The Sunshine Blogger Award Challenge, Part 2: Return of the Sunshine Blogger

I am honored to have received another nomination for the Sunshine Blogger Award, this time from Angie of Backlog Crusader.  Even if, once again, I have to stress that the term “sunshine” really can’t apply to me in any sense other than the sarcastic.

Here are the rules of the game, as usual:

Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their blog.
Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions
List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

Also, there’s a Final Fantasy VII spoiler in this post.  The game is 22 years old and everyone already knows exactly what “spoiler” I’m talking about, but I’ll put up the standard disclaimer just in case.  There’s also an SMT3: Nocturne spoiler.  No surprises there.

And here are Angie’s questions:

1. If you could have a pet from any game you’ve played, what would it be?

I have two answers.  The first is Skye from Grandia II, the talking falcon who accompanies the world-weary mercenary protagonist Ryudo.  But he’s not just a talking bird – he’s an intelligent talking bird.  Skye is basically a human in terms of personality, and he has a comedic dynamic with Ryudo that lightens the mood nicely.  He even helps out Ryudo with a move where he picks up an enemy in his talons and drops it at Ryudo, who swings his sword at it like he’s hitting a baseball.  If I had a pet like that, I’d be unstoppable.  Well, Skye isn’t exactly a pet but more of an equal companion.  Okay, I want to be friends with a talking falcon, how about that?

My second choice would be Eevee.  Because it’s cute.  I know I put up this bitter, depressive persona on this site sometimes, and that’s completely genuine (I wish to God it weren’t, but what can you do) but I do like cats and fluffy things to some extent.  I’m not completely dead inside, or at least not yet.

2. What game unexpectedly surprised you or surpassed your expectations?

Doki Doki Literature Club!!  The fact that this very standard-looking visual novel was so hyped up on Youtube and among all kinds of gaming boards made me a little skeptical, and I really didn’t like those two exclamation points in the title of the game (edit: there’s only one, my brain is scrambled today.  Still please don’t put punctuation in your game title.  More on that subject soon.)  But this game really surprised me, both in terms of its quality and the twists that waited in ambush for me.  I wrote an in-depth review of the game at the link above, though it does have spoilers past the first couple of paragraphs, so be careful if you want to go into the game raw, which I highly recommend doing.

It’s just a nice cute dating sim, I promise.

3. What game would you like to see be made into a film?

The prospect of seeing a game I like made into a film is too scary for me to even consider. I like the Sonic series, after all (well, some of it at least) and look at the abomination Paramount came up with.  Apparently the movie’s development is being delayed to change Sonic’s design, though, so maybe it will end up being more bearable than we think.  And even if it ends up almost completely sucking, which seems likely, at least we’ll get Jim Carrey hamming it up as Dr. Robotnik.  He was the only good thing in that trailer.

If an anime series counts, I guess I’d like to see another adaptation of the Disgaea series.  I’m surprised NIS hasn’t gone this route.  Maybe their games are just too weird and niche to make it work commercially.

4. What was your most meaningful relationship forged through video games?

My experience with video games has been a mostly solitary one.  I don’t play multiplayer games at all anymore, and I haven’t for a long time.  I do have a few friends who I met thanks in part to our shared interest in certain kinds of games (i.e. the weeb ones) so I guess those are the relationships I’d have to go with.  My gaming certainly hasn’t been a factor in my relationships with any of my family.  That’s an aspect of my life that I never bring up because most of them would look down on it and think of me as immature.  No sense in even opening that door.

5. What do you think will be the next fad in video games? (Ex: Battle Royales right now, season passes, zombie games in the past, etc.)

I’m tempted to say that virtual reality is going to be the next fad, but people have been saying that since I was a kid myself back in the 90s and it hasn’t happened yet.  The technology is getting there, though.  Once we get to a point where the tech is good enough and affordable enough to become popular, I can see it becoming the new standard in gaming, at which point it won’t really be a fad but rather an established thing.

But I have to admit that I just don’t know.  I’m not nearly as connected to video game trends as I used to be.  These days, I only have time to play what I’m fairly sure I’ll like, so I pretty much ignore whatever’s hot at the moment.  I’d love to see tactical RPGs or visual novels get popular, but since that’s not going to happen, there’s really no point in hoping for it.

6. Of all the games you have played, what scene was the most memorable?

I have to go ultra-obvious and boring here and say Aeris’ death scene in Final Fantasy VII.  Probably for the fact that it’s so talked about, but also because I was about the right age when I played that game for it to stick in my head.  Looking back 22 years later, it’s easy to forget how damn impressive FF7 was when it came out, during the dawn of the 3D age of games.  Also, I put actual work into leveling up Aeris because I like having a good healer in my party in an RPG, and the game just straight up kills her off.  Come on!

Now that the remake is confirmed and has a release date, I guess we’ll get to experience that scene again, but somehow I feel it just won’t be the same.  I guess we’ll see when Square-Enix puts out the first episode of the remake next year.  It would be more of a twist if they kept her alive this time, wouldn’t it?

7. What older or retro game most deserves a remaster or sequel?

I already mentioned Skies of Arcadia in my first Sunshine Blogger post as a game I’d like to see a sequel to, so I should pick something else this time.  I’d love to see Shin Megami Tensei I and II get remakes.  These games were originally released on the Super Famicom, then upgraded for the Playstation in the mid-90s, but even the PSX remasters retain a lot of the annoyances of the originals that are typical of old JRPGs.  Not that I don’t like a real challenge – after all, SMT3 is one of my favorite games, and I enjoyed Strange Journey despite the beating it gave me.  But SMT1 and SMT2 would both benefit from graphical and quality-of-life upgrades.  I’ve seen a lot of people calling for remakes of Persona 3 and 4, but as much as I loved those games, I don’t see the point; they’re both still pretty modern games, whereas the first two SMT games most definitely are not.

Or maybe a remake of SMT if…  I still love this cover, by the way.

That said, if it’s a choice between remakes of the first two SMTs and Shin Megami Tensei V, I’d go for V.  Come on, Atlus.  Give us something.  Anything.  I’m happy about Persona 5 Royal coming out next year and all, but please.

8. What game meant the most to you on a personal level and why?

If you’ve been reading this site for a while, this answer will be no surprise to you given the fact that I never shut up about it (including in the answer to question #7 above.)  It’s Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne.  People say the plot and characterization in Nocturne are thin, and when compared to, say, a Persona game, they’re right.  But what this game lacks in those areas it makes up for in the strength of its themes.  A while back, I wrote a piece about some of the themes of Nocturne, focusing on Isamu’s concept of his ideal world in which each person lives in their own separate universe constructed as they see fit.  If you don’t feel like digging through that essay, the gist of Nocturne is that the old world has ended and a new world is ready to be created.  Three remaining humans consisting of two of the human-turned-demon protagonist’s schoolmates and the one asshole cult leader who started the whole mess get the chance to shape the new world according to their beliefs and desires, and they have to fight it out inside an inside-out spherical demon-filled Tokyo world for the right to create their ideal world.

This was me throughout high school, minus the hat and the chest-faces.

Isamu’s world of isolation seems to be based on solipsism, the idea that you can only be sure of your own existence.  The game’s thin characterization means that we don’t really know why Isamu wants to build this kind of world, but it seems like he holds some bitterness towards society and just wants to be left alone.  And holy YHVH can I relate to that.  I’ve gotten better socially since getting out into the professional working world, but purely out of necessity.  I can still totally understand Isamu’s desire for a world of isolation.

9. Who is your favorite voice actor/actress?

I can’t say I have one favorite, but I’m a fan of Mamiko Noto, Rie Tanaka, Eri Kitamura – the list could go on a while, but they’re among my favorites.  I also like Masane Tsukayama, the guy who apparently plays every gravely-voiced old man in an anime or game, including Washizu in Akagi, Hyodo in Kaiji, Zouken Matou in Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night, and Igor in Persona 5.  Here’s a sample of Tsukayama’s brilliant work as Washizu (sorry that the subs are in French – the gist of the clip is that Washizu wants the protagonist to make a mahjong deal that he thinks will lead to his own victory.  Also, spoilers for Akagi.)

As far as English-language VAs go, I don’t have any particular preferences.  Most of the regulars seem to be highly professional and good at their jobs, though.  Much respect to them.  I’m sure they don’t get paid enough.  The gig economy is god damn rough.

10. If your favorite video game protagonist suddenly became a kitchen or cooking utensil, what would they be?

I admit, I would have never thought of this one myself.  I think my favorite game protagonist might be Garrett, the main character of the Thief series.  Garrett is an anti-hero who usually looks out for himself alone but who always ends up on the right side of the fight when the chips are down.  And true to his nature, he returns to the shadows to keep stealing from the rich and giving to himself after the fight is done.  Since Garrett is such a stealthy guy, he’d have to be a very sharp knife, something that can be wielded silently and quickly.  Wielded against tomatoes, I mean.  Then again, Garrett is a pro who doesn’t kill people, so maybe he’d be a pestle, since that somewhat resembles the blackjack Garrett uses to knock his enemies out.

11. How many more Final Fantasies do you think will be made before they finally reach the Final, FINAL Fantasy?

Ten thousand years in the future, the ruins of human civilization are crumbling.  Nature has reclaimed the land and oceans, erasing the marks of our very existence.  Yet somehow, Square-Enix headquarters is still standing, and they’ve just announced the release date of Final Fantasy MMMCCLXXVIII.  That’s the true irony: no matter how many Final Fantasies are made, there will never be a Final Fantasy.

***

Right, so that took a dark turn at the end.  Sorry.  Now to get to my questions.  This time I’ve geared them more towards game-related subjects.

1. Do you have a favorite game composer?  If so, who is it?

2. Same question as above, but for game artists/art directors.

3. Is there a character you’ve encountered in a game that annoyed you immediately?  If so, did that character grow on you over time, or do you still dislike them?

4. If you could own any vehicle from a game, which one would you own, and would it be a practical form of transportation?

5. How do you feel about contributing to crowdfunding campaigns for games and other works?

6. Reversing a question I was asked – what movie would you want to see adapted into game form?

7. Do you buy physical copies of games?  How important is it to you that the publisher releases a physical copy of a game, or does it matter at all?

8. If you could have dinner with/hang out with any one main cast of characters from a game, which one would it be?

9. How important are a game’s story, characters, and overall message to you when weighed against the quality of its gameplay?

10. If you were exiled to a desert island and could only bring one game console with you, which one would it be?  Not counting the PC – you’re allowed to have a PC on the desert island.  You also have access to power sources.  This is a really convenient desert island, isn’t it?

11. How much money do you think you’d get for your entire game collection in Gamestop in-store credit?  (This one might not be comprehensible to people outside the US.  If you’re not familiar with Gamestop, look up “gamestop in-store credit” on Google and you’ll see why I’m asking this question.)

And here are my nominees this time around.  12 again instead of 11 despite what the rules say.  Look, it’s my OCD, okay?  Just as before, if I haven’t included you on this list but you want to answer these questions anyway, please feel free.  And if I have included you, but answering these kinds of award challenge things isn’t your style or you’re having them thrown at you left and right, feel free to ignore it.

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Avoiding the Poochie Effect, or why I’m slightly nervous about Persona 5 Royal

Just slightly.  One percent nervous and 99 percent excited, maybe.

I guess this post won’t be of any interest to you if you haven’t already played or were never planning to play Persona 5, but either way, you’ve likely heard that it’s getting an expansion/director’s cut in the form of Persona 5 Royal, to be released next year.  See above for the new trailer released during E3 this week complete with English dubbing.  This is nothing new for the Persona series; Persona 3 and Persona 4 went through the same process.  The results have been good so far: Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 Golden were both excellent games that added to the experience of the originals, and I believe Persona 5 Royal will be just as good.  However, any time a new character is announced to be added to the main cast, there’s a risk that character will fall victim to the Poochie Effect.

I guess I can’t just assume everyone knows what I’m talking about.  Especially if you’re in your early twenties or younger and you don’t remember a time when The Simpsons was funny or relevant.  To find such a time, we have to go back to 1997 and Season 8 of the series (well, Seasons 9 and 10 had their moments too) to the episode “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show”.  This episode is centered around The Itchy & Scratchy Show, an in-universe popular and extremely cartoonishly violent show that I think was meant to be the writers’ take on Tom & Jerry and similar stuff.  The TV executives in charge of the show decide to spice it up with a new character, a talking dog named Poochie, to add to the original ultraviolent cat and mouse duo (of course voiced by Homer, despite Homer being a pretty lousy voice actor.)  However, the audience reaction to Poochie isn’t quite what those executives expected.

Poochie ends up backfiring on the studio so badly that the executives famously axe the character in the following episode by sending him to his “home planet” and saying he died on the way just for good measure.  The audience hated this character so much that they cheer his death, and Itchy & Scratchy immediately wins that audience back as a result.

This Simpsons episode addresses the pitfalls of adding a character to an already established and beloved cast.  Said new character has to prove that they’re just as worthy of the audience’s love as the rest of the cast, so character traits that could be perceived as annoying or obnoxious work against them even more than they would had they been around from the beginning.  Even worse if members of the original cast spend time with and fawn over the newcomer for seemingly no reason other than that they’re a new character who needs screen time.  For a real-life instance of this very thing, look up Scrappy-Doo, Scooby-Doo’s annoying puppy nephew who Hanna-Barbera inserted into the existing cast of Scooby-Doo and who the actual real-life audience hated.  In fact, it seems likely that Poochie is a direct reference to Scrappy-Doo, since that show was airing when some of the Simpsons writers would have been kids.  In any case, the warning is clear: if you’re going to write a new character into your story, make sure they don’t come off like a writer’s pet who only exists to be praised by everyone around them for no reason.

So what’s any of that got to do with the Persona series?  It’s probably obvious at this point that I’m talking about Marie from Persona 4 Golden.  Marie was a completely new character who wasn’t even mentioned in the vanilla version of Persona 4 because she almost certainly didn’t exist at that time, not even as a concept.  Despite first meeting her in Inaba, the town P4 is set in, the protagonist discovers that Marie is actually connected with the Velvet Room, an extra-dimensional space managed by Igor and his assistant Margaret where he can fuse Personas and all that business.  However, Marie isn’t exactly a Velvet Room attendant like Margaret or her siblings.  Her role in Persona 4 Golden is quite different.  I won’t get into what it is exactly, but Marie does figure into one of the side-plots inserted into P4G, and also the protagonist can romance her, because it’s a Persona game and of course he can.

It’s just not worth it, Souji.  Trust me.

While Persona 4 Golden turned out to be a hit – seemingly one of the few on the Vita – Marie was most definitely not a hit.  She’s one of the very few characters in the Persona series who’s outright hated by a lot of fans.  Why?  It could have to do with the fact that she acts like a temperamental teenager throughout most of the game, or that she writes poems of exactly the type a temperamental teenager would write that you’re forced to read every so often when you enter the Velvet Room.  Or that despite her irritating qualities, the members of the Investigation Team who make up the main P4 cast all seem to like her for no real reason, other than that she’s hanging out with the protagonist.

Whatever the case, a lot of fans really disliked Marie.  The only other major character in a Persona game who draws this much ire from the audience is probably Yukari Takeba from Persona 3 because of her haughty attitude, but Yukari is around from the very beginning of Persona 3, while Marie is a newcomer to the cast in Golden.  So Yukari more or less gets a pass, while Marie doesn’t.  The funniest part of all this is that unlike the studio executives in The Simpsons, Atlus hasn’t sent Marie back to her home planet.  She’s appeared in almost every P4 spinoff released since, including Persona Q, Persona Q 2, Persona Arena Ultimax, and Persona 4: Dancing All Night, either as a DLC character or a character in the game proper.  Maybe the Japanese fans who make up the primary market for these games don’t hate Marie at all, or maybe Atlus just doesn’t care.

That brings us to Persona 5 Royal.  Almost all of the buzz surrounding P5R is centered on Kasumi Yoshizawa, the new cast member.  Not much is known about Kasumi aside from what we’ve seen of her in the trailers: that just like Akira, she’s a transfer student to Shujin Academy who has Persona-summoning abilities.  It’s pretty obvious that Kasumi joins the Phantom Thieves at some point in P5R, but what’s not clear is whether she’s a true friend or an enemy planning to betray the group.

She also has a huge appetite.  Just look at that lunch, it’s practically packed in a damn shipping container.

Since this character was made public, she seems to have gotten nothing but love from the fans.  However, since we don’t really know anything about Kasumi’s characterization or her role in the story yet, who’s to say she won’t fall into the same trap Marie did?  Character quirks that would normally be endearing can become irritating under the wrong circumstances, and Marie’s quirks fell into that latter category for a lot of players.  Just like Marie, Kasumi has to convince the player that she’s worthy of joining a beloved cast of characters.  The fact that the fans like her now might turn out to be a moot point.

Hell, this whole post might be moot.  Kasumi looks like she’ll be a cool character.  She seems to be a cheery, spunky kind of girl, and people like that.  Either way, I’ll be preordering Persona 5 Royal.  Because I’m an idiot who will buy anything Atlus puts out, but also because Persona 5 was really good, so the expanded version of P5 has got to be good as well, even if Kasumi ends up falling flat on her face in terms of fan reception.

School counselor Takuto Maruki is also a new character, but because he’s not a cute girl, nobody cares. Sorry, man.

So either Kasumi turns out to be a hated character and this was prophetic, in which case I won’t be happy because I want to like her, or she doesn’t and I just wrote 1,300 words about nothing at all.  This is what happens when I have a sick day and can’t go to work: I drink Robitussin and write nonsense.  Hell, I didn’t even hate Marie that much myself, and I’m sure there were players who liked her.

I’m going back to bed.  You can chalk this one up to a case of delirium.  Do your best to avoid summer colds, everyone.

2019 mid-year review

I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: post an update reviewing what I’ve done so far this year regarding the site and what my general plans are for the rest of the year.  I know there are bloggers in the community who do this weekly or monthly, and good on them.  I don’t post nearly as often as they do, so I can only really justify this kind of post about twice a year.  I’ll also be going all the way back to December, because why not.  I think that was when I truly revived the site again, so it makes more sense than an arbitrary Jan. 1 cutoff date.

Game reviews

Since I started posting on a regular basis again, I’ve written several full game reviews, some of which have been reviews of free games because fuck my current financial situation.  But not all of them were free.  And a few of the free games are among the best I’ve played this year, so it’s not like that’s been a bad thing.

 

Disgaea 1 Complete – A PS4 remaster of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the very first game in the series.  A lot of fans were clamoring for this one, partly for the reason that it has the most beloved cast of all the games.  There’s a reason Laharl, Etna, and Flonne keep popping up in NIS games 15 years after their debut.  I liked Disgaea 1 Complete, though it’s definitely a better deal for players new to the series than for old veterans, because it really doesn’t add much to the original experience.  The game is still a classic, though, and it’s the definitive version of the first Disgaea, so I do recommend it.

Doki Doki Literature Club!! – This is a popular free-to-play western-developed visual novel – perhaps the only game in the world right now to fit all those descriptors.  DDLC fully lived up to the hype in my opinion.  I already knew going in that the game wasn’t quite the lighthearted dating sim it claimed to be on the tin, but it still managed to surprise me.  If you’re the type who gets anti-hyped over games that get tons of attention from popular Youtube LPers and Twitch streamers (something I totally understand, by the way) you should do yourself a favor and try to get over that, because DDLC is really worth playing.  And it’s free.  Did I mention it’s free?  The above-linked review is packed with spoilers, though, so just be warned if you haven’t played it yet.

Momodora II – Another free game.  Yeah, my bank account was suffering the last few months, so I had to make some cuts to the game budget.  Things are better now, thanks in part to all the work I’ve gotten lately.  But if I hadn’t gone through a difficult period earlier on, I might not have sought out Momodora II, a free action-platformer by independent developer rdein.  Momodora II is not as polished as its successors, but for a free game it’s excellent.  Another recommendation.

OneShot – Like DDLC, OneShot is an ultracreative indie game that really threw me for a loop with its twists.  The obvious comparison to be made here is with Undertale – they’re visually similar and share some themes – but OneShot really is its own game, different from any other game I’ve played before.  I’ve never played a game that made me care about a protagonist as much as OneShot does, and the best part is that the game achieves this without a lot of cheap heart-string-pulling.  That’s not to say there isn’t any sentimentality in OneShot, but that sentimentality is totally earned.  I highly recommend the polished and expanded OneShot for sale on Steam, because it’s more than worth what you’ll pay for it.

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight – These Persona 3 and Persona 5 dancing game spinoffs were disappointments.  They were too expensive, they didn’t have enough tracks, and both felt like the result of an Atlus board meeting about how best to milk these Persona games while they worked on Persona Q 2 and whatever other Persona spinoff they have in mind next (a cooking game?  I’ll put my money on that.)  Also consider the fact that these two games are essentially the same game with different casts of characters who don’t even interact with each other like they do in PQ2, and you’ll end up asking yourself why the hell these were each priced as full games. If you’re dying for a Persona rhythm game, Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a much better choice.

Even so, I couldn’t give P3D and P5D failing grades.  They’re functional, the music is still good despite some unimpressive remixes clogging up the tracklists, and I can’t hate any game that features my battle android waifu dancing to “A Way of Life”.  Just keep in mind that these are fan-only affairs.  If you’re not addicted to the Persona series, I can’t recommend them at all unless you find them for a real bargain.

Saya no Uta This isn’t exactly a review of Saya no Uta, but rather an analysis of the game as a horror/romance.  It’s full of spoilers as well.  Suffice it to say that Saya is a really good game that you should play unless Lovecraftian body- and mind-horror is a turnoff for you, in which case you should stay as far as possible from it.

Sonic CD – A lot of fans consider Sonic CD a sort of lost classic.  It was first released in 1993 on the failed Sega CD, then brought back a decade later on the Gamecube-exclusive Sonic Gems Collection.  And now we finally have the definitive version of the game on Steam remastered by the man himself, Christian Whitehead.

I can’t call Sonic CD a classic on par with the Genesis games.  There are too many problems with the game’s level design, and all the bosses are pushovers – Dr. Robotnik was really phoning it in this time.  Still, Sonic CD is pretty fun, and I’d say it’s well worth buying the Steam version, especially if you’re a fan of 2D Sonic.

Yume Nikki – I finally got around to replaying Yume Nikki, a seminal RPG Maker game that’s now available free to play on Steam.  YN is a cult classic that’s influenced a lot of other indie titles and is a must-play for anyone who’s into surreal or unconventional games.  This one’s more of a retrospective than a review, if there’s any difference between those at all.

Features

Best of Windows Entertainment Pack (Parts 1, 2, 3) – Around the end of January I got nostalgic for the old days of Windows 95, so I loaded it up on a virtual machine and played every game in the Windows Entertainment Packs on it.  That’s 29 games in total, each of which got a short one- to two-paragraph review.  Some of them are really good games worth checking out, while some of them are… well, not.  If you’re curious about which of these 90s equivalents of mobile games are worth playing today, check out the above links.

Essays on the Megami Tensei series (#1, #2) – Here’s a real surprise coming from me – two pieces I wrote about themes in the Megami Tensei series that I found interesting.  I might write more of these kinds of posts in the future about other series.  I basically got both of my degrees in bullshitting, so I’m good at this sort of thing.

Games for broke people – I revived this series that I briefly started and then dropped all the way back in 2016.  Not sure why I quit writing these, because I like reviewing free games by amateur developers.  There are some real gems to be found on sites like itch.io (perhaps on Steam as well, though the well of decent-looking free games that aren’t MMOs seems to have dried up there recently.)  While there is admittedly a lot of unplayable garbage among these games, there’s also some stuff that no professional publisher would ever dare to put out because they’re too afraid to take risks.

Music reviews and related posts – I won’t go through them one by one, but I’ve recently written a few reviews of mostly game OSTs along with a few posts about music in general.  Music has always been a secondary theme on this site, and I’ll keep posting music-related content (especially when I don’t have the time to play a new game, like for example when I have to work through the damn weekend.)

Upcoming content (backlog reviews, new reviews, etc.)

My backlog never seems to decrease, especially since I keep buying new games on sale on itch.io and Steam.  Here are some games I’ve got on deck to review once I finish them:

Our World Is Ended. – This is an all-ages (well, sort of, but more on that later) visual novel set in modern-day Tokyo with a science fiction flavor and an eccentric cast.  If you’re thinking that sounds a lot like Steins;Gate, you’re not wrong.  I’m only three or four hours in right now, but Our World Is Ended is already pushing all the right buttons.  Aside from a less-than-stellar translation job – some lines are awkward, and I’ve seen at least half a dozen glaring typos so far.  Was the publisher really so stingy that they couldn’t bring themselves to hire a proofreader?  For fuck’s sake.  The game’s also starting to run a couple of jokes into the ground, mostly at Asano’s expense.

The game seems to think Asano is unappealing, but it’s doing a real bad job convincing me of that so far.

Just one more note about the game before the review proper: I’m playing the PC version on Steam.  Physical copies are also available for PS4 and Switch.  Normally I’d spring for a physical copy, but I don’t have a Switch, and given Sony’s current track record when it comes to demanding the removal of certain elements in localization, I didn’t want to get the PS4 version lest it came to the States all hacked up.  Also, a digital copy of the game is $20 cheaper than the physical package being sold on Amazon and in stores, and I’m still doing my best to economize.

Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight – I’ve had this game in my Steam library forever, so I feel like I really have to take it on now.  Momodora II was a lot of fun, so I expect Momodora IV will be even better.  It looks a lot more polished, anyway.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles – I bought this old classic during a Sega Steam sale last month, and so far it lives up to the original (except for the hideous “SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics” shell that surrounds it, with the virtual bedroom and Genesis and shelf full of games – I get what they’re going for with the nostalgic look, but the actual game is all the nostalgia I need, thanks.)

Senran Kagura Estival Versus – I bought this PS4 game a while back, but somehow I haven’t touched it until now.  It’s a fun beat-em-up that makes for an excellent escape from reality.  If I have anything to say about it, I’ll write a review at some point.

Rakuen – I bought this RPG Maker game during a Steam sale a few weeks ago.  It always gets mentioned in the same breath as Undertale and OneShot, so it must be good.  I’ll play through it once I feel up for another experience like that, which shouldn’t be too long from now.

That’s about it for now.  I’m not planning to slow down my pace this year, and in addition to the above reviews, I’ll keep writing free game and music-related posts.  If I’m productive enough, maybe I’ll even start writing these update posts on a quarterly basis.  Just like the Form 10-Q that corporations have to file with the SEC.  In conclusion, be sure to visit the sites in the sidebar as well – they’re all excellent bloggers who post way more often than I do.

 

Three classic albums that should receive video game adaptations

Music has almost always been an integral part of video games.  Good music can make a good game great, and there are even some mediocre to bad games out there that are elevated by their excellent soundtracks (like, for example, Final Fantasy XIII – feel free to get your torches and pitchforks out now!)  I’ve even reviewed a few game soundtracks on this site, and I’ve still got some left to write about.

Since video games and music go so well together, why not make a video game about music?  And I don’t mean a rhythm game – those have already been done and done well. I mean a game centered around a particular musical artist or band.  You might think this would be a pretty dumb idea, but people have already thought of, created, and published a few such games.  These include Moonwalker, a Genesis game in which you play as Michael Jackson and rescue kidnapped children (quite the subject matter considering what he’d be accused of a few years after the game’s release) and Revolution X, an SNES game in which you play as some guy with a CD-shooting gun and rescue kidnapped members of Aerosmith (not sure the 90s-revival version of Aerosmith was really worth saving after hearing that horrible Armageddon song one million times, but sure, why not.)

As ridiculous as those games were, I think we can go further still.  Instead of making a game based on an artist or band, wouldn’t it be even better to make games based on one of their works?  It just so happens that I’ve got three classic 70s albums that I think would translate beautifully into video games.  Any game designer out there is free to use these ideas, though you’ll need to work out the licensing issues with the bands and/or the estates of their deceased members on your own.

Album: Tarkus (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1971)

Suggested game genres: 3D tank combat or 2D Mega Man-style platformer

Tarkus was the second studio album put out by progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and it’s the first and perhaps the only album to feature an “armadillo tank” on its cover.  Artist William Neal painted this bizarre album cover at the request of keyboardist Keith Emerson, who wrote a bunch of keyboard-centered instrumental pieces to insert into the title track to Tarkus, a twenty-minute suite about… it’s hard to say what it’s about, exactly.  Supposedly it’s about the armadillo tank on the album cover going on a rampage and battling several other beasts as if it were starring in a kaiju movie (the liner notes contain a whole series of comics in which it does just that.)  But the lyrics to the three songs written by singer/bassist Greg Lake that link together Emerson’s organ and synth freakouts don’t seem to have anything to do with that subject.  Battlefield sounds more suited to the end of Henry V than to a monster movie. And God knows what the hell Stones of Years and Mass are about, but they’re definitely not about an armadillo tank battle.  Oh well, “Tarkus” is an excellent piece of music, even if it is weird and self-indulgent, but “weird and self-indulgent” were the hallmarks of ELP.  They were great musicians and apparently kicked a lot of ass on stage, so who cares if their songs made any sense?

But what sort of game would suit “Tarkus”?  The obvious choice is a tank combat game in which you play as the Tarkus itself.  Then again, it seems like Tarkus would make for a good enemy too.  Since it looks like something Dr. Wily might have built, maybe a Mega Man-style game in which you fight the terrifying armadillo tank would be a better option. Maybe it’s chased Wily off and taken over his castle, and he comes to you and asks you to help recover it for him and promises to be good from now on if you do (and of course he breaks that promise in the next game, but that goes without saying.)  Did I just write the plot of Mega Man 12?  I hope so, because that would be amazing.

Album: Quadrophenia (The Who, 1973)

Suggested game genres: Indie 2D adventure game/brawler hybrid or Key-style depressing visual novel

The Who is one of the biggest, most influential rock bands ever, and Quadrophenia is one of their standout works, an ambitious double-album rock opera.  It’s not quite as well-known as Tommy, the band’s first rock opera (at the very least, it never had a hit as big as “Pinball Wizard”) but it’s arguably even better.  And it even has a way more depressing story, somehow.  Quadrophenia is about Jimmy, a young mod (sort of like a 60s British punk/beatnik hybrid from what I can tell) who uses drugs, gets into street fights with rivals, goes through a bad breakup, and finally questions his role in society and the point of life in general and contemplates suicide.  I can imagine that guitarist/libretto-writer Pete Townshend might have seen some of himself in the main character, since his work often comes off as both depressive and autobiographical.  The fact that the real-life mods were fans of The Who in their early days probably made a difference too.  Of course, all this concept would be worthless in this context if the music were bad, but the music is really damn good.  I could not write a song like 5:15 or Love Reign O’er Me anyway, you can be assured of that.

Quadrophenia was adapted into movie form in 1979, but why not make a game of it as well?  I can see it thriving in the indie game-developing community today, especially since a lot of the themes found on this album (lack of purpose, depression, existential angst) are also common themes in that sphere and among the younger generations today.  I’m imagining a 2D pixel-art game involving some brawling sections River City Ransom-style.  However, there is another option that you never would have guessed a weeb like me would have thought of – a visual novel.  Specifically the really depressing kind of VN, the kind that Japanese developer Key is famous for creating (see Clannad, Air, Kanon, and Planetarian for examples.) The VN format allows for a lot more narrative and dialogue and even for branching story paths based on the player’s decisions. Maybe one good ending can be included, but it should be really difficult to get or only unlock after one or more playthroughs. Or just leave the player with only bad or at best bittersweet endings, just like Key would do.

Album: Mothership Connection (Parliament, 1975)

Suggested game genre: Space-based shooter Surrealistic exploration game

Another bizarre cover to another great album.  Mothership Connection was released by Parliament, one half of a musical cooperative sort of thing with Funkadelic, both led by producer/composer/singer/insane dresser George Clinton.  Both Parliament and Funkadelic put out albums, the main distinction between them being Parliament tended to be more dance-oriented R&B stuff whereas Funkadelic involved a lot more druggy funk-rock experiments.  But the overlap between the two groups and their styles are so great that people usually lump them together as Parliament-Funkadelic, or just P-Funk.  Mothership Connection is probably one of the best albums these guys put out, full of catchy funk tunes with sci-fi themes and some very weird lyrics about… just as with Tarkus, the meaning of a lot of this stuff is unclear.  Flying a spaceship through a nebula made entirely of pot smoke – that’s what listening to this album is like.  I highly recommend checking it out (Side A and Side B are both posted on Youtube along with every other piece of licensed music ever made.)

At first, I thought Mothership Connection would make for a natural space shooter, something like Gradius. But then I realized that these aliens coming in on the mothership aren’t here to fight, they’re here to have a party and probably to spread some otherworldly consciousness-alteration to the people of Earth. At least that’s what I gather from listening to the album. So a more appropriate choice of genre here would be an exploration game with surreal elements, something like LSD: Dream Emulator. Maybe a surreal space sim set to 70s funk/R&B. I don’t think a game like that exists yet, but I would sure as hell play it.

I’m sure there are a lot of other songs and albums out there that would translate into amazing games.  Feel free to post your own ideas below.  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this question: did I only write this piece as an excuse to review three albums I like, and also because I’m working all god damn weekend and didn’t have the chance to make progress in any of my games again?

Games for broke people, master hunter edition

You might have inferred from reading some of my posts here that I’m not an outdoors sort of person, and that inference would have been absolutely correct. I hate camping, hiking, trekking, kayaking, and being present in or near sunlight. I like the idea of nature, but I prefer to keep a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) distance from it. So you can rest assured that the closest I’ve ever gotten to hunting was playing Duck Hunt on the NES.  No real-life hunting for me, thanks.

But who needs real-life hunting when we have itch.io? The following free games all involve hunting as a mechanic.  Well, sort of.  One game involves hunting, and the other two games are square pegs I try desperately to pound into the round hole that is the theme of this post.  Did I succeed?  You be the judge.

Foxhunt

Not a literal foxhunt, with hounds and horses and all that stuff, so you know I’m more or less breaking the theme of the post already.  Not that I’d really want to play a game like that anyway.  No, Foxhunt is instead a short surreal puzzle game set in a very small looping area that looks like the middle of the Antarctic Desert.  The object of the game is to solve puzzles by following clues on cards scattered around the few abandoned structures and mechanisms in the environment.  These clues have been left by “The Fox”, who may or may not be the white fox that keeps showing up to check in on you before running away and disappearing again when you get too close to it (see the screenshot on the right.)  Then again, how would a fox write notes like this with its paws?  Maybe I’m overthinking this.

I found Foxhunt to be pretty nice for what it is.  The game was interesting enough to keep me playing through the 30 to 45 minutes it took to solve all of its puzzles, and some of the design elements makes me think Anomalina, the creator(s) of the game, was influenced by old adventure/puzzle games like Mystand Riven.  I also have to mention the piano that makes up the game’s background music; it makes for the perfect atmosphere.

Anyway, Foxhunt is worth checking out if you want to play a short puzzle game set in a tundra.  The last note in the game also suggests that the developer plans to expand on the ideas in Foxhunt, so they might be worth following.

Nonsense at Nightfall

The aptly titled Nonsense at Nightfall is the tale of a man who takes a sleeping pill that turns him into a cat, a fact that he takes very much in stride for some reason, because instead of immediately trying to turn himself back into a human, he decides to start looking for a mouse to eat (hence the hunting aspect of the game.  That’s not too much of a stretch, is it?)  This is another one of those Game Boy-ish games that seem to be so common on itch.io, I guess because they’re probably relatively easy to make and hold a bit of nostalgic value thanks to the old-school aesthetic.

Nonsense at Nightfall is only about half an hour long and consists of a few easy puzzles, a couple of weirdly creative twists, and a conclusion so obvious that it would have made me angry had the game been 1) not free and/or 2) longer than half an hour.  But since it’s a short free game, the dumb fourth-wall-breaking joke ending really isn’t so bad, and to be fair, developer Siegfried Croes does set it up decently.  This one was amusing enough to make me not regret downloading it, and that’s pretty much a thumbs up as far as these free games go.  Nice job, Mr. Croes.  Just, you know – if you make a longer game to follow up on this one, give it a more satisfying ending, okay?

Duck Hunt

It’s Duck Hunt.  Yeah, someone just made a port of the NES classic Duck Hunt (probably only considered a “classic” because it was included on that Super Mario Bros. cartridge that came bundled with every NES ever sold, but that’s another matter) and put it on itch.io as a browser game.  I’m pretty sure that’s not legal, even if you give Nintendo credit for their work.  But since Duck Hunt is 35 years old at this point, I can’t imagine Nintendo caring enough to threaten legal action.  Hell, everyone uses emulators these days, so what’s the difference?

Anyway, this port seems to be pretty faithful to the original game, with two exceptions.  The first is that you’re naturally not playing with the NES Zapper but rather with your mouse, and the second is that the dog doesn’t laugh at you for missing ducks.  At least he never did when I intentionally missed every duck and got a game over.  I know how much we all hated that god damn dog for laughing at us, but leaving the laughing dog animation out of Duck Hunt is like leaving the yeti out of SkiFree.  It’s just not the same game without it.  Or maybe I’m missing something here.  It’s been two decades and change since I last played Duck Hunt, so that’s possible.

My seven favorite anime opening themes

Everyone else has made one of these lists, so I thought I should as well.  Also, I’m working overtime this week and weekend, so I didn’t have time to play enough of a game to write about in a meaningful way.  However, I was stuck in my car for several hours this week cumulatively, during which I listened to a lot of old favorites and classics I hadn’t put on for a while.  If there’s one good thing about shitty traffic, it’s the excuse to just sit for a while and listen to music.

Note: I’m not talking about the anime OPs themselves, though I could certainly make a favorites list of those as well. I’m only talking about the songs featured in said OPs. They’re placed here in no particular order, as usual. I’m really not good at ranking stuff if you couldn’t tell already.  There are also quite a few great opening themes that I’m not even bringing up because if I did, this list would be too damn long.

7) Hito Toshite Jiku ga Bureteiru by Kenji Ohtsuki & Zetsubou Shoujotachi  – Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

People feel so strongly about which opening song of the neurotic comedy series Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is the best that they get into internet fights about it. I think they’re all good, but my vote goes to the first season opening song, also known simply as “bure bure” for that repetitive line in the song’s chorus. Singer Kenji Ohtsuki gives the song an especially sharp edge that makes sense, given that he seems to be representing the obsessive, depressive teacher protagonist Itoshiki complaining about how twisted of a man he is.

As if being a teacher weren’t bad enough, I’m also in despair

I also love the fact that the other characters from the show, all students in his homeroom class, are in-character background singers (they’re the ones credited as the “Zetsubou girls”.) This is simply a great song and an appropriate opening to a great show that I still find hard to watch because it reminds me too much of my own neurotic obsessions and fears. Same with Curb Your Enthusiasm. I know it’s good but I just can’t.

6) Katayoku no Tori by Akiko Shikata – Umineko no Naku Koro ni

Okay, just to be clear: the Umineko anime series absolutely sucks and you should not watch it. By all means play the visual novel series, but don’t watch the anime. Studio Deen just completely, utterly fucked the story in the transition to TV. However, one thing they did manage to get right was the music. Umineko has a fantastic soundtrack, and not only did Deen make good use of it in the adaptation, they even included a few songs unique to the show, including the opener “Katayoku no Tori” (“One-Winged Eagle”, a reference to the Ushiromiya family crest) written and sung by Akiko Shikata. I’ve mentioned Shikata already in my Ar tonelico II album review, and her work on the Umineko series is just as good. It’s bombastic and operatic, very fitting to open this supernatural murder mystery. Beatrice the Golden Witch would be proud. Too bad the show itself is crap.

5) Real World by Nano Ripe – Humanity Has Declined

Don’t be fooled by the happy pop sound of “Real World” or the pastel colors in the goofy-looking OP. Humanity Has Declined (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita if you’re more familiar with that title) really is about the decline of humanity and the rise of the “new humanity”, the Keebler Elf-looking fairies who aren’t antagonists but just want to establish a good relationship with what’s left of our human race through a girl known only as “the mediator”. Unfortunately, this mediator ends up being put through a whole lot of shit thanks to her assignment that I can’t even really start to get into.

Mediator is done putting up with this shit

Humanity Has Declined is a dark comedy hidden in the shell of a light comedy, and “Real World” fits into that structure. It’s more the kind of song you’d expect from a “cute girls doing cute things” slice of life than a series about the fall of the human race. Very bright, energetic, and catchy, and weirdly enough it puts me in a better mood sometimes despite the theme of the show it’s attached to.

4) Tank! by Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts – Cowboy Bebop

I can’t very well make a best OP song list without including “Tank!”, the aggressive jazz punch that opens every episode of Cowboy Bebop. I don’t have a whole lot to say about “Tank!” except that it’s amazing. Cowboy Bebop was the second “serious” anime series I ever saw – I stayed up late nights to watch it on Adult Swim long before the days of streaming video services – and the opening sequence knocked me over the first time I saw it. Yoko Kanno and her band the Seatbelts are collectively one of the reasons Cowboy Bebop holds up so well to this day, and large parts of all four of its soundtracks have a permanent place in my playlist.

3) Roundabout by Yes – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

Agh – fine, fine, you got me. I’m cheating on this one. It’s not an opening but rather an ending song, specifically to the first season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. But I couldn’t resist putting “Roundabout” on this list, it’s such a deserving classic, and I didn’t feel like writing a separate list for ending themes, so here it is. Prog-rock progenitors Yes wrote “Roundabout” as the opener to their excellent 1972 album Fragile, but most of the internet now knows it as “that song that plays in the JoJo’s memes just before the ‘To Be Continued’ arrow flies in” thanks to its part in the series.

Fragile also has a great cover.  Someone still has this painted on the side of his van, I guarantee it

Well, it’s no surprise that a classic like “Roundabout” is part of JoJo’s – many of its characters are named after old rock and pop bands and songs, and series creator Hirohiko Araki himself was reportedly a fan of the song. Yeah, the lyrics are insane (sample: in and around the lake / mountains come out of the sky and they stand there and no, these lines don’t make any more sense in the context of the song) but that’s just something you have to get used to when it comes to Yes. Anyway, “Roundabout” is great, though my favorite Yes song is still Starship Trooper, a song that seemingly has nothing to do with the Heinlein novel or anything else you could possibly imagine.

2) Nantoka Nare by Furuido – Mahjong Legend Akagi

There isn’t a song I’ve heard attached to an anime series that captures the idea of world-weariness better than “Nantoka Nare”. This is another early 70s classic, this time by Japanese folk-rockish band Furuido, who wrote and performed a whole lot of other songs that seem to say “sure, the world is fucked, but just keep on going anyway.” That’s more or less the message of this song, a truly powerful one with a lot of feeling behind it. The title character of Akagi is a gambler with a genius-level talent who is so self-assured, but also so willing to take risks that might end up getting him killed just for the sake of finding an even greater challenge, that other characters often think of him as more of a demon than a human. So maybe it’s weird to say that “Nantoka Nare”, which expresses such a human emotion, suits Akagi well as a theme, but somehow it just does.

I know it doesn’t makes a lot of sense without the context, but trust me, this play is all kinds of insane

1) Inner Universe by Yoko Kanno and Origa – Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

This is another obvious pick.  “Inner Universe” fits the feel of Ghost in the Shell incredibly well, and the song is excellent even when it’s removed from that context.  A lot of songwriters and performers trying to pull off a haunting, spine-chilling feel, but Yoko Kanno (again!) and Origa (a Russian-born singer who’s sadly no longer around) succeed at it, thanks largely to Origa’s vocals.  I also just like songs that manage to use more than one language without sounding disjointed, which “Inner Universe” does with alternating lines in Russian, English, and Latin.

Feel free to share your favorite anime opening themes, or ending themes, or just your favorite music in general below.  Or just share how your day was if you want.  Why not?  In the meantime, I hope to finish one of these games I’m working on soon, which is probably contingent on my getting any damn time off work in the near future.  I’m not even eligible for extra overtime wages thanks to the professional exemption.  Can you believe that shit?  If I were in charge… but that’s a subject for a different post, and probably not one I’d ever write here.  If you want to read my angry, bitter screeds, you’ll have to follow my other site.  It’s sort of like the creepy basement to the two-story colonial brick house that this site is.

Okay, when my metaphors start to get this stupid I know it’s time to stop writing.

Backlog review: Doki Doki Literature Club! (PC)

I tried to write a concise review of this game, but I found it impossible to discuss all its aspects I wanted to hit upon without setting out the proper context, so I dumped that review in the bin and started over.  This second take is by far the longest review I’ve ever written.  How long is that?  So long that this review has a preface.  I promise there’s a point to all of it, though.  

Well, I guess you can be the judge of that.

***

Doki Doki Literature Club! is a free English-language visual novel for PC, one that’s been sitting on my hard drive for quite a while now.  I kept telling myself I’d take it on eventually, and so I did over an evening after work, and well into the night.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write a meaningful review of this game without getting into spoilers, but I don’t think I can. What I can say without spoiling the game (because the game itself gives the player a warning about this upon running for the first time) is that while Doki Doki Literature Club! looks like your usual cutesy dating sim VN, it deals with some very heavy subjects.  The cheerful theme and the colorful opening screen featuring the protagonist’s schoolmates wearing the world’s shortiest skirts* don’t tell the whole story behind this game.

Just your average visual novel, nothing to see here.

When I first checked it out, I didn’t think much of that fact.  I played a few VNs years ago like Yume Miru Kusuri that touched on similar issues.  But Doki Doki is different.  When the protagonist is pressured into joining his high school’s literature club by his ditzy childhood friend Sayori and meets her clubmates – the painfully reserved Yuri, the ultra-tsundere Natsuki, and the charismatic club president Monika – you might expect the usual choose-your-own-adventure style quest to win one of these girls’ hearts, but that’s not quite what you’ll get.

Massive honking spoilers regarding the game’s plot, characters, and endings follow under the below screenshot. If you haven’t played the game yet and don’t want to read any further, the short, spoiler-free version of my review ends with this: if you’re okay dealing with talk about depression, anxiety, and related issues, and you don’t mind some disturbing images, you should absolutely play Doki Doki Literature Club!  I promise it’s not just another dating sim.  Also, it’s free to download.  Also, it’s not an h-game, so no worries if you’re creeped out by those kinds of scenes, but it’s still not really for kids.

I know how it looks, but I promise it’s not like that.

I didn’t think a PC game could throw me for a loop again after I finished OneShot.  I already had some idea of the reputation Doki Doki Literature Club! (DDLC from now on, because I’m not planning to wear out my ctrl and v keys today) has as a horror game hidden in the shell of a generic dating sim, so I thought I was ready for anything.  But this game exceeded my expectations in that regard.  The way the game starts contrasts so greatly with where the game arrives at the end of the first playthrough that the effect has to be astounding if you weren’t expecting a twist at all.

So what makes DDLC so special?  If you’ve read this far, you’ve either played it already or don’t care about getting spoiled on it, so I’ll spill it here.  DDLC does indeed start out like your average dating sim visual novel set in a Japanese high school.  The player character is an average student who likes anime and video games, and every other character in the game is a cute girl who’s ready to fall madly in love with him despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be anything remarkable about him.  The only thing that seems to be different about DDLC at first is the poetry minigame that separates each in-game day in which you have to go home and pick twenty words to dump into a poem to share with the club the next day.  Each of your three romantic targets (the short pink-haired Natsuki, the tall dark mysterious Yuri, and the chirpy, spaced-out Sayori – notice Monika isn’t an option; stick a pin in that fact because it’s important) has certain words she likes according to her personality, and your word choice determines which of them you get closer to.  Upon returning to the clubroom the next day, you share your poem with each of your clubmates, who usually shares her own poem in turn.

Wait, why is suicide an option?

Developer Team Salvato could have just left it at that, creating a nice little free romance VN for people to download on Steam and itch.io.  The characters are cute, the art is well done, and the writing is pretty good for your standard dating sim, especially for a free one.  Hell, the writer had to actually compose several poems written by each girl that fit her personality, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.  The only poem I’ve ever written was an obscene scrawl about being drunk and broke and horny that’s only fit for publication on the wall of a bathroom stall.

But no.  Instead of building a normal dating sim on this solid base, the creators chose to take that tried and true format apart and reassemble it into a game about crippling anxiety, suicidal depression, emotional abuse, and existential angst.  But did they pull it off?

I hope that’s not foreshadowing.

It’s not easy to write about the above-listed subjects in a realistic and tasteful way.  It’s even more difficult to write a piece of meta-fiction that weaves all these themes together.  Despite the initial cheery atmosphere of the literature club, each of these girls has some serious emotional baggage she’s dealing with.  Natsuki is raised by a single father who largely neglects her.  Yuri suffers from severe social anxiety to the point that she can barely hold a conversation if it’s not about literature, and it’s implied that she cuts herself.  Sayori hides a case of chronic depression behind an outwardly sunny disposition.  And Monika – well, Monika’s issue isn’t obvious at first, but it’s the one that causes the game to completely run off the rails in the end.

In a normal dating sim VN, the player, represented by the protagonist, pursues the girl he likes the best.  If all goes well (meaning he makes the right decisions when presented with branching dialogue and action paths) he’ll typically get a few increasingly intimate scenes with the girl and end up confessing his love to her or vice versa.  A nice, clean romance.  DDLC makes the player think that’s the path he’s headed down, and then it closes that path off completely, forcing him to take a detour into mind-bending uncanny valley horror land.  This shift in tone is driven partly by the psychological issues the other characters in the game are dealing with, in particular Sayori’s depression.

I don’t have a funny caption for this screenshot.

As the first act of the game goes on, Sayori starts to withdraw from the club’s activities to the point that even the dense as hell protagonist notices there’s something going on with her.  One day after telling him that she’s got depression, Sayori catches the protagonist in an awkward romantic-looking situation with either Yuri or Natsuki, then once she’s alone with him, she confesses her love to him as she breaks down sobbing.  You have the choice of either returning her love or calling her “your dearest friend” (that has to hurt) but either way, Sayori ends up hanging herself the next morning in her room.  When the protagonist stumbles upon her corpse hanging from the ceiling after checking in on her, he starts to lose his mind, a black screen with the word “END” pops up and the player is kicked back to the main menu, where Sayori seems to have been completely written over.

This… this isn’t right, is it?

The natural thing to do in a situation like this is reload your last save.  But guess what?  The game has god damn deleted all your saves.  All you can do at this point is click on the gibberish option at the top of the menu, which starts a new game, only with Sayori curiously absent.  This time around, Monika herself invites the protagonist to join her literature club, and you join Yuri and Natsuki as its newest member.  Sayori isn’t even mentioned, as if she’s been erased from existence.

This second act of DDLC is where things get really weird and broken.  Yuri and Natsuki start to suffer from bizarre graphical glitches, and their mutual rivalry that was on display in the first playthrough heats up to the point of vicious insults and R-rated name-calling.  Monika seems to be the only level-headed member of the club this this time around.  You might expect that she’s taken Sayori’s place as an option for romantic pursuit, but no, she’s still just a side character.  However, Monika starts to do some weird things too, dropping subtle hints that she somehow knows exactly what’s going on.

Monika, you’re in front of the dialogue box.  Why are you in front of the dialogue box.

The player still ostensibly has the option of romancing Yuri or Natsuki, but this time Yuri reveals her true form as a yandere who is obsessed with the protagonist, using her newly discovered yandere powers to drag him away from Natsuki and Monika at every opportunity.  And if you know anything about the yandere archetype, you know that you do not want to be the target of a yandere’s affections.

Please don’t.

However, Monika isn’t having it.  As Yuri and Natsuki fight over the protagonist, Monika tries pulling rank on them to get you to spend the weekend with her to work on the big festival project the club was planning both in this and the first act.  Yuri’s yandere powers overcome Monika’s efforts once again, but not for long – after confessing her love for the protagonist, Yuri inexplicably pulls out a kitchen knife and stabs herself in the heart.  The player is then stuck in the classroom all weekend with Yuri’s corpse, the passage of time marked by the sun setting and rising through the windows.  For some reason, the protagonist doesn’t get a chance to respond to any of this.  You’re still viewing the action through his eyes, but he’s now effectively absent for some reason.

On Monday morning, Natsuki and Monika return to school.  Natsuki acts like anyone else would upon seeing the two day-old corpse of her classmate – she vomits and runs out of the classroom in tears.  Monika, however, just laughs and apologizes to you for having to spend a boring weekend at school thanks to the “broken script”.  She then promises to fix the problem, opens a console at the corner of the screen, and deletes two files named yuri.chr and natsuki.chr.  She then decides to go all the way and deletes the rest of the world outside of the classroom.

The end?

At this point, it’s obvious what’s going on.  Monika is a self-aware game character – she’s known since the beginning of the game that she exists inside a dating sim and that nothing around her is real.  That even includes the protagonist, who is now definitely no longer around, or at least not around enough to say or think anything.  Monika is now talking directly to you, the player.  She confesses that she was the one screwing with the game.  She figured out how to alter the game files to aggravate Natsuki’s and Yuri’s character quirks in an attempt to make them more unlikable.  She even manipulated Sayori into killing herself when she saw her getting too close to the protagonist, and hence to the player.  Monika then expresses her love for you, the player, on the other side of the screen, and says that the two of you are now together forever.  Once again, it’s pointless to open the load menu – all the saves have been deleted, and restarting the game just brings up Monika again, who asks you why everything just went dark for a minute (echoes of OneShot there, though in a very different context.)

This might seem like the end of the game, but the astute player will likely be wondering what happens if Monika’s character file is deleted as well.  That’s the key to getting to the actual ending of the game, in which Monika’s file is destroyed but she still manages to exist long enough to feel bad for what she’s done and to restore the game and all its characters except for her.  This third act (or fourth act, if you want to count Monika’s void as the third act) is very short – basically a lead-in to the ending.  DDLC will end in one of two ways depending upon whether you managed to see every special event in the game before it throws you into the “broken” second act of the game.  In both cases, Sayori has taken Monika’s place as club president, and in the best ending she thanks you, the player, for being there for all the girls when they needed you most before ending the game – this time for good.

Turns out the whole horrific awareness of yourself as a game character thing is inherited by whoever becomes the club president. Sorry, Sayori.

I like the concept of DDLC.  I’m not sure anyone’s created a fake-out dating sim turned horror game before this one, or at least one that’s been written in or translated into English.  There have been visual novels that use the player’s perspective as a plot point to throw the player for a loop, but I haven’t played one that involves the player himself as a character quite like DDLC does.

More importantly, the creators put together DDLC in a clever way, dropping hints in the first act that something isn’t quite right and building upon that feeling in the second act, culminating in Monika’s deletion of the rest of the game world.  Monika has a few strange lines of dialogue in the first act that break the fourth wall (at one point, for example, she says that a joke Natsuki made based on a Japanese language pun using Monika’s name** “doesn’t work in translation”, then everyone looks puzzled for a second before the dialogue continues.) Monika’s poems also make references to her self-awareness as a game character, though these are naturally a lot more obvious during a second playthrough.  In fact, upon a second playthrough you’ll probably notice a lot of weird things that you passed over the first time around, like the fact that the protagonist doesn’t respond to Monika’s “Writing Tip of the Day” segment at the end of each day, nor to any of the weird fourth-wall breaking stuff going on in either the first or the second acts.  And the fact that in every one of her portraits, Monika is the only character who is always looking directly at the player.  This is the sort of thing that you just don’t notice when you’re playing a VN, and the game uses that fact to set the player up for the big twist at the end of the second act.

See, this is an extra-meta-joke because saving your game in DDLC is mostly pointless.

The second act does contain a few jumpscare-esque moments, but they’re not done in the stupid kind of way you might expect.  The best one involves Yuri giving you her third poem, which is a page full of gibberish covered in bloodstains and also a yellow stain that’s probably exactly what you think it is.  When you stop reading the poem, Yuri is standing six inches from the protagonist’s face looking at him in crazy-eyes mode (not the crazy eyes in the screenshot halfway up, but extra-crazy eyes) asking him what he thinks of it.  I’m not posting a screenshot of that because it is actually pretty god damn disturbing and I do not want to look at it again.  The writer and artist both make effective use of that uncanny horror feeling in the second act, especially with Yuri’s increasingly scary yandere side coming out.

There’s only one real fault I can find with DDLC.  The meta-fiction derailment of the story in the second act is clever and surprising, but it also prevents the game from more seriously addressing the emotional problems that the characters face.  I can imagine an alternate version of DDLC in which the protagonist has to try to romance one of his clubmates while considering not only her feelings but also the feelings of the other girls in the game.  DDLC starts down that path in the first act but goes in a different direction after Sayori’s suicide.  That’s not a bad thing in itself, but I feel like there was a missed opportunity here.  On the other hand, the meta-fiction element of the game is a big part of what makes it special, so I can’t complain too much about the path the creators decided to take.  At the very least, Monika’s existential crisis freakout gets solved in the end, though not in an entirely happy way.

Or you can hang out with Monika in the void forever. That’s not a bad option either.

And that’s all I have to say about Doki Doki Literature Club!  As far as plot, characters, crazy meta-fiction elements and attention to detail go, DDLC is extremely impressive, especially for a free visual novel.  You just don’t expect this kind of quality from a free VN you can download off of Steam or itch.io.  I certainly didn’t, which is probably part of why it took me so long to play this game.  It’s a real achievement, and I hope the developer stays in the business.  Maybe they can follow DDLC up with a reverse-twist by creating a VN that everyone expects to be bizarre and meta but that ends up being a completely normal dating sim.  Now that would be interesting. 𒀭

* This is a Futurama reference, which means that I’m not being perverted by pointing out the shortness of the characters’ skirts.  That’s how that works, right?

** Translator’s note: ika means squid.