Thursday, February 06, 2020

Raging Loop would've been one of my favorite games of 2019 if I'd played it when it came out

It's funny how frequently the games I least expect to like end up becoming my favorites.

Four cases in point from the last 12 months: A Witch's Tale, Hey! PikminLapis x Labyrinth, and The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince.

To be honest, I approached Raging Loop with a bit less apprehension than I approached the just-named titles, but only a bit.

I say that because although I always liked the premise of Raging Loop, which is a Groundhog Day-esque visual novel (or VN) set in a secluded Japanese village and mixed with the social-deduction game called "Werewolf," I wasn't so fond of its art style.

In fact, I kept Raging Loop--or Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P, as it's known in Japan--at arm's length due to the latter until I read this old, glowing game-forum post about it.

Although the above-mentioned write-up pushed me to eagerly pre-order a physical copy of Raging Loop, I didn't pop its cartridge into my Switch as soon as it arrived on my doorstep in late November.

Part of the reason for the delay is I planned to race through it in the lead-up to Halloween. (Physical copies were supposed to hit North America on Oct. 22, but didn't actually do so until Nov. 19.) Also, by the time I got my grubby hands on it, I was knee-deep into Romancing SaGa 3. And after I finished that game, I dove right into Heroland.

Forty-plus hours and far too many weeks later, I wrapped up my mostly positive Heroland campaign and looked for something else to play. That's when I remembered Raging Loop--and promptly fired it up.

Honestly, what followed was something akin to a fever dream. For 10 straight days, I was utterly charmed by and obsessed with this visual novel's nail-biter of a story.

Why is Raging Loop's story so darn compelling? For me, the remote, rural Japanese setting was a big part of the pull. It made everything that happened after the protagonist, a mysterious grad student named Haruaki Fusaishi, enters it all the more unnerving and captivating.

Speaking of which, the "everything that happened after" also plays a major role in making Raging Loop such an engaging experience. As I mentioned earlier, it's got a Groundhog Day-esque time-loop thing going on that I'm sure will aggravate some, but for me it added enough twists and turns to that storytelling trope to seem uniquely thrilling.

The characters that help bring Raging Loop's story to life are another standout component of this creepy VN. It'll take you a while to warm up to most of them, if you're anything like me, but once that happens you'll do as I did and root for more than Fusaishi to make it through "the feast" alive.

The contentious art style grows on you after a while, too--or at least it grew on me over time. In the end, I thought Raging Loop's at-times-off-putting aesthetic was a perfect match for its unsettling vibe.

Still, I have a feeling the visuals here won't sit well with some folks. And even those who like them may be turned off by the general "cheapness" of the game's presentation. There isn't much variety to its character or backdrop illustrations, and while that didn't bother me, it may bug others.

Something else that might annoy Raging Loop readers is its overall linearity. Yes, there are decisions to make, the aforementioned time loops to deal with, and a vast assortment of (mostly bad) endings to muse over, but for the most part you have to tackle them in a fairly straightforward manner.

Clearly that didn't keep me from enjoying the hell out of Raging Loop. In fact, I can't point to a single component of the game that irked me in any meaningful way.

Will you have a similarly positive reaction to this VN should you choose to play--or read, as the kids say--it? It's hard to say. If what I've said so far intrigues you in the least, though, I'd recommend giving it a try.

And if you still need a little push in that direction? Read this Raging Loop review, or check out this game-forum thread devoted to it. They should nudge you to one side of the fence or the other.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

My unasked-for review of Hey! Pikmin: I liked it, I really liked it!

I bought Hey! Pikmin a couple of years ago when retailers were selling copies at a fraction of their original asking price.

It's been sitting in a drawer ever since it arrived on my doorstep, though, because the negative word of mouth that surrounds this side-scrolling Pikmin spinoff convinced me it was a dud.

What prompted me to slip my Hey! Pikmin cart into my flame-red 3DS at long last? This recent write-up played a role, naturally, but so did my desire to play a DS or 3DS game that wasn't an RPG.

Hey! Pikmin fit that bill as well as any other game in my collection, so I started my way through it late last week. Five days and just about 13 hours later, I was done with it--final boss, credit roll, and all.

Although this post's headline should make it pretty clear how I feel about the time I spent with Hey! Pikmin, I'm guessing most of you would like to know a little more about those feelings than just, "I loved it!"

For those folks, here are some of the positives--and negatives!--that stuck out at me while I traipsed my way through Hey! Pikmin.

Hey! Pikmin pros

It looks great--Visually, Hey! Pikmin reminds me of Yoshi's New Island. Which makes a lot of sense, as developer Arzest made both of these 3DS games. Don't fret if you despise New Island's aesthetics. Not only are the graphics in Hey! Pikmin more consistent than those of its Yoshi-starring counterpart, but they're more consistently pretty, too.

The puzzle-centric gameplay is refreshingly unique--At times, Hey! Pikmin feels like it began life as a Kirby or Yoshi game. An example: you use the Pikmin you collect here to defeat enemies and solve puzzles, much like you use eggs to complete those same actions in your average Yoshi title. Overall, though, Hey! Pikmin's gameplay differs just enough from that of the aforementioned counterparts to feel unique. There's no real "platforming"--or even jumping--in this spinoff, for starters. Also, the pace is a lot slower and more deliberate than it is in most Yoshi and Kirby games. And then there are the eponymous, carrot-like creatures, which, as you might expect, provide their own twist to this well-worn genre.

It's almost blissfully short--When I was younger, Hey! Pikmin's brevity would've caused me to blow a gasket. These days, short games thrill me. I no longer have the time or attention span to play more than a couple of super-long games each year. So, Hey! Pikmin was perfect for me in that regard.

Another way it was perfect for me: it didn't overstay its welcome. You might be thinking, "Of course it didn't, you only played it for 13 hours!" My response is that if Hey! Pikmin had included one more sector (world), even one more boss, it would've actively annoyed me. In other words, it basically ended right around when I thought it should. How many times does that happen with modern games?

Also, it's perfect for short bursts of play--If you, too, prefer games that allow you to plug away at them a little bit at a time, you should track down a copy of Hey! Pikmin pronto. Assuming you're still in the mood for 3DS titles, of course. Most Hey! Pikmin stages can be finished in just a few minutes. And most sectors can be finished in an hour or so. It all makes for a pretty wonderful situation if you don't have a ton of free time and you're not a huge fan of games that take months to complete.

I'm pretty sure I'll replay it sooner rather than later--And that's not something I say about a lot of games these days. So why am I saying it here? Because I'm already looking forward to experiencing certain Hey! Pikmin levels a second or even third time, that's why. I'm especially looking forward to revisiting the frosty stages of the "Snowfall Field" sector--like the one that tasks you with controlling Olimar and his pluckable, pint-sized crew while sliding down a mountain atop a bottle cap.

Hey! Pikmin cons

It chugs a bit on an OG 3DS--It's possible Hey! Pikmin is like Poochy and Yoshi's Woolly World and performs better when played on a New 3DS. My only experience with the former title to date, though, is on an OG 3DS. And when played on an OG 3DS, Hey! Pikmin's frame rate struggles a bit on several stages. I'd even go so far as to say it struggles mightily on a few. That's never really bothered me, strangely enough, but I know it bugs others, so I thought I'd point it out here.

It's pretty easy--You know how in most Kirby and Yoshi games, the real challenge comes from nabbing all the collectibles in a stage or finishing a level without taking a hit? Well, the same is true of Hey! Pikmin. If you hate that sort of thing, you'll probably hate this side-scroller, too.

Too few stages force you to use multiple kinds of Pikmin--Considering Hey! Pikmin features five different Pikmin types, you might think it would be chock-full of levels requiring you to use all, or at least several, of them. Nope. The majority only let you use one or two. Just a handful let you use three, and I can't think of a single one that lets you use all five. A missed opportunity, if you ask me.

A number of stages are locked behind Amiibos--Of all the negatives I'm highlighting here, this one irritates me the most. Actually, it's the only one that irritates me, period. Thankfully, most--all?--of the Hey! Pikmin levels that are locked behind Amiibos seem to be of the "secret spot" variety. Meaning they're single-screened, puzzle-centric stages rather than full-fledged ones. Still, it's beyond annoying that you need to own Amiibos to access them.

See also: 'Five Nintendo 3DS games I want to play in 2020'

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The good, bad, and ugly of Heroland (or, why I'm thinking of walking away from this oddball RPG after putting 20-plus hours into it)

The topic of this post may surprise those of you who noticed that I named Heroland in my "favorite games of 2019 that aren't The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince or Lapis x Labyrinth" write-up.

Don't get me wrong, I stand by its inclusion there--despite the fact that I'm giving serious thought to pulling the plug on my lengthy Heroland playthrough well in advance of the game's end credits.

How could I both enjoy this unique PC, PS4, and Switch RPG--called Work x Work in Japan--and bounce off it before encountering its credit roll? That's what I'll hopefully explain here.

The good

Physical copies come with a frickin' instruction manual--And not only that, but Heroland's manual is pretty nice. It's 25 pages long, printed in full color, and filled with a ton of lovely illustrations. Oh, and it's small enough it actually fits in the game's case. I wouldn't suggest buying a physical copy of Heroland just so you can flip through this booklet whenever the urge arises, but it sure is a nice bonus if you purchase one for at least a couple of other reasons.

It dares to do things differently--I love role-playing games to death, but even I think they can be a little too samey. Well, Heroland approaches the well-worn genre from a unique angle. I guess I should've expected that. After all, it was made by folks who previously worked on Fantasy LifeMagical Vacation, and even Mother 3. Heroland doesn't play like any of those titles, though. It's actually kind of--gulp!--mobile game-esque in its design. To advance the story, you take on quests that revolve around guiding four-person parties through areas of a theme park. Said park has an RPG theme, so naturally it features battles with baddies. (Though the baddies here are just other humans in costumes.) Being a guide, you don't do any fighting yourself; rather, you bark out orders to customers who paid to partake in such tussles. That probably sounds boring to a good portion of you, but I've found it fairly fun so far.

Heroland's soundtrack is surprisingly magical--Or maybe I should call it sneakily impressive? I say this because Heroland's OST didn't strike me as superb right away. It wasn't until a couple of days after I started playing it, when I realized I was humming the game's main battle theme, that such a thought entered my head. On a related note, Tsukasa Masuko's work here is more playful than serious or somber--appropriate, given Heroland's amusement-park setting.

The bad

Everyone in Heroland talks too much--Everyone except the silent, afro-coifed protagonist, that is. I'm not always keen on silent protagonists in games, but Heroland's thrills me. I mean, if ol' Lucky (that's the main character's name) added his two cents to every conversation, this role-player would be even more blathery than it is already. Oh, well, at least Heroland's wall of text is witty.

I wish its developers would've gone further with the board game-esque playfields--Although it's possible things open up in this regard as Heroland approaches its denouement, I'm not betting on it doing so. Assuming I'm right, that's a real shame. While the game changes up its sorties now and then by tossing new environments and enemies at the player, they otherwise remain disappointingly straightforward. Personally, I would've loved it if the playfields that serve as the backbone of Heroland's silly quests were filled with twists and turns--or at least a few more slight bends.

The ugly

Battles don't become a whole lot more strategic or even interesting after the five- or 10-hour mark--Though there's more depth to Heroland's skirmishes than the game leads you to believe early on, things seem to level off in that regard once you're a few hours into its story. Admittedly, I'm still enjoying them quite a bit, but I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy them a lot more if I could make even a couple more choices while telling the park's customers what to do against the horde of adorable enemies they encounter during their Heroland adventures.

It lasts way too long--When I started playing Heroland, I assumed it would take me 15 to 20 hours to finish. Around the time I hit the 15-hour mark, I asked folks on Twitter how long it took them to beat the game. The answer I received shocked me: over 40 hours. Twenty hours in, I've long since forgotten the thrust of Heroland's story--which suggests to me it's already gone on far too long. How on earth am I supposed to give it 20 more hours of my time?

See also: 'A few impressions of the recently released Romancing SaGa 3 remake now that I've put more than 20 hours into it'

Thursday, January 09, 2020

10 Nintendo Switch games I want to play in 2020

I put time into a whopping 20 Nintendo Switch games in 2019. (Twelve of which are represented in this recent post.)

I'm not sure I'll be able to top, or even match, that number in 2020, but I'm going to give it my best shot--starting with the 10 existing and upcoming Switch titles below.

Alien: Isolation--I don't know if you're aware, but I'm a huge fan of the first two Alien films. For me, they're the movie equivalent of comfort food. That probably seems kind of weird given the content of those flicks and my preference for cute games, but it's true. At any rate, I've wanted to play through Alien: Isolation ever since it first came out for the Xbox 360 back in 2014. Honestly, I'm worried it's going to be too stressful for me, but I'm willing to chance it.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons cover
Animal Crossing: New Horizons--On the one hand, I'm one of those cranky old codgers who thinks the Animal Crossing series peaked with its original release. On the other hand, I put over two hundred hours into my two (or was it three?) copies of Animal Crossing: New Leaf in the year following that title's release. I get the feeling New Horizons will similarly take over my life after I get my grubby hands on it in March--despite my crotchety misgivings about the direction the series has taken since its debut.

Bravely Default II--I'm not sure why the bigwigs at Square Enix decided to call the third game in the Bravely series Bravely Default II, but whatever. All I really care about is a third Bravely game is coming out. And Revo is working on its soundtrack--I couldn't ask for anything more. OK, I guess I could ask for it to be less prone to exposition than its forebearer. But I'll gladly accept a "return to form" in that regard if everything else about Bravely Default II follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, too.

Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories--I haven't played, or even owned, a single Disaster Report game to date, but I hope to change that with the surprising Switch port of the long-running series' fourth and latest entry. To be honest, I have almost no idea what to expect from Disaster Report 4. Still, I'm champing at the bit to sink my teeth into it thanks to the positive word of mouth that surrounds its precursors.

Raging Loop--I eagerly awaited the North American release of this visual novel once I learned it was not only spooky but featured werewolves. I'm still a bit unsure about its art style, but at least it's unique. Plus, I didn't buy a copy of Raging Loop because its visuals wowed me. I bought it because I've heard only good things about its complex story, multitude of endings, and intriguing "revelation mode."

SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions--My original plan as 2019 came to a close was to purchase and play this game at launch and save the Romancing SaGa 3 remake for early 2020. In the end, the opposite happened. Although I enjoyed the 26-plus hours I put into Romancing SaGa 3 well enough, I'm hoping I'll enjoy SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions even more. At the very least, I suspect I'll have a blast with its battles, which sound a lot more exciting than those of Romancing SaGa 3.

Sega Ages: Fantasy Zone--No, your eyes aren't deceiving you here. This most recent port of Sega's 35-year-old cute 'em up really is one of my most-anticipated games of 2020. After stupidly turning up my nose at it for decades, I fell head over heels in love with Fantasy Zone a few years back via the PC Engine port from 1988. This release should be the best version of Sega's seminal shmup, so of course I'll be buying it the second it hits the North American Switch eShop this year.

Spirit Hunter: NG--Although I wouldn't say I adored this game's predecessor, Death Mark, I also wouldn't say I abhorred it. Actually, I had a pretty good time with it when I played through it last year. The macabre mysteries at the heart of that first Spirit Hunter title were a tad urban legend-esque, but it hardly impacted my enjoyment of it. Does the oddly named NG avoid such clichéd storytelling? I have no idea, but I'm willing to give it a try in 2020 anyway.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore cover
Susume!! Mamotte Knight: Hime no Totsugeki Serenade--I always find it kind of strange when I get excited about a sequel to a game I barely played. Well, in the case of Susume!! Mamotte Knight, I barely played two of its prequels--2010's Protect Me Knight for the Xbox 360 and 2016's Gotta Protectors for the 3DS. Still, I experienced enough of both titles to feel completely comfortable buying this latest entry in the Mamotte Knight series as soon as it releases in my neck of the woods--no matter what developer and publisher Ancient decides to call it this time around.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore--Of all the Wii U games I wanted to be ported to the Switch, this is the one I had the least confidence in ever making that leap. My interest in Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a bit peculiar, admittedly. After all, I've never been much of a Fire Emblem fan (gulp!), and my experience with Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei series has been depressingly limited thus far. Still, my gut tells me I'll get a kick out of this enhanced mash-up.

BONUS ROUND: Moon Remix RPG Adventure--I stupidly left this on-the-way port of cult developer Love-de-Lic's PSone classic from 1997 off my original version of this write-up, so I'm adding it in now. Hey, it's my blog and I can do what I want with it! Anyway, so what's the big deal? For starters, Moon has long been hailed as a quirky "anti-RPG" by those who've played it. Sadly, it's never been translated into English--either officially or unofficially. That's changing as we speak, though, and the end product of indie studio Onion Games' hard work should hit Western Switch eShops at some point in 2020. I'll buy this localized Moon the second it does thanks to my positive experiences with a pair of of Onion's previous efforts, 2018's Black Bird and 2019's Dandy Dungeon.

See also: 'Five Nintendo 3DS games I want to play in 2020'

Monday, January 06, 2020

Five Nintendo 3DS games I want to play in 2020

I know I had the Nintendo DS on the brain in 2019, and I'll probably still have it on the brain this year, but that doesn't mean there's no space in my noggin for that dual-screened system's immediate successor.

In fact, I'm currently scheming as to how I can fit the following 3DS titles--and maybe a few more--into my 2020 gaming schedule.

Bravely Second--Unlike some folks, I loved Bravely Default. Yes, even "that part." So why haven't I played its sequel? I have no idea. The only reason I can come up with is that the urge to start my way through Bravely Second always seems to hit me around the time I finish some other RPG. I guess this means I need to get out in front of such obstacles in 2020. So, the next time I feel like playing an RPG, I'll reach for my long-ignored copy of Bravely Second and then put it through its paces as quickly as possible.

Detective Pikachu--I'm not the biggest Pokémon fan around, but I bought this spinoff anyway early last year because it was on sale. OK, so another reason I bought it is I've developed a soft spot for adventure games in recent years--especially ones that seem quirky. I'm guessing Detective Pikachu also is a bit simplistic given its target audience, but that's fine by me. I'd much rather deal with that than deal with a mystery that forces me to search the internet for assistance every few minutes. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Touch Detective.)

Hey! Pikmin--The staff at developer Arzest, previously responsible for Yoshi's New Island, really went out on a limb when they decided to turn the Pikmin franchise into a strategic side-scroller with this portable release. By most accounts, their risky maneuver didn't pay off, but I don't care. I already own a copy of Hey! Pikmin, so I might as well play it. Who knows, I may end up liking it. It certainly wouldn't be the first time I enjoyed a game everyone else seems to hate.

Persona Q--True story: I didn't own Persona Q when I bought Persona Q2 last summer. Once I had a copy of the latter game in my hands, though, I felt a bit weird about not also having its predecessor. So, I kept my eyes on Amazon, and when it put Persona Q on sale a few months ago, I snapped up a copy. To the surprise of no one, I've yet to boot up either title. I hope to do that and a bit more--OK, a lot more--at some point in 2020.

Project X Zone--I know a lot of people have a rather low opinion of this strategy RPG that's packed full of Capcom, Namco, and Sega mascots. I also know a couple of people who like it quite a bit. That glimmer of hope combined with the inclusion of characters like Darkstalkers' Morrigan Aensland, Space Channel 5's Ulala, and Valkyrie from Valkyrie no Bouken, has me itching to give Project X Zone a try in 2020--even if it proves to be a turd after all is said and done.

See also: '10 Nintendo DS games I want to play in 2020'

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Who says the Nintendo DS is dead (or, I bought 19 DS games in 2019)

In 2017 and 2018, I played just one Nintendo DS game--and it was "just" a DSiWare title, Boxlife. Last year, I played eight. And not only that, but I finished each one. (Read about them here and here.)

Unfortunately it didn't put as big of a dent in my backlog as I hoped it would. That's because I added 19 DS games to my collection in 2019.

They are, in alphabetical order:
  • Another Code: Two Memories
  • Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island
  • Disgaea DS
  • Enchanted Folk and the School of Wizardry (the European version of Magician's Quest: Mysterious Times)
  • Final Fantasy Tactics A2
  • Gabu Gabu Planet

  • Gyakuten Saiban: Yomigaeru Gyakuten (the Japanese version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney)
  • Magical Starsign
  • Marl-oukoku no Ningyou-hime (the Japanese version of Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure)
  • Mawashite Koron
  • Princess Debut
  • Puzzle Series Vol. 5: Slitherlink
  • Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure

  • Touch Detective 2 1/2
  • Trace Memory
  • Unou no Tatsujin: Soukai! Machigai Museum
  • Unou no Tatsujin: Soukai! Machigai Museum 2
  • Witch Tale: Minarai Majo to 7-Jin no Princess (the Japanese version of A Witch's Tale)
  • The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
Have you played any of these DS games? If so, share your thoughts on them in the comments section of this post.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

How I spent my time with video games in 2019

Not only did I finish more games in 2019 than I have in many years (read about them here and here), but I simply played more games in 2019 than in recent years, too.

Also, I spent more time with the games I played in 2019 than I can remember doing in ages.

Don't take my word for it; scan the following list and then compare what you see there to what you see on the similar lists I prepared for 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.

My 25 most-played games of 2019:
  • Final Fantasy Tactics A2 (DS) — 65 hours, 40 minutes
  • Ever Oasis (3DS) — 50 hours, 15 minutes
  • Pocket Card Jockey (3DS) — 43 hours, 30 minutes
  • Mother 3 (GameBoy Advance) — 32 hours, 35 minutes
  • Lapis x Labyrinth (Switch) — 29 hours, 35 minutes
  • World of Final Fantasy Maxima (Switch) — 26 hours, 30 minutes
  • Romancing SaGa 3 (Switch) — 26 hours, 25 minutes
  • Crimson Shroud (3DS) — 22 hours, 15 minutes

  • Dandy Dungeon (Switch) — 22 hours, 10 minutes
  • Heroland (Switch) — 20 hours, 25 minutes
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Switch) — 20 hours, 10 minutes
  • A Witch’s Tale (DS) — 17 hours, 45 minutes
  • Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch) — 17 hours, 30 minutes
  • The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch) — 15 hours, 45 minutes
  • Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure (DS) — 15 hours
  • Last Window: The Secret of Cape West (DS) — 14 hours, 40 minutes
  • Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn (3DS) — 14 hours, 40 minutes

  • Tetris 99 (Switch) — 12 hours, 45 minutes
  • Ghost Trick (DS) — 12 hours, 30 minutes
  • Kirby Triple Deluxe (3DS) — 10 hours
  • The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince (Switch) — 9 hours, 30 minutes
  • Katamari Damacy Encore (Switch) — 8 hours
  • Dragon Quest XI S (Switch) — 7 hours, 45 minutes
  • Yo-kai Watch 3 (3DS) — 7 hours, 45 minutes
  • Touch Detective (DS) — 7 hours, 15 minutes
So, how did all of you spend your time with games in 2019? Feel free to share your play-time stats in the comments section of this post.