A review of LiEat (PC)

It’s been a long time since I wrote a proper game review. Plenty of commentaries and analyses and complaining about everything I hate about life and the world and all that, but no reviews for several months now. Since I have a tall pile of games to complete that I bought during Steam sales (a digital pile, I guess, not a physical one, but I still imagine them stacked up on my desk like it’s the early 2000s again) now seems like a good time to get back to my roots.

The first game I completed in my massive haul was LiEat, a short RPG series about an unlikely pair: a traveling conman who constantly changes his name and appearance and his companion, a young dragon girl named Efina (or just Efi) who has the ability to see the physical forms of lies and eat them. The version of LiEat I got on Steam is actually a trilogy of three games titled LiEat I, II, and III — each game takes place in different settings and with some differences in cast, but the main characters are always Efina and the conman, who first shows up in LiEat I with the name Leo.

Efina eats a lie.

Efina’s ability is a complete mystery, both to her and to her guardian. Even her birth is a mystery: she just happened to hatch from a giant egg that Leo happened upon while he was walking along the road one day. Since Efina didn’t have anyone to take care of her, she attached herself to Leo and started calling him “Papa” much to his annoyance. But Leo takes her in anyway, both looking after her and making use of her lie-eating ability to solve mysteries and hustle people out of their money.

You defeat a lie by beating its physical form down to 0 HP. If only it were that easy in real life.

Leo and Efi make a good team, despite how weirdly the pair seem to match. Efi is naturally curious about the world — despite looking like a pretty normal human kid and having the ability to reason and talk, she’s only a few months old at the start of LiEat and is excited to learn all she can, both about the world around her and about her unique power. Leo, meanwhile, is a jaded, world-weary guy in his early 20s who only likes “beer, money, and women” and tells Efi to shut up when she’s getting on his nerves. Not a natural father figure, but Efi seems to cheerfully accept Leo’s attitude.

It’s no use lying to Efi, but Leo does it anyway.

Throughout LiEat, Leo (later changing his name to Hal and Sid, none of them his real name) and Efi move from setting to setting, meeting new characters and getting mixed up in some kind of supernatural trouble that they’re forced to solve. Inevitably the police also get involved, headed up by a captain and vice-captain who know Leo and are a little wary of him for some reason. This might be because they know he’s a conman, but there’s a lot more to it than that. As the story progresses through I and II, we get hints of Leo’s past and learn his true name (Theobald Leonhart aka Theo — isn’t Leonhart Squall’s last name from FF8? Maybe a reference there?) It’s only in LiEat III that the game lets on about Theo’s broken childhood and about the burden he carries, one that only Efi can help him resolve.

There’s some deep backstory here

LiEat is a very small series of games. Each one takes just about an hour to complete. In fact, while each game has its own set of endings and doesn’t carry levels, equipment, or items over, I see these less as separate games and more as three chapters of the same game. They all have a pretty similar look and feel — all created with WolfRPG, a popular RPG creation template, but with a lot of custom sprites, character portraits, background music, and event CGs. The developer Miwashiba clearly took the time to make LiEat much more than the standard boring templaty1 RPG. The combat is very simple and no challenge at all, just standard turn-based stuff, but I think part of the appeal of LiEat is in that style that Miwashiba adds.

Not a woman you want to get involved with

Despite its short length, LiEat isn’t exactly lightweight either. The story goes to a few unexpectedly dark places. Nothing too gory or horrific, though the third part does have a little bit of the psychological horror element. No, the darkness here is more emotional. The normal ending to the last game, the first one I got, was pretty heartbreaking. I immediately had to figure out how to get the good ending, which the LiEat finale thankfully has — it’s absolutely not a given when it comes to these WolfRPG/RPGMaker games that there will be a good ending at all. And I’ve got to say that I was satisfied. The good ending wasn’t pulled out of the game’s ass just for the sake of ending on a pleasant note; it’s entirely believable and earned.

I was also satisfied with LiEat as a whole. It only cost something like $1.20 when I bought it on sale, but even at its sticker price of three dollars I’d say it’s worth going for, especially if you already know you’re into this RPGMaker-style RPG/adventure genre. It might give you some warm feelings, especially in the sort of parent-child thing that develops between Theo and Efi. And it’s me saying this, and I’m a bitter, emotionally closed-off asshole, so it should say a lot that LiEat worked for me on that level.

A scene from the third part of LiEat. I feel personally attacked.

So that’s a recommendation from me. Especially if you come across it during a sale, because even as of this writing, it costs less than a cup of coffee. But only if that coffee is from Starbucks, which you can’t visit at the moment because they’re probably all closed now because of the coronavirus. At least the one near me is. So instead of buying that overpriced, overburnt mud water2, why not buy a game like LiEat instead to pass a few hours during the international quarantine?

Since I’m not going anywhere either, I’ll continue to just dig through that backlog over the next weeks/months. Until next time, if you come across a giant egg while you’re walking along the road and discover a dragon hatching from it, I guess do the right thing and adopt it on the spot. It worked for Theo in the end, and in the best-case scenario you’ll end up in a Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid kind of situation, and who wouldn’t want that? Shit, maybe I really am just a weirdo. 𒀭

 

1 I know this isn’t a word, but it should be. Haven’t you seen a lot of games that just look like they were thrown together with a game creation tool using basic default assets? I don’t know of any better term to use to describe that sort of game. Not that they’re all bad, but there’s something to be said for setting yourself apart with a distinctive style, which is something LiEat does admirably well.

2 Their regular coffee tastes like ass. I still stand by that assessment. If you really need some gas in the tank, though, the cold brew is worth paying for. There, that’s your bonus coffee review.

Breaking the fourth wall: A review of Contact (DS)

Contact_boxart

Have you ever wondered whether the characters on the other side of the screen knew you were there, controlling them, fighting with them? Have you ever played a game in which one or more of the characters knew they were being controlled by “the player”?

Well, chances are you haven’t, because Contact was a commercial failure. Published by Atlus and developed by Grasshopper Manufacture under the direction of famous weirdo game maker Suda51, Contact was released in 2006 for the Nintendo DS, which was still a new and fresh system at the time. This game has Suda’s marks all over it: weird story, surreal scenes that don’t make a lot of sense, puzzles with strange solutions, etc.

Above: the Professor and Mochi. Below: the primary game field.

Above: the Professor and Mochi. Below: the primary game field.

The element of Contact that really made it stand out, however, was the fourth-wall-breaking part. The game opens with the Professor, a really professorial-looking man with white hair and a lab coat, who is amazed to see you and starts asking you questions directly. He even addresses you by name (which the game presumably gets from the DS profile.) The Professor, and only the Professor, knows that you exist, and he talks to you throughout the game. Your participation in the game is pretty cleverly woven into the story and mechanics. The game even uses the unique (in 2006) split-screen DS in an interesting way, putting the Professor and Mochi in their lab on the top screen and the main part of the game in the bottom screen.

Oh yeah, and the Professor also has a cat named Mochi. Mochi also knows you exist because you can play with him (i.e. poke him with the stylus) in the save screen.

The player-controlled character throughout the game is “Terry”, a silent kid protagonist who has to help the Professor recover fuel cells to get his spaceship running again. There’s also a plot about evil astronauts, and Terry chases around a girl who may or may not be a villain, but she keeps disappearing for some reason. Despite having played Contact, I don’t really know what the game is about, although this is standard as far as Suda51 games go. Also, since Suda wrote the game, there are a few creepy and vaguely sexual parts in the game despite its E 10+ rating. For example, at one point Terry decides to caress a set of nightwear folded on a female NPC’s bed while he is alone in her house.

You didn't believe me?

Yeah, really

The game itself is pretty simple. It’s a basic adventure game: you move your character around on the field, hit enemies with swords and axes, talk to NPCs, run through dungeons, and find things. Contact also features a set of jobs Terry can take on, such as chef and thief, which modify his abilities. Combat is the weakest aspect of Contact, actually – it’s pretty much “run up again enemies and hit A until they die.” Special abilities and recipes for potions and dishes that modify your stats add something to this combat system, but not much.

Even so, Contact is a good game. It feels like a very “small” game – it’s short (for an adventure/RPG game), the characters are bare sketches, and the combat is as simple as it could possibly be. These qualities might have been the reasons for Contact‘s failure to sell well. However, the game is also bizarre and weirdly fascinating, with a nice soundtrack, an interesting gimmick that doesn’t feel too out of place, and a plot that keeps you at least wondering what the hell is going on. It’s a strange trip into a different world and a pleasant break from my own. I’m happy I played it. Contact takes your morning coffee and puts a drop of fairy juice in it and messes around with your brain-wires a bit, and sometimes that’s just what you need.

So if you like Suda51 and you don’t mind a kind of crappy combat system, I’d highly recommend Contact. It’s not the greatest game of all time by any means, but it also didn’t deserve to be almost totally ignored. If you find a copy for ten dollars (probably without the manual and box, but such is life) give it a try.

Retrospective: Skies of Arcadia

Skies Of Arcadia

Sometimes I get nostalgic for my old Dreamcast, and when I do one of the games I think about is this one. Skies of Arcadia was released in 2000 and it stands on its own, without any sequels or spinoffs (the Gamecube port with added content, Skies of Arcadia Legends, doesn’t count.) And it’s still one of my favorite games of all time.

Skies of Arcadia didn’t have an especially fresh plot or complex characters or anything like that – it was a pretty standard “save the world” sort of deal, and the characters were, for the most part, either just plain good guys or bad guys. Moreover, a lot of the bad guy characters in this game are of the goofy, sort of incompetent type. SoA did have a nice lightheartedness to it that a lot of RPGs lacked, though, and the characters were genuinely dynamic and fun – just don’t expect any big deep human drama or anything like that.

The heroes of Skies.  Please don't laugh at the graphics too much; 2000 was a different time.

The heroes of Skies. Please don’t laugh at the graphics too much; 2000 was a different time.

But as far as setting went, Skies was unique as hell. The main character here is Vyse, the son of a pirate captain (a good guy pirate, meaning he only plunders bad guys.) Only, as the name implies, these pirates don’t sail the seas: they sail the skies. The whole world of Skies of Arcadia is suspended in the sky, including the land masses and the ships. Imagine the good Pirates of the Caribbean movie, only it takes place a few miles above ground, and you’ll have a good idea of what’s going on here.

This is your navigation screen while you're piloting your ship.

This is your navigation screen while you’re piloting your ship.

There’s no real explanation of how or why everything in this game is in the sky or how it’s all floating up there, and no indication of why the developers decided to set a pirate-themed RPG in the sky. Somehow, though, it all works. SoA offers the player a big world to fly around in (at least for a game made in 2000) with new parts of the map revealed as the game progresses, all RPG style. Your character can dock at ports, some of which are town areas and some entrances to dungeon/field areas. At this point, you set out on foot.

This is generally when you get into fights.  SoA's combat system is pretty standard, but RPG lovers should enjoy it.  There are way too damn many random battles, though.

This is generally when you get into fights. SoA’s combat system is pretty standard, but RPG lovers should enjoy it. There are way too damn many random battles, though.

A lot of SoA‘s gameplay is pretty normal turn-based RPG fare. Where the game gets interesting is in its ship battles. At certain points in the game, you will enter into battle with an enemy ship, during which you must choose your ship’s actions (usually you’ll get three or four of them, depending on how many characters are in your active party) against your prediction of what you think the enemy ship will do. Here you’ll have to use some tactical thinking to take advantage of times at which your enemy is most vulnerable to attack and to shield yourself when your ship is weakest in position. You can outfit your ship with plenty of weapon types, including normal cannons, smaller guns that can fire in succession and torpedoes that can hit the enemy up to two turns away from when they’re launched, allowing you to concentrate a lot of firepower at the point where your enemy is exposed to attack. Trust me; it’s all a lot of fun when you actually play it.

Ship battles also feature a lot of "turning point" decisions like this that can change your fortunes for better or worse.

Ship battles also feature a lot of “turning point” decisions like this that can change your fortunes for better or worse.

Later on in the game, you can enhance your ship by recruiting crew members who add special abilities to your craft such as added attack, defense and healing. The whole ship battle thing might have come off as gimmicky if it had been shoehorned into the flow of the game or was done poorly, but I think it really ties in well with the story and the action of Skies.

Also, you fight this thing.

Also, you fight this thing.

Sadly, SEGA never followed up on this classic. I’d guess that it didn’t sell all that well, only that can’t be true, otherwise they wouldn’t have re-released it on the Gamecube with a ton of added content. So what happened? Nobody seems to know. Fans of the game have been badgering SEGA to put out a sequel, or at the very least an HD remake of the original, and SEGA has consistently put off those hopes. I’m not holding my breath, myself.

If you’re looking to play Skies of Arcadia today, you might have a hard time going about it. Both the Dreamcast original and the Gamecube port are currently selling for $150 on Amazon and similar amounts on eBay and other sites. You might notice that this is completely insane. I don’t know why copies of Skies are so rare these days, but they are.

That said, if you have the money to burn and the time to fully enjoy this fantastic RPG, I’d advise you to go for it. Skies of Arcadia is worth it – it offers dozens upon dozens of hours of gameplay and is just a lot of fun.

Or it could just be the nostalgia talking. Either way, Skies was a great game that still holds up today.