The Annals of Mobile Game Preservation

Listening to The Video Game History Hour podcast made me think more about game preservation. Specifically, the issues of preserving mobile games for smart devices. Gacha games are difficult to fully preserve unless the developers choose to make offline versions, usually leaving players to archive assets on their own. Stand-alone mobile games are also tricky; due to Apple and Android operating systems receiving regular upgrades, it becomes difficult over time for developers to maintain their games. As a result, many devs will simply opt to delist their games. To make matters more complicated, iOS being such a closed operating system means that emulation is difficult, and obtaining exclusive games that are delisted requires sideloading methods. The frustrations of fleeting digital media ownership on top of everything is a conversation for another day, but it’s the unfortunate cherry on a shit sundae. For example, one of the games I remembered was one that I legally own but can no longer access since it was a) delisted and b) I no longer own an Apple device with an old enough version of iOS to even play it. With so many mobile games available on smart devices, I wanted to examine a couple of games from the early 2010’s that received ports to other consoles, and one more that didn’t/hasn’t been ported, and why that is concerning.

Chaos Rings

Ah, young love.

Chaos Rings are a series of turn-based RPGs published by Square Enix around the early 2010’s for mobile devices and later ported to the PS Vita. The games were developed by Media.Vision, who originally worked on the Wild Arms series and later Valkyria Chronicles entries. The first Chaos Rings game involves a group of couples forced into a death tournament by a menacing entity. Of course, things are not as simple as they seem, and the game’s plot is later revealed to be the more complicated plannings of a higher being. 

Chaos Rings I is  interesting from a technical and mechanical standpoint. The series l is a genuine effort from Square Enix to create fully realized JRPGs for mobile devices, with design nods to old-school JRPGs balanced out with accessible mechanics for more casual gameplay. For example, the first three games utilize 3D models on top of pre-rendered backgrounds, evoking the feel from PS1 Final Fantasy games. The first game allows players to set the levels of enemies in each area, which allows for easier exploration and the ability to grind levels more easily. In combat, the couples can function as either independent entities or pair up; pairing up allows for more damage done in a single turn but both characters will receive damage at the same time if attacked. Both characters can also learn and equip various skills from “genes” that can be obtained by defeating enemies.

Machina of the Planet Tree -Planet Ruler- Review: Slogging Through Fantasy Mines

Machina of the Planet Tree -Planet Ruler- (from now on, referred to as Planet Ruler), released in 2013, is the first game in the Machina of the Planet Tree series, developed by indie studio Denneko Yuugi. Like Sting Entertainment’s Dept. Heaven series, other Machina of the Planet Tree games (which so far only includes Unity Union) seem to share the same name but do not follow the same playable characters. On the topic of playable characters, Planet Ruler follows big-gauntlet-welding mining student Cram and mercenary cat-girl Retla, as they work together to find and protect Machina Tree priestess Etsy from the villainous Elite Four. 

An initial problem with Planet Ruler is that it requires getting reacquainted with the difference between story and plot. The short sentence above, about who our heroes and villains are, is seemingly the entire game’s plot, wherein the heroes must protect a person or thing from a Megaman Battle Network-sized team of mono-colored bad guys. The story of Planet Ruler is faux complicated  by the way characters tell it. Planet Ruler is supposedly not a long game, which means all this world building and lore must get crammed into every sentence. New term after  new term must be given and then defined. The game does have  cute optional side chats with the heroes vamping about save crystals or some nonsense from Cram’s far more interesting gauntlet Chronos; it’s a feature that makes Tales of games special. cannot replace turning all characters into creatures of exposition. RPGs involve caring about party members because they are who the player follows and controls. Their dramas and conflicts, their adventures and setbacks, their tastes in high fantasy monster burgers, all need to mean something. After a few hours, I was left feeling that Cram sure was smug, Retla was cute but does not get to do much, and Etsy sure is a robot girl trope character. 

Dusk Diver Review: Diver Down

Dusk Diver originally released in 2019, and was developed by JFI Games, a seemingly obscure (or perhaps just small) game studio from Taiwan. I wasn’t able to find much info about the studio other than that they worked on a mobile card game called Bound Strike at some point. A direct sequel, aptly titled Dusk Diver 2, was released in 2022.

Dusk Diver focuses on high school student Yang Yumo, on her summer break in the Ximending district of Taipei, Taiwan. During an average shopping outing with her friend Yusha, the two are suddenly transported to an alternate version of the city, known as Youshanding, and attacked by monsters called Chaos Beasts. Yumo is assisted by Leo, a stone lion Kunlunian Guardian from the spirit realm. In the heat of the action, Yumo borrows Leo’s spirit energy and fends off the monster threat, but finds herself unable to re-disperse Leo’s powers back and maintain her non-fiery-haired normal form. After being introduced to Boss, a mysterious researcher Guardian trapped in the form of a ceramic bear, Yumo reluctantly agrees to work for Boss’s convenience store in exchange for possible assistance in returning to her normal self. As Yumo becomes more involved in investigating supernatural incidents in Ximending, she’s later joined by two other Guardians: Bahet, a bat Guardian slowly learning the ways of the human world, and La Viada, a fish Guardian and popular model and actress.

Just tell people you’re working on your Promare cosplay.
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What Comes After Review: Get On The Train

What Comes After is a collaboration between Indonesian Coffee Talk creator Mohammad Fahmi (editor’s note, who has sadly passed away) and studio Rolling Glory Jam about Vivi, a young women who falls asleep on the late night train while returning from work. When Vivi wakes up, she awakens onto a subway car filled with ghosts. Informed by the conductor that this situation was a mistake and she can leave when the train goes back in the morning, Vivi must pass the time by talking to other passengers until dawn.

The first thing to notice about What Comes After is that it’s a game set during Covid. All the living characters wear uniform cloth masks (looked up photos of Indonesia during covid and it would have been nice if at least a few people were wearing disposable medical mask to add to the realistic similitude) and stylistically, all the passing ghosts don’t have mouths. It’s the first time I’ve played something that’s even mentioned Covid, but thankfully it’s referenced in a way that’s respectful and is never mentioned in the narrative.

West of Loathing Review: SpaghettiO Western

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. 

An image relatable to 8-year-old me and also almost-30-year-old me.

Adventures in 3DS Hacking

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.

It’s also come to my attention that Rocket Slime 3 has a fan translation, DQ fans are GOATED.

A Case Study with Board Game Video Games

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 Review: Here We Go Again

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.

Let the Villains Join the Party

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 Review: Floral Fantasy

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.

He may not be a sky pirate, but Rhubarb is delightful all the same.
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