Friday, January 30, 2015

Five things I actually like about Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley

Despite what I wrote in this post earlier in the week (and on Twitter over the last number of weeks), I don't hate Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley.

In fact, there are quite a few things I like about this decidedly and unfortunately controversial 3DS title. Among them are its:

* art style--I'm sure a lot of people absolutely loathe how this game looks, but I'm not one of them. In fact, I'm quite fond of its low-poly aesthetics, which harken back to the days of the original PlayStation and the Nintendo 64. I especially like the bobblehead-esque human characters, and the animals are pretty darn cute, too.

* soundtrack--The Lost Valley's soundtrack isn't going to outright wow anyone or make them think it was produced by Nobuo Uematsu or someone like that. (Instead, it was composed by Tsukasa Tawada, who previously worked on the Keio Flying Squadron title and a bunch of Pokémon spinoffs.) Still, it's enjoyably subtle, if a bit repetitive. I haven't yet gotten sick of any of its tunes, though, which I'd say is a pretty good sign, all things considered.

* characters--By this, I don't mean character designs, especially as I mentioned them earlier. No, I'm talking about the characterizations featured in The Lost Valley. Each of the non-player characters you encounter in this game have unique and appealing (for the most part, at least) personalities. I wouldn't call them amazing, mind you, but I'd definitely say they're more pleasant than they have any right to be.

* story--In a way, at least. I mean, in a way, I hate this game's story with the heat of a thousand suns--mainly because it's responsible for the first, in-game year taking place in a nearly constant winter--but aside from that, I like its overall arc about returning the seasons to this desolate land by enlisting the aid of its handful of denizens.

* developer's daring (some may call it bat-shit crazy) decision to put and leave players in a completely uncomfortable situation for long periods of time--This one's another odd choice (just like the last bullet point), I have to admit, as it's the aspect of this game that is sure to piss off nearly everyone who plays it. Still, you've got to give it to the folks at Natsume (and Tabot, Inc.) for having the balls to take such a route. If only it had resulted in something that were more artistic and less ... annoying.

See also: previous posts about Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's totally Tiny Cartridge's fault that I bought these 'Cyber Neko-Nyan' silicon covers for my 3DS XLs

Late last year, the Tiny Cartridge crew published a post about Cyber Gadget's adorable cat-themed "silicon covers" for the 3DS XL.

Being the crazy cat- and 3DS-lover than I am, I included a couple of these accessories on my birthday and Christmas wish lists. Apparently they were deemed inappropriate present fodder, though, so I ended up buying two of them for myself shortly after the holidays.

The pink and tortoiseshell covers shown in the photos above and below are the results of that early-2015 shopping spree.

I slightly prefer the tortoiseshell one (buy it here), I have to say--which is sure to shock some of you. (Hell, it kind of shocks me, given my love of all things pink.)

The entirety of the tortoiseshell cover can be seen above. I love how it even has a little nub of a tail on its backside. (Not that I often look at the bottom of any of my 3DS systems.)

Here's a shot of the pink cover's packaging--which isn't nearly as precious as the tortoiseshell version's packaging, but what can you do?

Also, it has to be noted that the pink cover (buy one here) doesn't feature a tail on the underside. Bummer.

A number of additional designs (breeds?) are available, by the way, so if you'd rather encase your 3DS XL or LL in a black or white or tabby silicon cover, head over to when you have a chance.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

#ADecadeofDS: Taiko no Tatsujin DS

Amount of time devoted to this DS game in the last week--Three hours, 39 minutes.

Most recent boss toppled, location reached or milestone achieved--I've played through (and earned golden crowns for) the easiest versions of all of the songs that are available to me at the moment. I've also played a handful of the daily challenges.

Overall comments on the experience--Before I tucked the colorful Taiko no Tatsujin DS cart into my 3DS last weekend, I imagined it would be a nightmare--or at least a bore--to play using buttons rather than a pair of styli. I mention that because despite those misgivings, I began my first Taiko DS foray by--you guessed it--using the former instead of the latter.

I'm glad I did, because it forced me to recognize that this style of play actually is pretty fun. It can be a little awkward, yes--especially when you have to press the left and right shoulder buttons on your DS or 3DS system at the same time to hit a blue "Big Note"--but it's nowhere near as unplayable or even uncomfortable as I thought it would be.

As for playing the game using the two Taiko-branded styli that came packed inside its case, that's nice, too, of course, although it can be a bit trying to transition from one control method to the other. (I've been switching between the two because I don't want to scuff up the screens of my 3DS.) Also, using the styli-plus-touch-screen combo can feel less accurate than buttons now and then--particularly when tackling the blue "Big Notes" mentioned above.

With that out of the way, the other obvious aspects to focus on while critiquing Taiko no Tatsujin DS are its soundtrack and its aesthetics. The former's more important to the overall enjoyment of this game, I think, so let's start with it. Although just 35 songs are on offer here (I've only got access to 30 of them at the moment), that's proven to be more than enough for me thanks to the variety of the selection.

Among the genres represented in this particular title: anime, classical, folk, J-POP and "game music." I can't say I knew any of the included anime or J-POP tunes before I began this Taiko journey, but that didn't keep me from enjoying every single one of them after a couple of plays.

As for the aesthetics, well, that's the element of the Taiko series that first grabbed my attention way back when, so it should go without saying that I find it awfully appealing. Of course, it's bright, colorful, cute and very Japanese--what's not to like? That its protagonist, Don-chan (an anthropomorphic taiko drum), is beyond adorable--not to mention one of my favorite game mascots--helps matters a good deal, too.

In the end, the nearly four hours I've put into Taiko no Tatsujin DS so far has me pining to play other iterations--especially one or more that use the famed "Tatacon" controllers--as soon as humanly possible.

Will I continue to play this game in the coming days, weeks and maybe even months?--Definitely, although it's likely to be set aside sooner rather than later so I can play the first Taiko no Tatsujin title that was released for 3DS a few years ago, which I recently picked up.

Do I recommend it to others?--If you tend to enjoy playing rhythm games and you also like--or at least don't actively dislike--Japanese music, yes, I'd very much recommend buying this game. I'm not entirely sure this is the best version to buy, though, if this is going to be your first time at the Taiko rodeo, so to speak. Both the second and third Taiko DS titles seem to be more robust experiences (offering more songs and modes), for example, and the PSP and Wii iterations are widely adored, too, so consider them if prices for this iteration are too high for your liking.

Next up--Zombie Daisuki

See also: previous #ADecadeofDS posts

Monday, January 26, 2015

Shall We Do It? (Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley)

If you follow me on Twitter, you've likely seen me comment on my Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley playthrough quite a bit over the last couple of weeks.

A lot of those tweets have been pretty negative, and for good reason. This 3DS game--which was made internally at Natsume rather than by the folks at Marvelous Entertainment--does nearly everything it can to break the heart and soul of the person playing it.

First, there's the blink-and-you'll-miss-it passage of time. As in, each in-game day lasts about five minutes in the real world--which may not sound all that bad, but it surely is when you have to try to fit tending to your crops, milking and feeding your cow, chatting with semi-random visitors and many other, similar sorts of tasks into such a severely compressed period of time.

This is what summer looked like in my version of
The Lost Valley--for two whole days.

That's especially true when it comes to the portions of the game that revolve around watering flowers and other plants as well as the Minecraft-y ones that involve re-sculpting the landscape (by digging into the earth or excavating stone) in various ways. Crops are fertilized, watered and harvested one plant at a time, for instance, and digging and excavating stick to a similar formula.

Another way in which The Lost Valley attempts to deter even the most Pollyanna-ish players is tied to all of the annoying "fetch quests" that are forced on those who would like to push along the story that sits at the center of the experience.

Here's a much more typical view of my particular
portion of this 3DS game's world.

And believe me, you'll want to push along the story as quickly as you're able, as doing so allows you to eradicate from the game one of its biggest and most obnoxious issues, which is its seemingly never-ending winter.

For those of you who've yet to read or hear much about The Lost Valley, you may be surprised to learn that it drops you (or, rather, your avatar) into a desolate, snow-covered landscape. Unbelievably, that's about all you'll see for the first 20 hours or so, assuming your playthrough is anything like mine has been so far. That's because, as per the game's story, your main task during your first year in The Lost Valley is to help bring the seasons back to this harsh and deserted environment. Although it's possible you'll be able to do what it takes to see a couple days of spring, summer or fall before they cruelly snap back to winter, the most likely scenario is that your initial 120 days with this title (each season lasts 30 in-game days) will be spent staring at a blanket of white.

Presented without comment.

As I said while recording the latest episode of The Nichiest Podcast Ever, a part of me actually respects and even appreciates that The Lost Valley's developers were so brazen as to plop players into such an uninviting world. Another part, though, absolutely hates them for it, as what seemed like an acceptable-enough situation for my first few hours with the game has since become almost unbearable.

Note I just said "almost" unbearable rather than, say, completely unbearable. That's because despite all of my complaints so far, I've still devoted more than 20 hours to The Lost Valley since I first crammed its cart into my 3DS a couple of weeks ago. Clearly, something keeps drawing me back, even if that "thing" is nothing more than a stubborn desire to prove--to myself, to shidoshi, to designers who surely snickered as they pieced together this masochistic experience--I can make it through the game's abominable opening salvo.

Believe me, I enjoyed summer as much as I could while it lasted.

I'm nearly through my first year in The Lost Valley, by the way, so it's possible the game will take a turn for the better shortly. Being an avowed cynic, I'm not going to place any money on that coming to fruition, but who knows? Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised for once.

Even if I'm not, I'm planning to plow ahead (pun intended), at least for the time being. I won't be shocked if my interest in the game wanes sometime the next week or two, though, as I just can't imagine it's going to change enough once I rid the world of its oppressive frigidity to the bowels of hell--or somewhere similarly suitable--to keep my attention. 

I'll let you know one way or the other in my next "Shall We Do It?" post, of course. In the meantime, have any of you played Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley? If so, what are your thoughts on its particular pros and cons?