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Our Favorite Winter Settings in Video Games

Had enough of Winter yet? Gimmie a break, the worst parts of Winter, January and February, haven’t even set in yet! Now that Christmas has come and gone, you can watch as this Winter Wonderland evaporates into a cold, shrill, and dark wasteland for the next two months. If you pray to the sun for Spring to maybe come just a few days earlier, it might pity you and warm your bones with a nice soft ray for a minute or two.

And even then, there is no respite for us at all. Why is that? Because we are video gamers!

Winter never dies when you are a videogame fan, just remember that. These are our favorite cold places in video games you should try playing, put you in the mindset that at least you are not living here. It will make it all the easier.

Narshe – Final Fantasy VI

Narshe

Narshe is a mining town located on the northern end of Final Fantasy VI’s extensive world map. Glaciers shatter the canyons and cliffs just above the city while the residents below earn a meager living by digging out minerals.

In the opening scene, brainwashed Terra and her two sidekicks walk through an endless snowstorm to lay waste to this peaceful corner of the Earth. Pipes emit steam and smoke from the ineffective fireplaces and water boilers, and the sun never seems to shine. Even the chilling town theme music suggests that this is a cold, cold place.

After the cataclysmic events of the game’s halfway point, Narshe mysteriously finds itself totally depopulated. Not a soul remains within the town limits. Perhaps realizing the brief mortality of their lives, the villagers and miners migrated to warmer climate to enjoy the rest of their frightened and hopeless lives with just a little bit of sun.

Umaro

If the setting wasn’t enough to prove that Narshe is not the coldest place ever imagined, then how about a sasquatch? Final Fantasy VI stars one of the series’ most interesting and original secret characters, the yeti Umaro. Thick white fur blankets his muscular skin, and he even has the ability to breathe ice on his enemies with the proper relic equipped.

Only the frozen hell itself could hope to habitat such a creature.

–Ron Duwell

The Northern Half of Skyrim

Skyrim Snow

I don’t remember exactly what the weather was like when I was sitting down on 11.11.11 to play Skyrim for the first time, but as I played it for the next few months, the stuff outside started to look more and more like what I was seeing in the game.

Somehow, the Nordic land of Skyrim manages to capture places known for their snow – northern Europe, Siberia – even my home state of Minnesota, though we don’t have the mountains to match.

The feeling of cold was so effective in Skyrim’s northern sections that I would take extra steps to go around the water even though it didn’t have any real effect on my character. Everyone here knows someone, either directly or indirectly, who went through the ice at some point, and wandering around the frozen wastes of Tamriel’s arctic nation was a frequent reminder.

Sure, we don’t have to deal with dragons and frost trolls here, but we share the cold and not even the likes of Lost Planet have done such a good job of conveying the sensation of winter as Skyrim.

–Eric Frederiksen

World 4 – Super Mario Bros. 2

Super Mario Bros. 2 (2)

Mario has traveled to quite a few frigid places in his eternal battles against the lizard king, Bowser. The furthest northern reaches of the Mushroom Kingdom are bound to have frozen tundras where only the burliest of mushrooms are able to grow, but for his absolute coldest excursion, we need to turn to the subconscious realms in his brain.

SPOILERS, yes. Super Mario Bros. 2 is all a dream that Mario wakes up from in the game’s closing scene, but not before he takes a trip through World 4, the ice world. As far as cold regions of video games go, this one is not quite as unforgiving because of its moody, relentless chilling in the bone. It’s the populace that will bring Mario to his knees.

First we have the Flurries, little white creeps who have mastered the art of ice-skating and will use this unfair home-field advantage in their relentless pursuit of Mario’s friends. One false step running from these persistent monsters can lead to a slip into the deadly cold waters or an unexpected trap from the Trouter fish who leap out from random locations on the map.

Super Mario Bros 2 Whales

Of course, not every enemy is out to take away one of Mario’s lives. Eventually, a pod of friendly Sperm Whales will swim to his aid and use their blowholes to create a temporary platform for an extra boost. Plus, whatever genius gardener was able to plant the famous shrubs throughout Super Mario Bros. 2’s levels was able to make cherries ripe in this northern frigid world and even plant a rocket ship beneath the surface!

–Ron Duwell

Shadow Moses – Metal Gear Solid

ShadowMosesHeliportMGS

I’ve been playing games for a long time and definitely played my share of winter levels in games, but Metal Gear Solid‘s Shadow Moses Island, especially the first area and the later battle against Sniper Wolf, is the first time I can remember a game making me feel cold the way the aforementioned Skyrim can. Guards patrol in full winter gear, including white balaclavas. You can see your own breath as well as theirs.

Even worse, some of the choices you make in the game can lead you to catch a cold, forcing you to search for cold medicine without getting caught sniffling and sneezing by the guards. That’s a cold weather simulator if ever I’ve seen one.

–Eric Frederiksen

Inaba – Shin Megami Tensei Persona 4

Persona 4

Japan is a lovely place in the winter if you are able to travel out of the big city and into the rural mountainous areas of the north. Snow covering the temples and shrines, mountains disappearing into the low clouds, and Japanese fashion comes into full bloom as inhabitants are able to cover themselves in many clashing and matching layers. If only there were a video game out there was would be able to perfectly capture this setting…

Yeah, there’s Persona 4. You knew were I was going with this. The countryside town of Inaba is about as picturesque as they come in video games for rural Japan, and this goes double for its gorgeous recreation of winter. Of course, by the time the snow falls and winter sets in, our heroes have already put the town’s troubles to rest and our hero has not much else to do besides make a few last memories and close out his social links.

The Snowflakes song which plays in the background perfectly captures the mood of this closing month. Inaba’s January starts off with a wonderful New Year’s celebration at the local shine with your friends, a private date with your girlfriend in a kimono the following morning. People tuck into stores for warmth, your family hangs out under the heated “kotatsu” table, and somehow there is a girl who is able to wear shorts throughout all of this! All of this closes with a snowboard trip to the mountains and a frozen dungeon to rescue Marie if you are playing the Vita version

Inaba in the winter encapsulates the perfect Japanese winter experience, flawlessly nailing almost everything people in this country enjoy every year. I don’t think it was able to recreate “mochizuki,” but I can live without that. Inaba is a wonderful place, and I can’t wait to visit again. It’s a little too perfect because I still haven’t found anywhere in Japan that captures the imagination in the same way.

–Ron Duwell

Emprise du Lion – Dragon Age: Inquisition

Of the dozen-plus areas you can visit in Dragon Age: Inquisition, Emprise du Lion is one of my favorites. Located next to a large river, this area is not only in deep winter but ends up looking like those pictures you see of coastal areas near the arctic circle where it’s less about snow cover and more about icicle cover thanks to subzero temperatures and a constant supply of moisture in the air. Combined with the red lyrium crystals spiking out of the ground, I end up feeling like I’m in one of those 1980s fantasy movies built on practical effects.

–Eric Frederiksen

Ice Castle – Secret of Mana

Secret of Mana Frost Gigas

Another beloved Squaresoft classic for the Super Nintendo makes our list, but for totally different reasons. Secret of Mana‘s Ice Castle is pretty standard when it comes to ice dungeons in video games, but makes the list because it closes out with the single greatest cameo in video game history.

Trudging through the slippy, icy halls of his frozen mansion in the mountains is pretty tough work, but luckily you were wise enough to grind away at the Salamader Mana Spirit to take advantage of its fire attacks. Icicles fall from the ceiling and provide a bit of an elemental challenge, but really, this assault is all about taking down its final boss, the Frost Gigas. Doing so causes him to return to his normal, peaceful form of…

Secret of Mana Santa Claus

Santa Claus! Yes, Squaresoft managed to make Santa Claus a boss fight in one of its most marvelous RPGs! He even gives you a boomerang orb as a Christmas present! Children stopped beleiving in him, causing him to go insane with grief and morph into a terrible, frozen ogre. How sad! Don’t you feel awful!?

Joining him are Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who sent you on the quest to rescue Santa, and a giant Christmas tree which grew thanks to the power of the Fire Seed, your main objective for traveling up to the tips of the world’s northern borders. I mean, this is the North Pole, isn’t it?

Best of all, Santa has a cannon transport near his house, so you can go visit him whenever you like!

–Ron Duwell

Arstotzka Border – Papers, Please

Papers Please

Last year’s indie hit Papers, Please is famous for allowing you to choose who gets to enter the country of Arstotzka and who doesn’t. It’s a tough decision which can destroy and separate families or even allow in nasty terrorists who will cause chaos and havoc in its relatively balanced society.

Sure, the low-resolution artwork and shaggy clothing of the those who take the gamble and line-up really drives home the fact of how desperate these sojourners are, but can you imagine if Arstotzka was a tropical paradise?

“Sorry lady! Go find yourself another five-star Hilton Hotel to sneak into. I’m not buying your lies for one second!”

No, Papers, Please’s desperate situation hits even closer to the bone because you are not only banishing these people to a helpless, homeless life of destitution but also telling them to trek back to their homelands across the cold, frozen plains which they crossed to come and beg at your cozy, warm, little booth.

–Ron Duwell


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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