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.
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.
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.
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.
Il Fado de Rie, a fallen angel from a science fiction version of Heaven, is probably the best character in Café Enchante. He’s soft spoken and sort of helpless, with other characters comparing him to a tiny bird they want to protect, but he has intellectual depth that pops up from time to time. Il’s largest defining personality trait is that he is really into otome games, which are young girl (range tends to go from middle school to college) oriented visual novels. In probably the closest thing to a self-insert character, I immediately identified with Il, as I am also a grown man who plays otome games. Like Il, I have character merchandise of the men from these games (usually small things, because a lot of otome game merch are cheap or impractical, like note pads or cellphone chargers), and while I don’t have the access to go to park events or pop-up cafes (themed restaurants that have entrees and drinks that represent characters from video games or anime), I can still understand why Il wanted to buy ten crepes because each one came with a collectable coaster. Hell, my current PSN avatar is of the cat doctor Kageyuki Shiraishi from Collar X Malice.
I want to make an admission that when I discuss otome games, I am exclusively referring to the output of Otomate, a branch of Idea Factory. As this continues, my snobbery will increase, but an example of such smugness is how I will not play a mobile otome game. I find them sort of cheap and I get really picky about their art.
What do I get out of otome games and what do I think other people could get out of them? To start, I’ve been reading shojo manga and watching shojo anime for many years, and while that has shifted to reading more Josei manga, targeted at an older audience (it better fits my age range), I still consider myself a shojo liker. I tend to go to shojo for drama or comedy, and that’s also what I try to get out of otome games. I want to see pretty men (and depending on the skill of the artist, pretty women) have adventures, like escaping a locked theme park or defeating an international terrorist cell. Otome games are about one female protagonist being presented with four-to-five different romantic interests and, based on what type of person the player is, dates them in a preferred order. Il loves otome games because they introduced him to the human concept of love between two people. I, on the other hand, zone out during the romantic aspects of the narratives, because I find much of it very selective.
Content warning: as per usual with Nitroplus CHIRAL’s works, Togainu no Chi is a game that explores various dark themes, including sexual assault, sexual slavery, nonconsensual body modification, and drug use. While not as dark as parts of DRAMAtical Murder or roughly 70% of the content in Sweet Pool, please use your best judgement before proceeding.
Way back in ~2006 as a last bastion middle-school Xanga user, I stumbled upon someone who made a custom blog layout with the background being a sad-looking anime guy clutching bloody dog tags. Within the same year, I was perusing Photobucketfor pictures and ended up stumbling upon CGs from a game I would later learn was called Togainu no Chi. At the time, I was drawn to the character designs (and very ignorant of the saucier content), so the game’s existence has been present in the corners of my mind for a while. Now, thanks to JAST Blue finally putting an official release out, I can finally tackle this oddity.
Togainu no Chi ~Lost Blood~ (“Blood of the Reprimanded Dog”) was originally released back in 2005 as Nitroplus CHIRAL’s debut boy’s love (BL) title. Like many other Nitroplus CHIRAL titles, the game also received various console ports that probably cleaned up some of the game’s more explicit content. Despite the game’s age and reputation as a debut title, TnC seems to be rated pretty highly amongst other BL games and even other Nitroplus CHIRAL games.
Let’s Plays by themselves are not usually things I really watch or get into unless the people playing them are already someone I enjoy from a different venue. It’s probably a para-social deal, where I would rather listen or watch people I already discuss video games, art film, or the novels of French writer Marcel Proust. For example, I have watched a bunch of Youtuber Pikasprey’s Let’s Plays because he plays a lot of games he discusses in video essays or reviews, usually Pokémon fan games, 2-D Castlevania, or indie horror games. Press Buttons N Talk is another Let’s Play channel I started watching because I enjoy voice actor Sungwon Cho’s channel, as he reviews a lot of board games. Sungwon hosted Press Buttons N Talk with his friend, Alex Mankin, the sole developer of Here Come the Mystery Teens!, a meow-and-click adventure. Segue way, provided!
Here Come the Mystery Teens! follows the titular Mystery Teens: useless leader/walking TinTin reference Duke Douglas, high energy Sunbeam Song, macho but levelheaded Mugsy Malone, serious and regal Valorie Violet, and coward Larold Leremy. The Mystery Teens are assigned to enter the mansion of late eccentric millionaire Oscar O. Oswell’s and retrieve a painting for a family member. Instead of playing as any one of these kids, control is through their cat (named by the player and will now be referred to as Sabre, in reference to the cat companion from Dragon Quest V). Sabre’s main method of communication is through meowing, which lets them talk with the mansion’s Ghost Trick–like ghosts to solve puzzles, thus helping the Mystery Teens finish their assignment.