We know a lot of our Renaissance Festival loving readers also love playing video games! We asked the amazing Lauren Chase, who works in the video game industry, to share her suggestions for great games and accessories for the 2020 holiday season.
Holiday 2020 Guide to Gaming Gift Giving
This year, the holidays will look a bit different for us. Quarantined and social distancing, many of us have picked up new hobbies and skills. Some have even gotten into video games, if the rampant purchasing of many consoles and gaming accessories during this current pandemic is any indication. But now that things are mostly stabilized and production is up, many of you are wondering what sort of gaming goods will make good gifts for the gamers in your life. The following is a list of items that I, a fellow gamer and video game store employee, highly recommend.
- Nintendo Switch
This item by all accounts was one of the hottest selling consoles this year, despite being on the market for three years. It is incredibly versatile and its main function is in the name: it can ‘switch’ into three different modes, namely, TV, Handheld, and Tabletop. TV mode is where it is docked into its station, connected to a TV screen, and using the Joy Cons detached from the body as a controller or two. Handheld is perfect for on-the-go gaming; you can enjoy it on a bus ride, a long flight, or even sitting in the park! Tabletop is the most interesting of the modes: the console itself acts as its own TV with a hidden stand on the back to keep it upright, and the Joy Cons can detach as you play it on your own dinner table or some other flat surface. But the Switch is also versatile in other ways! It is incredibly family friendly with so many games for the kiddos, it has games that teenagers and young adults will enjoy, and there are games for adults of all ages. The Nintendo Switch comes in two kinds: there is the ‘regular’ model so to speak that can switch to any of the modes listed above, and there is the Nintendo Switch Lite. The Lite is strictly portable and some find this is a bit more accessible for kids, as they don’t have to fiddle with the docking station. The Nintendo Switch retails at $299.99 and the Nintendo Switch Lite retails at $199.99. Either come in different colors.
- Sony PlayStation 4
Sure, the PS5 has just been released, but considering it is already scarce because of limited production and scalpers, the PS4 is a much more viable option. While there are many titles the three current gen consoles share, the PS4 has many exclusive titles that are worth looking into and that make it worth purchasing, such as Final Fantasy VII Remake (which I will be covering later), Persona 5 (rated M), and The Last of Us (rated M). I would say that the PS4 is aimed at more ‘mature’ gamers considering the lack of kid-friendly games, but it does make for a good family console too since there are a few multiplayer games out there to enjoy and you can download video and music streaming apps, making it something beyond just a gaming console. It’s a bit harder to find brand new nowadays, but the Slim version retails at $299.99 and the Pro retails at $399.99. I will say, the Pro is only worth it if you have a 4K TV; otherwise the Slim is fantastic too.
- Online Play Memberships
Maybe the gamer in your life already has a console and a few games. But do they have online access? Nowadays, there’s a subscription for everything and playing games online is no different. Fortunately, it’s a bit more affordable than most streaming services. All three current generation consoles have online memberships so all you have to do is know what console your gamer has, if not all three. There is the PlayStation Network, Nintendo Switch Online, and Xbox Live Gold. Memberships can be purchased directly from the consoles, but you can also go to any retailer that sells gift cards and find cards of different quantities and subscription terms. PSN and XLG are pretty uniform in price: $24.99 for three months, $39.99 for six, and $59.99 for a full year, but NSO is $7.99 for three months, $19.99 for a year, or, if you have multiple gamers in the household, you can purchase a family membership for up to 8 people for only $34.99 a year. Online memberships are required to play with others online, such as a match in Call of Duty or visiting a player’s island in Animal Crossing, and considering the global pandemic, they are almost key to some people’s social interaction.
- Headsets and Controllers
It comes as no surprise, but to play games, you need controllers. But nowadays, people play online with others, and with those online memberships mentioned above, how would you expect your gamer to communicate with others online? That’s where headsets come in. There are headsets from a variety of brands, coming in either wired or wireless, and some are console exclusive. I usually recommend universal headsets simply because they can be used on virtually anything that has a 3.5 mm jack. Wireless are typically more expensive, controllers and headsets alike. Most controllers are made first-party, as in, they are made by the developers who make the consoles, and for Sony specifically they are first-party only. Controllers come in a variety of colors and even patterns, so there is always something interesting to pick up. Prices for controllers can range from $29.99 to upwards of $69.99, and headsets are typically the same.
Now that we have recommended consoles and accessories down, how about we get into the actual games? A quick run-through of ratings is needed first. Rated E for Everyone is what it says on the tin. These games are ideal for players of all ages. Rated E10+ for everyone 10 and up games are basically the same as E, but they have fantasy violence, but otherwise are very wholesome. Rated T for Teen games have violence, some language, dark themes, and sometimes alcohol references, and maybe some crude humor. Rated M for Mature games will have severe violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and drug and alcohol references. For the following games, I will also state their rating to provide the clearest recommendation I can.
- Animal Crossing New Horizons (Rated E for Everyone)
This game was one of the top selling games this year and for good reason. ACNH provided us an island getaway package where we could form our own community, trade items, interact with cute animal villagers, and even shape the island itself. Players can travel to their friends’ islands online and this is crucial, considering many of us can’t meet up with friends because of the virus. Your personal character, who becomes the island representative, can be customized in just about any way you want, from hair and skin color, to eye and nose shape, and hair style. You start out taking guidance from Tom Nook, a raccoon with a lot of money, and gradually learn the lay of the land and craft tools and items you need to make your island habitable. You recruit animals to live there with you and many characters give you little tasks to fulfill so you can earn money or ‘Nook Miles,’ a unique currency that allows you to unlock certain items. This may sound like a lot, but ACNH is the most relaxing game you could possibly play. There are a variety of characters to meet, like the iconic shih tzu Isabelle, the Able Sisters, two hedgehogs running a clothing shop, Blathers the owl, a museum curator, and many more. There are over 400 villagers you can recruit from, a maximum of ten living on the island, from species like birds dogs and cats to kangaroos and bears and hippos. All have a variety of personalities and designs so expect some quirky critters to live the island life. There are seasonal events to play and discover, so it’s always fresh. This is a game literally anyone could enjoy. I’m 28, my sister is 18, and our mom is 62 and we all adore Animal Crossing. Rated E for comic mischief. Animal Crossing New Horizons retails at $59.99.
- AI: The Somnium Files (Rated M for Mature)
AI is a wacky visual novel murder mystery game perfect for all those Nancy Drew lovers out there for the PlayStation 4, the Nintendo Switch, and Steam. The game features a variety of characters with quirky personalities, from Aiba, the artificial intelligence that takes the form of either a strange little eyeball monster or a lovely cyborg lady, to Iris, a high school student turned pop star who has a slight crush on the game’s protagonist Kaname Date, the lead detective. The game is set in Japan and follows the story of Detective Date who is assigned to solve the case of the murder of Shoko Nadami, mother to Mizuki, the girl he is currently guardian of. Conflict of interest aside, Date is on the hunt for the killer, as the murder is possibly linked to a similar crime committed years ago. The game itself features intriguing cut scenes where the players can make choices in dialogue, and there are sections where the player has to enter people’s dreams in order to unlock some hidden truth. This game is great for older players because the writing is incredibly witty, the characters and dialogue engaging, and the puzzles are challenging. It is fully voice acted as well. The game is rated M for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, and suggestive themes. Retails at $59.99.
- Fire Emblem Three Houses (Rated T for Teen)
Three Houses is the fifteenth installment to the 30 year old Fire Emblem series. Fire Emblem is a strategy role-playing game with a high focus on characters and story, set in a medieval fantasy world. Players control a small group of students from the Officer’s Academy at Garreg Mach Monastery on missions the Church of Seiros assigns. Despite the name Three Houses, the game actually has four routes to play. You can form strategies on the battlefield, and also explore the monastery on your, the professor’s, free days as well as teaching your students. You can recruit students from other houses than your own to join your class, forge new weapons, and unlock support conversations that add to the story as well as the characters. The story to this game is incredibly deep and well written, and depending on the route you choose, the story plays out differently. The game is heavy on characterization, and you as the professor get to see how your eager students start to shape into better adults. The cast to this game is huge and it is fully voice acted as well and the soundtrack is gorgeous and iconic. This is the single best-selling Fire Emblem game of all time and won player’s choice at the 2019 video game awards and my personal favorite. Fire Emblem Three Houses is rated T for blood, suggestive themes, and violence. Retails at $59.99.
- Final Fantasy VII Remake (Rated T for Teen)
This game in particular is a remake of the classic 90s PlayStation title and is available on the PlayStation 4, perfect for older gamers looking for a nostalgia rush. It follows the story of Cloud, a hired mercenary, who works for an environmentalist group called Avalanche. Shinra Corporation is slowly killing the planet and it’s up to Avalanche’s five core members plus Cloud to stop them, but there is more to it than that. Each character has different fighting styles and abilities, and the world is absolutely massive. It’s another fully voice acted role-playing game with a bigger focus on action and exploration. The story is incredible and intricately woven and each chapter you play through is incredible. So much happens within mere hours of playing this game that one would think, “What can possibly happen now?” Oh, you’ll see. Players will absolutely love Aerith, a female mage with a lot of spunk and a giant heart, as she is integral to the story. The visuals are stunning. This game was in development for nearly a decade and it was well worth the wait. Final Fantasy VII Remake is rated T for language, suggestive themes, use of alcohol and tobacco, and violence. Retails at $29.99.
- Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory (Rated E10+)
KH MOM is a rhythm game set to music from all the previous Kingdom Hearts games. There is a one-button mode suitable for those that may be a bit rhythmically challenged, but overall, the controls are pretty easy to follow. Kingdom Hearts is known for its beautifully composed music by none other than the legendary Yoko Shimomura and Hikaru Utada. This game actually focuses on reliving the previous titles’ stories and then progressing to this current title’s story. There is a co-op mode, a battle mode, a free track mode where you can pick out a track and increase your score, as well as the World Tour mode which follows the story. You can unlock images from previous games for meeting certain goals, as well as items, and it has all the charm you’d expect out of the SquareEnix and Disney hybrid. Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory is rated E10+ for fantasy violence and mild language, and retails at $59.99.
- Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield (Rated E for Everyone)
I have grown up with Pokémon games nearly my entire life and let me say, Sword and Shield does not disappoint. The world is vast, the music slaps, and the characters are incredibly endearing. It follows a typical story of a Pokémon game: you are a player who receives their own Pokémon and undergo a gym challenge to see who is the best trainer in all the region. The story gets deeper as you progress, but Pokémon Sword and Shield is at its core just simple fun. There are many different battle modes players will love, lots of new ‘mons to catch, and a giant world to explore. Sword and Shield are separate games, but follow the same story; their only difference is each has one gym leader the other does not, and a few exclusive Pokémon the other does not. Rated E for comic mischief and mild cartoon violence, and retails at $59.99.
Happy holidays everyone! May your game gift giving be successful!
Shortly after graduating college, Lauren Chase started working for the Texas Renaissance Festival in 2015, selling garlands and moving up to being a sound and lighting technician for venues. Flexible in skill, Lauren is reliable in many positions and happily fills in for any role when needed at the festival. Outside of faire, they have a passion for gaming, pop culture, and animals.