Archive for the ‘On Games’ Category

On Games: Yakuza!



While videogames are capable of great subtlety and originality, there is no question that the popular face of the industry looks extremely familiar: science fiction games tend to rely on Star Wars, Bladerunner, and Aliens; fantasy titles owe much to the elf-and-orc-heavy lore of Tolkien and even more to Dungeons & Dragons; and horror tends to channel Night of the Living Dead or 28 Days Later. While games with subtle themes are a worthy subject, I’m going to shelve that topic in favor of one more crazy action genre, albeit one not nearly as popular in the West: the Yakuza.

Specifically, I’m going to rush not long- but whirl-windedly through the Yakuza series created in 2005 by Ryu Ga Gotoko Studio, a Sega division whose catalog is currently represented in North America by seven key Yakuza titles and several spin-offs. Many of the entries in this series have never been translated or released outside Japan, although the truly dedicated Yakuza fans will have found ways to play them regardless.


On Games: Sekiro and A Plague Tale

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, FromSoftware, 2019

A Plague Tale: Innocence, Asobo Studio, 2019


I’m getting old, so I should probably go to bed at a reasonable hour, but I know I will be up late tonight (and tomorrow night, and the night after that, most likely) trying to kill an enormous poo-flinging ape that guards a cave in a beautiful mountain pool overshadowed by a hundred-foot-long reclining Bodhisattva. Eventually, I promise myself, I will kill the ape. But even then, I will not sleep. Other and worse things await me beyond this lovely pool. I may never get to bed on time again.

The source of my sleeplessness, this seemingly endless series of almost unbeatable beings, is the game Sekiro: Shadows Die TwiceSekiro’s designers, FromSoftware, have already robbed me of thousands of hours of sleep by way of their previous famously difficult games, Demons SoulsDark Souls (One through Three), and Bloodborne. The major difference between Sekiro and the earlier titles is that in this one I am (much to my dismay) alone. FromSoftware’s previous games all made grudging acknowledgment of their difficulty and allowed strangers to assist one another, anonymously, through online play. But Sekiro’s lead character is named Wolf…and he is a lone Wolf. A stealthy shinobi, an assassin caught up in a blur of shifting allegiances, divine heirs, baffling bloodlines…none of which even remotely matter.


On Games: Nioh

Nioh, Team Ninja, 2017

Nioh 2, Team Ninja, 2020


I am no Elizabethan scholar, nor trained in any form of combat, but I’ve always felt certain I could beat a seventy-year-old royal astrologer in a fight.

John Dee, Queen Elizabeth’s advisor, the original 007, mathematician and cartographer, author of many occult volumes and investigations, has somehow managed to get himself blown up twenty feet tall, all of it covered with eyeballs. He’s powerful. He’s fast. And I, supposedly a trained samurai (although Irish born and raised), am really no match for him.

Dee, instead of frittering away his remaining years in a library like any respectable philosopher, has instead filled the Tower of London with alchemical devices powered by a rare “spirit stone” found only in Japan. Dee’s assistant, the diabolical Edward Kelley, spent his last few years in Japan, subverting shoguns and samurai in order to…to do what exactly? Create a brisk trade in these stones, delivering them to England? Import the monsters out of Japanese folklore known as yokai?