With surprising regularity, the dog days of summer bring us role-playing games. This year, as the sun starts to beat down on us with slightly less enthusiasm and the light gets slightly lower, we’re playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. It joins a long tradition of end of summer role-playing games. This stretch of season sits between the relaxed freedom of high summer and the harvest season of school and renewed responsibility, a place that for some can feel melancholic. No more beach, no more sleeping in, no more sandals. It doesn’t seem to fit the feel of grand adventure, losing yourself in thick play systems and overwrought character drama. For the type of person that loves the romance of fall, the cool air and swift breezes, the timing couldn’t be better. I love end of summer RPGs because it’s the moment of the year when the air literally feels charged with the sort of change and electricity inherent in the genre’s best.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution, also released at the tail end of August just like Mankind Divided but back in 2011, taps into that seasonal shift in a few ways. Adam Jensen himself is easing into a new life in that game, acclimating to his awkward mechanical upgrades in yellowed Detroit nights. Every terse dialogue he has comes with the same feel of small world politics and social jockeying that comes with the beginning of the school year: Jensen tries to ingratiate himself with his helicopter pilot by helping her solve the disappearance of a friend the same way a freshman leans into acting as an anchor on her varsity cross country team.
Another August RPG that plumbs deep into that autumnal shift is Chrono Cross. Released in 2000, Squaresoft’s divisive adventure is literally about a world in transition, trying to fix one tragedy in the past that split the world into two very different dimensions. Given its setting in a tropical archipelago, you’d think Cross would lend itself more to early summer, but its story, tone, deeply hued art, and winsome soundtrack definitely feel like hot days giving way to cooler ones. Wandering the overworld as Serge and his friend Kid, listening to the weird Caribbean/Celtic mix of “Fields of Time--Homeworld,” it’s the perfect gaming companion to a walk on the first night of real hoodie weather.
The list goes on. Playing Final Fantasy 7 in the beginning of September 1997, I’ll never forget how that moment when Cloud and his companions first left Midgar and saw the green and brown expanse of their world outside the city. It matched perfectly with the trees outside dotted with red and yellow inside still fully green branches. Or stomping through the forests of Albion in September 2004, a countryside literally frozen in the end of summer where you raise up a character going through the sort of life changes--educational, athletic, etc.--that come with the season. This year as I play through Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, finding hilarious ways to avoid security guards in air ducts, I’m playing through those games again, flush with goodwill and a thirst for good stories.
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