From Borderlands to JRPGS to Animal Crossing, here are the relaxing games that DualShockers turns to for comfort and stress relief.
With the growing concerns over the coronavirus outbreak across the world, things are certainly stressful and uncertain right now for everyone around the world. Thankfully, video games have been able to help take us out of dark times before, and with so many countries turning to shelter in place orders and more drastic measures, gaming is certainly a welcome distraction and source of escape right now.
In light of these heavy times, the DualShockers staff gathered to share some of our favorite games that we turn to when we need them most. Consider these our “comfort food games” – the games that we like to use as outlets for relaxation, stress relief, and a bit of warmth when they’re needed.
Kris Cornelisse, Staff Writer
As odd as it sounds, my relaxation games of choice are usually some flavour of strategy title. Stellaris or Civilization 6 might have a lot going on, but once you sink the time, in they become fairly rote.
At that point, I’m just juggling resources and expanding my influence across the map. Amass my technology, build my armies, paint the planet(s) the colour of my empire…the whole thing becomes fairly cathartic. Throw in a podcast to listen to, and you have my wind down method of choice.
For something a little more short duration than those, I’ll play a round of Frostpunk or Northgard, but the same principle applies regardless.
Ricky Frech, Senior Staff Writer
When I think about my video game comfort food, there are a few nostalgia-filled games that come to mind. I could easily make this entry about something like World of Warcraft, Diablo II, NCAA Football 2014, or literally any Yakuza game. However, when I look at my YouTube history since my personal quarantine began, the answer is clear. The number of hours I’ve already spent watching The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past randomizers is kind of shocking, but it makes sense.
A Link to the Past is my favorite game of all-time. Rarely would I call a game perfect, but if any game is, it’s this one. And when the team behind the randomizer put out their first release, an incredible thing was born. I’ve played through the original ALTTP more times than I can count. It’s been in my regular rotation since my parents got me a SNES in 1994. I know that map about as well as I know the back of my hand. So, to get something that completely switches all of that up and surprises you at every turn is an absolute joy. No two runs are exactly the same and your game knowledge is often tested in ways you never expected.
Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend you play the randomizer first. If you haven’t played ALTTP‘s original version, please, do yourself a favor and do so now (and easily accessible through Nintendo Switch Online). Like, right now. But once you’ve played through the game a time or twenty, give the randomizer a try. It will not disappoint.
Cameron Hawkins, Staff Writer
While it’s not normally a game people play for relaxation, my go-to title whenever I sit down to unwind is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I like playing competitive games, so whenever I know that I don’t have much time to play, don’t want to start a new game, or trying not to be super active in what I’m doing, I play Super Smash Bros. To me, Smash is just that type of comfort food gaming where I know I can always go to it and turn my brain off for a little. There are times where I play in a more serious fashion to try and better my skills, but normally, I like to kick back, go through a few rounds on auto-pilot, and call it a day.
All I’m waiting for now is for Sakurai to announce Sora in the new Fighters Pass. That’s all I want Sakurai. Please.
Allisa James, Senior Staff Writer
Normally some grinding sessions or mini-games in my favorite RPGs is more than enough to soothe this soul. But desperate times call for even stronger coping mechanisms, and so I turn to two games that exclude relaxation.
The first is Flower, which is a title developed by and released by Thatgamecompany in 2009 for the PS3. The player controls the wind as it blows a flower petal through the air. As you fly close to other flowers, you bloom them and attract more petals. There’s no enemies, no time limits, and the sounds and music are borderline ASMR in how peaceful and tranquil they are. Flower, with its stunning and colorful visuals that convey a subtle message of environmental conservation, is the perfect game to wind down to when the world is too much to handle (especially right now).
The second title is a game that I’ve raved about before: VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action. The aesthetic here is much different, as it takes place in a dark and grim cyberpunk future. But instead of focusing on an epic tale on class warfare, you play as an ordinary bartender that serves her eclectic customers as they pour their hearts out. The graphics are straight from a PC-98 Japanese visual novel, and it features an incredible retro soundtrack that you can fully customize. Getting to know each customers’ story while making them drinks in a fun mini-game that lets you endlessly restart bad drink mixing is a great way to wind down, and reminds you to see the everyday humanity in even the worst of situations.
Otto Kratky, Associate Staff Writer
Alright, let’s be frank. The world’s on fire right now – people are getting sick, international markets are crashing worse than Sonic ’06, and most of us have been told to stay indoors. In short, everything sucks right now, which means it’s a great time for some escapism. While most people are ditching the real world for their Animal Crossing paradises, me and my friends have opted for something a little more active, and therefore more distracting.
I’m talking about Stardew Valley, Concerned Ape’s farming simulator. Sure it’s not the most relaxing game, but it’s one that you can get into the rhythm of and suddenly hours have passed. See, in Animal Crossing, there’s hardly ever any direction: you just have your chores for the day and then you can go fishing or catch bugs – it’s pretty loose in structure like that. But in Stardew Valley you’ve got to take care of your plants and your animals, then you have to go to the mine to get iron for sprinklers, and it goes on. It’s much more active and absorbing, not to mention that with friends, you get a wonderful social experience that a bunch of us may be missing right now.
Is Stardew Valley really comfort gaming? Kind of. It’s not high-stress, and it doesn’t raise my BPM like DOOM Eternal does. But it takes me away from it all and gives me something else to focus on without stress or worry. I think that’s something all of us could use a bit of right now.
Ryan Meitzler, Features Editor
While gaming in general tends to be one of my favorite sources of relaxation when I get home, there are only a few types of games that I generally turn to time and again for stress relief or comfort. Generally, the two that I tend to come back to the most for good ol’ comfort food gaming are Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Destiny 2. They’re super easy for me to jump into for either short play sessions or longer periods of time, and I can pretty much always find time to play them with friends to hangout and chat with them in Discord.
When I’m looking for something more single-player focused or when I’m not in a competitive mood, my comfort go-to games are either open-world games or RPGs. It’s always soothing to me to get lost in a gigantic world or to grind and level up my characters in the JRPG that I’m playing at the moment on my Switch while listening to some music or a podcast. Open-world games especially tend to just click with a certain part of my brain that loves activities and checklists, which is part of the reason why I put over 90 hours into Assassin’s Creed Origins.
In the current pandemic environment, right now I’ve been delving into Tokyo Mirage Sessions on Switch among other games, though I think I’m finally going to take the opportunity to jump into Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Persona 5 soon enough.
Laddie Simco, Associate Staff Writer
Like many others, I’ve recently found myself temporarily out of work and quarantined due to the coronavirus. In this troubling time, I’ve sought comfort through video games. Through online games like Destiny 2 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, I’m able to mingle with friends and still practice social distancing. Animal Crossing, the game everyone seems to be playing right now, has provided me with an opportunity to leave my state of isolation and visit a bright island that allows me to virtually go about life without the fear of a virus.
With all of this extra time, I’ve also been revisiting various games and one that has been very soothing these days is Concrete Genie. It ended up being one of my favorite games of 2019 and I’ve been meaning to wrap up the few remaining trophies I need to turn the concrete into a Platinum. This mostly entails finding certain collectibles that I missed.
Traversing Denska without a care in the world (now that I have completed the story) is often a zen-like experience. I can stop and fill an empty wall with my fantastic murals that seemingly come to life. The adorable Genies are there to lend a hand or play hide and seek or even basketball with. There’s also the VR mode that offers a free paint mode where you can add your personal touch to some of the memorable places from the game’s campaign and then feel as if you have stepped inside of your painting.
For me, Concrete Genie has been the perfect calming game to counter the craziness that is our life right now, as well as the stress of missing a jump in DOOM Eternal.
Josh Starr, Associate Staff Writer
I certainly wouldn’t describe these two games as relaxing, but they are my gaming comfort food. These games are second nature to me and provide exciting moments, while being the perfect time to chat with my friends.
The first of these is Smite. I’ve been playing Smite since its first season, and even had a brief stint in the professional scene. I’ve tried every MOBA available, but this is the one for me. Its behind-the-back, third-person camera angle is one way it drastically differentiates itself from other MOBAs, while its mythological theme gives it a more widespread appeal. Its heavy emphasis on skillshots also makes it one of the most difficult games to master in the genre.
Ultimately, Smite can be as casual or competitive as you like. There is the hardcore Conquest mode which can take tons of practice to master, while other modes like Arena are easy to approach and enjoy. It’s an awesome game to play with friends, and there will undoubtedly be playable characters you recognize. Now is a great time to give Smite a shot, as it’s free to play on PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and has crossplay enabled between platforms.
My second comfort game is Borderlands; right now, that means Borderlands 3. Now Borderlands 3 received some criticism for its lackluster writing, which is completely warranted. However, Borderlands has never truly been about the story for me. It’s a wonderful zany looter-shooter that gives you the option to completely ignore the story while you run around with buddies searching for the next mind-shattering weapon.
Honestly, aside from the story, Borderlands 3 is the series’ best game in every possible way. Combat is greatly improved with thousands of new weapon options, improved special abilities, and increased movement options. Even the car combat, which was abysmal in previous titles, has been greatly improved here. Borderlands 3 promotes replayability as each subsequent playthrough increases your likelihood of finding ultra-rare weapons.
Borderlands 3 just released on Steam, and with another DLC pack being released this week, it’s the perfect time to grab some pals and drop onto Pandora’s surface. I’d go as far as saying that Borderlands 3 is the best group multiplayer shooter in recent years, even if sometimes you feel like turning down the game volume and blasting Spotify instead.
Nick Tricome, Staff Writer
I love hockey.
I watch it, play it, and depending on the need, even coach it.
I can’t do any of that right now, and probably won’t be able to for quite a while. The current circumstances; they suck. Not having that major outlet to escape them for at least a little bit makes it all feel so much worse.
Video games have had to fill that escapist void now more than they ever have, both for myself and I’m sure millions of others. And while there have been plenty of great new releases to turn to (Hey, Animal Crossing), I’ve found a lot of comfort in spending hours upon hours on NHL 20’s virtual rinks.
Now look, I buy NHL every year and would’ve spent hundreds of hours playing this season’s edition regardless. But the coronavirus pandemic has derailed nearly everything, the NHL season included, turning EA’s annual hockey franchise from a constant in my life to suddenly one of the few constants that remain.
It’s no replacement for the actual sport, it never could be. But in the meantime, taking my Be A Pro into the World of Chel’s pond hockey rinks just to mess around in Ones or drop-in Threes for a bit, or trying to create my best lineup possible through Hockey Ultimate Team, will get the job done. It kind of has to right now.
Please come back soon, Flyers 🙁
Scott White, Associate Staff Writer
For me, there is a special kind of comfort I find in the grind of RPGs. It’s calming and relaxing to me when I can just set about fighting monster after monster, working towards a goal like learning a special skill or trying to get a rare drop. The repetitive nature of grinding in an RPG lets me go on autopilot, freeing up my mind to take a load off, work through a problem, or just disconnect if I so choose.
The RPG grind is nice because even though you are tuned out and relaxed, there is still a benefit to what you are doing. Your characters are still getting stronger, you’re still getting money, learning skills, etc. A lot of games that will help automate this process somewhat. Bravely Default, the Tales series and Final Fantasy XII for example will allow you to focus on just running around if you want, leaving most of the grunt work to the computer controlled characters.
Another nice thing about RPGs is that if you get sick of grinding for levels, more often than not there is some sort of mini-game that you can grind thrugh instead. I have spent far too much time with the likes of Triple Triad in Final Fantasy VIII or that plushie creation mini-game in Bravely Second than I care to admit. And you know what; that’s ok. I’m thrilled that there are a few big RPGs right around the corner to help me relax this next month or two!
Now that you’ve heard from us about the DualShockers staff’s favorite games for comfort and relaxation, what are yours? Let us know in the comments below!