Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse to be released 9/20


Just a quick one today, to alert my multitudes of readers to the fact that Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is being released in three days.  This spinoff of SMT4 is getting excellent reviews all over the place.  I’m reading as little as I can about the story of Apocalypse in order to go in fresh, but the general consensus about the game’s quality seems to be that it’s not merely a spinoff, but a full game in itself, and that it corrects some of the shortcomings that the good but somewhat flawed SMT4 suffered from (see here for more on my opinions regarding the original.)  So needless to say, I’m excited as fuck about this development and have preordered a copy.  I encourage any and all fans of the Megaten series or of stupidly difficult JRPGs in general to do so if you haven’t already.

In the meantime, I’ll be playing Hyper Light Drifter, a 3D isometric action game released earlier this year that looks and sounds amazing so far.  Between these two games, I should be able to distract myself from my crushing depression when I’m not busy with work to think about it.  That’s something to celebrate, isn’t it?

Demo mode: CrossCode

Demo Mode is a new feature in which I’ll be looking at demos of upcoming games.  Not that my site needs a new feature, or any features at all, but why not?  The demo we’re considering today is…


It’s extremely rare that I consider buying a game that’s still in early access on Steam.  The reasons for my reluctance are that I don’t want to spoil myself for the final, completed experience once the game is finished, and also that I’m cheap as hell and hope that the price of the game might drop a few dollars upon its final release.  However, after playing the demo of CrossCode, I’m sorely tempted to buy into it right away.

CrossCode is a cyberpunk-ish 2D top-down action title with graphics reminiscent of early 90s games.  It’s so cyberpunk-ish that it reminds me a little bit of VA-11 HALL-A, a visual novel that I recently played about cyberpunk bartending action.  The soundtrack has a similar feel and the opening screen even looks almost identical in layout to that of Valhalla.  A lone girl, her hair flying in the wind, her back turned to us as she gazes at a the skyline of a futuristic city.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence.


Otherwise, though, CrossCode is an entirely different experience.  The game is centered around a top-down beat-em-up mechanic in which the player can use melee attacks, projectile attacks, dodges, and guards to battle enemies.  The player can move around with WASD and use the mouse to attack.  Combat plays nicely, but standing alone, it’s nothing special.

However, CrossCode throws in a possibly intriguing story and nice graphic design and pure style into the mix, making this game a lot more attractive than it might otherwise be.  Animation is nice and fluid, the characters look interesting, and the game doesn’t seem to be afraid to inject some humor as well (not that the humor might always work, but it’s better than a game that takes itself deadly seriously, isn’t it?  Well, maybe it isn’t.)  It also has a few scenes that can easily be exploited for cheap laughs when taken out of context.



The demo only takes about 45 minutes to get through, depending upon your battle competence and projectile puzzle-solving skills, but there’s enough here to interest me and to make me feel like the finished CrossCode will be well worth a play.  The question now is whether I’ll drop 20 dollars to get it in early access (the developer, Radical Fish Games, has set down a final release for the beginning of 2017, so we have at least four months before that can be expected.)

I guess it’s good that I have the luxury to wonder about whether to buy this game in early access.  Then again, it is a dilemma.  If you also want to debate with yourself about whether to get into this game during its early access period, try the demo here or here.

A review of Reigns (PC/iOS/Android)

The King is dead, long live the King

I’m not usually interested in mobile games.  Angry Birds and Candy Crush can go to hell for all I care (especially the latter, after developer King was put in the media spotlight for its bullshit legal shenanigans directed against far less successful game developers in 2014.  And yes, I’m positive they would not have backed down if so much public pressure hadn’t been put on them.  Their “haha no, we’re not an evil company! We were just kidding!!!” open letter was just a reaction to the public outcry.)

But occasionally there’s a mobile game that really interests me.  One of these is Reigns, a game developed for iOS and Android and most recently released for PC.  Reigns is described everywhere as “Tinder for medieval monarchs”, and that description is sort of true, if kind of misleading.  Because yes, the game does use a “swipe left or right” mechanic, but that mechanic is used almost entirely for choosing between different social, military, religious, and economic policies to maintain the balance in the kingdom that is essential to the monarch’s survival.  (Though there is an extremely Tinder-esque choice buried in the game’s many cards – you’ll probably find it at some point if you play long enough.)


Reigns is a card game that allows you to build your deck as you unlock new paths.  Each card contains a proposal made by one of dozens of characters – one of your subjects or courtiers, along with a handful of more interesting people – and each proposal requires a yes or no answer (though it’s not always strictly yes or no) that will will either increase or decrease the happiness/size/effectiveness of your population, coffers, religious organization, and/or military.  The level of each of the four factors is measured by the bar above the main screen, where the curiously origami-looking characters appear.

Therein lies the danger.  If your king’s policy choice ends up driving one of the four factors too low or too high, he is is horribly killed and his heir (or whoever is most convenient) takes the throne after him.  Yes, even having too much money will kill you.  Therefore, the standard goal is to live as long as possible by balancing all four factors, which takes a steady hand and some good luck.  Sometimes, the cards you draw will help you perfectly balance the factors – for a while, anyway.  At other times, your king will start out with a miserable set of cards that will drive him to a very early grave.

One of the many ends that your king can meet. This one was achieved by building too strong of a military.

One of the many ends that your king can meet. This one was achieved by building too strong of a military.

It’s hard to talk too much about this game without spoiling parts of it.  Your line of monarchs has a list of achievements to fulfill, and many of these are story-related.  Even though each king is replaced immediately after dying and the game continues from there, the decisions of previous kings can affect future outcomes – the game (and particular characters) will remember the choices of past monarchs.  The process of uncovering the mysteries in Reigns makes it somewhat more than just a simple kingdom-maintenance game.

Reigns is also interesting because it depicts the king not as an all-powerful ruler, but rather as the one who everyone else in the kingdom places their hopes and expectations on – the one who has to try to hold the state together and to defend against invasion, rebellion, hunger, and discontent.  Every game of Reigns is a frantic balancing act, and far from feeling powerful while playing the game, I felt vulnerable and nervous.  Whole strings of monarchs only managed to survive for a few years before being murdered or dying of awful diseases, and even the long-reigning kings eventually met terrible ends.  Many historical kings also met terrible ends – just look at how many of them were murdered or executed.  And those are just the monarchs – plenty of dictators also left this world in a brutal fashion.  It really makes you wonder why anyone would ever want to be a ruler.

Thomas the Musician was a boss, though.

Thomas the Musician was a boss, though.

Reigns is only three dollars on the Steam store.  I don’t know its price in mobile form, but it’s probably the same.  For a few hours of bloody royal choose-your-own-adventure action, Reigns is well worth its price.

Games for broke people: Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt

princess1 princess3

My first impression of the free game Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt was that the creators thought of the title first and then came up with the concept to fit around it.  Being “in a world of hurt”, if you’re not familiar with the term, means that you’re either getting physically beaten or you’re just generally in serious trouble.  In Princess Remedy, you play as the title character, a magical nurse princess who literally goes to a “world of hurt” where all the citizens suffer from horrible ailments.  Your task is to defeat their illnesses by shooting manifestations of those illnesses with medicine while they chase you and shoot back at you.  (What all that means is that Princess Remedy is a kind of bullet hell game, although one that looks like an adventure game or an RPG at first.)

princess4 princess5

The look of the game is interesting.  I guess it’s trying to evoke memories of 8-bit games on the NES and Master System, though the graphics look simplistic even for that period.  That aside, Princess Remedy is pretty fun.  The shooting sections scale up from stupidly simple to fairly difficult, but the game offers health, regeneration and shot power-ups to help the player.  Eventually, though, you’ll have to rely totally upon your dodging and aiming skills to win.  One unusual point about this game is that Princess Remedy can’t seem to control her shot – she’ll simply continue firing her medicine capsules or sparkly bullet things (not sure what those are supposed to represent) in whatever direction she’s facing, which can cause otherwise dormant enemies to fire back at her.

Princess Remedy is worth a play.  It only takes about an hour to beat, but it’s a solid option if you’re looking for a reasonably good free game.

Games for broke people (8/6/2016)

The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us.

– Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

The above statement is as true now as it was when Melville wrote it over 160 years ago.  Paying for things is terrible, and it’s especially terrible when you don’t have a steady job or a consistent source of income.  So while I look for a job and wait the three months it takes the state bar to grade exams, I’ll also be looking at some free and free-to-play games on Steam.  I can’t expect anything amazing from a free title – what I’m looking for is not necessarily a full meal, but more of an hors d’oeuvre.  And since you don’t pay to eat hors d’oeuvres, that analogy really works, doesn’t it?

Today, we’ll look at two puzzle-platformers featuring blocky protagonists.  But these two games are totally different in every other way.


mandagon3 mandagon5

The things I know about Tibetan Buddhism can be counted on no hands, because I don’t know anything about it.  So I may be missing a lot of meaning in Mandagon, a very short game whose developers claim is inspired by Tibetan theology.  However, I don’t think you have to be an expert in that field to appreciate this game.  Mandagon tells the story of a sacrifice, and the player has to explore what seems to be a large temple sitting on a mountaintop to make that sacrifice.  The one puzzle in the game is extremely easy to figure out – it hardly even counts as a puzzle, and the whole experience only lasts about half an hour, or an hour at the very longest.  But the point of Mandagon seems to be in the exploration itself rather than in finding the goal.  The art is good, and some of the visual touches are very nice (the flags and chimes that flutter in the wind, for example.)  Together with the background music (really more like ambient sound) the atmosphere created is both ominous and strangely relaxing.  The mention of theology in the game’s description put me on my guard, but Mandagon isn’t preachy or heavy-handed either, so don’t let that scare you away.  It’s well worth a play.

You Have 10 Seconds

10-1 10-2 10-3

The simply and honestly titled You Have 10 Seconds could not be less like Mandagon.  Where the focus in Mandagon was on exploration and relaxation, the focus in 10 Seconds is get to the goal NOW.  YOU DON’T HAVE ANY TIME TO SIT AROUND AND LOOK AT SHIT.  GET MOVING!

10 Seconds requires the player to take his nameless block of a protagonist to the goal on every map within ten seconds.  If he fails to do this (if time runs out or the player runs into a hazard) one life is lost.  While extra lives can be gotten in some levels, the combination of time pressure and obstacle-dodging makes 10 Seconds a fair challenge.  It’s very simply animated, and the music can get annoying, but the game is basically effective at what it tries to do.  For a total cost of $0.00 and at a tiny 33 MB, it’s worth at least downloading if you have any interest in games of this sort.

A review of VA-11 HALL-A (PC, Vita)

Time to mix drinks and change lives

Have you ever wanted to work as a bartender at a cyberpunk bar in the future?  Then you’re in luck.  VA-11 HALL-A, previewed here in its demo version, is a game that came out late last month for PC and Vita.*  It bills itself as “cyberpunk bartender action”, as you can see in the below screenshot.


Not sure about the “action” bit, but the description is otherwise apt, because you play as Jill, a young bartender working at a small out-of-the-way bar called VA-11 HALL-A (pronounced Valhalla) in a slummy neighborhood of the futuristic dystopia Glitch City.  In this future, humans are enhanced with nanomachines and extremely human-looking robots called Lilim mix with the population.  The city’s population has to deal with constant shortages, and protests are dealt with violently by the authorities.  Jill, however, is only concerned with getting to work, paying rent, and keeping the lights on.  She shares her duties with her boss Dana and her co-worker Gillian (above, left and right respectively), each of whom have shady and mysterious pasts.


Jill goes to work every night, tends bar, and has conversations with her customers and with Dana and Gillian.  Some customers only drop by once or twice, while others are regulars, but all of them ask for mixed drinks that Jill has to prepare using the setup on the right side of the screen.  Sometimes the customer will ask for a specific drink, but at other times they’ll just ask for something strong or sweet or bitter or girly and let you interpret the order as you see fit.  Fortunately, the player can refer to a drink guide that contains recipes, but a few orders are actually pretty hard to get right the first time around, and serving customers different drinks can change the conversation or get the customers drunker or less drunk depending upon how Karmotrine (basically the future version of alcohol) they consume.  Jill’s performance at work also affects her paycheck and her ability to pay the bills back at home, where she returns after work to rest with her cat Fore and to read the news, blogs, and messageboards on her cell phone.  Or her iPad, or whatever that thing she’s holding is.

In my playthrough, I fucked up and didn't have enough money in my account to pay the electric bill.

During my playthrough, I fucked up and didn’t have enough money in my account to pay the electric bill.

This drink-mixing mechanic makes VA-11 HALL-A feel a little bit like Papers, Please, the big indie hit from 2013 that put the player in the role of a border agent trying to make ends meet in an oppressive Soviet-style state.  VA-11 HALL-A, however, is a lot less of a traditional “game”, at least in the way a lot of people would define it, and a lot more of a visual novel.  The drink-making parts of the game aren’t timed, and the player can reset and start over if he screws up with no penalties.  The real focus of this game is on the relationships between its characters.  A lot of the people hanging out in Valhalla have personal issues that they’re working through, and some of the characters that show up are pretty memorable and interesting.  Characters that comes to mind right away are Sei, a member of the city’s security force who first visits the bar in her full uniform, complete with intimidating helmet, and Dorothy, a cheery android girl who works as a prostitute and has no qualms about it (or about talking about her work in detail.)  One of the most interesting characters in the story, though, is Jill, who as it turns out is running away from something in her past that catches up with her during the game.

Maybe it's better if you don't get the reference here.

A not-so-subtle reference to a certain famous novel.

VA-11 HALL-A is a good game that I’m happy I bought and played, but there are some caveats in this case, because this isn’t a game for everyone.  You might be thinking this game is inspired by Blade Runner, and you’d be right, since it’s in a dystopian cyberpunk setting full of human-like androids.  But VA-11 HALL-A is also soaked in references to anime/manga/Japanese game culture (is “culture” the right word for it?)  If I weren’t an embarrassing weeb nerd myself, I definitely wouldn’t have understood some of the hidden jokes in the game’s many conversations.  Someone who’s approaching this game without that kind of background will be missing out a bit in that regard.

Even moreso, though, VA-11 HALL-A is an adult game.  There’s nothing remotely pornographic or lewd or anything in the game graphically speaking, but a lot of the conversations revolve around fuckin’.  Especially when Dorothy is around.  And Dorothy’s status as what amounts to a sexbot with a personality, combined with her appearance and the reference in her name, may make some players uncomfortable (like this reviewer for PC Gamer, who was clearly creeped out by the whole thing, though to be fair the game does address all this.)  So if that rubs you the wrong way, you might want to give VA-11 HALL-A a miss.

This is a real line in the game, not making it up

It makes sense in context, I promise

But if VA-11 HALL-A is about anything, it’s about the nature of love and friendship.  That might make this game sound cheesy or cliché, but it really handles the subject well and does so in an interesting setting and with interesting characters.  So even though VA-11 HALL-A felt like it ended way too quickly (one playthrough only took about 10 hours, which is standard length for some genres but short for a VN) I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys VNs or who thinks all the stuff I described above might be interesting.  The soundtrack is also really good and goes a long way towards creating the game’s cyberpunkish but also strangely cozy atmosphere.  And considering the fact that the developer, Sukeban Games, consists of two guys living in Venezuela, one of the most politically unstable countries in the world at the moment, VA-11 HALL-A is actually pretty goddamn impressive.  Let’s hope they make it through the crisis and go on to top their achievements with an even better game.


*I was going to start this review with a lot of bitching about how at least I have this game to play while waiting for Zero Time Dilemma, which I was supposed to have last fucking week but someone fucked up and Amazon promised they’d ship the game in an email but they haven’t done anything for the past five days.  But then I thought that sounded too bitter/angry.  Then I wrote about it in this footnote instead.

†This review is kind of interesting to me because it’s a take on the game from a totally different perspective from mine – aside from the whole sex issue, the reviewer just seems to not like visual novels considering her comments about how the game is “boring”, and VA-11 HALL-A is basically a visual novel.

Valhalla I am coming

That famous line from Led Zeppelin’s famous “Immigrant Song” (their best-known, but not only, song they wrote about Vikings) is what I thought when I saw the title of the soon to be released VA-11 Hall-A, a visual novel by the studio Sukeban Games.  Valhalla, which is what I’m calling the game from now on because I don’t feel like copy-pasting VA-11 Hall-A more than once, is a VN set in a cyberpunk dystopian future city where there are nanomachines and probably robots and cyborgs that was certainly inspired by Blade Runner.  In this world, you play as Jill, a bartender working at a hole in the wall sort of place officially called VA-11 and unofficially called Valhalla who has to mix drinks and deal with the characters who come in out of the cold for booze and a conversation.  The gameplay, aside from being mostly or almost entirely a VN, includes a drink-mixing mechanic that’s vaguely reminiscent of a way less complicated form of the border agent work in Papers Please – you have the choice of mixing drinks properly for your customers or of giving them bullshit drinks, and your choice in this matter seems to affect the dialogue.

Your only customer in the demo, which gives you a brief taste of the full game.

Your only customer in the demo, which gives you a brief taste of the full game.

Valhalla is being released on June 21, but I played the admittedly very short demo that gave me at least a taste of the sort of gameplay I should expect.  And I’m honestly intrigued.  Not only do I like good visual novels, but this particular VN involves the consumption of alcohol, which I also like.  Moreover, Sukeban is an unabashedly weeaboo studio (no, it’s not Japanese, but Venezuelan, strangely enough) so that’s another natural connection for me to make.  The weeaboo thing can cut both ways – I’m hoping the final product will not be too self-indulgent or memetastic.  But the brief demo suggested that this probably won’t be the case.  Unlike some other western VN projects that crop up and get public attention, Valhalla – at least so far – doesn’t feel like a cheap knock-together of mediocre art and writing.  And the Venezuelan team that put together this demo/game seems to have an excellent grasp on English – either they’re fluent speakers or they hired native English-speakers to edit their work.

In any case, I’m interested in this game.  I need something to play while I study for the bar exam and wait for Zero Time Dilemma to come out.  Expect (well, maybe expect) a review of the full version of Valhalla in the near future.