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.

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.

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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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.

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.

Togainu no Chi ~Lost Blood~ Review: Thicker Than Water

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 Photobucket for 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.

Gee Rin, how come your mom lets you have TWO boyfriends?
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Here Come the Mystery Teens! Review: Looking For Someone Else’s Spooky Inheritance

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 Tricklike ghosts to solve puzzles, thus helping the Mystery Teens finish their assignment.

Also our faces. Please help us find our faces.