I don’t know what has been in the water at Square Enix the last few years, but I’m happy for it. The 8-bit and 16-bit Final Fantasy games can only be re-released and/or remade so many times, I suppose. We’ve received localizations of classic games I never thought we would see like Romancing SaGa 2 and Romancing SaGa 3. We’ve seen the latest SaGa, SaGa Scarlet Grace, get a release on new platforms and in new regions. Even the classic Game Boy games that kicked off the SaGa series (unbeknownst to those of us in the West at the time) got reissued on the Nintendo Switch. And now things come full circle, after a fashion. SaGa Frontier Remastered ($24.99) sees the very first game in the series that was localized under its original title make a return, hopefully to a warmer reception than last time.
Some games are good. Really good, even, and you know you’ll play them for hours and hours. Other games maybe need a bit of work, a bit of spit & polish, and they could be good. Then there are some games I really want to love and enjoy and recommend but, for one reason or another, I just… can’t. Dungeon of the Endless ($7.99) is one of those. Not because it’s bad, but because it just… doesn’t capture my attention, can’t keep me coming back for run after run, even after months of not playing. It’s not immediately obvious why, either—the art is gorgeous, the soundtrack is good, and the minute to minute gameplay is quite enjoyable too. So what is it? Why, despite owning the game on three different platforms and trying to get into it dozens of times, does it consistently fail to draw me in, push me to really dig in to strategies, and finally beat the game? The answer, I’ve come to find, is simple: The post-run reward loop that gets you to come back for one more floor, to experiment with that thing you just unlocked, or to see if tweaking your strategy just so makes the difference, just… isn’t there.
Following this pattern, it would seem logical to think that Final Fantasy 8 would arrive in 2016. Well, we did get a Final Fantasy game that year, but it was the rather impressive port of Final Fantasy 9. Unlike the previous game, this felt like it was rebuilt for the hardware. Perhaps that was the hold-up with Final Fantasy 8? At the time, I thought we’d see the eighth game arrive in 2017. Instead, we got the original title Final Fantasy Dimensions 2. Hm, maybe in 2018? No, that ended up being Final Fantasy 15 Pocket Edition. Oh, I see! 2019 is the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy 8! Square Enix, you sly dogs. But no, no such luck on mobile that year. It did come to other platforms. Perhaps it was just a bit behind on mobile?
Dracula. A classic book of desire, and triumph over a great evil. It is not, however, the focus of this review. No, it is merely the inspiration for a board game, one of mystery and deduction, predator and prey. A game that will, without doubt, find its audience with a digital port. What game, you wonder? Why, dear reader mine, none but the Fury of Dracula ($4.99).
Fortunately, the talent behind a game is generally more important than any branding. Igarashi wanted to make another Metroidvania, and fans enthusiastically obliged when he went to Kickstarter to find the funding for it. A lot of stories like that have disappointing or even terrible endings, but Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night ($9.99) seems to have largely gone as everyone hoped. A few bumps on the road, to be sure. It was originally set for a 2017 release but ended up coming in 2019 instead. A few of the planned versions were canceled thanks to the platforms being on their way out. The Switch version launched in a rather miserable state. A few planned features had to be changed.
One of the cool things about covering one beat for a really long time is in watching developers improve in leaps and bounds over the years. When Valorware first brought 9th Dawn to mobile a whopping seven years ago, it was an impressive throwback to an era of RPGs where the graphics were limited but the worlds seemed nearly limitless. 9th Dawn II ($1.99) arrived a few years later, polishing some rough edges and expanding the possibilities of the world it put in your pocket. Now here in the cursed year of 2020, 9th Dawn III ($9.99) arrives. So many things have changed, but one thing remains the same: the 9th Dawn games are really hard to put down once you get into them.
Now and again, we all grow a little nostalgic thinking of the games we used to play. Be they Diablo, Paper Mario, or, for me, Warcraft III, it’s fun to go back and play them again. Of course, we wouldn’t want to play them exclusively (modern games have made some improvements, after all!) but it is refreshing to note the highlights and draw parallels to the good in modern gaming, as well as the bad.
There are some things that you don’t realize you want until you actually have them, and for me this mobile port of Konami’s classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night ($2.99) is one of them. This is one of my favorite games of all-time, one that I obsessed over for a couple of years following its release on the PlayStation in 1997. I found every item, uncovered every secret, and squeezed out every last percentage point of map exploration. I’ve replayed it time and again on various platforms and have written numerous pieces about it, with the most recent being less than a month ago.
Incredible Mandy ($2.99) is an adventure through dreams searching for memories lost, people forgotten, and experiences once treasured. It is a third person platformer with a little bit of combat and a whole lot of environmental puzzles in a semi-open world, sprinkled with collectibles to fill in the story. It, in short, looks really, really interesting.