Sunday, July 15, 2018

If you own a 3DS, you need to buy and play Pocket Card Jockey right now

And if you don't own a 3DS, you need to get one as soon as possible and then use it to play Pocket Card Jockey.

I know everyone's moved on to the Switch. So have I, for the most part. I also know this game hit the North American, European, and Australian 3DS eShop eons ago--in May 2016, to be exact. (It hit the Japanese 3DS eShop all the way back in July 2013.)

Given all of the above, I understand why Pocket Card Jockey isn't exactly trending on Twitter right now. The thing is, I doubt Pocket Card Jockey ever trended on Twitter, or lit up the sales charts--even when it first came out and garnered a good amount of praise.

So why am I writing about it now, more than two years after it made a splash (or maybe I should say plop, given the lack of hype surrounding its launch)? And why am I using yet another blog post to push people to give the game a try? Because I started playing it again last weekend while visiting my husband's family in Ohio and it reminded me of Pocket Card Jockey's brilliance.

I'd intended to play something else (Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, for the curious), but when I finally opened my trusty "flame red" 3DS I returned to my long-ignored Pocket Card Jockey save file instead.

At first, I stuck with the game's "training" mode, which basically allows you to play quick rounds of golf solitaire. Within a few hours, though, I cautiously moved over to the main mode. I didn't fare too well early on, to be honest, but a quick look at the "How to Succeed in Pocket Card Jockey Without Really Trying" guide I published a couple of years ago turned things around pretty quickly.

I'm currently 20 hours into my latest obsessive stint with Pocket Card Jockey. The first such stint began in 2013 immediately after the Japanese version's release and lasted for more than 60 hours. The second started in 2016 following the North American version's release and lasted an additional 60-plus hours.

In other words, I've now devoted somewhere north of 140 hours to this $6.99 game over the course of five years.

What's the pull for me? The main attraction (or maybe I should say mane attraction?) is that it's a whole lot of fun. For some reason, I find the combination of solitaire, horse racing, adorable graphics, a top-tier soundtrack, and surprisingly intriguing--and at times shockingly dark--interactions with the game's curious cast of characters to be a winning one.

And then, of course, there's the fact that this Game Freak-developed title is beyond addictive. You know how it's impossible to walk away from Tetris until you've completed about 100 levels? Well, Pocket Card Jockey is imbued with a similar quality. But instead of telling yourself, "just one more round," you're more likely to mutter, "just one more horse"--as it's entirely possible to take a steed from colt or filly to retirement in an hour or so.

Still not convinced to give this hidden gem a try? Maybe my Pocket Card Jockey review will do the trick. Or the fact that I declared it to be my favorite game of 2016 might sway you.

Whatever you need to do to convince yourself to buy Pocket Card Jockey, do it. And do it now. You never know when Nintendo's going to pull the plug on the 3DS eShop, and believe me when I say you don't want to go through life without experiencing this delightfully odd game.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Five things that made it really easy for me to put more than 60 hours into The Alliance Alive

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, you may have seen me trumpet the fact that I finished The Alliance Alive a short time ago--after putting more than 60 hours into it.

Actually, you may have seen me celebrate the same accomplishment in one of my most recent posts here, too.

Regardless, you know now. And, really, as thrilled as I am that I reached The Alliance Alive's credit roll and devoted so many hours to it along the way, I'm even more thrilled that I enjoyed pretty much every one of the nearly 4,000 minutes I spent with this portable RPG.

Why? Here are the first five reasons that came to mind:

Awakening "battle arts" is completely addictive--If you're not quite up to speed on The Alliance Alive's inner workings, "battle arts" are special attacks or moves that are tied to specific classes of weapons. If you give one of your characters a spear, for example, one of her battle arts may be "Charge," which causes her to race toward and through an enemy. While using that art, you might "awaken" another one, like "Spear Fishing" or "Triple Strike." The key word here is might. There's seemingly no rhyme or reason for when a character will learn a new battle art. You may go a number of encounters without awakening even one, or you may awaken three or four in a single tussle. I know some players find the randomness annoying, but I love it. You never know when a new--and likely more fabulous--move is going to fall into your lap.

The soundtrack is sublime--And not only that, but it's surprisingly varied. Some tracks, like "Rainy World" and "Sealed Museum," are fairly ambient in nature, while others, like "Clockwork City Gearlock" and "Fiery World," pulsate and soar thanks to plucky piano bits and pleasantly synth-y strings. (My favorite of them all is "Flight," which pops up later in the game but is well worth the wait.) The brilliance of The Alliance Alive soundtrack came as no surprise to me, by the way, as I knew going in that Masashi Hamauzu had composed the bulk of it. Some of his previous credits: Chocobo no Fushigi na Dungeon for the original PlayStation, Final Fantasy X for the PS2, and this title's precursor, The Legend of Legacy. (Psst! You can listen to The Alliance Alive's entire soundtrack here.)

The "water devil dens" provide the game with just the right amount of toughness and creepiness--Truth be told, a lot of The Alliance Alive's content could be called "standard fare." That's not a complaint or a critique; it's a simple statement of fact. What am I talking about here? The locations you explore while wandering the game's expansive map are a good example, as are the beasts you battle along the way. I wouldn't make the same claim about its "water devil dens," though. These optional dungeons dot the landscape and can be accessed via malevolent-looking whirlpools. As you might expect based on their name, they're teeming with some of the nastiest baddies in the whole game. The best thing about these "dens," in my opinion: they give The Alliance Alive a sense of otherworldly tension that helps it break free from the "typical JRPG" mold the game's developers seemingly used to create a good chunk of the rest of this sprawling adventure. (The next best thing about them: the creepy lines enemies spout before battles begin.)

Once it finally clicked, The Alliance Alive's guild system proved to be surprisingly cool (not to mention helpful)--Another aspect of The Alliance Alive that helps it steer clear of "cookie cutter" territory are the guild towers that stick out from the surrounding environment like giant, Victorian weather vanes. Early on, it's hard to make heads or tails of these structures and their inhabitants. The game attempts to explain things, but none of it clicked with me until I was a good 20 or so hours into my playthrough. Which is a shame, because once you "get" The Alliance Alive's guild system, you realize what a cool game changer it is. The gist: if you're within a certain range of a guild tower, it may support you in battle. One type stuns all enemies for a turn. Another wallops them with a massive attack. Yet another weakens their defenses. That's awesome in and of itself, of course, but it becomes even more so after you build a network of towers and you come within range of a number of them at the same time. And that's just scratching the surface of the benefits these spires offer players who devote time and energy to them. (To learn more, check out this article.)

It's got a character who fights enemies while sitting inside a duck-shaped "power suit"--And not only that, but she eventually fits it with a floaty so it can cross pools of lava. This character, named Tiggy, isn't the only appealing one in The Alliance Alive, by the way. A few others include a "daemon" lady with fox-like ears and tail, a "beastfolk" that looks to be a cross between a lizard and an antelope, a loud-mouthed penguin, and a youthful, hard-nosed businessman (businessboy?) who uses a wheelchair and wears a pot with a teddy bear strapped to it on his head. That's a long way of saying this game has a colorful cast of characters. Sadly, you can't add that last one--the one with the bear stuck to his noggin--to your party, but believe me when I say you're sure to like a lot of the beings that populate The Alliance Alive despite that unfortunate oversight.

That's not the extent of what I found appealing about The Alliance Alive during the 60-plus hours I devoted to it, mind you. I also loved how its non-player characters change what they say to you based on who's currently serving as your main party member, for example. And I similarly enjoyed being allowed to speed up battles with the press of a button.

Is there any room for improvement after all of the above has been taken into consideration? Definitely. As colorful as its cast of characters is, there's no question it could be even more diverse. (Every human in The Alliance Alive seems to be white, straight, and cisgender.) And I would've killed to be able to add some of its more interesting NPCs, like the aforementioned boy with the stuffed animal attached to his skull, the Guild Girls (see above), and Princess Yukiha to my party, even if only after the end credits rolled.

Don't let those few shortcomings keep you from starting through The Alliance Alive yourself. I found it to be an almost shockingly special title, all things considered, and as such I can't recommend it strongly enough to anyone who still has a 3DS and who typically enjoys role-playing games.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Pri Pri Primitive Princess! (GameBoy)

Don't let its lovely cover art fool you--Sunsoft's Pri Pri Primitive Princess isn't a great game. In fact, most people who've played it will tell you it's an absolute turd.

I can't say I agree with them, at least not entirely. Yes, Pri Pri Primitive Princess has its faults, but the same can be said of a lot of GameBoy titles, in my experience.

Granted, I've got a soft spot the size of Texas for single-screen platformers, the genre that encompasses this Japan-only release from 1990. I've got a similarly large soft spot for games that star cavemen--you know, like Hudson Soft's old PC Genjin (aka Bonk's Adventure) series.

Combine all of the above with the fact that Pri Pri Primitive Princess is, as you should be well aware by now, a GameBoy cart, and you've got yourself the makings of a "must buy" game pour moi, as the French might say.

In other words, I'd covet my complete-in-box copy of Pri Pri Primitive Princess even if its instruction manual were an utter disappointment. Thankfully, it isn't.

You'll see what I mean as you make your way through this post. For now, though, take my word that nearly every page features at least one nicely crafted illustration.

Would I have complained if the folks who cobbled together the Pri Pri Primitive Princess manual way back when had thrown in a few more pieces of art? Of course not.

Even as things stand, though, this manual's still a good bit better than quite a few other Japanese GameBoy instruction booklets currently in my possession.

See also: similar posts about the instruction manuals made for other Japanese GameBoy titles like Bubble Bobble Junior, Lolo no DaiboukenPenguin LandSnow Bros. Jr., and Tumblepop

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

I don't know about you, but I'm absolutely thrilled we're swimming in actual SaGa as well as SaGa-inspired games at the moment

I've been keenly interested in Square Enix's SaGa series of bizarro RPGs for a long time now.

Makai Toushi SaGa, a GameBoy title that was rebranded The Final Fantasy Legend before it crossed the pond, introduced me to its wonders all the way back in 1990, but only barely.

I didn't fall head over heels in love with the series until I first laid eyes on Romancing SaGa for the Super Famicom.

That's not to say I've spent a lot of time with that 1992 release. Oh, I've tried, but even with my limited--very limited--understanding of Japanese, all of the text Romancing SaGa throws at you is daunting, to say the least.

Still, Romancing SaGa turned me on to just how beautifully strange an RPG can be in the right hands (especially if those hands belong to the one and only Akitoshi Kawazu)--a point that was driven home during my first playthrough of a game that is now one of my all-time favorites, SaGa Frontier.

Sadly, the series has languished in the wake of that late-1990s offering. Although eight SaGa titles were published (in Japan, at least) between 1989 and 2000, only five have come out in the 18 years since--one of which was a remake of an older effort and two of which depressingly avoided consoles.

Amazingly, other developers have stepped into the void in recent years to provide the world with their own SaGa-esque role-players. The Legend of Legacy was the first of these quirky RPGs to hit the market (back in 2015), and while it didn't quite live up to its initial hype, it proved to be an enjoyable enough experience despite its drawbacks.

That game's just-released (outside of Japan) spiritual successor, The Alliance Alive, is an even better "SaGa-like," in my opinion. It's far less experimental, and a lot more straightforward, than The Legend of Legacy, but both of those qualities work in its favor and help it feel like the best SaGa game not made by the aforementioned Kawazu.

You should expect to see more posts about The Alliance Alive here in the coming days and weeks, by the way. I'm so in love with the game after putting more than 60 hours into it that I've got to gush about it a bit.

Speaking of SaGa-ish games I've got to gush about, or that I've got a feeling I'm going to gush about shortly after I start playing them, Octopath Traveler for the Switch is due out in just under two months. I couldn't be more excited about it, to be honest--especially since it looks to be even more akin to the SaGa games of old than The Alliance of Alive.

Will I be gushing about the last "real" SaGa title, SaGa: Scarlet Grace, sooner rather than later, too? It sure seems like it. No less than Kawazu himself recently revealed on Twitter that an English localization of the game is being worked on as we speak.

And then, of course, there's the Romancing SaGa 3 remake that was announced early last year for mobile and Vita. It's also being prepped for a Western release--although no one outside Square Enix seems to know when that will happen (or if it'll hit systems like the PS4, Switch, and Xbox One as well).

Regardless, it's now abundantly clear that the SaGa, er, saga is far from over. I don't know about you, but that thrills me to no end. You can keep your paint-by-numbers RPGs; I'll take weirdo releases like The Alliance Alive, Octopath Traveler, and SaGa: Scarlet Grace over them any day of the week.

How many of you feel the same way?

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The walls of our home won't be complete until one of them sports a pixelated portrait of Ellen Ripley from Konami's Aliens arcade game

I've had a bit of a "thing" for the Alien and Aliens films since I watched them for the first time as a teenager.

You'd think that would mean I've long had a similar thing for games inspired by those flicks, but it doesn't.

There have been a few exceptions, of course. Sega's Alien Syndrome and Alien Storm are two examples. Xenophobe is another.

None of the above compete with Konami's Aliens quarter-muncher from 1990, however. OK, so it takes some liberties with the source material. It's such a blast to play, though, that I don't have any problems overlooking those "creative differences."

It's also gorgeous, of course, with wonderfully detailed backdrops and sprites that evoke the 1986 movie that spawned it.

Apparently Atlanta-based artist Ashley Anderson agrees with that last tidbit. After all, he recently referenced the above-mentioned Aliens arcade game in the acrylic painting that can be seen below.

Before you go and think this is just some paint-by-numbers copycat, consider what Anderson said about it on Instagram:

"I limited my palette this time to traditional portrait colors, prussian blue (to mix with umber to make chromatic blacks), titanium white (for opacity), and zinc white (for warmth and translucence)."

As much as I like this piece, I like this next one, which Anderson calls "Ellen (Withering Heights)," even more.

For the curious: Anderson made "Ellen (Withering Heights)" using color pencil on toned paper.

I'm also quite fond of the similar "Sigourney Weaver," below, from 2010:

Anderson produced it using graphite on paper.

As for what prompted him to go down this particular path eight or so years ago, the artist shared the following explanation on Flickr:

"In keeping with my interest in pixellation's relationship with painting and its mechanics [and] traditions, I have begun collecting images of recognizable personalities as they are depicted in games and drawing them as one might create a portrait drawing from a photograph or a live sitter."

Want to see more of Anderson's pixelated depictions of the Aliens protagonist? Check out "Ellen (Ms X #1)" and "Ellen as April as Ellen."

Consider scouring his Instagram and Flickr photostreams, too. Both are filled with fascinating, game-inspired works of art.