Dream Daddy: The Most Disappointing Game of 2017

The title of being my most disappointing game of the year is a special title reserved not always for games that are irredeemably awful (though usually, they aren’t good either) but games that had every reason in the world to be great yet they’re just…not. This can mean games that failed especially hard living up to their hype, games that severely lack the same quality as other games made by the devs or other games in their series, games that had incredible ideas that failed in execution, but above all, it means games that simply weren’t able to live up to the expectations they’d set forth. In 2016, I gave this unique title to an adventure game called Oxenfree.
And for 2017, I think there is no game more deserving of this title than Vernon Shaw and Leighton Gray’s own Dream Daddy.

I wrestled hard with the idea of Marvel vs Capcom Infinite getting this title instead until I remembered the first time images for Infinite were released it was immediately clear this game wouldn’t be good, so going into its release my expectations were already pretty low.Plus, when it comes to fighting games, I’m more of a Skullgirls/Guilty Gear/Street Fighter/Smash fan anyways. Doki Doki Literature Club was in a similar position–it was certainly a game that disappointed me tremendously, but I also went into it with absolutely no expectations for it. Dream Daddy, on the other hand, I was excited about. The trailer was great, the marketing was fun, the Game Grumps were involved in it. Moreover, it’s a dating sim and I, for one, have been nothing if not transparent in my love of visual novels and dating sims. Only a year ago, the highly anticipated Asagao Academy had been released and that dating sim turned out to be incredible–it must be a sign that YouTuber backed dating sims have a lot of potential. Surely Dream Daddy, which had been funded and advertised by the Game Grumps (note: I’m not saying made because it wasn’t made by the Grumps. It was made by Vernon Shaw and Leighton Gray. Apparently, a lot of people struggle to remember this) would be no different, right?

I reviewed this game on EliteGamer shortly after it came out, so if you want to hear my thoughts on it at length, you can read the article. To sum it up, my dislike for Dream Daddy stems from 3 things:
1. It lacks so many core visual novel traits (EX: branching paths, bad/different endings, character routes that feel like more than just a prologue or a teaser for their actual story) that it simply feels like a horrifically incomplete game in general.

2. Visibly more effort was put into writing the (admittedly wonderful) characters than the story itself, and the story suffers greatly for that.

3.It’s always having an identity crisis–it’s a game that can never seem to choose between being a joke dating sim or a serious narrative. It can never commit to being one or the other, and it meshes the two in such a polarizing and messy way that it makes the whole game feel tonally awkward.

Ultimately, I scored it a 6/10 on the basis that at least the characters were good (after all, characters are equally important as story in a dating sim), the art was certainly great, it’s a game that clearly means well, it’s technically sound for the most part, the idea of a dad dating sim is completely unique and very original, and mostly because it’s hysterical in the fleeting moments that it decides to be a joke dating sim before inevitably trying (failing) to be serious 30 seconds later. Dream Daddy wasn’t an awful game to me, despite what this article might make you think. It was just a game that had overwhelming potential that could’ve been realized if the game were only longer and/or felt more like a real visual novel with branching paths and bad endings that were not only actually bad, but weren’t literally the same ending copy/pasted just with a different dad each time (which, by the way, only furthered my calling this game incomplete). Dream Daddy was so close to being fantastic. It could’ve easily been fantastic. But because there seemed to be more focus on getting this game out soon as opposed to getting it out well, all that potential it was overflowing with became lost.

Nothing bugs me more than when a game is within a hair’s width of easily obtainable greatness that it just seems to blatantly ignore, and such is the case with Dream Daddy. Dream Daddy could be much better if only the branching paths felt more distinct and then were either longer or had better closure. Dream Daddy could be much better if it only had endings that weren’t just satisfying, but weren’t all literally the exact same thing word-for-word just with a different love interest each time. Dream Daddy could be much better if it would just make up its mind whether it wants to be a joke dating sim or a serious narrative and then commit to that tone. But alas, it didn’t. That’s the other main reason why Dream Daddy, to me, is leagues more disappointing than the likes of Marvel vs Capcom Infinite and Doki Doki Literature Club: Because Dream Daddy was so close to being great, but it squandered every single one of the countless opportunities it had. It’s really frustrating (for me, at least) to play a game and notice it just barely making all the wrong decisions over and over again. It’s distracting. It’s irritating. But more than anything, it’s disappointing.

Dream Daddy may not be the train wreck Marvel vs Capcom Infinite and Doki Doki Literature Club were, but the waves of disappointment it brought me from its insistence on making countless bad decisions are second to none from this year. Although Dream Daddy won’t be my go-to choice for worst game–or even worst visual novel–from 2017, it’ll be far, far away from my bests as well. It’s not a dating sim I’d readily recommend in general unless you’re just looking for unique concepts or something that’ll make you laugh from time to time–and even if you were looking for such dating sims, I can still think of plenty more titles I’d sooner recommend (Hatoful Boyfriend, Sweet Fuse, Asagao Academy, and Katawa Shoujo to name a few). Dream Daddy had so much potential to be great–it could’ve been one of the best visual novels or even best indie games in general to come out of the juggernaut of amazing game releases that’s been 2017. Alas, ultimately that same overflowing potential ended up more wasted than Robert. That’s why Dream Daddy is my choice for the most disappointing game of 2017.

Doki Doki Literature Club and Why I’m Tired of Deconstruction Games

This article contains major spoilers for Doki Doki Literature Club. You probably shouldn’t be reading this if you haven’t already beaten it. (There’s also a Bioshock spoiler in here if you don’t know what happened to Andrew Ryan)

When I was told that some cutsey looking high school dating sim by the name of Doki Doki Literature Club had some pretty bleak warnings at the beginning of it about how its not suitable for children, I felt there were 2 strong possibilities as to why:

  1. There will be H-scenes, and given the aesthetic of the game, there’s either going to be a lot of them or they’ll be made in the vain of Starless: 21st Century Nymphomaniacs.
  2. One or more characters is a yandere and it’ll turn into a watered down Higurashi clone (that is, a cute looking dating sim with cute girls that suddenly becomes extremely gruesome).

Normally if I’d been told I was wrong I’d be more interested in the game–after all, it’s clearly trying something different, nobody would talk about it otherwise. Perhaps it’s more worth looking into than I thought. In the case of Doki Doki Literature Club, on the other hand, had I been told that its version of “doing something different” was just becoming a self-aware deconstruction game I wouldn’tve thought twice about ignoring it.

Frankly speaking, I’m just getting tired of self-aware deconstruction games. It’s become somewhat of a fad in the past 2 years or so. Like any fad it had its high points, sure, but now it’s just getting old, trite, and even somewhat predictable to me now. I’m ready for the next genre/trope cycle because I’ve had my fill of this one.

Before I go any further, let me elaborate on what I mean when I say “self-aware deconstruction games”. Like the name implies, a deconstruction game is a game that deconstructs its genre–it breaks it down and exaggerates it, maybe even parodies it in a way. If you’ve ever watched Cutthroat Kitchen, this is the exact same thing as when someone says they’ve made a deconstructed BLT and just put some meat, lettuce, and tomato on a plate. As for the self-aware part, it means games that are aware that they’re games and makes sure that the player knows that the game knows it’s a game and probably utilizes that in some way for progressing. To be more specific, it’s not games that make maybe one or two self-aware jokes that I’m talking about (EX: if someone in a game says, “WE’LL BE FINE! IT’S NOT LIKE WE’RE IN A VIDEO GAME OR SOMETHING!”), I’m talking about games that utilize their degree of self-awareness as game mechanics or a necessity to progress. Games in which their level of self-awareneness directly ties into the main story/gameplay. Some examples of such games are Undertale, Pony Island, The Stanley Parable, and of course, Doki Doki Literature Club. It may seem niche or overly specific, but these are exactly the kinds of deconstruction games I’m getting sick of: Deconstruction games that use fourth-wall breaking as their means of deconstruction.

via gameplay.tips

Now that we’ve got that established, let me explain myself: In this gamer’s opinion, if you’re going to break the fourth wall effectively, it has to be done with a lot of finesse to not feel arbitrary or just shoved in for the sake of just having it there. Bioshock, for instance, does this in Andrew Ryan’s famous A Man Chooses, A Slave Obeys monologue: Without flat out telling the gamer that they’re a sheep who just does whatever a game says, it still says it vicariously through the speech by likening the player to Jack–a brainwashed test tube baby who has to do what he’s told. This blew my mind the first time I played it. And the second. And the third. And every single time after that. That, dear readers, is breaking the fourth wall powerfully and with finesse.

So if that’s what finesse looks like, what doesn’t finesse look like? What does it look like for a game’s fourth-wall breaking to not seem forced? To understand that, we have to talk about this fourth-wall breaking trend in video games: It’s been around for a while, but has only recently started to see a significant rise in the number of games that use it, particularly in indie games. The first time I noticed this was when I played Undertale 2 years ago (feels like much longer, right?)–the game directly addresses save files, directly addresses the player, and even makes use of uninstalls and reinstalls. This is definitely much more elaborate than most other fourth-wall breaking games, and to be honest, I was impressed at the time.

And then it became a small trend. Or perhaps the preamble of a full-blown trend.

The next time I noticed it was in Pony Island, where some boss puzzles will require you to actually go into the game’s coding to progress. Seemed kinda ridiculous to me, but I rolled with it. Then it was The Beginner’s Guide–but that was made by the same group who made The Stanley Parable (also a fourth wall breaking game) so I honestly wasn’t surprised with that one. Then it was Thimbleweed Park’s polarizing ending, which requires the player to look at the original trailer of the game. By this time I was starting to notice making use of a game’s “sentience” was becoming a thing games did now. And now it’s Doki Doki Literature Club, requiring you to go into the game’s files and deleting/bringing back characters.

via youtube.com

I’m sure to some gamers this is quite fun and clever, but to me it just feels arbitrary more times than not. I can honestly say I’ve never picked up a game and thought, “Yea, I can’t wait to dig into this game’s files to progress!”. And again, I’m sure for some people it is fun–this is an incredibly subjective article, after all–it just feels very unnecessary to me. Why can’t there be an in-game solution? I get it–it’s a game that knows it’s a game. It’s poking fun at the plethora of staple dating sim tropes. This might’ve been clever if a notable amount of other indie games hadn’t done the same thing in the past 2 years, and it’s starting to feel old to me.

“But Kennedy,” you’re thinking, “you only listed off 5 games. You’re overreacting.” Fair, probably true in some regard. But every trend once started with only 5, and based on the general gaming community’s love of games like this (after all, shock value will make games go a lot farther than you think, and if nothing else, these games all have shock value), I think 2018 and 2019 will have notably more entries to turn this into a full-blown trend. Until then it feels more like the beginning of one to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never been too keen on self-aware/deconstruction games in the past (again: they have to be done with so much finesse not to feel forced for me) but 5 entries is plenty for me to already feel like it’s getting old. Maybe one game like that every other year is my threshold for appreciation for them, which admittedly, is probably lower than most other people’s. Even ignoring all that though–totally forgetting that I usually don’t like these kinds of games–I still don’t think Doki Doki Literature Club is a good game even after all this is factored out.

To further drive the nail into Doki Doki’s pink, anime coffin is that the whole story stems from Monika feeling frustrated over wanting to date you but it’s really hard for me, at least, to feel justification from this because she wasn’t even an option that they player has–everyone has to ignore her her. I know you’re thinking, “Well duh, that’s the point of the game–that she can’t have you.” but it makes no sense. Any other dating sim would’ve had her be a datable option–the club/student council president is another one of these staple tropes that this game likes to parody so much, so why not make her datable? There’s no reason. Obviously she won’t get any attention from the player–we don’t even have the option to give her attention. I bet there’s a fair share of players who would’ve dated Monika first, given the option. This could’ve been alleviated by perhaps having a true route where you do date Monika on your first run which could in turn maybe affect other save files where she perceives you as cheating on her when you try to do another route (which leads to Sayori’s suicide, etc.). Maybe if you decide halfway through a route to start her instead (EX: Starting Natsuki’s route, seeing Monika act out and then switching to Monika’s route again) she becomes incredibly jealous and possessive of you–effectively causing conflict with the other girls. Suddenly, Monika’s getting upset over you not choosing to love her feels more justified and maybe even makes the player feel a tad guilty. That, to me, would’ve been better.

I think what makes me especially bitter about Doki Doki Literature Club is that I actually would’ve enjoyed it if it were the aforementioned Higurashi clone. Or even just a regular, basic dating sim. When everything’s a deconstruction, there’s nothing left to deconstruct–so why not get back to the basics? A real dating sim where I don’t have to flat-out delete characters or deal with a club president who’s messing with everyone’s dialogue. I think I might’ve genuinely enjoyed Doki Doki Literature Club at least somewhat if it hadn’t broke the fourth wall so needlessly and just perhaps made Monika an ultra-manipulative bitch without superpowers–if nothing else, to highlight how insane she really is: Maybe you get to Sayori’s suicide and Monika threatens/blackmails the other members into avoiding you or acting out so you avoid them, but to no avail. Maybe Monika is driven to murder other club members to get your attention. She could easily be a classic yandere and it could’ve made the game much darker. If Monika has the power/sentience to remove characters from the game without reprimand, of course she’d do it–there’s no punishment. But if she were a regular character who couldn’t break the fourth wall who sought to remove other characters by, say, murder, then suddenly it’s much darker: There’s more for her to lose if it doesn’t work out, there’s more pressure on her to make sure it’s worth it. In a sentence, it’s much darker because her character has a lot to lose now. She has to put in effort to get what she wants now.

If nothing else, Doki Doki Literature Club cemented my being sick of fourth wall breaking deconstruction games pre-trend. I guess this all boils down to me just not liking this flavor of deconstruction and the game not being otherwise good enough to make up for it (Thimbleweed Park, for instance, was so excellent that it vastly outweighed its fourth-wall breaking deconstruction segment at its end).  To the gamers who are also getting sick of games breaking the fourth wall arbitrarily, this is 100% a waste of time for you. To gamers who wanted a cute dating sim, the warnings on this game, albeit a bit over exaggerated, aren’t kidding: This game is definitely not what it appears to be. To the less jaded gamer or the gamer who likes fourth wall breaking deconstruction though, I can see how this could be entertaining (I know that sounds kind of condescending but I mean it–I 100% understand why people love this game so much and I can think of a handful of people I know who’d like it, too, if they tried it. I see the appeal, it’s just not an appeal that works on me). Combined with the fact that this game is free, I’m really not surprised this game is so popular right now. I’m disappointed because now this might further promote more fourth-wall breaking deconstruction games, but not surprised.

via vndb.org

 

GrimGrimoire: Vanillaware’s Ultimate Hidden Gem

The year is 2007: A certain impressionable adolescent (read: me) who would regularly visit Border’s Books to peer through the anime magazines would see a beautifully drawn ad for a game about…well, who cares? The art was some of the best art I’d seen in a game. It was called GrimGrimoire, the main character was a witch, and it was being made by some new team called Vanillaware; that was pretty much all anyone could tell from the ad, but it was enough for me to know that I wanted to play it. I ended up getting a copy as a birthday gift and it didn’t dawn on me until I put the game in for the first time that I had no idea what kind of game I was in for. It was in an anime magazine, so it could be just about anything: A turn-based JRPG, an action JRPG, a visual novel, it could even be an action game.

To my surprise, it ended up being a real-time strategy game. What you should know is that it happens to be the first one I ever tried, and it didn’t take me long to get my ass kicked but I didn’t let that stop me–after all, have you seen that art? My efforts were ultimately rewarded: I went on a blind date with GrimGrimoire and fell in love with it.

Although GrimGrimoire was their first title (fun fact!), Vanillaware would go on to make a number of beloved, much more well-known games like Odin Sphere, Dragon’s Crown, and Muramasa: The Demon Blade that would largely overshadow GrimGrimoire. Especially with the release of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir last year and the upcoming release of Dragon’s Crown on PS4, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about Vanillaware lately–mostly about how now that my second favorite game by them is coming out on the PS4, will we see a port of my favorite as well? My favorite, of course, being GrimGrimoire.

When asked about hidden gems on the PS2, GrimGrimoire is usually among the first few games I mention–quite incredible, if you ask me, considering that I’m usually not a fan of RTS games. What’s more incredible, though, is that I run into so few people who’ve so much as heard of GrimGrimoire. I know it’s by no means a mainstream game nor is it considered one of the finest RTS gaming has to offer, but the fact that it’s a usually-liked game by Vanillaware–their first game, for that matter–makes me wonder how it’s flown under the radar for so many people? And I thought, well, in honor of its tenth anniversary this year and the fact that Vanillaware’s been on my mind lately, why not talk about this hidden gem, and maybe get more potential players interested?

The first thing I’ll usually tell people wondering what GrimGrimoire is that it’s basically Groundhog Day meets Harry Potter meets Starcraft. The second thing I’ll do is assure whoever I’m talking to that unlike Odin Sphere–which, mind you, came out only a few months after GrimGrimoire–it’s surprisingly not laggy. For those unaware (possibly a lot of you, seeing as how this issue was mostly fixed in the PS3 port and totally fixed in Leifthrasir) perhaps the most common complaint for the PS2 version of Odin Sphere is how badly it lagged when there was a lot going on on-screen (which is very often).  Knowing that GrimGrimoire is an RTS game would probably make anyone a little paranoid then–after all, if it had come out first and likely had more going on on-screen, the lag is probably just as bad, maybe worse, right? Surprisingly, wrong. I don’t know how or why, but somehow, GrimGrimoire runs significantly smoother than the PS2 version of Odin Sphere. This is nothing short of incredible considering that the screen is often crammed to max capacity with magic circles, dragons, zombies, fairies, homunculi, etc.

Now seems as good a time as ever to tell you what you’re actually doing in GrimGrimoire: You play as aspiring witch Harry Potter Lillet Blan during her first few days at the prestigious magic school Hogwarts Town of Silver Star. After 5 days, however, she goes back to Day 1 a la Groundhog Day. Quickly catching on to the situation, she uses her magical abilities to discover what’s going on in the dark underbelly of her beloved new school. Playing as Lillet, you’ll use different kinds of magic (glamor, necromancy, alchemy, etc.) to summon different kinds of creatures (fairies, ghosts, dragons, etc.) to achieve your goals.

As you’d expect from a Vanillaware game, the painted art is impeccable and extremely distinct. Environments are fluid and awe-inspiring, character designs ooze with the fantasy GrimGrimoire wants to bring you into, and even the smallest animations are mesmerizing. Art, of course, isn’t the only hallmark Vanillaware secured in the creation of GrimGrimoire. Many of your ally units have cameos in many of their later games, as well. The elves and fairies, for instance, appear in Odin Sphere, as well. For better of for worse, Vanillaware also laid the foundations of its status as a team that makes difficult games with GrimGrimoire which is generally considered to be at least somewhat challenging. Personally, I found Odin Sphere to be much more difficult since GrimGrimoire gave you the means to be much more in control of the battles you fought (not to mention that you didn’t have to drastically change your style of gameplay ever few hours) but I still wouldn’t recommend it to someone looking for something they can breeze through. That said, I also wouldn’t totally deter people who don’t play many (or any) RTS games from it either. The game gives you a staggering degree of control, so much that it even helps the most uncomfortable of RTS players (even like me when I first played it!) warm up to it. If my 13-year-old self who had never played an RTS before this one can figure it out, I’m confident anyone else can, too.

 

via lparchive.org

Although Vanillaware has expressed interest in making a sequel for GrimGrimoire, for whatever reason (many fans speculate it was them getting too busy keeping up with the overwhelming success from Odin Sphere which, again, came out only months after GrimGrimoire) it simply hasn’t happened. Jouji Kamitani, the founder of Vanillaware and creator of GrimGrimoire, has stated that if GrimGrimoire were to ever get a sequel, it would likely be some kind of online versus game with the same or similar gameplay from the original intact. A lack of a multiplayer mode and the difficulty of the game, in my experience, tend to be the most common complaints GrimGrimoire gets, so I think that by making this online versus version of it (which would effectively kill 2 birds with one stone) could be exactly what GrimGrimoire needs if it ends up being next on Vanillaware’s to-do list.

If you needed one last incentive to give GrimGrimoire a try, it’s one of the very few games I’ve played with a canonically queer protagonist. To give more details than that would be to spoil a large part of the game, but what I can tell you is that yes–Lillet Blan, although never explicitly defining her sexuality, is queer. It’s already been discussed here on The Lifecast why diversity and representation–especially when it comes to having LGBTQ+ characters–matters so I won’t delve into this too much, but what I will say is that I’m almost positive that this was the first game I ever played with a canonically queer protagonist in my life.

As a matter of fact, GrimGrimoire was a game of many firsts for me: It was the first time I blindly wanted a game just because of its art (luckily it worked out for me with GrimGrimoire–that’s a trend that definitely didn’t keep up, much to my dismay), it was the first game I played with a canonically queer protagonist, my first RTS, and in fact I’m pretty sure it was also the first time I played a game with a dual audio option because I distinctly remember playing the game in Japanese with English subs because my 13-year-old self couldn’t believe how cool and almost futuristic that was (and because frankly, the Japanese voice acting was much better for the most part anyways). I find it very fitting that GrimGrimoire was a game of so many firsts for me seeing as how it was also Vanillaware’s first game. Whereas I don’t consider myself to be an especially huge fan of Vanillaware’s game, I do think that they’re among the most artistic triple-A games that get released, and for that I give them a lot of credit.

Although GrimGrimoire may not be the best game on the PS2, it’s a game I’ve never really understood why so seemingly few people have played. It seems to have nothing but positive features lined up for it, yet perhaps because of how soon Odin Sphere came out and overshadowed it, it seems to generally go unnoticed by a lot of gamers who I think would love it if they gave it a chance. If GrimGrimoire were to be re-released on PS4 with a multiplayer option–ideally one that could handle online and local multiplayer–I think that would be the breath of life this underrated gem needs to remind people what set the bar for quality in Vanillaware’s games. A bar which, in my opinion, has still yet to be reached by any of Vanillaware’s other titles even 10 years later.

via escapistmagazine.com

Why Bioshock is my Favorite Game of All Time: An Ode to Bioshock’s 10th Birthday

Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite games are JRPGs. I prefer turn-based ones like Earthbound, Persona, and Final Fantasy 10, but there’s a fair share of action ones I love, too, like .hack and The World Ends With You. So it therefore might be surprising to hear that I’m also really big on the horror genre in general–not just in games, but in media overall. I grew up on classic horror movies–mostly the Universal monsters and Vincent Price movies, and it’s a love I’ve kept close to me all my life in movies, TV, books, and of course, games. Most notably Silent Hill 2 and 3, which are 2 of my favorite games of all time, and stand out quite a bit in my otherwise mostly anime-filled list of favorite games. But perhaps what stands out more is my number 1 choice:
Despite what many people may guess, and believe me I don’t blame you for these guesses, it’s not my favorite JRPG of all time, Earthbound. It’s not any of my other favorite JRPGs like Persona 3, 4, or 5 or .hack//G.U. It’s not even any of the other stellar JRPGs that dominate best JRPG of all time lists like Skies of Arcadia, Suikoden 2, or Chrono Trigger even though they’re all definitely fantastic games. No, my favorite game of all time is the incredible, critically acclaimed Bioshock.

Did I mention that I once got to meet Levine? Because I did.

I think it’s a safe bet that most of you reading this know what Bioshock is since it’s so well-known, but just in case you don’t, it was a game made by Irrational Games in 2007. It was led by the one and only Ken Levine who was very involved in a similar game, System Shock 2. Bioshock is a horror game about a man named Jack who gets into a plane crash and finds his way to the once-illustrious, underwater city of Rapture which is now being torn apart from the inside out by the once-human Splicers, Big Daddies, and Little Sisters all seeking one of Rapture’s most incredible scientific creations, Adam, which essentially grants the user various super powers (often at the cost of their humanity or sanity).
Levine would also create a sequel for Bioshock, the more recent Bioshock Infinite which is also a wonderful game. Some of you may be wondering about Bioshock 2, but contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t made by Irrational or Ken Levine and the number of main series contradictions it contains combined with the ending of Bioshock Infinite suggests that Bioshock 2 didn’t take place in the same universe as 1 or Infinite, but we’re not here to talk about the Bioshock timeline or canon today.
We’re here to talk about the original Bioshock, which dominated game sales charts when it first came out August 21, 2007–exactly a decade ago as of when this article is being written. Practically overnight it became one of 2007’s most acclaimed games–not an feat considering Portal, Team Fortress 2, Halo 3, Modern Warfare, and Super Mario Galaxy all came out during the same year.
I would’ve been just starting 8th grade when it came out, but I wouldn’t play it until my sophomore year of high school–so about 2 and a half years later. As a matter of fact, it was around the time Bioshock 2 came out. A friend of mine at the time was working at Gamestop and used her employee discount to buy it. I thought it sounded cool so I asked her if I could borrow it when she was done. I didn’t know too much about Bioshock at the time, just that it was a horror game that took place in an underwater city and that there were Big Daddies and Little Sisters, but that was the limit of my knowledge aside from the fact that this game was pretty much universally adored. I went in to it with high expectations, expecting a game that was really good, but probably not as good as say, Silent Hill 2. I was dead wrong.

via polygon.com

Bioshock blew away my expectations in pretty much every way possible. From the minute I started to the minute I beat it and immediately went back in for a new ending, the sheer artistry in this game, was juts mind boggling to me. Before I played Bioshock I didn’t really have a concrete favorite game, just kind of a group of favorites, but it became immediately clear to me that this was, by far, the best game I’d ever played. It’s now 7 years later and this game still never ceases to amaze me. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve replayed it, but I can tell you that it’s at least 4 or 5. But what is it about Bioshock that always keeps me coming back for more? I’ve played so many amazing games in my day, but what is it about Bioshock that makes it so much better than the others for me? How does Bioshock relate to me, and why is it able to do so more than other games?
There are many reasons why Bioshock is my favorite game of all time. It’s very well-made, well-researched, the graphics are some of the best of their time and hold up pretty well, gameplay is solid, it’s a game oozing with creativity and originality, but so is Earthbound. So is Persona. So is Silent Hill 2 and 3. These are all the expected hallmarks of a masterpiece. So what, to me, makes Bioshock stand out among them? Is it just because it’s especially well made? I thought about it a while, and I think it mostly boils down to one thing:

I love a good story.

I love a good story that I can sink my teeth into that’s well-researched from top to bottom. One that leaves no stones unturned and has an incredibly well-made universe–even if that means it’s the one we live in. One with engaging characters. One with great conflicts–I’m especially a big fan of conflicts with moral ambiguity where you’re the judge of who’s the good guy and bad guy, despite who the protagonist may be, or if there’s even a good guy or bad guy. One with symbolism that means to convey a heavier message. Things like Star Trek the Next Generation, Shiki, Earthbound, Death Note, and LISA would be a few other examples of fiction that I think exceed at this 5-star storytelling. If these are examples, then Bioshock is a textbook definition.

via wccftech.com

Unparalleled environmental storytelling, audio diaries that show the dark underbelly of the politics of Rapture, the most graceful breaking of the fourth wall ever executed, characters that fall into the deepest and darkest extremes, even the advertisements seen throughout Rapture–every single facet of Rapture–serves to further tell the story of Rapture and what’s happened there. The symbolism that it bleeds–even what it references (EX: Atlas Shrugged)–only further tells the story of the morals, philosophy, and general attitude Rapture once held and is holding. A few other games have managed all of these things, but none even close to the degree of Bioshock, which has effectively fleshed out is whole universe more thoroughly than any other game I’ve played. What I’m trying to say is, both its environment and writing are exceptionally immersive of their own rights–when combined, they effectively create an immersive experience unlike any other. One that made me think about this game in a way that, when I first played it, I’d never thought before. One which every gamer owes themselves to try at least once.

I’d never experienced a universe as creative and thorough as Bioshock’s when I first played, and to this day, I still haven’t. I’ve never been more immersed in a given game universe than that of Bioshock’s, which is in fact so thorough that I feel like I could write a school paper on it (like a history paper or a column on the politics). Rapture is truly a place unlike any other, one that was crafted with the utmost love and care. Bioshock’s is a world I continue to get lost in no matter how much I play it, one that continues to surprise and impress me in its meticulous details and careful planning. To some, the addition of such painstaking and unnecessary details might seem excessive, but to me they make Rapture come alive in a way I’ve never seen in any other game.

To me, Bioshock is more than a game, it’s a piece of art unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. Beyond being incredibly well-made, it’s a testament to how much a game can immerse you and impact you in ways you never thought possible. Through its exceptionally creative and thorough storytelling, Bioshock is the first game that made me think critically about games, made me seriously think about its philosophy, made me think about the symbolism and want to analyze the story, hell it made me read Atlas Shrugged. It’s a game that made me question myself through the sheer grace in which its message was conveyed. It’s my favorite game of all time.

Would you kindly understand why I love this game so much now?

via nerdist.com

 

 

Nintendo World Championships Return for 2017

The third Nintendo World Championship (held originally in 1990 and again in 2015) will be held October 7 in the Manhattan Center’s Grand Ballroom, New York, USA.  Qualifying tournaments at select Best Buy stores across the country (New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Dallas, Seattle, and Miami) will begin later this month (August 19). At the tournaments, attendees can also play demos for Mario Odyssey and Metroid: Samus Returns. Details and store addresses can be found on the official website.

This year, Nintendo has added a 12 and under division that hasn’t previously been present. The other age division is simply 13+. At the qualifying tournament, the website says that competitors will be playing Mario Kart 7 for the 3DS to compete for their spots in the competition.Whether or not there will be prizes of any kind has not yet been specified.

The Nintendo World Championship is perhaps most well-known from its legacy of the legendary golden Nintendo World Championship cartridges, which are often called not just the rarest NES game, but arguably the rarest video game of all time. For collectors, a golden 1990 Nintendo World Championship cartridge is a holy grail that commands 10s of thousands of dollars when they go on the market (which, as you can imagine, is almost never).

Splatoon 2: The Sequel that Could’ve Been

When I played the demo of Splatoon 2 back at PAX East, I liked it, but there wasn’t much of anything that made it feel like a sequel rather than a port of the first Splatoon from 2015 to Switch. In fact, my exact words were, “The demo of Splatoon 2 paints the game as an only slightly upgraded version of Splatoon: Still very fun, but not enough differences from the original Splatoon to make it feel like a new or different game in any way. In its current state, it feels more like a slight patch to the original Splatoon.” After having played the finished game for a while, I still feel the exact same way: It’s fun, but really doesn’t have enough new material to feel like a totally separate game from the original Splatoon. Rather, it simply feels like a port of the original Splatoon, but with a few new weapons and Salmon Run (which of course, is only available during certain times of the day). Even if a game has succeeded in being a good game, it still fails as a sequel if it’s hard to tell the difference between it and its original. Such is the case of Splatoon 2.

I find the fact that this is happening to Splatoon on the Switch, of all things, ironic when Mario Kart seemed to have the complete opposite happen to it at practically the exact same time: Mario Kart is a firmly established recurring series for Nintendo. Its latest entry, Mario Kart 8, is one of the most well-received Mario Kart titles out there and came out in 2014. The time is right for a new Mario Kart game on Nintendo’s newest console, yet instead, they did exactly what they should’ve done with Splatoon: They just ported it. Tell me if this sounds familiar: They added a little bit of new content to it, and then threw it on the Switch.

via arstechnica.com

The point I’m trying to get across here is that I’m so perplexed why Nintendo didn’t (pun not intended) switch the situations of these 2 games. Mario Kart is due for a sequel, and especially with Mario Kart 8 being one of the Wii U’s centerpieces, now would’ve been a great time to release Mario Kart 9–yet instead, they added a pinch of new content and just ported Mario Kart 8. Splatoon wouldn’t have been due for a sequel for another year or so, yet Nintendo gave the original Splatoon a pinch of new content and called it Splatoon 2–since it’s so similar to the original, they simply should’ve just called it what it is: A Splatoon port.

I’ve been told that perhaps the reason Nintendo chose to treat these games this way–or at least Splatoon–is to establish its status as a new recurring series for Nintendo. After all, there are ports for F-Zero available on the Virtual Console and we all know about how Nintendo feels about sequels for it. But by making a sequel that feels like a copy/pasting of the original, I really don’t think it’s helping Nintendo out as much as they’d like it to be in terms of establishing Splatoon as a recurring series. I’m sure they made a ton of money off of it, and it’s a fantastic game, but it’s so similar to the original Splatoon that it simply doesn’t read as a sequel. This makes me worry if Splatoon 3, 4, etc. will be the same way.

A series this reminds me of is Monster Hunter. I love Monster Hunter, make no mistake, but since titles for it come out so frequently these days and many of them are incredibly similar to each other, I haven’t actually bought a new one since 4. I plan on getting the next release with hopes that the minute differences found between Monster Hunter titles will finally have stacked enough to feel like a proper sequel, but after playing demos and reading reviews of all the new releases we’ve got since 4, none of them have seemed like a different enough experience from 4 to make me want to buy what is essentially 4 all over again.

Splatoon, I’m worried, will fall in this “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category of game sequels in which little differences are made in each new entry, but usually nothing substantial. There are plenty of fine games and sequels that fall under this category–mostly yearly releases–but personally, in my humble (read this word closely) opinion–I prefer the traditional version of the sequel that keeps the spirit of the original alive but still feels like a different game.

via starmen.net

When I think of what a successful sequel looks like, I think of Nintendo’s own MOTHER trilogy. From the very beginning, each game has the same bizarre atmosphere and base concept of an ordinary child getting psychic powers and being thrown into extraordinary situations (featuring rampant symbolism). Moreover, their aesthetics and soundtracks, although different, are just similar enough to remind the player of other MOTHER games. Earthbound acts as a successful sequel to MOTHER by keeping its bizarreness intact whilst polishing the gameplay by adding a little something new (the rolling HP counter) and fixing some of the common complaints that the original MOTHER had (EX: Too much grinding, too easy to die). MOTHER 3 does the exact same thing to Earthbound–it adds the beat battles and fixes many of Earthbound’s common complaints (too hard to avoid enemies, not enough boss battles). Earthbound and MOTHER 3 are textbook definitions of what proper sequels should be–and effectively, a proper trilogy. These are the kinds of sequels I like best, and these kinds of sequels tend to be more prevalent in Nintendo titles.

Splatoon in and of itself is good enough of a base game for me to want to own it on the Switch. I (and I’m sure many other gamers) would’ve still bought it if it was just being called a Splatoon port on the Switch as well. But alas, I’m very aware that not everyone is that way, and by calling it Splatoon 2 Nintendo definitely made more money. From a financial standpoint, they made the right decision. In doing this, however, they’ve confirmed that if Splatoon 3 is the same way then they’ve cemented its status as a rarely changing game  series. Which is fine for some gamers, it is. It’s just the preference some people have–there’s nothing wrong with that. But in this particular gamer’s opinion, if Splatoon 3 follows suit, Splatoon will definitely become one of those series that I only buy every 2-3 sequels for with hopes that they’ll have changed just enough by then to feel like a proper sequel–to feel like I’m not just purchasing the same game all over again as I did with Splatoon 2. Not to mention to prevent the gameplay from becoming stale.

What surprises me the most about this since it’s Splatoon is the fact that this is a Nintendo game. From a business perspective, they did the right thing. They were safe rather than sorry. Artistically, however, Nintendo has been known to be a company that likes to take risks and be different. I mean, this is a game being played on a console with its on monitor if you need proof. Moreover, they’ve proven through Pokemon that it’s entirely possible to make recurring sequels with just enough changes to feel like a different game and still make it not just good, but excellent. That’s to say nothing of the aforementioned MOTHER trilogy, main series Mario games, Metroid, even Mario Kart to name a handful. It therefore surprises me that Nintendo didn’t try to be more risky with Splatoon. I’d expect this kind of static, unchanging sequel from a Sony or Microsoft game, but Nintendo? It’s incredibly rare, but it does happen from time to time (read: Most of the recent Mario Party releases). This just happens to be one of those times, unfortunately.

I do like Splatoon 2, I do, I just wish it felt like a sequel rather than a port. This is a very common thread I’ve seen in many critiques of Splatoon 2. I think Haedox, in particular, summed it up best in his review on Splatoon 2 when he said, “Nintendo is clearly capable of doing so much better when all they have to do is observe their competition…It’s still fun, but it gets back to the central issue of missed potential…Splatoon 2 is already beginning to get a bit stale because of its similarities to the first game.” By adding new classes of weapons, perhaps other gameplay modes (more than just the sometimes-open Salmon Run, for sure–though admittedly, if Salmon Run were open 24/7 it would help), more to do in Inkopolis Square, adding more customization options and outfits, and maybe even adding other small, fun things (for example: I always wondered why Callie and Marie, despite being such beloved pop stars, never had a show like this in Inkopolis) Splatoon 2 could’ve been one of the best releases in a year that’s widely considered to be one of the best gaming’s had in years with its constant stream of 5-star releases–yet it simply wasn’t. Splatoon 2 is a wonderful game, make no mistake, but it’s also only a wonderful game because the first Splatoon was a wonderful game. It may not feel like a sequel but if you were hoping to put one of the Wii U’s most beloved titles on your Switch, it’s available.

Soonercon 2017: A Strong DnD Presence

For those of you unaware, Soonercon 26 happened last weekend in Midwest City, OK. I had the pleasure of attending the local con, and above all else what pleasantly surprised me (other than running into Todd Haberkorn at the end of Victoria Price’s panel) was how strong the Dungeons & Dragons (henceforth DnD) presence was there. As many of you know, we here at The Lifecast quite enjoy our tabletop roleplaying games and DnD, in particular, is how many of us got started. (You may recall we’ve even uploaded some of our DnD sessions, and our very own Greg has put detailed descriptions of some of his homebrews on the site!)

Before I tell you about the DnD presence at Soonercon, however, it’s first important to understand what Soonercon is: It’s Oklahoma’s longest running all-things-geeky convention. Whether you’re into anime, games (video or tabletop), comics, sci-fi, fantasy, Star Wars, Star Trek, steampunk, or even Renaissance faire culture, Soonercon has a little something for everyone. Speaking of little, it’s also important to realize that Soonercon is a more intimate convention than you may expect–an exact number of attendees this year is not yet known, but the con had an anticipated attendance of 2,000–so if you prefer smaller, more tight-knit conventions where you won’t have to worry about overwhelming lines or claustrophobic environments where you’re more likely to talk to people and make more friends and connections, Soonercon is ideal!

That being said, perhaps it really shouldn’t be as much of a surprise that the DnD presence at Soonercon was so strong. DnD is, after all, a team-based game for friends–so what better place to play it than one where you’re surrounded by like-hobbied individuals?

A chat with one of the co-chairs of the gaming department, Wren Willis, revealed that the DnD presence at Soonercon was especially emphasizing community through DnD Adventure–essentially DnD, but with about 5 separate tables (each with their own DM) going on different, but all related, quests. What one group does will affect another, and they might share the same stories or story elements or even directly get involved with each other. Basically, it’s a domino effect in DnD groups. For example: Group 1 slays a dragon, group 2 now needs an item from its carcass but group 3 already took it and wants to sell it, but group 4 is the only one with money so now group 2 needs to find either money or a different way to get the item.

Evidently, DnD Adventure was very popular at Soonercon! One glance into the tabletop room revealed several full tables of players rolling dice, telling stories, and, well, adventuring! A chat with Kyle from the DnD Adventure League revealed that there was somewhere between 50-60 people playing DnD at any given time, plus another 70 going on adventures. The Adventure League exists all across the country, usually with the same groups managing or overseeing them in the same region (for example, the group at Soonercon also told me that they manage the Adventure League at several other cons in Oklahoma and a few in Dallas).

The DnD presence wasn’t just limited to the gaming room though–a panel was held on Saturday, The Great DnD Rebirth, in which a group of veteran players (including some who have play-tested for Wizards) talked about what it was like getting into DnD 10-20 years ago versus now, what’s changed, and the general goings-on of DnD. A particularly prevalent theme was the lack of diversity one would see in DnD 20 years ago when the game was much less known. One player in particular mentioned that, growing up in the Bible Belt (as most, if not all, of the people in the room had) as far as his family was concerned, Looney Toons, metal, and DnD were the unholy trinity. Another player, a gay man, mentioned how DnD was among one of the first things his mom thought might have made him gay. A female player was also present, and she focused on the lack of a female presence in the early days of DnD.

If there’s one thing this panel made abundantly clear, it’s that getting into DnD 10-20 years ago was seen, socially, as more like getting into a cult than getting into a game. They mentioned the first times they’d ever seen DnD portrayed in the media–E.T. was the most common answer, as well as the late 90’s and early 2000’s when geek culture started to garner a certain level of coolness in pop culture. How before that time, DnD was something that a lot of people just didn’t understand and legitimately thought it might’ve been satanic activity. Perhaps why that’s why DnD now has such a generally accepting community, allowing anyone to be anything regardless of religion, gender, sexual preference, age, etc.

For those attendees who weren’t as into DnD but still wanted to play tabletop rpgs, there were a number of Pathfinder Society set-ups around as well. For those who just wanted to play tabletop, there was a small number of other, miscellaneous tabletop games (like trading card games and casual board games) throughout the room as well, in addition to a Nerf Gun war happening outside.

A sense of community in DnD, both in and out of the tabletop room, was perhaps the most common thread I noticed in Soonercon’s DnD presence. Whether it was the panel that told us how we arrived at that sense of community before it was around, or the tabletop room itself which was very welcoming to players of all skill-levels, there was definitely a strong sense of community and players just wanting to have fun present throughout Soonercon. Perhaps due to the con’s size, the DnD presence at Soonercon felt much bigger than most of its other presences (the next biggest probably being Star Wars, which boasted an incredible set-up made by Jedi OKC) around the convention–something I, as a DnD player, found very welcoming.

Unpictured, there was an impressive Jabba the Hut set-up as well

Even if tabletop games weren’t your thing, official representatives from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo were all present at the convention. If you wanted to try Arms or Horizon Zero Dawn, there was essentially no line all day on Saturday, so you could’ve easily tried a demo of either game. I was told that originally Gamestop was supposed to be present with a few game demos, but they couldn’t attend therefore allowing Nintendo and Sony to come in their place. This might’ve been why their tables were so small, but who’s to argue when you can easily get to play a demo of Arms, right?

If you’re a fan of DnD or trying to get into DnD, Soonercon would’ve been a pretty ideal place to start. A quick look around would instantly tell anyone just how many players were there, and how easy it could be to start jumping into the game now. One of the benefits of smaller conventions is a greater sense of community, and easier means of getting to try everything the con has to offer: Soonercon was such a con with DnD. You want to try Adventure League? Plenty of time and space. You’d rather play a normal game of DnD? There were still groups present playing it. Even if DnD wasn’t your cup of tea and you’d rather play Pathfinder, you could still find it around. (No Shadowrun though, sadly. At least, not that I noticed). If you’re a tabletop fan or aspiring tabletop fan who finds yourself in the Oklahoma area next Summer, I’d definitely say Soonercon is worth a visit. Despite all the mixed focuses of the con, the DnD presence was, by far, one of–if not the–strongest at the con.

Visual Novels for People Who Don’t Like Visual Novels

Visual novels are one of the most niche genres you can find in Western gaming. In Japanese gaming communities, visual novels are a staple. In the West, not so much. There’s no definitive reason why this large difference in markets exists, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.

There’s a number of (not entirely unfair) stigmas on visual novels: “They have 0 gameplay”, “They’re all anime”, “They’re all dating simulators”, “The stories aren’t interesting enough”, “They’re all on PC and I only play console” and so on. And although it’s okay to simply not like visual novels, I also think it’s important to remind people that there are exceptions to these common misconceptions. There are visual novels with more gameplay than others, there are some visual novels that have had official releases on handhelds and consoles in the English speaking market, they’re not all drawn in an anime style, there are some that are American-made, and they’re certainly not all dating sims, for example.

I’ve compiled a list of visual novels that fall into such categories: Visual novels that even people who don’t like visual novels might find worth a try because they break the stereotypical image of the cheap, anime dating sim that most people associate with the phrase “visual novel”. Alternatively, think of this as a list of worthwhile visual novels that a visual novel novice might find as a good starting point for getting into the world of visual novels. And of course, fans of visual novels will probably recognize most–if not all–of these titles, and if they haven’t played them already, I’d highly recommend each and every one of these.

 

Steins;Gate

There’s a good chance you’ve already heard of the prodigal son of the SciAdv series, Steins;Gate, thanks to its critically acclaimed anime. For everything that makes the anime great, it makes the visual novel arguably one of the best of all time. Although heralded as one of the better visual novel adaptation anime, it still doesn’t capture everything in the Steins;Gate story–especially now that the sequel, Steins;Gate 0, is out. The world of Steins;Gate is vast, interesting, well-written, and in one word, memorable.

Set in Akihabara, Japan during the Summer of 2010 (the not-so-distant future at the time it came out), Steins;Gate is the story of a young, down-on-his-luck scientist, Okabe, who finds a way to send text messages to the past. He quickly discovers the dark truth behind the research of time travel, and takes on the task of preventing a dystopian future that it’ll cause at the cost of his sanity and his friend’s lives.

The story of Steins;Gate is one of the most praised in visual novel history. If you’re looking for a visual novel with a gripping story and lovable characters, this is precisely what you’re looking for. It’s also among the most accessible visual novels on this list, as it’s available on Steam, PSVita, and PS3.

 

Katawa Shoujo

What happens when a group of 4channers can’t get enough of a doujinshi artist’s concept sketches? They formalize a team, call it Four Leaf Studios, hire Mike Inel, and make a visual novel based off of those sketches. And so Katawa Shoujo was born in 2012.

You play as Hisao, a high school senior who was just diagnosed with a heart condition. He’s sent to a school for the disabled where he befriends an energetic track star with prosthetic legs, a laid back artist with no arms, the deaf student counsel president (and her translator), the blind yet graceful class representative, a shy burn victim, and the legally blind conspiracy theorist. In a sentence, this is a dating sim featuring a cast of disabled girls.

At its core, Katawa Shoujo is a set of heartwarming stories about self-discovery, acceptance, the thrill of youth, and most importantly, love. Not a single weak character or story exists in this stellar dating sim. Dating sims, more than any other kind of visual novel, are extremely character driven and therefore need a diverse set of interesting, well-written, and likable characters–Katawa Shoujo succeeds with flying colors in this respect, making it one of the best (and most accessible! it’s free on their official website) dating sim visual novels you can find.

 

Zero Escape

I’ve made my opinion on the Zero Escape trilogy (999, Virtue’s Last Reward, Zero Time Dilemma) very clear in the past a number of times–I adore it. It’s one of my favorite trilogies in video games period. It’s a cult-favorite, highly acclaimed trilogy of puzzle visual novels for the gamer who likes a good challenge.

Each game starts out the same way: You (and you play as a number of characters throughout the trilogy, but mostly Junpei and Sigma) and a group are trapped in an enclosed building of some sort and your lives are all on the line–use your scientific prowess and creativity to escape. You’ll die a few times, you’ll come back to life a few times, and most importantly, you must find out who’s behind your imprisonment and why. There is an overarching story throughout the trilogy as well, and therefore, these game absolutely should not be played out of order.

If you enjoy puzzle games that’ll test you to your absolute limit, Zero Escape will more than satisfy. Aside from being an excellent visual novel, each of the Zero Escape games are known for their extremely challenging puzzles that’ll test your creativity, problem solving, scientific knowledge, morals, and ability to listen to their fullest extent. For the visual novel novice who likes puzzle games, Zero Escape is ideal.

 

Ace Attorney

Odds are if you’ve played at least one visual novel without realizing it, then it’s almost definitely an Ace Attorney game. One of Capcom’s most beloved handheld series, Ace Attorney has been around since 2001. Since then it’s had 6 main series games, a few crossovers (most notably with Professor Layton and a cameo by Pheonix in Marvel vs Capcom 3), and a few spinoff games–a few of which were never released outside of Japan.

Ace Attorney tells the story of rookie lawyer Pheonix Wright who only takes cases in which he believes his client is truly innocent–even if the evidence is against them! You’ll explore crime scenes, question witnesses, and face off against a variety of prosecutors who want nothing more than to whip you, throw coffee at you, get you disbarred, or even show you their sick air guitar riffs because they’re a part-time prosecutor, part-time rock star.

Consistency in its incredible writing and fascinating characters are what drives the Ace Attorney series. Its sense of humor is also worth mentioning, as it makes the otherwise serious tone you might suspect of a game about a lawyer disappear almost entirely. Without playing them, most people likely wouldn’t expect a game series about a defense attorney to be even half as entertaining as Ace Attorney is–and Ace Attorney is, without a doubt, not only one of the most entertaining visual novels out there, but entertaining handheld games period.

 

Hotel Dusk: Room 215

One of the most standout titles on the Nintendo DS, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a visual novel that does nothing conventionally. From its art style to its story and even the way you actually have to hold the game, Hotel Dusk is, at the very least, one of the most creative visual novels you’ll ever play.

The year is 1979, and a former detective, Kyle Hide, finds himself staying in a rundown hotel with a gaggle of colorful guests. Allegedly, wishes are mysteriously granted to those who stay in the room he’s been assigned. Haunted by the shadows of his past and perplexed by the mysteries surrounding this hotel, you’ll play as Kyle as he solves puzzles and discovers the missing connections between his past and present.

There’s more gameplay in Hotel Dusk than most of the other titles on this list. If a lack of gameplay is one of the major reasons you avoid visual novels, this one would be a bit more up your alley if you like puzzle games or point and click adventures–or even games that are a bit more experimental in their execution. Hotel Dusk is, without a doubt, one of the most memorable games on the Nintendo DS. Hotel Dusk is a must-play for anyone who wants to experience the best of what the beloved handheld has to offer.

 

Danganronpa

Although its anime wasn’t as well-received as Steins;Gate, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is another visual novel with an anime that helped bring it to the forefront of notoriety in visual novel releases in the West. Since its release, it’s had a number of re-releases, spinoffs, and even sequels on various platforms.

In a sentence, Danganronpa is Ace Attorney meets Zero Escape. You play as Naegi–an ordinary high school student with extraordinary luck. So lucky, in fact, that he was randomly selected to enroll in a high school, Hope’s Peak Academy, for the incredibly gifted. When he and his classmates arrive, they’re told that they’ll be held captive in the school forever unless they kill each other. When a student is found murdered, they’ll hold a trial. If the true culprit is discovered, they’ll be executed. If the murder is pinned on the wrong culprit, the innocent will all be executed. In a series of high stakes trials and investigations, you and your fellow classmates must not only solve the mystery of the murders, but the mystery of Hope’s Peak Academy itself and who’s truly behind everything.

Also like Ace Attorney and Zero Escape, it features more gameplay than most visual novels–mostly puzzle solving and trials very similar to Ace Attorney. Admittedly, Danganronpa relies heavier on typical (and often clichéd) anime character tropes than anything else on this list. I’d therefore be more hesitant toward recommending it for the regular anime watcher, but for someone less familiar with the triteness of many of these tropes, this would be fine. I’d therefore call Danganronpa probably the best visual novel entrance point for someone who not only doesn’t play many (if any at all) visual novels, but also just doesn’t watch much–if any–anime either. It is, at the very least, redeemed in its sense of style and a mantra of “Go big or go home” that seems to be thematic throughout the entire game.

 

Hatoful Boyfriend

Have you ever wanted to date a pigeon?

 

Clannad

Like Steins;Gate and Danganronpa, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Clannad thanks to its famously tear-jerking anime. Originally released in 2004 by Key (the makers of many other highly successful visual novels like Kanon, Angel Beats, and Rewrite) , Clannad has managed to survive the test of time better than most other visual novels thanks to its highly praised emotional writing and endearing cast of characters.

The story of Clannad is a simple one: You play as Tomoya, a high school senior, and a bit of a slacker. One day he befriends a cute girl from his school, Nagisa, and through her and the experiences they share, he makes a few other female friends: Now choose one to date. Each girl has her own unique route in the game in which you spend time with her and an after story which acts as an epilogue.

If you like a heartfelt, emotionally charged story then Clannad will deliver. Through highly sympathetic characters, it’s a visual novel that will make you laugh and cry with equal intensity all in the same chapter. If you liked the anime, you’ll love the visual novel. Like Steins;Gate, the anime for Clannad is often praised as being one of the better visual novel adaptation anime, but it’s still far from perfect. Above all, Clannad conveys strong messages of personal growth and learning to love: Ideal for the player who’s going through a rough patch in their lives and in need of encouragement or relatability.

 

 

Asagao Academy

Kickstarted by Cara Hillstock in 2014, Asagao Academy is one of the most charming dating sims you’ll ever play. Ever heard of Normal Boots on YouTube? (ProJared, Peanut Butter Gamer, Did You Know Gaming?, Satchbag, The Completionist, Continue?, and until recently, JonTron) Because it’s a dating sim where you date them.

You play as the cute, pink-haired Hana, as she transfers to a new school after being bullied at her old one. Despite her shy disposition, she’s quickly able to make friends with Mai and the extremely popular Normal Boots Club–which, of course, is made of the guys in Normal Boots. From here, you choose who to spend time with, what you’re doing, and of course, who to date. In dating them, Hana learns more about them, herself, and the potential danger in becoming too close to your friend’s pet bird.

Barring a few in-jokes, being a fan–or even familiar with–Normal Boots isn’t necessary for being able to appreciate Asagao Academy. At its core, Asagao Academy wants to tell stories of people overcoming obstacles in their lives with the help of their friends–romantic or otherwise. Where Asagao shines most is that, unlike most other dating sims, the importance of friendship is also heavily emphasized. Obviously your romantic relationship takes center stage, but friendships with Mai and other members of Normal Boots all still get time to shine–something extremely rare (and extremely wonderful!) in dating sims.

If Bubsy Can Come Back, So Can the Rest of the Games in my Dream Journal

If after the release of one of the worst games in gaming history and a 20 year absence Bubsy can make a triumphant return, then there’s no reason why the other games in my dream journal can’t. Anything is possible! And as Bubsy has just proven, there are no odds to slim! Which is why I’m pulling out the ol’ dream journal of games that I otherwise was sure would never come out, and I’m going to restore some of my hope for these beloved series. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

 

Mother 3

via twoleftsticks.com

The elusive sequel to Mother 2 (known in the States as Earthbound) that, to the lament of Earthbound fans, was never released outside of Japan. There is no definitive reason why it was never localized, but many speculate it’s because Earthbound sold so poorly at the time of its release that Nintendo didn’t want to risk losing more money on its sequel. This cult classic GBA game is now something of a symbol of game publishers not listening to their fans. And believe me, Nintendo is very aware of it.  But 20 years wasn’t enough to stop Bubsy, so why should Mother 3 care about 11, right?

 

Earthbound 2

via youtube.com

Known in Japan as Mother 3, Earthbound 2 is unofficial English name of the highly sought after sequel of Earthbound that was never released outside of Japan. We’ll never know exactly why it was never localized, but many speculate it’s because Reggie Fils-Aimé maintains his youthful facade by drinking the tears of Mother fans every night. Bubsy 3D is infamous for being one of the worst games in gaming history, and even that didn’t stop it from a sequel. So why should the fact that Earthbound didn’t sell as well as Nintendo wanted it to stop a sequel for it?

 

Earthbound 64

via earthboundcentral.com

Before it was eventually put on the GBA, Mother 3 was going to be a Nintendo 64 game that many fans refer to as Earthbound 64. Due to overwhelming technical difficulties however, the idea was eventually scrapped (but not before a few brief gameplay demos). About a decade later, it was finally revived and released as a 2D game on the GBA, Mother 3. The Internet has dug up every last scrap of information it could possibly get on this cryptid of a game, but legend has it that the only functional Earthbound 64 cartridge lies leagues beneath Nintendo of America’s headquarters, alongside a script for a localized version of Mother 3 being guarded by the last living dodo bird. If we have Bubsy to keep us going, I see no reason why a group of us Mother fans can’t just get together and dig under Nintendo of America’s headquarters. After all, if they have nothing to hide, why could they possibly mind a group of fans digging up its only headquarters in the country?

 

.hack//Link

via cc2.co.jp

.hack//Link is the elusive sequel to the .hack//G.U. series that connects it with the .hack//IMOQ series that was never released outside of Japan. There’s no definitive reason why it was never localized, but many fans believe it’s either because both of the previous .hack// series didn’t sell as well as Bandai Namco wanted them to and they didn’t want to risk losing more money, or because it’s the tears of English-speaking .hack// fans that keeps Dracula sealed away in the depths of a remote volcano island. Regardless, like Mother, .hack// has very much become a cult classic series since its release. Much has changed since the last .hack// game came out over here a decade ago. If it takes Bubsy 2 decades to get over having a game being called one of the worst in gaming history, then I’m sure .hack can get over having 7 fan-favorite JRPGs that just didn’t sell quite up to expectations in 1, don’t you agree?

 

The Son-Flower Boys: Lucas’s Wild Ride ft. Sentient Furniture

 

via aminoapps.com

Also known simply as Mother 3. We’ll never know exactly why it was never released outside of Japan, but many believe it’s because Nintendo likes drinking the salty tears of Mother fans out of champagne glasses before every E3 or Nintendo Direct for good luck.

When DLC isn’t Enough: On Shadows of Valentia and Content Distribution

It’s always a good day when a new Fire Emblem game comes out. Bright-eyed and hopeful, I went to GameStop last Friday for Shadows of Valentia with that mentality. In fact, I was even considering getting the amiibo pack (and I might have if they weren’t sold out by the time I arrived). I brought the game up to the register and the otherwise indifferent employee’s voice dropped a few octaves and she raised an eyebrow as she asked me if I wanted the season pass for the game. Knowing that the season pass costs more than the game itself (albeit by $5, but still more than the base game nonetheless) I said no, but followed it up by asking if anyone else had got it yet. She laughed and said no.

It’s no longer news that the Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia season pass costs more than the game itself. On top of this, the trailer and information revealed about it haven’t been particularly inspiring, and with its price tag, leaves much to be desired. Even now, many fans are still resentful about it–including myself. If there’s one thing we Fire Emblem fans know anything about, it’s over paying for Fire Emblem. Unfortunately, even when the game is new, not a 3 part game, not a rare collectible, or a lovable money hole of a mobile game, Intelligent Systems apparently wants to uphold that tradition in Shadows of Valentia through DLC and the amiibos.

Worst part is, this is the average price.

What frustrates me about this are 2 things: First and foremost, no season pass should cost more than the base game itself. Period. Season passes that cost more than their base games are indicative of one of 2 things: Either the DLC itself is over priced or there’s so much content that the developers should’ve either left a fraction of it in the base game or, if it’s story/mini-game content, then they should’ve made it a separate game entirely (but, just to reiterate, that’s only if it’s making it more expensive than the base game).

Second, even if you do decide to buy the season pass, you still don’t have all the content that this game has to offer. For the cherry on top of your content sundae, you need to buy the Shadows of Valentia amiibo 2 pack. It grants 2 more dungeons (one for each amiibo) and illusory heroes of Celica and Alm. In other words, for 100% of the content Shadows of Valentia has to offer, you’re paying a staggering $110 (or $130 if you got the special edition). That’s essentially triple (or more than, if you got the special edition) the price of the base game. That’s absolutely absurd.

 

via rpgsite.net

“For 100% of the content Shadows of Valentia has to offer, you’re paying a staggering $110.”

 

I will give Intelligent Systems points where they’re due, though: They are allowing players to either buy the DLC in packs or, as the site is currently leading us to believe, singularly. In other words, if you’re just interested in the prequel story in the DLC, you can buy those maps in a pack. Or, if you just want one or two extra maps, the official site lists individual prices on them so it’s reasonable to believe that they’ll be able to be purchased singularly. This doesn’t excuse them for this whole debacle, but admittedly, it does alleviate the issue since it shows that they’re at least somewhat aware that asking the players to pay $45 for the season pass of a $40 game is not only risky, but PR suicide.

The decision to make such an expensive season pass is surprising–not just because extra maps in Awakening were so reasonably priced, but because this game is coming through Nintendo–a company that’s only recently stepped into the realm of DLC and has been otherwise fair about pricing it and finding a good balance of how much to leave out for DLC. Part of me therefore wants to believe that perhaps this is their or Intelligent System’s way of experimenting with how much fans are willing to pay for DLC and what their attitudes are toward it. Unfortunately for them, if that is indeed the case, they likely won’t be seeing the results they were hoping for.

Numbers as of 5/23/2017

The only other reasonable explanation for the prices I could think of is Intelligent System’s trying to hold to the 28-map-tradition that’s in nearly every Fire Emblem game. By making DLC maps, they’re effectively keeping to tradition (a wise idea, since this is, after all, a remake) while offering the fans additional content. The addition of dungeons and exclusive classes might just be their way of putting icing on the cake, if this is the case. This might have been a better idea if the lackluster map designs weren’t perhaps the lowest common denominator among reviews for Shadows of Valentia.

Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is, Intelligent Systems made a frustrating decision by dividing up the additional content for Shadows of Valentia so poorly. What I think would’ve worked better for them is utilizing the amiibos more–perhaps adding a pack of the DLC currently in the season pass on each amiibo–therefore allowing the season pass to be about half its current price, and perhaps just being the prequel story with an extra dungeon or two. As for the exclusive classes, those should’ve been left in the main game. Extra maps and a little extra story is one thing, but classes for characters shouldn’t be exclusive to players who throw extra money into the game. It’s not just a scummy thing to do, but also downright unfair.

Issues with its pricing and content distribution aside, I truly am having fun with Shadows of Valentia so far–which only makes it more of a shame that these aforementioned problems are so prevalent. Although alleviated by the fact that they can all be purchased separately or singularly, it’s still no excuse for the fact that 100% of the game’s content is triple the price of the base game. I sincerely hope that Intelligent Systems and Nintendo learn from this–especially if Binding Blade really does end up getting remade next. I love Fire Emblem, I really do, but I don’t relish the idea of paying more than a hundred dollars on a single, complete game (unless it’s .hack//Quarantine, apparently, but that’s a whole other story).

via brcde.vg