Category Archives: Nintendo 3DS

I Take It Back

At least it looks pretty at times…

Phew… After roughly 60 hours, I’m finally done with Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, platinum trophy and everything. As much as I wanted to like it, it turned out to be one of the most low-key JRPGs in a long time. Even ample development time and a generous budget matter little when the heart isn’t in it, and this is one of those rare occasions when Level-5 swings a miss. Half of my disappointment stems from the story. Young Evan’s growth from a displaced king to the savior of the whole world is a perfectly adequate motif but the adventure only ends up repeating itself in an awfully predictable fashion. Evan and his friends travel from one neighboring kingdom to another, listening to their problems, trundling through their dungeons, whooping a massive monster behind all the distress, and getting rewarded by some local notable deciding to tag along. After enough of this, an unimaginative main villain is given a thorough thrashing and that’s it. Sure, that’s basically how most JRPGs go but the story of Ni no Kuni II is so straightforward and uninspiring that it never feels like a proper, epic adventure. It only took a paltry 40 hours to get to the end credits, and maybe a fourth of that went to optional stuff.

Even that side content is a bit lackluster. At first building and improving Evan’s new kingdom is remarkably engrossing, and recruiting new inhabitants to live there almost feels as fun as hunting down the 108 stars in Suikoden. There are also adorable skirmish battles in which Evan leads up to four military units against enemy armies, utilizing simple rock-paper-scissors style strategy to emerge triumphant. Heck, even the world map is crammed full of dungeons, shrines, and treasures, so at least on paper there should be plenty to enjoy. Sadly, everything there is has been copy-pasted with such fervor that doing anything at all soon degrades into nothing but a massive chore. Skirmishes are silly fun for maybe half a dozen times but there are 50 of them. Slaying a dozen side bosses is okay but there are 50 of those, too. 50 Higgledies hiding around the world, another 50 to cook up in a magic cauldron back home, 64 facilities to build and upgrade, 170 side missions (most of which are just boring item hunts), hundreds of treasure chests full of inconsequential loot… There’s a ton of everything, sure, but none of it feels particularly exciting or worthwhile, especially during post-game.

Even the pleasantly original, semi-turn-based combat system of the first game has been replaced with chaotic, Tales-like arcade brawling that might encourage blocking in theory but which in practice regresses into mindless bashing of an attack button, throwing in an occasional special move or two, and hoping that your two AI allies make themselves even remotely useful. Leveling up slows down significantly towards the end but with minor equipment upgrades, it is quite possible to beat adversaries even 20 levels above your own by simply rolling away from their strongest attacks. Further advantage can be sought with meals providing temporary bonuses, or investing points won from battles to adjust certain attack types to deal lower or higher damage, but even these are just minor, largely irrelevant features.

If exploring the world of Ni no Kuni II never feels particularly rewarding, at least it’s delightfully fluent. The world map is full of not just cities and dungeons but also portals that can be activated and then warped to from absolutely anywhere. I also liked the enemy mobs that are always visible and even polite enough to leave the player alone if their level is lower than that of the heroes. Even if the battle system is nothing special, at least the game knows not to shove it down your throat. If only the game around these kinds of considerate little touches was better, it’d be truly something!

Still, there’s no two ways about it. Ni no Kuni II is nowhere even close to being the sequel I had been eagerly looking forward to all these years. It’s just a short, run-of-the-mill JRPG with way too much filler and none of that childlike charm and pure magic that defined its predecessor, and that’s a damn shame.

Thankfully there are plenty of other candidates keen on becoming my game of the year. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life could very well be such a title, should I only manage to find enough interminable free time to start savoring it. Detective Pikachu was just an impulse purchase as I have never been much interested in Pokémon but silly spin-offs are always an exception. On the retro side, I grabbed The World Ends with You, Square Enix’s decade-old urban JRPG for the Nintendo DS, as well as the slightly naughty (?) cutesy shooter Soreyuke! Burunyanman Portable for the PSP. Never found that one in Tokyo but thank the gaming goddesses for internet.

Hanami Recharge

The complete lethargy that has been pestering me all this year is hopefully now a thing of the past, cured by the only way I know of. On Easter Monday, I flipped the bird at Finland’s cold and slushy spring and headed back to Tokyo after a break of a couple of years. That same day, the last winter storm hit the country pretty hard but the gallant professionals of Helsinki-Vantaa did a commendable job keeping everything running. Many flights were canceled, sure, but long-haul flights weren’t luckily among them. Although Finnair handled its part immaculately and the plane boarded on time, we still had to wait for connecting passengers from Sweden for over an hour. Because of Murphy’s laws, there also had to be that one poor sod whose luggage was already on the plane but the person was not. Still, we eventually got going and as a pleasant surprise, the originally overbooked plane had a couple of no-shows who would’ve been sitting next to me. The new Airbus 350-900 is a mighty comfortable plane even as-is with but when I had three seats worth of personal space, it was as much luxury as economy class can possibly offer.

Since my usual go-to- hotel, Ville Fontaine Kayabacho, had raised its prices uncomfortably high at least for the duration of the hanami season, I had to hunt down a slightly cheaper place to stay at. Equally near to the Tokyo City Air Terminal, I found a passable alternative in City Pension Zem. It’s a minuscule, 27-room family hotel that was quite modest and endearingly old-fashioned but as long as you don’t expect anything more than cheap accommodation, free Wi-Fi, and at least a little bit of breakfast every morning, it was most adequate. The sound proofing is abysmal but since each floor only has three or four rooms and fellow passengers were courteous enough to stay quiet most of the time, the nights were peaceful. The biggest drawback of the hotel is probably its location. It takes a five-minute walk just to the nearest metro station of Suitengumae, which isn’t even connected to anything noteworthy. Another five minutes of walking gets you to the slightly better aligned stations of either Ningyocho or Kayabacho but as these trips are always about plenty of walking, even short distances like these quickly add up to eventually murder your feet. Still, the hotel was good value for money and since the service was excellent, it’s certainly worth a recommendation on budget.

As for hanami, last year I was visiting the country a little bit too early and this time around a little bit too late. Japan had a chilly spring but at the last possible moment it turned into an unexpected heatwave that caused cherry blossoms to go crazy. Thankfully the first few days were still good enough to enjoy a bit of leftover spring celebration in Ueno Park, which was still teeming with people enjoying a relaxed picnic and food stalls offering all sorts of festival grub. Even Tokyoites seemed slightly perplexed of temperatures rising as high as 26° C but at least they later got down to more manageable 15-20° C. All in all, the weather was great for the entire week and for the first time ever, I never had to resort to an umbrella.

On whole, this year’s trip was mostly a best of selection from the past visits. I went to Odaiba to play some pinball and retro arcades (can be found from the fourth floor of Decks Mall Tokyo Beach), and enjoyed the new and impressively lit Unicorn Gundam in front of Diver City Plaza. For food, there was yakitori in the ever-wonderful Torigin in Ginza as well as on Omoide Yokocho, also known as Piss Alley, which featured loads of quaint little bars and grills on a narrow alleyway. The mandatory pilgrimage for Yakuza fans, Kabukicho, was also worth a visit. For thirst of culture, there was the Yebisu Museum of Beer, and a new Godzilla statue was featured in Hibiya, although it was a lot smaller than I thought it would be. Then again, the giant, steampunk-inspired Ghibli clock in Shiodome was truly a sight to behold, especially when it puts up an amusing three-minute show a few times a day.

I also checked out Yokohama, an hour away from Tokyo but easily accessible on the Tokaido line. For the second biggest city in Japan, it was a massive letdown. Sure, there was a little Nissan gallery, the observation tower of Minato Mirai, and Chinatown where steamed meat buns could be bought at practically every street corner, but that’s about it. The city is probably quite a bit more impressive during nighttime but as a day trip, it was just a waste of time. Thankfully Kawasaki, halfway between Tokyo and Yokohama, delivered big time. From the Kawasaki station, it’s just a five-minute walk to Anata no Warehouse, which very well might be the most wonderful arcade on this entire planet! This five-story complex, deliberately designed to look decrepit, imitates the Walled City of Kowloon and it’s just plain awesome! The entrance leads to a decontamination chamber good for a small jump scare, after which a dimly lit corridor leads you on a visually and aurally creepy time trip to the past. The elevator and the toilets in particular look like places to lose your life in bizarre circumstances, and the attention to detail is duly impressive. The main attraction, of course, are the games of which there are dozens and dozens, new and old, and many that can be played for just 50 yen a go. It’s a cheap, highly entertaining way to spend even an entire day, should your ears handle the cacophony.

Amid all this, there was naturally Akihabara. After paying a visit to the Kanda Myojin shrine and its wonderful manga prayer plaques, I rummaged through the arcades and game shops with huge fervor and ended up with a nice selection of all sorts of curios. For GBA, there’s Kessakusen! Ganbare Goemon 1+2: Yukihime to Magginesu, which at least looks like to be an action platformer of sorts. On PS2, it’s all about music (Taiko no Tatsujin: Tobikkiri! Anime Special and Taiko no Tatsujin: Wai Wai Happy Rokudaime) and bullet hell shooters (Dodonpachi Daioujou, Mushihimesama, Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced, and Twinklestar Sprites: La Petite Princesse). PSP retro comes in four flavors, namely Dariusburst, Capcom Classics Collection, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1, and SNK Arcade Classics 0. For the 3DS, SoniPro: Super Sonico in Production promises gravure, rhythm, and idol management while Vita is good for music (DJMax Technika Tune) and shooting (Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours). My PS4 collection is bolstered with the Japanese trio of The Idolm@ster: Stella Stage, Game Tengoku CruisinMix, and Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone DX, and I even happened upon an import shelf that had a EU region copy of Shovel Knight. That’s probably the next summer vacation all sorted out, then.

Fart Art

We probably shouldn’t be here…

Any plans I might have had for this weekend were instantly rewritten on Friday, when the postman delivered my copy of South Park: The Fractured But Whole a few days in advance of its official street date of next Tuesday. As it has already been over three years since the really quite splendid The Stick of Truth, I immediately felt like taking the sequel for a spin. Now, after more than 20 hours and a playthrough, I’m happy to state that the humor of Trey Parker and Matt Stone remains as fresh as ever. That’s not to say The Fractured But Whole would have a particularly novel story, though. While the kids of South Park are still in the middle of their fantasy play from the last game, Eric Cartman suddenly decides that superheroes are the newest, coolest thing ever. And sure enough, in an instant everyone has come up with their own secret superhero identity and chosen their side in a battle between two feuding factions. As simple as that, all of South Park once again transforms into a battlefield limited only by imagination.

As before, the player is known simply as The New Kid, an unvoiced hero (or heroine) who joins Cartman’s faction, wielding the power of – you guessed it – flatulence. It’s a questionable skill but as the adventure goes on, wee little squeaks eventually evolve into massive discharges capable of ripping the very fabric of time itself. In other words, anyone playing the game should go in expecting a huge amount of deliberately crass fart, poop, and pee humor. Still, amid all this vulgarity, the youngsters of South Park once again teach the player to laugh at the incorrigible idiocy of the humankind in all of its forms. Brutally pertinent social criticism leaves no one unscathed, be it racists, bigots, or just people suffering from moral superiority and finding offense in the smallest of things. This wanton but intelligent anarchy is what the game (and South Park on whole) is all about, and once again it works wonders!

Story missions are strewn around town, tackled by a team of four superheroes. During the adventure, the player befriends up to ten familiar South Park characters donning an alter ego, each having one awesome special move and three slightly less formidable ones. The same goes for the player, too. At first, it is only possible to choose from a small handful of character classes but as the game goes on, all skills of ten different character classes become available for mixing and matching freely. As per role-playing standards, there’s moves for doing brutal damage up close and from afar, various healing skills, and a miscellaneous bunch of actions causing buffs or debuffs. Given an eventual pool of 40 different moves, it’s quite easy to find those four that best complement one’s playing style.

Turn-based battles are fought on relatively small grids where everyone tries to position themselves to both dish out damage and avoid taking it. Even more important is to maneuver so that after a character’s turn ends, the next one won’t be blocked from carrying out their actions. Since nothing is sacred, enemies include not just the kids of the opposing faction but also parents, senior citizens, Catholic priests, crooked cops, bums, prostitutes, Korean ninjas, crab people, etc. Those with enough confidence can even challenge Morgan Freeman himself.

Collection fans are pampered with countless ever-so-popular selfie opportunities with the various citizens of South Park. As typical for this age of vanity, they are instantly posted onto the game’s social media, Coonstagram, where the aim is naturally to become the one with the highest follower count in all of South Park. There’s also plenty of yaoi fan art of the series’ beloved boy couple, Tweek and Craig, as well as dozens of costumes, hair styles, scars, masks, accessories, and whatnot. The customization options are so plentiful that anyone should be able to create a South Park look of their dreams. Furthermore, miscellaneous junk picked up from pretty much everywhere is used to craft new costumes, various healing items, and artefacts that enhance the player’s stats.

In broad terms, The Fractured But Whole is kind of predictable but still rather excellent. It holds together not just because of its delightfully prickly humor but also because – and I’m technically contradicting myself here – it never ceases to surprise. Hilarious minigames and totally unexpected scenarios pop up at a breathtaking pace, making it nigh on impossible to get bored at any point. Even if it pretty much just re-invents the wheel of The Stick of Truth, at least that’s a recipe that has already proven itself; after a break of a few years, coming back to South Park was nothing but refreshing!

Other new acquisitions this past week include Culdcept Revolt and Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. The former is presumably some sort of JRPG slash card game slash Monopoly hybrid whereas the latter is probably a tough as nails strategy-JRPG. All in all, the harvest season of this year’s gaming crop is so bountiful that my wallet has been weeping for quite some time already, and I really wish that I, too, could fart myself more time. Oh well, at least this is a positive problem.

Warming Up

Hey, it’s the participation that counts :P

If Everybody’s Golf sounded a bit drab the last time around, things are slowly starting to look up. At least right now, it feels like it surreptitiously conforms to its player’s mood swings. When approached with indifference, shots end up all over the place and even a humbling bogey can quickly escalate into a +5 catastrophe. With even a little bit of genuine effort, the RNG gods start smiling upon the player, ensuring that even a clumsy swing can turn into something not entirely hopeless. It’s nigh on impossible to pull off a perfect shot due to having to factor in wind, aim, course profile, spin, ground, timing, and luck, but on whole it really feels like the game is more than happy to complement an earnest attempt. Thanks to ever-improving clubs, birdies have become the new norm, and I’m already capable of scoring occasional eagles, too.

The game still has trouble entertaining for more than those 30-60 minutes at a time, but even that is enough to make good progress. One can usually choose between a round of either nine or 18 holes, which last around 10-20 minutes. In single player, the most important reward is experience, which unlocks new VS adversaries. Online, it’s a matter of seeing how well you fare against others both globally and within an automatically selected peer group of nine others. The best players are already beating me by a good 10-15 shots but even if I’m usually near the bottom of any leaderboard, at least there’s a daily challenge course with a participation reward of more avatar customization items.

As a new curio, one beaten VS adversary taught my avatar how to fish, so if golfing gets dull, one can always head to the nearest beach or pond to catch some seafood. Still, even this activity is nothing but mashing a button after getting a bite, so it’s hardly any more interesting than riding golf carts or swimming; they’re all goofy side activities that could theoretically be considered new features but that don’t seem to serve any practical purpose.

Whatever the case, Everybody’s Golf remains a reasonably entertaining title that is easy to visit on a daily basis. Still, it probably works better as a side dish for some slightly more full-bodied gaming experience. Nevertheless, I’m happy to trundle on, if only to some day score that fabled hole-in-one.

Gloomy and rainy autumn weekends are pretty much perfect for staying strictly indoors with a good video game or two. This week saw yet another bunch of hopeful entrants joining the collection. Back in June, I was mildly entertained by Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, which got a sequel, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth, just this month. Jolly good release schedule, as it’s always more fun to finish incomplete stories while still remembering something about them. Then again, Mask of Deception was definitely heavy on reading, so for now I think I’ll spend a bit more time indulging in something that has more gameplay.

On Nintendo 3DS, it never ceases to amaze me just how many releases almost manage to fly under my radar. The JRPG duo, 7th Dragon III: Code: VFD and The Legend of Legacy, is a good example, and even if I don’t yet know practically anything about either of them, I have great trust in both Atlus and Sega. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a bit more familiar and rather old by now, but I totally forgot that it got a physical release as well. Thankfully these titles can still be salvaged from here and there to complement my archive of personally interesting games.

Witch Tuning 101

Does just the usual stuff but with surprising grace

All right, enough with the sulking already! Stella Glow, which I started this weekend, has effortlessly returned my temporarily fleeting faith in games. Even if it is preciously little else than just a very conventional strategy-JRPG, it still manages to entertain in a solid fashion. The game takes place in a world whose petty god has decided to punish his apathetic followers by stripping  away the ability to sing. Now that skill is only possessed by a small handful of witches who use songs to wield powerful magic. In a small hamlet of Mithra, childhood friends Alto and Lisette experience this power in the worst possible way, as the Witch of Destruction, Hilda, one day appears in the village with her cohorts, turning it and its inhabitants into crystals. Alto and Lisette escape this gruesome fate only because Lisette – much to even her own surprise – awakens as the Witch of Water while Alto discovers that he is the fabled Conductor; someone with the ability to enter witches’ hearts to tune their feelings and unlock their latent powers. While that is certainly a lovely turn of events, it sadly takes four good witches to rise against one that is evil. Luckily the rulers of the kingdom have at least some idea where Alto and Lisette could find the remaining three witches. As the armed forces of the nation’s capital, Lambert, can spare a whopping three knights to assist them, another team of world saviors is ready to depart.

Okay, that’s not much of a story but at least it’s one that rolls gracefully. Lambert acts as the operational headquarters from which the team embarks to the world map, traveling from point to point to reach the next story mission. The battles are faithful to the genre; very traditional skirmishes fought on isometric maps where units take turns to move and act, trying to take advantage of various types of terrain and high ground. The battle system doesn’t really feature anything new or innovative, but its chibi-style attack animations are cute, and the level of challenge is quite pleasing. Even the characters’ strongest special attacks rarely take out an enemy in one hit, so working as a team and isolating hard-hitting foes from one another is paramount. Stella Glow isn’t particularly difficult but survival definitely requires at least a little bit of constant thought. Each story battle has a recommended character level, but should one lack in faith or skill, the world map has plenty of optional encounters to grind with.

Every now and then, story missions are interrupted with limited free time that Alto can use to socialize with his companions, work part-time jobs, or go on exploration trips. Those last two would apparently reward with money, items, and gear, but so far I’ve always spent excess time chatting up my team members. Not only is this a good way to get to know everyone better, it also provides them with new skills and passive bonuses to be used on the battlefield. Unfortunately free time between missions is limited to just three activities, so establishing a thorough emotional bond with everyone is most likely going to take quite some time.

Aside from the stinginess of spare time, the pacing of the game in general is commendable. The storytelling cutscenes are hardly ever exceedingly lengthy, the usual talking portraits are sometimes replaced by proper anime clips, and battles follow one another on a brisk pace. To put the tempo into perspective, it has taken me only a little over 11 hours to recruit both the Witch of Wind and the Witch of Fire, and my happy entourage is already nine members strong. It already seems like merely gathering a four witch ensemble won’t solve everything but let’s get back to that after locating the Witch of Earth. For now, though, this journey is turning out to be an upbeat one!

Groundhog Century

So nice, if only it would end :'(

If my gaming is in a slump due to everyday drudge once more replacing glorious vacation days, The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars does its damnedest to keep it that way. As surmised, I’ve now given it around 58 hours but pretty much nothing of any interest has happened. Going through horribly monotonic motions increases the idols’ experience and number of fans, but progress is so laughably slow that the game has regressed into nothing more than a weary battle of attrition. Should a new gig show up, you can rest assured that it’s something that won’t be even remotely beatable until 10-20 hours later. Perfect performances mean jack shit as if your characters aren’t on a high enough level, the required score limit is just plain impossible to reach. End of discussion. So, I’ve entertained myself playing through the same challenge over and over again for a couple of hundred of times, grinding slow and steady. Such wow. Much joy. Surely a few paid helper items from the store would do the trick, eh? F**k you, Project iM@S.

In a rueful fashion, the game follows a virtual year cycle advancing on a weekly basis. Skipping every possible cutscene, it’s possible to truncate one in-game year into a three hour real-time marathon covering 48 ordinary shows and four specials involving the entire cast of idols. If this cycle was realistic, these 13-21-year-old heroines would be at the peak of their careers around the ripe age of 90, and even that might take an incarnation or two. Thankfully, they’re effectively ageless. Still, at this point minor observations like that are crucial to endure the whole ordeal. You could, for example, set a daily goal of going through one in-game year (even if a quarter is already starting to feel repulsive). On Valentine’s Day, the chosen leader gives out complimentary chocolate, so that’s another potential goal to spend 39 hours or so. The pitiful selection of songs can also be raised to Legend status, which requires them to be completed 200 times each. The biggest reward of doing so is most likely that you’re never ever going to choose them again. Still, repeatedly playing the same song over and over again means that you quickly figure out that exact note when your current crew hits maximum audience zeal. Since missed notes carry no penalty, that’s when the song can be left to play itself while the player can just as well go to the fridge, take a piss, have a smoke, or spend a serious moment contemplating why they’re voluntarily submitting to this level of self-inflicted torture. Oh, and those 20 songs featured in the game? One is still locked. It’ll probably become available after 60-70 hours or something. Jesus.

All this is especially maddening as Platinum Stars is a proper rhythm game, even if awfully lightweight in content. If it would’ve rolled its ending credits after 15-20 hours and shown all that it genuinely has by 30-50 hours, it would’ve left the stage as a celebrated winner. Now it has turned into that person. You know, the one you meet by chance and who’s awfully jovial and remarkably pleasant for a while until you realize that they’re nothing more than an absolute asshole and you’re inadvertently stuck with them for life with the only way of escape probably involving a sharp ax and a manslaughter charge. I’ll continue my rhythmical journey, although it has already turned into a macabre social study of what it actually takes to finish a game that has obviously been designed around nothing else than skimming its players off hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Bloody cynical.

Moving on would be a trigger pull away…

Ditching a game once started is always la petite mort of sorts but should that (once again) happen, at least intensive care would be close by. Mind-numbing repetition could easily be replaced either by the backlog or the five new JRPGs joining the fray; Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, Nights of Azure, Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits, Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls (dual releases be forever damned), but especially Stella Glow. That one might actually feature that strategic role-playing bliss I was expecting from Utawarerumono, which kind of failed to deliver.

The Forgotten Ones

Uh-oh… The dunce is back.

This household is now living a quiet era of post-excellence. After Persona 5 left such a wholesome, indelible impression, it will probably take a bit more time for any other game to inspire again. The best I’ve managed is to return to Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, even if back in March it wasn’t particularly inspiring either. Still, I totally forgot that I had also bought its separate DLC episode, which provided closer to six hours of at least distant echoes of the series’ better early days.

It’s another murder case, of course, charging a fresh bride who also claims to be able to travel through time. Despite such a wild premise, this turns out to be an ordinary case in which logical thinking debunks the impossible. It’s a delightful change of pace in comparison to the supernatural gimmicks of the main game. It’s also a nice blast to the past as the case is being prosecuted by good old Miles Edgeworth. Even Larry Butz, the lively childhood friend of our attorneys who was last seen in the original game trilogy makes a comeback, confounding the case in his typical fashion.

Even if this sixth Spirit of Justice case is a minor step towards the better, it’s still only semi-entertaining fan service at best. The humor suffers from many characters acting a bit too unrestrained for their own good, and the asinine “…………” lines that were seriously overused in the main game make an unwelcome return. Also, those paying attention will probably figure out some of the surprises way too early, which makes addressing the wrong assumptions a bit monotonous to follow. Especially after such a long break from the main game, the episode was still decent enough to play through but it failed to leave any kind of lasting impression. A solid case but also one that manages to emphasize just how stale this once glorious series has gotten.

Meh… Meh… Meh…

While trying to find that next game that would steal my heart, I’ve sampled a bunch without bumping into anything remarkable. There was a couple month’s worth of PlayStation Plus freebies but none (of the ones that were new to me) managed to engage. As for physical releases, Little Nightmares turned out to be a gloomy Limbo clone in which a mute girl dressed in a yellow raincoat 2D-leaps her way through distressing areas while dying in many gruesome ways. I managed to stay interested for about 15 minutes, after which she plummeted into a pit of gigantic leeches that devoured her over and over again. Too macabre and depressing to be enjoyed right now, so it shall return to the backlog.

The indie darling Stardew Valley, in turn, is all about colorful and jolly everyday life in a tiny rural town. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, it provides plenty of activities from farming and fishing to slaying monsters in mines and befriending other townsfolk. After 11 hours, however, I realized that it’s one of those incredibly repetitious games that make use of pathetically small incentives to lengthen the overall experience into a marathon of hundreds of meaningless hours. It is ambitious, sure, but I’ve played enough similar games to know that everything will eventually lead to just growing tired of it all. Could be fun but not right now.

My foray into AAA didn’t go much better. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a hauntingly beautiful third-person post-apocalyptic sandbox full of robotic animals and humans, who have regressed into spear and bow wielding hunter-gatherers. Even if the science fiction overtones work wondrously and the game skillfully combines Witcher, Uncharted, and Tomb Raider, it somehow failed to captivate. I guess the first five hours just had too many similarly looking NPCs spouting mythical nonsense or something. There’s plenty of potential, though, so this one (too) certainly deserves another go when the time is right.

Two Note Wonder

So adorable in stills, so brutal in motion

After an additional five hours or so, I’ve completed all songs of Taiko no Tatsujin: Dokodon! Mystery Adventure on Normal. 59 of them with a full combo, 11 others in a less-stellar fashion. There might still be a few more hidden songs but I think I’ll let them remain hidden. The song selection was, once again, a delightful mixture of all sorts of stuff, even if nothing was exceptionally memorable. As for game songs, the Kirby and Ace Attorney medleys were nice, and some of the Namco original tracks were just as silly as they were awesome. The jpop and anime picks, however, came off surprisingly generic. Then again, we all have our own taste in music, so the game still deserves praise for its diversity.

On whole, Dokodon! Mystery Adventure is probably just as comfy and familiar to hardcore fans of the series as it remains slightly more unconventional for the rest of us. The video above sums it up quite nicely. If you truly want to excel in Taiko games, you need A) a flat surface, B) willingness to embrace the touch screen , C) two styluses, and D) the soul of a drummer. If you prefer the casual, traditional way of holding the console in your hands and using your thumbs and index fingers to hit the notes, it’s a perfectly viable style on Easy and Normal but not so much on the two harder difficulties. The series is simply designed to be experienced in a way that is eventually way too fast for finger reflexes alone.

That’s actually both the main strength and weakness of the whole series. Taiko games require a unique playstyle. Eventually mastering it is probably highly rewarding but unless you dream of becoming a drummer, or are willing to dedicate your life to master a single series, it’s not even remotely as exciting. Each to their own, of course, but I still prefer an everyday eight button Hatsune Miku experience to pure two note divinity, even if the latter is bloody impressive when showcased by a skilled professional. As such, this is a game that can easily provide hundreds of hours of entertainment but it’s also a game that can be experienced in a jiffy, still appreciating its songs, replaying at least some of them just because they’re fun, and finding nothing genuinely wrong with the gameplay, either. For the sake of diversity, though, I’ll now take my 17 hours and, having once again satisfied my hunger for rhythm, rush towards new experiences.

Hooray for physical!

The game flood of early 2017 is starting to recede but while I was busy with one, two others still managed to sneak their way in. Of those, The Silver Case is a remake of a PS1 adventure from 1999. The reason for its comeback is undoubtedly its delightfully strange writer and designer, Goichi Suda. The Silver Case was his debut into the gaming industry, so it’s rather interesting to see just how eccentric it is. If I had to wager, I’d say extremely. The other game, Stardew Valley, is more or less about a single person as well. Eric Barone developed this Harvest Moon -esque agriculture RPG all by himself, and it has received nothing but praise from multiple sources. Since it was finally deemed worthy of a physical release, too, I’m definitely excited to give it a go.

Let’s Try That One Part Again, Boys!

Me on the left: smile, sweat, and act like you understand

Bugger me! Taiko no Tatsujin: Dokodon! Mystery Adventure ended up being a surprisingly full-bodied JRPG. Whereas the previous (handheld) games in the series haven’t had a story mode at all, or it has been nothing more than a brief distraction lasting just a few hours, the story of this one took closer to 12 hours to complete. It probably would’ve taken even longer if I could understand what its characters were continuously blabbing about. Thankfully the language barrier never got hopelessly high. The dungeons were short and straightforward, and even if the story occasionally came to a standstill, wandering around towns and conversing with the residents usually kicked it back in motion.

The biggest hurdles were the countless, delightfully challenging boss fights, in which each of the baddies did their very best to hamper an otherwise rhythmical performance with plenty of FU-scale dirty tricks such as obstructing the note line, switching note colors at the last possible moment, flinging notes to the hit window in chaotic arcs, and scattering loads of damaging bombs among them. Despite all this, Don and Katsu have an ace up their sleeve, too. Each note successfully hit s-l-o-w-l-y raises a Taiko power meter which, once full, can be activated by tapping the 3DS’ touch screen. That’s when, for a woefully brief moment, the game takes over the song being played and hits every note perfectly. Even if I had trouble following the torrent of notes flowing in, at least I still got an aural clue of what kind of rhythm was required. I rarely ever beat a boss on my first try but the countless retries never felt cheap. Listen, learn, remember, try again. Harsh but fair.

I guess I could already toss this one to the pile of finished games but since it’s all about the music, I’ll instead head off to experience its complete song list. I doubt all of them even played during the adventure mode, and it’s all about principle and self-respect to complete everything on at least normal difficulty. In the meantime, the game already gets a cautious thumbs up. Even if Miku and her gang have already conquered the 3DS rhythm game genre with the Project Mirai games, the Taiko series is still a commendable alternative and of those, Dokodon! Mystery Adventure is definitely the most ambitious so far.

Drums Like John Bonham

Hit the notes, hope for the best (^^;)

Actually, no. Not in the slightest. I suppose it’s due time to dig into the recent haul from Japan, and I’m already deep into Taiko no Tatsujin: Dokodon! Mystery Adventure. The games in this series aren’t particularly interesting to write about as they’re essentially just A) an up-to-date summary of Japan’s pop, anime, and game music at any given time, and B) means to eventually barrage any gamer of any skill level with such ruthless note sequences that you probably have to be an innate rhythm virtuoso, then die, and then resurrect to have any chance of beating them.

Although the game’s selection of more than 70 songs is alluring, I first chose to experience its story mode. This time around, the ever-so-familiar taiko drums Don and Katsu end up helping out a priestess called Tia and her monkey sidekick against a coalition of villains headed by a whimsical pink-haired witch brat. Or something very roughly along those lines, as the language barrier in this one is nigh on insurmountable. Thankfully, this lightweight JRPG journey follows the standard town-dungeon-boss cycle, so I’m making headway without really understanding anything.

Despite the story mode, the game is still very much all about rhythm, and all random encounters in the dungeons are handled in a good old Taiko no Tatsujin style. A song starts playing, followed up by blue notes that you hit with shoulder buttons and red notes that you hit with pretty much any other button. Big notes require two buttons, and long notes are all about hitting buttons as fast as possible. Missed notes deal damage to your own party, and it also counts as a loss if you fail to beat the opposing party by the end of the song. After you win a battle, some adversaries might even plead to join your own party, which seems to hold up to nine members. They are then leveled up, improved via items, or nonchalantly chucked into an alchemy bin to turn a bunch of weaklings into one slightly more adept individual. Or, once again, something like that, as I honestly have very little clue about what is going on.

After about four hours, I’m now banging my head against a sturdy wall of an incredibly cranky boss dragon. Even if he keeps on wiping me out, at least every failed attempt is still rewarded with experience points, so thanks to the holy blessing of mindless grinding, he’ll eventually succumb. Ability to read might make things easier but what the heck, this isn’t entirely hopeless. Granted, rhythm games don’t really even need stories like these but as long as it’s there, I’m going to see it through, even if just as a weird little appetizer before the actual musical steak.