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Jack Gardner
Arriving in South Gate, our reluctant heroes encounter a strange cooking festival. The barbarian Arakiel quickly finds himself roped into a contest of culinary might. Sean, being the attention-seeking bard that he is, becomes fascinated with the local celebration. While the other two get sidetracked, Pribi begins scheming to get the gang into South Gate Prison and free their captured companions.
We Wanted Adventurers is a liveplay Dungeons & Dragons podcast that follows a motley trio of unlikely heroes as they bumble into adventures both big and small across the fantastical continent of Nevarrone. For the uninitiated, a liveplay podcast features an unscripted recording of a traditional tabletop roleplaying game, with all of the goofs and drama that comes with the territory. If you've never listened to the show before, here's a handy playlist to get you caught up.

You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. You can follow the show on Twitter for updates. Let us know what you think of the show! 
New episodes of We Wanted Adventurers will be released every Wednesday
One of the common misconceptions about Extra Life is that someone can only participate if they play video games. Not true! Extra Life supports and encourages all kinds of play. To that end, we have been supporting Tabletop Appreciation Weekend for the past few years. This year, the event takes place August 24-25th and will be a time for players to gather together and play board games for the kids. If that sounds intriguing, learn more about Extra Life Tabletop Appreciation Weekend and be sure to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
Sega has revealed SolSeraph, an upcoming game from ACE Team, the developers of Zeno Clash and Rock of Ages. Not only does the reveal come at an unexpected time, close on the heels of E3, but SolSeraph apparently releases in just a couple short weeks. On top of that, the game appears to be aiming to resurrect the niche genre of god-like strategy and action-platforming that distinguished the 90s classic ActRaiser
Back in 1990, a weird hybrid strategy-platformer called ActRaiser released for the Super Nintendo. It was developed by Quintet and published by Enix (before it merged with Square). The plot told the story of a powerful supernatural entity fighting against a being called Tanzra - in the Japanese version the game was literally about a war between God and Satan. ActRaiser tasked players with leading the people of the world in a successful campaign against Tanzra by fighting through side-scrolling action segments and building up the cities of humanity. From the beginning, the game fell into niche status due to its subject matter and the off-beat combination of city building and platforming. The title received a sequel in 1993, but the hybrid gameplay they brought into being largely sat by the wayside gathering dust... until now. 

After the creation of the world, Sky Father and Earth Mother left it to its own devices, departing for parts unknown. The young gods who they left behind to watch over their creation began to torment the people of the earth with calamities, monsters, and demons. SolSeraph tells the story of Helios, Knight of Dawn, as he embarks on a mission to save the scattered remnants of humanity from the capricious acts of the cruel gods. To do so, Helios must rebuild their cities and defend the new refuges from the onslaught of malevolent forces.  
SolSeraph is divided into two gameplay modes. The first acts very much like a strategic city-builder. Players will order the creation of structures and explore the lands from above to uncover the lairs of encroaching monsters. Once those have been discovered, Helios will descend from the heavens to do battle in side-scrolling action segments. These have Helios fighting against all manner of fantasy creatures with sword, shield, and bow in his quest to reach the god who has been giving them orders. Each defeated god will grant Helios new powers to use in the difficult struggles still to come. 

In case it was still sketchy as to whether or not SolSeraph was an intentional spiritual incarnation of ActRaiser, ACE Team brought on Yuzo Koshiro, the original composer behind the 90s classic, to create the opening theme of their game.
Narrative has always been an important part of ActRaiser's legacy. To that end, ACE Team has brought on Jonas Kyrazes, the writer behind The Talos Principle's compelling story, to give SolSeraph some serious storytelling chops. On his journey, Helios will encounter many different tribes of humans populated by colorful characters with interesting goals. How all of this will tie together in the final product remains to be seen, but anyone remotely familiar with the 90s game or intrigued by the unique genre mashup should definitely keep their eyes peeled for this title. 
SolSeraph will release for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC on July 10.
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Marcus Stewart
Rainbow Studios’ MX vs ATV series let players tear up dirt roads, but its upcoming Monster Jam Steel Titans invites them to destroy just about anything. The developer’s first foray into the wild world of Monster Jam aims to provide an authentic experience to diehard fans that’s also welcoming to curious newcomers. I recently sat in on a gameplay walkthrough and came away impressed with how flat-out fun the game looked despite not being a monster truck aficionado. What impressed me most, though, is that Steet Titans was created in a dev cycle that specifically banned employee crunch. This admirable feat in workplace management and ethics could help ignite the engine of a broader reform in game development. 
Monster Jam Steel Titans puts players behind the wheel of over 25 trucks both classic and contemporary. Well-known names include Grave Digger, El Toro Loco, and Max D, with additional vehicles slated to roll in post-launch. Players can tear it up in throughout 12 stadiums, 10 of which are based on real-life venues, and 6 arenas. 
The game wastes little time getting players into the action. As soon as Steel Titans begins, players are dropped into an open world called Monster Jam University. This free-roaming area presents a great place to explore, practice tricks, and uncover collectibles and other goodies. Monster Jam University isn’t a static zone either. It expands in scope and activities as players unlock new modes through the campaign. 

These modes includes a single-player campaign, 2-player split-screen, and more creative destinations like Timed Destruction. This particular mode tasks players with demolishing as many objects as possible within a limited time frame. Additionally, Monster Jam features four types of racing modes: Head-To-Head, Circuit, Rhythm, and Waypoint. Head-to-Head consists of traditional one-on-one races but others, like Circuit for example, features multiple competing cars. Such a thing wouldn’t be feasible in real-life Monster Jam but Steel Titans taps into Rainbow’s racing expertise to make it a reality. Those looking to get crazy can visit Stunt mode to try Freestyle and Two-wheel Skills destinations. The main menu can be accessed at any point so that players can switch from mode to mode quickly and easily.
An attention to authenticity aims to capture the unique aspects of controlling a monster truck. Unlike regular vehicles, these behemoths function on four-wheel steering, meaning real drivers steer both axis individually. This increased control over the wheels allows them to perform the myriad of impressive stunts that fans adore. Monster Jam’s dual-stick set-up emulates this setup by assigning each axis to one of the sticks. 
With skilled finagling, players can manipulate their wheels to perform signature tricks such as crab walks, back flips, and power-outs. I watched the lead designer pull off neat tricks like spinning out from a downed position to get the truck upright. Tricks can also be comboed and chained together; the higher the chain, the greater the rewards. For those who require extra help, Monster Jam also offers a simplified single-stick mode that ties all of this action to one analog stick. 

The physics engine makes it so that stunt execution is based on actual vehicle handling as opposed to a following a physics script. Rainbow’s custom-built destruction technology allows players to smash through environmental and scene objects such as fences. Body panels fracture and break in a realistic manner as trucks take on damage. Terrain deforms too; tires can spin themselves into ditches and holes. I felt the inherent fun of the sport watching the game’s lead designer make death-defying jumps, perform cool tricks, and smash all manner of objects. I may not know monster trucks, but Steel Titans makes driving one look immensely entertaining. 
Monster Jam Steel Titans may be goofy fun, but it also acts as a counterargument to one of the most serious issues plaguing game development: crunch. For those unaware, crunch is a common practice of game studios where employees are asked/expected to put in excessive amounts of work time, including nights and weekends, to get a game out the door by its deadline. It’s a controversial practice due to the physical and mental burn out that often accompanies it. Thankfully, crunch has garnered increased attention in recent years due to a rising number of developers speaking out against it. Rainbow sits among these concerned voices and hopes to make a statement with Monster Jam Steel Titans, which was intentionally developed without any crunch whatsoever.  
Rainbow CEO Chris Gilbert credits the accomplishment to the studios’ willingness to ax crunch from the get-go and then planning with that mind. Gilbert hopes their example inspires other developers to make similar workflow adjustments. “We have the same responsibility to our colleagues and to the industry to do our production aspect of our job well as we do to our fans to actually execute the game experience itself.” says Gilbert. “Crunch isn’t just a bad idea on ethical terms but it also makes your games worse and makes it harder to plan how long they’re going to take.” 
Not only has eliminating crunch and setting more sensible milestones help Rainbow ship Monster Jam on time, but they claim that it’s a better game as a result. After all, it wasn’t created off the backs of overworked employees. The lead designer remarked that he hadn’t worked a Saturday or Sunday in “ well over a year”. 
Monster Jam Steel Titans looks like it could be a blast for enthusiasts or anyone that likes to see giant trucks smash things to bits. In the grand scheme of game design, it also serves as inspiring proof that projects can be completed without working developers to the bone. Fortunately, fans won’t have to wait long to hop behind the wheel of their favorite truck. 
Monster Jam Steel Titans game launches today for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. 
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Zak Wojnar
When the first teaser trailer for Marvel's Avengers debuted back in 2017, the game presented itself as a mysterious enigma, with the main selling point being the inclusion of Earth's Mightiest Heroes together in an action-packed video game from the developers behind Rise of the Tomb Raider and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. When the first gameplay trailer appeared at Square Enix's E3 2019 press conference, the game remained mysterious, though at least would-be fans were presented with a taste of what Marvel's Avengers will offer to players. For better or worse, after sitting through the E3 show floor demo at Square Enix's booth, Marvel's Avengers is still a wild card, which me feeling cautiously optimistic regarding what the game will offer when it launches next year.
Although a hands-off experience, the E3 2019 demo for Marvel's Avengers did feature live gameplay of the level shown in the trailer. This is almost definitely the prologue of the game, and features all five of the currently confirmed cast (Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, and Black Widow) kicking butt when Taskmaster and a mysterious group of mercenaries attack an event celebrating the opening of a West Coast Avengers headquarters.
The demo kicks off with Iron Man and Thor flying towards the commotion on the bridge before splitting up so Thor can handle a group of bad guys trying to cause trouble nearby. The game seamlessly transitions from cutscene to gameplay as Thor begins taking down the mercs while quipping one-liners about his godly superiority over meager humans. The combat itself looks impressive as Thor's hammer strikes send enemies ragdolling dozens of feet through the air, a violent spectacle which really sells the true power of Marvel's God of Thunder.

Eventually, Iron Man shows up and starts taking on goons himself, though, of the five Avengers shown thus far, Tony Stark feels the least exciting, at least based on this early look at his melee combos. In the MCU, Iron Man is the type of character who takes down his foes with a single strike, and the sight of this particular hero using fisticuff strikes against regular enemies just doesn't ring true to the spirit of the character. His ranged attacks, on the other hand, are as explosive and efficient as one would expect.
As the fight moves to the Golden Gate Bridge, The Incredible Hulk joins the fray. Dr. Bruce Banner jumps from the Quinjet without first removing his expensive-looking shirt (those things don't grow on trees, Bruce!) and morphs into the Hulk as he lands. The E3 trailer skips the actual morphing moment, but it looks fantastic in action. Hulk's gameplay consists of a mix of Quick Time Events and hand-to-hand fighting as he moves to varying sections of the crumbling bridge, taking out bad guys with visceral ferocity. One noteworthy combat move has the not-so-jolly green giant picking up an enemy in each hand before clapping them together in a comically brutal display of strength.
The action segues to the helicarrier, in which Captain America tries to repel an attack. Visually, Cap is the most distinct of The Avengers, with his default outfit sporting a tactical, "urban combat" look which helps make the character feel distinct from other iterations of Steve Rogers. His moveset revolves around throwing his shield around the battlefield, kicking it back once as it returns to him, and using that window to close the distance and take down enemies with grappling takedowns and powerful punches.

Finally, Black Widow takes on Taskmaster in a one-on-one boss battle interspersed with Quick Time Events. Though the QTE segments look rudimentary and almost archaic, the fight itself does a good job of showing off the personality of Widow and Taskmaster, who quip back and forth about the villain's "photographic reflexes," which allow him to repel any attack after he sees it performed. Indeed, when Black Widow tries to repeat a combat move on the mercenary leader, he is able to easily defend itself, forcing her to use every combat tool at her disposal to fight the skull-faced thug. The fight includes hints of story developments to come, with Widow inferring that someone is pulling Taskmaster's strings, indicating he's "not the brains of the operation." As she delivers the final blow on her foe, Widow quips, "Next time, take better notes." After this, the helicarrier explodes, presumably killing Captain America and many innocents, at which point the demo ends.
As exciting as this prologue is, it raises just as many questions as answers, especially since multiplayer – one of the game's main selling points – was conspicuously absent. Likewise, it's unknown whether or not the every mission will resemble this early section. Will the whole game emphasize fast-paced transitions between combat and cutscene, with little in the way of exploration or downtime? Additionally, there was no talk of microtransactions, DLC, or character customization. In terms of storytelling, the main quest picks up five years after the "A-Day" tragedy, so the tone of this demo does not necessarily represent the rest of the game, which may prove more somber in tone. It's still too early to tell.

While Marvel's Avengers has a lot of potential to destroy expectations in 2020, and this first look at live gameplay proved extremely promising, it's too early to tell if it will be one of 2020's must-play titles when it launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Google Stadia on May 15, 2020.
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Marcus Stewart
Fans of Diablo-esque dungeon crawlers should keep their eye on Killsquad. Dubbed a “hardcore” action RPG by developer Novarama, the game is set in the distant future where mega corporations control the galaxy. These entities maintain control by dispatching teams of bounty hunters, called Killsquads, to raid planets for resources. Killsquad pushes the action side of the genre to create an exciting and thus far enjoyable romp. 
Players take control of the bounty hunters either alone or in a group of up to four teammates. The demo featured four characters each with specialized classes: Rico, a healer, Neil, a hammer-wielding berserker, the swordswoman Cass , and the marksman outlaw Clint. Novarama promises more characters will come post-launch. Characters evolve by finding new weapons and gear along with additional abilities from an unlockable skill tree. I decided to go with Cass, and after customizing her outfit and color scheme to my liking, dropped into a mission with another human player. Our first objective: reach a checkpoint and defend it from enemy onslaught. 

Cass grows on me almost immediately. Her slick sword attacks and fast pace sing to the action fan in me. Cass also flaunts cool abilities like temporary invisibility and a shuriken that teleports her to the target it strikes. My partner chose Rico, dropping health packs to keep me in shape while holding foes at bay with a long range laser cannon. Waves of enemies attempt to stop our trek to the goal, but we mow them down in flashy, effects-heavy clashes.The bizarre baddies we took down included leaping, multi-legged rock monsters, swarms of bat-like creatures, and one foe that resembled Destiny’s Harpies. Some enemies even set traps like a pair of crisscrossing lasers. 
Though levels and assets are hand-crafted, they’re procedurally laid out with each playthrough. The same applies to enemy spawns. That means repeating missions won’t play out the same way in order to keep the action unpredictable. Environments themselves boast impressive detail and have a triple-A quality to them despite coming from an indie developer. 

After successfully defending our first objective, we are tasked with going up against the level’s boss. The towering adversary took our combined might as we battled it along with a small army of minions. Though it was a tough fight, the combination of hit-and-run tactics on my end with distant support from my partner eventually toppled the beast. I shared a victory high-five with my companion as the demo faded to black. 
My time with Killsquad was short but I’m pleasantly surprised by what I played. As I said before it has a big-budget look and feel that would surprise players to learn its made by an indie team. It taps into the cooperative fun of dungeon crawlers and I especially loved the increased emphasis on action. Killsquad doesn’t have a concrete release window but it’s slated to arrive sometime this summer. Right now Novarama is targeting PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. When I remarked about the game being a perfect fit for Switch a la Diablo III, the developer agreed but said they couldn’t promise anything on that front just yet. Fingers crossed that Killsquad eventually migrates to Nintendo’s hybrid console too. 
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games

Jack Gardner
I love Shadow of the Colossus. It taps into something primordial in me that I find difficult to describe. From the time I was a kid until now, I have felt an affinity with monsters and the monstrous. The pantheon of Toho’s gargantuan beasts, the kaiju of Pacific Rim, the stop-motion creatures of Ray Harryhausen, they all carried the burdens of a young kid who often felt very much like a misunderstood or incomprehensible monster. These towering creatures were magical in their raw physicality, but made so much more important by the meaning they had attached to them by filmmakers and audiences alike.
When I saw that a game about interacting with colossi like the ones I had grown attached to in my childhood, I leapt at the chance. From that point onward, I played Shadow of the Colossus on an almost yearly basis. The evolving experience of those recurring replays led me to one conclusion:
Shadow of the Colossus is a narrative about the transgender experience – or at least it is to me.
Part 1 – The Giant’s Text
Before diving into the many interpretations of Shadow of the Colossus and what it has meant to the millions of people who have explored its beautifully desolate landscapes and done battle with its behemoths, we need to know what it is.
Shadow of the Colossus is a third-person action-adventure game created by Fumito Ueda and the development studio Team Ico in 2005. Ueda and his team were hot off of creating Ico, one of the landmark games of the early 2000s that popularized the minimalist aesthetic that many developers have emulated in the years since. Only a handful of years after Ico, the team revealed Shadow of the Colossus as their follow-up project.
Shadow of the Colossus took the minimalist aesthetic and puzzle-solving of Ico and translated it into a Legend of Zelda-esque adventure. It featured a sweeping open world to explore that bucked many of the conventions of the time. Instead of having enemies populating the landscape and NPCs to give additional context and direction – there was nothing. The world existed to be explored and experienced rather than fought against. Majestic and imposing ruins dotted the mysteriously abandoned countryside without explanation, the structures having long ago been left behind by whoever had once lived in the now forbidden lands.   

Fumito Ueda and his team cut all of the fat from the adventure genre and opted to focus on storytelling in an interactive context. That focus put a lot of emphasis on the handful of cutscenes that inform the narrative, the experience of journeying out into the world, and the encounters with the colossi themselves.
Back in mid-2000s, the conventional wisdom surrounding cutscenes was that they existed as a necessary evil, taking control away from the player to move the story forward in a more controlled and linear fashion. Some critics took this as proof that games could not tell compelling stories in their own right; that the medium could not stand on its own. This was during the days when the “are video games art?” debate was still in full swing. Shadow of the Colossus attempted to subvert the problem of cutscenes by giving the player control of the camera witnessing the cutscenes themselves. Players were able to pan the shot around and zoom in to maintain the element of interactivity, while still receiving the linear context of the game.
Continuity serves as one of the major elements in Shadow of the Colossus. How the game seamlessly connects the opening cutscene, the main menu, and the introductory sequence that plays when beginning a new game clearly demonstrates the commitment Team Ico had to making everything connect. Not only that, but all of these scenes play out entirely via in-game graphics, which was relatively uncommon on the PlayStation 2’s hardware. There was something magical about the presentation of these bits of story. No one else had made anything like it – they still haven’t really.
It is through these scenes that Shadow of the Colossus conveys the bones of its story. The protagonist never receives a name within the western release of the game, but the Japanese release dubbed him Wander. Shadow of the Colossus begins with Wander journeying with his trusty steed Agro to the ends of the earth, to a forbidden land where the stories of his people whisper a being resides who can do anything, even bring back the souls of the dead. As he travels on horseback, Wander carries a woman swaddled in her death shroud. Like Wander, the she never receives a name in-game, but the Japanese version identifies her as Mono. Wander reaches the forbidden land, crossing its threshold, a massive bridge spanning an even larger desert. After an interlude in which the game’s main menu appears, Wander and Agro enter the crumbling ruins of a colossal shrine.
In the heart of the gargantuan structure, Wander presents the body of Mono on a stone slab and encounters Dormin, an ancient entity that speaks to him in a chorus of disconcerting voices. At this point we learn that not only did Wander bring the body of Mono, but he also possesses a sacred blade that he stole from his people. The presence of the sword prompts Dormin to extend a deal: If Wander can kill the sixteen colossi that are the incarnations of the shrine’s statues, it will bring Mono back from the realm of the dead – though the cost to Wander, it warns, might be grave indeed.

Thus begins Wander’s quest to destroy the colossi and resurrect Mono. Each colossus takes on a vastly different form and provides a unique encounter for the player. While Shadow of the Colossus is ostensibly an action-adventure game, it integrates the puzzle elements that made Ico so successful into the fights against the colossi. Each encounter becomes a puzzle to be solved using Wander’s small arsenal of tools and whatever happens to be present in the environment or on the colossus itself. However, once the player knows what they are doing, the strategy to defeat the colossus requires to execute.
This leads us to one of the main sources of criticism leveled against Shadow of the Colossus: The difficulty of the controls. The camera can prove tricky to manipulate during hairy action segments due to the AI controls that were created to try and present the most cinematic angles during gameplay. The camera issues are compounded by the implementation of Agro’s horse AI. Most of the time, Agro controls fantastically after becoming accustomed to the beast’s limited amount of free-will. Players can allow the trusty companion to wend his own way through forests or rocky bridges. However, certain colossi necessitate using Agro in combat and this can lead to problems where Agro’s AI doesn’t quite control well enough to keep running away from colossi or overcompensates on turns, causing the player to veer wildly around the battlefield or come to a complete standstill in the path of an angry giant.
Those valid criticisms aside, Shadow of the Colossus uses these colossi and the journey Wander undergoes with each of them to great effect. In 2005, there weren’t a ton of games that played with the framework of a Legend of Zelda game to present such an ambiguous tale open to interpretation. Each colossus possesses a different character, much like the kaiju mentioned earlier. Some exist as angry or territorial entities all too happy to rip Wander apart. Others simply mind their own business, leading Wander to provoke them or mercilessly hunt them down. Regardless of the experience, however, each colossi receives a slow-motion death sequence followed quickly by Wander being speared by dark energy that causes him to pass out and awaken in the central shrine

About midway through the game, we learn in a cutscene that a force of warriors has been sent in pursuit of Wander. This group is led by Lord Emon, a character who briefly narrates some backstory about the forbidden land at the beginning of the game. It is around this point that players should also begin picking up that Wander does not look well. With each colossus slain, his body changes a little more. His skin takes on an ashen pallor, his eyes inch toward milky white, and horns begin sprouting from his head. This transformation is accompanied by increases to health and stamina, allowing Wander to take more damage and hang onto his giant adversaries for longer periods of time.
Each colossi slain stands out as an invitation to engage in some self-reflection. Is killing the colossi the right thing to do? Are the changes to Wander’s body an indication of some sort of corruption? What does all of this mean? Because Shadow of the Colossus doesn’t feature any other enemies and simply tasks the player with navigating to the battlefield for each colossus encounter, plenty of time is made available to contemplate the questions that the game very intentionally raises.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that composer Kow Otani’s work in Shadow of the Colossus produced one of the finest video game soundtracks of all-time. The mysterious tones from the very beginning of the game give way to a wind-filled silence when the player begins to traverse the world. This absence of music makes it that much more moving when the lilting tones of awe and danger begin with each colossus discovered. That initial music gives way to sweeping orchestral beats that elevate each battle into the stuff of legends. Right at the apex of each fight, as Wander lands the killing blow, the music suddenly halts for a moment of silence before a somber liturgy sounds. It hammers home that each of these deaths represents the loss of something unique; whether the creature was peaceful or terrible becomes irrelevant.  
There are small things to do in the world outside of killing colossi. Players can find all of the prayer shrines that were used as save points in the original. There’s also a way to increase Wander’s health bar and stamina meter by finding special fruits and consuming the white tails of special salamanders scattered throughout the land. Outside of that, experimenting with the mechanics yields a number of interesting activities from horse surfing to holding onto birds and flying. One of the more interesting secrets involves increasing stamina to the point that Wander can successfully scale the central shrine’s tower and enter the secret garden that appears during the game’s epilogue. However, these activities are so subtle and well-hidden that most players won’t find all of them on their first playthrough or even realize they exist unless they are using a guide.

As Wander nears the end of his journey, he and Agro go to confront the final colossus, but the trusty steed sacrifices itself to save its master from a crumbling bridge. Alone and in shock, Wander goes on to confront the final colossus. After a grueling battle and once more finding his body pierced with lances of black energy, we see that Lord Emon and his warriors have arrived at the shrine. They confront Wander, now a shambling husk of his former self. In his desperation to reach Mono, he tries to push through the soldiers, only to be greeted with a barrage of crossbow bolts and a sword through the chest. At this point, Dormin, unshackled by the destruction of all the idols lining the temple, possesses Wander’s body turning him into a shadowy colossus. What follows is a somewhat clumsy gameplay segment where the player controls one of the unwieldy beasts as the human characters scramble to seal the temple before Dormin can fully escape. After a short time, the desperate humans complete the magic ritual, sucking Wander and the reborn god into a shimmering pool of water. As Lord Emon and his troops flee, the towering bridge connecting the forbidden land to the outside world collapses behind them.
As the situation in the central shrine settles, Mono opens her eyes.
She takes her first tentative steps and finds herself drawn toward the sealing pool. As she walks toward the pool, Agro limps into the shrine, nuzzling her in familiarity. Upon reaching the pool, we see the water has all dried up and inside there remains no sign of Dormin or Wander. Instead, a small child with horns gurgles up at the now living woman. The three of them make their way up the central shrine’s spiral stair and emerge into the secret garden on the top of the shrine. There, she comes face to face with a fawn, the first and only of these animals we see in the entire game.
If that seems like a strange ending, it is. I know that it left me stumped for a long time trying to figure out what it meant. I understood the series of events on a basic level, but what did the story mean? What was the deal with this baby? And the fawn? I didn’t have all of the answers, but the lack of having answers might just be why Shadow of the Colossus has stuck in my head for over a decade. My mind mulls it over with every replay; and the answers I find in the work change along with me.
That’s how I found myself in recent playthroughs reading Shadow of the Colossus as a narrative about the transgender experience. Before we talk about that, we need to talk about how other people have interpreted Shadow of the Colossus. For such a seemingly simple (if a little weird) story, people have understood it in a number of really interesting ways.

Part 2 – Reading Shadows
There are many ways of reading media. In fact, that’s one of the things that makes art so great – it can mean many things to many people. The way people respond to and think about stories can make profound differences in individual lives or shape entire nations. How people have understood Shadow of the Colossus has evolved over time and, while it hasn’t changed the fate of nations (yet), it has certainly had an effect on game development and a sizeable number of the people who played it. From romance to a representation of grief to something akin to a religious experience, how people have thought about Shadow of the Colossus over time stands out as a fascinating journey all its own.
The romantic reading of Shadow of the Colossus began before the game even released. The studio’s previous game, Ico, had received next to no marketing making its rise to prominence as a cult hit on word of mouth alone a surprise to Sony. The company would not repeat its mistake. The campaign they launched for Shadow of the Colossus was massive, strange, and eye-catching. In other words, it was perfectly suited to the spectacle of the game itself.
An incredibly impressive and successful viral marketing push (worthy of a deep dive all its own) created multiple fake stories about the remains of ancient beings found scattered across the planet. However, to appeal to the mainstream gaming demographic, Shadow of the Colossus’ marketing team came up with two taglines. The first can be found on the back of the North American PlayStation 2 copy of the game itself, “Some mountains are scaled. Others are slain.” The other left a lasting impression in a massive series of print advertisements that spanned multiple pages and culminated in a huge foldout of the game’s sword-wielding colossus. The first panel read, “how far will you go for love?” a sentiment reflected on the back of both the North American and European releases which talk about Wander being motivated by love. The impression those lines left in the minds of the game’s audience ran deep.
Between those two taglines, players went into Shadow of the Colossus with the expectation that it would be the epic fable of a young man slaying giants and saving the woman he loved. On a certain level, it’s not difficult to understand how someone could read Shadow of the Colossus that way. It displays many of the elements present in the classic stories of knights, damsels, and monsters. A young man with a magic sword traveling to a dangerous land to slay giants and save his lady-love certainly seems to fit in with the long history of human storytelling from Gilgamesh to Journey to the West to Le Morte d’Arthur.

This reading, while easy to see if one squints at Shadow of the Colossus and tries their hardest, is wrong – or at the very least didn’t resonate with terribly many people. While doing some digging for this piece, I came across people who loved the tagline, but also didn’t feel as if it was really representative of Shadow of the Colossus. The back of the PlayStation 2 game’s box tells players that it’s a game about “undying love,” but if that’s the case, this is a story in which the two characters supposedly in love never speak to one another. With that interpretation in mind, Shadow of the Colossus could just as easily be a story about obsession since we only ever see one side of this love.   
Given how little that particular take seems to resonate with players, I think it’s safe to say that a better, deeper reading of Shadow of the Colossus exists. One of the more popular takes on the action-adventure title interprets Shadow of the Colossus as being about grieving. Reviewers and players alike come to this conclusion. “What was – and is – most impactful about Shadow of the Colossus is its sense of scale: the immensity not only of its dramatic ruins and the sad, beautiful colossi, but of the task at hand, and its themes of death, faith, longing and the destructive selfishness of grief,” writes Keza MacDonald in The Guardian’s review of the 2018 remake.
In this reading, Shadow of the Colossus is about wanting something that’s forever beyond our reach. Breaking taboos in the pursuit of that impossible goal is not heroic in this context. Instead, Wander becomes a pitiable creature on a doomed quest. With each colossi slain, Wander descends deeper into grief while in pursuit of catharsis, but destroys something irreplaceable for his own selfish ends with every action he takes. It costs him his health, his best friend, and ultimately his life. His journey culminates in the resurrection of Dormin, a being who Lord Emon implies could wreak havoc across the world. Wander’s toxic approach to grieving endangers everyone around him.

Looking at the game in this light, it begins to make more sense. During Dormin’s first conversation with Wander, the entity explains that the desperate man will have to pay a price on top of completing his seemingly impossible quest. Wander’s response takes on a more fatalistic connotation when read in the context of grief.
“It doesn’t matter.”
If you’ve ever been in the depths of despair, that state of mind in which it truly doesn’t matter whether or not something unspeakably awful happens, those words ring true. Instead of the plucky determination of a heroic adventurer, it becomes a cry for help – and Dormin eagerly leaps at the opportunity to take advantage of it. Far from being a powerful mindset, it opens up those in the midst of grief to all kinds of unscrupulous abuse. The manipulation of “Would you kindly” in BioShock blew many minds in 2007, but perhaps we should be more impressed with the subtle machinations of Dormin to maneuver a grief-struck young man into becoming the means for its resurrection.
We as players are naturally predisposed to view games from the perspective of the protagonist. Whether they are doing something good or bad, we tend to root for them and want to see them achieve their goals. With this reading, while the player might never have the realization that Wander, and by extension us, have been manipulated into doing something that runs counter to Wander’s goal (i.e. freeing a powerful god and potentially dooming the world), the story of each fight and the deaths of each colossus reinforce the feeling that something is wrong. For all of their destructive power or intimidating size, we find ourselves caring for these gigantic beasts. The player often ends each battle on a colossi’s head, having gotten there by inflicting pain upon the creature, staring into their strangely innocent and curious eyes as their blade plunges into the massive body over and over again.
The refusal to deal with the consequences of death, the refusal to properly grieve and move on, it is a choice that ultimately deadens Wander’s heart to the suffering he inflicts. But Shadow of the Colossus makes no moral judgement on this – instead it leaves it up to the player to contemplate the actions being taken by Wander on the long rides that separate each colossus from the central shrine.

In an interview with Simon Parkin for The New Yorker, Fumito Ueda said something about the evolution of his aesthetic sensibilities that struck me, “When I got to university, there was a layer of culture shock that hit me. I began to learn about modern and abstract art. Until that time my drawings were more realistic in style. Then I was opened up to abstract images. I was encountering things I’ve never paid attention to or recognized before. I liked that, behind those abstract images, there was always an idea. That set me thinking about art in terms of ideas, rather than depictions.” The entire interview with Parkin presents a fascinating look into the life of one of the game industry’s most talented directors and I highly recommend it. While Ueda here was referring specifically to the visual style that would later go on to inform the look of his games, there’s something in it that rings true to what compels people to return to Shadow of the Colossus again and again.
The surface-level simplicity of Shadow of the Colossus gives way to deep and profound possibilities. It can be read as a story about love, a tale of grief, or perhaps turned into a different text altogether, something that approaches the realm of religion. “In Shadow of the Colossus all you can do is stare at a ruined shrine in the middle of a desert, and wonder what it’s for,” wrote Craig Owens for Eurogamer back in 2013. Owen’s piece stands as an impressive work (that you should definitely read in its entirety) telling the story of a group of players who eschewed the explicit narrative of Shadow of the Colossus and sought to discover more about the world, creating their own tale in the process.
These players formed theories and beliefs about how they might be able to discover a secret seventeenth colossus. They gathered together and wrote hundreds of pages worth of notes talking about their various interpretations of the sparse world lore and the possible implications. They spent hours running against walls and utilizing glitches to catapult themselves into otherwise unreachable areas. They lovingly explored and catalogued the bits of nature Team Ico hid away from the most likely routes to the sixteen official colossi. And when the emulated version of Shadow of the Colossus revealed that many of the old theories and beliefs weren’t true, players began exploring to see what could be found using the newly discovered glitches in the emulation. 
Over time, people began giving up on finding secrets that they were meant to find and shifted their interest into uncovering what might have been. The cut content from Shadow of the Colossus is legendary, as the full roster of colossi was once a whopping forty-eight instead of sixteen. However, what has become important to these people isn’t so much whether or not something actually exists buried in the game’s code. A Shadow of the Colossus hacker named Nomad gave this quote to Owen in 2013, “It was the search that was the thing. I like to say it's like a Rorschach test, people imprint whatever hopes and beliefs they have onto the vast empty landscapes and see secrets that aren't there - they just hope they are." It feels profound and central to what Shadow of the Colossus means and why it matters to people. It can be as small as a children’s fairytale or as large and important as a quest for the meaning of life itself.

Part 3 – Shadow of the Colossus Is a Trans Narrative
There exists a strain of thought when it comes to art that holds authorial intent supreme. Stories mean what their creators intended and reading anything else into the work stands as an act of baseless narcissism. That conception of art’s meaning held sway for a long time until academics began questioning it. After all, what happens when the creators aren’t around anymore to discuss their intent? Who can claim to know the mind of Homer or the unknown storytellers behind the Epic of Gilgamesh?
Those questions eventually evolved into Roland Barthes’ influential 1967 literary essay The Death of the Author. In it, Barthes argues that assigning works of literature a single meaning linked with authorial intent represents a misunderstanding of art. Instead, the meaning derived from art resides in the interaction between the work and its audience. “Every text is written in the here and now,” wrote Barthes. Furthermore, he argued that knowing true authorial intent presents an impossibility. We cannot truly know the mind of even those closest to us, let alone creators who have lived across in different times and spaces. To try and elaborate on authorial intent, in fact, becomes an act of interpretation itself. Thus, the only meaningful interpretation that can be made exists between an audience and the text.
Of course, Barthes’ theory has been built upon and criticized over time, but it presents a framework that supports the multifaceted interpretations of Shadow of the Colossus. I know, however, that many people balk at the ideas put forward in The Death of the Author. That makes it worth looking into creative director and writer Fumito Ueda’s ideas about the artistic work he created with the rest of Team Ico.     

At the 2017 Nordic Game Conference David Polfeldt, the managing director of Tom Clancy’s The Division, and Fumito Ueda held a discussion about game design. When the conversation turned toward whether Ueda’s games were intentionally designed to be somewhat inscrutable, Ueda offered an explanation:
Fumito Ueda has nothing for those coming to him in search of authorial intent. Instead, he encourages players who love his games to search for their own meaning, their own answers to the questions posed in the work. In other words, create the meaning in Shadow of the Colossus for yourself; write the text in the here and now.
Here, finally, is why Shadow of the Colossus exists as a trans narrative.

My understanding of Shadow of the Colossus has grown along with me over the years. It always seemed to resonate with me in the way that towering kaiju like Godzilla always had. I never really examined why monsters resonated with me so much until I started unpacking the things I had repressed for most of my life.
I’m a transgender woman, but as a kid I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t have anyone around me to explain what being trans was – I learned about trans people from daytime television where trans men and women were put on display as sexualized “surprises” or punchlines on programs like Maury or The Jerry Springer Show. It hammered home that the things I wanted for myself were impossible, and even if they were magically put within my grasp, I would become someone who was somehow lesser than my peers. I was, to my extremely flawed understanding, a monster.
Of course, I don’t think that about myself anymore, or at least not when I’m happy; dealing with the onset of the body-warping self-perception called dysphoria can occasionally make me relapse into old thought processes. But that affinity for monsters persists. So, when I began allowing myself to explore all of my repressed thoughts and feelings about myself and gender back in 2015, my understanding of Shadow of the Colossus began to undergo a major shift.
My reading of Shadow of the Colossus up until that point painted the game as a tale about processing grief. But as I began the difficult process of transitioning in 2017, I began to see parallels between my experiences and Shadow of the Colossus. I don’t think Fumito Ueda ever thought it might be read through a transgender lens, but it resonates with me in that context all the same.
Transitioning, on some level, consists of breaking your old self down to the foundations. If you transition outside of youth, often you have an entire identity that has consisted of coping mechanisms that allow you to function in society. The things you enjoy, your reactions to social challenges, the way you process emotions, all of these things come into question. In order to discover the person inside who can stand tall and be comfortable in their skin, the difficult journey of transition involves starting over from scratch. Often, disposing of those mental gymnastics routines proves to be an incredibly painful process, like saying goodbye to old friends. You don’t begrudge them, but they have no place in the person you aim to become unless they are genuine – and you can only know if they are genuine once they are gone.

All of this, for me, was accompanied by physical changes. From April of 2018 onward, I began taking hormones. The changes have been amazing and I am happier than I have ever been, but the process is incredibly difficult. It can, at times, feel like you’re on this long journey full of moments where you have to struggle and give up bits of yourself both mentally and physically.
However, every step on that journey is easier than living with the growing sense of helplessness, desperation, and despondency of being a closeted trans woman in denial. That internalized sense of being a monster prevented me from talking about the things I was experiencing and the thoughts I was having. Instead, I tried to rationalize away my feelings and ignore the mounting depression and anxiety. I was still able to function, though there were days where doing anything more than rolling out of bed seemed impossible. But there were signs I was breaking down, signs I desperately wanted to disregard. Closeting myself caused my stress and anxiety to leak out at unimportant things – I remember punching a wall so hard that I put a small hole in it. That scared me, but I didn’t know what else I could do – actually taking hormones and having a body that didn’t feel like a fleshy prison seemed impossible.
Then in early 2018 I learned that my friend Manan had taken his own life. We had seen one another a few months earlier when he had driven across the country to visit me, though we never got to run around the parking lot having a nerf gun battle like we had planned. The toy I was going to use still sits under my bed, unopened. Without going into too much detail, I learned about a handful of events leading up to his death and noticed a parallel. He, too, had refused to talk about what he was going through. It trapped him in a place where there was no escape. Manan wasn’t trans, but his passing made me realize that I was trapping myself. If I did nothing, I would one day take my life, too. In that way, Manan saved my life.  

I give you all of this extremely personal context so that you can understand how I can read Shadow of the Colossus in the way I do. I want to be very clear: I can’t speak for all trans folk out there. This interpretation is my own and other trans people out there almost assuredly have their own analysis of the text.
In Shadow of the Colossus, Wander comes to the forbidden land in order to bring a woman, Mono, to life. For all of the strides that trans people have made over the years in the United States, we rarely have the support of our families – I know I don’t. In that sense, much like Wander, we enter a forbidden land when we transition and subvert the old understanding of the gender binary. Whether or not someone tells us explicitly, our society does an effective job policing what is and is not appropriate behavior for men and women and doesn’t even know where to start with fluid or non-binary folk. We become, in a sense, trespassers. Wander agrees to go on a mission that he understands will consume him, but he considers it worthwhile because the woman he has brought with him, the person seemingly beyond his reach, might be given life.
So, Wander sets about the impossible task of destroying the colossi. Each huge beast possesses a different personality and set of limited behaviors. From the nicest to the most ferocious, they each possess a part of Dormin’s power, and Wander must slay them. To me, this reads as the incremental self-destruction that accompanies transition. The examination of the self and the death of those pieces which have no place in the life of a person living authentically, who doesn’t need to hide that they’re trespassing in the forbidden land by being trans. Each fight feels exhilarating, like the liberation of being one step closer to the person you were always meant to be, but each death is nonetheless punctuated by that bittersweet sense of loss as the colossus falls and the vulnerability of Dormin’s power piercing Wander’s exhausted body.
With each slain colossi, Wander’s body changes. It becomes more powerful, but less comprehensible. This can be read as the alienation that many trans people can feel prior to or while in the middle of transitioning. For me, there are moments where being able to present more femininely can translate into extreme dysphoria when people don’t read me correctly as a woman. It’s the awareness of who I am and the effort I have put in and continue to put in to try to push my body into a place where I am happy with it and am recognized as a woman. Failing to hit that standard when all of that effort has gone into the attempt hurts.

Buckle in, buckos, we have reached the matter of that curious ending.
Wander returns to the central shrine one last time, only to encounter Lord Emon and his soldiers who strongly oppose the completion of Wander’s quest. I read this as the outside influences and individuals that try to keep trans people closeted. At this point, I see Wander as the trans person who has realized that they are, in fact, trans, but fears the final steps of transition. That could be coming out to others, a huge hurdle for many trans folk, or a more existential fear about how taking hormones will forever alter the course of their life. The situation escalates and Lord Emon’s soldiers attempt to kill Wander, plunging a sword through his crossbow bolt-riddled body. This oppression, however, does not stop Wander. Instead, Dormin merges with the young warrior and we come to the final crisis point. I can’t help but see the moment where Wander becomes lost in darkness as the point I came to when I realized that I could either die alone or take the final steps to transition. There wasn’t wiggle room for me to exist in a comfortable middle ground. I was going to lose things and people that were important to me, and that was scary but not as chilling as death.
Lord Emon and his retinue flee, leaving a sealing spell behind them as they exit the central shrine. The spell sucks Dormin and Wander into a pool of shimmering water and everything seems to calm down as the bridge outside collapses. This reads as a crossing of the Rubicon for trans people. Wander is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Transition has broken the old coping mechanisms down to the foundations. There is no going back.
And then Mono opens her eyes.

Wander’s entire journey reads as a metaphor for transition. Trans people often find themselves making so many sacrifices to survive, for the simple privilege of being comfortable in our skins. And with his death, Wander gives life to the woman who has been with him the entire time, but always unreachable. Agro, Wander’s former companion steed who fell by the wayside, returns to Mono and together they discover the horned baby. The baby always seemed odd and out of place in my previous readings of Shadow of the Colossus, but now I see it as a sign or rebirth and continuity. Wander is gone, but he continues on through Mono.
After this, Mono, Agro, and the baby make their way to the top of the shrine and find themselves face to face with a fawn. We are meant to understand that fawn as a sign that things are going to be okay. If something as pure and good as that fawn can exist in the forbidden land, Mono will be able to thrive in a similar state.
Everything will be okay, there is a light at the end of this long, dark, and lonely tunnel where that unreachable woman, man, or enby will open their eyes and live.
James Mielke was talking with Sony product manager Mark Valledor back in a 2005 piece for the now defunct 1UP website in the lead-up to Shadow of the Colossus’ release. The two were discussing the remarkable ad campaign for the game, the one that stuck in the heads of those who were around to witness it over a decade ago. “It's a kind of return to innocence isn't it?” Mielke observed. “You've got all these games out there that are about super-realism, how much ammo you can spend getting through a level, or just really nihilistic stuff. Shadow brings it back to somewhere completely different. To be able to experience something like this is really special.”
People keep coming back to Shadow of the Colossus. Year after year, remaster and remake, people can’t get enough of the world Team Ico crafted and the tale they forged. The flexibility of that story, the numerous meanings Shadow of the Colossus takes on, is the secret. It is what allows the film Reign Over Me to use the game as a parallel for a character’s grief and Sony’s marketing department to bill it as one of the greatest romance games of all-time.

There aren’t many games that tell explicitly trans stories. The indie scene has seen a rise in them over the last few years with titles like A Normal Lost Phone and We Know the Devil, but outside of that space trans people remain largely absent from mainstream gaming. It’s no surprise, then, that when I transitioned I began looking more closely at games to find something in which I could see a fragment of myself. The mythic nature of Shadow of the Colossus invited a close reading. The story was like the abstract art that fascinated Ueda in his university days. It unfolded itself to accommodate me in a way no other game really could. Its implications of depth and meaning always felt like the massive creatures, the ongoing struggles, and even Mono herself had more to account for than mainstream interpretations provided.
Shadow of the Colossus is about the struggle of trans people. For me, this works.
If you haven’t yet, we encourage you to sign up to participate in Extra Life this year. If you are looking for a team to join or just want to make a contribution, be sure to check out Team Allison. Allison’s team will be dedicating June 22-23 (HEY THAT'S RIGHT NOW!) to play games and bring in donations from supporters and friends. Maybe even a friend like you?

Jack Gardner
E3 always pushes the boundaries of gaming. New technology hits the show floor alongside the games every year, and this year Extra Life brought an innovation of its own to get everyone talking about helping the kids. In a first for both E3 and Extra Life's booth, the show featured a massive Human Claw Machine capable of lifting participants up and lowering them in to a huge pit filled with prizes donated by our amazing partnerships. As eager gamers stood in line for a chance to win unique prizes, the booth was staffed by volunteers to tell them all about the story of Extra Life and the good it does in the world. A Human Claw Machine-sized thank you to GameStop Gives, without whom it would have been impossible to leave such a lasting impression on the nearly 70,000 attendees at E3.
Over three days, thousands of people lined up for hours for their chance to be lowered into a huge pit of prizes and walk home with a special memento. People won everything from gaming chairs to full on consoles. While all the prizes were awesome, there was one ultimate prize that everyone wanted – A custom Xbox One wrapped in a Philadelphia 76er’s skin, paired with a 76er’s jersey, packed in a pelican case signed by FaZe Clan and Trey Smith.

Staci from the Extra Life team announced to the large crowd, many who had waited up to two hours for their turn on the claw, that she held the special prize box in her hands. She then dramatically tossed it into the pit filled with hundreds of other identical boxes. The crowd went wild, each speculating on where they thought it landed. You could practically feel the excitement in the crowd. Trey Smith personally came by the Human Claw Machine to see if the Xbox winner would emerge.
A few people harnessed into the machine for their turn, eager to try to find the Xbox special prize box, but they were unable to do so. Then, it was Ron Lyons’ turn. Ron had made the journey out to E3 from Detroit and seemed hopeful that he might be the one to pull the console from the pit. The crowd cheered him on as he was helped from his wheelchair into the harness. As the machine lowered him down, he began reaching for various boxes. People started yelling out suggestions, “no, no, go left!" Yes! That’s the one!” The Human Claw Machine pulled Ron up, his mystery box firmly in hand. Many thought he might have found the right box, but no one knew for sure until the moment of truth.
After he was safely disentangled from the harness and back in his wheelchair, Ron opened the box. Inside he found the special Xbox certificate! Everyone exploded in cheers, and Trey eagerly ran to great Ron. Both men beamed with pride. Thanks to the Human Claw Machine, not only did Ron win a once-in-a-lifetime prize, but this story has left a lasting impression on people across the internet. Because of Ron and everyone who came out to Extra Life's booth, countless more people have now learned the story of Extra Life’s life-saving work. 
If you haven’t yet, we encourage you to sign up to participate in Extra Life this year. If you are looking for a team to join or just want to make a contribution, be sure to check out Team Allison. Allison’s team will be dedicating June 22-23 to play games and bring in donations from supporters and friends. Maybe even a friend like you?

**Note, this feature is only activated in the USA
You asked to fundraise for Extra Life on Facebook?! We’ve heard you! You can now seamlessly integrate your existing Extra Life campaign into your Facebook feed.
For anyone who regularly visits Facebook, they’ve likely seen Facebook Fundraisers in action. In fact, from 2015-2018, over $1 Billion has been raised for charitable causes through Facebook. This a powerful tool and we’re thrilled to empower you to utilize it for your Extra Life campaigns.
Follow these steps to sync your Extra Life page to your Facebook page:
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Once the integration is complete, you’ll receive a confirmation email from Facebook, you can solicit donations through Facebook’s donate button and repost at any time about your Facebook campaign through the Facebook Fundraisers page.
Happy fundraising!

Marcus Stewart
Final Fantasy VII Remake has been a long time coming–and that’s only talking about the four years since it was officially announced. Like Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III before it, the game has acquired a near mythical status where it needs to be played to be believed. Thankfully, Square Enix gave fans the chance to do just that with a playable demo at its E3 booth. After getting my hands on it, I'm more eager than ever to take down Shinra one more time.
The demo offers a slice of the game’s opening mission shown during Square's E3 briefing. Cloud and Barrett fight their way through the bowels of Shinra’s headquarters at the behest of eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE. First and foremost, I’m floored by how stunning everything looks. Cloud and Barrett have never looked better, and their in-game models trump their Advent Children renditions. Fluid animations, gorgeous effects, plus neat little touches, such as the myriad of scratches on Cloud’s Buster Sword, make Final Fantasy VII Remake a serious piece of eye-candy. 
Combat blends fast-paced action with traditional turn-based mechanics. Basic melee attacks are performed by mashing the square button. Despite looking and feeling good, these attacks don't do a ton of damage. Instead of chipping away at an enemy’s health, the melee’s primary focus is to whittle away at foes until they become staggered, which leaves them vulnerable for more powerful attacks. Such big-time moves include spells and, of course, Limit Breaks.

Hitting X pauses combat to allow players to select commands in classic JRPG style. Executing these actions costs a portion of the classic Active Time Battle gauge. This meter continually refills itself, so having a solid battle strategy involves properly managing ATB usage and cooldown times between party members. 
Wailing away on the attack button, then stopping to manually select a Fire spell feels a bit disjointed at first. In a way it can feel like patting my head and rubbing my belly at the same time. I eventually got used to it, though, and the ATB/command select gives the game a more classic feel than I expected which is good. Even better is that players can also hotkey commands to the shoulder buttons. This makes executing favorite moves, such as Cloud's Braver attack, a simple button press away. 
Hitting up and down on the d-pad seamlessly switches between characters. Some heroes sport abilities better suited for certain threats. Cloud's magic may reach some airborne enemies, but Barrett's gun arm is a far more reliable solution to that problem. While in control of one character, the rest of the party handles their business in the background, so there’s no need to micromanage everyone. It’s also cool to watch partners tear foes to shreds off in the distance. However, you can still pause the fight to issue specific commands to your teammates.

I fight my way pass a few waves of goons until I arrive at the Scorpion Sentinel boss battle. This multi-legged machine is no joke, dishing out rocket barrages and a wide-reaching EMP blast. Again, the impressive fire and particle effects sell the chaotic and desperate vibe of the fight. The Scorpion’s relentless assault beats me into skillfully using the dodge and block maneuvers as I get my butt handed to me early on. Basic attacks do minimal damage against the hardy machine. Thankfully, enemies often sport weaknesses that can be exploited, and the Scorpion is vulnerable to electrical attacks.
I switch to Barrett and dump as much lightning as the ATB gauge will allow, doing tons of damage. Once I finally stagger the machine, I unload with Cloud’s most powerful sword attacks. After a back and forth struggle the Scorpion Sentinel is, quite literally, on its last legs. All that’s left is to individually target its limbs to further disable it. I throw everything I have at these appendages until they shatter, grounding the machine for good. A final Limit Break reduces the Scorpion to a fiery heap and the demo concludes.
I had a great time with this first look, and I’m more excited than ever to experience Cloud’s revamped adventure. So far the marriage of JRPG and action mechanics seems well-suited; I’m curious to see how it evolves with a full party of characters. Most importantly, the overall atmosphere and vibe of Final Fantasy VII felt intact even with the massive overhaul. I just hope the rest of the game can maintain that momentum. 
We won’t have to wait nearly as long to find out as initially expected. Final Fantasy VII Remake releases on March 3 for PlayStation 4.
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games

Jack Gardner
As E3 2019 draws to a close, Jack Gardner, Naomi Lugo, Zak Wojnar, and Marcus Stewart gather to talk about the best games they've seen during the final day of the show. They are also joined by freelance writer, social media wiz, and game dev-in-training Kevin Slackie to break down the overall feeling of the show this year. Cool games, conflicting opinions, and more await in the last podcast from this year's E3.

You can listen to all of the daily recaps in the handy playlist embedded below! 

Music from
"Spellbound" by Kevin MacLeod (
Licence: CC BY (
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available, as well!
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

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