Review – Rune Factory 3

I think Neverland is set for life with Rune Factory. Few other series can withstand being rehashed over and over again without much in the way of innovation. Most stagnate enough that even the die-hard fans abandon them. Dynasty Warriors is a good example of one of the few capable series; perhaps it’s because the beat-em-up is that ideal genre where one only need switch up a few move-sets and add new characters and people will be satisfied.

Surprisingly, this game does not directly cater to the, er, fur-inclined.

Surprisingly, RF3 does not cater to the, er, fur-inclined.

Despite the fact that every Rune Factory is very similar, the three I have played feel very distinct. In Rune Factory 3, you still raise crops, forge weapons, woo women, and fight monsters –  many more activities exist, most of which are variations on the rest, such as wooing monsters and forging women. →  Read the rest

Review – Radiant Historia

Radiant Historia gets so, so close to being a bona fide classic. For three quarters of its length, it was my favorite genre-piece since Demon’s Souls. After that, it segued into its (shockingly) boring, generic final act. The biggest surprise of 2011 became the biggest headscratcher.

Radiant Historia is a classically styled jRPG with a time travel mechanic at its core. The player guides the protagonist through two different timelines, with the ability to travel to the past or present of either of them at will, maybe to fix a mistake, or to ensure that a certain event occurs. Time travel is at the very core of the game’s design. It drives, and explains, so much of what goes on. For example, while the hero can travel between the timelines, he can’t travel into the future (at least, not any future he has yet to experience). →  Read the rest

Review – Flower, Sun and Rain

My first thought when I began playing Grasshopper Manufacture’s “Flower, Sun and Rain” was that it reminded me a bit of Killer 7. This isn’t any sort of surprise, considering Grasshopper (and it’s rebellious leader Suda51) was behind both games. It was, however, an informative revelation; Killer 7 is often praised for it’s unique audio and visual design, but as it turns out, these concepts were already being played with in FSR. The game features a well dressed protagonist, a mysterious briefcases, and character voices that sound like garbled computer voices. You could even argue that the the primitive visuals are an attempt at basic cell shading.

Flower, Sun and Rain, then, is indicative of our awkwardly evolving awareness of Japanese entertainment. These days, Western audiences still don’t get every game, anime or album that comes out of Japan, but at the very least, people will know of their existence. →  Read the rest

Review – Infinite Space

As a fan of the occasional science fiction novel, I’ve wanted to see a real sci-fi JRPG for a long time. The Star Ocean series occasionally tantalizes – then I’m reminded once again that the vast majority of each Star Ocean game ends up being the standard medieval fantasy-themed magic-filled claptrap anyway (or super-science with no explanation, which as we know is indistinguishable from the former). The Phantasy Star games have a science-y atmosphere, but they’re more post-apocalyptic in nature and there are only bits and pieces of the sci-fi around. Xenogears and Xenosaga probably come closest, but the former was more fantasy themed and the latter was too focused on inappropriate religious references to bother with much science, despite all the spaceships flying around and weapons research going on.

I ultimately expected Infinite Space to be the same sort of disappointment, and was pleasantly surprised. →  Read the rest

Review – SaGa 2 DS

Akitoshi Kawazu has sort of a shaky reputation among RPG fanatics.  He gets the occasional hit – if you can indeed call them that – with games like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles.  More often he makes games that have only a niche following at best.  He’s best known for his work on the SaGa series, which hasn’t had a great game in a long time.  I suppose you might be able to find a few people who liked SaGa Frontier or Unlimited SaGa, but then some people like pain and insurmountable learning curves.

There’s one game, however, for which I have to really give him credit.  Among the first creations that were wholly Kawazu’s was SaGa2 on Game Boy, which we saw as Final Fantasy Legend 2.  Its huge variety of settings, equipment, and character types appeal to me just as much as a solid, well told plot and more than magnificent graphics.  →  Read the rest

Review – Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

As my friend drove us out to eat the other night I kept envisioning our car crashing into the one in front of it and that one following suit so that we had three aligned cars that could presumably then cross some screen gap threshold in order to attack some other cars. This phenomenon is usually discussed in terms of seeing giant Tetris blocks everywhere you look but I have also experienced it in the desire to continuously roll up objects. That Clash of Heroes has begun to project itself into my real life is a sign of something – this is the best damn DS game America has ever made. So much so that it was made in Canada.

Clash of Heroes is a variant of the match three puzzle game on the surface, but deeper down it doesn’t kind of suck like Puzzle Quest. →  Read the rest

Review – Sands of Destruction

How is it that nobody can make a good JRPG for the DS? Some remakes have been all right, and a strategy RPG or two have been good. But every original RPG for the system seems somehow tainted by the platform. Black Sigil, Nostalgia, Beyond the Yellow Brick Road – hell, even a Suikoden spin-off was barely up to par on the system. Sands of Destruction is sadly no exception.

This isn’t to say it’s a bad game. Sands of Destruction’s problem isn’t that it’s actually bad – it’s just that it’s never good. It manages to be almost entirely middle-of-the-road throughout, with no particularly exciting moments and only a few terribly boring ones. Its plot has an interesting premise, but gets dragged down by bland characters and predictable twists. →  Read the rest

Review – Devil Survivor

Sometimes innovation doesn’t come from wild, crazy new ideas but from the melding of old. Like combining the wheel with fire, Devil Survivor melds two of the oldest RPG battle systems and the result is a flaming tire of fun. Battles take place on a grid following the standard SRPG trope of battles taking place on grids, but when two combatants meet the map cuts to a standard turn-based party-on-party RPG system. Suffice to say, the integration of these two long lived standards is almost as exciting as the monetary standard integration of Europe following World War II.

What Yuzu lacks in personality she makes up in breasts.

Battles are entertaining and copious; free battles are always available and the grind is only mostly mind crushing and soul numbing, a definite improvement over most RPGs. →  Read the rest

Review – 100 Classic Book Collection

100 Classic Book Collection for the DS is awesomesauce. That’s the gist of this whole review for those of you unwilling or unable to read further. However, for those with some staying power I will qualify why it is such an amazing condiment after I clarify that it isn’t a game.

100 Classic Book Collection is not a game. Don’t be confused by the packaging, the little box and the little game shaped cartridge. When you pop the cart into the DS and open it up you will not find a game. Instead you will find an assortment of 100 classic books to read. It could have been that simple. Here’s 100 books. Read them all. Cheevos for reading all of them. But much like an exotic alcoholic cocktail so many extra bits have been squeezed in to make it all the more worthwhile. →  Read the rest

Review – Animal Crossing Wild World

Animal Crossing isn’t a game. It’s a career. A vocation, a mini alternative life. You could educate a child with it and it would turn out OK. It teaches you everything you need to know about the real world. It teaches you the importance of money, shows you the true value of patience, punishes you for lying, and when characters move out of your town it’s an important lesson about the harsh realities of bereavement in adult life. Freckles is gone, Timothy, she’s gone to another town very far away and she’s never coming back.

It’s not a game, it’s a job. You HAVE to collect your fruit to begin with, else you can’t afford the cool furniture. You HAVE to keep fishing, else you might miss a rare fish. You HAVE to collect all the fossils, fish and insects because something cool might happen when you do. →  Read the rest

Review – Black Sigil

Black Sigil screamed promise. After being impressed and occasionally a bit burned with indie games, a DS game by a small but dedicated team of RPG fans sounded really good. Graphically inspired by Chrono Trigger, its visuals are both nostalgic and fresh on a system that needs more sprite-based games. Even after the release date was pushed back… and back… and back, I still was somewhat excited upon its release.

I maintained this excitement through the first area. The first section is mostly story, but your initial quest is to walk to an area on the world map. “You walk a little slowly”, I thought, “but that’s okay – surely they’ll eventually give me a boat, hovercraft, flying castle, etc.” And then the random encounters started. And continued. I had at least ten encounters on the way, and each one played out exactly the same way. →  Read the rest

Review – Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut

The Knights Templar were an order of Christian soldiers from western Europe who gathered substantial influence and wealth during the Crusades. Many were tortured and/or executed in France in the early 14th century, primarily because King Philip of France owed them money and felt it was more expedient to kill them and disband the order than it was to pay. Of course, he did this under the pretense that they were not in fact true Catholics but rather practitioners of any number of bizarre rituals. As a result of these probably false accusations, their previous military prowess and influence, and the massive fortune they acquired through donations and the early bank-like system they developed, the story of the Knights took on mythic proportions.

Just like in real life.

Unfortunately, they are also an overused trope in movies and pop literature, either as grand puppeteers that actually rule the world from behind the scenes, or as the source of some treasure beyond all of our wildest dreams. →  Read the rest

Review – Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland

Tingle is a range of stylized sexual enhancements from Durex, defined by creating a tingling sensation during coitus. The tingling sensation is derived from mint extract. It comes in two distinct forms: condoms and an water-based lube. The sexual enhancer lube has received some criticism as the tingling sensation has received negative reviews when used internally.

You see what I did there? I made a joke. You see, I am reviewing a DS game called “Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland” which of course features the unwelcome addition to the Zelda series, Tingle. But, and this is the crux of the joke, Durex ( also have a brand called “Tingle”. Oh, the hilarity.

Right, so, this “game” starts with Tingle’s journey to becoming Tingle, and his quest to get into “Rupeeland” where, and get this, women will touch him. →  Read the rest

Review – Avalon Code

Video games have made me weep for a variety reasons. Terrible voiceovers, crappy graphics, mind numbing gameplay, irritating music – if it is horrible I’ve probably suffered through it. But I’ve never experienced anything like Avalon Code before. Not for any of the above reasons – to the contrary, Avalon Code has superb presentation, surprisingly good voice acting (on a DS game, no less!), and an intriguing plot with an excellent premise. What makes me weep is that Avalon Code is a game that is so close to being one of the greatest action RPGs I’ve ever played, but falls short for the dumbest of reasons that indicate – yet again – a developer did a piss poor job of seeing if their game was actually fun to play.

The game begins with your happy go lucky hero (or heroine, you pick, just remember Jesus hates gender benders) being informed that the world is going to end in a horrific cataclysm in the rather near future. →  Read the rest

Review – Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

As much as I like the Grand Theft Auto series, I’ve always been more of an “owner” than a “fan.” I own the three PS2 installments and played only Vice City to any extensive degree. In GTA 3, I used the cheat code to spawn tanks over and over again outside of my hideout, blew them up, and discovered that they remained there after having saved a game, and the only way I could get rid of them all would have been to painstakingly push them all into the river with another tank, or to start a new game and lose all of my (admittedly meager) progress. In San Andreas, I exercised over and over again, became extremely muscular, then encountered a difficult early mission and lost interest in the game. →  Read the rest

Review – Suikoden Tierkreis

I have enjoyed the Suikoden franchise for a good chunk of my life now, and have come to appreciate the series standards: 108 varied and colorful (if often throwaway) characters, no small amount of intrigue and diplomacy, a focus on large-scale battles and political or ideological change, and so on. Although the series has had its problems, even the worst Suikoden is a decent RPG with a few issues that drag it somewhat below the other games. The overall quality of the series has me eagerly awaiting any announcements, even in the case of the most recent entry/spinoff, Suikoden Tierkreis.

Maybe it’s the fabled Orb of Knowledge, prize possession of an advanced ancient civilization and key to overthrowing the evil empire.

Tierkreis breaks away from several of the series’ main ideas. →  Read the rest

Review – Retro Game Challange

Retro Game Challenge is rather difficult to describe to the uninitiated, despite the fact that the overall concept is deliberately simple. Its creation is the result of Game Center CX, a popular Japanese TV program in which comedian Shinya Arino is forced to play old Famicom games until he either beats them, or the day ends. Coupled with a variety of other game-related features and the interaction between Arino and his crew, the show is said to be incredibly funny (while also being a nostalgic look at the ever loved Famicom era).

Its popularity spawned a game with its own clever concept: a virtual version of Arino decides to trap you in the 1980’s, where the kid version of you is forced to complete challenges in a variety of games with the help of kid Arino. →  Read the rest

Review – Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon

Underneath every game’s artwork, sound effects and voice acting lies a set of core mechanics. All the extra stuff, the facade if you will, exists to enhance the mechanics and design of a game. I tend to value the facade less than the other half of the dichotomy because there are many examples of bad games with brilliant coats of paint and few if any examples of bad games with amazing design. Even so, the difference a little bit of well mixed paint can make is hard to overestimate.

Ico and Zelda are very similar games with very different facades. The former focuses on giving the play rules context and emotional resonance while the latter indulges in playful variations of its mechanics while mostly ignoring the artistry that sits atop them. →  Read the rest

Review – Time Hollow

Adventure games exist on a spectrum from what are essentially puzzle games with characters (such as Zack and Wiki and possibly Professor Layton and the Mysterious Village) to games with little interaction that are basically interactive books (I would include an example here, but, at risk of blowing the punchline, the game I am reviewing is further on this side of the spectrum than anything else I have ever played). The interactivity in Time Hollow consists mostly of moving from area to area. Once you find the right location (park, school, home) events frequently set themselves in motion and you just have to tap the screen to advance the dialogue; sometimes you have to tap each character on screen to get him or her to speak.

There are a handful of objects in the game which are very obviously interactive, so finding them and their application is rarely a challenge (the plus side of this is that it means there is no pixel hunting). →  Read the rest

Review – My Japanese Coach

I have no idea how to review a language learning game before I’ve learned the language. Stay tuned for my full review of My Japanese Coach sometime in the next seven years. For now, though, I can address some of the valid and not so valid complaints people have had about the game.

The most flagrant problem is Ubisoft published a Japanese game that teaches you the wrong stroke order for some kana and kanji. Writing characters and syllables in the correct stroke order is (I am told) crucial in Japanese and it’s embarrassing that this game doesn’t get them all right. There are under 100 syllable symbols in Japanese and My Japanese Coach teaches at least five incorrectly. I can understand teaching kanji incorrectly, there are thousands of them and they’re complex, but after a few weeks of using an actual textbook, I could write all of the kana correctly. →  Read the rest