From the Archives: Why Do We Play?

A philosophical question for you today, prompted by a thought-provoking discussion I had with a friend the other evening.

It’s a particularly interesting question with regard to visual novels, which are regarded by some as not being “games” in the traditionally-understood sense, but it also applies to the interactive entertainment medium as a whole.

The question is a pretty fundamental one for anyone who chooses to make gaming part of their life, whether it’s as a casual hobby, something they share with friends or their favorite form of entertainment.

It’s this: Why do we play?

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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Wii U Essentials: NES Remix

Those of us of a certain age have a habit of looking back on things with distinctly rose-tinted spectacles.

When we actually come to revisit those things that we regarded with fond nostalgia, however, it can sometimes be disappointing. And it can be difficult to convince those who weren’t around for those things we’re nostalgic for that they, in many cases, have great value and historical significance, even if they “don’t hold up all that well today”, as the saying goes.

While Nintendo has enjoyed a certain amount of retro fever recently thanks to the launch of its dinky, mini-sized NES with a selection of pre-loaded games, many modern gamers still find the brutal challenge of games from this era — the notorious concept of “Nintendo Hard” — to be nigh-unpalatable. And even for those who don’t mind a bit of a challenge, it can be difficult to know where to start when developing the skills to play these games.

Enter NES Remix and its sequel, then, which tackle these problems head-on and create two brilliant experiences in their own right.

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Grisaia: Introduction

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Frontwing’s Grisaia series, which kicked off in 2011 with the Japanese release of first installment The Fruit of Grisaia, has come to be regarded as a particular high point for the visual novel medium.

Indeed, back in 2015, the /r/visualnovels subreddit voted The Fruit of Grisaia as number one on its list of top 10 visual novels (later republished on GameFAQs), and the community still holds the game in high regard today, as evidenced by its prominent position on the subreddit’s comprehensive diagram of recommendations.

Grisaia’s high ranking on /r/visualnovels’ list was particularly exciting to enthusiasts of the medium, as growing localisation company Sekai Project had already run a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring the whole series West in the twilight hours of 2014 and the start of 2015, potentially opening it up to a whole new audience that was perhaps less familiar with acquiring Japanese visual novels and patching them with fan translations.

But what makes this series so remarkable? Let’s take a high-level look at it.

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From the Archives: Politics Has Never Been So Moe

It occurred to me while compiling last week’s entry on the subject of “genre” that most of the visual novels I have personally played to date (Editor’s Note: at the time of original writing, 2012) have been rather “serious” affairs, dealing with delicate social and psychological issues, more often than not in a respectful, sensible manner.

So it was with some trepidation that I fired up Alcot’s My Girlfriend is the President, an English language release from JAST (Editor’s Note: sadly, seemingly out of print at the moment) and, to my knowledge, the first explicitly “comedy” VN I have personally encountered. (Editor’s Note: again, in 2012)

The premise of the game is absurd in the inimitable manner that only the Japanese can pull off with any confidence: aliens crash-land on “Nippon” (all country names in the game are bastardisations of their real-life equivalents except, oddly, for France), which wipes out the existing government. Then, wracked with guilt, said aliens decide to rebuild society and brainwash everyone as if nothing had happened.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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Wii U Essentials: Hyrule Warriors

At the time of writing, the Wii U may be yet to play host to a brand-new, original mainline Zelda title — Breath of the Wild will be one of the last retail titles for the system — but it’s home to one of the best spin-offs the series has seen.

Unlike its stablemate Super MarioZelda actually hasn’t seen all that many spin-offs over the years, with only Link’s Crossbow Training on Wii and the two atrocious CD-i titles springing immediately to mind. This is perhaps because Zelda is an inherently more “serious” affair than Super Mario — sure, it has its moments of levity, but it’s always been less focused on cartoon silliness and as such it would be rather strange to see perpetual protagonist Link doing things outside his normal remit such as playing tennis or golf. (That, of course, didn’t stop him making an appearance in Mario Kart 8, but that was something of an outlier.)

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t scope for the series to explore gameplay styles outside the mainline titles’ “explore, dungeon, puzzle, boss” formula, and Hyrule Warriors is a potent proof of concept that demonstrates the ensemble cast the series has built up over the years is more than strong enough to carry a game that doesn’t focus exclusively on Link.

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Nights of Azure: Sights and Sounds

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As we’ve discussed over the course of the last few articles, Gust’s Nights of Azure has a very strong sense of its own identity, both as an individual work and as part of its developer’s catalogue.

Every aspect of the game as a whole contributes to this coherent identity: its distinctly operatic, tragic Gothic narrative; its blend of action RPG gameplay with monster-raising and character customisation; its small cast of distinctive, memorable characters.

Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic, however, is its overall aesthetic. While, at times, drawing inspiration from other, similar works, there’s no denying that Nights of Azure takes ownership of its own identity to create a highly distinctive work that stands out even amid the rest of Gust’s back catalogue.

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From the Archives: A Question of Genre

How do you describe a piece of interactive entertainment? Chances are the first thing you mention is the way it plays, or the supposed “genre” it is part of.

Final Fantasy is a JRPG; Gears of War is a third-person shooter; Mario games are platformers. And this isn’t only true for mainstream games, either — even the most esoteric indie games tend to be described in terms of their mechanics. Fez is a puzzle-platformer; The Binding of Isaac is a roguelike shooter; Minecraft is an open-world building and survival sim.

While you may then elaborate on that by describing the setting — sci-fi, fantasy, cartoonish crazytown — it’s highly likely that this is not the first thing you mention. Interactive entertainment is pretty much the only artistic medium in which we do this.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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Wii U Essentials: Game & Wario

Originally intended as a pack-in game for the Wii U as a demonstration of the GamePad’s capabilities, Game & Wario has been considerably overshadowed by its eventual replacement Nintendo Land.

But it’s a great game in its own right, both as a showcase for the Wii U GamePad and as a title that provides enormously varied quick blasts of entertainment whenever you feel like it.

It’s very much an old-school Nintendo game, in other words, and while it’s rather different from previous WarioWare titles, it’s an excellent addition to any Wii U owner’s library.

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Final Fantasy XIV Guide: Dun Scaith

Dun Scaith is a 24-player alliance raid for level 60 characters introduced in The Far Edge of Fate (Part I), patch 3.5 of Final Fantasy XIV.

It is the third and final installment in the series of Mhachi raids that began with The Void Ark and continued through The Weeping City of Mhach. It requires an item level of at least 235 to enter, and the three parties of the alliance are in what has been standard alliance raid configuration since Syrcus Tower in A Realm Reborn: one tank, two healers, five DPS.

The raid drops item level 260 gear (which, at the time of writing, players are limited to acquiring one piece of per week) along with the Paladin glamour weapon Blood Sword, a Wind-Up Scathach minion, a Diabolos Hollow Triple Triad card, and Void Matter, an item needed to craft a few Dun Scaith-related housing items.

Note to visitors: This guide is a little out of date now thanks to a few changes to Dun Scaith, but the strategies for the main bosses still stand.

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Nights of Azure: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

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Nights of Azure is one of Gust’s most mechanically interesting games — particularly in how much it differs from the company’s usual output — but it also has a fascinating, ambitious narrative.

Combining a deeply personal tale with a more conventional JRPG-style “save the world” narrative, the overall atmosphere of the game is very distinctive and quite unlike your average JRPG, if such a thing exists. It blends drama, romance, action, horror and mystery together to create something altogether unique that is very much worth experiencing.

And it pulls the whole thing off with such wonderful style, such a beautifully clear sense of its own identity, that you can’t help but be compelled by the tale it tells.

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