Tuesday, March 29, 2022

On why The Cruel King and the Great Hero is a better bedtime story than it is a satisfying JRPG

When the folks at Nippon Ichi Software revealed The Cruel King and the Great King in early 2021, I was ecstatic. I adored The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, a puzzler-platformer with a similar aesthetic and vibe--so much so I declared it one of my favorite games of 2019--and thus expected the world from this follow-up.

With The Cruel King and the Great King being a JRPG rather than a side-scroller, though, I couldn't help but wonder how artist and writer Sayaka Oda and her talented team at NIS would handle the genre switch.

I say this because The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince is a wonderfully accessible, streamlined, and unique take on the puzzler-platformer genre. Before I played it, it was hard to imagine how The Cruel King and the Great King would check those same boxes.


After finishing The Cruel King and the Great King, the difficulty makes perfect sense. Although the game is plenty accessible, and some may argue it's streamlined and unique, too, it's not streamlined or unique in the ways I hoped or expected it would be in the wake of The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince.

One noteworthy case in point: there's no traditional overworld map, dotted with towns and dungeons, to explore in The Cruel King and the Great King. Instead, the game presents players with a minimalistic map that's vaguely Metroidvania-esque. Rather than traverse it by jumping from platform to platform, though, you move from point to point by ambling left and right down tight and barren (but beautiful!) hallways.

This is a lot less taxing than scouring a vast overworld or stumbling through a maze-like dungeon, of course, but I personally never found it to be an enjoyable or satisfying alternative to the status quo, and I'm pretty sure most others would feel similarly about this odd design decision. (For the curious, Nintendo's Miitopia does a much better job of tweaking this staple RPG component.)


Another example of how The Cruel King and the Great King tweaks the RPG formula but ultimately fails to produce something gratifying: party members occasionally learn new battle skills, and some of them allow you to target groups of enemies that are lined up vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Depending on the makeup of your party (and the alignment of your enemies), you can combine these skills to overwhelm the opposition.

Unfortunately, the game conspires in several ways to keep this from happening as often as it could or should. For starters, each character learns just one or two of these skills during an average playthrough. And not only that, but it can take a long time to learn them. Also, enemies typically are grouped in ways that make it possible to defeat some, but not all, using such combos.

Although that's hardly the worst thing in the world, I think The Cruel King and the Great King would have been a lot breezier and a lot more fun if it set things up to make these happen as often as possible. Especially since the game's tussles are fairly ho-hum otherwise.


The Cruel King and the Great King's battles disappoint--though underwhelm may be a better word here--in another important way, too. Early on, the game tells you that you can spare enemies in certain situations. To be honest, that notification basically went in one ear and out the other for me, or whatever the equivalent is for your eyes while reading. Later, I remembered it and looked it up online, worried I might be missing something vital or even playing the game "wrong."

I was missing something, it turns out, but not anything important--as far as I'm aware. If you manage to expose an enemy's weakness and make it sweat, you can let it escape. The thing is, exposing an enemy's weakness is easier said than done, especially early in the game, and even then, there's no guarantee the enemy will agree to flee.

As such, playing The Cruel King and the Great King like it's an Undertale knockoff isn't really possible. Which is just as well, as the game currently doesn't give you any reason to do so. Sparing an enemy doesn't benefit you in any way, or at least it didn't seem to during my playthrough. It was noted in my "monsterdex," but that's it.


It's too bad The Cruel King and the Great King's designers and developers decided to incorporate this element into the experience and then do so little with it. Especially since the story, which follows an orphaned girl who is raised by a dragon and helps local monster-folk while training to become a "hero," is a perfect fit for such anti-RPG gameplay.

Based on what I've said so far, you're probably thinking I wish I'd never wasted my time and money on The Cruel King and the Great King. I don't--and keep in mind this is coming from someone who dropped big bucks on the game's pricey "Treasure Trove" bundle. Oh, sure, the protagonist's slower-than-molasses walking speed occasionally (OK, regularly) got on my nerves. And there were times when the frequency of the battles bugged me, too.

Still, I enjoyed it overall. Its story is the definition of heartwarming and is, without a doubt, the highlight of The Cruel King and the Great King. Its soundtrack is top of the line, too. Even after hearing its main battle theme 100 times, you won't tire of it--or at least I never did. And of course it's filled with gorgeous, hard-drawn art, like most Nippon Ichi games are these days. (See Yomawari, Mad Rat Dead, and Labyrinth of Refrain for evidence.)


There's no denying I expected more of it, though. I consider The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince to be one of the best games Nippon Ichi's ever made. I've played through it four times and would struggle to find fault with it if pressed on the issue.

Because of that, I had high hopes The Cruel King and the Great King would follow in that game's footsteps a bit more than it did. Oh, well, at least it came through with a killer bedtime story.

See also: 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)

Thursday, March 10, 2022

15 overlooked Nintendo Switch games you need to play as soon as possible

My last two posts have focused on overlooked games for the Nintendo DS and 3DS--a pair of systems most people stopped buying games for and even playing years ago.

This post focuses on overlooked games for the Nintendo Switch, a system that, while definitely starting to show its age (it came out five years ago, after all), is far from done selling or being played. 

So why write a post about overlooked games for a system that's still in or near its prime? My main motivator was that so many high-profile and highly regarded Switch games have released in the last five years that a ton of smaller, less acclaimed--but no less worth buying and playing--titles have gotten lost in the shuffle as a result.

Which ones? For me, the 15 discussed below more than qualify as overlooked or underappreciated Nintendo Switch games.


Black Bird

At first glance, Onion Games' Black Bird is little more than a ripoff of Sega's Fantasy Zone with a drab makeover (makeunder?). Dig beneath the surface and give it a proper chance, though, and you'll see there's a lot more to this side-scrolling, wrap-around shmup than copying key aspects of the aforementioned classic's gameplay. And I'm not simply talking about its otherworldly vaudevillian soundtrack. Black Bird features bullet-hell elements, for starters. It's also more strategic. Don't take my word for it, though; give it a try yourself, especially if you're any kind of fan of the genre.

Bravely Default II

Some will say calling Bravely Default II overlooked is a stretch; my response to those naysayers would be to compare how the masses embraced the original Bravely Default and the Switch's version of that game, Octopath Traveler, to how they've reacted to this title so far. Regardless, Bravely Default II is worth a look if you tend to like JRPGs--even if you've yet to experience its precursor. Sure, its visuals are kind of ugly, but they'll more than likely grow on you in time. And even if they don't, the other components on offer here--the fascinating story, the stunning setting, the rousing battles--are sure to do the trick.


Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers

A lot of Nippon Ichi Software (NIS from here on out) titles go unnoticed by mainstream game fans, but I think this one may take the cake in that regard, especially among the company's releases of the past decade. That's too bad, as Destiny Connect is one of the sweetest RPGs I've ever played. It also features time travel, a customizable robot party member, and a stellar soundtrack. The cherry on top for people like me who don't always have time for 60- to 100-hour adventures: Destiny Connect takes just 20 hours or so to finish.

Dungeon Encounters

When Dungeon Encounters was revealed, it looked like an absolute stinker. It proved to be anything but after spending a few hours with it, though. Yes, it's minimalistic to an almost shocking degree, but that just lets you focus on the addictively Etrian Odyssey-esque gameplay it offers all comers. This means you map out floors in Dungeon Encounters, as you might imagine, though the process is more straightforward and less involved than it is in Atlus' long-running series. The game balances out this slight (for some) by having players solve riddles to find new abilities, party members, treasures, and even the final boss.


Fuga: Melodies of Steel

Fuga: Melodies of Steel starts off seeming like the ultimate head-scratcher. The game follows a pack of furry children (young, anthropomorphic cats, to be more specific) piloting a giant tank against an onslaught of Nazi-esque dog-folk in the hopes of reuniting with their kidnapped loved ones. Once you accept its inherent weirdness, Fuga is a joy to behold. In particular, its tank-on-tank (or, more commonly, tank-on-two-or-three-tanks) action is strategic bliss. Fights here begin with a bit of rock, paper, scissors, but quickly blossom into something quite unique. They're surprisingly snappy, too, which makes the game feel like less of a slog than it otherwise might.

Gnosia

I've said this elsewhere a few times now, but here is it again: Gnosia is a Werewolf simulator. If that means nothing to you, Werewolf is a social-deduction game that models a conflict between a small group of murderous werewolves and a larger group of unsuspecting humans. This AI-operated take on the game is set in space and involves evil, alien-like creatures called Gnosia instead of werewolves, but everything else is the same. Gnosia is thrillingly executed, sending players through loop after loop--sometimes in the shoes of a human crewmember, sometimes as a Gnosia--to unravel its mysteries and unlock its gratifying conclusion.


Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk

The main selling point of this NIS production seems to be that you can create a party of upwards of 40 members. I understand why that is, and the idea of it is pretty electrifying (even if it's less so in practice), but for me the real draws here are the unique traversal abilities, like jumping over chasms and breaking through walls, and the story that slowly, but satisfyingly, transitions from acerbic to touching. 

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince

This NIS creation is an accessible puzzler-platformer filled with lovely art, a blissful soundtrack, and a heart-breaking story. It's also the perfect length. A single playthrough takes just five or six hours, which means returning to it once or even twice a year is no bother at all. Doubt you'd ever do such a thing? Consider that I've already completed it four times. That's the kind of experience The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince provides those who give it a chance.


Mon Amour

The first time you play Mon Amour, you'll probably respond as I did and think to yourself, "this is cute, but I doubt I'll play it for very long." Since then, I've put a little over eight hours into it--which is pretty amazing when you consider a single runthrough takes 10 to 15 minutes, at most. Don't ignore Mon Amour because it looks like a kooky Flappy Bird knockoff, by the way. Although it seems the former was inspired by the latter, Mon Amour treads its own curious--and surprisingly strategic--path.

Overboard!

This eShop game bills itself as a "next-gen visual novel," but for me that description doesn't quite fit. While playing it, Overboard! feels more like an elaborate, modern, mystery-themed puzzle game. Your goal is to get away with murder by learning the movements and motivations of everyone else on board a cozy cruise ship and then using that information to your advantage. Overboard! is more interactive than your typical VN, as you may expect. Not only do you direct conversations, but you dictate where you go and when, as well as what you do once you're there. Succeeding as a murderer isn't easy, so you'll likely screw up a number of times before you nail it. Thankfully, a single playthrough often takes 30 minutes or less, so tackling it over and over again shouldn't be much of a problem.


Part Time UFO

Part Time UFO is the type of bite-sized gem that Nintendo used to plop onto the 3DS eShop with some regularity. Such releases have been nearly non-existent during the Switch era thus far, which is a shame. What makes Part Time UFO so special? Without trying to sound too superficial, its candy-coated visuals and syrupy sweet OST are chiefly to "blame," though the gameplay, which blends that of a claw crane with that of a balance-puzzler, deserves credit, too.  

Raging Loop

Like the abovementioned Gnosia, Raging Loop's content cribs from Werewolf. It also has players (readers, if you prefer) go through several loops--though the ones in Raging Loop are far fewer and a lot longer than those in Gnosia. That's where the similarities between the two titles end, though. Otherwise, Raging Loop is very much a visual novel. This means a lot of reading, of course, but the story here is more than captivating enough to warrant it, plus you're regularly allowed to make decisions that impact how things play out.


SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions

Final Fantasy V and SaGa Frontier have long been my all-time favorite RPGs, but this most recent entry in Square Enix's decades-spanning SaGa series is seriously giving both games a run for their money. SaGa Scarlet Grace does so many things differently than practically every other competitor in the JRPG space that I scarcely know where to begin in explaining what sets it apart. An obvious example is its battles, which are even flashier and more visceral than the ones in SaGa Frontier. Traversing Scarlet Grace's boardgame-like overworld is another highlight, as are its plethora of recruitable characters and its Kenji Ito-composed soundtrack.

Sushi Striker

I've been championing this indieszero-developed puzzle game since it was first announced, but it doesn't seem to have done an ounce of good. Sushi Striker is widely considered a bomb and a disappointment due to its overwhelmingly poor sales. Yet I continue to proclaim it's well worth the $15-ish you're likely to drop on a physical copy of the Switch release. (The 3DS version goes for less than $10.) Slinging plates of sushi at an endless parade of cartoonish enemies is a distinct thrill, and the story is bizarrely compelling. Bonus points go to its length and its better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be OST.


Void Terrarium

I don't know who at NIS came up with the brilliant idea to combine a roguelike with a (human) Tamagotchi, but I'd like to kiss them. The result of their brainstorm is one of the most enjoyable examples of the genre I've played in years. Further helping matters is Void Terrarium's bleak-but-intriguing post-apocalyptic setting and its crunchy, industrial-tinged soundtrack.

Honorable mentions: Dandy Dungeon, Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind, Lapis x Labyrinth, Mad Rat Dead, Space Dave!

Monday, February 28, 2022

10 overlooked Nintendo DS games you need to play as soon as possible

Ten years ago--yes, a whole decade ago--I published a post here about five Nintendo DS games you should have played, but probably didn't. That write-up highlighted titles like Daigasso! Band Brothers, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, and Kirby: Canvas Curse.

I stand by those picks today, of course, but I also can't help but feel like they're just the tip of the iceberg as far as overlooked and underappreciated Nintendo DS games are concerned. Hence the creation of the post you're reading now.

A Kappa's Trail

This is a Nintendo DS game--a DSi game, to be exact--but you'll need to buy it via the Nintendo 3DS eShop these days. And even then, you'll need to hurry, what with the eShop closing its virtual doors in March 2023. Why should you bother? Because this Brownie Brown-made title is easily one of the best to ever hit the DSi service. It's an action-puzzle game that has players lead the titular kappa from each lengthy stage's start to its finish using the system's stylus and touch screen. As you can probably imagine, there are countless obstacles along the way--not the least of which is a purple disembodied hand that follows your path and prompts a "game over" if it catches up to you. In short, A Kappa's Trail is unique, tense, fun, and doesn't overstay its welcome.

A Kappa's Trail

Again

You've heard of, if not played, Hotel Dusk and Another Code (Trace Memory in North America), right? Well, Again was developed by the same team that made those well-regarded releases. All three are point-and-click adventure games that task players with solving a mystery. You could think of Again as the ugly duckling of the trio, but don't let that keep you from giving it a try. It lacks a lot of the charm that fills both Hotel Dusk and Another Code, but even so Again features an intriguing whodunit that puts Nintendo's unique hardware to ample use. It even has you hold your DS or 3DS system sideways like it's a book, just like Hotel Dusk and its sequel, Last Window, do.

Alice in Wonderland

If you're looking for a Metroidvania that strays a bit from the norm, track down a copy of Alice in Wonderland. Despite its rather hideous cover art, the game itself, made by a company called Etranges Libellules, is a beaut. Its art style is equal parts The Nightmare Before Christmas and Okamiden. Don't worry, I'm not recommending Alice in Wonderland simply because it looks great. Its gameplay is alluring, too, thanks in large part to the partners who join and assist you in your journey through Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland isn't without fault, I'll readily admit, with the main culprit being the occasional tussles that tend to annoy rather than thrill. The overall experience should prove intriguing enough to make up for it, though, if you're anything like me.

Boxlife

Boxlife

Skip Ltd., otherwise known for blessing the world with Chibi-Robo! and Captain Rainbow, produced a ton of brilliant, bite-sized games for the GameBoy Advance, DS, and Wii back in the day. Boxlife (Hacolife in Japan) is among the cream of the crop, in my humble opinion. It's certainly among the most unique--and not just when compared to Skip's other releases from the era, but also when compared to other puzzle games, period. Of course, what else would you expect from a puzzler that tasks you with cutting pieces of paper and then folding them into boxes? Unfortunately, Boxlife contains just two modes, and both can get pretty tough pretty quickly. If you go into this one thinking of it as a mobile game you'll play for a few minutes here and a few minutes there, rather than something you'll play obsessively for hours on end, though, you'll probably get a lot more enjoyment out of it.

Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime

For a long time--too long, really--I ignored Rocket Slime because I assumed it was a Zelda ripoff starring everyone's favorite Dragon Quest enemy. Boy, was I wrong. In reality, this game is a tank-battle simulator--albeit a cute tank-battle simulator. During said battles, which occur quite frequently, you race around your fantastical vehicle, pick up ammunition, and toss it into one of a pair of onboard cannons, which then launch the ammo at the opposing tank. This tends to be a frantic affair, but it's nearly always enjoyably frantic, so keep that in mind. Also, the game's tendency toward hyperactivity in this area is balanced by the sense of calm that pervades the sections that sit between the tank-on-tank tussles. Here, you happily hop around a lively overworld and gather materials to use in your next, inevitable skirmish. Combined, these disparate components produce a whole that's far more engaging than they have any right to be.

Ghost Trick

Ghost Trick

This Shu Takumi-directed, Capcom-developed release is one of the most compelling Nintendo DS titles around. Ghost Trick is part adventure game and part puzzler, if you can believe it. And the puzzle sections don't play like Tetris or Puyo Puyo, as you might imagine; instead, they basically involve connecting dots. I know it sounds boring, but believe me when I say it's surprisingly captivating and gels perfectly with Ghost Trick's story. Speaking of which, the game's story is a winner, too. It's centered on a guy--or, rather, a former guy who's now a ghost--named Sissel who can't remember who he was or who killed him. Your job while playing Ghost Trick is to help him solve both mysteries. Doing so is a joy, especially when you factor in the game's gorgeous art and music.

Pictobits

If ever a puzzle game could be called an inverse Tetris, this Skip Ltd.-made offering is it. To be honest, Pictobits' gameplay is a smidgen too chaotic for me, but I still appreciate and recognize that it's an interesting puzzler loads of people are likely to enjoy. This is especially true when you consider its overtly NES-talgic visuals and soundtrack. Something to note here is that Pictobits (Picopict in Japan and Europe, Pitcopict in Australia) is a DSiware title, just like A Kappa's Trail mentioned earlier. So, if you want to buy and play it these days, you have to do so via a 3DS (or a hacked DS, I suppose).

Ripened Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love

Ripened Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love

This Vanpool-developed point-and-clicker may be the most bizarre game Nintendo's ever published. For starters, it stars Tingle, the loveable weirdo from The Legend of Zelda series. That alone is a major eyebrow-raiser. Then there's the fact that its story skewers that of The Wizard of Oz. That Ripened Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love is an old-school adventure game not unlike LucasArts' best efforts from back in the day is just the cherry on top.

The World Ends with You

Much like several other DS games discussed in this post, I dragged my feet on playing The World Ends with You for an embarrassingly long time. Don't be like me. If you haven't played this thoroughly modern RPG and you still own a DS or 3DS, get it now. Controlling two characters at once (one with your system's touch screen and stylus, the other with its directional pad or face buttons), as you do while playing The World Ends with You, can be awkward and confusing at first, but you should eventually come to grips with it enough for it to feel something at least approaching exhilarating. The game's controls aren't the only thing that make it stand out from the JRPG pack, by the way. The same can be said of its visuals, soundtrack, setting, and cast, too.

Time Hollow

Time Hollow

Time Hollow is yet another mystery-centric adventure game for the DS, though this one is a decidedly different beast from the ones mentioned elsewhere in this write-up. A key case in point: Time Hollow allows you time travel (to a limited degree) by drawing circles on the screen that open portals to the past. It's clunkier than it could be, not as thrilling as it sounds, and doesn't prevent the game from being fairly linear, but even so I enjoyed the time I spent with Time Hollow and don't at all regret adding it to my collection.

Honorable mentions: A Witch's Tale, Contact, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales, Soul Bubbles, and Super Princess Peach

Sunday, February 20, 2022

10 overlooked Nintendo 3DS games you need to play as soon as possible

The Nintendo 3DS is about to celebrate its 11th birthday and its eShop is set to close in March 2023. Neither piece of news is likely to mean much to many gaming fans. After all, most folks who had even a passing interest in Nintendo's second dual-screened handheld moved on to other systems some time ago. 

As you might imagine based on what I write here and what I share on Twitter, I am not one of them. I still regularly boot up my trusty "flame red" 3DS, in fact.

Are you in the same boat and keen to check out one of more of this portable's overlooked offerings? Or maybe you're returning to the 3DS to buy some of its hidden gems before they become difficult or even impossible to find? Either way, I'd strongly recommend that you consider the 10 titles highlighted below.


The Alliance Alive

OK, so an HD remaster of this JRPG is now available for PC, PS4, Switch, and even mobile, but I'm the kind of nerd who prefers to play the original version of a game whenever possible. As for why you should give The Alliance Alive a try (any version, not just the 3DS one), the main reason I'll offer up is that its turn-based battles are deliciously SaGa-esque. Specifically, you regularly, thrillingly, and randomly "awaken" special moves during tussles with this title's enemies. Its at-first-confounding "guild" system ramps up the excitement even more, as towers that dot the surrounding landscape aid your efforts by doing things like stunning all baddies for a turn or weakening their defenses.


Attack of the Friday Monsters!

If you've ever wanted to play one of those Boku no Natsuyasumi games dorks like me have been blabbing about for ages but you don't own a PS1, PS2, PS3, or PSP, here's your chance. Admittedly, Attack of the Friday Monsters! isn't a "real" Boku no Natsuyasumi game, but it was made by the same company and has a similar vibe. One of this game's strengths, in my humble opinion, is how it makes you feel nostalgic for a time and place you likely never experienced. Another feather in its cap: the rock-paper-scissors-esque card battles it has you play on occasion. Not only do they imbue the game with a welcome sense of tension, but they're pretty fun, too. As for negatives, the only one that comes to mind is that Attack of the Friday Monsters! is woefully short. Just think of it as allowing you to replay the game as often as your heart desires.


The 'DENPA' Men: They Came By Wave

This game first made headlines for being developed by the folks at Genius Sonority, chiefly known for working on various Dragon Quest and Pokemon spin-offs. That pedigree is well reflected in The 'DENPA' Men, though this game is more of a dungeon-crawler than either of the aforementioned RPGs. The main draw here is that you "catch" all of your multi-colored party members (who look a bit like spacemen) by scanning your real-life environment using the 3DS' AR capabilities. Each one can use a single skill--from "heal" and "revive" to "ice missile" and "rising flames"--or they can simply bash foes with their shapely noggins. The cherry on top of this quirky role-player: it's a deliciously streamlined affair that keeps the focus squarely on having fun.


Crimson Shroud

I love role-playing games. Always have--or at least I have ever since I played my first (Dragon Warrior for the NES). Although I still enjoy RPGs that are sticklers for tradition, I prefer ones that try something new. Crimson Shroud sits squarely in the latter camp. Chiefly, it changes things up by adding elements of tabletop games, like rolling dice, to the tried-and-true JRPG genre. Crimson Shroud even looks the part, with party members and enemies alike resembling board-game pieces. Beyond that, Crimson Shroud offers players an intriguing story and an impressive soundtrack composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto of Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy Tactics fame. It needs to be noted that the game can be annoyingly obtuse at times, to the point where you'll probably need to consult Google or an FAQ, but those experiences shouldn't overshadow the rest of its positive moments.


Fantasy Life

Truth be told, I've never been the biggest fan of the action RPG genre of games. Role-players with turn-based battles are much more my cup of tea. Still, I gave Fantasy Life a chance upon its release because it looked too charming to pass up. Charming is the perfect word to describe it, too. In particular, filling the shoes of the game's 12 "lives" (jobs) is a blast. Some, like angler and woodcutter, are more delightful than others, of course, but even the relative duds are fun for a while. As you also might expect, Fantasy Life doesn't entirely follow through on its promises--playing as a cook won't mean running a restaurant a la Order Up! or the like--but that shouldn't keep you from enjoying the overall experience.


Hey! Pikmin

Nintendo disappointed a lot of people when it revealed this game and showed it to be a side-scroller rather than the proper sequel they were expecting. Most of those folks probably passed on Hey! Pikmin as a result, and that's a shame. They're right that it's not the Pikmin 4 they wanted, but it's still a lot of fun--and quite intriguing, too. Hey! Pikmin feels like a mash-up of a Kirby, Yoshi, and Pikmin game, if that makes any sense. It's slower and more methodical or thoughtful than your typical Yoshi or Kirby title, though, and all the better for it, in my opinion.


Pocket Card Jockey

I've exalted the virtues of this Game Freak-made eShop title since day one, and for good reason. For starters, Pocket Card Jockey is thrillingly unique, combining horse racing (and breeding, to an extent) and quick rounds of golf solitaire in an adorably addictive package. It also features a Go Ichinose-composed soundtrack that's catchier than it has any right to be. Finally, it includes a colorful cast of characters, each of whom reveal surprisingly and increasingly intriguing backstories the deeper you delve into the game.


Rhythm Heaven Megamix

The best Rhythm Heaven game is the first, a Japan-only GameBoy Advance title called Rhythm Tengoku. This 3DS offering is a solid second choice, however. A few reasons for this: 1) it combines most of the series' best mini-games with a few all-new ones, and 2) it eschews the control gimmicks of the previous two releases and lets players use buttons. Rhythm Heaven Megamix also is among the most accessible options for folks who want to give this rhythm game a try.


Rusty's Real Deal Baseball

Although I think this eShop-only 3DS game was destined to fail, I'm glad Nintendo made and released it. Not only is Rusty's Real Deal Baseball a secret Rhythm Tengoku/Heaven game, but it also offers up one of the oddest--and maybe darkest--stories in a Nintendo-published release. I don't want to completely spoil the "fun," but expect to read about divorce, single-parenting struggles, small-business woes, and more.


Sushi Striker

Sushi Striker would deserve a look even if all it offered players was a puzzle game focused on furiously slinging plates of sushi at an onslaught of oddball opponents. Although these food-themed tussles are the centerpiece of this indieszero-made game, and for good reason, there's far more to the experience. Sushi Striker also features tons of quirky side characters, a silly story that will regularly bring a smile to your face, and a soundtrack that gets and keeps you in the mood for the hours upon hours of sushi-tossing needed to finish it. (Seriously, I put more than 50 hours into Sushi Striker in 2018.)

Honorable mentions: Ever Oasis, HarmoKnight, Kirby: Planet Robobot, Miitopia, The Starship DamreyTheatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, Woah Dave!, and Yoshi's New Island

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

10 games I would replay this year if I let myself replay games

I used to replay games all the time; I rarely allow myself to do it today.

Why? The main reason is I'd rather spend my free time on games I've yet to play than those I've already experienced. Or at least that's how I've felt the last couple of years.

I'm not quite ready to change my tune here, but if I were, I'd start with one or more of the following games, each of which have been bouncing around in my brain, begging to be replayed, in recent weeks and months.


Chulip (PS2)

I've got a huge soft spot for games made by Love-de-Lic and its many offshoots. Of all the ones I've played so far, though, Chulip has proven the least compelling. I think that's because the Chulip is both quite dark and quite slow. Still, I appreciate and respect its odd and off-kilter aesthetic and story, so hopefully those aspects will carry me through my next Chulip playthrough--should one ever happen.

EarthBound (SNES)

It's been eight years since I last played this cult classic. In the meantime, I've finished both its predecessor, Mother, and its sequel, Mother 3. To be honest, a part of me would prefer to replay the first Mother rather than this follow-up, but I'm going to do my best in the next year or two to push those irrational feelings aside and return to EarthBound, aka Mother 2, instead.

Endless Ocean (Wii)

Considering how popular the Wii was during its peak, I never understood how this game failed to reach a wider audience. It certainly deserved one, in my opinion. Exploring Endless Ocean's watery world was equal parts soothing and awe-inspiring the last time I played the game, and I could use a little (OK, a lot) of both in these uncertain times. 


Fantasy Life (3DS)

After Pocket Card Jockey (below), Fantasy Life is the 3DS game that has stuck with me the most over the years. I've wanted to return to it ever since my first--and thus far only--playthrough ended. Although I usually prefer turn-based RPGs to real-time-action ones, Fantasy Life bucks that trend. Why? My guess is it's due to the game's wide and whimsical selection of jobs and weapons, which conspire to make it a joy to play despite its lack of random battles.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (DS)

As much as I enjoyed playing Bravely Default and Bravely Default II, I'm not sure I enjoyed either title more than I enjoyed this 2010 precursor. Which isn't to suggest The 4 Heroes of Light is the best of this JRPG bunch. It's not. It may be the most charming, though, and that goes a long way with me. I also adore this game's soundtrack, which isn't as bombastic as that of the first Bravely Default but holds its own otherwise.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS)

In a perfect world, I'd play through Hotel Dusk once a year. It offers players such a cozy vibe and such a captivating cast of characters that it's like the video-game equivalent of comfort food for me. This world is far from perfect, though, and so annual replays of this CiNG-made treasure are not an option. But maybe I could get myself to return to it every other year?


Pocket Card Jockey (3DS)

Despite what I said earlier about rarely replaying games these days, me replaying this digital-only curiosity is nothing new. Should I find a way to boot it up again in 2022, it would be the fifth time I've done so, if memory serves. If you're wondering what makes Pocket Card Jockey, developed by Game Freak of Pokémon fame, so seductive, my answer would be that it's a rare example of "the complete package"--cute visuals, curiously captivating gameplay, and cool, jazzy OST.

Raging Loop (Switch)

Why would I choose to replay a visual novel I finished less than two years ago? For starters, I loved my first playthrough of Raging Loop so much I immediately wanted to experience it again. Also, it promises a seemingly aptly titled "Revelation Mode," which promises all kinds of additional content--including the ability to hear side characters' thoughts and witness scenes outside the protagonist's perspective.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (3DS)

My recently realized desire to play through Theatrhythm Final Fantasy a second time comes as a bit of a shock to me. Although I adored the time I spent with this game back in 2013, I've rarely considered returning to it. Now that it's back in my mind, though, I can't stop thinking about it. Mark my words: should I actually boot up some of the games highlighted here in 2022, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy will be among them.


Void Terrarium (Switch)

I get the distinct impression that most folks don't even know Void Terrarium exists, and yet here I am, desperately wanting to give it a second go. Similarly to the above-mentioned Pocket Card Jockey, Void Terrarium successfully mashes up a pair of gaming genres--roguelike dungeon-crawler and digital pet--that really shouldn't work together. It also boasts a sweet and somber story that makes the experience even more worthwhile.


Saturday, January 08, 2022

12 new and old games I want to play in 2022

I did a pretty good job of spreading the love around last year in terms of playing a variety of games on a variety of systems. Sure, the majority of the games I played were played on my Switch, but four were played on my Vita, one was played on my 3DS, and three were played on my DS.

I'm going to try my best to keep that up this year, as the following list of old and new games I want to play in 2022 should make clear.

7th Dragon (DS)
I've wanted to play this Imageepoch-made DS RPG since it was first announced due, mostly, to its adorable character designs and Yuzo Koshiro-composed soundtrack. Hopefully they'll be enough to overcome 7th Dragon's annoying components, of which I've heard there are a few. I'm no stranger to old, frustrating RPGs, of course, so fingers crossed that experience helps me out a bit, too.


Bravely Second (3DS)
I've started this Bravely Default sequel twice since I got my hands on a copy in early 2016. On both occasions, I walked away after just a few hours of play, feeling decidedly disinterested. Will this third attempt be the charm? I have my doubts, but after thoroughly enjoying Bravely Default II (and having a similarly positive experience with the original release), I'm willing to give it a try. If things don't click this time, though...

For the Frog the Bell Tolls (GameBoy)
Oh, look, another game I've tried a couple of times. I don't remember ditching For the Frog the Bell Tolls, or Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru, because a lack of interest, though; rather, I think my previous attempts simply began at the wrong time. That said, I do recall finding this GameBoy title's battles a bit curious, so here's hoping they--as well as the rest of this retro adventure--strike me as appealingly curious during my next go-round.

Fuga: Melodies of Steel (Switch)
I've yet to play the other two games in the Little Tail Bronx series, so why am I champing at the bit to play this one? For starters, I'm intrigued by its tank-centric gameplay. I also rather like how it looks. That's it, really. Now I just need the game to (finally) go on sale, as its $40 asking price is a little too steep for me.


Katamari Damacy no-Vita (Vita)
Truth be told, I'd rather We Love Katamari be ported to the Switch so I can play that game portably. With that being an impossibility (for the moment, at least), I'll settle for giving this Vita entry in the series a go. Don't worry, I'm well aware it pales in comparison to earlier releases. It's still Katamari Damacy, though, right?

NEO: The World Ends with You (Switch)
Being the serious TWEWY fan that I am (though I only finished it for the first time last year), I was beyond excited when this sequel was announced in late 2020. NEO: TWEWY released at a weird time for me, though, and so instead of playing it right away, as planned, it was unceremoniously ushered into a closet to be played at some future date. That future date is going to be sometime in 2022, if I have anything to say about it.

Okaeri! Chibi-Robo! Happy Richie Oosouji (DS)
Chibi-Robo! totally is a "me" kind of series--and yet I've only ever played a bit of its very first entry, released for the GameCube. I'm going to attempt to rectify matters by diving into this direct follow-up (I think?) in 2022 thanks the English fan translation that's been available for the last five or so years.


SaGa 2 (DS)
I was enamored with this game, known as Final Fantasy Legend II in my neck of the woods, as a kid. Mind you, I was enamored with reading about it, not playing it. Oh, I bought and played it, and of course enjoyed it, but I never quite got into it like I did its predecessor, which I played for hours on end. Hopefully a second attempt in 2022, via this DS remake from 2009, will prove more compelling.

Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi (Switch)
Here's another game that I eagerly anticipated playing last year as soon as I got my hands on a copy, only to drop the ball when that happened due to the timing of the release. I continue to think this dungeon-crawler looks masterful, especially its intriguing, near-modern-day setting, so don't expect me to ignore it for much longer. 

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars (Switch)
I can't muster much interest in Square Enix's major productions these days, but the company's smaller efforts? I nearly always adore them. I suspect that trend will continue with this card-themed RPG, especially since its demo impressed me to a surprising degree. In particular, I appreciated its slow pace and mysterious vibe. I can't wait to find out if I feel the same way about the full, final product.


Weapon Shop de Omasse (3DS)
I adored what I played of Level-5's inventive Guild series games back when they released here in 2012 and 2013. Attack of the Friday Monsters! and Crimson Shroud were my favorites, but I also enjoyed The Starship Damrey and Aero Porter. One Guild release I've yet to experience is this "rhythm fantasy RPG" that has players forge weapons for would-be heroes to rent for upcoming quests. 

Yomawari: Midnight Shadows (Vita)
Although it occasionally irritated me, the original Yomawari impressed me overall when I played through it last year. I especially liked its compact setting and its cute-but-also-plenty-unsettling aesthetic. I've been meaning to take a stab at this follow-up ever since, but the timing's never been right. I'm going to force the issue soon, though, due to the fact that a third Yomawari game is releasing in Japan this April.

Monday, January 03, 2022

How I spent my time with video games in 2021

Although I played and finished a lot of games in 2021, I didn't spend as much time with those games as I did with the games I played and finished in 2020.


Last year, for example, I put more than 80 hours into three different games. This year, my most-played game topped out at just over 75 hours.


Despite that, I'm plenty happy with how I spent my time with games in 2021. In particular, I'm happy that four Vita games made the cut this year, as did three DS games and one 3DS game. I failed to finish the 3DS game (Etrian Mystery Dungeon), admittedly, but that's how it goes sometimes.


I'm much more bummed about the fact that I only managed to put three-ish hours into Shin Megami Tensei V between its release and the end of 2021. I didn't dislike the time I spent with this Switch RPG, so my current indifference to returning to it has me stumped.


Who knows, maybe I'll finish it in the new year and it'll appear in my eventual "how I spent my time with games in 2022" post.


  • Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk (Switch) — 75 hours, 30 minutes
  • Bravely Default II (Switch) — 72 hours, 20 minutes
  • Dungeon Encounters (Switch) — 43 hours, 25 minutes
  • SaGa Frontier Remastered (Switch) — 32 hours, 40 minutes
  • Airship Q (Vita) — 28 hours, 35 minutes
  • Gnosia (Switch) — 24 hours, 45 minutes
  • Shiren the Wanderer 5+ (Switch) — 24 hours, 30 minutes
  • Spelunky (Switch + Vita) — 24 hours, 25 minutes

  • Ripened Tingle’s Balloon Trip of Love (DS) — 23 hours, 40 minutes
  • Poison Control (Switch) — 16 hours, 50 minutes
  • Gravity Rush (Vita) -- 14 hours, 40 minutes
  • Pikmin 3 Deluxe (Switch) — 14 hours, 15 minutes
  • Pac-Man 99 (Switch) — 11 hours, 50 minutes
  • A Kappa’s Trail (DS) — 10 hours, 40 minutes
  • Captain Toad (Switch) — 10 hours, 30 minutes
  • Deltarune Chapter 1&2 (Switch) — 8 hours, 40 minutes
  • Mon Amour (Switch) — 8 hours, 05 minutes
  • Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir (Switch) — 8 hours, 00 minutes

  • Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind (Switch) — 6 hours, 55 minutes
  • Tearaway (Vita) -- 6 hours, 50 minutes
  • Etrian Mystery Dungeon (3DS) — 6 hours, 00 minutes
  • Umurangi Generation Special Edition (Switch) — 6 hours, 00 minutes
  • Princess Debut (DS) — 5 hours, 20 minutes
  • Liquid Kids (Switch) — 3 hours, 45 minutes
  • Shin Megami Tensei V (Switch) — 3 hours, 45 minutes
  • Overboard! (Switch) — 3 hours, 25 minutes

How did you spend your time with games in 2021? Feel free to share your own play-time stats, or simply list your most-played titles, in the comments section below.


See also: how I spent my time with games in 2020