My To-Play List: April-May 2023 Progress!

A few weeks ago, I wrote one of my “To-Play List” articles, specifically talking about which games I was hoping to play and complete before The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom launched. This post is the natural follow-up to that, talking about my progress with some added thoughts on what I’ve played.

Of course, Tears of the Kingdom is now out, but I don’t get my copy until Monday (I’m writing this on the Sunday). It was satisfying to make progress on my To-Play list in advance of its release, as it’s highly likely I won’t be playing anything else for the foreseeable future… !

Right then, let’s get into what I’ve been playing!

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

In the previous article, I talked a little about why I’d taken so long to get through Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. The Musou 1v100 combat is enjoyable but repetitive, and whilst I’ve loved getting new glimpses at beloved characters from Breath of the Wild, I’ve had to play bit-by-bit to stop myself getting fatigued with the gameplay.

Since then, I’ve finished the main story of Age of Calamity. The epic scope of the final battles against Calamity Ganon and his supporters suit the over-the-top combat to a tee, and I found myself having an unashamedly good time. Near the end of the game, Princess Zelda leads an army of all the characters and races you’ve amassed to that point, sending them into battle Avengers: Endgame-style, and it put a huge grin on my face. None of this breaks emotionally new ground for the Zelda series, but in terms of visual scale and scope, it’s undeniably epic. I also enjoyed the increased focus on Zelda, who is instrumental to landing the final blow.

The Warriors games always give great value for money in terms of the sheer content they offer, and Age of Calamity is no different. Even after finishing the main story, there are plenty of side quests and collectibles to go after, and the game isn’t shy at throwing rewards and XP at you. In addition, after the final story mission, “Blood Moon” versions of previously-completed battles become available. These are extra-difficult versions of the battles, which suggest you go in at a far higher character level. Age of Calamity has recently become my go-to game when I am commuting to work on the train, as it’s easy to pick up and play for a quick mission or two!

As well as all this, Age of Calamity has two DLC expansions which I’ve downloaded and been playing. The first, Pulse of the Ancients, allows you to play as a Guardian, and offers two new weapon types – including letting Zelda use the Master Cycle, which we first saw in the Breath of the Wild DLC! This expansion also contains a huge amount of extra quests and challenges, and a new “Apocalyptic” difficulty level. I know, that sounds welcoming, right?

The second DLC is the story-focused one, delving into the memories of Terrako, the Guardian who helps Zelda, Link, and the others in the main Age of Calamity story. These memories fill in missing gaps from the story and give us some fantastic cutscenes to show the bonds between characters, and this was my favourite part of the Expansion Pass. Furthermore, there are two extra playable characters: the clumsy Sooga from the Yiga clan, and the inventive duo of Purah & Robbie (Purah’s camera-ready poses are charming). There’s also even more challenges, quests, music tracks, enemy types, weapons, and stages. One thing you can’t say about Age of Calamity is that it lacks available content!

Overall, I’ve started enjoying Age of Calamity the most now that I’ve finished the main story. The postgame is ideal for wrapping up in bed, switching your mind off, and enjoying rattling through quests and battles. It provides a reliable endorphin rush, and responds to however hard you want the fights to be. The fact it’s all wrapped up in the Breath of the Wild world and aesthetic is a bonus. I’ve definitely enjoyed my time with Age of Calamity, and I appreciate just how much content it packs in. However, now that Tears of the Kingdom is out, I might not come back to this game for a while!

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly

It feels as though Toge Productions read my review of the first Coffee Talk, because my only criticism was that I wanted it to be longer. The second game is mostly more of the same, and I mean that in a very positive way! It’s just like going back to your favourite bar or café; there are new faces and ingredients, but on the whole, everything is comfortingly familiar. Whilst a similar length to the first game, there being two games makes the Coffee Talk series feel more satisfying overall.

In Episode 2, you’re still the owner and barista of Coffee Talk, the local coffee shop that makes up for its small size with loyal customers and good conversation. Subtitled Hibiscus & Butterfly, the story picks up a little while after the first game, with Freya (the green-haired poster character of the first game) away on a trip. In her absence, plenty of fresh faces join returning characters from the first game. For example, there’s the blue-haired banshee Riona, whose reserved exterior hides the capability for loud outbursts. There’s also expanded roles for the likes of policeman Jorji, who has more time here than in the first game.

The Coffee Talk games are effectively visual novels, but they stand out thanks to their easy-to-understand and surprisingly deep drink-making gameplay. As conversations play out in front of you, you need to keep a careful eye on what all the characters say, because it might be the clue to which ingredients they’d like for their next drink. If you make drinks correctly (or incorrectly), it’ll change certain events in the story and alter the ending you get.

As far as new ingredients go, the the blue pea and hibiscus are the most visually obvious (and lend themselves to the subtitle of the sequel). These blue and red ingredients make for some gorgeous sprite art of the drinks, especially when mixed with the optional latté art. Another addition is that through the story you come into the possession of certain items, which you can then serve to customers alongside their drinks to unlock new dialogue. It’s a subtle addition, but these sorts of changes make the game feel more definitively like a sequel.

Other details from the first game are still present, and as pleasant as ever. You can browse the social media of your customers and listen to the superbly soothing soundtrack via your in-game phone, and it’s worth putting in the time, as you can unlock loads of stunning bonus artwork. This roster of characters has become quite dear to me over the span of the two games, and I’d happily play plenty more episodes of Coffee Talk for as long as Toge Productions is willing to make them! Coffee Talk Episode 2 doesn’t reinvent the franchise, but it didn’t need to. It doubles down on what worked, and that has produced yet another delightful story that’s ideal for relaxed handheld gaming on the Switch.

Resident Evil 4 Remake

Of the games I planned to play before Tears of the Kingdom, starting and finishing the Resident Evil 4 remake was the most substantial time investment, and so it proved! I spent roughly 20 hours making my way through this stunning reimagining of the seminal third-person horror/adventure game (which originally debuted way back on the GameCube)! I first played the original Resident Evil 4 on PS4 during my big Resident Evil catch-up in 2020, so it hasn’t actually been that long between versions for me personally.

The remakes of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 changed a great deal about their source material in the transition to an over-the-shoulder third-person game, but wisely, Resident Evil 4 is more of a close adaptation. After all, when you’re remaking one of the most varied and well-paced third-person games ever created (one that’s inspired so many other games since), it’d be wrong to change it too much. For anyone who’s played the original, you’ll get a constant uncanny sense of familiarity with the environments here, as they’re structurally very similar. However, the new RE Engine puts a pristine new coat of paint over them, and the extra environmental design details really stand out. There’s so much grimy junk everywhere, I love it!

For those unfamiliar, Resident Evil 4 takes Leon S. Kennedy (who first appeared in RE2) to the depths of Spain in his search to rescue Ashley Graham, the daughter of the President. He soon comes across local townspeople infected with Las Plagas, a parasite that turns people into controlled violent forms – technically, not zombies! This all gives the game more of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe, where you’re fighting deranged townspeople wielding scythes and chainsaws. It’s truly terrifying stuff, and revisiting that intense opening village scene remained imposing in the remake. The game suggested I played on Hardcore mode if I’d played the original RE4, which certainly made certain sequences challenging! That whirr of the chainsaw remains haunting to this day…

Basically, everything that made RE4 so incredible is still here, but it’s streamlined, looks better, and has had the poorly-aged aspects changed. Specifically, Ashley’s character is much better portrayed, with less of the voyeurism in the original game, and a noticeable effort to give her more agency in the overall story. Leon is very much still the hero, but these little tweaks go a long way to making the character dynamics feel more realistic. Whilst we’re talking additions, the introduction of a Photo Mode here is a big thumbs-up from me! I had a great time taking some atmospheric photos, and will be sharing those in a Gaming Photo Album down the line.

The remakes have established a smooth and satisfying gameplay style, and it fits right at home in RE4. Movement and gunplay feels well-weighted and accurate, and all the extra melee tricks naturally fit in. Leon’s still got a backflip or a kick ready to go! Of course, the iconic Merchant is back, and keeping close track of your items and storage space is essentially a mini-game of itself. Maybe it was just experience, but it did feel easier to not overfill my storage in RE4 – but that may well be because I was using up bullets and healing items faster on Hardcore mode!

Additionally, I found that the story worked better in the remake, and benefitted from the new consistent tone laid down by the RE2 and RE3 remakes. Ada Wong’s role fits into the over-arching story much better, and the teases of Albert Wesker dotted throughout tie RE4 more into the overall series arc. We get several nods here to what comes in Resident Evil 5, and it feels as though Capcom wouldn’t do that unless they’re planning to do an RE5 remake. Now that would be exciting! RE5 has so much going for it narratively, bringing back Jill, Chris, and Wesker for a climactic confrontation. Yet, the game leaned too hard into the over-the-top action, and the focus on two-player gameplay took away much of the atmosphere and terror. Capcom might have engineered themselves another shot at getting it right, and if they apply the cinematic feel of these remakes? Wow, an RE5 remake could be something special. Also, yes, I want more Jill content, OK?

Back to Resident Evil 4, though; most of all, the remake emphasized to me just how remarkable the original game was (and is). It’s so impressive how the game seamlessly moves from the grungy woodland villages into the grandiose, daunting castle, and then into the disturbing laboratories and mining facilities later on. The balance of horror and action is so well-struck, with huge set-pieces but also quiet, unsettling moments (the Regeradors always freak me out). In a cyclical fashion, RE4 inspired so many games, likely including The Last of Us – but now the RE4 remake is taking cinematic cues from those games! For example, there’re many similarities between the laboratory Regerador scene in RE4 and the Rat King sequence in The Last of Us Part II.

There’s so much that could be said about the RE4 remake, but I’ll leave it here for now. In the future, I plan to come back and give the arcade-style Mercenaries mode a shot, and perhaps write a full review of the game. But to summarise: if you like Resident Evil, or the horror/action genres in general, the Resident Evil 4 remake should be high on your to-play list. For me, it even surpasses the original – though the Resident Evil 3 remake remains my favourite in the series for now!

Lost Sphear

I put Lost Sphear into my To-Play List before Tears of the Kingdom as a bit of a bonus, hoping to finally go back to this good-not-great JRPG from developers Tokyo RPG Factory. I’m roughly 10-15 hours in, and after finishing Resident Evil 4, I did dip my toe back in briefly – but it just refuses to fully grab me for extended periods of time. Therefore, this is the only one on my To-Play list that I didn’t finish before Zelda‘s release.

The previous game from these developers was the brilliant I Am Setsuna, which is a very underrated JRPG with a highly affecting story of personal sacrifice. Lost Sphear appears a bit generic in comparison, with your ragtag group of heroes going against a corrupt government. However, the real-time turn-based gameplay is well-crafted, with multiple ways to customise your attacks, and you can read more about all of this in my 10 Hours With… article here.

Frankly, it’s the narrative weakness that keeps blocking my enthusiasm here. Every time I take a break from Lost Sphear, I forget about the details of the story; thankfully, the game keeps a detailed log of the main beats within the “Moon Memory” menu, which I use to bring myself up to speed. Frankly, I need to devote a bigger block of time to this game one day – despite years of delaying, I still would like to finish it, as I loved I Am Setsuna so much. I believe Lost Sphear could have some powerful moments late-on if I fully immerse myself, and I’d like to complete the game before playing Tokyo RPG Factory’s subsequent game, Oninaki (which sits waiting on my shelf)! For now though, Lost Sphear will have to wait a little longer.

Horizon Forbidden West

Have some more Photo Mode screenshots, on the house! Yes, Horizon Forbidden West is the game I refuse to stop playing. Even 60+ hours in, there’re still plenty of errands and challenges left to explore, and the Photo Mode continues to be endless fun. At this rate, I’m definitely going to be doing another Gaming Photo Album for it!

Playing Forbidden West after a break did give me new perspective on a few aspects. After Resident Evil 4, it’s become increasingly apparent to me just how much Aloy talks to herself in Forbidden West relative to Leon in RE4. In future, it might be a good idea for Guerrilla Games to offer an option to turn down how often Aloy makes comments. It’s a small issue in the grand scheme of things, but one of the potential areas where Guerrilla could make a change.

In addition, it’s remarkable how quickly the Horizon gameplay came back to me after playing RE4 and Hyrule Warriors – which despite also being third-person, are very different in many ways. To me, this speaks to how intuitive the real-time combat is in Forbidden West, and how effective the UI design is for the weapon wheel and quest map. Compare it to Lost Sphear, which I just talked about above; that game left me initially confused after some time away, whilst in Forbidden West, it’s like riding a bike. It just came back to me immediately.

The elephant in the room is that I haven’t played The Burning Shores, the recently-released DLC set in the future version of Los Angeles, which is sadly only available on PS5 right now. I’ve considered buying a PS5, but I’m also attempting to be an adult and save money, so it’s hard to justify spending over £500 in order to play DLC. So for now, I’ll just stare longingly at all the clips and screenshots people are posting online…

Here we are, at the end of another article. I hope you enjoyed this progress report on my To-Play List, and my thoughts on each of the games. I would do a section on what I’m playing next, but it’d only have Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on it, so it’d be pretty short! I’m counting down the hours until my Collector’s Edition arrives…

As always, thanks for reading! Have an amazing day, and I’ll see you all in Hyrule shortly!

5 thoughts on “My To-Play List: April-May 2023 Progress!

  1. Those screen shots of Horizon Forbidden West are stunning, it’s such a gorgeous looking game. I’ve not played the DLC yet tho, will have to get around to that. I’m currently playing Jedi Survivor, it’s great, and the story / game world is huge, so expect that will keep me busy for a while. I did get Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom for Switch as well, only had time to play a bit yesterday, enjoying that as well. Think that will be my new chill out game! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! I’ve heard a lot of positive things about Jedi Survivor, but again I run into the barrier of not having a PS5… that cross-generation gap is starting to close now. Once there’s a few more exclusive games, I’ll probably be tempted into getting one.

      I hope you have a wonderful time in Hyrule! I cannot wait to start myself 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I promise that the Horizon DLC isn’t worth buying a PS5 for. That’s not to say I’ve played it, but there has never been a piece of DLC that could justify the purchase of a new console. Good fast, and continue to save for whatever it is that you’re saving for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, thank you – yes, my mind eventually saw sense and realised I should wait. Once there’re more reasons for me to get a PS5 (TLoU Part III perhaps?), I’ll think about it again – and when that happens, I’ll be excited to play The Burning Shores. Personally, I’m becoming more okay with holding off on games now (unless it’s Zelda, aha).

      Thanks for affirming the more reasonable side of my brain until then! And as always, thanks for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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