Chibi Scares

That’s not what I meant wanting to cut ties with you!

Scary merry New Year to all fellow gamers! Scary mostly because I lack all sense of sensible timing and decided to kick off 2018 with a release that would have felt more at home during Halloween. Then again, those who are not into horror have nothing to fear; Yomawari: Midnight Shadows draws much less from cheap jump scares as it does from gloomy melancholy and Japan’s exceptionally bountiful spirit mythology. The game revolves around childhood friends Haru and Yui, who enjoy a cheery late-summer fireworks show before heading back home through a dark and foreboding forest. Sadly, malicious spirits soon appear to separate the girls from each other. What’s worse, such apparitions even patrol the streets and alleyways of their suddenly desolated home town. Both girls wish nothing more than to be reunited, so they have no recourse but to brave the night and head out to the streets in search of one another while desperately trying to figure out what has happened.

Since it’s not very realistic to expect elementary school kids to have a fighting chance against forces of darkness, Yomawari is all about survival horror. Some spirits can be vanquished, halted, or at least made visible with the beam of a flashlight, and it might even be possible to harm some by pelting them with rocks. Still, hands down the best way to survive is to run away as fast as a rapidly depleting stamina meter allows. Billboards, discarded cardboard boxes, and bushes act as good impromptu hiding places when something wicked just won’t give up a chase. Ten yen coins picked up from here and there, on the other hand, are just perfect for activating Jizo statues that serve both as save points and handy warp portals to the various parts of the girls’ little home town (and eventually even the neighboring town).

Alternating regularly between Haru and Yui, the really quite loose and vague story has very little else going for it. Coupled with moments of aimless wandering around in free roam style, the adventure leads the girls’ to haunted mansions, sewers, derelict train yards, and many other spooky places that aren’t ever pleasant to explore in nighttime. Every now and then they come across slightly bigger menaces, although these confrontations, too, are mostly about madly scampering away from lethal attacks.

The biggest issue about Yomawari is that it seems to love folklore more than it does storytelling. Haru, Yui, and their eventual fates are merely grace notes to a huge bunch of imaginative spirits. Sadly, learning the nature and how to either avoid or banish each of them is – at least from a western perspective – a matter of trial and error leading to dozens and dozens of deaths on the way. Not that game over itself would be much of a threat. Death simply means returning to the last activated save point, even with all collected items still in tow. The biggest hurdles in making progress are the excessive cheapness of some spirits and the sheer boredom of having to trek back to the point of last demise. Having only a couple of seconds to react to many threats, or even dying without knowing what just happened are fairly frequent occurrences. Both Haru and Yui are annoyingly slow when walking and not much faster when sprinting, especially as panic depletes their otherwise ample stamina meter within seconds. All of this contributes to the game being more about sheer frustration than actual suspense or fear.

The production values aren’t much better. The isometric chibi graphics can be beautiful and detailed at times but the sounds are overly sparse. There’s no spoken dialogue or even music (apart from the ending credits), so the roughly seven-hour-long journey is only about footsteps, heart bumps, chirping cicadas, and various moans and growls of nearby spirits. Even with a comprehensive guide, it takes almost as much time to locate everything the two towns have to offer, as they both feature plenty of small, inconsequential junk serving no other purpose than to be collected. At least it’s nice to be able to still grab everything during the post game but a chore is still a chore.

Sure, Yomawari can be amusingly weird in that unique, deeply Japanese way, and its rich assortment of spirits is at least moderately enchanting. As it stands, however, it’s mostly just a mundane slaughterhouse of cute chibi characters, which isn’t really that entertaining, especially as so many others have already done something similar in the past. Still, it’s at least an initial benchmark for 2018, so thanks, I guess, and with that I’m off to find the next contestant!

D’awwwww!

This gaming year sticks into mind not only because of its decent overall quality but also because colorful platformers seem to be making at least a moderate kind of comeback. Sadly, big companies still rely mostly on established brands and HD remakes of their past hits. Although playing safe like that is mildly boring, the world is lucky to have pioneers like Gears for Breakfast. It’s a small newcomer studio whose crowdfunded debut game A Hat in Time turned out to be quite the Christmas miracle. According to the developers themselves, the game is a “cute-as-heck 3D platformer.” Not only is that a very accurate description, the game has no trouble leaping to the very top of the entire genre, proudly showcasing how all it takes is a bit of fresh ingredients to bring back the once forgotten charm of its mid-90’s beloved brethrens.

The protagonist of the game is known simply as the Hat Kid, a young girl whose interstellar home trip is interrupted on the orbit of a mafia planet. After a brief toll dispute, her ship takes a bit of damage that sends both her and her ship’s fuel source, 40 magical hourglasses, plummeting to the surface of the planet. The journey back home can resume only after retrieving the fuel, so it’s time for another traditional collectathon. The planet has been divided into four reasonably vast open world areas, each featuring ten more or less story-driven acts. The girl’s ship acts as a central hub from where she can challenge these acts in any order, although entirely new areas require a certain number of retrieved hourglasses and some acts cannot be completed before acquiring specific gear from the others.

The nimble Hat Kid masters basic necessities like double jumping and air gliding from the get-go, while an ordinary umbrella acts both as a useful melee weapon and a makeshift parachute when daring leaps turn out to be a little too daring. On top of these rather ordinary skills, the stages feature balls of yarn that can be transformed into new hats that provide unique special powers such as sprinting, making massive leaps off special platforms, concocting explosive potions, or even slowing down time itself. The hats can be further enhanced by badges found or bought. They provide further bonuses such as faster recharging of hat powers, an immensely useful throw hook, or a magnet for automatically pulling in nearby collectibles.

In order for a game to be an action-adventure instead of “merely” a platformer, it needs a story and a bunch of great characters. This is an area where the game truly excels. Not only is the ever-positive Hat Kid perhaps the most endearing heroine ever, the planet is full of eccentric personalities. As well as whooping mafia butt, the girl gets tangled in movie world power struggle between penguins and owls, has to do odd jobs to reclaim her spirit after it gets stolen by a pompous shadow spirit, and hurtle around majestic mountains aiding the local goat people. It’s a highly amusing adventure with constant surprises and plenty of excellent voice acting and music.

On top of all this, A Hat in Time is pleasantly challenging. The end bosses of each area in particular are long, impressive clashes that require far more than, say, landing three easy hits. Instead, they are all about frantic dodging of massive attacks while trying to desperately spot brief openings for a bit of counter damage. It’s hard to avoid retries, hearty cussing, and maybe even a rage quit or two, but in some weird way the game never feels cheap. Sure, the camera can occasionally be a little temperamental, making it unnecessarily hard to leap with precision, but that’s a pet peeve of pretty much any 3D platformer. The trophies, however, deserve another tip of the hat, challenging the player to complete individual acts in unorthodox ways or simply as flawlessly as possible. To see and experience everything took me around 18 hours, so A Hat in Time is delightfully rich in content, too.

Hands down the best thing about the game, though, is how it takes a little rookie studio to show the whole game industry that it’s perfectly possible to create a first-class 3D platformer without always relying on Nintendo and Mario. I, for one, would have happily bought this even as a full price retail game and still feel like getting value for my money. A Hat in Time brings back a once cherished genre with such flair and admirable originality that bigger boys should definitely take notice. One of the most stellar shows in 2017, Gears for Breakfast! More of this, please!

Although a couple of deliveries are still on their way (hopefully, at least), it looks like games shopping for this year is now done. Come next year, I’ll be going for more indie kicks with Thomas Happ’s acclaimed Metroidvania Axiom Verge. Also, even if A Hat in Time will be very hard to beat, I still want to see if one blast from the past, Yooka-Laylee, would quench whatever thirst of 3D platformers I might have left.

Charted by the Book

Even if this year is already on its last legs, there’s still a few more days left to prune the backlog and bump into memorable experiences. In a way, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy could have been one such instance but just like the current year, the series, too, seems to be on its way out. I still remember year 2007 when the first Uncharted managed to set the whole action-adventure genre on fire. The charm of the delightfully roguish Nathan Drake worked wonders from the very beginning, climbing in breathtaking scenes was wild and exciting, taking out mercenaries in cover-based shootouts was the epitome of fun, and the story was pure Indiana Jones in the best possible way. “Why don’t developers make more gems like these?” I remember pondering. A decade later, this once so very enchanting formula has been replicated both by Naughty Dog and rival studios so many times that its taste has gone a bit stale.

The Lost Legacy is, for all intents and purposes, the sixth Uncharted. This time around ancient relic hunting takes place in the jungles of India, although the already weary Nathan Drake is given a well earned day off. Instead of him, the stage is given to two women familiar from the earlier games, the fortune hunter Chloe Frazer and ex-mercenary Nadine Ross, who face off against a local insurgent leader Asav. It’s a familiar setup followed by an even more familiar selection of incredibly beautiful scenery, loads of treacherous leaping and climbing, puzzles hidden in decrepit ruins, and plenty of confrontations with Asav’s troops, most of which can be handled just as head-on or as sneaky as one prefers. Before settling into a traditionally driven story, the game is even kind enough to provide a small open world area which Chloe and Nadine are free to explore in a jeep, checking out various interesting locations in their own pace and order.

It’s quite hard to be critical of The Lost Legacy as it’s pretty much the most polished and structured Uncharted ever. It brings in most of the stuff that worked in the previous games while ditching elements that were less entertaining. The balance between bombastic action and tactical stealth is almost spot on, and everything there is is bigger, better, and especially more beautiful than ever before. It’s even hard to miss Drake, as the chemistry between Chloe and Nadine is most excellent and the duo does a really good job keeping up that distinctive, jovial dialogue that has become a loved hallmark of the entire series.

However, the Indian elephant-sized problem lies in the fact that The Lost Legacy is, indeed, already the sixth Uncharted. As brilliant as it is both technically and in production values, absolutely everything featured has been seen way too many times already. Making death-defying leaps on treacherous mountainsides no longer feels thrilling rather than a boring and predictable necessity, the ancient ruins, statues, and puzzles are a dime a dozen, and taking out hostile troops is just plain perfunctory. The race against Asav for yet another priceless artifact begins, progresses, and culminates in the most expected of ways, and thus the entire eight-hour journey fails to leave any kind of lasting impression.

It’s not that The Lost Legacy does anything wrong as such. It’s just that despite the new leads and settings, it’s disappointingly by the numbers. Even the best of formulas is usually good for no more than a trilogy, and that’s what Naughty Dog seems to have forgotten. Even if The Lost Legacy is its developers’ obvious love letter to a decade-old franchise, it is the first victim of its own success. Fun but ultimately lackluster.

Demon Dating

It took a little while but everything is once again fine in Asteria. Demon Gaze II yielded after about 35 hours and, despite a few minor gripes, turned out to be a merry little adventure all the way to its ending credits and even beyond. During his journey, the Demon Gazer befriended so many demons that the inn actually ran out of stat-boost-providing rooms to accommodate all of them. No harm done, as leveling up absolutely everyone to a useful level would have been too arduous, anyway. As well as battle experience and lodging, demons are refined via dating. In practice, this means a silly little mini-game in which they are given “maintenance” by locating and poking sweet spots on their bodies. As their intimacy towards the hero grows, they gain new abilities and unlock humorous cutscenes that nicely deepen their otherwise somewhat inconspicuous characters. Although this feature is decidedly lewd and mischievous in nature, the demons include not just cute girls but also bishounen boys and burly men, meaning that there’s a wholesome amount of ecchi for players of both genders.

If Demon Gaze II started out as easy, it’s latter half is challenging enough to raise blood pressure. Grinding and constantly renewing (or upgrading) gear is a must, as an unlucky hit even in an everyday encounter can knock out a feebly equipped demon in one swing. This is especially aggravating as revival items are fairly rare and most of them only revive back to one pathetic hit point. It’s a traditionally cheap design decision that means knocked out characters are better revived by hightailing it back to the inn. Trying to revive them in the heat of a battle ties up too many valuable resources and, mostly thanks to capricious turn order, rarely even works. Although constant retreating is annoying, it’s at least possible to select any previously visited square on a dungeon map, causing the party to navigate there swiftly and automatically.

As for the dungeons themselves, Demon Gaze II is fairly lenient. Sure, there’s the usual selection of devious conveyor belts, trap plates, one-way doors, and teleports, but at least they’re used in much more moderation than in many other games of the same genre. It’s not until the post-game dungeons that the game truly begins to troll its player but at that point the party is already tough enough to survive even if navigating through the dungeons requires plenty of trial and error. Such cheapness is even more tolerable as the post-game provides an exceptionally generous fan service treat to anyone who enjoyed the original adventure.

If the platform isn’t an issue, Demon Gaze II feels more suited for the Vita. As gorgeous as the enemy art can be, everything looks uncannily huge on a big screen TV and the PS4 version hasn’t even been enhanced in any way. Also, the guys responsible for audio have been slacking. Although the original voice acting is good quality as such, the voice levels themselves are strangely subdued and even fluctuate noticeably between characters. Still, that’s about all the naysay I can muster. Although the game brings nothing particularly new to a genre that might already be a little too tired for its own good, it still rises well above average due to its emphasis on storytelling, frisk pacing, and rewarding loot mechanics. It’s a very solid sequel to an excellent game, and that’s already more I dared to hope for!

Enforced Enrollment Fair

Avast, ye horny guinea pigs!

As expected, Demon Gaze II continues. Signa has already whooped enough demon butt to recruit more than a dozen of them to support the revolution, so it already takes a bit of thinking to choose the fivesome used to challenge the dungeons. Those with magic or ranged weapons are obviously best suited for the back row whereas the more abrasive ones can easily hold the front line, maybe even dual-wielding weapons if carrying a shield seems pointless. There’s tons of damage dealing weapons ranging from swords and katanas to slings and bows while protective gear covers everything from helmets to underwear. All items have not only their base stats but also an array of buffs and debuffs, so coming up with a proficient team and equipping it accordingly is an art of its own. This is especially true due to the demon circles constantly spewing out new and intriguing stuff.

Demon Gaze II handles its turn-based battles in a tremendous fashion as it is fully aware that random encounters are essentially nothing more than the genre’s necessary evil. It only takes a press of a button to make everyone repeat their previous moves, and another to fast-forward through an entire turn. If the characters are suitably equipped and leveled, a single encounter is over in less than ten seconds, making the equally typical need of grinding more like an empowering fete. To contest that, boss encounters are often so harsh that all carefree behavior is best replaced with proper strategical thinking. Still, the game wants to ensure everyone finds a comfortable way of experiencing it. Back in the home base, difficulty can always be freely adjusted between five levels. For some weird reason, the default setting was the second easiest but after a few deceptively easy hours, I turned it up a notch. I’ve since grown to regret that but even when the game gets brutal, it does so in a fair and encouraging fashion.

This journey will most likely last for several more entries. If anything is clear at this point, it’s that Demon Gaze II is just as brilliant as its predecessor and thus the merriest and most addictive dungeon crawler of all time. More praise to follow as the game is… It’s just plain adorable!

Guerrilla Radio

Me me me me me!

After so much time spent with western releases lately, I have reinvigorated my passion for proper, lengthy JRPGs. Despite an already massive backlog, it didn’t take long to come up with a suitable subject. Demon Gaze II is a standalone sequel to a three-year old-game that brazenly combined visual novels with hardcore dungeon crawling in a manner that left an everlasting impression at least in my JRPGing heart. Despite such a lengthy wait, the sequel is fortunately true to its origins, once more providing a boisterous adventure that might feel awfully familiar but only in a good and immensely entertaining fashion.

The story kicks off in the city-state of Asteria, ruled by Sirius Magnastar. Even if he enjoys immense popularity among his subjects, he seems to be up to no good. Restricted areas within the city are teeming with demons, and the city’s inhabitants are secretly used as fuel for an eerie Star Furnace. The protagonist, Signa, escapes such a sorry fate at the last moment possible, rescued by rebels. A revolutionary movement led by sibling sisters Muse and Prim might be awkwardly small in numbers but at least they run an illicit radio show from the basement of a local inn, trying to wake up the masses to a veiled deception. Their chances get a whole lot better with Signa, who has a mystical ability to absorb the souls of weakened demons into his eye and later recall them as members of the revolution.

While such setup is hardly Pulitzer for Drama material, it doesn’t really have to. Good characters and smooth gameplay immediately take over. Just like with the previous game, the inn serves as a comprehensive base with its own shop and an infirmary; a perfect place for Signa and his captured demons to embark on exploration trips throughout the restricted streets of the city. These grid-based areas feature both random encounters and demon circles. By using a bunch of cheap weapon and/or gear gems on the latter summons a bunch of nasties. Beating them is rewarded with useful stuff corresponding to the gems used as well as the seizure of the circle. After all circles in the area have been located and conquered, the area boss can be challenged. A thorough beating later, they then join the winning side.

Like its predecessor, Demon Gaze II shines with its exemplary pacing. Each location is first a threatening, uncharted area that opens up square by square. Exploration is frequently interrupted by having to retreat back to the home base to lick ones wounds and then returning to carry on. Still, thanks to effortless grinding and an ample supply of constantly new and inspiring gear acquired from demon circles, making progress is a breeze. After triumphing over delightfully challenging bosses, the game takes nice breaks building up on the characters and advancing the story. As before, the cast of characters is pleasantly compact, ensuring everyone has multiple moments in the spotlight. In fact, some of the side characters are already familiar from the first game. Having played that one is not a prerequisite by any means but more like a way of Demon Gaze II pampering to both new and returning players.

More about the game’s lovely nuances in the future, as even after a weekend of playing, I’m only getting started and the passion to dig ever deeper is as grand as ever!

Longing for the Olden Days

The usual, dear Nico, the usual…

Video game industry is a fickle beast. Even in the 90’s, graphic adventure games could still manage sales of a million copies. At least this was true for Revolution Software’s stylish and fondly remembered Broken Sword series, in which a French freelance journalist, Nicole Collard, and an American jack of all trades, George Stobbart, always seem to find themselves tangled up in murder mysteries and ancient, supernatural artifacts. By the end of the millennium, the gaming masses lost interest in the genre, and in 2013 the latest game in the series, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse, had to rely on crowdfunding. Even if I was no longer gaming on PC back then, I spotted the game’s Vita version among last month’s PlayStation Plus selection. This was a nice chance to see if graphic adventures still do it for me.

For long-standing fans, at least, the adventure kicks off in an unsurprising fashion. Nicole and George meet in a Parisian art gallery, although it’s not a particularly pleasant reunion. A sudden robbery takes place, depriving the owner of the gallery both an exhibited painting as well as his life. Our investigative duo aren’t interested only in the killer but also the stolen piece of art that leads them on a trail of medieval cabals, gnostics, and the Spanish inquisition.

In general, The Serpent’s Curse is a fairly pleasant, beautifully illustrated and skillfully animated adventure. Its puzzles are solved in the usual fashion by picking up items, occasionally combining them in unexpected ways, and chatting with a whole bunch of eccentric characters. While adventure games can be notorious for getting the player stuck or wandering around aimlessly, The Serpent’s Curse alleviates this by penning all of its problems and their solutions in areas that are rarely larger than a couple of screens. Items, too, come in such moderation that trying everything with everything is never troublesome. Several puzzles carry rather absurd solutions but they’re rarely so obscure that the player wouldn’t have at least a modicum of an idea on how to proceed.

Sadly religious myths as a motif has already been thoroughly exhausted not only by this series but entertainment industry on whole. For the game’s first half, both the story and the overall pacing still manage to stay afloat. After that, the player is drowned in overly convoluted mega puzzles and plot twists so incredibly shoddy and clichéd that enjoyment goes straight down the drain. This Vita version contributes to that by only featuring touch screen controls. The small screen doesn’t really do justice to the game’s graphical splendor to begin with but it’s even worse when having to constantly use an index finger as a makeshift mouse cursor. Awkward and inaccurate.

The Serpent’s Curse is still very much a Broken Sword and very much a graphic adventure but for some inexplicable reason the taste of the series isn’t nearly as exquisite as it was 17 years earlier when The Shadow of the Templars kicked things into motion. I probably have to play that one once more to see if it’s just fond memories or still a classic. The Serpent’s Curse doesn’t feel like one.

City of Angels v1.1

Truth by pantsu

While still enduring an aching back and waiting for the second MRI this year, everyday life is about as dark as the weather. These past few days my current mood has been nicely complemented by L.A. Noire. Its equally dark, cynical and harsh film noir world got remastered for the current console generation. While the improvements are mostly superficial, what worked in 2011 seems to work well even six years later. The story of Cole Phelps, a decorated WWII hero, follows his rise from an ordinary LAPD patrolman to the ranks of the most hard-boiled of detectives in 1947 Los Angeles. It’s a journey not without some quirks and annoyances but on whole, this is still a stylish and entertaining sandbox.

The main distinguising feature of the game are its interrogations of witnesses and suspects. By studying their expressions and body language, Phelps has to determine if their statements are true, doubtful, or outright lies that can be contested with evidence gathered during investigations. It’s a pretty novel and fun idea that always suffered from the hit and miss nature of interpreting the expressions correctly. It was never easy to determine exactly how the fairly hot-tempered Phelps would react to the selected choices. In this version, terms truth and doubt have been replaced with good cop and bad cop but that obviously doesn’t help much. The interrogations do provide a nice brain workout but it’s still deceptively easy to have a hunch and then double check the internet to ensure that it’s the correct one.

If L.A. Noire has been given a new lick of paint, it’s not particularly conspicuous. Despite additional makeup the game still looks somewhat dated and the streets of what is supposed to be a thriving metropolis often uncomfortably desolate. Luckily the cars, billboards, and landmarks of the era were originally modeled with such piety that merely cruising around aimlessly while listening to jazz and old radio plays is still delightful. Sadly the division between the main story and an actual sandbox has remained the same. While GTA style games often advance by driving to story markers on the map, L.A. Noire ushers Phelps from one story case to the next. Proper free roaming is only available after the man has solved enough cases to earn a promotion to a new division, and even then the free mode has to be separately activated by quitting back to the main menu.

Another nuisance that really should have been fixed is the inability to skip cutscenes. It’s hardly an issue the first time around but it’s not until a case has been concluded that the player finds out exactly how many pieces of evidence they missed, how well the interviews went, and how much damage they caused while driving carelessly around the city. Those aiming for perfect five star performance reviews probably have to redo a case or two, making it quite annoying to go through the same motions and cutscenes all over again. Even many of the action sequences are preceded by little intros that have to be watched after each failed attempt. That’s not to say L.A. Noire would be a particularly challenging game but especially in firefights, leaving cover is so awkward that Cole is often subject to some pretty cheap hits.

Those interested in collectibles will find that even if there were already plenty in the original release, there are even more in this remaster. Driving each of the 95 unique vehicles in the game is still a genuinely entertaining challenge but all sorts of film reels, badges, novels, and records are just the sort of pointless little trinkets that one usually bumps into only by accident or with a guide.

Despite the minor issues that really could have used fixing, L.A. Noire is still well worth a second go. It’s a gritty crime drama with easily 30 hours worth of content, and its depiction of the post-war 40s is highly versatile, credible, and enjoyable. Sure, the game’s world is strikingly gruff and unabashedly sexist but then again, that’s what high-class film noir is about. It’s really a pity that the game ended up being its developer’s only production as even with its faults, it remains a refreshingly original take on the sandbox genre.

Last week’s Black Friday came and went without much ado in this household. Good game deals in particular were hard to come by. In the end, I only grabbed a modest pile of PS4 releases that mostly fall into the “I suppose there’s no harm trying” category. Still, the fivesome of Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition, The Last of Us Remastered, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and The Walking Dead: A New Frontier were all under twenty euros each, a price point that usually makes me bite if I’m going to bite at all.

Loot Math

The grim reality as boring bars

Now that EA and Star Wars Battlefront II with its microtransactions and loot boxes has gotten pretty much everyone riled up, I decided to do a bit of investigative journalism. As everyone is probably aware already, loot boxes could be considered a game mechanic but that is only a disguise to skin children and imbeciles of whatever money they might have left after buying the game itself. This questionable practice involves random rewards in random boxes with odds so low that impatient players might very well be tempted to get them with money rather than by playing.

Massive corporation greed isn’t exclusive to EA, though. Bandai Namco, too, is well-versed in this unholy dark art of leeching. As a demonstration, I’ll use The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars, which many will probably remember from last summer’s blog entries. After considerable grinding, I left the game missing just one stage costume. Sadly, it’s one that is hidden away in a random loot box. Luckily, however, it serves as a perfect way of highlighting what the recent fuss about loot boxes is all about.

The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars is based on live performances that reward not just money and experience, but also random presents. A single live takes about four minutes to complete, and after I had done a statistically nice amount of them, 200 to be exact, I got a much better understanding of what odds are involved in trying to get that one last costume into the wardrobe.

The graph in this article shows the madness of the scheme. Each bar represents ten lives and the presents I got out of them. 67% of the lives go unrewarded altogether, 18% result in a bronze present, 14% a silver present, and mere 1% a gold present. No points for guessing which kind of those hold the costume I’m missing. It get considerably more tragicomic when you consider there are ten different gold presents. So, should I get lucky enough to even bump into one, I still have only a 10% chance of actually scoring what I want. Or, to turn it around, every four minutes I have a 99.9% chance of not getting the costume. No wonder that I haven’t seen it despite 200 hours and 1800 lives played.

Now, if I was peeved AND enjoyed both loose money and a full frontal lobotomy, I’d probably just go to the marketplace to buy my way to happiness. One present costs 100 yen but a hundred of them go for as “low” as 8000 yen. At today’s exchange rates, that’s a price range from a bit under one euro to 60 euros. It took me about 13 hours to play those 200 lives and amass 66 presents in the process. Converted into cash, that means about 40 euros. If I was a corporate-loved whale who went with the most expensive hundred present deal, the odds involved would mean it contains maybe 3-4 gold presents. Or, in other words, sixty euros for four chances of guessing a number between one and ten. Yay!

Naturally, I’m such a stingy gamer that I rarely buy even an entire game digitally, let alone downloadable content or, heaven forbid, loot boxes. Still, these numbers probably explain why the business model works. It takes a special kind of stupidity both to pay and choosing not to pay. I suppose I’ll eventually play my way to that last costume simply out of sheer tenacity but hopefully this at least works as a cautionary example of the kind of cancer loot boxes represent.

Child of Excess

Seems like it’s occasionally possible to get lucky. When Ubisoft’s slightly more artsy 2D-platformer-RPG Child of Light enjoyed publication and positive reception more than three years ago, it always felt like something that might be fun to try. That never happened, mostly due to the game never getting a physical release (well, it kind of did but a cardboard box with a download code is essentially nothing more than a cardboard box.) While the game never got my money, it was included in the pile of PlayStation Plus games for this September. This gave me a swell chance to see exactly how notable a gem I had been sitting out on for all this time. After a begrudging playthrough of about eight hours, I can’t help but say I didn’t seem to miss much.

In the game, a red-haired princess Aurora whizzes all around the magical kingdom of Lemuria together with firefly fairy Igniculus. While at it, they befriend a ragtag bunch of other adventurers and apparently get tangled into a family drama of some sort. Something along those lines, as the story is something I ended up skipping altogether due to it being told in verse. All narration, character dialogue included, has been forcibly adapted into awkward rhyme that flows as fluent as sludge in tar, bending the story into a shape so painful to follow that after ten minutes it becomes nothing more than drivel to fast-forward through.

That same ten minutes is all it takes for the initially promising Metroidvania-esque world to fall apart. Aurora, only capable of jumping at first, is almost immediately gifted with a magical ability to fly, wrecking half of all the joy of exploration and discovery there could have been. The other half is immediately wrecked by the most egregious display of Ubibloat™ there is. It’s nigh on impossible to go for 15 seconds without bumping into a treasure chest or a shoddily hidden cavern of goodies. What’s worse, almost every turn-based battle causes the characters to level up and earn skill points for their pointless ability trees. The game is like an ADHD patient’s dream come true with constant rewards so ridiculously frequent that in the end, nothing ends up feeling anything at all.

Granted, Child of Light is remarkably beautiful and even more remarkably well-animated. Heck, actually criticizing it in any way feels like kicking a puppy. Still, no can do. When something doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work. If the game had a more conservative method of storytelling and a world at least remotely worth exploring, it might’ve enjoyed a bit more scrutiny than this. As it stands, it’s only worth these four shoddy paragraphs.

This might have been a miss but in the meantime, four potential homerunners have joined the ranks. Of those, L.A. Noire is most likely the safest bet, given that it’s a remaster of a game that was already most enjoyable on the PS3. It’s certainly worth revisiting, especially as the PS4 version includes all the DLC (yup, I rather buy the entire game again than spend a dime on additional digital content.) As for NIS America, there’s two awfully promising sequels. Demon Gaze II is continuation to what I still consider one of the best dungeon crawlers ever while Nights of the Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon capitalizes on the positive aftertaste left by its predecessor not more than a month ago. I’m also slightly excited about Taiko no Tatsujin: Session de Dodon ga Don! which, with its drum controller, gives me the first chance to play Taiko games the way they probably should be played.

Random Rambling of a Gaming Otaku