A review of Dorfromantik (PC)

I was in real need of a relaxing game this weekend and week as I recovered from my being carved up at the doctor. Thankfully I had one on my mind, thanks to fellow blogger and friend of the site Frostilyte who wrote a while back about the strangely named recent indie release Dorfromantik.

Released a few months ago on Steam, Dorfromantik is an environment/landscape-building game in which you’re tasked with placing hexagonal tiles on a grid. Each tile contains one or more environmental types or biomes or whatever you’d call them, including plains/grassland, forest, city/town, water, and what look like corn or wheat fields. Your set of tiles is limited and gets dealt to you like a deck of cards, and the only way to add more tiles to your deck is to gain points by matching up environmental types edge to edge. This is easier said than done, since with six sides to each tile there are a lot of different placement combinations you can choose from (or be stuck with depending) and the game is over once you’ve run out of tiles to place.

The start of a new game. When the edges of the hexagon you’re about to place are shining, that’s a match and the path to racking up more points and eventually getting more tiles to keep expanding your realm.

I’ve seen Dorfromantik called a city-building simulation in a few spots, but that’s a little misleading. This isn’t anything like a SimCity or Cities: Skylines — the towns you put together in this game don’t have population stats, you don’t have to worry about commerce or industry or linking towns with rail or anything like that. There are specialized rail and river tiles in the deck, but these seem to be just more flavor to add to the game, throwing some trains and boats onto your map to travel around a bit.

Compared to your SimCity sort of games, then, Dorfromantik is pretty minimalistic. It’s more of a procedurally generated (if that’s the right term here? No idea but it feels right) environment sim to mess around with. That’s not to say there’s no real game here outside of its pleasant aesthetics — it can be challenging to place tiles as perfectly as possible if you’re going for a large map and a high score, and the element of randomness in your draws adds to that challenge. The devs were considerate enough to include a creative mode that you can either use from scratch or on top of a finished session if you feel like continuing your work on your map, and while that option is great to have, I preferred having that puzzle element to play with just to see how far I could take my world.

My best map to date

That said, I think the main appeal of Dorfromantik is its relaxation potential. Putting together my own county from a bird’s-eye view felt almost therapeutic, and the nice ambient background music and sounds add to that effect. It’s also interesting to watch how, based on the hexagon-matching rules, large towns, fields, and forests will form almost naturally. Though I do have a weird obsession with creating small islands for my residents to live on, which isn’t always the optimal choice, but damn it I think it looks good. I don’t know how those people are going to get to work and school — I guess they must have boats. But thankfully I don’t have to think about transportation in Dorfromantik, so I can get away with putting a single house on a 2×2 island.

The citizens of my county are tired of my shit, sticking them on islands in an isolated lake, but they can’t do anything about it! Or maybe these are the perfect homes for recluses.

While playing Dorfromantik, I sometimes had to decide between an optimal tile placement and one that I thought looked good. More often than not I went with looks over function, because apparently I’m a shallow asshole. But I think my towns look good, and I’m not getting on the top point leaderboard anyway. If you have those ambitions, though, go for them! I read on the Steam page that somebody supposedly raked up 1.6 million in one game, a lot more impressive than my high score of just under 12K.

But does that optimized map have this island town, rated best place to live 2022? Probably not!

So if you’re looking for a nice, chilled out sort of game that feels like making your own snowglobe town and landscape, Dorfromantik is made for you. I recommend it for some stress relief/distraction, at least, since it helped me out in that area.

A review of HuniePop (PC)

Yeah, finally. After years of looking at this game every so often on Steam and thinking “well, maybe” the whole series went on sale this summer and I finally went for it. For the few who haven’t heard of it, HuniePop is a dating- and boning-themed puzzle game. Released in 2015, it made the rounds online and especially in let’s plays on YouTube (remember when they were called that? I do, and yeah I’m old.) I guess this popularity was partly because of how straightforward the game was in its intentions, no beating around the bush. So to speak.

But there are games that inspire plenty of memeing but aren’t actually any fun to experience, sometimes not even in that so bad it’s good way. Where does HuniePop fall, and was it worth the two dollars I paid for it on sale? I’ll keep the suspense up for once and not give that away, but maybe you already know the answer.

Are these good lines at the bar, what do you think

HuniePop opens with the player character drinking at the local bar when you’re approached by a mysterious lady in a red dress who seems to be gauging your ability to hit on women. When you prove to be a tongue-tied weirdo, this lady, Kyu, tells you you’re a perfect subject for her efforts. The next scene takes place the following morning at your apartment, where Kyu shows up again and reveals her true form as a pink-haired love fairy whose job it is to help poor guys and ladies like you (you can be either by the way — see the settings) improve their dating/seduction skills.

Even though it’s Monday morning and you’d normally have to get to work or attend school or something, in this world you’re apparently not hurting for money at all and don’t have anything else to do all day but try to pick up girls. Kyu knows this and demands that you start working all day every day on your skills, taking you on a sort of practice date that evening at a nice outdoor lounge to show you how it’s done.

How it’s done

Here you’re introduced to one of the two main game modes. Dating in HuniePop involves solving a match-three puzzle grid. Your moves aren’t timed, but your number of moves is limited, and you can only move one token at a time and only in a straight line horizontally or vertically. Matching up hearts, bells, and teardrops gives you various benefits like extra turns and point multipliers, and matching broken hearts knocks your score down dramatically and so should be avoided as much as possible. A successful date requires you to reach the point threshold within the move limit.

Once you pass the impossible-to-fail tutorial date, Kyu tells you to get out there and start finding girls, giving you a nudge by taking you to the local university campus where you run into the student Tiffany and her professor Aiko.

Who both have very interesting outfits. Attendance at some of my freshman lectures would have been higher than 20% of the class if the professor had looked like Aiko and worn short shorts every day, though I guess the guys wouldn’t have been paying much attention to the lecture itself.

Professor Hotpants leaves and you strike up a conversation with Tiffany after getting some advice from your love fairy tutor, who’s helpfully using magic to make herself invisible to everyone but you so Tiffany doesn’t think you’re hanging out with your cosplayer girlfriend. At this point we get into the other game mode in HuniePop, the conversation. When you meet a new lady, you can talk with her to earn “Hunie” (counted in the pink in the upper right of the screen) with far more earned if you give her answers she likes based on her personality. She won’t feel like talking if she’s hungry, but you can buy her something to eat or drink from the shop to prolong your conversation together with other gifts that can increase the Hunie you gain from talking to her.

During your conversation, you’ll gather information about each woman that you can put in your HunieBee computer or app or whatever it’s supposed to be. And once you’re ready, you can ask her out on a date and shift over to the match-three puzzle mode to hopefully push your relationship to the next level. No need to settle down with one girl either, because each girl you meet leads you to a new dating prospect (see your “Girl Finder” in the menu to find those girls around town.)

Talking to Aiko after meeting Tiffany. She’s talking about eating an orange I just bought her, don’t worry. Though talking about biting in any other context would just be scary now that I think about it.

That’s how HuniePop rolls along until nearly the very end: go out and meet new ladies with a variety of personalities, likes, and dislikes, get to know them through conversation, give them gifts and receive gifts in return, and take them out for dates, then jump over to the puzzle mode and earn “Munie” that you can use to spend on gifts and food to encourage more conversation and relationship-building. The gift-giving factors into the game’s puzzle mode: gifts can be equipped and used to gain effects as long as you match enough Sentiment points represented by the teardrop-shaped tokens on the board. The point requirement for passing a date rises after every successful date you pull off, but you can also spend your Hunie to increase the amount of affection you generate through matches, so it all evens out.

See, it’s easy. Just like real dating!

And in real dating you don’t even get a heart meter to tell you how close you are to getting intimate, I mean what the hell is that

These ladies are also in the habit of answering your questions about them and then quizzing you on those answers, so be sure to either have a good memory or have the HuniePop wiki open while playing so you can get more Hunie. Though there’s also no real penalty for missing answers or for losing at the match-three date puzzles for that matter — all a miss means is that you’ll have to take another shot later on. The true penalty is having to run through a bunch of the same conversations again, really, and especially when some of the questions are “how much do I weigh” and “how big my titties are” since you’re a fucking weirdo who asks those questions but somehow doesn’t get slapped for it. Maybe that’s a sign of just how secretly charismatic the player character is.

But then it’s immediately obvious that HuniePop is fucking ridiculous, and also that it knows that and doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest. The player character is an initially no-charisma dingus to the extent that Kyu takes you on as a special challenge, and by the end you’re a god of both romance and sex, able to successfully juggle nearly a dozen girlfriends. Reality is out the window in this game. But at least Kyu acknowledges some of that with her limited fourth-wall-breaking powers.

And yeah, you do get to date Kyu too, because this isn’t the kind of game that gives you a sex fairy character and then doesn’t let you also bone her. HuniePop knows what its players are looking for.

And for once it’s a game review on the short side, because I don’t have much more to say about HuniePop. The puzzles are a good time and managed to get me hooked enough to play through the entire game, the voice acting is nice, and the portraits and CGs of the girls you get throughout are also nice (though it should be said nothing in the game is extra-explicit — there’s nudity but the sex is implied by still another match-three puzzle, though a far easier kind than normal.) All that said, it’s important to note what HuniePop isn’t, and what it’s not really trying to be: an actual dating sim. There’s not all that much depth to the characters in this game and none at all to the story, if this even qualifies as a story.

Then again, the game doesn’t care about any of that and doesn’t try to be more than it is. And as for a recommendation — this feels very much one of those “you already know whether you’ll like it” cases. I basically liked it, though I also did feel like a pretty major piece of shit for going out with each one of these women and telling them completely different things about myself, my likes and dislikes and personal history, to get them each to like me, then literally fucking around behind all their backs. This isn’t what people generally mean by “playing the field.” Especially not when you end up with a Jessie and Tiffany situation. You’ll see if you play it.

Yeah, you don’t have continue, I know what you mean by “actress.”

So while it didn’t change my life or anything so dramatic, I was happy to finally get to play HuniePop considering how much it made the rounds several years ago. And hey, it was pretty fun while I had it going, and at least fun enough for me to want to play its sequel, which I also own now, so possibly look forward to that review at some point.

Next time I’ll return with still more anime, though. Until then — don’t be a two-timer, and especially not a nine- or ten-timer. Leave that behavior for the sexy puzzle games.

A review of Needy Streamer Overload (PC)

Not the game I’d planned to review next, or even the post I’d planned to write next, but life has a way of fucking up your plans, doesn’t it? And that’s a lesson that’s very relevant to the game I’m reviewing today.

Despite its sugary sweet look, this one deals with adult subjects like sex and drug use and heavy, serious subjects mostly related to mental health and various kinds of psychological and physical self-harm up to and including suicide, so the usual warning here for kids and those who prefer not to touch such games. The game has its own covering our ass “this is all fiction and please don’t do any of this” message every time you start it up, and the message is warranted.

Needy Streamer Overload, put out by Japanese developer Why so serious, Inc. (with the original title Needy Girl Overdose, changed apparently when it was put up on Steam, though both titles fit it pretty well) is an ADV game depicting a month in the life of Ame, a girl who’s into some of the usual hobbies like gaming, watching anime, and cosplay. At the start of the game, Ame’s decided that she’s going to take advantage of her cuteness and on-screen charisma to become a streamer on MeTube (of course) and to rake in love, attention, and superchat money from shut-ins and nerds across Japan.

And you the player are her boyfriend (edit: or girlfriend if you prefer; as commenter phoenix below pointed out to me there’s no explicit reference to the player character’s gender, so keep this in mind going forward since I’m not taking the minimal effort to edit the rest of this post. But thanks for the catch!) known only as “P-chan”, as she claims above because you’re perfect for her, but also because you’re basically her producer. As Ame promises on day 1, she’s placing her life in your hands: she’ll do whatever you ask of her, and her only demand is that you drive her channel to a million subs in a month. Sounds difficult, but not impossible, because when she’s on camera Ame uses makeup, a wig, and a flashy costume to transform from her dour regular self into the peppy OMGkawaiiAngel-chan or KAngel for short.

The contrast between her persona and her real self is most obvious through the tweets Ame makes on the in-game Twitter equivalent through her public KAngel account and the private one only you can read.

Each day is divided into three time periods called day, dusk, and night, and as Ame’s live-in boyfriend/producer your responsibility is to direct her entire life. Throughout the day, Ame has various activities she can take part in, including using the internet/social media to get new ideas and pump up her subscriber/viewer counts, going out to neighborhoods around Tokyo with P-chan to take in the sights, and staying inside to play a game or spend some one-on-one time with P-chan (including an option labeled *** with a bed icon — I wonder what that could be? Well, the game doesn’t actually try to hide it.)

Daytime, with the available options on the left side and the text screen on the right. An exclamation point on an activity option means Ame will get an idea for a new stream if you choose it for her. Also man what the hell, don’t say that.

While the first two parts of the day are dedicated to letting Ame get new ideas, shill her own channel online, or rest, the night is for streaming. It is possible and sometimes advisable to skip a day and put the stream off to the next evening, but night is the only time Ame will stream since it’s peak viewing hours. After picking one of several available stream idea options for her, your job is to watch Ame’s stream and monitor chat for shitty comments to delete (not necessary, but deleting the right ones will reduce her stress slightly) and colored superchat comments with donations attached for Ame to read at the end of the stream (though only two of them, because KAngel doesn’t give her love out to her adoring fans that freely, and this also isn’t strictly necessary.)

Most comments are nice and positive, but you always have a few assholes in chat. Sometimes they’ll even pay money to try to get Ame to read their asshole comments. What a use of money that is.

Finally, note the Task Manager at the top right of the screen. This is an extremely important window to keep track of, as it measures both Ame’s all-important follower count and three aspects of her mental/emotional state: her stress level, her “mental darkness” which sounds related to but is distinct from her stress, and her affection towards P-chan. Every action you choose for Ame has effects on one or more of these stats: streaming almost always dramatically increases her stress along with her follower count, spending time with P-chan lets Ame de-stress and also increases her affection towards him, and while sleeping is a safe way to prepare Ame for her next stream stress-wise, it also takes up time that could have been used to find new stream ideas.

You can also tell Ame to take her meds at the recommended dose, or you can make her load herself up to the gills with drugs if you feel like being an asshole to her. But of course, there are consequences.

If Ame’s stress or mental darkness get too high, she may start acting strangely and refuse to listen to your commands, making decisions for herself that usually turn out poorly for her. You also don’t want Ame’s affection level to get too low (or too high!) since this will have consequences for P-chan’s relationship with her. And since P-chan is the (mostly) silent player character, if you fuck things up for him, your game is over and you’ll be kicked to the title screen to try to be a better boyfriend/producer in a new playthrough.

Texting Ame back and not ignoring her or telling her to go on dates with other guys on “Dinder” as the app is titled here is another important part of keeping her happy, but if you pick the third option here you obviously deserve to lose her. The second is also a dick response in my opinion, though less of an aggressive one than the third.

Needy Streamer Overload feels like a timely game. People who normally would have been going out over the last two years have been largely shut inside because of COVID (aside from those who act like it doesn’t exist, but again, a subject for a different blog than mine.) This seems to have driven online traffic a lot — I’ve seen the rise in my own site’s stats that track exactly with the beginning of the global virus in March 2020. I’ve seen theories that it also had to do specifically with the rise in popularity of livestreaming and especially of VTubers, who first became widely known in the US in that same year with a flood of translated Hololive clips on YouTube and then the development of English-language branches of Japanese streaming projects like Hololive and Nijisanji.

Ame isn’t a VTuber, but a lot of what I saw in Needy Streamer Overload made me think of the small amount of time I’ve been able to scrape up watching VTuber streams and seeing fan interactions on Twitter and other sites. This game does present an extreme case of a streamer who really shouldn’t be streaming at all, who belongs in school or a regular job and definitely in some kind of therapy considering her mental/emotional state. However, it also partly addresses the unusual and not always entirely healthy relationship between the streamer and her fans on social media and in chat during her streams, and that’s not particular to Ame or her KAngel persona.

Not even Doom streams are immune

From what I’ve seen, the vast majority of viewers are just dropping in to be entertained and have a pretty casual attitude. Fans seem to be pretty accepting of most any subject a streamer might want to bring up or an idea she might want to try out, even if the stream ends up crashing and burning (as happens a few times in Needy Streamer Overload, though KAngel’s reactions to these failures end up getting her more viewers than she would have had otherwise.)

Despite this casual and accepting atmosphere, there’s still a pretty common expectation, at least as far as I understand, that a streamer like KAngel or a VTuber who presents herself in a similar way shouldn’t be romantically involved, much less sexually active. Or if she is, as a lot of fans realize is at least possible, she should never even suggest or hint at that possibility that she might have a boyfriend.1 I’ve even heard about a couple of “incidents” in which viewers heard a male voice during a stream and the streamer had to explain the situation later (probably by saying “don’t worry that was just my brother” or something similar.)

Or “it was a ghost”, that might work too

That might sound like a silly or harsh standard to you, but there seems to be a practical reason behind it. A streamer who creates a persona as Ame does has to maintain that persona in front of the camera and on her social media accounts. Talking about personal issues isn’t necessarily discouraged, and in fact it can help viewers feel more closely connected to the streamer. However, part of the appeal of this sort of streamer, whether she uses a VTuber model or not, is her cuteness and weirdly enough her romantic availability — even though, practically speaking, she’s not romantically available to any of her viewers. Again, this is not true of all such streamers, but it certainly is of KAngel/Ame, who’s pretty open about using her looks and her cute persona to attract a probably primarily male fanbase.2

KAngel is pure, but luckily for P-chan, Ame sure isn’t.

This approach to the division between the streamer’s persona on one hand and her private life on the other seems to have been carried over from the idol scene, a subject I got into when I had a look at the film Perfect Blue. In both works, many fans express their adoration and/or love for the main character, and some express envy for the attention she receives.

But of course, that attention has a double edge. Ame looks to be suffering from a mix of depression and anxiety and maybe a severe personality disorder or two thrown in, and while taking medication helps her out a bit, it’s only a temporary fix in the game. Higher viewer counts get her excited for a while, but she soon becomes dissatisfied and wants more, and then it’s clear that she’s looking for something streaming alone won’t help her with.

At the same time, a lot of Ame’s viewers also seem to be depressive shut-ins or otherwise living on the margins of society. As someone with those tendencies (at least as far as I feel, since I disguise myself pretty well in public and society as a basic normal guy more or less — no time to mope around over here) I can completely understand why such people would seek an escape like watching streamers, especially since you can spend quite literally all day every day watching them live now. And that’s not even mentioning the nearly endless stock of VODs that I’m sure fans are obsessively archiving just in case a nuclear war or solar flare destroys the internet.

The definition of nerd: if you’re watching this, it’s you

I don’t want to overstate this point. The vast majority of interactions and talk in general I’ve seen around VTubers and fans has been positive. But the term “parasocial relationship” has been thrown around a lot lately for good reason. As much as it pains me to say it, while following one of these personalities can be fun, it’s not a substitute for having a social life of your own. Not even if the cute fox girl on the screen reads your superchat.

And no surprise, with all these strong emotions running and especially with five or six day-per-week streaming schedules, there’s always potential with this arrangement for things to get out of hand, with minor and even unintentional slips or incidents being blown well out of proportion. I’m not sure how much of this translates over from VTuber/liver work to “real 3D” or in-person livestreaming or whatever you’d call it, but I recognized a lot of what I saw in this game.

Avoiding textboards and imageboards is also a good policy, though /st/ seems like it’s mostly all right surprisingly enough. I miss ASCII art.

All that said, Needy Streamer Overload, despite its often dark tone and its dozens of bad endings to achieve, isn’t entirely negative. Ame does have serious problems she needs help with, perhaps even beyond the ability of you as P-chan to fix (and her extreme dependence on her P-chan is likely a serious problem in itself.) But she also seems to genuinely enjoy streaming sometimes, even if she likes to put down her viewers a bit as her “little nerds” in her private account, and most of her fans reciprocate that positivity.

If this game went full-on 100% dark all the time, I’d criticize it for that — despite how negative I can be, I find that sort of approach in any medium of art way too boring and simplistic, and it wouldn’t reflect reality all that much. Needy Streamer Overload already presents what seems like a purposely exaggerated situation, but it’s exaggerated in the right way and mostly has the right effect. A few of the bad endings do feel pretty weird and abrupt, but there are plenty of endings in the game. Almost all of them bad, but I get that too — I guess the game’s makers didn’t want to make it so easy for us.

Keep working towards that good ending

So reading all that back, I just bullshitted a lot about subjects I probably don’t have too much understanding of and read far too deeply into everything. But that’s the usual way for me. As for the game itself — I liked it. I’m a big fan of the art style and general look of it, it has some catchy and fitting background music, and I had fun watching Ame stream as KAngel when she wasn’t an out-of-control train five seconds from derailing, which I always felt responsible for because I was the one directing her life. Needy Streamer Overload is still another one of those works that’s not meant for everyone, or perhaps even for most, but if the style grabs you and you can deal with the subject matter, I’d recommend it.

 

1 Or a girlfriend, I guess, but that possibility doesn’t seem to come up as much, and I get the impression more fans would be generally okay with their favorite having that sort of relationship (though certainly still not all of them.) I’m also not sure how much any of this might apply to male streamers — that’s a totally different world as far as I can tell, and if anyone reading this is deep into male VTubers, I’d be interested to know if there are similar hangups among those fan groups.

2 To be sure, not all fans feel this way, and that difference in opinion is also depicted in Needy Streamer Overload. However, it seems like a common enough issue that it’s still worth bringing up. I’m also not trying to justify this feeling on the part of the more obsessive fans, since I do think it’s pretty unreasonable, but it’s worth trying to understand at least. For what it’s worth, the few VTubers I follow seem to have a healthy and practical attitude towards all this, though of course it’s impossible for me to say that for sure since I don’t actually know who they are behind the curtain. Not my business anyway.

Summer cleaning game review special #5 and final: Princess Remedy in a Heap of Trouble

Now here’s a throwback, one that feels right for the last post in this series. It’s not a throwback to my childhood or anything, but just to 2016 when I looked at the free short RPG-looking shmup Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt. I liked that game enough that I bought the very cheap sequel, Princess Remedy in a Heap of Trouble, and then not unusually for me forgot about it for four years. But it’s been sitting in my Steam library all that time, and I’ve finally returned to play it. And hey, it’s a good game too, especially if you’re looking for a simple shoot-em-up to take up an hour or so.

The story is that Remedy, the nurse/princess* character from the last game, has been called back from her vacation to deal with another health crisis. Once again, her cures involve talking to sick people and fighting monsters that represent whatever’s wrong with them. These illnesses can be either physical or mental/emotional, so Remedy also works as a sort of therapist.

Your first patient

Also as before, during battle Remedy keeps firing her medicine shot automatically until all her enemies are dead, but she also has to dodge the enemies and their shots in order to survive. However, this time around she can get help from the people she cures by going on a “date” with them. It’s not a traditional date, though: her partner simply follows her around and gives her an extra active or passive ability in battle. Characters can also be freely dumped for new dates, which you might do just to see what they say when you ask them out. Princess Remedy is a heartbreaker.

But her dating around is justified, because she needs to defeat some serious bosses to proceed through the land. Several of them wait for the princess blocking off new areas until she gets the number of powerups in battle sufficient to face it.

Some of the bosses also look like fever dream JRPG monsters

Despite how they look, these Princess Remedy games are only a few years old as of this writing. I think they’re meant to resemble old Atari or Commodore 64 games, or maybe a game from one of those British systems like the ZX Spectrum that I’d never heard of until recently. These were well before my time, so I can’t say I have any nostalgia for the look of these games. But I like them anyway, which hopefully says something for their quality. They’re quite simple but fun, especially if you’re into free-movement shmup action.

They also have a bizarre sense of humor that I like. All the way back in part one of this series when I reviewed Qora, I mentioned I didn’t care for the “so random” humor being dumped on me in the game’s last ten minutes. Part of that was probably because I felt the game was boring to play, but part of it was also that it all seemed like an inside joke that I was never meant to understand in the first place. By contrast, the conversations you have with other characters in Princess Remedy are just kind of absurd. I don’t know if they really count as humor, but I find it a lot funnier than the self-conscious “look at how wacky we are” stuff in Qora. I don’t know, maybe there’s really no difference between the two and there’s something wrong with my brain.

Maybe the problem is that you should be in the ocean instead of on the dock

This is probably more than I needed to write about this game. I liked it. That’s simple enough. And like most of the other short games I’ve reviewed in this series, it’s only a few dollars to buy, so not too much of an ask.

Anyway, I hope this break from the usual was interesting. I still have a couple of other games that I’m currently playing through from that 1000+ game itch.io bundle. Not all completely good stuff either, but you’ll see when we get there — if it’s interesting enough, I’ll write about it whether I like it or not. Until then.

* And maybe a doctor too, but it’s not clear whether she has her medical degree. She’s not called Dr. Remedy after all. Then again, Mario isn’t a doctor but he calls himself one in Dr. Mario. I don’t think standard medical ethics rules apply in these games.

A review of Muse Dash (PC)

Sure, I like playing my hardcore simulation games and JRPGs and all that, but I also like to have a few casual games to mix things up. Especially these days when I have so much work to get through, being able to pick up a game for half an hour or even a few minutes can be useful. So I’ve been getting a lot of use out of Muse Dash, a rhythm game out for PC, Switch, and mobile platforms. I say casual, but in some sense, Muse Dash is extra-casual. Unlike other rhythm games I’ve covered here like Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone and the Persona dancing titles that feature four tracks to keep up with corresponding to the four buttons on the PS4 controller, Muse Dash only has two. There’s no story to the game either, at least not one I could find.

But that’s fine. This was just the kind of game I needed for these bullshit times we currently live in. It’s colorful and fun, and you don’t really have to think too much about it.

Muse Dash in its base form features a few dozen tracks to play through. The player can pick one of the three muses Rin, Buro, or Marija to play through these rhythm-based courses with, beating up enemies and dodging obstacles to the beat of the song. Each course includes a “boss” sort of enemy who will shoot more shit at your muse that she has to dodge/hit to maintain her combo. Missing an enemy breaks that combo, and getting hit by an obstacle or enemy deals damage and drains her health bar. And naturally if that bar gets to 0 HP, the stage is failed.

So the basic gameplay is pretty simple, intuitive enough to pick up and start playing right away. One of the nice things about Muse Dash is that it offers a wide variety of difficulty levels rated by number. Even if you’re someone who’s not very good at rhythm games (for example: me) there are plenty of songs from 1 to 4 in easy and even hard mode that aren’t too much trouble to master.

Don’t get hit by her peppermint candy cannon, it hurts

If you greatly improve your skills or you have naturally amazing reflexes, there are also higher-rated hard and master mode levels that provide a nice challenge. However, Muse Dash is also considerate enough to let the player level up quickly by playing through courses no matter what difficulty they’re set to, meaning even a crap player like me can unlock most of the content in the game.

And there is quite a lot of content that’s initially unavailable. These include most of the game’s songs, useful helper characters called Elfins who can be paired with your muse, and a variety of costumes for Rin, Buro, and Marija that change their HP and abilities. Most of these costumes took hours upon hours of grinding through songs to unlock, but most of them are worth getting for the benefits they provide. Anyway, those hours didn’t feel like grinding; they just passed naturally as I played the game.

She’s not the best character to use, but my favorite one is still catgirl witch mode Marija.

The base version of Muse Dash sells for only three dollars, and the few dozen songs it includes offer some nice variety in speed and style. However, there’s a heavy emphasis on sweet-sounding poppy material. The game also features some harder-edged rock and electronic tracks, some jazzy stuff, and a few classical/orchestral-sounding pieces. But between all the J-pop/cute anime theme-style music (a lot of it seems to be Chinese as well, but it’s also done in that style) and the game’s cute visuals, Muse Dash might be too extra-sugary for some players. At least it won’t affect your blood glucose level, but you might feel the same way playing Muse Dash as you would eating a bunch of cupcakes or those horrible glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I’m not a fan of every track I’ve played so far, but I enjoy most of the music, especially the more relaxed chilled-out stuff.

However, that’s just the base game. Muse Dash also comes with a DLC package that sells for $30 and piles several dozen more songs and courses onto the tracklist. I know I’ve complained about overpriced DLC already, but this time the price feels more justified, especially since it acts as a sort of “season pass” that applies to future DLC. It also looks like the makers are actively releasing new songs and characters. It’s entirely possible to get a lot of play out of the basic three-dollar version, enough that you might be satisfied with that alone — the $30 version seems made for players who really get into the game.

How the hell are you standing on top of a limo and shooting missiles out the back? This is definitely a traffic violation!

The only problem I’ve had with Muse Dash so far is some occasional slowdown and stuttering in the tracks. When this happens, the song and course fall out of sync and then you may as well quit and restart, because your run will probably be completely screwed up if you can’t rely on the beat to guide you. This has only happened to me a few times when I had too much other crap running in the background, so it’s likely just an issue on my end.

So I don’t have much to say about Muse Dash, but in this case, that’s not a bad thing. I’ve been playing the Steam version off and on for a while now, and it’s been a great break from my work schedule, especially considering how easy it is to break into five- and ten-minute runs. Like pretty much every other game out there, it’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly for me. Even if it is pandering a bit with those costumes. Why aren’t there more catgirl witch characters around anyway? Someone needs to work on this deficiency as soon as possible.

Listening/reading log #10 (July 2020)

Last month was one of my most prolific ever. Between the Atelier and Monogatari stuff and my Sim series retrospective, I managed to say more than I thought I had to say, which might be a sign that I need to edit. But I’m too lazy to edit. I’m a bit tired now, but don’t worry: I still have several anime and game review drafts sitting around and even more to come after that, so there’s no end in sight.

For now, let’s do the usual end-of-month thing and check out some good music and writing from fellow bloggers. I didn’t get much of a chance to hear any new music in July that wasn’t part of a soundtrack, so this time I’m pulling two old classics out, both by groups that I covered a long while back:

Maggot Brain (Funkadelic, 1971)

Highlights: Maggot Brain, Hit It and Quit It, You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks

I guess I haven’t actually talked about Funkadelic before but rather Parliament, but they’re sort of the same thing. They were musical groups with a lot of overlap in membership, both led by musician/composer/producer George Clinton, and are often referred to together as P-Funk. There were differences, though: while Parliament’s releases tended towards dance-oriented stuff, Funkadelic was more of a psychedelic rock/funk group as their name suggests.

Maggot Brain is also one of their best albums. It has a lot of great energy and emotion, even in cases where it’s hard to tell if the music’s about anything — see the excellent title track for some of that, with guitarist Eddie Hazel playing his heart out. I really like some of the shorter songs as well. The only song I don’t like is the closer Wars of Armageddon, which I would describe charitably as “a fucking mess” but then it sounds like that was the intention anyway. The rest of Maggot Brain is good enough to still made it a personal favorite.

And no, I don’t know why that lady is buried up to her neck in dirt on the cover. She doesn’t look like she’s having a great time, though.

Emerson Lake & Palmer (Emerson Lake & Palmer, 1970)

Highlights: Take a Pebble, Knife-Edge, Lucky Man

At first glance, ELP and Funkadelic might not look like they have much to do with each other. But both of the albums I’m looking at today have a lot of energy and a nice degree of weirdness to them, even if stylistically they’re very different. This is the debut album of the prog group Emerson Lake & Palmer, three guys who were already well-established when they joined together in 1970. So despite being a debut album, it sounds very confident right out of the gate.

My favorite here is “Take a Pebble”, which doesn’t feel its length at all. It’s relaxing and mellow in parts but also builds a lot of tension near the end with Keith Emerson’s great piano-playing and Greg Lake’s dramatic vocals. ELP swiped the tune to the classical-rock piece “Knife-Edge” from Czech composer Leoš Janáček without crediting him until they were called out for it, but it’s still a great song. And “Lucky Man” was supposedly a song Lake wrote when he was a kid, a nice simple guitar ballad about a guy who isn’t really so lucky.

I don’t know if I prefer this over ELP’s followup Tarkus, so I’ll just say they’re both classics. Maybe I’ll also take on their later album Brain Salad Surgery one day, though my feelings about it are more complicated. I do love its insane-looking cover. If you’re a fan of H. R. Giger, look it up.

Now for some great posts from the past month:

The Persona 3 Retrospective Part 5 – Plot and Themes (Lost to the Aether) — I’m not putting the whole long title of this article here (those are “Mass Destruction” lyrics, right?) but you can and should check it out for yourself above, in which Aether continues his multipart analysis of the excellent JRPG Persona 3. There’s a lot here I never considered even after playing the game through a few times in different forms, with Aether going into depth about its connections to the Tarot and the Fool’s Journey.

The Great JRPG Character Face-Off! (Shoot the Rookie) — If you’re looking for a blogging community event that’s also an excuse to talk about your favorite JRPG characters, check out Pix1001’s post above detailing the rules. I’ll probably be taking part myself — it seems like a waste not to since I’ve been playing JRPGs for over 20 years now. Can’t waste all that valuable experience.

A perhaps biased opinion on Disgaea (Nep’s Gaming Paradise) — Neppy played through the first Disgaea game and gives his thoughts on it. He says his view is biased, but it’s not any more biased than mine — I love Disgaea 1, but this post brings up some weaknesses in the game that are worth talking about. We may not agree in our analyses of the game, but Neppy’s take on it is very interesting and worth reading.

Steam’s Inconsistency is Hurting Visual Novels – How We Can Help (MoeGamer) — Valve has been up to their old tricks with the visual novels on their game platform, removing an all-ages version of the VN Bokuten from Steam without warning. Pete Davison addresses the matter and raises the option of buying digital copies of VNs from alternative platforms and stores to try to break Valve’s virtual monopoly.

Anime Review #40: Little Witch Academia (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Here’s a Trigger series that passed me by completely. I was planning to watch their newest show BNA, but I’m now also interested in Little Witch Academia thanks to the Traditional Catholic Weeb’s very positive and thorough review of it.

Senko-san and Japan’s corporate culture (Reasons to anime) — From what I understand, some companies in Japan work their employees so hard, often without overtime compensation, that the Japanese language had to invent a new word. The word is 過労死karoushi, meaning death from overwork — not a figure of speech, but rather literal death caused by work-related stress. Casper examines the anime series The Helpful Fox Senko-san and how effectively it addresses corporate culture and workers’ quality of life.

The Toxic Side of Fanbases (Lex’s Blog) — Being part of both the Persona and SMT fanbases, I can say for sure that we have some crazy in there, with more than our share of infighting and weird feuds that probably look like total nonsense from the outsider’s perspective. Lexine raises some of the issues with fanbases, particularly with the minority of people in most every fanbase who are hostile to newcomers.

What I Learned from Watching the Ghost Stories Dub (I drink and watch anime) — The English-language release of the series Ghost Stories is legendary among a set of western anime fans because of its intentionally bizarre dub. The original work was pretty mediocre, but the dub turns it into an ultra-offensive comedy of the kind that probably wouldn’t fly today. Irina analyzes the ways in which this dub completely changed the feel of the series into something uniquely western.

I finally played “Da Capo” (Baud Attitude) — And from Baud Attitude, a look at the romance visual novel Da Capo and a comparison with its anime adaptation. Anime versions of VNs really do always go with the most boring, safest routes, don’t they? I bet if a Tsukihime anime were made, it would do exactly the same thing. Good thing that hasn’t happened.

And here’s to yet another month. Good luck and health to everyone, and please look forward to more of my nonsense posts to come. I might even review a banned-from-Steam VN or two if I can get them.

Other Megami Tensei games I’d like to see released for PC

This is a first: the second post in a row I’m making in response to a current event in the world of gaming. I promise this isn’t turning into a news site. However, the sudden release of Persona 4 Golden on Steam was a shock to almost everyone who cared about it, including me. I don’t have much to say about it, though, except it’s an excellent game that you should buy if you haven’t played it yet, but also that it comes with Denuvo built in which is a real pain in the ass not to mention a show of poor faith. I won’t be buying it yet, but that’s because I have a Vita in good working condition and several savefiles on my P4G card that I can go back to at any time and I absolutely need to finish Persona 5 Royal first. It makes sense that P4G is the first Megaten game to get a non-Japanese PC release, since just about nobody over here bought a Vita aside from me and maybe a dozen other people. And hell, the game is good enough that the Denuvo thing probably won’t matter to you.

No, that’s not what I’m talking about today. Since the door to Megaten PC ports is cracked now, let’s push it wide open. There are several other of these games I would love to see released on PC, so if anyone from Atlus is reading this, here’s my wishlist in order of what I want to see. Please note these aren’t based on what I think Atlus would be most likely to release but only on my preferences, so as usual I’m indulging in wishful thinking. On to the list:

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne

No surprise here, right? Nocturne is my favorite Megaten game and near the top of my favorite games list, whatever that would be. Yet it’s only ever been released for the PS2. It doesn’t seem like a PC port of Nocturne would be hard at all to make considering it’s now 17 years old. It would also make for a fine introduction to the mainline SMT series for new fans who have only played Persona 5 Royal and Persona 4 Golden so far.

Look, it even has dating, just like Persona. Well, sort of.

If I’m being greedy, I’d ask for the JP-only Chronicle Edition that replaces Dante with Raidou Kuzunoha, but people love their Dante from the Devil May Cry series so I know that won’t happen. Leave it to the modders to insert him later.

Persona 3 FES

This one is a lot more realistic than getting either Nocturne on PC or the complete Persona 5-style Persona 3 overhaul people keep clamoring for. A P3 port is the logical next step for Atlus to take after P4G: it’s a game that a lot of new fans haven’t experienced yet, but it’s still close enough to the newer Persona games in style that those fans won’t be put off.

I do think it’s more likely that we’d get the PSP-only Persona 3 Portable instead if only because of how popular its unique female protagonist option is. I’d still prefer FESPortable is sort of a “demake” anyway and lacks some of the features of FES, and most PCs would be able to handle FES in any case. However, the Answer section of FES is a character-destroying pile of shit, so maybe Portable would be better. But then again, you don’t really have to play the Answer if you get FES anyway, so maybe that doesn’t matter. I guess I’m torn over this one.

Persona 2

Both parts. Persona 2 has had a very weird history of western releases — we first only got Eternal Punishment, the second part of the two-part series, for PSX, then we got a port of the first part, Innocent Sin, on PSP but not Eternal Punishment on that system. It would be great to have a package including both games on PC, because the stories are supposed to be excellent in contrast with some quite honestly shitty gameplay and fusion mechanics. Maybe I’d actually get back to playing Innocent Sin again and suffering through that for the sake of the story. Once I beat Royal I’ll have 12 years to wait until Persona 6 comes out anyway.

Seriously though why would you give us each half of the duology on a different system and the second one years before the first, what the hell? I think they’re sadists.

Shin Megami Tensei I and II

I believe these are far less likely to be ported than Nocturne even, and for pretty obvious reasons: they’re a lot older and don’t contain any quality of life features, and II has never even received an official localization. And the localization of I was only for iOS for some fucking reason. But I’d still like to see these translated and ported, preferably in their slightly newer and more updated PSX remake forms. More complete overhauls would also be appreciated, but we’re already so deep in the unlikely zone at this point that I know that’s way too much to hope for. I’d rather hear news about Shin Megami Tensei V than about remakes of and II anyway.

***

There are plenty of other games that would be great to see released as ports on Steam like Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2, the PS2 Devil Summoner games, and SMT if…. However, the games I think we’re by far most likely to see are one of the two later versions of Persona 3 and any of the Persona spinoffs games they can cram onto Steam like the 3/4/5 dancing games and the Arena fighting games. Persona is the cash cow, after all. Or maybe we’ll really luck out and only get ports of obscure games that even most “serious” Megami Tensei fans don’t care about like Demikids and Last Bible. Only time will tell, but I’ll remain hopeful that we get something more on PC at least, because there are quite a few games in the series only playable on old consoles now that could use new life.

Enough of my complaints. Next time it will be back to business as usual. I already have some reviews and commentaries planned for the next few months — planning ahead, something I almost never do here. All this extra time staying at home has really paid off. But if Atlus surprises us with a Steam port of Nocturne, I’ll probably also be running an extremely detailed, tedious beat-by-beat playthrough of that game here. So maybe you should hope that doesn’t happen.

Games for broke people: Helltaker

So I was planning on taking the rest of the month off from the site as I wrote last post. But then the artists I follow on Twitter started filling up my timeline with cute demon girl fanart, and then I couldn’t rest until I found out exactly what that was all about.

And if she’s a cute demon bureaucratic functionary then even better.

That’s how I found Helltaker, a short free puzzle game that tells the story of a guy who wakes up one day and decides he’s going to break into Hell itself to create a harem of demon girls. Forget Dante’s journey through the afterlife: this is the noblest quest someone could possibly have. To do this, our brave protagonist has to solve several block-pushing maze puzzles of increasing difficulty. Each puzzle requires the player to make it to the goal, represented by a demon lady hanging out behind a giant padlock for some reason, within a specified number of steps. Kicking blocks and kicking demon guards to death also count as taking steps, and the addition of spike traps that take extra steps away from you makes things more complicated. Luckily for Helltaker guy, he can regenerate an infinite number of times, so much like Chip from Chip’s Challenge, nothing will stop him from getting the girl(s) no matter how frustrating the maze he’s running might be.

The beginning of level 3. In this case the demon triplets at the top are your goal (mythology fan points if you can guess what they’re a reference to) and the number on the left keeps track of your steps so you know if you’ll hit your limit before reaching them.

Some of these mazes stumped me for a while, particularly numbers 7 and 9 near the end. Fortunately for the impatient, the game lets you skip puzzles if you’re truly stuck, but if you do that you might miss out on finding secrets in certain levels that are required to get the game’s good ending. Anyway, what’s the fun in half-assing a game like this? Every puzzle is solvable, you just have to exercise your brain to discover the solutions.

However, even if you figure out how to reach the goal in time, you’re not done — you still need to convince the demon girl at the end of the puzzle to join your harem and also not to kill you on the spot. Because you’re just a ripped guy in a leisure suit, and while you can kick the regular demon guards in each level to pieces, you’re no match for the girls. If you screw up the negotiation, you’ll get horribly killed and will have to run the maze again.

The right answer is sometimes not the obvious one

There are also a lot of little additions to the game that add some more flavor — as you can see in the game’s main layout, pressing L gets you “life advice.” This gives you a short dialogue with one or more of your newly won over demon wives, who are just as likely to give you tips about how to complete the level you’re on as they are to complain about how long you’re taking or to start arguing with each other. Or to end up getting you killed somehow.

So the main gameplay mechanic of Helltaker is really very simple — it’s a variation on the kind of sliding block puzzle that has existed for over a hundred years. That provides the substance of the game, but there’s a lot of style as well, and that’s what sets Helltaker apart from so much other free and extremely cheap generic-looking stuff. Someone could easily recreate the puzzles that compose each level of Helltaker using white, gray, and black blocks and dots to represent the characters and obstacles, and it would mechanically be the same game. But the distinctive character art and cute dialogues give it that much-needed style. And that’s the reason I discovered it in the first place, after all, so who can say that isn’t important?

A review of Strange Telephone (PC)

I already hinted that I’d review this in a recent post, and here it is: Strange Telephone, a 2D exploration game created by solo developer yuta/HZ3 Software out of Japan.  Strange Telephone was first released in 2017, but it was recently updated and expanded with a few new features and endings.  This version 2.0.1 is my first experience with the game, and true to its title, it was a strange one.

Strange Telephone doesn’t bother explaining much to the player upfront; after a couple of instructional screens about the mechanics of the game it simply starts, with the protagonist Jill waking up in a weird void in front of a giant door that won’t open.  At first, Jill seems stuck here, but lucky for her she has a friend: a flying telephone named Graham who can transport Jill to various worlds that correspond to six-digit numbers.  Most of these worlds contain residents and objects that Jill can interact with, though a few of them pose serious dangers to her.  The object of the game is essentially to solve a bunch of puzzles using items you can find, receive, or create for the purpose of opening that giant door and getting back to your own world.

A friendly ghost gives Jill a very obvious clue to get her started on her quest

If this game seems familiar, that might be because it bears a strong resemblance to another game I reviewed some time back: Dreaming Sarah.  Both are 2D exploration games featuring a pony-tailed girl who is teleported through bizarre dream-like worlds.  They even start in exactly the same way, with Sarah/Jill waking up and finding herself in a strange place.  It’s no coincidence that they’re so similar, though: both developers outright say that they were inspired by Yume Nikki.  The Yume Nikki influence is just as obvious here as it was in Dreaming Sarah: many of the objects and characters Jill runs into during her travels through the extradimensional phone book look like they came out of a dream and occasionally out of a nightmare, and some of the puzzles involve just the kind of dream logic that Yume Nikki and its descendants like to use.

Tell me this fucking thing didn’t come from a nightmare

However, none of that’s to say that Strange Telephone is a copy of Yume Nikki.  Just like Dreaming Sarah, this game uses that inspiration to create something new.  The biggest difference between Strange Telephone and other games like it is how it implements its exploration element.  Instead of having several large worlds to explore, Jill has over a million small worlds that are only a couple of screens wide each.  Walking left or right off of the edge teleports her to the next world over, which will probably be completely different from the one she just left.

The in-game dialing pad

Of course, there aren’t really over a million worlds.  There are more like a dozen or so with a bunch of variations in their residents, objects, and backgrounds.  Fortunately, you can get a device early on that lets you see what sort of world you’re about to enter when you punch in a number but before you dial, saving you a lot of time trying out random numbers.  This is an absolute necessity, in fact, because the game expects you to figure out more or less on your own where to bring each item and how to use it when you get there to advance.  It drops subtle hints sometimes, but that’s about it.  So, for example, knowing how you can trigger the moon rabbit event and where to find the moon rabbit when he shows up is important, because it’s required to see every event and ending in the game.

He needs fuel to get home.  This is why you fill your tank all the way to F before a long trip

Jill’s explorations are complicated by the fact that as she explores the phone worlds, distortion in her connection increases (measured by the circle at the top left) and when it’s full, something happens that disrupts her journey.  So you constantly have to let Jill duck out of the phone worlds back into the central “core” area to start again.  This isn’t a huge problem, though; each world is small enough that you should have enough time to do what you have to do to get the plot moving along.  The game also gives you a book you can use to save specific numbers so you can return to interact with the characters/objects there without having to randomly punch in numbers to find them again.

And yeah, there really is a plot here, even if it’s not that obvious.  Strange Telephone takes the Yume Nikki approach in showing a lot but refusing to tell a damn thing, so you have to piece every bit of information the game gives you together on your own.  Part of that process is getting every ending and finding every secret in the game, which is basically what you’ll be doing anyway as you experiment with different item/character/object combinations in the phone worlds.

Okay Jill, just start throwing shit in the pot and see what happens

If I sound frustrated with that, though, I’m not, because it’s part of what made Strange Telephone interesting.  Jill doesn’t bother giving any exposition, Graham doesn’t talk at all, and most of the other characters you meet in the phone worlds are also mute, even the ones that interact with you.  But I like these games that don’t spell everything out for you and let you roam around and figure things out on your own.  I don’t mind the cryptic story, either, because it fits with the surreal atmosphere of the game.  Strange Telephone does have some sense to it, though it’s still up for debate what some of the endings mean for Jill.  I guess this is where fan theories come in to fill the gap.  Yume Nikki has a ton of them, so it would make sense for Strange Telephone to have some too.

That said, the surreal atmosphere can’t explain away every bit of weirdness in this game.  There are a few things you have to do to beat Strange Telephone that just don’t make any logical sense.  I hit a wall a few times in my explorations and ended up having to shove different objects into a few characters’ hands to see if they’d do anything with said objects to make a new object or to advance my progress somehow.  Most of the solutions to the puzzles in Strange Telephone can be worked out with logic, but a few feel a bit too bizarre and random to be satisfying.

New contractual demand: every game I play from now on must have at least one (1) hot demon girl in it

Still, on balance Strange Telephone was a good enough time for me to recommend it.  The character designs are imaginative, the atmosphere is nice and otherworldly, the background music fits and enhances that atmosphere, and the exploration and experimentation with items drew me in.  I like games that do something different and execute that something well, and Strange Telephone is just such a game.

Since I’m stuck with this dumb rating system I created, I’ll say Strange Telephone gets a 5, which has basically come to mean “it wasn’t amazing or life-changing, but I liked it.”  The two or three hours of Yume Nikki-esque surreal dream logic weirdness I got out of the experience was worth the five dollars I paid for it on Steam.  If you loved Yume Nikki, in other words, Strange Telephone is worth checking out.

A review of OneShot (PC)

Yeah, I’m late again, aren’t I? OneShot was making the rounds back in 2016/2017, and here I am about two years after the party ended as usual.  But I’ve finally played it. This RPG Maker game was originally a free title released in 2014, but it got a massive overhaul along with a completely new chapter near the end of 2016. This is the version that’s been put up for sale on Steam, and it’s the version I played.

So, uh. How to approach this one. This game isn’t that easy to review for reasons that will hopefully become apparent. OneShot is the story of Niko, a child with cat-like features (big yellow cat eyes and fangs and whiskers – not a cat, though, as we’ll learn later on) who wakes up in a creepy dark house alone. Well, he’s not quite alone – you, the player, are with him.* After finding a mysterious self-lighting light bulb, Niko finds his way out of the house into a strange fantasy world totally different from his own. There, Niko finds a robot dressed like a holy man, who calls him “Savior” and tells him the light bulb he found is this world’s new sun and that his mission is to bring it to the top of a massive tower to restore light to the world, replacing the old sun that broke one day without warning. This world contains independent light and power sources, but they’re finite, and once they’re exhausted, the world will be shrouded in darkness.

I mean no pressure or anything, you know

The robot also instructs Niko to contact you. Yes, you, the player. So Niko closes his eyes and tries talking to you… and you respond to him. Through predetermined dialogue options and dialogue trees, but you do respond to him. Holy robot man tells the amazed Niko that that’s god talking to him and that god (i.e. you) will be guiding him throughout his quest.

I played Contact a long time ago, a DS JRPG that broke the fourth wall. I also played Undertale, the game that OneShot always seems to be compared with, and that game broke the fourth wall as well. OneShot doesn’t just break the fourth wall – it demolishes the damn thing, 1989 Berlin Wall style. You, the player sitting behind the screen, are one of the main characters in OneShot, and everyone in the world knows you exist… including the game itself.  I can’t elaborate on what that means without spoiling parts of the game, so I’ll leave it at that.

As you guide Niko through this strange world, you’ll have to help him solve puzzles, typically by finding, trading, using, and combining items in your inventory. There’s no combat, no boss battles, nothing like that. That’s not to say Niko’s not in any danger – the world he’s meant to save is collapsing bit by bit for reasons that remain unknown to its residents.

Industrial equipment also poses a danger to Niko (not really, though.)

Along the way, Niko meets some of the residents of the world who decide to help him out, partly because they recognize him as the savior (some of them even address him as Messiah) who will return their sun to the tower and save the world.  Well, maybe save the world.  There seems to be disagreement among the world’s citizens as to whether restoring the sun will stop the strange instances of corruption and decay that have been occurring, eating up the land and swallowing it into a void.  Even so, they’re putting all their hopes on you and Niko to do your best to save them.

Well shit, thanks for telling us that now.

While Niko finds friends throughout his journey, the most important character relationship in OneShot is the one between Niko and the player.  Niko will sometimes talk to you when you direct him to make certain decisions, and there are a few points in the game where he opens up about the world he comes from and asks about you and your world.  It’s easy to imagine the writer screwing this up by making Niko irritating, but he’s not.  Niko is a pretty smart kid, but he’s not annoyingly precocious; he takes the challenges presented to him in stride, but he still misses his mom and the rest of his family and friends in his village and wants to go home.  This desire becomes evident if you decide to let Niko take a nap in one of the few usable beds scattered around the game world.  When you put Niko to bed, the game saves and closes, and upon opening it again you’ll get to witness Niko having a dream about being back home before he wakes up and continues his journey.

Niko dreams of pancakes.

Niko’s characterization is one of the greatest strengths of OneShot.  Your first run of the game will probably take about three to five hours to complete, so you don’t really spend that much time with Niko, but the writer used that time very effectively.  By the end of that first run, I wanted to protect Niko at all costs, because he’s a good kid and he deserves to go back home, damn it.  People often compare OneShot to Undertale, but if there’s one big difference between them, it’s that while Undertale made me care about the world of the game, OneShot made me care about its protagonist.

I’m sure this game won’t present me with a dilemma that plays on the fact that I want to protect this kid

I like the game’s art style.  You can tell it’s an RPG Maker game, but the character designs are great, the character portraits are nice and expressive, and I love some of the weird little details included in the game’s settings.  The world itself isn’t very big for a game of this kind, but it’s got quite a bit to explore, with a lot of flavor dialogue and descriptive text and a few secrets to reward the obsessive completionist who has to talk to everyone and find every available item.  It’s certainly possible to speed through OneShot if you’re good at working out logic puzzles, but a lot of the game’s charm comes from wandering around and talking to everyone you and Niko can find.  The game’s background music adds to the experience – none of the tracks jumped out to me as amazing, but they’re all perfectly fitting if that makes sense.

If there’s one criticism I can make of OneShot, it’s that the other characters in the story aren’t all that fleshed out.  Not that they couldn’t be – most of them seem interesting, but it feels like you and Niko just kind of fly by them on your way to the ending.  You do get to revisit these characters in the game’s new final chapter, though.

Not a cat, not a Persona 5 reference

Time to give this game a score, I guess.  How about a 6 out of 7?  Yeah, that fits.  OneShot might just be an RPG Maker game, but like Yume Nikki, it manages to do something special with a relatively limited program.  The highest praise I can give OneShot is that it surprised me and kept me guessing all the way to the end of the final chapter.  It’s well worth buying.  As for the older free version, it’s still available to play, but it doesn’t contain the final chapter of the game, and it requires the player to play through without quitting the game except at the beds.  This is apparently why the game was titled OneShot – it only gave you one shot to beat it.  Kind of a harsh restriction, though.  Check it out if you feel like it, but this Steam version seems to be the definitive one.

Okay, I’m tired.  Two posts in the span of 48 hours is a lot for me.  Maybe I’ll go to bed and dream of pancakes. 𒀭

 

* I know Niko’s gender is never addressed in the game, but I always thought of Niko as a boy for some reason, and so I refer to him. Niko just as easily might be thought of as a girl.  It doesn’t really matter.