Monday, January 29, 2024

One sentence about each of the games I played in 2023

I wrote posts similar to this one about the many games I played in 2020 and 2021 and had a lot of fun with them, so I decided to give the idea another go this year.

Please note that I only played some of these games for a few hours. In the case of one game, I put just a single hour into it. I didn't walk away from any of them because I hated them, mind you; rather, they all seemed like "wrong game at the wrong time" experiences. I do plan to return to each of these titles sometime in 2024. (Hopefully I'll be able to share better feedback in next year's write-up.)

With all that said, here are a bunch of one-sentence mini-reviews of all the games I played in 2023, organized by when I played them.

About An Elf

About An Elf

Whatever the devs at Meringue Interactive were on when they concocted this bizarre, RPG-tinged visual novel, which follows the exploits of a latex-clad elf and her goofy feline familiar as they attempt to save the universe from the King of Terrors and his ugly stooges, I want some of it.

Imagine SEGA's Fantasy Zone as an action-platformer rather than a shmup, and you subdue your enemies (invading aliens) with smooches rather than bullets.

Dragon Quest Treasures

Dragon Quest reimagined as a collectathon ARPG doesn't sound all that appealing on paper, but it's surprisingly thrilling in practice, thanks in large part to an open world that's both massive and massively fun to explore.

Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society

Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society

The Moon Society's story is neither as challenging or as captivating as that of its predecessor, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk, but it at least partially makes up for that fact with a second half that changes things up in unforeseen ways.

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars

A nice little throwback of an RPG -- think the original Dragon Quest -- that wants you to think it's a card-based board game even though it's not.

Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo

An appropriately twisty and spooky visual novel that shines aesthetically and has the reader-player investigate a series of supernatural urban legends involving deadly curses.

Process of Elimination

Process of Elimination

Nippon Ichi Software finally releases one of its VNs -- this one could and has been described as NIS' take on Danganronpa -- in English and I fail hard by devoting only an hour to it before moving on to something else.

Octopath Traveler II

I thought I was ready for more Octopath Traveler when I started through this sequel last summer, but I wasn't; as a result, I only put a few hours into it and honestly can't remember what I thought of them other than "this looks and feels a lot like the original."

Loop8: Summer of Gods

Loop8: Summer of God

Though it's more of a time-management sim mixed with a visual novel than the JRPG it was originally touted to be, Loop8 still manages to intrigue in the end thanks to its curious cast of characters and strange conversation and mood systems.

Pokémon Violet

A mainline Pokémon game finally goes open world and succeeds brilliantly because of it, with a region that's endlessly engaging and a multipronged story that includes a plethora of appealing cast members.

Suika Game

Yeah, yeah, it's another match-falling-things puzzle game, but it's so breezy and addictive -- and cheap -- that it's easy to overlook and enjoy anyway.

Master Detective Archives: Rain Code

Master Detective Archives: Rain Code

Put Danganronpa and Ace Attorney into a blender and Rain Code is about what you'd get, though my (admittedly limited) experience with it so far suggests it's not quite as compelling as either of those classics.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder

I enjoyed the little I played of this latest entry in the two-dimensional Super Mario Bros. series, with the new Wonder Flower item and the trippy effects it prompts being the standout feature for me so far (along with the ability to play as several characters besides Mario and Luigi right from the start).

Dragon Quest Monsters 3

Starting through this Pokémon-esque Dragon Quest spinoff right after I put 80-ish hours into the real deal probably wasn't the best idea, and my opinion of and engagement with it suffered horribly as a result.

World of Horror

World of Horror

Somehow World of Horror dares to mix the survival horror, roguelike, RPG, and visual novel genres and succeeds, resulting in a brilliantly fresh and replayable game that helped end my year on a high note.

Metro Quester

The vibes emanating from Metro Quester feel similar to those of another weirdo RPG I loved a few years ago, Dungeon Encounters, while offering aesthetics and gameplay that are entirely and wonderfully unique.

Monday, January 22, 2024

How I spent my time with video games in 2023

It's been a while since I put more than 100 hours into a game in a single year.

I likely would've accomplished that feat in 2023 if I hadn't dropped Pokémon Violet in favor of first World of Horror then Metro Quester in early December, but I can't say I'm sad I decided to change things up as I did.

Not only have I since returned to Pokémon Violet, but World of Horror and Metro Quester ended up being among my favorite games of the year, so I think the decision was a good one.

World of Horror

Also, I still put just over 80 hours into Pokémon Violet, my most-played game of 2023, so I hardly ignored it despite the temporary switcheroo.
  • Pokémon Violet -- 80 hours, 55 minutes
  • Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society -- 60 hours, 45 minutes
  • Dragon Quest Treasures -- 35 hours, 35 minutes
  • Suika Game -- 24 hours, 50 minutes
  • Metro Quester -- 22 hours, 00 minutes
  • Loop8: Summer of Gods -- 16 hours, 50 minutes
  • Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo -- 16 hours, 40 minutes
Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars
  • Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars -- 14 hours, 20 minutes
  • World of Horror -- 8 hours, 40 minutes
  • Octopath Traveler II -- 4 hours, 20 minutes
  • Master Detective Archives: Rain Code -- 4 hours, 15 minutes
  • About An Elf  -- 3 hours, 20 minutes
  • Dragon Question Monsters: The Dark Prince -- 3 hours, 05 minutes
  • Uchu Shinshuchu -- 2 hours, 25 minutes
As you can see, Pokémon Violet was my most-played game of last year by a long way. I'm pretty impressed I was able to put more than 20 hours into both Suika Game and Metro Quester, though.

Metro Quester

Which games did you put the most hours into last year? Let me know in the comments section of this post.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Non-game media I enjoyed in 2023

I did more than play games in my free time last year. I also spent a lot of time reading books and watching movies.

In fact, I think I devoted more time to reading in 2023 than I did to playing games. The books -- and movies -- highlighted below were my favorites.

A Wrinkle in Time
I devoured books growing up, but Madeleine L'Engle's YA sci-fi classic somehow never made it onto my radar. Oh, well, better a few decades late than never, right? And, really, I still found it pretty special to experience as an adult. At its heart, A Wrinkle in Time is a good-versus-evil tale, but it feels anything but ordinary thanks to how masterfully L'Engle introduces and develops the story's setting and characters. To put in perspective how much I enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time, I quickly bought the rest of the books in the related "Time Quintet" series after finishing it, and I've already read three of them.

I fell in love with British author John Wyndham while reading another of his novels, The Day of the Triffids from 1951. Chocky isn't as dramatic as that apocalyptic classic, but it's just as compelling. I especially appreciated the subtlety of its story -- which is quite the accomplishment when you consider Chocky is about a 12-year-old boy who's imaginary friend is actually an extraterrestrial scout looking for planets to assist -- or colonize.

Delicious in Dungeon (Volume 1)
The manga every nerd is talking about now thanks to its just-released and much-heralded anime adaptation. I picked up this first volume partway through last year after numerous friends and acquaintances recommended it. It didn't disappoint. I especially appreciated its quirky cast and the strange creatures they discovered -- and ultimately devoured -- in the dungeon of this manga's title. My only complaint is that it left me desperately wanting to learn more about the ragtag group's underground exploits.

From Beyond
I've been drawn to horror movies since I was a kid. I didn't watch too many of them until I was quite a bit older, though. As such, I missed seeing most of the classics -- and not-so-classics -- that came out during my youth. A few years ago, I decided to play catch-up. This 1986 flick was one of the few I watched in 2023, but I think it would've stood out even if I'd managed more. The story is unique -- a pair of scientists build a device that lets them see and interact with deadly creatures from another dimension -- and the cast is surprisingly adept. Long story short, I'd watch From Beyond again, which is something I can't say of all the horror flicks I've watched recently. 

This 1989 effort from Dan Simmons has been a real highlight of my multi-year endeavor to read some of the classic sci-fi novels that have heretofore avoided my radar. It reads like a futuristic reimagining of The Canterbury Tales, though Hyperion follows six pilgrims rather than 24. I likely would've found the cliffhanger ending disappointing had I not bought the follow-up as soon as the story clicked with me (spoiler: it didn't take long), but I did, so no complaints from me. On the contrary, Hyperion is now firmly ensconced on my list of books to reread ASAP.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Don't laugh (or jeer), but I didn't even know this 1988 film, now considered a cult classic, existed until I stumbled across it last fall. It didn't scare me or gross me out like I expected it to, but I got a kick out of it all the same. The titular "klowns" are equal parts creepy and goofy and elevate the rather ho-hum story to something surprisingly compelling. Honestly, I'll probably revisit Killer Klowns from Outer Space several times in the future thanks to the impressive practical effects alone.

Laid-Back Camp
(Volumes 8-13)
I read six volumes of Laid-Back Camp last year and loved each one. Truth be told, I often have a hard time telling these camping- and cooking-obsessed girls apart, aside from spirited Nadeshiko and serious Rin, but it doesn't cause me to enjoy their far-flung adventures any less. The way artist and writer Afro weaves together the girls' stories, their seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of both camping and cooking, and Japan's plethora of sheltering spots is as impressive as it is pleasing.

The Wind from Nowhere
I gained access to this J.G. Ballard novel when I bought a book that included it as well as one of the author's best-known works, The Drowned World. Of the two, I far preferred The Wind from Nowhere, which follows a trio of men who try their best to survive an unexplained global increase (five miles per hour per day) in wind speeds. It's not perfect, partially explaining why Ballard eventually disowned it, but it tells a unique apocalyptic story that keeps you solidly in its grasp until the very last page.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

My favorite games of 2023 that came out before 2023

Not all of the games I played and loved in 2023 actually came out in 2023. The three titles covered here -- About An Elf, Dragon Quest Treasures, and Pokémon Violet -- are prime examples. They're also among my favorite games of last year.

About An Elf (Switch)

Developer and publisher Meringue Interactive describes About An Elf as a "point-and-click-ish, RPG-ish, visual-novel-ish game." Though accurate, it doesn't do this 2022 eShop release justice.

About An Elf may be the strangest game I've ever played. Nearly every aspect of it will have you scratching your head -- from the outlandish cast (which includes an Ulala-esque elf and her "oh noes"-spouting cat companion), to the nonsensical save-the-world story, to the inscrutable battles, and more.

They'll also likely put a smile on your face and keep you engaged for the few hours About An Elf lasts, though, which is the main reason I'm giving it a nod here. Another reason: despite the fact that About An Elf is a fairly silly and superficial experience, I regularly think about returning to it and its fever-dream world.

Dragon Quest Treasures (PC, Switch)

A lot of folks turned up their noses at this release as soon as they realized it wasn't a new Dragon Quest Monsters game. I feel no allegiance to nor nostalgia for the Monsters series, so I went into it with few biases or expectations.

I'd like to think that's at least partially responsible for why I enjoyed it so much. Also helping matters was that Dragon Quest Treasures reminded me of a similar offshoot, Pokémon Legends: Arceus, that quickly won me over in recent years. Both games offer up open worlds that are thrilling to explore and more action-focused gameplay than their parent series provide.

Sure, Treasures could and probably should include a wider selection of Dragon Quest's iconic enemies, but I had a blast even with the palette-swap-heavy crew that currently fills the game's varying environs.

Pokémon Violet (Switch)

Well, well, what have we here? Another game that message-board denizens love to hate and yet I adored. For me, Pokémon Violet was one of the best experiences I've had with a Pokémon game to date.

Of course, how could it not? It took what was my favorite aspect of Pokémon Shield, the Wild Area, and expanded it to cover the entire map, after all. Another draw for me was the three storylines you can tackle at your discretion. I get the feeling it would be difficult, if not impossible, to finish the game without completing all three stories, but I appreciated the increased freedom all the same.

Really, though, the highlight of playing Pokémon Violet for me was the same highlight of all my favorite Pokémon games so far: the simple joy of spotting a new Pokémon, trying to and (hopefully) succeeding at catching it, and then moving onto the next, rinse-and-repeat style. 

See also: my favorite games of 2023 (that actually came out in 2023)

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

My favorite games of 2023

A lot of blockbuster games released in 2023. None of them made it onto my list of favorite games of the year. (Shocking multitudes, I'm sure.)

I don't say this to suggest those AAA titles are beneath me or anything of the sort, of course. On the contrary. For various reasons, I either didn't play any of those games or I played them and they just didn't gel with me like they did so many others.

Which games did gel with me last year? The handful of indie or otherwise small releases you'll read about starting now.

Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society (PC, PS4/5, Switch, Vita)

I adored this game's predecessor, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk, despite its dark-as-tar story. Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society is a lot lighter in that area, though no less enthralling overall. Labyrinth of Galleria doesn't do as much to alter or update its forebearer's wall-breaking, pit-jumping, dungeon-crawling gameplay, which is sure to disappoint some, but it still offers enough unexpected twists and turns to make it well worth playing by series veterans and noobs alike. Bonus (or word of warning, depending on how you look at such things): Labyrinth of Galleria is a long game. To see its true and final ending, you'll likely need to devote well over 100 hours to it. You can experience a ton of what the game offers and see its initial credit roll after 40 to 60 hours, though, if that sounds more manageable.

Metro Quester (PC, PS4/5, Switch, Xbox One/S/X)

Don't judge this retro-inspired dungeon-crawler by its "unlicensed NES game" title or similarly cheap-looking cover art. If you tend to enjoy hack-and-slashers like Wizardry or Etrian Odyssey, you'll dig Metro Quester (or just Quester, if you play it on PC), too. Which isn't to suggest Metro Quester is some kind of ripoff of those classics. It's viewed from a top-down perspective, for starters, plus there's a survival element to Metro Quester that not only helps differentiate it from the competition but also adds intrigue and tension. Metro Quester's story is minimal, but can still manage to surprise and impress if you pay attention to the occasional bits of text that pop up along the way. The battles here are the real selling point, though, thanks to their flexibility and exhilarating, whiz-bang snappiness.

Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo (Mobile, PC, Switch)

I've enjoyed a lot of adventure games (or visual novels, VNs, if that's the verbiage you prefer) in my time, but the ones I've enjoyed the most have featured spooky or scary elements. Raging Loop and Gnosia are two examples from previous years, and now Paranormasight can be added to the pile. At its heart, Paranormasight is a murder mystery. There's more to it than that, though, as you might imagine -- with supernatural urban legends and curses both playing important roles in the proceedings. Another interesting quirk to Paranormasight is that you'll occasionally replay portions of a character's story, which helps the experience feel less boringly straightforward than the bulk of its genremates.

Suika Game (Switch)

Does the world really need another match-things-that-drop-from-the-top-of-the-screen puzzle game? Suika Game provides a firmly affirmative answer to that question. The rules of Suika Game are so uncomplicated that you could play it in any language and not feel lost. The gist: get two fruits of the same type (cherries, strawberries, oranges, and more) to touch and they'll become a bigger one -- up until you reach the big kahuna, the watermelon. (Fun fact: suika is Japanese for watermelon.) Rinse and repeat until your accumulated pile of fruit hits the top of the screen. It sounds simple and even a little stupid, but it's also intoxicatingly addictive.

World of Horror (PC, PS4/5, Switch)

I never knew how much I needed a Junji Ito-inspired horror roguelike RPG VN until I started through World of Horror in early December. World of Horror is both not at all what I expected and far beyond what I expected of it. In doing so, it bizarrely and even bravely defies categorization. Hell, I'd go so far as to say it deserves a genre of its own, should any future games dare to follow in its footsteps. At any rate, if you've ever dreamed of playing a game that makes you feel like you're living -- and attempting to survive -- in a post-apocalyptic Japanese city right out of one of Ito's macabre manga, here's your chance.

What were your favorite games of 2023? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.