By Matt Gerardi
Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s weekly look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. This week, our writers pick apart the subversion of Final Fantasy VII Remake, review a game full of some much-needed quiet, highlight a very cool DIY console build, and fill us in on how the pandemic might be affecting this fall’s big console launches. Plus, some big time Circle news and more!
Upon release, Final Fantasy VII Remake inspired rave reviews and fonts of nostalgia. And now, a few weeks removed from launch, critics are getting a chance to start digging into its big surprises. It turns out, that word “remake” in its title is delivered with a little bit of a wink and a nod— cheekily signifying one thing while covering up for the fact that the game’s creators have something a bit more ambitious in mind. Joshua Rivera highlighted this tension and the way the game explores it in an essay for Vulture, likening FF7R’s desire to toy with audience expectations to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. “Final Fantasy VII Remake is not a modern production of Final Fantasy VII,” he wrote, “but a struggle against Final Fantasy VII, a work that turns the subtext of taking creative liberties with a remake into text. Twenty-plus years of people wanting more of their favorite game, but did they want it like this?”
At The Washington Post, Christopher Byrd reviewed the polar opposite of a bombastic, mega-blockbuster like Final Fantasy VII Remake when he took on the contemplative exploration of In Other Waters. It casts players as an artificial intelligence guiding the travels of a scientist who’s been called to research life on an ocean-covered planet. It’s a cleverly minimalist take on videogame exploration, rendering your view of this alien world and its life in little more than text and simple maps and meters. “Speaking as someone who is not exactly at home in cartography,” Christopher wrote, “I found it fascinating how, over time, I invested more and more meaning in those on-screen dots and squiggles that represent the phenomena Vas encounters.”
One of the big questions the industry has faced over the last month is whether the pandemic will have an effect on the big holiday releases of Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles. Xbox boss Phil Spencer appeared on CNBC this week to talk about what we might expect on that front. Annie Pei covered the spot, noting Spencer’s estimation that, despite everything, the lead-up to the Xbox Series X’s launch is progressing as expected. What is more likely to be affected, he said, is game production, which, in the major publisher world, often relies on hundreds of developers coming together to work on highly confidential materials and prohibitively expensive equipment. It’s not exactly the easiest job to transition to working from home.
If you’d rather assemble your own console than wait for some fancy new Xbox to maybe reach shelves this fall, Michelle Ehrhardt covered a super-cool DIY conversion kit for taking apart an old Nintendo Wii and packing it into a custom-built Game Boy-style handheld. Be warned, though: It’s not the simplest of DIY gaming projects. “The G-Boy does still require manual skills like soldering, but with its selection of custom parts as well as build guides, BitBuilt is hoping it can fill the entry level niche by offering the community’s first complete unified modding standard,” Michelle says.
Finally, we have some major Circle news to share this week. In order to help raise money for our outreach and mentoring efforts—particularly, in this moment, for students living in homeless shelters—Circle board member (and, yes, former Nintendo of America President) Reggie Fils-Aimé will be sitting in with Circle founder Harold to record a seven-part podcast. We hope this campaign will help raise awareness about the even more fraught than usual situation these New York students find themselves in and drive kindhearted folks to donate. We’re accepting donations online on a charity GoFundMe page, which you can find right here.
From Beyond The Circle
In other fundraising news, the developers at Jackbox Games have announced they’ll be putting on a series of charity-driven livestreams, where famous guests appear, play some Jackbox games, and help highlight an organization helping with COVID-19 relief. Plus, according the studio, it will be donating $100,000 to each episode’s featured charity. The first of 10 episodes airs tonight on the studio’s Twitch channel.
This week in wild Animal Crossing news, a few enterprising museum’s, which are of course not currently operating, are trying out a fun new way of displaying their pieces for the world: making them available as lo-fi custom Animal Crossing designs. A few weeks ago, the Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art started using online tools to generate easily shareable Animal Crossing QR codes to give players access to in-game designs based on its collection. Now, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is doing the same, letting anyone quickly convert the pieces in its sizable open-access collection into Animal Crossing masterpieces.
It’s been a rocky road, to say the least, for Fallout 76, but a recent free update that turned into something actually resembling a Fallout game and huge amounts of stuck-at-home people with all sorts of free time on their hands has led to an influx of new players into Bethesda’s online apocalypse. This injection of fresh players and the looming shadow of current events have led to some interesting player behaviors, which VG24/7’s Griff Griffin recently recounted in a neat feature. Altruistic players, role-playing in the spirit of real-world healthcare workers and first responders, are coming together to defend helpless newbies who’ve been suddenly targeted by bloodthirsty high-level veterans. Others are building COVID-19 field hospitals and research facilities, full of medicine and safe beds. Others, less charitably, have reenacted the real-world panic-buying of toilet paper, looting all the rolls they can find and trollishly displaying them or selling them at outlandish prices.
That’ll do it for this week’s Roundup. Thank you for reading. Stay safe. Stay healthy. We’ll see you next week.
Matt Gerardi is a writer from New York, the former games editor at The A.V. Club, and a member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.