Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My favorite games of 2014 (that actually were released in 2014)

If we're going to be honest here (and why wouldn't we be?), I'm far from the ideal person to write a post such as this.

Unlike a lot of folks, I'm not all that interested in the "next gen" consoles (as opposed to handhelds) that tend to dominate online gaming discussions these days, plus I spend at least half of my annual games budget on retro titles and systems.

Still, I've played through good number of games this year, so I'm publishing a pair of posts that focus on the handful I've enjoyed the most. Today's post covers titles that actually were released in 2014, while tomorrow's will cover those that were released earlier.

One thing to keep in mind as you review this particular write-up: I played zero Vita games this year--because I still don't own a Vita system, although I can guarantee that will change shortly--and I failed to play a number of highly acclaimed 3DS games that hit the streets in in the last 12 months, including Kirby: Triple Deluxe, Persona Q, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Shovel Knight (although all of these take up space on my lengthy "wish list").

With that out of the way, let's get to some blurbs about my favorite games of 2014 (that actually were released in 2014):

Bravely Default--This Square Enix-made stunner, released early in the year in my neck of the woods, ably straddles the line between being an old-school RPG and a next-gen one. On the old-school side of things, there are the random, turn-based battles and the chibi character designs that harken back to the 8-bit and 16-bit Final Fantasy titles (as well as The 4 Heroes of Light spin-off, of course), while on the next-gen side there are the bevy of combat options (one of which allows players to avoid enemy encounters or otherwise alter how often they pop up), the online and multiplayer components and the surprisingly well implemented use of augmented reality. If you've read anything about Bravely Default, you're likely already aware of the fact that the second half of the game's story is a bit controversial (to put it mildly), and while it unquestionably deserves the criticism, I have to say that, for me, most of the related annoyance was forgotten following the final battle, the credit roll and what came after that--to the point that I'm pretty sure I'll willingly put myself through it all again (maybe more than once) in the not-so-distant future.

Fantasy Life--I don't know about you, but I've long been one of those gamers who want to wander off the beaten path in an RPG while in the shoes of something other than a sword-wielding warrior. Specifically, I've wanted to boot up a role-playing game that let me spend time as a shop owner or a weapon maker or even an inn keeper. Fantasy Life promises some of that and more--to an extent. On offer in this 3DS title are 12 different "lives" (jobs, basically) that allow players to act as miners, woodcutters, blacksmiths and cooks. As I'm sure you can imagine, some of these professions are more engaging than others. For me, angler, miner and woodcutter have proven to be the most fun so far, although I've also enjoyed the time I've spent as a blacksmith and carpenter--despite the fact that the latter pair's focus on repetitive and too-similar mini-games is sure to get on the nerves of some gamers. That's one area I hope is improved upon should a sequel ever see the light of day. Other than that, there isn't much wrong with the current iteration, as its art style is the stuff of childhood dreams, its gameplay is more entertaining than it has any right to be and its soundtrack ties all of the above together before topping it with a pretty bow.

Tomodachi Life--Following its Japanese release in 2013, the word on the Internet was that Tomodachi Life was a shockingly alluring mixture of Animal Crossing and The Sims. Although those folks were right on the money in attaching Electronic Arts' life-sim series to this similarly themed 3DS release, they were pretty far off the mark in adding Nintendo's animal-packed fave. That's because Tomodachi Life is all about populating an island-locked apartment building with family members, friends, celebrities and more and then watching them get into all sorts of wacky situations. The experience is more interactive than that description makes it sound, thankfully, but it has to be said that interactivity isn't the name of the game (pun intended) here. No, the point of Tomodachi Life is to revel in the hilarity of it all--and mark my words, it's often pretty darn hilarious (or at least that was my impression during the 100-plus hours I spent with it this past year).

Woah Dave!--It's pretty telling that this 3DS eShop game (iOS, Mac and PC versions also are available, and PS4 and Vita versions are on the way) has been available for just a couple of months and yet it still managed to make this list. Given my nearly lifelong love of simple, pick-up-and-play titles like Bubble Bobble, Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-Man, though, I guess its inclusion here shouldn't be too shocking. Speaking of the afore-menitoned games, the developers responsible for Woah Dave! looked past them and toward Nintendo's original Mario Bros. for inspiration instead, which was a pretty genius move, in my humble opinion. After all, that sewer-centric platformer has been begging for some sort of modernist update for ages now. My only issue with this otherwise-enthralling affair: the titular Dave and his abstract adversaries are nowhere near as appealing as Mario, Luigi and their quarter-munching co-stars. Thankfully, you probably won't even notice, as if you're anything like me you'll be too busy scurrying about in an attempt to stay alive and nab as many coins as you can while you're at it to notice the humdrum character designs.

Honorable mentions: Coming Out on Top (PC/Mac), THE "DENPA" MEN 3 (3DS), Tappingo 2 (3DS) and Yoshi's New Island (3DS)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Here's to the best $65 I've ever spent (or, the Japanese GameBoy's packaging is pretty sweet, ain't it?)

I know, I know. The "Year of the GameBoy" posts are coming fast and furious now. Sorry about that. 2014's almost over, though, and I really want to fit as many "Year of the GameBoy" write-ups into it as possible. Hence my last handful of posts.

At least this particular post isn't about a GameBoy game--although I'm not sure those of you who aren't fans of Nintendo's iconic-yet-bricklike handheld will enjoy a post about the system (as well as its Japanese packaging and instruction manual) any more than you'd enjoy a post about one of its games.

It's kind of hard to hate a post that includes photos like the one above, though, right? I mean, just look at that awesome packaging. 

Also, it includes text that alerts passersby to the fact that this system is a "Handy Game Machine." No wonder Nintendo sold a billion of these suckers in the 14-plus years they were on the market.

Here (above) is another shot of the Japanese GameBoy's packaging (and of the system itself). Sorry for the varying quality of the photos included in this post, by the way. They were taken on three different days, and each day offered up different lighting scenarios.

Anyway, the shot above showcases the Japanese GameBoy's oh-so-1990s instruction manual. And because it's a Japanese manual that was produced before, say, the year 2000, it features a number of completely adorable illustrations, such as the ones below.

The back of the GameBoy's Japanese instruction manual can be seen below. I like the design that runs along its edge. I also like that this GameBoy's original owner seemingly acquired it early in 1991.

The backside of the GameBoy's Japanese packaging isn't as thrilling as its front, but that's OK with me. At least it reminds viewers of the rechargeable battery pack Nintendo used to sell for its first handheld. I've always found its design to be appealing, for whatever reason.

I bought the GameBoy shown throughout this post early in the year, by the way, and only paid about $65 for it, if memory serves.

Even better: its screen is in immaculate condition, with absolutely no dead pixels (he says as he furiously knocks on wood)--something that can't be said about the last GameBoy I bought.

See also: previous 'Year of the GameBoy' posts

Monday, December 29, 2014

Nice Package! (Rodea the Sky Soldier)

Maintaining an acknowledgeable level of interest in Rodea the Sky Soldier has been a tough ask the last couple of years.

After all, back when it was first unveiled (in 2010) as a Wii game, it had Sonic the Hedgehog creator Yuji Naka's name attached to it and NiGHTS-esque hype surrounding it. Today, it seems to be more of a Kadokawa Shoten product that was inspired by Naka's earlier, shelved work--which, to be honest, sounds far less appealing to me than the originally announced game.

Still, I'm curious to find out whether or not Rodea the Sky Soldier found a way to survive this painfully drawn out hand-off and wind up a halfway-decent title.

One thing that's already clear to me: Rodea's box art didn't survive that same transition. Don't believe me? Feast your eyes on the following cover mock-up, which apparently was created for the Wii version of the game.

And then check out the two pieces of box art below, which are for Rodea's 3DS and Wii U releases, respectively.

Actually, the 3DS cover illustration above isn't the worst thing ever, but that big, blocky and crude logo does all it can to ruin the experience, in my opinion.

Also, both the 3DS and Wii U box arts serve to reinforce my dislike of Rodea's protagonist. There's just a bit too much going on with his design, don't you think?

The Wii U cover also reiterates for me that the branding that's used on all of the system's cases pales in comparison to the simpler, more elegant branding that appeared on Wii cases. I find that teal-and-yellow "swoop" that appears at the top of every piece of Wii U box art to be visually jarring, and even when it doesn't clash with the art beneath it, it still threatens to pull your eyes away from it.

What do all of you think? Do you find any of these covers appealing? And are you at all interested in the games that are going to be packed inside of their cases?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

I also got this adorable 'Pupupu Friends' 3DS XL pouch for Christmas

So, the copy of Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley I chatted about yesterday isn't the only game-related present I received this holiday season. I also got the following 3DS case from my sneaky sister-in-law.

I'm calling her sneaky, by the way, because she figured out I wanted it by reading the "All I want for Christmas is..." post I published a few weeks back. (I honestly didn't realize until Wednesday that she occasionally checks out my blog.)

Anyway, this Kirby-themed case is pretty sweet, don't you think? And not only is its exterior the definition of adorable, but its interior is nicely cushioned and includes a couple of pockets for DS or 3DS carts.

Even better than either of those attributes, though, is that it perfectly complements my pink-and-white 3DS XL system--as should be evident for all to see in the photo below.

Now I just have to find a case or pouch that can be used to protect and carry my gold Pokémon Center 3DS LL. I've been considering this cute Monster Hunter airu one for ages now. What do you think?

Also, what kind of gaming-related gifts did all of you get this holiday season? Spill the beans in the comments section below--if you're willing to share, I mean.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Santa Claus brought me a copy of Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, and I'm going to play it despite shidoshi's warnings against it

I've been curious about Natsume's homegrown take on the ages-old Harvest Moon series since it was announced earlier this year.

There were all sorts of reasons even then to give this recently released 3DS game a pass, with the Nintendo 64-esque visuals and the fact that it was being made internally rather than by series creator Yasuhiro Wada and the folks at Marvelous being the most noteworthy.

Still, I wanted it. So, I included it on my birthday wish list--and then, when I failed to get it for my birthday (I got Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call instead), I moved it over to my Christmas wish list.

Considering it was the only game I named on said list, I really shouldn't have been surprised to find it was among the Christmas gifts my parents sent to me, but I was.

Sadly, but not shockingly, I've yet to even start The Lost Valley. That's mainly because I'm still busying myself with three of the games mentioned in my last post (Fantasy Life, Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest 3 and Woah Dave!), but I'm planning to dial back my playtime with those titles over the next few days so I can find for myself if Natsume's effort is as crappy as everyone--including my podcast mate, shidoshi--says it is, or if it has even a couple of redeemable qualities.

I'll let you know either way in my next installment of "Shall We Do It?" In the meantime, are any of you playing Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley? If so, what do you think about it?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Shall We Do It? (Fantasy Life, Pinch 50, Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest 3 and Woah Dave!)

The last month or so has been so busy for me that I haven't had as much time as I would've liked to play games. Thankfully, things calmed down quite a bit this past weekend, and I took full advantage of the solitude to spend some quality time with the following four 3DS titles:

Fantasy Life--Would you believe that after 76 hours of play, I've finally finished this Level-5 RPG? Or, rather, I've finished its main campaign. I bought the game's day-one "Origin Island" DLC just before Thanksgiving, and I've yet to play--let alone conquer--it, but let's put that aside for the moment. (Plus, we are talking about post-game content here, so it's not like it negates my claim that I've completed the main part of the game.)

So, what are my near-final thoughts on this massive adventure? Well, for starters, I'd say it's easily one of the funnest, most engaging games I've played in 2014. That's mainly because of its MMO-esque gameplay, I have to say, although its job-swapping hook played an important role, too.

Speaking of Fantasy Life's job-swapping hook, my favorite jobs (or "lives," if you will) so far are the three "gathering" ones: angler, miner and woodcutter, though I'm also pretty fond of the blacksmith and carpenter ones. (Sadly, I've completely ignored the alchemist, cook, paladin or tailor professions up to this point.)

In less positive news: I still find this game's obsession with text to be annoying, and I worry that it's going to be the one thing that keeps a good chunk of folks from enjoying the experience as much as they otherwise would. Thankfully, it's limited to a quarter or less of the overall adventure. Most of the time, you're free to run around and fight beasts or gather resources, so keep that in mind if you're having a hard time with the wordiness of it all.

Anyway, I'm going to do my best to complete the aforementioned "Origin Island" DLC content as soon as possible, but don't be surprised if it takes me a while, as I'm pretty sure one of the other games discussed in this post (Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest 3) is going to take over my life for the next few weeks.

Pinch 50--I purchased this Japanese eShop title last month, but I barely played it until a couple of days ago. Which probably was for the best, as it's likely this game only would've added to the stress I was dealing with between then and this past weekend. That's because Pinch 50, made by Masanobu Endō (creator of classics like The Tower of Druaga and Xevious), is so masochistic it gives similar efforts like 1001 Spikes and Spelunky a run for their money.

Before you get the wrong idea, Pinch 50's gameplay is a thoroughly different beast than that found in the aforementioned pair of titles. In fact, Endō's game is remarkably similar in feel (and look) to that old Activision Atari 2600 classic, Pitfall, although Pinch 50 is about ten times tougher than the game that surely inspired it.

That's all I'll say for now, as I've only beaten the first 11 of this digital title's 50 stages as of last night. (Oh, and I died about 20 times while trying to finish one of the latter stages, with my giddy giggles rising in volume with each death.)

Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest 3--As I mentioned in Monday's post, I've had a copy of this Dragon Quest spin-off for more than a year now. Sadly, it's done nothing but sit in a drawer ever since--until this past Saturday, I mean. Now that I've started it, though, I have a feeling I won't stop until I've finished it--or until I've gotten so hopelessly stuck (or lost) that I give up on it. That's how much it's got me by the short and curlies at the moment.

Oh, sure, it isn't the best looking 3DS game in the world (the low-quality polygonal backdrops are far less appealing than the sprite-based ones found in this game's GameBoy Advance and DS predecessors), its soundtrack features a ton of tunes that also appeared in the first two Slime MoriMori titles and its gameplay isn't all that different from the second one (known as Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime in North America), but none of that has kept it from being a thoroughly thrilling affair.

One new element in Slime MoriMori 3 that's really impressed me so far is its watery overworld, which is traversed by ship. It kind of recalls the sailing sections of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, although this 3DS game's ship-centric action is far less annoying and monotonous than what's found in that GameCube effort.

Also, the boss battles in Slime MoriMori 3 have proven to be surprisingly entertaining thus far, although I've only experienced three of them to this point. (Oh, and they make great use of the stereoscopic 3D technology packed inside the 3DS, with most of these encounters featuring impressive pop-out effects.)

Should folks who can't currently play this Rocket Slime sequel be upset that it's failed to make it to their respective region? I'm not sure, to tell you the truth. Although I'm having a lot of fun with it at the moment, it's so similar to the aforementioned DS title that I don't think you're missing out on a whole lot by not having easy access to the 3DS iteration.

Woah Dave!--Is this eShop game still on sale (in North America, at least) for just 99 cents? If so, I'd highly and heartily recommend nabbing a copy of it as soon as you're able.

Normally, I'd attach a little disclaimer--such as, "if you like single-screen platformers that feature old-school graphics and twitch-y gameplay"--to a recommendation like the one above, but in the case of Woah Dave!, I'm pretty confident that almost anyone who owns a 3DS (or a PC or smartphone) will get a kick out of this game.

Should you require some sort of description of its gameplay before handing over your hard-earned 99 cents to this title's developers, does "it's like the original Mario Bros. on speed or 'shrooms--or both" suffice?

Even if it doesn't, do yourself a favor and pick up some version of this trippy soon-to-be-classic. It won't disappoint.

Monday, December 22, 2014

I think it's finally time I played Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest 3: Taikaizoku to Shippo Dan (3DS)

After all, I've had the copy showcased in the photos below since April of last year.

Why on earth have I sat on it since then? I have no idea, to tell you the truth, although I'm guessing it had something to do with it arriving on my doorstep while I was in the middle of playing some other game that I can't remember at the moment.

Now that I've finished Fantasy Life (basically--more on that in the "Shall We Do It?" post I'll be publishing tomorrow), though, I have time to start playing Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest 3.

In fact, I did just that this past weekend, although I only spent about an hour with it, to be honest.

Before I say anything about how it looks and plays, though, let's talk about Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest 3's cover art. It's pretty fabulous, don't you think?

Now, I don't know that I'd proclaim it to be better than the cover art produced for its predecessors--see the GameBoy Advance iteration's here, and the DS sequel's here--but it's still pretty great.

This import-only 3DS game's instruction manual is similarly slick, with its pages of text peppered with loads of adorable illustrations like the ones shown in the photos above and below.

As for my thoughts on the contents of Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest 3's cartridge, I'm going to save most of my impressions for tomorrow's "Shall We Do It?" post (sorry), but what I can say here is that I find this game's aesthetics to be less appealing than those of its fully sprite-based predecessors. (In Slime MoriMori 3, everything is made of polygons except the characters--including enemies--and items, which are sprites.)

Thankfully, the sometimes-wonky visuals don't negatively impact its gameplay. In fact, Slime MoriMori 3 seems to play almost exactly like the DS game that's known to most in the English-speaking world as Rocket Slime so far. 

Although that's fine with me, I wouldn't complain if this 3DS title eventually differentiated itself from Square Enix's earlier Slime MoriMori efforts. Of course, I haven't experienced any of this one's ship-on-ship battles, so it's possible they'll provide the uniqueness I crave.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe: Ohanabatake wa Dai-Panic (GameBoy) is both a mouthful and an eyeful

Between May 27, 1994, and earlier this year, I was blissfully unaware of Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe: Ohanabatake wa Dai-Panic's existence.

Then, someone on Twitter pointed out this post about the game on Hardcore Gaming 101.

A glimpse of its candy-coated cover art (see photo below) was all I needed to become completely infatuated with it--which of course resulted in me doing whatever it took to track down a complete-in-box copy this Technos Japan-published title.

For those of you who've never heard of Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe before now, here's the gist: the angel and sun--Marlowe and Philip, respectively--shown on the game's box and cart-label art (see below for a photo of the latter) team up to rescue Marlowe's main squeeze, Nancy, from an evil witch named Amanda.

Oh, and along the way they do what they can to restore the wilted flowers of their world, called Bloomland.

Curiously, Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe's tower-defense-esque gameplay revolves around the above-mentioned flower-blooming campaign.  

Specifically, during each of the game's single-screen stages (there are 40 of them, according to my calculations), Philip slowly meanders around the edge while players use the GameBoy's d-pad to move Marlowe about in a far less restricted manner. (They can place him wherever they want, basically, although there are a few exceptions to that rule.) 

That freedom of movement (on the part of Marlowe) is important, as the goal in each stage is to make all of its flower buds blossom, which is accomplished by positioning a particular bud between Marlowe and Philip and then pressing the GameBoy's A button. (This action also is used to incapacitate an enemy, while pressing the B button injects Marlowe with a bit of additional speed.)

Sound like a cakewalk? It's not, to be honest, but don't take that as a complaint. Even if Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe's difficulty were a negative, it would be easy enough to overlook thanks to the game's wonderfully crafted (and animated) graphics and its ear-pleasing soundtrack.

Have any of you played this import-only title? If so, what do you think of it?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

(Just over) 10 years of PSP memories

On Dec. 12, 2004, Sony made its first portable game system available to the Japanese masses.

For whatever reason, I don't remember much about that date, although I have a feeling that may be because I wasn't all that interested in handheld games and systems at that point in my life.

What I do recall is turning attentively toward the PSP whenever intriguing games were announced for it; games like Loco Roco (2006), Patapon (2007), Gurumin (2008), Half-Minute Hero (2009) and What Did I Do To Deserve This, My Lord? (2010).

It wasn't until the release of Patchwork Heroes (aka Hyakumanton no Bara Bara), though, that I finally was pushed to pick up a PSP of my own. (It can be seen in the photo on the right.)

After that, I quickly added a number of quality PSP titles to my collection--with the two ClaDun games, Corpse PartyHakuokiOnore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke and Sweet Fuse among them.

If I were forced to name a favorite from among this cadre of quirky games, by the way, my response would include a whole lot of sputtering, as I like so many of them that placing one or two above the rest would be an impossible feat.

What I could say is that the games currently on my PSP short list are the aforementioned ClaDun titles, Hakuoki, Hot Shots Tennis, Patchwork Heroes and Sweet Fuse.

Of course, I've yet to play a bunch of other, similarly compelling PSP (or at least seemingly so) games like Jeanne D'Arc, any of The Legend of Heroes entries, either of the MonHun Nikki: Poka Poka Airu Mura releases or Valkyria Chronicles 3, so it's possible that list will change in the coming months and years.

In the meantime, do any of you have any fond PSP memories, or even just the names of some of your favorite PSP games, you'd like to share?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

(Almost) right on time, another episode of The Nichiest Podcast Ever appears

Those of you who enjoy listening to shidoshi, Anne and I wax poetic on anything and everything related to niche-y games and systems may recall that I ended my last blog post about The Nichiest Podcast Ever with an announcement that we're aiming to make this sucker a monthly thing from here on out. (Or from here until whenever we quit doing it, I guess.)

Although we didn't quite meet that goal this month, we got pretty darn close. We're only a week late, after all.

Anyway, this episode, take, whatever you want to call it touches on a ton of niche-y titles, including the Brandish PSP remake that's supposedly coming to North America (via PSN) by the end of the year, Etrian Mystery Dungeon (3DS), Hatoful Boyfriend's second-quarter 2015 release for PS4 and Vita, Keita Takahashi’s (Katamari Damacy) new game, Rodea The Sky Soldier (3DS and Wii U), Suikoden II's long-awaited appearance on PSN, Theatrhythm Dragon Quest (3DS) and Yakuza 5's just-announced localization.

During the much-loved "Cheerleading" segment, Anne discusses Monster Monpiece (Vita), I blather on about a curious Japanese 3DS eShop title known as Pinch 50 and shidoshi attests to the quality of Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth.

Oh, and before I forget: the three of us also spend a good amount of time at the start of this podcast chatting about the 10th anniversary of the DS' North American release and the 20th anniversary of the original PlayStation's Japanese launch. (Sadly, we completely forgot to acknowledge the 10th anniversary of the PSP's emergence. Maybe we can belatedly cover that in our January "take"?)

Should all, or at least some, of the above sound like something you'd like to hear me, Anne and shidoshi talk about, head over to at your convenience.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas comes early thanks to Justin Difazzio

Remember how, a couple of weeks ago, I devoted an entire post to the game-related items on my holiday wish list? (If not, you can read it here.)

The first blurb in that post focused on the handful of Japanese and North American DS titles I'd love to get as gifts--with Okamiden being one of the games in question.

Long-time reader and commenter Justin Difazzio apparently decided that particular portion of my list was aimed at him, as he promptly mailed his completed-and-now-just-collecting-dust copy of Capcom's portable sequel to Okami to me.

The copy in question arrived on our doorstep on Friday afternoon. Justin even wrapped the darn thing (see above) in some snazzy paper and included a rather adorable card inside the same package.

Here's a shot of the game in its unwrapped state. I'd kind of forgotten how nice its box art is. (Its Japanese box art is nice, too.)

I haven't started playing it yet, but I'll get to it shortly. (As soon as I wrap up Fantasy Life, which should happen in the next few days.)

In the meantime, I'd like to offer a heartfelt "thank you" to Justin for sending this wonderful (early) Christmas present and for being an overall awesome guy.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The question is: will SaGa 2015 for Vita be like Romancing SaGa, SaGa Frontier or (barf) Unlimited SaGa?

Actually, before answering that question, we probably should ask ourselves, "why in the hell did the folks at Square Enix decide to make a new SaGa game at all?"

After that, we could ponder, "and why did they decide to put it on the Vita, of all systems?"

Finally, with both of those questions out of the way, the three or four of us who still have an interest in this long-ignored series can move on to contemplating how SaGa 2015 (which I'm assuming is a placeholder name) will compare to its predecessors.

Personally, I'm hoping SaGa 2015 will follow in the footsteps of my favorite SaGa game to date, SaGa Frontier.

The worst-case scenario for me, on the other hand, would be for this new SaGa title to play like 2002's Unlimited SaGa and look like the PS2 remake of Romancing SaGa from 2005.

How about you? Do you have any hopes or fears related to this just-announced game?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Re-introducing: Namco Gallery (GameBoy)

On my birthday last year, I bought myself the trio of games that can be seen in the photos throughout this post.

Even though they arrived on my doorstep shortly after, I failed to photograph them--or, you know, otherwise acknowledge their existence--until earlier this week.

Anyway, the boxes look pretty nice lined up as they are in the shot above, don't you think?

Something you probably can't make out by looking at said photo (unless you click on it to blow it up): the frames featured on each volume's box art include elements that tie in to one or more of the four games contained on that particular cart.

The frame featured on Namco Gallery Vol. 1's packaging, for instance, includes depictions of Mappy's titular police mouse (above) as well as Nyamco (below), the game's antagonist.

(The frames featured on the covers of the second and third volumes include similarly delicious depictions of Dig Dug, Sky Kid and The Tower of Druaga characters.)

The backsides of the Namco Gallery boxes aren't as thrilling as the front sides, unfortunately, but they do give folks a nice look at the colorized versions of each compilation's games.

Just in case you've forgotten which games are included on which Namco Gallery volume, the first one contains pint-sized versions of Battle City, Galaga, Mappy and Namco Classic (a golf sim); the second offers up portable iterations of Dig Dug, Famista 4 (baseball), Galaxian and The Tower of Druaga; and the third consists of Family Tennis, Jantaku Boy (mahjong), Sky Kid and Tower of Babel ports.

My favorites are the most well known titles of the bunch: Dig Dug, Galaga, Mappy and Sky Kid, with the first game's puzzlerific (no, that's not a real word) "New Dig Dug" mode alone being worth the price of all three cartridges, in my humble opinion.

This portable re-imagining of Dig Dug is the only one of the above-mentioned ports to earn a North American release, by the way. I've wanted to own a complete-in-box copy of it for ages now due to its striking box art, but price-gouging eBay sellers have kept me from realizing those desires.

See also: a previous post with a bit more information on the Namco Gallery games

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I wish we were getting a new Shiren the Wanderer title rather than Etrian Mystery Dungeon

Or a new Chocobo no Fushigina Dungeon game. Or a new Torneko no Daibōken adventure.

Both of which, admittedly, would have required at least a bit of (uncharacteristic) interest and action on the part of Square Enix, but the point still stands.

So, why have I gone from being blown away by Etrian Mystery Dungeon's unveiling to wishing the folks at Spike Chunsoft (or whichever developer is crafting this 3DS roguelike) had endeavored to make a new Chocobo no Fushigina DungeonTorneko no Daibōken or Shiren the Wanderer title instead?

For starters, I'm feeling a bit burned out on the Etrian Odyssey franchise at the moment. Or maybe you could say I'm burned out on the idea of the Etrian Odyssey franchise? Because, honestly, although I spent a good number of hours playing through the majority of Etrian Odyssey IV earlier this year, I haven't played or even bought any of the series' other entries since then. I guess all of the recent releases and announcements--Etrian Odyssey Untold I and II, Etrian Odyssey V, even the spinoff of sorts that is Persona Q--have taken a toll on me and my interest in this otherwise appealing IP.

Another reason I've cooled on Etrian Mystery Dungeon in the last few days: I'm skeptical as to how it's going to measure up to past Mystery Dungeon efforts. That's mainly because it seems likely that this title won't feature permadeath, something that's generally considered a series staple, although I'm also sort of stumped as to whether leading four, rather than just one (or sometimes two), characters through this game's labyrinthine dungeons is going to be an interesting change of pace or an annoying impediment. (Oh, and before anyone asks, yes, I know players won't fully control all four party members in Etrian Mystery Dungeon, but leading them around still may prove awkward.)

All that said, I'm very much looking forward to getting my hands on this game and giving it a thorough once-over--even if I end up being disappointed by it. In fact, I've already pre-ordered a copy of it.

Are any of you also itching to play Etrian Mystery Dungeon? If so, why?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Square Enix reveals the next Japanese 3DS game it'll surely fail to release in other regions: Theatrhythm Dragon Quest

Can you tell I'm a bit bitter about how the powers that be at Square Enix have treated 3DS owners outside of Japan?

Of course, it's hard not to feel kind of jaded when you consider that the company has localized just a small handful of its Japanese 3DS games--Kingdom Hearts 3D and the two Theatrhythm Final Fantasy titles are the only ones that come to mind at the moment--since Nintendo's most recent dual-screened handheld launched four or so years ago.

All that said, I'm still planning to pre-order a copy of Theatrhythm Dragon Quest well in advance of its Japanese release, which is set for March 26.

That's not yet possible, sadly, so while I wait for some online retailer (I'm looking at you, to allow it, I'll keep refreshing the game's official site until it offers visitors some screenshots or a trailer.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A custom-painted Dreamcast that supposedly features the system's 'best games' but forgoes ChuChu Rocket! and Space Channel 5? Hmmm...

Granted, it's kind of hard to fault artist Oskunk for focusing on other Dreamcast "classics" like Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio and Shenmue while conjuring up his latest creation--although I'm sure some folks would do just that in regard to his decision to feature Sonic Adventure.

(I can't join them because I've never played any version of Sonic Adventure. In fact, I don't think I've played any Sonic the Hedgehog game past ... the third Genesis game?)

At the very least, I think a fifth character--Space Channel 5's magenta-coifed Ulala--should have been added to this custom-painted Dreamcast's lid, especially since it would've injected some much-needed femininity into the proceedings.

(Switching out Jet Set Radio's Beat for Gum would've done the trick, too, but I fully understand and appreciate that the former is far more likely to be that game's "mascot" than the latter.)

Even in its current, Space Channel 5-free state, though, this concoction is pretty darn sweet, don't you think?

If you'd like to take a closer look at the console or its similarly colorful controllers, by the way, I'd suggest heading over to at your earliest convenience.

See also: previous Oskunk-centric posts

Monday, December 08, 2014

'Tis the season for Snow Bros. Jr. (GameBoy)

There was a time--not too long ago, in fact--when I wasn't all that interested in Toaplan's painfully short-lived Snow Bros. series.

Its garish use of color and its nightmarish cast of characters--including the titular Nick and Tom--just didn't sit well with me, I guess.

At any rate, I pretty much ignored the handful of Snow Bros. ports and sequels that were released over the years until I came across the cover art showcased in the photos below. (Check out my Flickr photostream if you'd like to see a few more.)

The game in question is 1991's Snow Bros. Jr., by the way, which was published in Japan by Naxat Soft. (Capcom brought it to North America the following year as Snow Brothers.)

Admittedly, this version of the game lacks the color that abounds in pretty much all of its counterparts, but that doesn't impact the experience as negatively as you might think.

It helps, of course, that the gameplay found in the arcade original seems to have survived the transition from big screen--or at least bigger screen--to small mostly intact. Also, the portable port's soundtrack is just as zippy and energetic as it is in any other Snow Bros. release.

Let's be honest, though: even if I considered every other aspect of this GameBoy title to be a bit crappy, I'd probably still have searched far and wide for a complete-in-box copy.

After all, just look at its box art--and the contents of its instruction manual, too. I mean, it even includes a little comic strip. What's not to like about that? (Sadly, I don't understand a lick of its story.)

Sure, the back of Snow Bros. Jr.'s box is by far the least enticing aspect of this otherwise-precious package, but you can't always have everything, can you?

Have any of you played this portable take on Toaplan's somewhat-sinister, single-screen platformer? If so, what do you think of it?

See also: previous 'Year of the GameBoy' posts

Friday, December 05, 2014

Shall We Do It? (Fantasy Life, Final Fantasy Explorers Light and Solitiba)

There's a reason I haven't published one of these posts in some time. (Not since Oct. 14, in fact.) Actually, there are two reasons, with one being the North American 3DS title, Fantasy Life, and the other being the Japanese 3DS eShop title, Solitiba.

Although I've put far more time into the former than the latter in the last month and a half, I've gotten such a kick out of playing both of them that no other game has been able to steal my attention away from them.

Well, that's not completely true. I forced myself to download the Japanese demo of Square Enix's Final Fantasy Explorers (called Final Fantasy Explorers Light) a weekend or so ago, after all, and even gave it a few plays before stuffing it into a folder somewhere and moving back to Fantasy Life and Solitiba.

Anyway, keep reading if you'd like to read a few more of my thoughts on this trio of 3DS games.

Fantasy Life--You want to know how completely this recent Level-5 release has me wrapped around its finger? I've put 76 hours into it so far, that's how completely.

Actually, I probably should've said "had" rather than "has" in the sentence above, as I haven't booted up Fantasy Life since I played it for about four hours while flying from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Seattle last Friday. Don't worry, I'll get back to it shortly. After all, I've loved pretty much every minute of it so far--and I've spent a lot of minutes with it.

I've accomplished a lot during all those minutes (and hours) of play, of course, although I've yet to finish the game's main story. I believe I'm nearly there, though, so expect me to wrap it up between now and the next time I publish one of these posts.

The fact is, though, that most of what Fantasy Life has to offer people happens outside the confines of its main story--or, rather, happens while the main story is "on pause," so to speak. In my case, for instance, the majority of my experience with the game has been spent leveling up various "lives"--to the point that I've now spent a good amount of time with eight of the 12 jobs included here. (All of them have been brought up to "Hero" level except blacksmith, which is only up to "Master.") My favorites at the moment: archer and angler, I think, although I honestly get a kick out of all of them.

I still find Fantasy Life's verbose nature to be a bit annoying, by the way, but it's easy enough to skip through all of the blather, so don't worry about it too much if you're on the fence about buying the game.

Final Fantasy Explorers Light--Although I downloaded this demo of Square Enix's upcoming Final Fantasy spin-off (for the 3DS) as soon as it was uploaded to the Japanese eShop, I put off playing it until a couple of days ago due to the fact that I've been luke warm (at best) on its art style ever since I first laid eyes on it a few months back.

Which is a shame, as now that I've spent some time with the game and seen its graphics in motion, it really doesn't look all that bad. It also doesn't look stellar, mind you, but it looks better than I thought it would based on my first impressions.

As for the gameplay, all I've gathered so far is that it's quest-heavy--it's similar to the Bravely Default demo, in that regard--and vaguely Monster Hunter-esque, although I hesitate to say the latter as Final Fantasy Explorers seems a lot less strategic than Capcom's money-maker.

I'm going to play Light for a little longer before making a decision about the full game, but I've got to admit that at the moment I'm leaning toward not picking it up--assuming Square Enix even bothers to release it in North America. (Because there's no way I'm importing and playing through the Japanese release.)

In a way, I kind of hope the remainder of my time with Light prompts a change of heart, because for some weird reason I really want to like it--even with its questionable art style. Why couldn't the artist responsible for, say, the original Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles have worked on this sucker?

Solitiba--I actually stepped away from this (sadly) Japan-only offering after putting about 35 hours into it. Not because I was tired of it, mind you, but because my copy of Fantasy Life arrived and I was just a bit more desperate to play it than I was to continue playing Solitba.

Now that I'm taking a bit of a breather from Fantasy Life, though, I have plenty of "brain bandwidth" to devote to Solitiba again.

In case you haven't gathered already, this is one of those games that latches onto you and refuses to let go without a proper fight. I guess that could be due to the fact solitaire is such a prominent part of it--and solitaire's right up there with games like Tetris when it comes to sucking you in and wasting more of your time than you thought it would, although of course it could be argued that one is a bit less exciting than the other--but I don't think that's entirely what's going on here.

No, I think the real reason Solitiba is so easy to pick up, and so hard to put down, is that all of its elements--the solitaire portions, the horse-racing segments, the magnificent art style, Game Freak's "golden touch"--combine and conspire to produce a whole that's far more enticing than the sum of these aforementioned parts.

As a result, I really hope the folks at Game Freak--or Nintendo, or some other publisher--are toiling away on English and other language versions of Solitiba, because I honestly consider it to be a gem that people all around the world, and not just those in Japan (or those, like me, who own Japanese 3DS systems), should be given an chance to experience.

See also: previous 'Shall We Do It?' posts