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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Trying to Catch ‘Em All : Adventures in Monster Catching Games

After my recent playthrough of Monster Crown, I got to thinking more about the wider monster catching subgenre of games. Specifically, what makes some of these games jive with me and others fall flat. Over the past few years, I’ve played a variety of different monster catching games, most pretty solid, a few not so much. While these games were often mechanically different, I was able to consider the defining elements of the games and what made them work, with others struggling , and what I generally like to see in these games.

I’m a pretty shameless Yo-kai Watch stan, even though the games’ glory days are seemingly over, and it’s unlikely future games beyond 3 will get localized. Yo-kai Watch works pretty well on its own, rather than being treated as a Pokemon-killer/rival, which seems to be how it was unfortunately marketed in the West to the series’ deterrence. In general, Yo-kai Watch seems to hit a few more notes from modern JRPG’s, which gives additional depth to the games. For example, parts of the game feel more open-world and there’s a genuine sense of urban exploration. While the battle system in the games is somewhat polarizing, it feels novel to have a monster battling system that is automatic, with the player being tasked to activate skills and use items instead of dishing out direct commands.Yo-kai Watch should also be seriously commended for its localization efforts. While many people might find it egregious for a modern game dealing with Japanese yokai to be localized into an American setting, somehow the localization makes it work. There’s plenty of really great puns (Predictabull is one of my favorites) and there’s a genuinely funny sense of humor throughout the games that works better than one would expect. I even surprisingly enjoyed the anime, which carries over the game’s humor and makes for a decent comedy show. In general, there’s many things that Yo-kai Watch does right.  

Not pictured: hours of frustration watching the AI use ineffective moves on bosses.

Childhood Memories of Megaman Legends 2 and How Sequel Games Are Better

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 Review: The Unfortunate Paper Birthday Crown

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.

Go godless abomination, I choose you!
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Milk Inside (Outside) A Bag Of Milk Inside (Outside) A Bag Of Milk Review: Long Title Is Long

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.

Lessons in Team Building with Tokyo Mirage Session

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.

Nothing says teamwork like ganging up on others.

When Megaman Legends Is to Hard to Handle

Tan with rust and missing one of its seven-feet long obelisk arms, the Hanmuru Doll still strikes fear. Massive, but mobile, the Hanmuru Doll’s single red eye is impartial to my fate as its still-working arm pummels me flat. I Game Over and realized I had to redo everything, as I had not passed my first save point. This was the moment I realized that Megaman Legends was not going to let me take it easy. I often lament on this site the lack of modern 3-D adventure video games being released now, thus why I decided to go back 20+ years and return to Megaman Legends. I am rather bad at video games, which for the case of Megaman Legends, might just be me pushing against the series’ history with being difficult in general. I wanted worlds to explore and characters to engage with, and I certainly got that, but Megaman Legends really pushed me. But I had to do it for that sweet summer child, Megaman Volnutt.  

Megaman Legends has an easy mode, but it’s locked and only for players who can beat normal difficulty under a few hours. Megaman Legends has a type of game difficulty reminiscent of another Capcom game, Resident Evil, where the best weapons are treated as post game bonuses. Why is the unlimited rocket launcher and unlimited magnum for players who can beat Resident Evil under a certain amount of time? A player would already have to be amazing at the game to  complete such a task, so what is the genuine reward in  completing something difficult, only to let you do it again but easier? Give those weapons to the player who did not sign up for a head smashing evening. Resident Evil 2 and 3 figured this out by giving easy mode extra starting health and ammo.

Secret Little Haven Review: Can’t Leave The Desktop

Developed by Victoria Dominowsk, Secret Little Haven follows Alex, a trans teenager who escapes her life of social pressure from her lonely dad by talking with friends online. Alex also spends a lot of time on the fan forums of her favorite show, Pretty Guardian Love Force, a thinly veiled Sailor Moon homage, called PGFans. These forums are where Alex feels she can better engage with people, unlike how she struggles to communicate with classmates at school or her childhood friend Andy. It’s difficult to discuss Secret Little Haven’s rather intense plot past this point, as exploring Alex’s personal life and friend associations  comprise most of the game.

Secret Little Haven involves maintaining multiple different conversations with Alex’s PGFans friends, usually discussing different aspects of the show they like. This ranges from discussing fan art to full chat role-play sessions. When things get heavy in one chat later in the game, it creates a  weird parallel where Alex is casually role-playing her Pretty Guardian Love Force original character in another. This conceit replicates a certain mood shared by people in the late 90’s when it involved their interests and the social circles  connecting them. This is an experience I know other people  have but it’s not something I am personally familiar with, as I do not engage with fan spaces on this level. It works as a  late 90’s time capsule of anime fandom, including jokes about fansub tape trading.

Desktop cats will save us. They will save ALL OF US.