Saturday, December 31, 2022

10 games I want to play in 2023

The vast majority of the games I played in 2022 were played on my cherished, Splatoon 2-colored Nintendo Switch.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I usually prefer to spread my gaming love among several systems, both new and old.

As such, I want to do more than just play Switch games in 2023. I also want to play the following:

Another Code: R

Another Code: R (Wii)

I'm one of those nerds who adored developer CiNG and all of the brilliant games it managed to release during its relatively short lifespan. Or at least I've adored all of its games that I've tried to date, which includes the original Another Code (Trace Memory in North America), Hotel Dusk, Last Window, and Again. I've yet to play the company's lone PS2 effort, Glass Rose, or the Wii-based follow-up to the first game I mentioned here, Another Code: R. Although I don't see myself tracking down and starting through Glass Rose anytime soon, I'd like to finally check out Another Code: R in 2023. I love its art style and I similarly adore the Nintendo Wii, so I'm struggling to see how it won't quickly find a place in my heart alongside the other CiNG products I've experienced.

E.X. Troopers (3DS)

So many people I respect regularly sing the praises of E.X. Troopers. I took the first step to finding out if it's my cup of tea, too, by buying a copy of the 3DS version a few years ago, but I've yet to even slip its cartridge into my 3DS. I'll be honest here: I'm worried its gameplay won't thrill me the way it does so many others, but I want to give it a solid go all the same.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers (Wii)

Like many folks, I was miffed when Square Enix announced this Final Fantasy spinoff for the Wii rather than a mainline entry or even an actual Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles sequel that iterated on the original's ARPG gameplay. Now, though, pretty much everything about The Crystal Bearers appeals to me, from its dashing protagonist to its bizarre gameplay. 

Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society (Switch)

I ignored this game's predecessor, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk, for years despite generally loving Nippon Ichi Software releases because its gigantic parties of 40 or so members seemed both ridiculous and overwhelming. Once I got to playing it, though, I learned it wasn't too much to handle at all, and actually was an interesting departure from the norm. I've heard this follow-up treads similarly unique ground, so I plan to dive into it as soon as a copy is in my greedy hands in mid-February.

Me & My Katamari

Me & My Katamari (PSP)

Full disclosure: although I thoroughly love the original Katamari Damacy game, I've never played any of its sequels. I've bought most of them, but never even booted them up. That includes this PSP release. I'm pretty sure I've said here before that I would try to play Me & My Katamari, but I failed to follow through on it. Hopefully I can get off my butt in that regard this time. I've heard it's worth the effort, even if it doesn't exactly live up to the lofty expectations set by pair of PS2 releases that preceded it.

Popolocrois (PSP)

I have a feeling this isn't the first time I've publicly vowed to play this PSP game, too. Like Me & My Katamari, I've avoided Popolocrois for a few reasons, with the main one being that word of mouth on it isn't all that positive. Still, I've wanted to experience some version of this game ever since I first became aware of it decades ago (via the Japan-only PlayStation title from 1996), so I should probably get it over with and see if it's been worth all the fuss.

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney (3DS)

Why I didn't buy and try this curious crossover when it first came out is beyond me. I've thoroughly enjoyed every Professor Layton game I've played to date, and the same is true of the Ace Attorney games I've played, so of course I'd enjoy this one, too, right? I suppose it's possible I won't, but I'm willing to chance it. If only copies didn't cost so blasted much these days.

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney

Romancing SaGa (Super Famicom)

I've attempted to play the original version of Romancing SaGa a few times over the years. At least a couple of those attempts were made using an actual Super Famicom cart of the game, while the rest involved a ROM of the same. I'm fairly sure all took place before any worthwhile English walkthroughs existed. Now that one does, and now that a complete English fan translation can be found online, too, I'm ready to try again. I know I could just play the more modern Minstrel Song remake, but for now I want to tackle the original. Don't worry, I own a copy of the Minstrel Song remaster that released recently, so I'll fall back on that if needed.  

Tengai Makyou II: Manji Maru (DS)

I was one of those odd kids who proudly owned a TurboGrafx-16 back when it was current (and a distant third option for game fans after the SNES and the Genesis). I even owned one of those devastatingly expensive TurboGrafx-CD units. One of the games I bought to put the latter device to use was Tengai Makyou II: Manji Maru. I was obsessed with it at the time. It looked unlike any RPG I'd ever laid eyes on up to that point. The battle scenes, in particular, blew me away with their dynamic animations. Unfortunately, the language barrier proved to be far too massive for my puny brain to overcome. Thankfully, walkthroughs are a thing now (they weren't then), so I'll refer to as many as are needed if I tackle Tengai Makyou II's Nintendo DS port this coming year.

Void Terrarium 2

Void Terrarium 2 (Switch)

The first Void Terrarium was one of my three favorite games of 2020. That game daringly combines a futuristic roguelike (one of my favorite genres, currently) with a human Tamagotchi. Like many such NIS mashups, it sounds like an obscene mess on paper, but seems brilliant once you play it. To be honest, previews of Void Terrarium 2 have me worried it will be disappointingly derivative (it often looks like a retread of the first game), but those who have played the Japanese release swear it's an honest-to-goodness sequel, so I'll take them at their word and fervently anticipate its North American launch in late February.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Seven games I sadly failed to finish in 2022

I finish nearly every game I decide to start.

Or at least I did before this year. 

As I mentioned in my "favorite games of 2022" post, this year has been a weird one in many regards, but it's been especially so in terms of my interaction with and enjoyment of video games.

For reasons I can't fathom, I failed to finish a whopping seven games this year. The games in question are 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, Fuga: Melodies of Steel, Live A LiveNora and the Time StudioSaGa 2 Hihō Densetsu: Goddess of DestinyShin Chan: Me and the Professor on Summer Vacation, and Skyrim.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (Switch)

I've wanted to play this Vanillaware game since it was first announced for the PS4 and Vita several years ago. Yet when I finally got a chance to play it, I bailed after just over an hour. To be sure, this bailing had little to do with 13 Sentinels' story or gameplay and a lot to do with the fact that tacking its strategy segments with a drifting Switch Joy-Con proved to be more than I could handle at the time.

If I'm to be honest, though, the existence of these strategy segments played a small role in my disenchantment with 13 Sentinels, too. I've never been a big fan of real-time strategy games, so sticking one into an otherwise-compelling visual novel was never going to thrill me.

Don't worry, I'm planning on returning to 13 Sentinels in 2023 and giving it a proper chance, RTS segments be damned. I won't be doing so until I fix or replace my current pair of Joy-Cons, though, that I can assure you.

Fuga: Melodies of Steel (Switch)

Unlike 13 Sentinels, I put a good amount of time into Fuga: Melodies of Steel before walking away from it earlier this year. Over 11 hours, to be exact. Which suggests I liked it quite a bit, right? I did, in fact. Unfortunately, a Fuga boss that gave me more trouble than expected and a (real life) trip that occurred around the same time conspired to both take me away from the game and keep me from returning to it.

Again, the plan is to give Fuga: Melodies of Steel another go sometime next year. Perhaps strangely, I'm considering starting over with it. After my abovementioned boss woes, I did some sleuthing online and learned that I made a few decisions during my aborted playthrough that likely led to that unfortunate roadblock. A fresh start should keep me from repeating the experience.

I think the hard work will be worth it regardless, as Fuga's two-dimensional, turn-based tank battles and cute, furry crew proved to be quite captivating during the 11-plus hours I put into the game a few months back.

Live A Live (Switch)

As is usually the case, I can't remember exactly why I failed to finish Live A Live after devoting about 10 hours to it shortly after it hits store shelves in July. What I do remember: I had a great time with the four stories I managed to complete in the time I spent with this HD-2D remake. I especially liked the prehistoric chapter that focused on a lovelorn (some might just say horny) caveman and his colorful crew—which includes an ape that injures baddies with his farts and poop.

This JRPG's unique settings—others include ancient China, the Wild West, and a spaceship in the distant future—were the highlight here for me, though I also appreciated how each story lasted a few hours at most. You'd think that would've made it easy for me to plow through the whole she-bang in a breezy 20 hours or so, but somehow I felt a bit burned out by the time I wrapped up my fourth chapter. Considering I've only got three more to go, I should be able to complete the rest before similar feelings set in after I circle back to Live A Live sometime in 2023.

Nora and the Time Studio (Nintendo DS)

I've dreamed of playing this Atlus-made Atelier-like since I first heard about it in early 2011. Not because I'm a huge fan of the Atelier series, mind you (I've yet to play a single entry), but because I think it looks adorable and because I've rarely met a Nintendo DS game I didn't like. I had no hope I'd ever be able to enjoy it due to the language barrier, though. (It never earned an official North American or European release.) Or at least I didn't until I learned earlier this year that an English fan translation for Nora was out in the wild.

At any rate, I enjoyed the four or so hours I put into Nora and the Time Studio this summer thanks in large part to its gorgeous sprite art and charming characters. The only complaint I can level at it at the moment is that I found its gameplay to be more restrictive than anticipated. In some ways, it reminds me of another DS title I played in 2021, Princess Debut. The two titles are worlds apart in terms of genre, but both seem aimed at a similar audience and feature fairly (sometimes overly) simplistic gameplay. Should a bit of digging suggest Nora and the Time Studio is a relatively brief affair, I'll probably return to it in 2023. Otherwise, I think I had my fill this year.

SaGa 2 Hihō Densetsu: Goddess of Destiny (Nintendo DS)

It's hardly a secret at this point that I generally adore Square Enix's SaGa series. SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions has been one of my favorite Switch games to date, and SaGa Frontier is one of my favorite games of all time. Long before these two titles were even a twinkle in creator Akitoshi Kawazu's eye, though, there were the trio of GameBoy games that started it all. My fondest memories are for the first release, known as SaGa in Japan and The Final Fantasy Legend in North America, but I have a lot of love and affection for its sequel, too.

This is a three-dimensional reimagining of that game, as you might imagine. Although I'm sure it was more impressive back when it first came out in 2009, it remains a nice-looking game. It's a lot easier to play than the original GB release, too, thanks to various quality-of-life improvements. It's still quite stilted in that regard in comparison to more modern JRPGs, though, and I think that, along with the random and regular-ish difficulty spikes, is what prompted me to throw up my hands in surrender after nearly 26 hours of play. Will I willingly circle back to it in 2023? I can't imagine it at the moment, but stranger things have certainly happened, so who knows.

Shin Chan: Me and the Professor on Summer Vacation (Switch)

Here's another game I spent a lot of time looking forward to playing before I finally got my grubby mitts on it. (It released in Japan over a year before it released in my neck of the woods.) As with 13 Sentinels, though, I walked away from Me and the Professor on Summer Vacation surprisingly quickly.

What was the reason? The biggie is that I just wasn't finding it as interesting or enjoyable as I thought I would. Also, and I hate to admit this, I think the Shin Chan characters and aesthetic weren't doing it for me. I would've far preferred for this to be a real Boku no Natsuyasumi game, even though I know that probably wouldn't be possible at this point in time (what with the Switch being the leading platform here, and Boku's close ties to Sony and the PlayStation).

Still, the plan is to return to Me and the Professor on Summer Vacation as soon as possible in the new year. Whether I actually accomplish that task is anyone's guess, though. Who knows, maybe the long-promised physical version will materialize soon and that alone will prompt a reappraisal of the game. Fingers crossed, regardless.

Skyrim (Switch)

Of all the games highlighted here, this is the one I put the least amount of time into in 2022 before dropping it for something else. To be honest, Skyrim has never seemed like my cup of tea. I only bought it after its Switch port released because multiple people whose opinions I respect suggested I would enjoy it. Based on my admittedly terse experience with it so far, I remain doubtful.

The classic European fantasy aesthetic doesn't do Skyrim any favors for me. Nor does the huge, open world (something that's always been hit or miss with me) or the real-time WRPG gameplay. Still, I've barely scratched the surface of what the game supposedly has to offer, so I'll try to push these semi-negative thoughts to the very back of my brain if I give this fifth Elder Scrolls adventure a second chance in the coming year.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

My favorite games of 2022 that weren't released in 2022

I wasn't planning on publishing a post about my favorite games of 2022 that weren't actually released in 2022 (hence the little bonus note at the end of my last write-up), but then I got to thinking about it and decided I had a few things to say about these not-quite-current games after all. So, here we are again.

Chack'n Pop (Arcade, PS4, Switch)

OK, so I'm starting things off on a rather questionable note. I say that because technically the version of Chack'n Pop I played and enjoyed this year (Hamster's Arcade Archives port for the Nintendo Switch) was released during 2022. Calling it a 2022 release seems disingenuous at best, though, considering it was introduced to the world as an arcade game all the way back in 1983.

At any rate, Chack'n Pop is a wonder. It's often called a precursor to Bubble Bubble, and while that's true (Bubble Bobble didn't come out until 1986), it's only true in terms of release dates and a small amount of character overlap. In terms of gameplay, the two titles couldn't be more dissimilar. Chack'n Pop is slow and methodical, to the point it often feels like a puzzle game. Also, whereas even people who are terrible at Bubble Bobble can make it through a multitude of stages, especially if they use continues, those who find Chack'n Pop challenging will struggle to make it through more than a couple. I could be said to be included in this bunch, by the way, but that hasn't kept me from continuing to plug away at and thoroughly enjoy the game.

The Fairyland Story (Arcade, PS4, Switch)

Oh, look, another game often described as a Bubble Bobble precursor. This one more strongly resembles that 1986 classic, though, especially as far as its gameplay is concerned. That said, only those who don't quite know what they're doing will play The Fairyland Story in a similar fashion to how they play Bubble Bobble -- as in, spamming the attack button (which here causes protagonist Ptolemy to shoot magic from her wand) to turn each level's enemy creatures into mouth-watering hunks of cake. Clued-in players tackle The Fairyland Story in a far more deliberate manner.

If this is news to you, the gist is that dropping a piece of cake onto two or more enemies at once nets you a medal that, once grabbed, adds a multiplier to your score as long as you stay alive. Along with this, The Fairyland Story's enemies are highly manipulatable, and combining this aspect of the game with the aforementioned one can result in scores that make your eyes roll back and your head spin.

As is true of most such things, pulling off the above at all, let alone consistently, is easier to suggest than it is to accomplish. I myself am still a rough work in progress here. Knowing what is possible is a hell of a motivator, though, as are the rest of this game's components, like its adorable sprite art and charming backing tunes.

The House in Fata Morgana (PC, PS4, Switch, Vita)

This is one of those "games" (in quotes because it's not really a game, but rather a Visual Novel) that various people whose opinions I respect told me I needed to play (experience?) for years before I finally dove into it earlier this year. Did I share their high praise of The House in Fata Morgana in the end? Yes... and no. Don't get me wrong, this VN does many things well. The story is entrancing, haunting, and surprising. The art is gorgeous, as is the exotic, ethereal soundtrack.

I struggled with some other aspects of The House in Fata Morgana, though. At times, its story is too haunting, verging on tortuous. I also thought it overstayed its welcome by a good bit.

In the end, I appreciated The House in Fata Morgana's positive attributes more than I abhorred its negative ones. Its story went places I didn't expect -- at all -- and for that alone it earns the exalted position it has among VN fans. I'm not sure I ever see myself going through it again, mind you, but I'm glad I reached its credit roll at least once.

Pocket Card Jockey (3DS)

I could probably include Pocket Card Jockey in every post like this I ever publish, or at least I could over a period of 10 or so years. Which is a long way of saying this digital 3DS offering, made by the folks at Game Freak (you might know them from a little series called Pokémon), worms its way back into my heart on a regular basis. A case in point: 2022 was the sixth year I put more than 20 hours into Pocket Card Jockey since its Japanese release in 2013. (I put just under 35 hours into it this year, for the record.)

Pocket Card Jockey is one of those Nintendo games like Endless Ocean that I just don't understand how they didn't blow up with the masses. I'm guessing the fact that it's a 3DS game and not a DS one, and that the only way to buy it is to venture onto the eShop (as opposed to walking into a retail store or logging onto Amazon), is chiefly responsible for holding it back. The horse-racing theme probably didn't do it any favors either. Regardless, it's a crying shame, as Pocket Card Jockey is a blast. How the wizards at Game Freak turned the typically sedate game of solitaire into such a nail-biting, just-one-more-try electronic experience is beyond me. Thankfully, I don't need to understand how they conceived of Pocket Card Jockey or brought to life; I only need to sit down and enjoy the spoils of their hard work.

(Related aside: if you're struggling with this game, read my guide on how to play and succeed at Pocket Card Jockey.)

Rainbow Islands (PC Engine)

I swear I didn't intend to make this write-up so Bubble Bobble-centric. I guess that's just what happens when you start playing a game that's related to Bubble Bobble, and that leads to you playing another and then another. At any rate, Rainbow Islands is my favorite of the bunch. And by that I don't simply mean my favorite of the Bubble Bobble-adjacent games I played in 2022, or even of all the Bubble Bobble-adjacent games in existence. Honestly, I think I like Rainbow Islands even more than the great Bubble Bobble itself at this point.

Now you're going to want to know why. I'm not sure I know myself. I guess the main thing I prefer about Rainbow Islands to its brethren (sistren?) is that it is, or it can be, a more exhilarating experience. Once you're powered up to a certain degree, you can practically (and sometimes literally) fly through its vertical-oriented stages, quickly hopping here and there and wiping out the game's adorable, big-eyed baddies with rapidly slung rainbows along the way. If you're anything like me, such runs will inevitably come to a crashing halt because of one dumb decision or another. I always dust myself off and get back up again, though, ready to give it another shot while bopping my head to its main "Not Somewhere Over the Rainbow (No, Really)" backing tune. 

Rusty's Real Deal Baseball (3DS)

Rusty's Real Deal Baseball is another victim of the 3DS eShop curse. As in, it's a great -- brilliant, really -- game that was mostly and sadly overlooked by millions upon millions of Nintendo 3DS owners because it wasn't a DS game and/or wasn't given a physical (boxed) release. Also, much like Pocket Card Jockey may have been hurt by its horse-racing and -breeding theme, Rusty's may have been hurt by its focus on baseball.

All you and anyone else need to know is that I love Rusty's to death -- and I hate baseball. OK, so hate may be too strong of a word here, but I'm certainly no fan of the sport. The reason I adore Rusty's Real Deal Baseball despite its unfortunate theme: it often feels like an offshoot of Nintendo's just-as-bonkers Rhythm Tengoku series. That's right, it feels like a rhythm game. Add to that the game's ugly-cute anthropomorphic dog characters and its head-scratchingly dark story, and you've got yourself a must-play 3DS game -- even for folks who have no love for the so-called American pastime.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

My favorite games of 2022

Something I have to get out of the way right at the start: 2022 has been a weird year for me. In all sorts of ways, but especially when it comes to video games.

Although I played many more games in 2021 and 2020 than I did in, say, 2018 and before, this year has felt like a real step back. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the number of games I finished this year: a measly six.

At least I enjoyed four of the six games I finished this year enough to call them favorites. (Actually, I also enjoyed one of the remaining two, but it was released before 2022 and so doesn't fit in here.)

What four games am I talking about? Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into DarknessPokémon Legends: Arceus, and Yurukill: The Calumniation Games. I'm also talking about Live A Live, which I sadly have yet to finish.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land (Switch)

I have a spotty history with the Kirby franchise. During my youth, I turned my nose up at its NES, SNES, and GameBoy releases because I thought they were for kids who'd never played any "real" games. It wasn't until I tried a few of Kirby's Nintendo DS releases--and then, quickly, some of the earlier ones I'd missed--that I realized the error of my ways. Yes, Kirby games are for kids, but they're also for adults--and everyone between. The only people they're not for are curmudgeons who hate all things cute, colorful or fun.

That remains true for The Forgotten Land, even with its dramatic move into the third dimension. To be honest, although I enjoyed pretty much every component of this game--from its candy-coated visuals, to its jubilant soundtrack, to its thrilling boss encounters--I most got a kick out of exploring its multitude of environments. If the only point of The Forgotten Land were to walk and hop and float from a stage's starting point to its exit, I still would've been perfectly happy with my purchase.

Live A Live (Switch)

Live A Live is one of those (formerly) Japan-only RPGs I've wanted to play since it first released. Oh, I know an English fan translation of it has been out in the wild for ages, and I even gave it a (brief) go nearly as long ago, but for whatever reason it just didn't click with me at the time. I'd say the exact opposite about this HD-2D remake, even though I've yet to finish it. I've thoroughly enjoyed the four stories I've played through thus far, and that's nothing to sneeze at, if you ask me.

As for why that is, well, for starters, I like that each of Live A Live's stories take a few hours to beat, tops. Although my teenage self loved to tackle RPGs that demanded 100-ish hours to conquer, my current, much older self doesn't have the time or energy for such things more than once or twice a year. Just as importantly, though, I dig how unique and varied the stories and characters are within Live A Live. I mean, one puts you in the shoes (boots?) of a cowboy in the Old West; another plops you into the life of a lovelorn caveman.

Admittedly and obviously, such short stories lack the depth of the ones that serve as the backbones to comparable epics like Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, or Xenoblade, but I'm OK with that in this instance. For me, the breadth of the stories offered up here, along with the interesting ways in which they're told, trump the missing dimension.

Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness (PC, PS4, Switch)

Before Binary Star Falling into Darkness was announced, I'd never even heard of Made in Abyss. I tend to like Spike Chunsoft-made games, though, and I liked the look and sound of this one, so I pre-ordered it at my earliest opportunity. While I awaited its release, I bought and read the first volume of the manga and watched the first two episodes of the manga. I enjoyed both, despite the dark tone and gory imagery, so was pretty sure I'd appreciate this game adaptation.

Boy, did I ever. Not right away, though. The game's "Hello Abyss" mode, which was mandatory upon release and basically acts as a tutorial, intrigued but also annoyed. It feels quite restricted, plus it tells an extremely minimalistic version of the anime's and manga's story. It wasn't until I started my way through the "Deep in Abyss" mode that I truly fell in love with Binary Star Falling into Darkness. Here, the game feels like an offshoot of the Shiren the Wanderer series in the best possible way. It feels like a distinct offshoot, though, offering plenty of unique twists and turns that make it seem like a real-time jaunt through a good chunk on Made in Abyss' nightmarish world.

Truth be told, there were times when Binary Star Falling into Darkness made me want to break my Switch over my knee or fling it into the nearest wall thanks to some of its odd gameplay choices and overall jankiness. For the most part, though, I couldn't put it down. In fact, I wanted to keep on playing it well past its credit roll, and that took me 80-plus hours to reach.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Switch)

As with the aforementioned Kirby, my experience with the vaunted Pokémon series is complicated. Although things between us started out positively enough--I played and finished and loved Pokémon Red at some point not too long after it released in the U.S.--they went downhill shortly after. To the point that I didn't finish another Pokémon game until Let's Go: Eevee came out in late 2018.

Since then, I've finished two more Pokémon games: Shield in 2019 and this one earlier in the year. I'll be honest here: I think Legends may be my favorite of the bunch. And not just the bunch, but of all the Pokémon games I've played to date (and I've played at least a bit of all of them). Why? The gist is that I enjoyed the freedom of it. Although I've liked a lot of the Pokémon games I've played, they've all felt a bit too straightforward. Legends felt anything but. On a related note, I loved and appreciated how you can avoid battles altogether in Legends and instead just catch wild Pokémon by sneaking up on and chucking Poké Balls at them. 

I also appreciated that Legends didn't overstay its welcome. I finished it in just over 45 hours; smack dab in the middle of my personal sweet spot as far as RPGs are concerned.

Yurukill: The Calumniation Games (PC, PS5. PS4, Switch)

When Yurukill was revealed, I assumed it would literally be half visual novel and half shmup. I was unsure if I would like it based on this--I'm hardly the world's biggest shmup fan, and I've only recently come around to VNs--but I pre-ordered it anyway because I tend to enjoy games that dare to combine disparate genres. (See: NIS' Void Terrarium and Mad Rat Dead.)

By the end of its first chapter, it was clear to me that Yurukill was more, and better, than I imagined it would be. For starters, it's really more of a mashup of an escape-room adventure game and a bullet-hell shmup, if you want to be specific. More importantly, it's not a straight half-and-half affair. Quiz-focused trial segments regularly interrupt and invigorate the proceedings. They also help bring everything together and make Yurukill feel more like a cohesive experience than it would otherwise.

Also helping matters is that every component of Yurukill is of a certain quality. And I'm not just talking about the adventure and shmup gameplay here; I'm talking about the character art, the soundtrack, and the voice work, too. Honestly, that last element may be the standout of Yurukill for me, especially Yu Kobayashi's brilliant, bonkers, giddy turn as the game's antagonist, Binko.

BONUS: My favorite games of 2022 that weren't released in 2022
  • Chack'n Pop (PS4, Switch)
  • The Fairyland Story (PS4, Switch)
  • The House in Fata Morgana (PC, PS4, Switch, Vita)
  • Pocket Card Jockey (3DS)
  • Rainbow Islands (PC Engine)
  • Rusty's Real Deal Baseball (3DS)

Friday, November 11, 2022

Where to find me if Twitter dies

Hello all.

Sorry I haven't published a post here in a while. I haven't given up on this blog, even if it probably seems like I did so long ago. Still, there's no denying I share pretty much all of my game-related thoughts and opinions on Twitter these days.

It seems that may soon come to an end, though, thanks to Elon Musk's disastrous takeover.

Should I stop visiting and posting on Twitter in the coming days, weeks, or months and you'd like to continue to connect in some way, please look for me at the following sites:
Please keep in mind that I only just joined Cohost and Mastodon and, as such, I'm still learning the ropes there. Also, I don't post all that regularly on Facebook or Tumblr at the moment. 

That said, expect my output on one or more of the above sites to increase dramatically should the assumed Twitter implosion happen anytime soon.

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.


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.


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


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.



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.


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