Kotaku’s Weekend Guide: Apparently It’s RPG Week

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Johnny Silverhand and the protagonists from Star Ocean Second Story and Season are arranged in a collage.

It’s the weekend, which is wonderful because right now that means I’m writing about something other than some small detail on that big game everyone’s talking about this week. Seriously, it’s a gift. Like, I have the freedom to talk about anything right now. Well, maybe not. It’s the weekend guide, so obviously I’m here to tell you about the games we here at Kotaku will be playing this weekend, ones which you may feel inspired to check out too.

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We’re very rich on RPGs this weekend, with a couple of other genres packed in here as well. Anyway, let’s jump in (you don’t need to roll for initiative).

The protagoinst's mother says "Don't you 'What, Mom?' me! How about taking a break for once today? You were just there yesterday and the day before that."

Play it on: PS5, PS4, Switch, Windows (Steam Deck OK)
Current goal: Get the Orchestra Super Specialty music out of my head

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Before I was a journalist, I wanted to be a literature professor. In order to do that, you need to have read a shitload of books. But despite actually having read a shitload of books, I can barely remember most of them.

Games are different. To me, anyway. I’ve played Star Ocean: The Second Story exactly once before, on the original PlayStation. This was probably more than 20 years ago, given that it launched in North America in 1999. But picking up the enhanced version on Nintendo Switch, which came out this past November, I was struck by just how easy it was to revisit. You’ve probably already heard that it looks fantastic. And the story, while not exactly deep, is an enticing mashup of space opera and fantasy that’s uncommon among RPGs of this era.

Read More: Star Ocean 2 Gets The Definitive Remake Every Classic PS1 RPG Deserves

But the biggest draw of Star Ocean: The Second Story R is its absurdly compelling Specialty system. In every battle, you’ll earn skill points that you can use to unlock abilities like Writing, Herbology, and Determination. (Each of those also provides an immediate stat boost, so you can steer characters toward magic or melee builds.) Certain duos or trios of abilities will unlock useful Specialties like Cooking or Crafting. These skills flower among your party, into what is known as Super Specialties, which grant super-useful stat boosts and increase your odds of crafting powerful items and equipment.

The first time I played Star Ocean 2 I found this system overwhelming until the very late game, because I’d invested in skills in a scattershot way. (It’s a lot! It’s probably too much!) But somehow, decades later, I’ve remembered all the tricks. The most important one? You want to invest in Determination for every party member first, because it lowers the number of points you’ll need to upgrade any other skill. Once you do that, you can make your party so dang powerful so dang fast, it feels like you’re cheating. In a good way. — Jen Glennon

Plenty of stars for everyone

Star Ocean: The Second Story R has a downloadable demo on PlayStation, Steam, and Switch. With a PlayStation Plus Extra subscription, you can play Star Ocean The Divine Force and Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. A PS Plus Premium sub also gets you Star Ocean First Departure R, Star Ocean Till The End Of Time, and the remaster of Star Ocean: The Last Hope. What’s the expected hour count for playing all those? Second thought, don’t tell me.

A party of adventurers gathers around a fire.

Play it on: Discord, a living-room table, at your friendly local game store
Current goal: Bring an ongoing campaign to a temporary close

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I’ve been running a Dungeons & Dragons game over Discord for a little over a year now, and it’s a joy. I’d been toying with the idea of becoming a Dungeon Master for years, but felt intimidated. Then, however, I heard the words of Matt Colville, who says in this video: “When you start off, you’ll be terrible…but the fact is, your players will be new and they won’t know you’re terrible.”

Well, I was persuaded! So I found a bunch of chill, friendly adults who also didn’t have much experience with D&D but were curious, and we’ve all had a fantastic time playing together, learning together, and being patient and encouraging with each other in that learning. It’s been great. One of the most rewarding aspects for me has been watching their characters and the relationships between them develop, and seeing that this adventure we’ve all embarked on together is as joyful and valuable for them as it is for me. Now, we’re about to wrap up one storyline and then take a little break for the holidays, with our session this Sunday probably bringing things to a temporary close.

For that reason, it seemed like the right time for me to pass Matt Colville’s encouragement on to you. If you’ve been thinking of maybe running a D&D game but have been intimidated, do it anyway! Create a space where you and your players treat each other with grace, allowing for the fact that you’re all just learning and having fun together as you share in this collaborative storytelling experience. As long as you find a decent, friendly bunch of folks to share it with, the rewards are definitely worthwhile. — Carolyn Petit

Idris Elba's character in Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty stands in front of a computer display.

Play it on: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows (Steam Deck OK)
Current goal: Do sick motorcycle flips

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So, CD Projekt Red dropped yet another substantive update for Cyberpunk 2077, one that makes a smorgasbord of sweeping changes to the gameplay. You can ride the metro now—and see sad Keanu Reeves, which is hilarious—hang out with your partner in your apartment, listen to music on the go like you’re in the ‘80s with a Walkman or something, and a bunch more new stuff. It’s quite a staggering patch, but the thing I’m most stoked about is how motorcycles have changed.

Read More: Every Change In Cyberpunk 2077’s Last Big Update

They’re my fave way of getting around the neon-soaked streets of Night City, with my bike of choice always being the Akira-looking Yaiba Kusanagi CT-3X. Still, I’m curious to check out some of the newcomers. The handling got more fun, leaving me stoked to do sick tricks around town. In a brief video overview of update 2.1, CDPR’s V does an awesome backflip, something I’ve been dreaming of doing since the game first launched in December 2020. Knowing that bike handling has been tweaked to allow for such stunts gets my adrenaline pumping, so I can’t wait to flip and crash and flip again. Oh, and I’m going to get into a ton of shootouts on my motorcycle now that bike combat has been improved as well. Basically, it’s a great time to be a CP2077 bike lover. — Levi Winslow

Preem, there’s a Cyberpunk 2077 trial on PlayStation Plus

If you’ve somehow still not checked out the streets of Night City, a 5-hour trial of Cyberpunk 2077 comes with PlayStation Plus Premium.

The protagonist of Season writes in a book.

Play it on: PS5, PS4, Windows (Steam Deck OK)
Current goal: Go back where I started

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Scavengers Studio’s Season: A Letter to the Future was one of the first games I played in 2023, and was also one of the first to really capture my imagination. While our reviewer, John Walker, didn’t love it, I was really captivated by its portrayal of memory as an inherent weight to carry, more than it was a blessing to be able to recollect one’s own past. But I never got around to finishing it to see where those threads led. We’re nearing the end of the year and while Kotaku’s own Game of the Year discussions are well underway, I still have a personal ranking to write. So I’ve been going back and playing smaller games I missed or didn’t finish. Now, it’s time to go back to one of the first games I played just before the year wraps up. — Kenneth Shepard

Try before you buy

Season: A Letter to the Future has a demo on both PlayStation and Steam.

Play it on: Switch, Windows (Steam Deck OK)
Current goal: Find the cure

Imagine Into the Breach but simplified and presented like a medieval folktale. That’s essentially what Howl is, a “living ink” strategy puzzle game by Mi’pu’mi Games about navigating small, grid-based battlefields in search of a way to stop peasants across the countryside from turning into feral beasts. You have a bow with limited arrows and a couple of spells on cooldown with which to take down the enemies blocking your path.

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Completing each fight as quickly and efficiently as possible nets you points you can use to upgrade abilities and unlock new ones. It’s not as complex or in-depth as Into the Breach, but that breeziness alongside the storybook presentation make it a nice game to play right before bed, turning the pages and navigating a few combat challenges while trying to reverse the plague overtaking the land. It’s not exactly a cozy game, but I still find myself comforted as the minutes tick by and I finish a whole chapter when I only meant to try a level or two. — Ethan Gach

On its way to the other consoles, soon

Howl has demos on the Switch eShop and Steam, and is also expected to arrive on PlayStation and Xbox on January 23, 2024.

Yuffie celebrates with her comrade.

Play it on: PS5, Windows (Steam Deck OK)
Current goal(s): Mop up those sidequests, discover new stuff, reattain familiarity with the combat system

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As you might’ve guessed from my recently divulged inability to play follow-up expansions, so too have I put off playing Yuffie’s short chapter in the Final Fantasy VII remake project.

The good news is that I have finally played 2021’s side-story to Final Fantasy VII Remake (and am planning to do a full revisit of Remake shortly). If I’m being honest, the actual substance of this chapter left me wanting more, but damn do I love these characters, especially Yuffie. I continue to be unconvinced by Square Enix’s seeming need to add in all this extra stuff to an already super-solid story, yet I keep wanting more reasons to spend time in this world. And that’s what I aim to do this weekend.

I beelined straight through the main story in INTERmission. So I’m gonna go back and play it from the top, this time taking in all that I can and I’m hoping there’ll be at least some sidequest worth its time (though I fear I’m misguided in that hope).

I also need to get back to basics on combat. If I’m being honest, despite absolutely loving the heck out of this game’s fighting system (I did two full runs on Hard when the original launched), to say that I’m rusty would be an understatement. I clicked with it a few times while playing INTERmission, with that familiar dopamine rush that’s rather unique to this game’s combat hitting me once more (damn does it feel good). But I need to be better prepared for Rebirth, ready to take on any changes or new features that’ll come my way from that experience. — Claire Jackson

PlayStation Plus is overflowing with FF7

Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade (which includes INTERmission) is included in the PlayStation Plus Extra catalog (Final Fantasy VII Remake also has a free demo on PlayStation). You can also play a two-hour demo of Final Fantasy VII’s prequel, Crisis Core – Final Fantasy VII – Reunion with PlayStation Plus Premium. Finally, the slightly enhanced 2015 version of the PSX original is also on PlayStation Plus Extra.


And that wraps this week’s picks. What games are you playing this weekend?

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