Saturday, 1 May 2021

Cross The Ridge R (PC)

 Despite the word "Ridge" in the title, this game has a lot more in common with the Initial D series than Ridge Racer. It really does have a lot in common with Initial D, too: it's an arcade-style drift racing game where you take part in one-on-one races that all take place on incredibly bendy Japanese country roads. Also there's lots of eurobeat music.


There's some stuff in the game I don't quite get, too. Like how there's a huge selection of cars to pick from, but you only get to pick once, the first time you load up the game. Also, if you're using an XInput controller (or a Dual Shock 4 masquerading as one), the controls are mapped automatically, but accelerate and brake are mapped to two of the face buttons, rather than the analogue triggers. But seeing that the menus are almost totally horizontally arranged, it looks like the developers were assuming that most people playing this game would be doing so with a steering wheel.


The main mode is arcade mode, which has various courses, each one consisting of four races, each against a different opponent. Complete one course to unlock the next, though I don't know how many there are in total yet, I've only played the game for a couple of hours at this point. It's been a fun few hours, though! Of course, right from the start, your success relies upon your ability to drift well, so it's important that it feels good to drift. The devs have done a decent enough job of this, I'm glad to report. I think I've been spoiled by the likes of OutRun 2 and Ridge Racer 3D with their incredibly easy works-every-time drifting, but Cross the Ridge R complicates things just enough to make a good successful drift feel incredibly satisfying. You've got to know just exactly when and for how long you need to switch back and forth between accelerating and braking when taking each corner.


I have mixed feeling on the graphics, though I do admit that they're not totally rational. There's something in the combination of low poly 3D models with blurry low resolution textures and the high resolution of the game itself that really reminds me of the days of X Box Live Indie Games. It looks fine I guess, if a little sterile. The big problem I have with it though, is that when I think of drift racing games, my mind always instantly goes to the ones on Playstation and Saturn, with their super-grainy textures and short draw distances (especially on the night time stages) that really added to their atmosphere. I know this kind of nostalgic thinking isn't really fair, though, so I won't consider it too thick a black mark against Cross the Ridge R's  name.


In summary, Cross the Ridge R is a game I can easily recommend. There don't seem to be many racing games of this kind released in the past decade, it'll probably run at full speed on almost any modern PC, and it only costs a few hundred yen! If you like arcade racers, it seems like it'd be rude not to pick this one up.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Tetris Giant (Arcade)

 I'm not totally sure if this game counts as obscure, but at the same time I'm thinking that it's going to mostly be arcade nerds that know about it, and even then, a lot of people will quickly write it off as a silly novelty game, and I think it deserves more than that. I'll also have to do something I haven't done on this blog in a long time: a disclaimer regarding this game's controls. The actual arcade version of Tetris Giant (also known as Tetris Dekaris) uses a projector dor its display, and is controlled by two gigantic joysticks at least the height of a human child. I, of course, have been emulating it on my laptop, and using a normal-sized USB Saturn controller. So the experiences I describe here are probably not exactly analogous to those of someone playing a real arcade machine.


I've also only ben playing single player, so I can't tell you about either the co-op or versus two player modes. Luckily, though, there are two single player modes, and both of them are a lot of fun. In both modes, there are some things that have been simplified to accomodate the unusual nature of the arcade version's controls: rather than the standard 10x20 block well, you instead have a 6x7 well, with the pieces being big and very brightly coloured. Furthermore, only when an entire piece crosses the line at the top does it count as a game over, partial pieces crossing the line are fine.


The first mode is line challenge mode, which is supposed to be the easier of the two modes, mainly because crossing the line doesn't end the game, it just erases the bottom few rows of blocks, so you're guaranteed at least two minutes of play. There's no scoring in this mode, and instead you're given two minutes to get as many lines as you can, with extra seconds added for clearing multiple lines at once. It's fun, but the lack of scores, and with it the lack of a high score table damages its long term appeal.


Luckily, the other mode, which tries to scare off timid players with a warning that it's for experts only, is score challenge. It's entirely about scoring as many points as you can before you get a game over or you reach two hundred lines. This mode does have a high score table, which features prominently as you play. It records the top one thousand scores, and it appears onscreen beside the well as a giant tower that you ascend as your score increases. The background fits the ascension theme too, starting at the bottom of the ocean, gradually rising up past skyscrapers, the sky itself, and up past the moon and into deep space. This mode is the meat of the game, and it's very addictive. A credit will only last me about five minutes, and I've still managed to play hours and hours of it. 


Even (or maybe especially?) without the giant gimmick of the arcade cabinet, Tetris Giant has still easily come to be one of my favourite versions of Tetris, and I definitely recommend giving it a try yourself. It's unlikely, but I hope it someday gets a ported to  handheld at some point, or at least a handheld Tetris game comes out that includes a mode that plays like it. One last thing to mention is that one essential thing you should do before you play (assuming you're playing via emulation) is to go into the service menu and change the music option from "instrumental" to "japanese songs". Trust me, this massively enhances an already great game.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Ushio & Tora (SNES)

 It's yet another game based on an anime, but this time it's one that I have seen: the nineties classic Ushio & Tora, which tells the story of Ushio, a teenage boy who one day accidentally frees Tora, a tiger-like demon from his dad's basement. The two then team up to fight other, worse demons, Ushio fighting using the magic spear that had previously held Tora pinned to a wall, and Tora using his claws and ability to shoot lightning from his face.


This game is something of an anachronism, being of a subgenre that was mostly dead by 1993: the single player boss fighter. You know, like Yie Ar Kung Fu or Metamoquester. There's some very short scrolling parts where you fight a few weak enemies, but the bulk of the game is made up of one-on-one fights against bosses who are mostly a lot bigger than you. It's a little disappointing that with only two playable characters, the movelists aren't bigger. Each character only has a few slight variations on their standard attack. 


The graphics also seem like a disappointment at first too, as they look a bit drab and dull. This all changed for me once I got to the second stage, a fight against a centipede-infested suit of antique samurai armour that takes place in a dusty, abandoned school building. The colour pallete, which makes heavy use of browns and greys, works really well here, and the game continues to have a grim, gloomy atmosphere appropriate for its demon-killing action for the rest of the game from this point on.


It's not a particularly sophisticated game, but I really enjoyed Ushio and Tora, and I think it must have made a fine accompaniment to the show at the time. And since there wasn't a videogame for the 2015 remake (it seems like only the absolute biggest anime series get videogame adaptations these days. It's a shame, in my opinion, and the blame probably lies at the feet of the vastly swollen scale and budgets of modern videogame production), it's probably worth looking into for fans of that version, too. One weird little detail is that another Ushio and Tora game came out six months later for the Famicom. Releasing a Famicom game as late as 1993 seems odd on its own, but six months after a Super Famicom version of the same series is double strange. I won't be reviewing that one though, since it's an RPG with no English translation.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Kaleido Festival (PC)

 This is a fangame based on an anime I've never seen called Kaleido Star. From what I've read online, Kaleido Star is about a girl named Sora who dreams of being a circus performer. In this game, you play as Sora, navigating short platforms stages, with the main gimmick being that there's lots of trapezes and trampolines strewn about each stage for you to use. Also, there aren't any enemies (though some stages do have traps that can hurt you, and pretty much all of them have parts with no floor where you can fall to your death (or at least wet failure) in the sea).


I was actually pretty disappointed by the circus aspect of the game. Looking at screenshots before I played it, I was expecting a game that focussed mostly on trapezing and doing tricks in the air, getting landings right, and so on. Instead, it's just a time attack platformer, and though you can get chains by quickly jumping from trapeze to trapeze in quick succession without touching the ground, it's ultimately a minor component of your final scoring for each stage.


The stages themselves are okay, they gradually introduce new elements as you go along, a lot of them have slightly out-of-the-way areas with more coins to collect, all the standard stuff you'd expect from a game like this. That is, until you get to stage 3-4. This stage starts out strong, with a staircase of trampolines leading up to a trapeze on a much longer pair of chains than any seen in the game so far, but then immediately crumbles. At the end of your swing arc on that giant trapeze are a bunch of traps that you'll hit midair if you try to jump straight up to the next giant trapeze. There's also a row of traps for you to smash into if you try going for a horizontal route lower down. I've had something like thirty attempts at this stage, and I don't know if there's some secret trick I have'nt discovered, or if the developer accidentally left some traps where they weren't supposed to be in their stage editor, but as far as I can tell, this stage is impossible.


It's a real disappointment, as that giant trapeze hints at more exciting things to come in later stages, but it seems like I'll nver get to see what those exciting things might turn out to be. As a result of this, and as much as I wish it weren't the case, I really can't recommend this game at all. Sorry.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Tekkouki Mikazuki Trial Version (PS2)

 Obviously, "Trial Edition" means that this is only a demo. But it's a demo of a game that never got released! And that game would have been based on Tekkouki Mikazuki, Keita Amemiya's excellent big-budget giant robot miniseries that aired in 2000! You play as Kazeo, the young boy protagonist of the series, and in tuen, he controls the giant robot Mikazuki to fight off the melon kaiju from the first episode, Suika Idom.


To clarify on that explanation, you play as Kazeo, running around on the ground. At the start of the stage, Suika Idom shows up and starts stomping around and destroying buildings. For about a minute, you've got to run around trying not to get stepped on, until some gold text appears on the screen, heralding Mikazuki's arrival. When it shows up, you can press select to alternate between controlling Kazeo and controlling Mikazuki. However, whichever of the two you're controlling, Kazeo is still "you" in the game's world, and you see what Mikazuki is doing from his perspective, wherever you left him on the ground.


It's a pretty interesting way of getting across the fact that this is a fight between giantsized combatants, and really, you shouldn't have expected anything less, since this game is by Sandlot, the masters of making games about really big things, as seen in their most famous games, the Earth Defence Force series, and a previous Lunatic Obscurity subject, Chou Shoujuu Mecha MG. It's a shame this game never fully came into fruition, as the monster design in the show is incredible (but again, Keita Amemiya is one of the greatest tokusatsu monster designers of all time), and it might have been cool to have stages where you played as Akane piloting the Gekkouki series of robots. 


Though this specific game came out, Sandlot went on to make a bunch of other games, and two of their other PS2 titles in particular build on the concepts put forth in this demo: Gigantic Drive and Tetsujin 28 Go. So I guess I should really seek them both out and give them a try, right? It's very difficult to get ahold of this demo through legitimate means nowadays, but I'm sure that if it appeals to you, you'll figure something out. And if you do, you'll have a fun five or so minutes before it's over, so why not?

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Shenmue I & II (PS4)

 It is the first of April again, and as tradition dictates, it's time to write about a game that's a bit more well known than the usual fare. And this year, it's the turn of SEGA's divisive, absurdly ambitious adventure (and its sequel). In case you're wondering, I'm firmly in the pro-Shenmue camp. 


For those who don't know, the Shenmue games tell the story of a young Japanese man in the mid-1980s named Ryo Hazuki, and his quest to get revenge on Lan Di, the mysterious martial artist who killed his father. Well, they tell part of that story anyway. Unfortunately, though the games are absurdly ambitious, those ambitions never even came close to fruition. This story's been told many times before, but the original intention was for Shenmue to be twelve games, all as long as the first. Shenmue I is the first chapter in its full intended length, but then chapter two was skipped entirely, and the second game comprises chapters three-to-five. I haven't played the third game yet, but I do at least know that the story still isn't finished after twenty years.


But anyway, despite the reduction in scope from the original plans, these games are still incredible. They're open world adventures where you gather information, occasionally get into fights, and if you feel like it, you can waste time playing various side games, including a bunch of actual SEGA arcade games contemporary to the setting. Though they weren't the first open world games, you could make the argument that they were the first modern-style ones, with all kinds of distractions and things to do alongside the main quest. 


I could also talk about the way every character in the game has a name, backstory, and daily schedule, no matter how minor they are, or all the other bizarre and incredible things that are in these games, but to do so would be to do them a disservice. They're games that are much more than the sum of their parts. There's just a certain magic to them that's hard to describe, and judging by the way some people have reacted to them over the years, it's something that you either get or you don't.


Though I finished the first game a few times back on its original release, I never got all the way through the second until its HD rerelease. Furthermore, though I was always a fan of the games, it wasn't until I'd played all the way through both that I really realised how special and beautiful they were. Beyond the specifics of the plot and mechanics of the games, they're also a celebration of life, with themes of personal growth, the way people, places and events come and go with ever-shifting levels of importance, and all that kind of stuff.


There's a lot of stuff to see and do and find and collect in the games, but they aren't really made for completionists. Instead, it makes everyone's experience of the game slightly different: most of the main points will be seen by everyone in mostly the same way, but there's plenty of stuff you'll see that your friends might not, and vice versa. I mentioned earlier that I played through the first game a few times back on the Dreamcast, but on my recent playthrough of the PS4 port, I saw for the first time a pretty lengthy dialogue seen that is not only fully voice-acted (like all the game's dialogue), but even has a unique flashback cutscene. And unless you do a specific set of actions, you might never see any of that stuff! And there's a whole bunch of things like this in both games!


The atmosphere of the games is also noteworthy, in how immersive it is. There's some kind of magic captured in these (by 2021 standards) low polygon models and grainy textures, such that you can practically smell the environments you're exploring. Even playing back then, as a fourteen year old in the north of England, I recognised that these games were instilling in me a nostalgia for places I've never been to, at a time (slightly) before I was even born. I know lot of people don't think highly of these games, but to me, they're two of the best and most important ever, and I think everyone should play them both at least once.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Wired Soul (PC)

 I've been saying that the past few years have seen something of a renaissance for the beat em up genre, with the likes of Streets of Rage 4, Ninja Saviors, and Fire Dragon Fist Master Xiaomei all being excellent games that both revived the genre after years and years of diluted efforts, as well as bringing their own new ideas to the table. But Wired Soul predates them all, having come out in 2015 (according to its DLSite page, there might have been a physical release before that). 


I've got some bad news and some good news regarding Wired Soul, though. The bad news is that it's not as good as any of the games listed above. The good news is that those games all set an incredibly high bar, and it's still a good game that's definitely worth playing. On first sight, it'll all seem very generic and basic, with the "girl getting kidnapped" plot and the strange lack of grappling or throws, but the more you play, the more you realise that there's a little more under the surface.


I guess the devs disregarded grappling to focus on combos, since as you'll eventually discover, you can chain a bunch of attacks together, and it's very satisfying to do so. It also manages this with only one attack button! You get your regular string of attacks by going up to an enemy and repeatedly pressing attack, and obviously, there are running and jumping attacks, too. But you can also perform more powerful autocombos by holding the attack button to fill a charge meter, then releasing when an enemy's in range. Not only that, but you can actually attack twice while in the air, plus you can hit an enemy once while they're on the ground.


With a bit of skill, timing, and aim, you can, for example, perform your charged autocombo before jumping up and kicking the enemy another two times before landing beside them and getting a sly ground punch in before they get up. It'll take a fair bit of practice before you can do that kind of thing reliably, but it's very satisfying every time you do pull it off. The only real problem the game has is the difficulty, that feels slightly unfair. For example, it seems like enemy attacks, regardless of whether you're doing a special or who attacked first or anything else like that, always have priority over your attacks. Furthermore, a bar of health doesn't seem to go very far, either: it'll only take a few hits for you to lose a life, especially against bosses. They aren't game-killing problems, but they're a bit annoying, and they stop the game reaching the upper echelons like the ones listed above.


Wired Soul is a game where the positives outweigh the negatives, though, and I do still recommend it. It was clearly a passion project for the developers, and not every game has to be a senses-shattering instant classic. If you like beat em ups, go and buy it. it's good.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Dragonball Z: Idainaru Dragonball Densetsu (Saturn)

 Back around the turn of the century, when Dragonball Z was just starting to air on British TV, me and my friends were a bunh of teenagers with no money, so we mostly relied on the various software pirates in our vilage to supply us with videogames. Unfortunately, the only Dragonball game any of them had available was Dragonball GT Final Bout on the Playstation. Despite having great-looking gouraud-shaded graphics, Final Bout was almost unplayable garbage. Still, we played a ton of it anyway, and I even remember one weekend we didn't see one of our group because he'd decided to stay home and try unlocking a whole bunch of characters by completing it on hard mode nine consecutive times without losing a round. The method he was following turned out to be an April Fools joke from a popular fansite. Anyway, we longed for better DBZ games, and in the ads for importers that were printed in magazines at the time, the title "Dragonball Z Legends" always stood out. We had no other details on this game other than that it existed, it was too expensive for any of us to buy, and it had to be better than what we had.


Cut to about a decade later, and I've recently gotten a 4-in-1 cartridge for my Saturn, and I'm shopping around online for cheap imports that I can actually play. Amazingly, I find a copy of that mysterious Dragonball Z game for less than ten pounds, so I buy it straight away! I wasn't sure what to expect, but nonetheless, what I got was a pretty big surprise. Idainaru Dragonball Densetsu is a fighting game, though it's unlike any other fighting game I've ever played. For a start, most of your attacks don't damage your opponent at all. Instead, there's a momentum meter at the bottom of the screen, and attack moves it in your favour. When it goes all the way to one side, a member of the team that has the advantage will perform a super move, doing significant damage (usually about a third of their total health) to one of the members of the opposing team.


I should clarify the basic structure of the fights before I go any further. The fights are two-sided, with up to three combatants on each team, and they take place in a massive 3D space. You only control one team member at a time, though you can switch between them whenever you like with the left shoulder button, and you're always facing one of your opponents, among whom you can switch with the right shoulder button. You don't really control your movement in a traditional manner, instead up and down move you towards or away from your opponent. Your teammates you're not controlling will be controlled by AI. As well as just winning the fights, you can also unlock secret characters for the two player versus mode by re-enacting specific events from the show: having characters die in the right order, or having them be killed by specific moves, and so on. 


The whole re-enacting thing is a little too fiddly for me to have bothered with, to be honest, and I wasn't planning on playing versus mode anyway. However, of all the Dragonball Z games to do it in, this is probably the right one. The very unusual way it plays is probably the most faithful attempt I've ever seen of emulating the very specific way in which Dragonball Z fights play out. It even goes so far as having every attack deplete your ki meter, so you have to charge it up pretty often, just like what happens in the show! Despite how that sounds, it really does work in the game's favour, honest.


Dragonball Z Idainaru Dragonball Densetsu is a game I definitely recommend to anyone who's ever been a fan of Dragonball Z, and who doesn't mind playing something that's a little out of the ordinary and takes some getting used to. I guess the Xenoverse games and Battle of Z are the closest modern equivalent, but for all their graphical splendor, they don't capture the feel of the show in the way that this game does.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Curiosities Vol. 19 - Gambling 2!

 It's mostly illegal in America and Japan, but gambling is a pretty big problem in the UK, with every town harbouring several bookies and seedy "arcades" filled with nothing but fruit machines, latched onto the streets like fattened ticks. So of course, these special "prize" versions of legitimate videogames were also made for the UK market, and they have an aesthetic that shows it: in the fonts and specific shades of colours used in their graphics, there is an indescribable je nais se quois that harkens back to that kind of smoky, smelly pub that dads used to love up to about the mid nineties.


The first of the two games I'll be reviewing in this post is also the worst of the two: Prize Space Invaders is, in every way, a completely hateful game without merit. To play costs thirty pence for a "practice" game with no prizes, or fifty pence for a full game, in which it is theoretically possible to win money. How it works is that you play Space Invaders, and you're given a score quota, which adds ten pence to your prize. If you finish the stage, you're asked if you want to cash out and receive your prize or carry on, in hopes of increasing it. You only get one life, and if you die, you lose your prize. 


What's really horrible about it, though, is that the UFOs that fly across the top of the screen are now constant, and if you miss one, your score resets to zero. And on top of all that, some invaders will take multiple hits to kill, or might split into multiple invaders when you shoot them, and so on. It's a cynical, horrible game, but I think if you were some kind of Space Invaders savant, you might eventually be able to make a profit off of it. Though you'd need to be lucky too, since the score quota varies from game to game, seemingly at random.


Second up is Prize Tetris, apparently also known as Blox and Tetris Payout, and to which I have the opposite reastion to Prize Space Invaders, in a way: though I'm fairly certain it's completely impossible to win money on it, it does at least offer a mildly interesting variation on the traditional Tetris ruleset. Once again, you're supposed to be reaching a score quota to make money, though the lowest prize here is a whole pound, and the game implies it's possible to win up to twenty pounds! It's not, though. You're playing Tetris on a very short time limit, and even if you were to play perfectly, you wouldn't be able to reach the quota. It'd take at least something like seventy lines just to get to the lowest one.


What's intersting about Prize Tetris though is how points are scored. Unlike most variants, there's no extra points scored for clearing multiple lines in one go, not even for a full tetris. Instead, you scorer more points for clearing a line the higher up in the well it was. So you might try a strategy of deliberately filling the bottom few rows with junk, to score the extra points available in the upper echelons. You still wouldn't make any money, since the time limit is so short, but you might get a little closer than you otherwise would have done. Finally, just like Prize Space Invaders, the quotas and the amount of points scored per line is different every time you play, and again, it seems to be totally random. Maybe it's based on some algorithm that takes into account the amount of coins in the machine and the relative skill of past players, maybe it's just another way these games are horrible parasitic nonsense, we may never know.


If you're curious about either of the games covered in this post, then go emulate them, I guess. You're unlikely to still find working machines anywhere in the wild, and even if you do, I wouldn't recommend feeding them.

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Small Games Vol. 8!

 This post represents the last vestiges of my fifth laptop, the worst laptop I ever owned, which could barely run anything, and which is the reason why there haven't been any arcade, PS2, Saturn, etc. games featured on here in a long time. Because the two games I'm writing about today were among the few it could actually run without any problems! They're also linked to each other by being deliberate throwbacks to games of the 1980s.


Anyway, the first of the two is Cinnabar Kamen, a tokusatsu-themed single plane beat em up that has you in the role of the eponymous masked hero, walking from right to left, punching and kicking monsters, until you get to a boss, who you proceed to fight. There's not much more to it than that, really. It doesn't bring much to the genre, feeling like a romhack of the oldest of the old, Spartan X/Kung Fu, that doesn't even feel as good to play. It's definitely worlds away from the quality of the excellent Fire Dragon Fist Master Xiaomei. Cinnabar Kamen was a huge disappointment, and the one positive thing I can think to say about it is that the sunset in the background is nice and colourful. Not worth the hundred yen asking price.


Next up is a game that oozes authenticity, with the only crack in its eighties facade being the option for online co-op on the title screen. Were it not for this one giveaway, you could easily think that Virus Crashers was a ROM from the early days of the Famicom running in an emulator, rather than a brand new PC game released in the twenty-first century (I'm not sure exactly when, though, since the title screen has two copyright dates: 2006 and 2013)! As for the game itself, it can simply (and accurately) be described as "Bubble Bobble, but you can fly", as it sees you tackle single-screen stages full of enemies by trapping them in bubbles, then popping them to get point-scoring fruit. You even get higher-scoring fruit and power-ups for popping multiple enemies at once! Also, you can fly by holding the jump button. Though that is slightly more difficult than it sounds, as theres a lot of momentum/inertia at play, so it's not as simple as just going where you like on the screen and popping enemies at your leisure. The only thing missing (at least as far as I can tell) is Bubble Bobble's plethora of esoteric Druaga-esque secrets. Unless they are in there and I just haven't found any of them, in which case: good job to the devs for hiding them so well, I guess!


So, that's two games, both will run on practically any PC, though only one of the two is really worth bothering with. I know this post is short, but the next one's going to be longer, and maybe even a little bit seedier, so please look forward to that!

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Beyond The Labyrinth (3DS)


Unfortunately, this is a game to which I've had to concede defeat. I really wanted to get further into it, if only take screenshots of more areas, since it is a visually beautiful game, but the first boss is just too hard for me. My save file says it has a little under three hours of playtime, but I've played at least that much again in failed attempts at beating that boss. There's still a lot to say about it, though, so let's go!


Its official title is Labyrinth no Kanata, and unusually for an RPG in the (relatively) modern era, it never got an official English release, though there is an unofficial translation patch. It's a dungeon crawler that recognises the old-fashioned nature of the genre, but at the same time, brings a lot of new ideas to the table. The game starts with you playing a faux-online dungeon crawler with kind of MSX-looking graphics (that is, if the MSX was capable of full-colour texture-mapped 3D mazes). As you make your way through the maze, other players join your party, and there's a little banter between them, until you're suddenly taken away to another world: one that not only has more modern graphics, but also a cute silver-haired girl who instantly befriends you.

Your presence in this world is a bit of a mystery, even to the characters in-game: it seems that "you" are actually present in the world, while your party members are still just at home, watching everything through their screens. They can talk to each other and you using the game's text chat, but they can't talk directly to the girl, even though she can somehow see them (or is at least is aware of their presence), and they can attack monsters, since all the combat is done through the medium of magical projectiles.

The combat itself is fairly original. It seems simple at first, as there are only three elements (working in a rock-paper-scissors kind of way), very few different types of items, and no spells or special attacks. Things mainly hang upon the interplay of the three elements, and the order in which everyone takes their turns. If you attack an enemy with the element that's their weakness (or vice versa), not only do they take double damage, but the damage is stored in the corner of the screen, and the next time a character (good or evil) of that element attacks, they'll absorb all the stored damage of that element as recovered HP. So it's not always the best option to attack the enemy upon whom you'll deal couble damage, if they're just going to re-absorb it on their next turn. Furthermore, when you attack, you can choose the strength of your attack, with stronger attacks putting you further back in the turn order. During battles, you can see where everyone is in the turn order, and exactly what damage you'll do when you attack, so though there aren't a lot of options like you'd see in most RPGs, there's still a lot of strategy involved.


As for the girl (as far as I've got in the game so far, she hasn't been named, and is literally referred to ingame as "the girl"), right from the start, she takes a place in the turn order, though at that point, every time her turn comes around, she just picks up a pebble off the ground and throws it at an enemy to deal one point of damage. After a few floors, though, she has magic powers awakened in her. Her turns don't come around as often as everyone else's, and the damage she does is non-elemental. The damage she does is also based on a equation involving the percentage of her own HP she has remaining multiplied by the amount of damage all of your party memebers have inflicted on enemies since her last turn. If you plan things well, she can do pretty devestating attacks, though you don't get to choose which enemies she attacks, unfortunately.

In summary, Beyond the Labyrnth is a game that's very beautiful (it's been on my radar for almost a decade, since the first promotional screenshots were released) and also very interesting. It's just unfortunate that it's a bit far outside my usual wheelhouse, and as a result, way too difficult for me to get very far into. But if you are a big fan of dungeon crawlers, even I can tell that this is one made to a very high standard, and definitely worth your time. And if anyone I know does play it and get further than me, please show me your screenshots of later areas when you get there! One final tip: if you're playing the translated version, then you probably can't speak Japanese, and the subtitles for the girl's voice aren't switched on by default, so go into the menu and do that.