When Less is More: The Problem with Too Many Party Members

23862-chrono-cross-playstation-screenshot-cool-feature-choosing-different

Roughly a year ago, I managed to finish playing Chrono Cross, the interesting but messy sequel to Chrono Trigger. While I have plenty of issues with CC, one of the more glaring problems I noted with the game was its bloated cast. Yet, looking back on my criticisms of CC made me question why I had this specific problem, compared to other games with many characters, such as Suikoden or Fire Emblem. It turns out that this problem is more multifaceted than it initially seems.

I want to discuss Chrono Cross’s cast specifically. The various party members you can recruit in Chrono Cross fall under three specific categories: a) are heavily involved in the story (Harle, Viper, Karsh, Zoah, Marcy), b) are involved in the story only during specific points (Guile, Nikki, Korcha, Irenes, Sneff), and finally have little to no direct involvement with the story at all (Poshul, Draggy, Starky, Skelly). To give specific examples, you encounter gruff guy Karsh and his band of goons early on as an antagonistic force, but they end up teaming up with protagonist Serge later when story points shift. Meanwhile, German mermaid Irenes is only directly involved in a specific story point involving the help of a certain pirate, while the undead clown Skelly is linked to an optional sidequest. Chrono Cross has an interesting plot conceit by way of jumping between two different versions of the same world, but the bloated cast (and some of the game’s bizarrely confusing/cryptic writing) takes focus off the more relevant characters.

Skelly1

You wouldn’t expect a skeleton dressed like this to have one of the most heartbreaking sidequests, hmm?

Continue reading

Advertisements

Sweet Pool Review: Pool Runnings

IMG_20190409_143422

This review contains both extensive discussion on the topic of sexual assault as it relates to both plot progression, character interaction and an untypical increase in profanity for this writer. If such topics are considered unpleasant, please consider sitting this one out, dear reader.

I have a love/hate relationship with visual novels, and while I have a ton of games I like, visual novels as a whole can leave me lacking. Visual novels as a medium have this cool way of letting the player reside inside the characters’ heads and shared experiences. But they often feel narratively padded or suffer, as I like to call it, Otome game cover boy syndrome, a pushed canon relationship. In other words, any visual novel with a dating factor really has a steep hill to climb with me. That hill is even steeper when it comes to the relationships in Nitro+chiral’s Sweet Pool.

High school second year Youji Sakiyama has spent years in and out of the hospital. He doesn’t eat much, has a sleep problem, and if it wasn’t for the fact that all the character designs make every character marble white, Youji’s also looking awfully pale. Plot summaries in visual novel reviews feel like giving boss tips in the middle of a review of a character-action game, so I will keep it brief with things aren’t going great for Youji in his super Christian Japanese high school besides is failing health. Youji’s currently lives alone in an apartment he use to share with his adult sister, because his parents are dead because plot. This provides appeal alone/kidnap time with Youji’s lovely classmates/love interests: wholesome hungry boy Makoto Mita, quite to a genuinely annoying fault Tetsuo Shironuma, and beer can licker and shit head son of a Yakuza Zenya Okinaga. What fun merriment will befall these boys?

Sweet.Pool.full.185423

Really strange how this game got the license to play Duran Duran’s Hungry like the Wolf just for this burger shop scene.

Full Review

Real Soundtracks for Fake Games

SC88LP01_MOCK_640x640

Video game soundtracks never fail to amaze me with how varied they’ve been able to become in recent years. Touching on everything from heavy synth chords, ominous symphonic choirs, powerful classical tones, and urgent electronic suites, the diversity in sound is endless. Nonetheless, I had an overly-specific query regarding video game soundtracks: what about soundtracks for fake games? Finding Equip’s Synthetic Core 88 (which I discuss more in detail later) set me off on a bizarre quest to find concept albums themed around this idea. This was harder to find than expected, but I figured this idea was too cool to not discuss anyway, so I’ll go on what I was able to find.

a1738845049_16

The first album I’ll showcase is bird world by Leon Chang. While I mostly associate Chang with his wonderful regular twitter posts reminding everyone to play Star Ocean: The Second Story, his music work is a different (but neat) creature of the feathered variety.
bird world is the soundtrack to a cute tiny bird-themed RPG about an avian fellow named Leon (ha) who sets out on an adventure after meeting with a mysterious, amnesiac stranger. Chang even went as far as to include a little illustrated PDF with the album download that harkens back to the good old days of video games including physical manuals with little blurbs about the settings and characters. He even includes gameplay tips and level-up skills for the characters! That’s dedication, folks!
leonThe best way to describe bird world is damn catchy. bird world feels like an unrestrained love letter to thematic video game sub-levels with a heavy smattering of indulgent sampling ranging from Ape Escape monkey sneezing to the Metal Gear alert sound. The result is a varied, upbeat mix of music that lands straight into the realm of embodying the game’s worlds themselves. Off the bat, the relaxing main menu theme and quirky welcome to bird world song quickly plop you into the grasp of the ‘game’, right after you’ve torn off the plastic wrap. From the tropical and floaty notes of lychee beach to the mellow and cozy side of winter melon valley, Chang does an exceptional job giving each track a specific flair. My personal favorite track, noodle cave, blankets you in fast-paced beats that get you pumped as the end of the ‘game’ approaches.

My only complaint with bird world is the soundtrack’s overall form, which, while fun and amazing to listen to, doesn’t quite feel like an actual soundtrack. If anything, bird world feels like a remixed version of an already existing soundtrack, though I’m not sure if Chang was trying to evoke a specific era of video games or a console. By no means is this a bad thing, and I don’t think Chang was purposely trying to evoke an older-sounding soundtrack by using something like older recording technology or chip-tune music. Just be aware that bird world is its own distinctive beast that tries more to evoke the general structure of a video game soundtrack.

The next album of interest is Synthetic Core 88 by Equip. I found this piece through Yetee thanks to Drew Wise’s eye-catching cover art for the vinyl and cassettes, which are stylized after Japanese soundtrack packaging and even include fake screencaps for the ‘game’. Like bird world, Synthetic Core 88 is conceptualized as an RPG soundtrack, this time centered around a girl named Flora getting lost in a dreary post-apocalyptic future world and fighting for survival. Synthetic Core 88 takes heavy cues from SNES-era games, with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI being obvious influences, yet Equip manages to give the soundtrack a distinctive, smooth flair.
SC88LP05_MOCK_640x640
As Equip states on their bandcamp page, vaporwave and new age sounds are a major influential factor within their work, and it shows. While Synthetic Core 88 embodies a lot of respect towards old-school RPG’s, there’s still a sense of unique mellowness that Equip manages to incorporate in many of the tracks, such as in ‘New GAIA’ and ‘Flora Awakens’. Even the more upbeat tracks such as ‘Wholehearted Elation’ and ‘SILPH6’ evoke feelings of urgency mixed with a certain distance. There’s a strong sense of dreaminess tinged with nostalgia that permeates many of the tracks.

While I wish it was easier to find more ‘fake videogame soundtrack’ concept albums, I was pleased with both bird world and Synthetic Core 88. Both albums’ artists manage to take the concepts in different directions, resulting in some cool and catchy musical work that harken back to various flavors of video game sounds. It’s definitely a neat concept that I’d love to see grow as time goes on.

Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Unlockable Costumes

Recently I’ve been trying to return to my childhood years of early YuGi-Oh! videogames. Mixing nostalgia for the only trading card game I ever really got into and a desire to play a handheld game that was not another RPG, I recently played through both Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Tag Battle for the PSP and Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Spirit Caller on the DS. While I grew tired of Tag Battle’s Persona-style dating sim mechanics wherein I fed weird sandwiches to the high school cast of Yu-Gi-Oh GX’s duel academy, I did complete Spirit Caller.

Spirit Caller’s big draw for me was the character customization, which was mostly a superfluous addition to the game that would allow me to dress up my hapless Slifer Red duelist child prodigy into someone the rest of the campus respected. In Spirit Caller, the player can unlock different outfits and duel disks after winning against certain characters. An early example is beating old Ra Yellow dorm Professor Satyr; I had to beat his easy Japanese curry-themed deck over thirty times before he gave up his Ra Yellow student uniform. Yes, I was going to have to work overtime, dueling these other characters dozens of times for something as basic as a cosmetic addition to a player character I was expected to stare at for a rather long game. My Obelisk Blue dreams died that day.

iwantedtobeathighschoolerandtheirprofessors2catacardgame2cinthatjacketsooooobady.

I wanted to beat high school boys and girls, and their professors, at a card game, in that jacket sooooo badly.

What is the point of burying unlockable costumes? Similar to my old video game room article, unlockable costumes are one of my favorite non-essential aspects of videogames. Costumes are the sole reason I played the job class-focused Final Fantasy X-2 with its dresspheres, where in the Gullwings’ Yuna, Rikku, and Pain all got their own version of the Dark Knight armor. They are often a selling point when it comes to longer games.

Many games like to put unlockable costumes on the same level as a secret bonus dungeon or optional boss. In other words, a prize to be given to players who either play though the game multiple times or seek out pure difficulty. Sometimes, costume changes are even restricted to the post-game, a no-man’s land for lots of players such as myself.

Take, for instance, survival horror games like Silent Hill 3 and the early Resident Evil games. SH3 restricts all of Heather Mason’s amazing outfits, which range from 2003-era video game websites and magazine t-shirts, a magical girl costume and the superior god of thunder outfit, to the post-game. Nonetheless, SH3 makes the costumes easy to unlock. On top of that, SH3 is also a short game with new-game plus weapons like the doorknob saber, and multiple endings which gives the player opportunities and incentives to wear the new outfits.

bestcharactercostumeinagame.idonotmaketherules2cijustenforcethem.

Best character costume in a videogame. I do not make the rules, I just enforce them.

This is not so with RE and its hidden costume rooms. These cheeky secret rooms are only available to players who have at least beaten the game on normal. I love the RE series to death, but I am pretty bad at the games. I got through RE2 and 3 because of easy mode and infinite ammo but couldn’t beat Code Veronica due to its lack of easy mode. I understand that, back then, especially with the original RE, costumes were rewards for players who found value in beating the game multiple times on higher difficulties. But to me, was the infinite rocket launcher not a good enough reward for skilled players that snowboarder Chris Redfield also had to be bundled together?

A rather glaring example combing both Spirit Caller’s obtuse busy work with RE’s difficulty costume rooms would be One Piece Unlimited Adventure on the Wii. I really enjoyed Unlimited Adventure’s little details and design nuances (for instance, how multi hand Devil Fruit user Robin will sprout extra arms to reel in a fish) in a game that combined low-level item crafting (before it became bog standard in every early-access indie game) with Metroid-style adventure game exploration. Unlimited Adventure was a game that kept trying my patience when item crafting was an important part of providing certain Straw Hat Pirates with their best weapons and special attacks. However, when it came to costumes, Unlimited Adventure lost me entirely. To be given the “privilege” to even make new costumes, I would have to unlock and beat optional boss Mr. 2 Bon Clay (or Mr. 2 Bon Kurei for you scanlation kids), then dig up a treasure chest located in the final dungeon, build an actual costume/dressing room in the crew’s camp site, and finally craft each costume character by character.

atleastmr.2bonclaye28099sdisguisebasedclone-clonedevifruitpoweristhematicallyappropriatefordifferentcostumes.notlikethechangingroomhadtobeunlockedbybeatingundercovercriminalvivie280a6wa

At least Mr. 2 Bon Clay’s disguise based Clone-Clone Devi Fruit power is thematically appropriate for different costumes. Not like the changing room had to be unlocked by beating undercover criminal Princess Vivi…wait a minute!

Continue reading

An Intermediate Guide to Visual Novels

The.Maid.(Fata.Morgana.no.Yakata).full.2210731

When you get past the entry point of visual novels through one way or another (such as using Francisco’s helpful guide here), it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed by many of the available games now legally available for English-readers. Nonetheless if you prefer a “pure” visual novel experience or want to try out something different, this guide covers a variety of titles to help you branch out into some fresh titles.

(Note: This article summarizes many of the visual novels featured in our Not ALL H-Games! panel. This article will also be amended in the future as we add and remove different games to our panel line-up.)

Continue reading

Final Fantasy VIII: The Bizarrely Effective Adolescent Narrative Nobody Expected

headerFF8

Final Fantasy VIII is a strange and somewhat frustrating game for me to discuss in nearly any context because the game inexplicably embodies elements that I adore and despise in many Final Fantasy titles, as well as video games as a whole. In VIII‘s case, the otherwise interesting sci-fi elements and world building are unfortunately undercut by the game’s messy story, bizarre plot reveals and hilariously unbalanced stat modifying system. Nonetheless, I feel that Final Fantasy VIII manages to succeed at telling a story about adolescent conflict present within a specific setting, and the reasonable problems that arise as a result. Furthermore, I also think this interpretation of an adolescent-focused story has the potential to be utilized in plenty of other stories. Please note this article will spoil major story elements in Final Fantasy VIII.

A major element present within Final Fantasy VIII‘s world building is the military academies known as Gardens, which train young individuals to become members of SeeD, an elite mercenary group. While the SeeD members are usually hired to provide military support or perform covert missions, it is revealed later in the story that the SeeD’s primary purpose is to defeat evil Sorceresses, human women who possess powerful magic capabilities. For the most part, the Gardens and the SeeDs commandeer a specific level of respect within VIII‘s setting (though appropriately, certain NPC’s express annoyance at the overt military presence in certain cities), but as a result nobody seems to question the fact that SeeD members are explicitly required to apply between the ages of 15 and 19.

While most games focused on a “teens in the military” type of story would probably not care to explore the obvious issues of having adolescents in this setting, Final Fantasy VIII does the opposite; VIII highlights some of the issues that would logically come from using teenage soldiers in such a world, but does so in an indirect way.

Final.Fantasy.VIII.full.958835

Continue reading

IA/VT Colorful review: Black and White and Pink All Over

IA_VT_Colorful_cover

Riding off the tailcoats of Francisco’s recent article, one of the more import-friendly genres for curious gaijin is rhythm games. There are the occasional titles that do require knowledge of Japanese, like Uta Kumi 575, but most can be played easily enough after you’ve learned to fumble through menus. On this note, I decided to take my first plunge into import gaming with IA/VT Colorful.

IA/VT Colorful was released in 2015 for the PS Vita after experiencing delays for nearly a year. The game was directed by Kenichiro Takaki, best known for directing the Senran Kagura titles, and published by Marvelous. As the title suggests, the game’s songs were composed using 1st Place Co.’s Vocaloid IA, whose voicebank is provided by Japanese singer Lia.

IAgameplay

SeleP could make a song about a yandere knitting club & I’d probably still love it.

Full Review