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.

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.

When a Man Loves an Otome Game(s)

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.

Il woke up and chose violence.

Building a Stairway…Off This Island

Coming up with things to discuss on this site, without dusting off the old chestnuts of RPGs, point-and-clicks, and late 90’s and early 2000’s FPS, is not easy. You write what you know. But as of last year, I have been really getting into resource management games (the internet seems to call these open world survival action-adventures, but that is too long), including Astroneer, Subnautica, and The Survivalists. Granted, calling them resource management games make them sound like factory simulators like Satisfactory, and the perfectly named Factorio. Whatever they are called, these games do provide distinct single and multiplayer experiences.

These types of resource management games, while similar on paper to farming sims, such as  Harvest Moons, Stardew  Valley, or Gleaner Heights, tend to share a different thematic start. Instead of inheriting a farm from a dead or dying relative, the player crash lands on a planet, a deserted island, or a deserted island planet. The Lost in Blue series (or Survival Kids for the five people on this planet who somehow own and played possibly the rarest GBC game) feel like the progenitor of this type of game. Lost In Blue follows different teenagers who find themselves trying to survive on a desolate tropical island. Food and water need to be consumed to keep the player alive, usually in the form of fresh coconuts and river water. Good news was that as  early DS games, Lost in Blue were not as long as the RPG-length sagas the average resource management game requires. Bad news was that as early DS games, Lost in Blue was controlled mostly through the stylus (a pain for those who wanted to do extra combat damage in Magical Starsign). Gameplay focused on constantly tracking vitals and building up a home base that lessens the strain of said vitals start here. But these teens cannot stay on the island forever, they will need to step out of their comfy cave and somehow leave the island. Finally leaving the base continues in later resource management games as a common end goal.

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Wouldn’t it be wild if punching alligators was just incorrectly calculated as being the most effective way to hurt them in Lost In Blue? Like how the butterfly net in some Zelda games works on bosses.

We Built This City on Card Games

Video games like to use cards for just about everything. The GameCube seemed to love them for RPGS like the Lost Kingdoms and Baten Kaitos games, where cards were used for combat. Slay the Spire uses it as part of its rogue-like game play. App games like Hearthstone, Ascension, or Magic: The Gathering Arena utilize each respective card game with a focus on online competitive play. But I want some story and characters to get invested in with my card games. Where is the Netrunner game about a cyberpunk future where everyone puts on their goggles and styles their mohawks to play Netrunner at a run-down bar or at a table in front of a ramen shop? Where is the Final Fantasy 8 spin-off where a nameless street urchin plays to become the Triple Triad champion of the world? Where have all the Trading Card Game adventure games gone?

Monster Rancher Battle Card Game GB was a Game Boy Color game about collecting cards representing the dozens of memorable Monster Rancher creatures in a world in which you fight to defeat…something. Joking aside, I never got farther than five minutes into this one as a kid. The Pokemon TCG game for the Game Boy Color was this charming world where everyone on Trading Card Game Island (that’s its real name) only cared about one thing, a kid’s card game. Like regular Pokemon, TCG Island has a resident Professor, this time it’s Dr. Mason (Oyama). People like me who cite Bulbapedia verbatim know that Dr. Mason is based on Pokemon TCG co-creator, Kouichi Ooyama, and compared to Professor Oak, Dr. Mason is flush with funding. Professor Oak has maybe two assistants, whereas Dr. Mason has fifteen, spread across two large rooms. TCG Island clearly cares more about its research of pieces of card board with images of Pokemon on them more than Kanto cares about actual Pokemon.

I think I read somewhere that the island is in the shape of Mew, but don’t quote me out of class on this.

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Surviving Horror in a Cool Pad

Horror video games use to break up their chills and thrills with safe rooms, these often pleasant breaks from monster hunting or, more realistically, surviving. Because horror games seem to be focused less on that surviving, safe rooms are not as common. Lone Survivor was a game I played when I first started to use Steam. Made exclusively by developer Jasper Byrne, Lone Survivor focused on a nameless masked man tasked with getting out of his comfy bed and leaving his monster-filled apartment complex. He’ll even die in bed if he’s not motivated enough to escape. Proximity to danger is the kind of horror Lone Survivor revels in, as monsters roam literally outside the apartment front door. Safety inside means the apartment now has to work as a base, not just a safe space. The survivor’s exit from the apartment is right in front of him when he gets up, as it’s the fire exit by his bedroom window, but he needs to progress before it can be unlocked.

Lone Survivor’s gameplay rhythm is reflected in its protagonist’s mutterings, which often boil down to “cool I got this new important item, better go home and sleep”. It’s an active way for the game to remind you to save, but it shows how important he feels about his one pleasant space in his new hellish existence. Similar to how collecting bedding or sticks for the cave in the Lost in the Blue games feel like a massive boon to the standard of living, the man can find stove gas or a can opener that can help him both physically and emotionally comfort himself. I rather enjoyed how one third of the man’s apartment is locked off for the first thirty minutes of the game. It provides something minor to work on, separate from the nebulous act of escaping monsters. The game has a teleport mechanic where all the other apartment mirrors are connected to the one in the main hallway, as teleporting into a safe space sort of feels like returning to a more relaxing state of mind. When Lone Survivor gets really stressful and resources are low, I started missing the protection of apartment 206 just as much as the nameless man.

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The nameless man’s pixels are undetailed enough that I thought his mask was just him grinning really big. Like some big creepy smiley face. Scariest thing in the game.

Dogpiling on the Protagonist for Fame and Fortune

Perhaps the most maligned main Tales of game, which happens to be one of my favorites, is Tales of the Abyss. Abyss gets a ton of my praise for being the only Tales of game to have a full bad guy team that act as an evil parallel  to the heroes. Similar to my desire for a Mario and Luigi Super Star Saga but with Wario and Waluigi, I feel there is untapped potential in a Tale of the Abyss: Inverse where you play as the badass God-Generals like Dist the Rose, Largo the Black Lion, and that one loli girl no one likes. Speaking of characters no one likes, Tales of the Abyss protagonist Luke fon Fabre serves as the naïve and sheltered player surrogate for the big world around him. This means every time a character gets annoyed that they have to explain an otherwise simple aspect of their world or Luke says something dumb, it goes back onto you, the player. Controlling a protagonist in a video game does not always involve playing a personality-free blank slate, but playing a character with the capacity to piss off other game character doesn’t feel great either.

RPGs with parties, or really any video game with some kind of crew or squad, run the potential risk of having protagonists whose character flaws boil down to “anything I do pisses everyone off”. I call this “dogpiling”. This can be divided up into two different camps: the protagonist is a person with predefined thoughts and interests or is the previous referenced personality-free blank slate that can only exposit player input. Video game protagonists already struggle to have a range of different archetypes, so having an outlined character who does something imperfect should be valuable, as it makes them less cookie-cutter. It can often feel like a punishment.

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A great summary of the first four hours of Tales of the Abyss.

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How Arknights Got Me to Sorta Like Gacha Games (?)

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Not many logistics group hire a pocky-eating wolf girl and a pie-obsessed angel.

On and off over the years, I’ve made occasional attempts to get into a variety of gacha games, but nothing’s really stuck. Typically, I get easily frustrated with these types of games, as their difficulty plateaus and meta-imbalances, designed to leech money out of players, tends to be inscrutable for me. I also follow a lot of the criticisms marked at these games, of the smarmy “who would pay hundreds of dollars for a JPEG image of a waifu that can be taken away from you if the game shuts down?” variety. Around mid-2020, I decided to make another attempt at gacha games, starting with Tales of Crestoria and Sinoalice. I was remarkably disappointed by Sinoalice, after being personally excited for the game’s release for over a year as a massive Yoko Taro fan. The game has a great soundtrack and art direction but it’s also an absolute snooze fest to play. I’ve still been following Tales of Crestoria since launch and will openly admit I dislike playing the game. I never got the chance to play Tales of the Rays before Bamco shuttered the English release, so I’m stuck with a super boring turn-based Tales of title. I dislike the gameplay to the point of always letting the game’s barely optimal auto-battle work for me. I mostly stick with the game because of the surprisingly good story and game-original cast, particularly the murderous love interest Misella and self-aware edgelord hedonist Vicious. I also started playing Princess Connect Re: Dive (which I…like? I don’t have a strong opinion on it), and I’m eagerly awaiting the English release for Touken Ranbu.

Amidst this mess of gacha game attempts and questionable usage of free time, I also got into Arknights around the end of 2020. I didn’t really start “seriously” playing the game until January of this year, but the game managed to subsume the better part of my free time, for good reason.

Whoever designed the UI deserves a raise, honestly.

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