West of Loathing was originally released in 2017, by developer Asymmetric Publications. It is a spinoff of long-running web browser MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing, and maintains similar mechanics, terminology, and stick figure visuals from. A DLC scenario, Reckonin’ at Gun Manor, was released in 2019, and a follow-up game themed around a Lovecraftian setting was released without prior announcement in November 2022.
West of Loathing follows the adventures of the player-created protagonist, who can take the role of a Cow Puncher, Beanflinger, or Snake Oiler (fighter, mage, and ranger, respectively). After leaving their mundane family life behind, the protagonist journeys their way west, with the thriving town of Frisco as their destination. After first traveling to Boring Springs, the player picks up a horse for traveling and a pardner to assist in combat, before heading to a larger region divided by the mountains. Along the way, the protagonist tangles with demonic cows, evil rodeo clowns, mysterious alien technology, necromancy, cultists, and ghost bureaucracy.
A wise man once said “it’s surprisingly easy to hack your Nintendo 3DS.” With the impending death of the 3DS’s eShop , I finally decided to pull my trusty New™ 3DS XL out of its two-year retirement and hack it. I expected this activity to be a nice little distraction for a couple of weeks and instead I opened a gateway to a massive (but fun) time sink that is still preoccupying me a good five months later. But what exactly is so fun about hacking a little Nintendo console? It turns out, many, many things.
Ease of Hacking
Hacking a 3DS is, as the memes say, pretty easy. To avoid the technical nitty-gritty and summarize that it mostly involves moving files around, and as long as you can follow instructions and have about an hour to kill, it’s nothing complicated. Nintendo did patch an exploit with some recent firmware updates that sealed up the exploit used with Pokemon Picross, but smart people found a workaround.
I want something different, a video game that invokes my time with old Yu-Gi-Oh handheld games and my enjoyment of board games. In this modern era, where Yu-Gi-Oh games have morphed into app free-to-plays, with the occasional PVP simulator on the Switch, I need a new fix. Board game video games (BGVGs) conjure two vastly different images in the mind. First are the video games that mirror old children’s games like Monopoly or Sorry; games with full characters and worlds, like Culdcep, Dokapon Kingdom, 100% Orange Juice,or the Itadaki Street (or Fortune Street as it is referred to in English) series. Without splitting hairs, these are slow turn-based luck-based games with pretty grids, and they do not scratch my itch. The second type of board game videogames are adaptations of pre-existing hobby games (a term usually synonymous with euro-games, referring to games focused more on player input and decision than manipulation of luck), might be the answer. I wonder why I’ve never heard people discuss these games and if any were worth playing.
In this experiment, I decided to attempt the video game adaptations of six different hobby games, with a focus on what I called “homework” games. “Homework” is my term for any type of media that is considered classic or a staple of a medium; for instance, reading To Catch a Mockingbird post graduating high school or watching On the Waterfront or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance outside of a special event showcase. The work itself is becoming unapproachable because of its level of reverence. As a person who likes science fiction novels, I should read Stanisław Lem’s Solaris, as a person who likes film, I should watch Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, as a person who likes deck-building games, I should play Donald X. Vaccarino’s Dominion. Another way to look at the selection criteria is to simply call it an “introduction to hobby gaming” list. Dominion, Root, Sagrada, Mysterium, Ticket to Ride, and Small World are all recognizable and popular games in this space.
Little Noah is a side-scrolling roguelite developed by Cygames, of Granblue Fantasy and Princess Connect fame. Based on an earlier, now defunct, strategy mobile game, known as Battle Champs in the west, it was developed by BlazeGames Inc. They alsos helped develop a number of games published by Cygames, including Dragalia Lost and World Flipper.
Little Noah follows the adventure of Noah Little (yes, that’s her name) as she searches for her missing father. In this particular instance, she was tracking a floating ruin with a large energy signature. Confident in her abilities, Noah approached fearlessly and things were going well, until they weren’t. An odd cat crashes on her airship and, after a misunderstanding, the feline summons a storm that crashes Noah’s ship and puts it out of commission. Stranded on the floating ruins, Noah must venture into its depths in order to acquire mana, which she can put to use to repair her ship. She must also figure out the secrets behind the cat-whom Noah eventually befriends and names Zipper, and the ruins he inhabits. She’s not alone in the task, as yet another alchemist by the name of Greigh prowls these ruins to uncover its secrets, and the two are more connected than they could ever imagine.
Tales of Xillia is a bad Tales of game. Outside of the partner system making combat respectable, the rest of the game feels rushed, with an overall story that feels like fifteen hours were excised and the world is copy-pasted gorges. Worst of all, especially for a Tales of game, the characters are not engaging (Milla cannot carry the entire game on her bare shoulders) and half of them are not given anything to do. Tales of Xillia 2, however, fixes this last issue, and in personally the best way possible, by making the first game’s last-minute villains, King Gaius and goddess Muzét, into playable party members.
Villains joining the heroes to fight an even bigger antagonist is one of my favorite literary devices. When the bad guys join, it not only amps up the stakes, but has the potential for conflict-solving with a person whose moral compass does not exactly match the heroes.’ Contextless spoilers for a twenty-year-old TV show, but what pushed me through three-and-a-half seasons of Farscape was the promise that series villain Scorpius, the half “human” half lizard alien commander that had been hunting protagonist John Crichton for answers to how to make wormholes, would join John’s crew. Scorpius is now tasked with keeping the heroes alive to fight an evil worse than himself. A fitting example is an episode where everyone eats space oysters that link each other’s pain receptors when two people share a single massive oyster and will poison them to death in a few hours. At the last minute, Scorpius ritually fills his mouth with everyone’s space oysters, giving them more time for a cure, but at the expense of Scorpius, both a victim and perpetrator of torture, to feel all their intense pain. The episode ends with Scorpius screaming into the air to no one, as pieces of green and yellow space oyster escape his mouth. What if Scorpius learned kaboom at level forty-three and was the only party member that could use shadow magic?
Fragrant Story was created by William Kage and his development team Squire Games. Previously, Kage worked on a variety of fanmade tracks for existing SNES games, even going so far as to create a library of Soundfonts for other artists to use for the creation of ‘authentic’-sounding retro music. Kage has completed a Final Fantasy VI ROM hack, and is currently working on several not-for-profit game projects inspired by SNES titles. His main work-in-progress is an EarthBound/MOTHER-inspired game cheekily titled Otosan. Kage planned for Otosan to see a 3DS release, but due to Nintendo discontinuing the 3DS in 2020 with plans to close the console’s eshop in 2023, Kage scrambled to create a smaller-scale game to submit to Nintendo for last-minute approval. Kage opted to expand on a mini-game from Otosan, and Fragrant Story was released as a stand-alone.
Contextualized as a VR arcade game played by the kids in Otosan, Fragrant Story weaves a simplistic tale of battle within the kingdom of Flowergard. The kids take on the role of Fleuristas, warriors with different skills and powers, to protect the kingdom’s leader, Queen Mango. Led by the smooth-talking Colonel Rhubarb, the Fleuristas must fight their way to Wolfsbane, a vicious wolf man who guards the game’s final area, Bramble Hollow.
In a gray underground maze in a room without windows, it floats high above the ground. Eyeless, with a completely gold body like a holy monument, I shoot it till it falls over and bursts into crystals. I leave and then reenter the room. The figure is back, but while it might run away when I shoot it, it never defends itself as it explodes once more. I repeat this over and over again. Called the King Miroc, this enemy was how I grinded my way through Megaman Legends 2.
I first played Megaman Legends 2 on my uncle’s PlayStation as a kid. He didn’t have a memory card, which would have come in handy when we played ninety percent of the first Ape Escape in a single day. This meant that I played through the first thirty minutes of Megaman Legends 2 multiple times. I have the first big part where Megaman must put out robot monkey Data’s cooking fire, imprinted into my memory. The best part was when the bathroom door explodes into a tunnel of flames. Having to do that sequence over and over again, I learned that how fast I put out the fires meant Megaman had to spend less money later to rebuild the living room and kitchen. The first town, Yosyonke City, was this dreary, effecting place as a kid, with its snowy tundras and quiet bar. I love its one abandoned house that is never discussed by anyone that sits outside the bounds of the city. I remember fighting the first boss over and over again until I beat it, with each lose meaning I would have to start the entire game over. I finally beat it at one point, but the rest of the game eluded me.
Monster Crown was developed by Studio Aurum, an independent development team composed of lead developer Jason Walsh and designer/writer Shad Schwarck, along with their music team. According to the game’s Kickstarter, Monster Crown was a project developed in their free time in early 2016, before being Kickstarted in 2018, and finally released in 2020.
In a world where monsters and humans coexist, Monster Crown places the player in the shoes of a bright 14-year-old, living in the countryside with their parents. After helping their Dad with some errands, and showing promise as a budding monster tamer in the process, the player receives a starter monster from a magazine personality quiz. New friend in tow, the player sets out to befriend more monsters and travel across the continent.
Developed by sole creator, Nikita Kryukov, (the second game has assistance by other people for cutscenes and other aspects, but it’s still Krukoy’s show), Milk Inside A Bag Of Milk Inside A Bag Of Milk and Milk Outside A Bag Of Milk Outside A Bag Of Milk (referred to after this point as Inside and Outside) are self-aware horror visual novels/ point-and-click adventures games about an unnamed girl (people on Steam seem to call her Milk, so that’s what she will be called) dealing with an intense reality. Milk is like if the protagonist from the game Song of Saya was instead played by Lain from the anime Serial Experiments Lain; this plucky but tired looking kid sees the world in only blacks and reds, like she’s never stopped playing the Virtual Boy, and everyone looks like a Trevor Henderson cryptid. Not a lot happens in these games but also many things, including tough subjects like suicide and child abuse, happens in these games. Because both games are so short, they should be discussed together.
What immediately stands out with Inside is a mechanic where instead of picking Milk’s actions or commands, choices are instead given to a voice inside Milk’s head. Many of the options while talking with Milk are often antagonistic and sometimes mean, like Milk is an annoying child the player has to babysit while they get milk from the corner store. Which, as the titles suggests, is literally the entire scope of Inside, travelling to get milk for Milk’s mom. Inside is spent building up or tearing down Milk’s emotional confidence and wellbeing while getting her to stop going off on math formula tangents and just buy the damn milk. She can tolerate some of the player’s bullying, but cross her enough and Milk will restart the game. Milk is dealing with some heavy stuff at home and Inside works as the prologue.
Recently, I finished playing Tokyo Mirage Sessions (or TMS), the hybrid love child born from Nintendo’s Fire Emblem and Atlus’ Megami Tensei. Atlus is mostly known nowadays for its flagship series Shin Megami Tensei (or SMT, look familiar to anyone?) and it’s sister Persona. I had a very good time with TMS, so it saddens me that it seems to be so overlooked, partly perhaps because of the Wii U’s lack of popularity. What stuck out while playing TMS is its remarkable ability at using the entire playable cast, something of an unfortunate rarity in RPGs. I will be breaking down what I feel are the major reasons for this success.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions is successful at creating a gameplay loop that encourages using all party members evenly and in a balanced way, as well as making them all contribute meaningfully in battle even while not being directly controlled. This ability is mainly a result of two elements: the session system and the character’s stage rank. The first is the session system, used in battle when exploiting enemy weaknesses to create attack chains. With the session system, a character can strike an enemy’s weakness and if an ally knows a session skill that can follow up on the original attack’s element or weapon, they will execute it immediately. Another ally can then start a third attack if they have a skill to trigger from the second attack. For example, if Tsubasa hits an enemy weak to lances, Itsuki can then utilize lance-slash, from which Touma can now use sword-blaze to finish the chain. Additionally this mechanic creates a sense that the group is fighting as a team and as friends, rather than alone in a group as most RPG battles often play out.