Sunday, 28 October 2018

Monster Hearts R (PC)

Once again, I've been able to get ahold of a game released at a recent Comiket, and once again, it's a shooting game. This time, it's a shooting game about three monster maids: a vampire maid who is just that, a werewolf maid who is also a ninja, and a Frankenstein's monster maid who can summon a giant robot. Though there are obviously a few common systems no matter who you pick, their weapons and playstyles are all so different, they could almost have come from different games. But first, we'll get to those elements that are the same whoever you play.

Firstly, there's the power-up system. There's various differently coloured kanji that might appear while you play, but the two most important ones are the orange ones, that power you up, and the purple ones, which power you down. The orange ones gradually fill up an experience meter, until your weapon reaches level 5. You can keep collecting them once you're at level 5, but now every time the meter fills, it makes three big bonus coins appear on screen. These coins are worth so many points, that, should you be playing for score, this is the main thing on wich you should concentrate. The purple ones are fired in patterns by certain enemies like bullets, and obviously should be avoided like they are bullets.

As for the differences in characters, obviously, there's the differences you'd expect between their normal shots: the vampire has a regular spreading vulcan shot, the werewolf has a shot that just goes straight ahead, but is a lot weaker than you'd expect from a weapon of this type (due to this, she requires a slightly non-traditional, counter-intuitive playstyle that I'll get into shortly), and the Frankenstein's monster slowly fires powerful drill-shaped rockets, with faster lasers accompanying them as she powers up. The real differences between the three come from their super attacks, which all work differently, and require very different tactics.

We'll start again with the vampire, whose super weapon surrounds her with a bullet-absorbing forcefield for a few seconds, after which a bunch of familiars will storm across the screen, their number and the power of their attacks being determined in correlation with the amount of bullets absorbed. After about 10-20 seconds, it will have recharged, and can be used again. The werewolf's super has two different forms: tapping the button will simply make her release shurikens in a circle outwards, using up a third of the power meter. Holding the button while the meter's full, though, will make a bunch of shadow copies appear all over the screen, before they start shooting shurikens in every direction for a couple of seconds. This is the quickest super to recharge, taking only a few seconds to come back, which, along with her almost useless normal shots, so playing as the werewolf means relying on your super as your main form of attack.

The Frankenstein's monster's super is the coolest, but also the hardest to really use effectively: it summons a giant robot, vastly increasing your firepower, and also letting you absorb a bunch of hits, until it's had enough and goes away. How long you get to use it depends on how much it gets hit, though obviously, it's hitbox is huge, and it's pretty hard to avoid bullets in this form. What makes it hard to use, though, is that it takes several minutes to recharge after you summon it, so you're left betting on your own skills: can you survive until the boss without the robot, or alternatively, do you want to uuse it to storm through the stage, and hope it doesn't take too many hits and can get you through at least some of the boss fight too?

With all this in mind, is the game actually any good though? Well, it has a lot of problems, like how every time you get a game over, the time it takes and the amount of stuff you have to skip through to start a new game is way too long. Also, as a result of the three characters being so completely different in playstyle, the initial learning curve is pretty brutal, even for an STG. On the other hand, though, despite the minor problems it has, and how frustrating it can be in general, it's a game that once you start playing, it can be hard to stop. You can easily while away the hours without even realising. Maybe it's wasted on PC with this strong a hook, it could probably rake in the coins in an arcade setting! Anyway, if you're ordering a copy from Japan, there are probably way better games you could buy before it, but if it ever gets a nice convenient download release, then I definitely recommend picking it up.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Knights of Valour 3 (Arcade)

It's strange that even to this day, none of IGS' arcade games have been ported to home consoles, the only reason I can think of being that no console publisher wants to bother with a Taiwanese company? But still, their beat em ups were always pretty ambitious, taking the inventory system from Capcom's Dungeons and Dragons beat em ups, and gradually expanding on the idea, eventually culminating in this: Knights of Valour 3, which brings various console game concepts and brings them to the arcade.

The biggest and most obvious thing is the use of memory cards. Though this is actuall pretty common in a lot of post-2000 arcade games, this is, as far as I know, the only beat em up that uses them. What does it use them for? For saving your progress in the game, and the stats, equipment and inventory of your character. Yes, it is another beat em up with those dreaded "RPG elements". But in this case, I'm willing to be a lot more forgiving than usual.

There's a couple of reasons for this, the least important being that the "progression" is very slow and very gradual, so it's not like grinding over and over to make the game easier is going to be a big thing, especially since there's a couple of barriers to this: firstly, it's an arcade game, so every time you play and die, that's the price of a credit thrown away, so you'd be better off getting better at the game, than waiting for it to get easier. Secondly, the item/equipment shop is only accessible after completing a stage, so there is a minimum barrier of entry before you can unlock new moves and better weapons and such.

The big reason I'm more forgiving, though, is simply that it's an arcade game, and it's not meant to be played the way I've been playing it (alone, on a computer at home). It's meant to be played in a public, social setting, with other players. And I can really see how that would enhance the game greatly: a group of friends, each with their own memory card containing their character, playing every day on their lunch break or whatever, gradually making progress through the game over the course of months. As far as I'm aware, there aren't any other arcade games that offer that kind of long term experience (like I said earlier, there are other arcade games that use memory cards, but as far as I know, they're all competitive, rather than co-operative), and it sounds like something that'd be really enjoyable. And after you've all finished for good, the memory cards themselves look really cool, so they'd be nice keepsakes to hold onto.

If you're curious about this game, it's still worth playing in MAME: it's decent enough fun, and it also looks incredible, but I have to say that, though it's very unlikely, I really hope I one day get to play it as it was originally intended, since the developers really did make an arcade game that offers and experience you can't perfectly replicate as a home game, even though the game itself could easily be ported to any of its contemporary home systems (Knights of Valour 3 was originally released in 2011).

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Ore ga Omae wo Mamoru (DS)

This game's title translates to "I Will Protect You", and it was part of a short-lived initiative to try and lure female visual novel fans towards "proper" games. The only other game I know of that was a part of the initiative was a reskinned version of the RPG Dungeon Maker. The luring in this case was entirely thematic, having a white-haired bishonen as a protagonist, various other bishonen in the town, and a female NPC for them all to fawn over. The game itself, though, definitely doesn't feel like it was made with players new to action games in mind.

Ore ga Omae wo Mamoru is a platform RPG, or a metrovania, if you like, and it starts out being brutally difficult: even the weakest enemies will take a ton of punishment, while you'll go down in just a few hits. Despite the fact that it doesn't have experience points and levelling, there's still an inverse difficulty curve in effect, since as time goes on, you get access to better weapons and armour, and healing items become easier to get ahold of, and things quickly get a lot easier after the first hour. Still, that's pretty much a part of the genre, and all the RPG-style Castlevaniae have this problem, and I love them, so I can't really hold it against OgOwM. Though when I say it gets easier, I'm referring entirely to combat and survival.

The big problem I have with this game is the language barrier, so if you can fluently read Japanese, you can stop here: this game's pretty good, if you've played all 3 DS Castlevaniae to death and want something similar, this is the game to go for. For everyone else, though: after killing the irst boss, I got totally stuck. All I could find were locked doors and walls that looked destructible, but I had no Idea how to open them. I also found a few chests with key items in them, though those items didn't seem to open any of the doors I could find.

It really is a shame, too. I remember there being a bit of buzz around this game when it came out in Japan, a lot of people being intrigued by the idea of an action RPG designed by and for women, but it seems that interest fizzled out almost instantly. GameFAQs has the long-abandoned beginnings of a walkthrough and a map with very little annotation, and there's also a forum thread somewhere on the internet from 2010 announcing a translation patch that never materialised. Hopefully someday, interest in this game will be revitalised, and someone will write, if not a translation patch, at least a proper walkthrough, so everyone can play it. Until that happens though, you're going to have a tough time getting through if you're not Japanese-literate.

Here's an addendum to what's written above: a few days after writing this review, I had to play the game a bit more to take screenshots, and during this session, I somehow triggered a long series of cutscenes. After they'd finished, not only was my max HP increased, but I also now had the ability to break those aforementioned destructible-looking walls. So I am able to progess a bit further in the game, but since I have no idea what made this happen, I still stand by my earlier opinion that the language barrier is fairly strong for those who can't read Japanese.

Friday, 12 October 2018

The Anime Super Remix: Kyojin no Hoshi (PS2)

In case you don't know, Kyojin no Hoshi is a baseball anime that aired all the way back in 1968, and it's one of those old anime that was massively influential on all that came after it. Unfortunately, I don't know much of the exact details, because only the first episode has ever been translated into English. I do know that it was to first appearance of that BDSM-looking "training suit" that you see in a bunch of anime, including an early episode of Pokemon, where some guy puts one on his Sandshrew.

Anyway, this game came out in 2002, alongside another "Anime Super Remix" game, based on the 1980 boxing anime Ashita no Joe 2, and it, as far as I can tell, tells the story of the anime through a mixture of video clips (which are amazingly high quality, considering the age of the source material), still images with captions, and minigames re-enacting certain iconic scenes.

The minigames are all very difficult, and completely unforgiving, even on the easiest difficulty. Well, the three of them I was able to play were, anyway. You only start with two minigames unlocked, and by playing them, you can earn points, which allow you to unlock more minigames, as well as more story scenes. However, to actually get the minigames, you'll have to grind no matter how well you play. Each minigame costs nine hundred points to unlock, and successfully completing a minigame on its hardest difficulty will get you between 150 and 200 points each time. So you'll have to complete 4 successful runs on hard to get the next game at the very least.

And I'm not exageratting when I describe the difficulty of these games. They basically boil down to different configurations of press a button once or twice with perfect timing, and pressing a button as many times as possible in a very short amount of time. The timing-based tasks aren't so bad once you get into a bit of a rhythm with them, which is possible even through emulation. The button-tapping tasks, however seem to vary, seemingly at random, between "pretty difficult" and "literally impossible, even Meijin Takahashi can't press a button this fast". I know these olden days sports anime were all about tragedy and despair, but to complete these absurdly hard tasks, with the only reward being a fraction of the way towards getting the next one is a bit dispiriting.

Though retelling the story of an old, reknowned TV series through a series of minigames recreating specific scenes is an interesting one, the actual execution here is so bad, and so antithetical to having a good time, I can't recommend this game at all.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Ridegear Guybrave (Playstation)

It's a beat em up, and it's not an arcade game, or on a console released before 1994! So, I'm sure you all know what's going to happen, and yes, there are both experience points and equipment shops. But it's not all bad, as the weapons you buy actually all have not only their own models that actually appear on your robot, but their own animations too! So you are actually getting a bit of fun out of them besides the numbers going up.

And yes, it's also a game about robots. Giant ones, though they're also super-deformed. Which is probably actually more realistic than big tall, slender mecha. The setting is an island in what I assume is some kind of newly colonised frontier world, as everything manmade seems kind of ramshackle, though there isn't any of the environmental devestation you'd expect from a post-apocalyptic world, with stages taking place in deserts, plains, caves, forests, meadows and so on.

The RPG elements don't just stop at the stat-raising stuff, either: there's towns where you talk to people, buy stuff, and so on. In fact, the towns conspire with the game's navigation system to create some offensively aggregious padding, which actually detracts from the game's quality a lot more than the stats stuff. There's a point early on in the game, where you have to talk to a guy in the second town, then go back to the first town to talk to another guy, then return to the original guy in the second town. The problem with this is that there are two stages between those two towns.

Now, the game's world map doesn't let you just pass over cleared areas, but instead, each area, whether it's a stage or a town, has two exits, one at the left and one at the right. When you leave via one exit, you can only go to the opposite exit on the next stage in that direction. So, how the above quest goes is that you initially leave the first town, and go through the two stages to get to the second. Then you leave the second and go through those two stages again, but backwards, to get back to the first town. Then you have to go through those same two stages for a third time to get back to the second town. I can't remember the last time I played a game with such little respect for the player's time. The combat was actually pretty fun at first: crunchy and satisfying, and with the novelty of trying out new weapons now and then, but after this nonsense, I'd lost all goodwill I once had towards this game.

I think if me and my friends had gotten copies of this from our local totally legitimate import games dealer around the time of its release, it might have been one of our favourites that we'd occasionally talk about to this day. As a more discerning adult with access to emulation and so on, I can't recommend it. If you want action games with nice low poly robots and cool anime character portraits, you can easily find many others that are a lot better than this.