The Ashes Everglowing – Impressions on the Cindered Shadows DLC from Fire Emblem Three Houses

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Fire Emblem: Three Houses
was one of my favorite games from last year, and the series has been noteworthy for me since I was introduced to it years ago. I logged a record number of hours into the game from the day it came out (only rivaled by Persona 5 and Final Fantasy XII, even at 85 or so hours on the first playthrough) and when Nintendo announced that there was going to be DLC content, I was a bit skeptical, to say the least.

The Fire Emblem games have generally had decent DLC. Awakening‘s DLC had throwbacks to just about every game in the series’ prolific past, Echoes of Valentia had a couple of side quests and a few new characters- but Three Houses felt so complete with four different paths and a number of ways to tackle party building and class customization. Personally, I was a little worried that adding anything that could build on the plot of the game could convolute things, save for one or two very specific open threads left by the game’s main plot.

(As a note, if you want to go into Cindered Shadows completely blind, here is your chance to bail before any spoilers!)

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On February 13th, Cindered Shadows was released. Promising a story of a new house called the Ashen Wolves, trailers gave some details about a plot revolving around an area under Garreg Mach Monastery called “Abyss” where a number of students and other people lived for a number of reasons ranging from societal casting out to committing morally gray crimes and needing a place to hide. Four new characters- brash Balthus, the aristocratic Constance, straightforward-to-a-fault Hapi, and the mysterious Yuri- were to be added to the roster and given the spotlight in the tale involving the strange village beneath the monastery.

For the most part, the story of Cindered Shadows works. The details as to why the people of the Abyss are there, the connections that each of the characters has to the world of Fodlan and its mythos are strong enough, and there are only a couple of moments of “well, why didn’t we hear about this before if it already existed”. The characters are good additions, too, with the small cast from the original game making comments and connections for the audience to flesh out the newcomers. Some care was given to slide the plot of this DLC into the tales fans already knew about the game’s world.

What does this add to the main content of the base game, then? Once the whole side story is finished- an easy task since it is only six chapters and about five hours or so total- all four characters become recruitable in the main game. They also bring four new classes with them, all of which have been displayed in past games: Trickster, War Monk, Valkyrie, and Dark Flier. When the characters join up with Byleth’s ranks in the main story, they will bring a certification that will let any characters take on their class from Cindered Shadows. There are a few other benefits, as like a renown bonus, DLC items, and access to the Abyss with features that include the ability to trade items for renown or vice versa.

Cindered Shadows isn’t going to blow your mind if you’ve played through Three Houses already but it does make for an interesting and engaging story. It is challenging and introduces a couple of new mechanics in some chapters, but with the time-turning Divine Pulse at play, it isn’t hard to take a few steps back and approach your enemies and problems a different way. Is it worth the price tag of $30 for the Expansion Pass? Sure. The Pass gives you plenty of other extras that had already been offered before Cindered Shadows came out, and if you’re a fan of Three HousesCindered Shadows is a worthwhile investment.

 

Save Point – My Week in Gaming – 2/15/2020

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Hey folks! Welcome to the weekend- even if some of us don’t really get a “weekend” per se thanks to work or other obligations we may not be as excited as we could be about.

Since I’m in the middle of a bunch of games and really haven’t had the chance to sit down and write about them formally, I thought it could be a time to implement a new feature just to chat about what I’ve been doing over the past week or so. I usually dabble in so many games and other media over seven days that it feels like a waste not to chat about it as it’s happening in some way.

Mixing, Matchmaking, and Murder

At any given moment, I tend to have at least one game going on my Switch for handheld and relaxing times throughout the house, two on my PC (one persistent or with friends and one for myself to play solo), and one or two on a console like my Playstation 4 or XBox One. There’s usually something retro thrown in there when I feel up to it, but my backlog has been begging me to give it attention lately, so between that and my consoles having just been hooked up in my new place, I’m pretty much at half-capacity right now.

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I recently picked up the Fire Emblem: Three Houses DLC, Cindered Shadows, which had been advertised as an April release last I had known but got pushed up and released on February 13th. I’m only a couple of battles in, but I’m already enjoying the return to Garreg Mach and some of the new features and classes that have been brought in with the new House, the Ashen Wolves. Between that and coming to the end of the main story of Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk, my Switch has been working overtime- even if it’s just going back to games I’ve already beaten in some form.

On PC, I caught wind of a game called Song of Horror, an episodic horror game that I had barely heard of before I lunged into the trailers for it and bought the Season Pass so that I had all of the episodes once they released. At five episodes total (and the fifth coming out sometime in the next month), I’ve made my way through the first two and I”m still going pretty strong on the third. Between the quality of the game itself and the persistent nature of losing characters, I’ve got to say it’s been a tense one and I’m really enjoying it.

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So far as games I’m playing with other people, I’ve dipped my toe about knee-deep back into Dead by Daylight with some mixed results. They’ve added a few things since I had the chance to play it like challenges to unlock lore of the game and its world and some more playable survivors and killers, but I’m still pretty average at the game itself. It’s a ton of fun at all times for me, though. I’ve also picked up The Division 2 on sale for three dollars to play with my buddy and some others. I was a big fan of the previous one and I’m enjoying the second one, but it’s a bit too early to tell if it’ll stick around in my usual cycle of persistent games.

Backlogs Don’t Only Exist in Gaming, Y’know

So I’ll admit- I’m behind on writing reviews of some of the games I finished off in 2019. Some of them might fall to the wayside or may end up with some lighter coverage in an effort to give some finality to them, though the two I’ve got in my crosshairs right now are on seemingly-James-Bond-action-RPG Alpha Protocol and the NES classic Crystalis. Having just finished up Tokyo Mirage Sessions Encore #FE, I’d love to jot something down about that, too (though, spoiler alert, I recommend it for any fans the Persona or Fire Emblem series).

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As far as featured articles are concerned, I’ve got entries for both the Atelier Series Overview and the Fire Emblem Overview in the works to cover some of the spin-offs and newer games for Fire Emblem as well as the history of the Atelier titles. I’ve also been toying with a follow-up to the Where Did That Come From? series analyzing Zombies Ate My Neighbors and the immense amount of pop-culture references in it. There are a bunch of plates in the air, but I’m addressing them one at a time and they aren’t crashing to the floor, at least!

So What Else is Going On?

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In a couple of weeks, I’ll be attending PAX East with my good buddy, 76Trombones, and some of our other Twitter friends and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve been researching some of the games that’ll be there, and I’m hoping to give more “up-to-the-minute” coverage compared to last year- though it will probably end up being some daily reviews and then one big overview at the end. I’ll also be taking another trip into the cosplay part of the convention due to the amount of fun I had with it last year. I extend to my friends and readers here, though, if there are any games you’re interested in hearing more about on display there, please feel free to let me know. Most likely, there will be a post in the next week or so about some of the games I’m looking forward to as well as larger titles of interest.

Over the past month or so, I’ve also been helping to contribute to a new feature over at The Well-Red Mage called Magipedia. By his own description, it’s meant to “discover the etymological, cultural, and mythological backgrounds of video game characters, places, and monsters”, and while there aren’t a ton of entries yet, the material that’s there is great and there are plenty more planned and coming out every week- including a couple from yours truly. If you dig analysis, game history, or general quick reads about the nouns of the video game universe, they’re worth a look!

Last but not least, I’ve been working on putting together a set-up to start streaming. Maybe recording videos. Possibly podcasting. I’m not entirely sure yet, so it’s going slowly while I feel out my computer equipment and software. I’ve had a few ideas about where to go with and how to go about it, but there will probably be more momentum there once PAX has come and gone.

So that’s my week in review and what I’ll be playing this weekend! What are you all up to? What are you looking forward to or working on that you’d like to share? Feel free to let me know in the comments (which have been dodgy as of late, so please forgive my slow replies there) or over on Twitter @The3rdPlayer.

Have a great week, folks!

Top 5 Games of 2019

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Well, we’re coming up to the end of 2019 and- y’know, let’s be honest: this year was a fantastic year for gaming and game-related announcements. There have been so many games that have left amazing impressions on every gamer. Whether it was the innovative but divisive Death Stranding, the here-then-gone (and still divisive) darling Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, or any of the other fantastic titles ranging from indie masterpieces to triple-AAA action thrillers that were released, no one’s top picks seem to be the same, even if certain titles do seem to pop up more often than others.

So which games did I enjoy that didn’t quite make the top cut?

Well, it was a pleasant surprise to see translations and ports of Square Enix offerings like Collection of Mana, Romancing SaGa 3, and SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions, all of which were admirable and well-preserved titles. Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists and Atelier Lulua were potent returns to quality for the Atelier series that were well-produced and deserve some recognition as solid JRPGs, too. In the vein of horror, Blair Witch received a rocky reception from some, but it was one of my favorite horror offerings from 2019, even with its design bumps. The indie scene has had some strong efforts, too, including the heart-grasping Newfound Courage. Of course, that’s only a fraction of the games I experienced, and there were plenty of releases that didn’t fall into my wheelhouse that other folks really enjoyed.

With the honorable mentions situated, though, here are the five games I’m walking away from 2019 with the most impact from, one way or another. Even with the numbers attached, this isn’t a rigid ranking. All of these games left me mesmerized and kept my attention and excitement from beginning to end, whether two hours or 80-plus.

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5. Untitled Goose Game – PS4, XB1, Switch, PC

What a media darling the Goose has become. What was teased as a game about being a goose who acts like a jerk to a guy in a garden turned out to be a game about being a goose who acts like a jerk to an entire village. What a refreshing turn of events!

House House did a great thing by making a minimalist puzzler with a forgiving learning curve and a fun “pick up and play” model. As much of a nuisance as the titular bird can be, they’ve got a charm about them that makes the player want to turn the hose on a gardener or steal a man’s slipper to achieve their ultimate goal. Everything down to the quirky sound design is delightful.

In a world full of explosions and do-gooding farmer-types, Untitled Goose Game offered up the Chaotic Good distraction that stuck with me and plenty of other people after the credits rolled.

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4. Arcade Spirits – PC, Switch, PS4, XB1

One would think that as someone who likes to read and play video games, the visual novel genre would have been a vein I would have mined into already. I’ve dipped a toe a couple of times, but it wasn’t until Arcade Spirits that I hunkered down and read from digital cover to cover.

The tale of a self-insert protagonist taking up a job at an arcade is a pretty easy mark to hit for anyone who knows the gaming community. Arcade Spirits took it a step further by researching the historical video game crash of 1983 and displaying a future in which it never happened, resulting in a flourishing arcade scene. Not only that, it offers up a lot of interesting trivia about arcades and machines in general. Even better? The game is incredibly LGBTQ+ friendly even offering a Them/They option for gender at character creation.

Maybe it was because it was my first visual novel or maybe it was the passion that shone through in the dialogue, story, and inclusivity form the developers. Arcade Spirits was something very special.

(My review of Arcade Spirits can be found here for some more insights.)

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3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses – Switch

Let me surprise you by adding Fire Emblem: Three Houses, a game I’ve ranted about for months now, to a Top 5 list from the year. The Fire Emblem series is one of the main series that I follow but after the strange quality fluctuation I felt between Fire Emblem Fates and Echoes of Valentia (my favorite game from 2017), I was a little nervous about Three Houses and the choice for multiple stories and paths to follow.

All of that went out the window once I booted the game up. The world at the Garreg Mach Monastery was immersive with so much more to do than bounce from battle to battle. The characters were layered and interesting to interact with. The story had some great beats and the amount of customization and side stories made the first path and 85 hours feel like they flew by. It was hard not to get invested, even with characters and plot points I wouldn’t normally be interested in.

Fire Emblem has gained its footing soundly thanks to some of the strong entries that have come out in recent years. With all of the hype behind Three Houses, though, Nintendo really had to knock it out of the park. It’s pretty safe to say that they did by most measures.

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2. Atelier Ryza ~Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout~ – Switch, PS4, PC

If you noticed that I only mentioned two of the three Atelier games that came out this year in my honorable mentions introduction, congratulations on your astute senses! Anyone who’s gotten within earshot of me in the past few months has heard about how much I loved Atelier Ryza, the start of the next “-ogy” of the series.

Advertising a new adventure about friendship, growing up, and making memories, Atelier Ryza delivered on its promises with a story about a group of friends trying to find their place in the world while solving mysteries about their homeland. On another important note for a series that is twenty-one entries deep, it made the mechanics and plot accessible to beginners and experienced alchemists alike. The game was fun and emotional from the start.

Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to the next game in the Darkness series to see what happens with these characters and their growth. If anyone is looking to get into the series in a modern way, Atelier Ryza is probably the way to go. The crafting system, storytelling, and presentational direction haven’t been this sweet in the series for some time.

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1. Resident Evil 2 – PS4, XB1, PC

Growing up, Resident Evil 2 was a favorite of mine. Before the series fell squarely into action horror, the follow-up to the original game continued the story of Raccoon City and the horrific zombie outbreak that overtook its streets. The mix of atmosphere and B-movie style approach to dialogue and plot made for a worthwhile game to remember.

With Capcom’s reputation leading up to the past couple of years, concerns were raised that Resident Evil 2‘s remake would be an attempt to exploit nostalgia for an easy grab at cash for the company. The more that released concerning the game, though, the more doubt was pushed aside. By the time it was set to release, my excitement had gone through the roof. I attended the first midnight release for a game I have in years, and I lost thirteen hours in two days barreling through the game. I couldn’t put it down. Not only did the game update the visuals and front-end factors, but it improved on the narrative and just about every other aspect of the original. The reimagining treated the original like a blueprint and built its own mansion off of it.

Returning to its horror roots, Resident Evil 2 had terror in spades even with the amped-up action. Fans of the original could still relive the glory days of the series while other people would get an expertly crafted game with smooth controls, great pacing, and earnest attempts at entertaining the player. I’m already planning my next playthrough soon- and if you have any interest at all in this game, I’d suggest you get the chance as soon as you can.

This year, I feel like I played a lot more of the games that were actually released in 2019, a feat in and of itself considering the immense backlog growing behind me even as I type. I’m already looking forward to a host of games coming out in 2020, but it’s nice to look back at what really stuck with me and why throughout the past year. Considering I haven’t seen many “Best Of” lists that have been the same from folks, I’m interested in hearing some other people weighing in on their favorites from 2019. Feel free to chat a bit in the comments about any favorite games (or even games you might have thought would be your favorites but didn’t stand up to the expectation) or over on Twitter!

Since I’ll most likely pick up writing for the new year soon, I hope you all had a great holiday and have a Happy New Year!

– Matt (a.k.a. The3rdPlayer)