Kupo Writes! Game Awards 2023 Day 1!!

Welcome, kupo~!! Here are the awards for Day 1 of the Kupo Writes! Game awards. Find out the moments that touched us throughout 2023!!

The Cool Runnings Award - Hi-Fi Rush by Tango Gameworks

Presented by Mog Knight

Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme! Get on up, it's Chai's time to shine! Wait... that's not how it goes...

Hi-Fi Rush was a game that just seemingly dropped out of nowhere, I believe it was announced in a Microsoft showcase near the beginning of the year and dropped on their Xbox Game Pass service pretty quickly. From the cell-shaded cartoony art style to the rhythm-based gameplay, it didn't take much convincing for me to go right into it.

Reading back at my fresh thoughts right after I beat it, I think what I said still hold true. It's such a refreshing game experience, a real solid piece - more than solid. You can really tell how much love is put into a game just by all the details: the world pulsing to Chai's beat, the way the gameplay integrates with the lore and writing seemlessly, how the story crafts a tight balance between serious and playfulness, and even how your feline friend 808 makes the actual 808 drum kit sound (down to the iconic cowbell).

Story-wise, it doesn't subvert or flip the genre on its head but rather takes everything they love about the genre plus more and crafts its own identity for itself. The idea of "found family", the idea of protagonist not being one to think things through but has a pure heart, the idea of taking down an entire corporation with many plot twists that may be predictable at times BUT just seeing it play out is such a treat - all just serves to make this a solid, unique, and memorable experience. Same thing gameplay-wise - doesn't do anything too new. But boy does it feel good to play and press buttons in the right order to a beat.

Overall, Hi-Fi Rush has the vibes of a good quality Saturday morning cartoon. A lot of physical comedy and silliness, but knows how and when to turn the dial where it needs to for maximum dramatic effect.

Why "Cool Runnings" though? I first watched the film about the Jamaican bobsledding team in senior year Geography class, and the idea of these four individuals showing up to the winter Olympics as the underdogs for a plethora of reasons really stuck with me. That, and my friend lied to me about the ending since we didn't get to finish it in class, claiming that they all die at the end. They didn't. Anyways, "Cool Runnings" came into my life unpredictably and it was the raddest thing to me ever. Much like Hi-Fi Rush. Bless ups to Microsoft for taking that chance on a cool original game like this. Now, do more.

Also shout-outs to Peppermint, my beloved. We need more badass cool chicks like her and Korsica.

The Best Fictional Career Path Award - Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator by Niceplay Games

Presented by Andy

If I ever had the opportunity to live the life of a person in the distant past, I think I would like to be an alchemist. Any opportunity I can get to muddle around in the period of time where early practical medicine and chemistry began. And for a time in late spring, I wanted to play a game that scratched that itch.

Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator was developed by niceplay Games and released in December 2022. Potion Craft's story is simple, straightforward, and needs very little explanation. You're an alchemist who is practicing their craft and has the eventual goal of creating the Philosopher's Stone, a goal that not only requires the ingredients but the expertise, capital, time, and patience to get that far.

There's not a lot under the hood of Potion Craft to call it a complex game. The game revolves around a pretty good loop. You have ingredients, a visualization of how ingredients influence effects, the ability to save progress as recipes and your intuition. As you grind up ingredients and add them to the cauldron they will influence the direction of the potion on your map, and at certain points you can add effects to the potion that you land on, adding with a degree of intensity to how well you can line up your icon to the effect outlined on the map. Simple, straightforward and surprisingly addicting. It is one of those games that even when I just try to play it to get screenshots I can't help but try to brew another potion. The real hook in the game is how you don't necessarily have to use the same ingredients and steps to get to the same place. The combinations to get to a certain point of the map or effect are only limited to how creative you can get with the ingredients that you have at your disposal, sure you can get the healing potion with a Weird Shroom and a Waterbloom but you can also do it with a Terraria and a Goodberry.

As you make potions, you get customers asking you for specific ones and you can kindly oblige and perhaps haggle with them to really make it worth your while. Every now and then merchants will come through providing more exotic ingredients and an offer to expand their selection in exchange for a helpful potion. More ingredients means you have more ways of getting to effects efficiently or helping explore the unknowns of your map looking for more new and exciting effects to add your alchemists tome.

You got it wizard man!

There are very few drawbacks I really have with the game. The one that irks me that most, is that even though the loop itself is quite good, the amount of effort required to get to the Philosopher's stone can get pretty grindy. It requires a lot of potions, a lot of ingredients and a lot of investment to get that far, which to me is not worth the trouble. The game really shines in 20 to 40 minute intervals, and I think that's the real sweet spot for its gameplay. Maybe if I could be a medieval alchemist in real life, I'd think a bit differently. Also there's like one song that loops while not offensive, it really left me wanting more.

Yeah I ain't doing all that.

In all, Potion Craft is a fun little puzzle game that lets you roleplay as a small business owner. You crush your little Bloodthorms and Firebells, mix your little cauldron and fire up the bellows and just like that you have a mix that blows the arm off an earth elemental. Quality Guaranteed. That'll be 300 gold please.

One Act Wonder Award - Baldur's Gate 3 by Larian Studios

Presented by Mog Knight

There's a lot that has been said out there about one of the biggest hits of this year, so it bears no repeating here. The game is stellar, and the way it hit the mainstream just shows there is a desire for tabletop RPG systems, hot sweaty romance, boy failures and girl failures, and just adventure and companionship.

After all, that's what hooked me enough to at least make it through all of Act 1. Boy was it a ride. What initially got me though was seeing on the bird site that someone had built a bridge of wooden boxes to reach the other side of this castle. I absolutely love games that you can push the limits of their engine and just break things. There are true creative solutions to any problem. Including laying down explosive barrels and lighting one of them on fire from the rafters above.

Though after my time with Act 1, completing all the quests, hanging out with my companions, it felt to me that I had experienced all that this game had to offer. With a foundation like Act 1, what would come after would be great, don't get me wrong, but to me felt like a good conclusion to a bigger adventure book. A kind of bookmark, or a kind of end to a sub-campaign in a tabletop saga. And with all good books or campaigns with a good ending - I say to myself "that was great, I'll pick it back up when I have the time" and never pick it back up.

That's a me issue, I know. I just don't feel compelled to continue. Act 1 was that good though and had a good wrapping point. And I did love a lot of the moments and the choices throughout. Baldur's Gate 3 is an amazing adventure and does so many things reminiscent of peak Bioware while maintaining the customizability of a tabletop RPG where every experience feels like your own. It's also not afraid to be a little silly.

Do I regret leaving during the intermission after Act 1? No, I think I got what I wanted out of it. But I will also say, it is fun to watch and read other people's stories they had of this game. It's just plain to see why this game is so many people's game of the year.

The Most Sincere Game Award - Yakuza 6: The Song of Life by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio

Presented by Andy

The Yakuza series, as some may compare, is the Call of Duty of Japanese Action RPGs, sorry that is purposefully hyperbolic and unkind to the Yakuza series that has a much better track record. I make this statement, in order to compare them by this very specific metric: they are similar in only the frequency in which I personally play them. Back when I used to play CoD, I would pick up a title every other year, play through it, scratch that formula itch, and then focus on something else. Same with Yakuza, I will pick one up at every sale, and wholly enjoy myself every 8 to 14 months.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, was developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios and released in the US on April 17, 2018. You may be asking, why of all games this year, did I return to this? Earlier this year I was looking through my backlog while offhandedly reading some game news and read that two new Yakuza games would be coming out within the next year, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, and Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth. While I'm not always caught up to the series, I do my due diligence by never being more than a few games behind (I write this as I am reminded that Yakuza 7: Like A Dragon has been sitting on my hard drive for a few years now. I'll get to it eventually, I swear.)

Did they have to have to someone beautifully model this Battleship Yamato replica? No, but I'm glad they did.

A quick recap for those without any strong connection to the series. Yakuza 6, at least at the time of release, was marketed as being the finale for the series' main protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, where his story would finally come to a close after spanning nearly 28 years of the series's timeline. Kiryu, at this point in the story, has gone through quite a lot, from being framed for murder, taking a fall for a different murder, becoming a taxi driver, becoming a caretaker of an orphanage, becoming Tokyo's #1 Hostess Club Manager, stopping numerous bombings, assassinations, and uncovering real estate scandals, and beating up thousands, if not tens of thousands of ill-dressed men. He is left with one last case to solve, this time involving Haruka, his de facto daughter, and a mysterious baby.

Before we get into the juicy stuff, just know that this game plays just as any other of the mainline Yakuza games before it does, straightforward action, the progression system is a bit more tame than Yakuza 0, but is comparable to the updated Kiwami games, based around gaining EXP through fights and quests and pumping up Kiryu's base stats to purchase either more skills, buffs or miscellaneous bonuses. It's not the best I've played, but it does its job well enough.

Just another day for our man, Kiryu.

Yakuza has always had a way of presenting its narrative, which I believe really divides people on how much they can enjoy these games. Either you really dig on how it conveys its crime drama story intertwined to its humorous side content, or you're a fan of its gameplay. The Yakuza series as a whole has been praised for the dichotomy in its storytelling for some time now, and there is no lack of discussion giggling over how well this narrative device frames its universe and character so well.

While Yakuza 6 absolutely does not lack in any of those great side stories, some I'm especially fond of such as: "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time?", a direct nod to one of my favourite animated films of the same name; "The Freaky Situation", a nod to the Japanese 1982 film "Tenkousei" (thank you to GameFaqs user CyricZ for pointing this out), that is not dissimilar to the premise of Freaky Friday, more commonly known here in the West; and lastly the tearful drama of "The Fools Who Dream", a short side story about a couple moving towards different paths in life. Further, I was a big fan of the hostess club conversation mini-game where the main objective is just talking to ladies and getting to know them well. Considering that this is a completely optional series of side quests that requires a considerable amount of Kiryu's money to complete, I found myself fond of the hostess characters as some of them were portrayed as relatable and realistic people with charming responses.

Preaching to choir at Kupo Writes!, lady. You're a real one.

These side stories reflected well on what I felt towards Yakuza 6 as a whole, that after over those six main series games, Yakuza 6's greatest strength is its sincere story telling, especially in its main narrative. Yakuza 6 has been poised by the rest of the series that it follows, games full of over the top action, improbable legal loopholes, and innumerous exaggerations, that if you're willing to suspend disbelief over the course the game, wholeheartedly believe that this doesn't necessarily take place in real Japan, but a mirror world where ultraviolence is the norm, law and order does not need to follow logic and people don't necessarily die when they are killed, Song of Life tells its story with a degree of sincerity and seriousness not for us in the real world, but for its characters in their own. They understand the stakes, they understand that the AT4 pictured below is real, and that the mysterious baby is absolutely the most important child to have ever existed.

I don't really want to get into the actual story beats of the game because if someone makes it as far as this one, I don't want to spoil what it has in store. But it puts into great perspective on how Kiryu, now 48 years old, must feel. He's tired and just wants to live his life in peace. But for the sake of the people he loves, and as the absolute paragon that he is, he must see things through until the end, even if it means being dragged into a conflict that is much grander than he could have imagined. It ends its story, with perhaps giving Kiryu exactly what he's wanted for years at a price that I can only imagined is being paid for in its side-sequel, and gives me excitement to finally getting around to how and where Kiryu ends up in his ongoing adventures.

Can't wait to play another one next year.

Love Conquers All Award - Signalis by rose-engine

Presented by Mog Knight

I will preface this by saying as much as I respect the horror genre and those who craft those experiences well, they are not for me. I remember the first time I had nightmares about a scary video game, I was at my brother's friend's house and they were playing Resident Evil for the PS1. I watched with hands covering my eyes with fingers just wide enough to see the already-blurry shapes but close enough to where I can reactively shut out my vision, yet the sounds, the gunshots, the glass shattering, the groans and moans and squelches remained.

Eventually I also got my hands on Parasite Eve, not knowing what it was. What a mistake that was, especially during the first big opening scene where people just spontaneously combusted.

As time went on, I think the popularity of the horror genre got more mainstream and I just ended up dipping my toes in everything. I like reading about stories/plots/theories, and always I'm intrigued by what makes them interesting to others or what separates them from other works. I never dove into the frigid horror waters though, as much as I tried.

Yet, Signalis was different. Perhaps since my friend wrote about it last year, perhaps that now I'm a more mature gamer, perhaps because it was spooky season and I wanted to see if I can actually beat a spooky game for the first time.

Of course I wouldn't do it alone. I couldn't. So I streamed all of it.

I braved through it all - the horror set pieces, the unsettling environments, the anxiety-inducing lack of resources while solving puzzles, the chill-inducing enemy design, and, the most terrifying of all, the stellar sound design. I was very into the setting - the mix of "old analogue tech" like radios with limited interfaces and the sound of static while also incorporating sci-fi with androids with documented variations and designs. Literature, the arts, and the occult plays a big role too, combined with schoolyard antics of bullying and also experiments and discoveries gone wrong.

Oh, and a big hole too. Can't have a good horror without a big hole. Throw in a pulsating mass in there too.

But I think what make me stick through it the most is all the ideas of Signalis's story and just thinking about it a whole lot especially after I beat the game. Signalis is a story about love and relationship, of loneliness and the calling of any kind of companionship, and of testing the strength of love in spite of circumstances. Signalis is about the love story about a manufactured android and its human partner, one goal-driven and one naive. Signalis is a cautionary tale of "hey maybe things should be allowed to die rather than prolonging the inevitable to the point where you start to go crazy and insane and to continue to do so will lead to lethal consequences for you or those around you".

However, the beauty of these kinds of games where they don't force a correct answer is that you do not have to agree with me. But one thing is for sure, I'm glad I went out of my comfort zone to experience this game. As much as I am a wimp about playing these kinds of games, the story and atmosphere is something I won't be forgetting anytime soon. I guess at the end of the day, even love can cure all the horrors of the world, even my fear of being scared.

Will I play more horror games? Probably not. At least not by my lonesome. I am a sucker for a good horror plot though. You hear about that FNAF stuff? Crazy.

Indie Rocking in the Face of Doom Award - Goodbye Volcano High by KO_OP

Presented by Mog Knight

I remember seeing this game for the first time at a Playstation Direct (or whatever they call it, State of Play?), and needless to say I was real interested to play it. Even my friends who were watching with me at the time were like "that does seem like a Mog kind of game".

Demo came out, absolutely loved the vibe. Game came out, absolutely loved all the ideas and all the ways it tackles the interactive part of interactive narrative. I wrote about it extensively after I finished it, and even wrote a bit more on the bird site (plus a cover).

Looking back at it, and just reflecting back in 2023 as a whole, there's the idea of "finality" that often times doesn't get talked about. And for good reason. That stuff can be grim. Though it doesn't have to be.

For "Goodbye Volcano High", it was more than a simple goodbye to a high school they have spent 4 years of their life at; a goodbye to all the memories, to the highs and lows of their experience, to perhaps the last time they'll be all together as they move on to the next chapter of their life.

It was also a goodbye to what was their certainty. Their normalcy. When you hear news that a giant meteor is coming close to where it may enter atmosphere, I do not blame them.

An event like this begs many questions, but the one I want to pose right now is "what would you do in uncertainty?" One might say "in apocalypse" or "before catastrophe", but I would like to believe at least in this case that there is a chance for them. A question was similarly asked in a story I read this year where if you knew your world was ending "would you still brush your teeth"?

What Fang and the rest of their friend group do is something that I find inspiring - they live, and they celebrate. They continue to host their tabletop game sessions, they continue to make memories together, and in the final act they continue their resolve in playing out their deserved concert even if they have to make it themselves.

Years ago during the peak of my depression, I would not have that strength or resolve. Today, I'm in a better place to say that even if tomorrow is not promised, even if I know my day is coming, today I will choose to live. I will choose to try. If not for me, then for the people that can't. The people that I've lost in my life, this year. In the face of my own giant meteor, I too will rock out and jam.

I really enjoyed "Goodbye Volcano High" this year, definitely a highlight narrative experience of this year. It's not everyone's cup of tea for sure. But I promise you that if you give it a read, you will not regret it. Even if you don't, live your life. Doesn't have to be your best, doesn't have to be to the fullest. It just has to be yours.

Thanks for reading Day 1!! Come back tomorrow for more awards!!

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