedes, “but the reality is it’s always good to make sure the game can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. Getting a game out the door is hard, and I do think it’s understandable when this kind of stuff hasn’t been implemented, because that pre-launch to-do list is so incredibly long, and especially for smaller indies who have such astonishingly low resources.”

“So for me, this kind of thing has always sadly fallen off the back burner,” he continues. “This time around I’m in the fortunate position to have the cash and resources behind me to spend a little time thinking about and implementing a few minor changes, that make the game so much more enjoyable for so many people.”

“Oddly enough, Lair of the Clockwork God’s themes kind of deal with all this,” Marshall explains. “By the nature of the beast, that it’s written by and starring two straight white guys… I mean, there’s obviously nothing we can do about that, so we’ve tried to be mindful every step of the way making sure the game is as inclusive elsewhere as possible.”

“The script itself deals head-on with topics like the ‘wokeness’ of the indie scene, or getting older and feeling out of place with new trends and other peoples’ needs… y’know in the game Ben’s this kind of relic from the LucasArts era, and Dan’s desperately keen to be part of this new vibrant indie movement he’s heard so much about, so taking the steps to make the whole game as accessible as possible kind of goes hand-in-hand with all that.”

So how easy has the process been, to add accessibility options to Lair of the Clockwork God?

“Astonishingly easy, to be honest. I spent about 4-5 hours total adding 9 core changes (including some that people had recommended over Twitter), and honestly,” Marshall says, “it was all pretty straightforward, easy work, which is exactly what I need right now. In the scheme of things, that’s probably less time than I spent choosing the colour of the options menu, so it’s worth doing.”

Lair of the Clockwork God accessibility options

“And yeah, some of it was just unbelievably quick. Two lines of code and a new toggle added to the menu and it’s in. So why not do it? There’s obviously some bigger stuff that’s likely to let’s say, break everything, and I’ll do my best to get them in before launch. Lesson learned for the next project is: it’s just sensible to keep this stuff in mind the whole way through!”

For little more than an afternoon’s work, Lair of the Clockwork God is now a far more accessible experience.

Clockwork God now includes options for a dyslexic-friendly font, and adjusting the size, colour, speed, and labelling of text to make it easier for everyone to follow. This might not seem like a big deal if you don’t need it, but it will literally be the difference between someone being able to play the game or bouncing off it.

The year is 2020. Fictional Ben may be insistent that Lair of the Clockwork God’s mechanics stay rooted in 1991, but just like his in-game counterpart, real-life Dan is making sure it’s a modern video game, too.

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The 20 most anticipated video games of 2020

We put together one of those lists again. This one’s the 20 video games we’re most looking forward to in 2020.



20 most anticipated games 2020
Square Enix / Naughty Dog / Xbox / CD Projekt Red / Thumbsticks

We put together one of those lists again. This one’s the 20 video games we’re most looking forward to in 2020.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2020. Well, in video games, at least. The rest of the world is a nightmarish hellscape of fire and fascists, but in the final run-in to the next generation of video game consoles, there are a lot of brilliant games just waiting to release.

Maybe it’s because we’re coming to the end of the current generation. Lots of developers who have targeted the current generation have a very limited window to get their games out – games that have been in development for a very long time, like Cyberpunk 2077 and the Final Fantasy VII Remake – before there’s a risk of them being eclipsed by titles on the more powerful PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

Whatever the reason, 2020 is shaping up to be a vintage year for video games. Here are the 20 games we’re most looking forward to – 20 games, 2020, see what we did there? – laid out in alphabetical order. Just so the screeching loons can’t bicker and argue about how we’ve “ranked” them. (It’s not our first day. We know how the internet works.)

Update: This post has been amended to include updated release dates for games that have been delayed since it was first published.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Yes, the most recent trailer for Animal Crossing: New Horizons felt like a Tom Nook timeshare presentation, but anybody who says they’re not excited for this slice of loveliness is lying to you. We’re wondering if KK Slider will swap his guitar for a ukulele, for the full island vibe? We’ll find out March 20, 2020.


Carrion, the “reverse horror game” from Phobia Game Studio and Devolver Digital, is for anybody who ever wondered what The Thing would be like if the protagonist were the thing, and not Kurt Russell’s MacReady. Messy is the answer to that query. Very, very messy.

Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 Keanu 500px

This is a game that’s been in the works for so long, there always felt like a chance it might slip to the next generation of consoles. There’s little doubt that Cyberpunk 2077 will look amazing on the PS5 and Xbox Series X, but we’ll all get to experience the breathtaking Mr Reeves on April 16, 2020.

Update: Cyberpunk 2077 has been delayed to September 17, 2020.


Dreams has been out in a limited form of early access for a little while now, and what people are making in it seems remarkable for a hobbyist, console tool. But Dreams launches proper on February 14, 2020 – happy Valentine’s Day! – which is when the fun will really begin.

Dying Light 2

Dying Light 2, which is expected to launch in Q2 2020, has been rumbling around the events circuit for a few years now. Every year, we see more and more impressive demos of the worldbuilding and the game’s Chris Avellone-powered branching narrative chops, but we’re yet to actually get our hands on it.

Update: Delayed until… we don’t actually know. Just delayed.

Fall Guys

Expected to launch sometime in 2020, Fall Guys was one of the unexpected stars of E3 2019. Developed by Mediatonic and published by Devolver Digital, it’s a cross between the 100-person battle royale spectacle, silly physics games (like Gang Beasts and Human Fall Flat) and physical comedy game show Takeshi’s Castle. What’s not to love?

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII Remake 500px

The Final Fantasy VII Remake has been in development for an age, and when the game does release on March 3, 2020? We’re still only going to get to play about a third (at most) of the original game’s story. (Our bet is that the first “episode” will run until the assault on Shinra headquarters, and the subsequent escape from Midgar.) But it looks so flipping good, and our hands-on preview was one of the highlights of E3 2019.

Update: Delayed until April 10, 2020.

Ghost of Tsushima

Sony showed off four games at its last foray to E3 in 2018, in a confusing, venue-changing press conference. Two of those games, Insomniac’s Spider-Man and Death Stranding, have since released, while The Last of Us Part II is slated for May 29, 2020. That leaves Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima as the last remnant of PlayStation at E3. We still know precious little about the stealth game, but it’s still expected to launch in 2020 before the PlayStation 5 hits in time for Christmas.

Half-Life: Alyx

One of the biggest shocks of 2019 was that Valve – the game developer who stopped making games to develop a big storefront, instead – is developing a third game in the Half-Life series, Half-Life: Alyx. It’s not strictly Half-Life 3, nor is it entirely a Valve creation, as recently-acquired Firewatch developer Campo Santo has shelved In the Valley of the Gods to work on Alyx. And it’s also a VR-exclusive, which has ruffled some feathers, but Valve is hoping that Half-Life: Alyx will be the killer app that has hitherto been missing, and brings a payday for its investment in VR technology.

Halo: Infinite

Halo Infinite 500px

It seems wild that Halo: Infinite is the only next-generation title on this list of the most anticipated games of 2020, but that’s simply a result of how few launch titles have been confirmed for the PlayStation 5 or the Xbox Series X. If we’re being completely honest, we’re not that excited for a new Halo, but it felt wrong not to include something from the next-gen.

Lair of the Clockwork God

Lair of the Clockwork God, from Size Five Games, is the third game in the Dan and Ben Adventure series, following on from the brilliant Time Gentlemen, Please and Ben There, Dan That. Ben is sticking with series’ staple point-and-click gameplay, while Dan has decided the “real money” is in indie platformers. Lair of the Clockwork God mashes the two together in a brilliant character-swapping adventure.


Maneater is a goofy, B-movie of a video game, where you play as a man-eating shark. It features open-world (ish) gameplay and RPG mechanics as you level up to become the biggest predator in the water. It won’t be safe to go back in the water on May 22, 2020.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator was always one of the most deeply boring aspects of PC gaming. Why would you want to execute boring, realistic manoeuvres in the real world when you could be whizzing around space in an X-Wing, for instance? But the modern version, that combines cloud computing with high-resolution satellite imagery, really looks like something else.

The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II 500px

The Last of Us Part II – along with Cyberpunk 2077 and the Final Fantasy VII Remake – is one of the big-ticket items of 2020. We don’t need to sell this one to you. At all. Not even a little bit. We’re equal parts excited and terrified to pick up Ellie’s adventure on May 29, 2020.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the follow-up to 2015’s indie darling, Ori and the Blind Forest, from developer Moon Studios and published by Xbox Game Studios. Simple, stylish, beautiful; expect more of the same on February 11, 2020.

Resident Evil 3 Remake

If you’d asked us a couple of years ago if we’d be excited for a remake of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, we’d probably have shrugged. Said something noncommittal. Tried not to hurt Capcom’s feelings with our lack of interest. But after the stellar Resident Evil 2 Remake in early 2019, we’re expecting the Resident Evil 3 Remake to be similarly superb when it releases on April 3, 2020.


Spiritfarer 500px

Spiritfarer, Thunderlotus’ beautiful, poignant game about helping others into the afterlife was one of the stars of E3 2019. We played it and it is every bit as lovely as it looks. Rumours that we spent our entire time with the demo just hugging the cat are completely unfounded.

Streets of Rage 4

It’s been almost 26 years since the last Streets of Rage game, Streets of Rage 3, released for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. At one point, we would’ve been happy with it being left in the past. But seeing the stellar work done by Dotemu and Lizard Cube on the remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, and the amazing glimpses of the art and style of Streets of Rage 4, this is a blast from the past we can’t wait to play.

Wasteland 3

Speaking of blasts from the past, Wasteland 3 is scheduled for release on May 11, 2020. It’s part of a wider revival of classic C-RPG series, including Torment, Pillars of Eternity and Baldur’s Gate, but Wasteland’s place in history – as the grandaddy of Fallout, among other things – can’t be overlooked.

Watch Dogs Legion

Watch Dogs Legion 500px

Watch Dogs has been on a journey, hasn’t it? From the po-faced Aiden Pierce to the neon giddiness of Marcus Holloway’s San Francisco, it’s facing another yo-yo in tone for Watch Dogs Legion, where Brexit has happened and the outcome for the UK is about as awful as we all expect. The real highlight, though? The ability to recruit any NPC in the game, with the right motivation. Yes, even Helen, the Antifa nana who stole our hearts at E3 2019.

Honourable Mentions

Here are a bunch of other games we’re also looking forward to in 2020, but we had to be ruthless and keep it down to 20. (Otherwise, we could just list games for days.)

  • 12 Minutes
  • Bleeding Edge
  • Boyfriend Dungeon
  • The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
  • Doom Eternal
  • Empire of Sin
  • Godfall
  • Gods and Monsters
  • Hollow Knight – Silksong
  • Kerbal Space Program 2
  • Little Nightmares 2
  • Marvel’s Avengers
  • Murder by Numbers
  • Nioh 2
  • Oddworld: Soulstorm
  • One-Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows
  • Psychonauts 2
  • Sports Story
  • Super Meat Boy Forever
  • Twin Mirror
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2
  • Way to the Woods
  • Windjammers 2
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Did we miss anything you’re looking forward to? Then why not let us know – politely and calmly – on Twitter.

Support Thumbsticks

We hate to ask, but global advertising revenues are the lowest they've ever been. It's killing the online publishing world. If you like what we do and want to support free, quality games writing, then please consider supporting us via Patreon, buying us a coffee, or subscribing to our newsletter.

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Is Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot worth playing?

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, a new open-world RPG from CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco Entertainment, is out now, but is it worth playing?



Dragon Ball Z Kakarot
Bandai Namco

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, a new open-world RPG from CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco Entertainment, is out now, but is it worth playing? We take a look at the game’s critical reception.

Despite a lack of pre-release reviews, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot topped the UK video games chart in its debut week. It’s an impressive performance for an ambitious game that blends RPG mechanics, brawling, and open-world exploration.

Reviews for the game are still hard to come by, but publications covering the game have found it to be an enjoyable enough adventure with engaging combat. The consensus, however, is that the open-world lacks substance. The game, ultimately, appears to be one for committed fans of long-running anime franchise.. Here is our pick of the game’s reviews.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot review round-up

PC Gamer

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is by no means perfect, but it’s a solid RPG that very efficiently covers the entire Dragon Ball Z saga. The game sometimes crumbles under the weight of its own systems, but Kakarot is still a fun title for anyone looking to revisit (or even experience for the first time) the Dragon Ball Z saga.”

76/100 – Review by Liz Henges


“As a video game, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is competent. Flying around the world takes some getting used to. But with practice, you can soar just like Goku and friends in the anime, even if it’s just to see how the massive Dragon Ball Z world fits together and to collect upgrade orbs. The combat is also more complex than it originally seems. There’s only one button for punching, but the combination of dodges, punches, Ki blasts, and special moves manages to keep fights fresh and, occasionally, challenging. The real meat of the game is still the combat, and the combat is still competitive with some of the better brawlers out there.”

Not scored – Impressions by Ryan Gilliam


“I don’t know how folks who aren’t familiar with DBZ will respond to this game, but I can’t imagine it has a lot of appeal for them above and beyond what other action-focused RPGs offer. Kakarot is a nostalgia play, through and though, and it excels at that. It’s absolutely gorgeous, arguably more dynamic and powerful in its epic moments than even *gasp* the anime itself. Sure, the pacing is quite a bit faster than the anime, so there’s not as much time in the build-up to those powerful and sometimes heart-breaking turns, but man do they pack a punch.”

Grade B – Review by Dave Trumbore


“It’s not the anime game to end all anime games. It’s not going to convert any non-believers or onboard them into this decades-old classic universe. Even as someone who still re-watches DBZ, it can be grating at times ⁠— but the juice is mostly worth the squeeze.”

Not scored – Review by Chris Carter


“… numbers and tutorials aside, the world of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is actually quite good fun to explore. There are loads of places to discover from caves to ravines. It’s just a shame that there’s not much reason to do so. One of the biggest issues that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot faces is meaning, at least when it comes to everything outside of the main story. There’s never enough reason to take part in the multitude of things you can do, not unless you’re simply trying to kill time, which renders many of the large open areas effectively worthless.

3/5 – Review by James Coles


“As a Dragon Ball love letter, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is nearly perfect, featuring an amazing world and attention to detail. But as an RPG and action-adventure game, it’s only good. Its combat can be fun and some of the more in-depth elements are a good change of pace, but a lot of it feels pointless or time-consuming.”

7/10 – Review by George Foster

Other publications

  • PlayStation LifeStyle – 80/10
  • Spazio Games – 7.5
  • The Sixth Axis – 7
  • Famitsu – 34/40

Title: Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
Developer: Cyberconnect2
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release date: January 17, 2020
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

Visit our new releases section for more on this week’s new video games.

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Interview: Making AO Tennis 2 a Grand Slam winner

We speak to Big Ant Studios about the development of AO Tennis 2 and the pressure to improve on last year’s instalment.



AO Tennis 2 header
Big Ant Studios

AO Tennis 2 is the second officially licensed Australian Open video game from Big Ant Studios. We talk to CEO Ross Symons about its development and the pressure to improve on last year’s instalment.

AO Tennis 2 – which is developed in partnership with Tennis Australia – is billed as a significant upgrade on its predecessor and includes a plethora of new features and gameplay improvements.

The headline addition is a revamped and narrative-focused career mode, similar in structure to Codemasters’ impressive F1 campaigns and FIFA’s The Journey. The studio’s full-featured content editor also returns, giving players the tools to create everything from venues and players to car parks and uniforms. It also helps players fill the gaps that the game’s licence doesn’t cover to create a comprehensive simulation of the sport.

We spoke to Big Ant Studios CEO Ross Symons on the eve of the 2020 Australian Open to find out more about this year’s game.

Thumbsticks: AO Tennis 2 includes a new, narrative-driven career mode. Why did you decide to take this approach?

Ross Symons: One of the things that people love about tennis is the personalities that are involved; people have their favourite players, and watch their careers, with the highs and lows that it entails. When looking at AO Tennis 2, we wanted to find a way of reflecting that – tennis is as much about what happens off the court than on, so giving players a chance to engage with that side of the sport was important.

What is the most challenging aspect of adding narrative elements to the game?

We had to build a lot for the narrative career mode – we needed to build the manager’s rooms and the press conferences for the cut scenes, for example. We also needed to find a way of balancing what occurred through those scenes, and making sure they had some impact on the development of the player’s career.

To do that we needed to introduce new systems (such as the reputation system) and new mechanics to go with that. It was a lot of work. We think that the results have been more than worthwhile, though, and a lot of fans have come up to us to say they appreciate what we’ve done there.

AO Tennis 2 screenshot

The first AO Tennis game had a slightly rocky launch, but it was much improved by a series of patches and updates. Did you take anything from that experience and apply it to the development of AO Tennis 2?

We always take fan feedback on board at Big Ant Studios. It’s a core principle that drives our team and we use that feedback to help inform our development. AO Tennis’ improvements came thanks to the excellent feedback and support of a truly passionate community of fans, and AO Tennis 2 is the next stage in that ongoing evolution.

Speaking of that community, Big Ant’s content editor has a devoted user base. How important is the editor to AO Tennis 2, and do you see it as a key component of the studio’s future games?

Our content creation suite has been a point of pride in our games for a very long time now, and we continue to build on it as we can. Whether it’s Tennis, Cricket, Rugby League, or another property that we’ve worked on, we’ve always wanted to provide that sandbox experience that allows players to take the game, and make it their own in every way.

Being able to share content online also means that we’re able to give our players an endless well of new experiences to enjoy. You’re right that we’ve got an enormously devoted community – AO Tennis 2 has over 20,000 players available to download already! It adds great value to the game for everyone.

AO Tennis 2 screenshot

AO Tennis 2 stars some of the sport’s biggest players, including Rafael Nadal, Ash Barty, and Angélique Kerber. How do you approach bringing such distinctive athletes into the game and representing them accurately in-game?

With a lot of research. We make sure we take the highest quality photogrammetry of each player that we can – and we personally take control of the photography to ensure that it’s of a universally high standard. Then we sit down and watch hours of videos to understand how each player moves and behaves on the court.

We’re lucky that we’ve got a lot of passionate tennis fans at Big Ant, who have a great eye for the subtleties of the sport, and a great respect for how individual the game really is.

As a Melbourne-based studio, do you feel a sense of responsibility in developing the official game of the Australian Grand Slam? 

It’s not just that we’re Melbourne-based – we’re just a couple of minutes walk from the tennis precinct itself! Yes, we do feel a great deal of responsibility for making sure that our game reflects the energy and excitement of the biggest tennis event in the southern hemisphere.

Luckily we’ve been able to work very closely with Tennis Australia themselves, who are very much fans of video games and want to give tennis fans the complete experience – watch the games at the venue, and then come home and recreate your favourite moments on your gaming console.

Are they any aspects of the Australian Open that give the tournament a specific flavour that you try to capture?

Melbourne Park is such an iconic venue. It’s not just a court where people play tennis. It’s a space that, after many years now, has a heritage and history that deserves respect. We’ve gone to great lengths (and worked closely with Tennis Australia) to make sure that we’ve got the small details of this venue down right for the game.

Generally speaking, the Australian Open is well-regarded as “the happy slam,” so we also wanted to make sure that AO Tennis 2 reflects that positive celebration of the sport that the crowds that come to the event have come to love.

AO Tennis 2 screenshot

Big Ant Studios produce games across a range of platforms, from iOS and Android to Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. How do you work to scale your games across platforms of such varying capabilities?

We develop our own engines and technology at Big Ant, and having that extra level of control over the engine allows us to be more flexible and creative with it. As a result, we’re able to work rapidly to bring our games to new platforms.

AO Tennis 2 feels like a significant step up from the first game. Do you plan to continue your partnership with the Australian Open, and what else can we look forward to from Big Ant in 2020?

While we can’t discuss future development plans in any detail, we can say that we remain committed to our existing properties, and we’re always on the lookout for new opportunities. It’s going to be an exciting couple of years for sports fans, so stay tuned!

AO Tennis 2 is available worldwide on PC. The Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One versions are out now in Europe and Australia, and will come to North America on February 11, 2020.

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Is Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore worth playing?

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is the latest Wii U game to be ported to the Nintendo Switch. Is the game worth a curtain call?



Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore review

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is the latest Wii U game to be ported to the Nintendo Switch. Is the game worth a curtain call?

Slightly overlooked on its original 2015 release, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore takes to the stage once again as the latest Wii U game to make a Nintendo Switch comeback. It’s a heady blend of the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem franchises that taps into Japanese idol culture to create a distinctive RPG based around dungeons and dancing.

The game is broadly untouched on Switch, but it does include all post-release DLC, a new zone and some new costumes. Some of the features that used the Wii U Gamepad have also been adapted.

The critical response is broadly positive, with many reviewers having the chance to experience the game for the first time. Here is our pick of the best Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore reviews.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore review round-up

The Verge

“It’s becoming cliche to say that a game is perfect for the Switch, but RPGs in particular benefit from the platform. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a great example of this. So much of the experience is slowly trawling through maze-like dungeons, with plenty of strategic battles along the way. These moments are perfect for playing on the go, while the story sequences — particularly the gorgeous cut scenes — benefit from a bigger screen. Either way, the game looks great, and the copious text and menus are still legible on a small display.”

Not scored – Review by Andrew Webster


“Generally, the Fire Emblem influence remains incredibly easy to ignore, certainly due to the Fire Emblem developer Intelligent Systems hardly having had a hand in either design or development. That makes Tokyo Mirage Sessions approachable for people who are unfamiliar with either series, but it seems odd to market something as a big crossover of two beloved properties and then skimp on the crossover elements.”

Not scored – Review by Malindy Hetfeld

Nintendo Life

“Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a constant barrage of colour, J-pop music and general unrepentant joy. Even during its less enthralling story moments or its more repetitive sections, it still does its very best to put a smile on your face with its constant positivity.”

8/10 – Review by Chris Scullion


“When #FE failed to make an impression on RPG fans in 2015, it wasn’t the game’s fault. Now that it’s a well-advertised game on a popular platform, it should make more of a splash. It deserves to. I missed out on #FE Encore during its first tour, and I’m happy I was able to indulge in its strange hybrid charms the second time around.”

4/5 – Review by Nadia Oxford


“It’s an unapologetically silly game. But for as unconventional as it is, Tokyo Mirage Sessions frequently manages to pay clear homage to both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem in interesting ways. For instance, the rock-paper-scissors-styled combat of Fire Emblem is still in play here. While the battle system itself feels like a particularly flashy spin on the type of combat found within Shin Megami Tensei or Persona, having a level of familiarity with Fire Emblem’s mechanics is going to help a lot in pinpointing an enemy’s weakness.”

Not scored – Review by Dennis Carden


“Your enjoyment of this game will depend on how much you love and embrace the carefree lightheartedness of the story. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is very much a bubbly and upbeat RPG that never dives too deeply into the sinister side of idol culture, and instead focuses on fun and colorful musical numbers, and the general sense of having a good time.”

4/5 – Review by Zhiqing Wan

Other publications

  • God is a Geek – 8.5/10
  • The Sixth Axis – 9/10
  • Metro – 7/10
  • DualShockers – 9/10

Title: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Nintendo
Release date: January 17, 2020
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Visit our new releases page for more on this week’s new video games. You can also follow Thumbsticks on FacebookGoogle News, Twitter, and Flipboard.

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We hate to ask, but global advertising revenues are the lowest they've ever been. It's killing the online publishing world. If you like what we do and want to support free, quality games writing, then please consider supporting us via Patreon, buying us a coffee, or subscribing to our newsletter.

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