Returnal Is Everything I Love About Metroid

I was lucky enough to score a PlayStation 5 a month ago after telling myself I would wait a little while before throwing down hard-earned cash on a new console. It had been 9 months since the PS5 was first released, and I had assumed I would buy one(try to, at least) within the first year, before games like Horizon: Forbidden West and the next God of War game were to be released. On my short list of games I wanted to play first on the new PS5 was Returnal – a roguelite, bullet-hell, third-person shooter developed by Housemarque. I had loved the studio’s previous releases, such as Super Stardust HD or Zombie Nation as Housemarque had become known for making primarily arcade-style games. Returnal had been billed as the first “true, next-gen release” for the PS5 and had a fair amount of hype around it as it was advertised as a AAA roguelite shooter. Prior to its release, the discussion quickly shifted towards the game’s steep difficulty curve.

Returnal also came as a recommendation from a friend as “very much my type of game” knowing how much I loved Hades last year….they were absolutely correct. I don’t believe I’ve played a game quite like Returnal, certainly not within the AAA-game space. I also don’t recall being quite this hooked on a game in a long time. It only took 15 days for me to go from my first minutes with the game to beating the game and collecting every trophy. It was over the course of the many many hours devoted to the game that I had something of a revelation – Returnal contains everything that I love about Metroid games.

I first fell in love with Metroid as a series playing Super Metroid as a kid. Super Metroid, Prime, and Fusion are among my all-time favorite games and my time with Returnal over the past couple weeks has brought out some of the same feelings I have with playing Metroid games.

Isolation

ASTRA pilot Selene Vassos crash lands on the planet of Atropos after defying orders not to investigate the swirling anomaly she dubs the “White Shadow”. She emerges from the wrecked ship and proceeds to explore the mysterious, ever-changing alien world. She discovers she is caught in a loop of living and dying over and over again unless she is able to break the cycle and discover the cause of this phenomenon.

One of the things I’ve always found interesting about Metroid games is the sense of isolation. You’re all alone, on an alien world, vastly outnumbered by hostile lifeforms, but you’re determined to make it out alive. Maybe it’s just my antisocial, loner tendencies here, but I’ve always been intrigued by the way games like this can amplify one’s own feeling of insignificance and helplessness. This has been a feeling used in many sci-fi movies and games for decades – 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien being notable examples.  In Returnal, Selene crash lands on the planet, Atropos after choosing to investigate the distress signal coming from the “White Shadow”. Similar to Samus, there is no backup and she has only herself to rely on, along with her determination to persevere many, many attempts at escape in order to break the cycle and find her way off the planet. There’s also a sense of isolation as you are contrasted against giant, sprawling environments, such as Death Stranding or even Red Dead Redemption 2. Some of my fondest memories from DS or RDR2 are simple moments quiet solitude while taking in the otherworldly sights of a post-extinction event America or the expansive mountains and plains of the Old West. Perhaps I’m just particular to playing the “lone wanderer” in video games… 

Mystery & Danger

After landing on Zebes, Samus begins her investigation the planet, starting with the area surrounding her ship to reach deeper into the world’s multiple environments. At first there’s a sense of trepidation, as you’re unsure just what matter of lifeforms lie beyond the next area. That feeling of mystery and danger is something I immediately recognized while playing Returnal. Each of the game’s 6 biomes have a set of randomly-generated rooms; you don’t know which room is on the other side of the doorway until you pass through. This deviates a bit from Metroid games, where the world has a set map layout, but once you’ve…ahem…failed enough attempts, you begin to pick up on what to look out for in specific rooms. The first time you come across a room, you are quickly overwhelmed by a dozen enemies waiting to attack and the next, there could be no enemies at all. This means you are constantly on your toes because you never truly know which enemies(if any) lie beyond the doorway in front of you, resulting(possibly) in a very abrupt end to your current run. I honestly don’t know how many times I ran afoul of the RNG gods and came face to face with a horde of enemies or mini-boss(es) merely a couple rooms from the starting point in a biome. “Well…shit. I guess I’m starting this over” was a common phrase muttered over my many hours in Returnal. 

Weapons & Abilities

Another one of my favorite moments in a Metroid game usually occurs late in the game. You’ve survived wave after wave of enemies and gigantic boss encounters, slowly building your arsenal of weaponry. There’s a turning point where you no longer feel afraid of this imposing planet and its violent inhabitants – you’ve gone from FEARFUL to FEARLESS. By the time you get the Screw Attack upgrade, specifically in Super Metroid, you merely laugh as you annihilate the grunt enemies blocking your path to the final area of the game. Bloodborne is another good example of this, you begin the game feeling underpowered and running past the foul beasts of Yharnam before you begin to truly feel like an accomplished hunter. In Returnal, there’s a similar feeling of transformation as you progress through the game. It differs slightly from the above games as any weapons upgrades only last your current run, the same as any artifacts or parasites you acquire. Due to the roguelite nature of the game, any feeling of power in Returnal comes almost entirely from studying and understanding the attack patterns of your enemies – you’ll be seeing them a lot so perception is critical to success here… 

I wouldn’t say Returnal borrows much from Metroid gameplay-wise, as there isn’t a lot that would be typically considered “Metroidvania territory”. The game is first and foremost, a roguelite game. One that incorporates elements of bullet-hell shooters, but set to a third-person perspective. This makes it feel very reminiscent of the shootouts in Control(strange coincidence, as both Housemarque and Remedy Entertainment were founded in Finland). It does however hit a lot of the same notes in atmosphere and mood that I’ve always loved since first playing Super Metroid as a kid…

Returnal feels every bit as addicting as Hades was just a year ago(and then some). There’s a layer of atmospere and mystique that I love, which gives way to an absolutely satisfying(and brutally difficult) gameplay loop. The sense of accomplishment in getting the platinum trophy(or simply beating the game) makes this an unforgettable experience. I feel like the past few consecutive games I’ve played through will all be on my list of favorite games from 2021 when the year is over, but I’m even more confident Returnal will sit among the top spots on that list.

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a video of one of the boss fights I uploaded recently…

Trophy Hunters: Final Fantasy XV – Final Episode

I finally did it! It took me a bit longer than expected at 75 hours, but I finished unlocking every trophy in Final Fantasy XV. My last trophy progress post was about a month ago, so that prediction of “a week or two to get the rest of the trophies” was a little short-sighted. The remaining trophies were the ones requiring the longest amount of time to complete – 80 sidequests and maxing out the fishing, survial, cooking, and photography skills. Of course, had I played nothing other than FFXV I likely would have finished this sooner, but there were detours through Monster Hunter, Bugsnax, and Ratchet & Clank on my recent platinum trophy quest. Let’s see what took almost another 40 hours after seeing the end credits to finish up, shall we?

Angling Expert

  • Reached maximum fishing level

This was the final trophy in my way to the platinum. I had finished everything else, so it was pretty relaxing to sit back and do some fishing. I decided to sit on the dock at the Vesperpool northwest of Lestallum, which usually contains plenty of fish, so levels 8-10 didn’t take long at all…

Photo Expert

  • Reached maximum photography level

I had unlocked and leveled up Prompto’s Snapshot ability pretty early on in the game, which provided more pictures after every battle and made this the first(and probably easiest) of the party to reach skill level 10. After many hours of playing, I have an entire album of memories saved from the party’s adventures across Eos.

Cooking Expert

  • Reached maximum cooking level

I may have reached level 10 in Ignis’ cooking skill a little sooner had I decided to set up camp more often, rather than staying at the various hotels across the land. I’d usually stop at one to save my progress and cash in any XP previously acquired. To cover the last couple skill levels unlock the Cooking Expert trophy, I only needed to spend a little while at my campsite cooking up batch after batch of ‘Mystery Meat Sushi’ from the many, many Luncheon Meats I had picked up in Lestallum.

Survival Expert

  • Reached maximum survival level

This was probably the most annoying(and time-consuming) trophy to get. Gladiolus’ Survival skill is only raised by traveling on foot – not camping, items used or anything else, ONLY walking or running across the map. I ended up setting out on a trek from Lestallum in the northwestern corner of the map all the way down to Galdin Quay at the southeastern part of it, only to more or less repeat the process a couple times to FINALLY unlock the trophy. Compared to the other skills, this one takes forever. One of my favorite aspects of FFXV was being able to kick back with the boys and ride around Eos in the Regalia while listening to the music from a range of different FF games. However, the fact I had to travel nearly everywhere by foot to get this trophy is pretty disappointing. I had a lot of fun playing through the game, but this wasn’t exactly the most enjoyable part of the experience.

Weaving a Tapestry

  • Completed 80 sidequests

I’d been chipping away at all the sidequests in the game since the early chapters, which made this a little bit easier considering how the game becomes incredibly linear once you reach chapter 8 or so. Once you complete the game you have the option to return to previous areas and finish up any sidequests or other activities. The majority of these were usually simple “item requisition requests” and didn’t take too long to complete(minus the time required to travel there on foot).

Regalia Pilot

  • Flew the Regalia Type-F

Speaking of riding along in the Regalia…

Over the course of the game, you’re able to transform(upgrade?) the Regalia to different types. Type-D adds off-road capability with essentially monster truck tires and once you find the Strange Engine in one of the enemy bases, Cindy the mechanic will take your mode of transportation another step by allowing the Regalia to take to the skies with a Batwing-like form. The Regalia Pilot trophy is unlocked your first flight…which is good, considering how tricky it is to land the vehicle, failure to land safely results in your entire party being wiped out and being sent back to the last save point.

Faithful Heir

  • Collected thirteen royal arms

Throughout the main storyline Noctis will venture through a number or crypts and caves, receive one of the thirteen royal arms at the end. You pick up five of them as you play through the main story, but will need to do some sidequests and go a little further off the beaten path to find the rest of them. The final royal arm I needed – the Sword of the Tall was located at the bottom of the Costlemark Tower. The underground “tower” was definitely a test of combat skill…and patience as the lower levels of the tower are a series of movable blocks acting as walls and floors(somewhat similar to Control’s Ashtray Maze) which must be navigated in a specific order before finally reaching a Jabberwock guarding the final royal arm needed for the Faithful Heir trophy…

Tortoise Toppler

  • Defeated the adamantoise

A special quest that unlocks post-game finds Noctis and the gang investigating the area to find out what’s behind a series of recent earthquakes that have been terrifying the nearby population. Upon closer inspection, the earthquakes are being caused by the adamantoise – an enormous tortoise that is quite literally a mountain. Next up, battling the terranean terrapin…which just so happens to be Lvl 99. and have 5,000,000 HP. The battle against the adamantoise can be a lengthy one, depending on character level and equipment – I believe it took me around 40 or so minutes of hacking away before finally unlocking the Tortoise Toppler trophy. Cowabunga!

The World Wanderer

  • Collected all trophies

I did it! Another platinum trophy to add to the collection…

I had a lot of fun playing through Final Fantasy XV. I know the game has gotten a lot of hate from others since its release, but I’m glad I played through it myself to form my own opinion. I think the way it was rolled out as a live-service model, along with an abrupt shift from open-world to linear corridors about halfway through the game made for some inconsistent pacing, but had a lot of fun nonetheless. It may have not been the “traditional” FF game many gamers wanted, but there’s still elements of greatness there among those rough edges.

So, that’s another trophy run completed. There are quite a few DLC packs containing plenty of additional trophies, but I’m satisfied in what I accomplished for the time being. Another quick shoutout to Solarayo from Ace Asunder who has been playing through FFXV alongside me and posting trophy updates, it’s always interesting to check in and see where others are in-game and what trophies they tackled first.

Thanks for reading!