Thursday, December 19, 2019

My favorite games of 2019: Lapis x Labyrinth and The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince

If you had told me this time last year that I'd declare Lapis x Labyrinth and The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince my favorite games of 2019, I'd have laughed in your face.

Back then, these Nippon Ichi Software-made games were barely on my radar. I wasn't even sure I was going to buy the localized version of Lapis x Labyrinth. And though I'd already placed a pre-order for The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince by that point, I had a sinking feeling I wouldn't enjoy it.

All those fears flew out the window within minutes of starting The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, and within a few hours of doing the same with Lapis x Labyrinth.

Warming up to and falling in love with The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince was easy. Everything from the start screen, to the opening cinematic, to the introductory tutorial, to the music that accompanied them set the perfect tone for what was to come.

So, what was to come? About five hours of blissful platforming and puzzle-solving.

Actually, it isn't the platforming and puzzle-solving in The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince that's blissful. It's the whole package.

On their own, neither of the above-mentioned components are overly impressive. The platforming in this game pales in comparison to that of CelesteHollow Knight, or even Super Mario Bros. The same can be said of its puzzle-solving elements and those of that sub-genre's stand-outs.

These shortcomings are easy to excuse when they're combined with The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince's story, characters, and atmosphere, though. In that context, they feel like two important-but-far-from-vital parts of a charmingly interactive fairy tale.

Still not seeing why I consider The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince to be one of my two favorite games of 2019? How about this: I can't stop thinking about it. Even after finishing it twice.

Also, I've spent more time thinking about The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince this year than I've spent thinking about Ghost Trick, Last Window, or Mother 3. If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.

Lapis x Labyrinth hasn't had the same long-term impact on my psyche, but it sure affected me while I raced through it this past summer.

That's chiefly because this side-scroller is one of the most visceral--or maybe I should say instinctual--titles I've ever experienced. In fact, once I came to grips with Lapis x Labyrinth's controls and gameplay loop, I made it through the remainder of its frantic, frenetic adventure almost on auto-pilot.

A case in point: after a surprisingly short getting-to-know-you period, whenever "ENCOUNTER!!!" flashed on the screen to alert me of yet another enemy swarm (spoiler: this happens a lot), my fingers basically took over and did what was needed to rid the stage of them.

To be totally honest, I'm not used to feeling so skillful or powerful while playing a game. I usually feel like an oaf--particularly during side-scrolling action titles (a category that aptly describes Lapis x Labyrinth) that require perfect jumps or precise timing.

As such, you might think Lapis x Labyrinth's stressful, stay-on-your-toes action would've worn me out after a while. It didn't. On the contrary, I loved it. So much so that I stuck with it long enough to see its credit roll and put nearly 30 hours into it along the way.

It just hit me that what I've said so far may help you understand why I named Lapis x Labyrinth one of my favorite games of 2019, but it doesn't really help you understand what it's all about or even how it plays.

I'll try to tackle that in an upcoming post. For now, though, hopefully the following description will do the trick. In my mind, Lapis x Labyrinth is one part Etrian Odyssey, one part Muramasa: The Demon Blade, one part Mystery Dungeon "monster house," and one part slot machine.

Actually, I could toss in a couple more games here, like World of Final Fantasy, but I figure that would make things more confusing.

Honestly, it's too bad NIS America didn't put a Lapis x Labyrinth demo on the PlayStation Store, the Switch eShop, or even Steam. Telling people it's an exhilarating, side-scrolling, treasure-collecting dungeon-crawler only goes so far with most folks.

Still, if what I've said here, or what you see here, piques your interest at all, you could do a whole lot worse than take a chance on Lapis x Labyrinth at some point in the new year.

See also: 'Black Bird and Sushi Striker, my favorite games of 2018'

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