This week finds us smack dab in the middle of Halloween month, which means it’s time to start playing games with a little bite to them. Though nothing here is particularly horror-themed, there are plenty of unsettling themes interwoven in each title.
We find ourselves in the midst of scheming and betraying in our own royal court, thrown in the center of a mystery in the woods as we try to keep our B&B open, escape from an occupied motherland while searching for our comrades, wine and dine romantic interests by day and fight with their weapon forms while traversing dungeons made of dark feelings at night, and take on bartending while surviving in a cyberpunk hellscape.
There are tons of different games and genres to choose from this week, something here for any PC gamer to try out for the weekend. And no matter which one you choose, these picks will challenge your views and make you see that the world and the people living in it are never what they seem.
Crusader Kings III
With the launch of the recent Friends & Foes DLC, it’s a great time as any to revisit the always excellent Crusader Kings III. The third installment in this real-time strategy series takes the hallmarks of the previous title and completely revamps and upgrades them to create an even more complex and in-depth experience.
Unlike most games in the genre, Crusader Kings III doesn’t focus primarily on the country and global impact of your actions–rather those are possible consequences of what decisions you make. Instead, the main focus is on the daily life and tribulations of being a noble and running whatever territory you claim ownership to. While the long-term goal is to ensure you have an heir and keep the family tree growing, you have to manage the royal court, expand your reach through marriage or war, and handle any personal issues that may crop up through the process known as Schemes.
Crusader Kings III is a complex and often complicated game with tons of dense real-life historical world-building. Within the three time periods you’re allowed to start in, there are near endless kingdoms, nation-states, and more you can rule over. And with the introduction of character creation, you can insert your own custom ruler into the mix. There’s never a dull moment with so many unique options and paths you can take, including killing and eating the Pope. Yes, the memes are actually true.
Bear and Breakfast
Ever wanted to play as a teenage grizzly bear who, along with his friends, opens up a cozy bed and breakfast in the woods? Well, Bear and Breakfast will scratch that itch you never knew you had, with its laid-back management adventure gameplay. Your job is to manage your little hotel in the forest and keep customers happy as you expand and upgrade your business.
Of course, there’s a deeper mystery happening that you’ll slowly uncover as you advance the story. The pacing is a bit slow in the middle but it’s an intriguing plot that delivers once it gets going. And the artstyle and animations are adorable, which automatically elevates the experience of the game in my opinion.
The meat and potatoes of this game is the management aspect, which is sure to be a blast for those who enjoy the genre. The mechanics are simple to grasp and it’s fun to cater to your customers while customizing your B&B, and the dev team is taking in player feedback on how to improve the UI and mechanics.
Fans of Final Fantasy Tactics series will immediately recognize much of the inspirations Vanaris Tactics takes from it, especially in combat, story, and artstyle. It’s much shorter and simpler than that franchise but still embodies its spirit.
Like the Tactics series, this game is entrenched in politics as it tells the story of refugees fleeing their homeland after its occupation. The main goal is to track down your fellow countrymen and escape the country as well as your oppressors. You’ll find yourself engrossed in these characters’ stories and wishing for their freedom as hard as they are.
Combat is similar to many tactical JRPGs in the genre’s golden age, which has you take advantage of positioning, environments, weapon range, and more in order to fight off your opponents while avoiding their counterattacks. The excellent pixel animation really sells the combat, as well as the cutscenes, and the music is composed and arranged well.
Because this game is so short, the pacing doesn’t drag on and it feels more like a short burst of what you like best in a tactical JRPG. It’s an impressive title that was developed by a single person, and definitely worth checking out, especially for the low price.
One-part dating sim and two parts action RPG, as you take on an ever-sprawling dungeon with your love (or loves) by your side. The twist? Your partner can turn into the weapon you use to take down enemies. It’s an interesting take on the classic dating sim genre and one that delivers on all fronts.
The dating part features a wide variety of characters with quite a bit of variance in personality. It’s refreshing to play a dating sim that delves into and fleshes out your potential suitors in a way that makes them feel like actual people and not just a collection of cliches. I found myself loving every person and opting for the poly ending, as I couldn’t choose between any of them.
Combat is fun as well, with each weapon not only having a unique playstyle and move list but also their own skill tree that caters to a specific playstyle of that weapon. It’s an absolute blast exploring each weapon and seeing which one works best for you. The dungeons are fun as well and boss fights are challenging but never cheap. And with the new DLC out now, there are even more hotties to charm and battle with.
VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Imagine a hellish cyberpunk future, with a rebel group fighting for their lives and freedom against a powerful and corrupt corporate government. Well, you’re not involved in all of that. Instead you play as a plucky bartender doing her best to survive the daily grind of a cyberpunk world gone mad, as you chat up and make drinks for your customers.
Gameplay revolves around finding out what kind of drink your customer wants and then delivering on it. You also have the opportunity to chat with them and help them make decisions that alter the course of their own lives. Of course, you have your own issues, like making rent each month and choosing what treats to get yourself.
What makes this game so addictive is how real and down-to-earth it feels. The game never sugarcoats anything, offering a frank look at many adult and sensitive topics, including sex work, death, loss, and just how living in a dystopian world can really affect your own psyche. But it never becomes edgy or fetishizing either, treating every character and subject with the respect it deserves and even punching in some black humor whenever it can.
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Named by the CTA as a CES 2023 Media Trailblazer, Allisa is a Computing Staff Writer who covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, as well as reviews, hands-on previews, featured articles, and the latest deals and trends. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.