When I sit down to play a videogame, usually I know what I’m going to get out of it. If it’s an RPG, usually I’m treated to some nice visuals, a good story, possibly some new and interesting combat mechanics, lots of grinding and side questing…you know, the usual. Really, the same can be said for any kind of game. However, how often is it, especially lately, that you can say you’re able to sit down with a videogame and…relax?
Lately I’ve been playing Batman – Arkham City and I LOVE it, but…it’s not exactly relaxing. Sure, it’s fun to have 50 guys or whatever tossed at you like meat puppets and finish them off one by one with all kinds of brutal, stylish manuevers and while it’s certainly satisfying and very fun, it’s not…relaxing. Or peaceful. And no, it’s not meant to be, but that’s what I’m on about right now.
So I decided I would compile a list of my favorite peaceful games, at least that I can come up with off the top of my head, that I’ve found to be, at least at times, very calm and peaceful while providing either great, lush scenery or just in general encouraging you to slow down, take your time, and really soak it in. Keep in mind, too, that these are in no particular order. Let’s start with…
Xenoblade is such an incredible game, as you already know. It fuses MMO-like combat with just the right amount of control over realtime combat, a ridiculous amount of sidequesting and tweaking, and good ol’ fashioned JRPG goodness all up nicely in one huge package. Where I feel the game truly shines, however, is in its creativity, visuals, music, and overall ambience.
There are many times where vast landscapes are stretched out in front of you, chock full of wildlife that, sure, you can beat the hell out of if you so desire, or just let it wander about doing whatever. I wouldn’t call the visuals “breathtaking” per se (this is the Wii hardware we’re dealing with after all), but they make the best possible use of it that they can.
I mean seriously, it’s the first time in a game that I would recommend getting to the swamp level as quickly as possible because it’s fucking gorgeous, not only from a design aspect, but also from the visuals as far as the day/night transition and how they incorporate that in the music and, again, overall ambience. It’s one of those games that you can easily just sit back and watch, marveling at all the little touches that were provided.
And naturally, where would my head be if I didn’t include such a beautiful title as this? I know what you’re thinking. “Gun Sage, if this is just about pretty visuals, I can think of so many better games such as Odin Sphere, Madworld, Muramasa, etc.” No, it’s not about pretty visuals, per se, but visuals do play a major factor in a lot of these.
The key thing about Okami is, and I realize other games do this too, that you’re slowly purifying the world. Where it really wins me over in Okami is in two main areas. First, it shows you how broken and battered the world is and how necessary it is for you to save it. Second, every goddamn time you DO save an area…this scene plays. What you’re looking for starts at the 43 second mark.
This game is unashamed to use lots of pink as well as other vibrant colors and the main character even shits out flowers and stuff when she runs! Everything in the game has a very unique, drawn look to it and overall the ambience is wonderful. This is, by far, the definition of a pretty game. There are many times in this game, as well, where you’ll simply kick back and view the lush, peaceful landscapes, more than likely sitting back thinking “I caused this.”
Persona 3 and 4
At first glance, the Persona series seems to offer nothing in the way of peacefulness. Both P3 and 4 deal with demons, darkness, murder, and just…well, all kinds of dark, occult stuff. Since I had already played Persona 2, I figured I knew what I was getting into. I wondered if they were going to incorporate demon contracts, the rumor system, serial killers, and all kinds of stuff.
Then…I went to school. And on dates. I went to soccer practice. I hung out with friends and chatted about all kinds of irrelevant stuff. I was treated to a wide variety of eclectic music and a real working world, not just “Neo Tokyo” or whatever. Let’s think about this for a sec. Before this, Atlus had released a few other MegaTen titles, specifically Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2.
There are others, but you get the idea. There’s some serious occult shit here. The end of the world, cannibalism, demon contracts, and all kinds of nasty stuff. And yes, P3 and 4 dealt with a lot of serious stuff, too, but you actually got to juggle the life of a teenager doing typical teenager things having typical teenager woes and struggles. Well, SOME typical teenager woes and struggles, but hey, it’s only rated mature, right?
The point is I found this very relaxing. While there were deadlines, most of the game can be taken at your own pacing. There are perks for doing things a certain way and getting things done early is definitely a good idea, but you can also kick back and just do whatever with your friends, study…just whatever. It’s not as if there’s no purpose to any of these actions, but it was very refreshing, fun, and gave an overall laidback feel to the game while still being very hardcore when it needed to be.
Dark Cloud 2
This is actually why I initially created this list. At first glance, you might think you know everything you need to about this fun, addictive action/RPG. You get to do dungeon crawling, invent stuff, and save the world by reconstructing it and traveling back and forth through time to solve puzzles. It’s somewhat repetitive in this, but overall tells a great story, has great visuals, etc.
The most interesting aspect to this game is what happens when you’ve cleared a floor. See, most of the time in games like this, you clear a floor, then that’s it, move on. Sure, you can come back to grind if you need to, but for the most part it’s unnecessary unless you’ve just been skipping fights or something. In Dark Cloud 2, you’re treated to peaceful music and the ability to fish in most locations as well as play golf.
Well, they don’t call it playing golf and it’s purely to get various items, but all the same, you can play a game of golf and even fish. I mean, what? Where did that come from, right? Funnily enough, the dungeons are actually designed in such a way that the peaceful music never seems unfitting either. At one moment, it’s hectic and the area is drowned in enemies…and the next it’s very open, mellow, and ready for golfin’ and fishin’.
Just a very interesting way of going about things. And obviously when you’re NOT in dungeons it’s equally peaceful regardless of where you are.
Elder Scrolls 5 – Skyrim
Oblivion was a fun game, had a ridiculous amount of side quests, lots of guild interaction, a fairly decent length main story…and that’s about it. Sure, I could go on and on about it, but more than likely you’ve already played it, so I really don’t need to. And much like Oblivion, I’m sure you’ve also played Skyrim, so you may know where I’m going with this, but this is MY article, so sit tight!
The graphical upgrade from Oblivion to Skyrim is more than noticeable, but Bethesda did something I simply did NOT expect: they actually had good design. See, here’s the thing. Bethesda’s great at making asshole mountains that you can’t quite figure out how to get up, invisible walls, and fields, but usually they’re not very good at making streams, waterfalls, and using a lot of smart architecture that makes you really buy into the landscape.
Even in the case of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, I often felt they just kind of slapped shit together or were very by the book in most cases. And really, in a post apocalyptic world, that works. With Skyrim, I felt like they took the time to really make each city its own, put a lot of work into the sky and landscape in general, and created an atmosphere that wasn’t only pretty because the graphics were top notch, but also because they genuinely made something beautiful.
There have been many times where I just don’t pause the game. If I have to get up to get something, I leave it unpaused, come back, and watch as the world goes by. All the little touches are noticeable, well appreciated, and hopefully will be seen in future Bethesda titles.
Neither the original Mother or Mother 3 were officially released to an American audience. Like most gamers, I got my start in the Mother series with Earthbound. Back then what attracted me to it were the funky beats and overall eclectic music. It was also strange to the point of bizarre and pretty funny at times. It was easily the most interesting RPG I’d ever played up to that point.
But what brings it all together is when you also play the other two Mother games we’ve missed. All 3 Mother games feature fun, laidback tunes that you can simply sit and listen to. Whether you’re travelling, shopping, getting ready to fight a boss, or whatever, the music will always set the tune. No, I’m not trying to be punny, it’s just that the music, while equally bizarre at times, always seems to be just right.
A lot of the things the games throw at you are very lighthearted while also being deep at times. The games can be fun, sad, funny, weird, and just all kinds of stuff, often all at the same time. The situations alone the games put you through are unlike anything you’ve dealt with in other RPGs. And what really nailed it for me was the Mother 3 boat ride scene.
Not only was this an immediate nostalgia trip, it FORCED you to stop and wait for an entire boat ride to go through, putting on display all kinds of stuff from the Mother series’ past as well as updated tunes. It was such a nice touch that I often go back and watch that scene again and again. So how is this relaxing, exactly? Well, the game isn’t exactly DEMANDING.
Yes, you have to grind and yes, they can be hard, but you keep coming back because of everything it gives you. Even at your most frustrated, it’s hard not to crack a smile from time to time because the games try so hard to make you enjoy yourself in every way possible. I wouldn’t say the Mother series is the apex of RPGs, but they are exactly what any good RPG should strive for: to elicit emotion from the player.
There are a number of games that didn’t quite make the cut here and I’m sure I missed a bunch of them. Most of the time when someone makes a list like this, they include Katamari Damacy. Well, KD’s a great game, but while the music and ambience can be mellow and relaxing, the gameplay isn’t. Now sure, the gameplay for a lot of these titles isn’t exactly relaxing either, so where’s the disconnect?
If you really break it down, KD is an arcade game. You have to very quickly roll around a ball and make it a certain size before time runs out. Since you’re being timed, you don’t have the ability to relax. And you might say that on earlier stages you can relax, but you’re wrong there, too. If you’re still new at it, you might not be able to relax. And if you’re advanced, you’ll be obsessed with beating your previous score.
Unless you just absolutely do not care about winning the round and it really is just about having fun and relaxing, you’re constantly driven to beat the clock. That’s not relaxing. Each of the games mentioned often have several relaxing elements to them, even if they’re unintentional, and they shine through just as much as anything else in the game, allowing you to really soak it up and be at peace.
However, if you can think of other examples (Harvest Moon, certain sim or adventure games, etc.) that you feel would’ve been better choices, feel free to leave a comment!
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