Category Archives: Video games

Review: Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Genre: SRPG, Dungeon Crawler
Rating: Teen
Platforms:
PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Switch (bundle), Steam

(Spoiler-free review)

Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) has just dropped another one of their classics, this time a dungeon-crawler that made its debut on PSP: Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman (ZHP).

The original release on PSP didn’t get the attention that it deserved, which had to do with the fact that it didn’t get a lot of marketing behind it. That and that NIS was still a relatively-obscure game company. There’s also that SRPGs aren’t very popular outside of Japan. Also, it was originally released within days of a major sports game. And there’s the fact that the American localizer, NISA, only shipped one copy to each retailer.

The original release had a lot to go up against. However, the game itself has a lot of heart, and it’s now available on multiple platforms. By the looks of it, what NIS was thinking for this game was “straight port”. Which is fine, as the original game holds up well since its original release. But those who prefer crisp graphics in their anime-style games might by taken out of the action by the aliasing.

ZHP begins with a hero, the Absolute Victory Unlosing Ranger, on the way to save the Super Baby from Darkdeath Evilman, to save the world in so doing.

Except, the Unlosing Ranger gets struck by a car on the way to the final battle, and dies. But in his final act, he hands his morphing belt to a random passerby, passing on the torch of the Unlosing Ranger to someone who will fight on his behalf!

But to the shock and dismay of the onlooking world, the new Unlosing Ranger loses the battle, and is ejected far away! When he comes to, he finds himself in a strange world, where a girl begins coaching him for a rematch!

Over the course of the game, the main character (whom you can name) makes repeated attempts at the final boss, but as he repeatedly fails, he takes on progressively more difficult dungeons to train. As he does so, he ends up solving problems for people on earth, as the bizarro earth that he finds himself on is connected to his own earth.

Many of the game’s so-called “final battles” are actually mostly scripted. The main action in ZHP takes place in the stages, which function as dungeons would in classic dungeon crawler RPGs, with each dungeon having their own bosses.

When the main character leaves a dungeon for any reason (win or lose), he reverts back to level one. Which may seem like lost progress, but as this occurs, he gains stored levels, which increases his stats when he’s at level one. As he levels up in dungeons, his stat increases are based on his level one stats, so the game encourages the player to become “king of level one”. For this and other reasons, a failed dungeon run isn’t always a total loss, and the game encourages stuck players to keep trying, even if things don’t seem so well for the poor main character.

Be warned, as this is one of those dungeon crawlers that features the concept of “perma-death”, where your game saves as you enter dungeons, so if you turn the game off because your current run isn’t going well, you lose equipment that you brought with you! What’s more, if a dungeon run ends in failure, you lose what you find! There’s a facility that can be obtained and upgraded that can reduce the penalties, however.

It’s because of this that I find it hard to recommend the PSP version. At one point, I got discouraged from continuing when the battery cut out for a brief instant, which was enough to cost me some powerful equipment. Now that this game is available on some more dependable hardware, I think it may be worth giving another shot!

Speaking of, the Steam version might be the better of the versions available, by reason of the fact that you can buy it as a standalone game. The Switch version is available as part of a pricey bundle. It’s a sweet deal if you’re interested in the classic RPG Makai Kingdom. But if you’re not, then you’re probably better off going with the Steam version.

Like many other NIS games, you’re capable of getting your character to level 9999, with stats in the millions! But because the boost lasts until you clear a dungeon, you’d mainly want to go for it if the dungeon would otherwise give you trouble.

While there is only one playable character, there are many, many customization options that make that one character seem like plenty. For one thing, there are numerous equips that change the hero’s appearance and grant him new abilities. There are also unlockable costumes which can effect his resistances. There’s even a body modification facility, which plays a huge role in stat optimization.

In dungeons, you progress floor-by-floor by finding the stairs on each floor, which leads to the next floor. You’ll find pick-ups about, but there are also enemies to watch out for. Shocker, right? When you engage them, you can go blow-for-blow against them, or use special attacks.

This sounds like simple fare, but there are things to watch out for. For one thing, the main character steadily expends energy, which occurs at an increased rate depending on his actions. Items can replenish this energy, and it’s not a bad idea to take such items with you into dungeons, because you cannot count on reliably finding more, due to how the dungeon floors are randomized. Also, equipped items can wear out with use, with wear represented as a percentage on the HUD. Their effectiveness can decline as they wear down, but there is a facility that can repair them. One valuable item is headwear that passively conserves energy.

At this point, you probably got the idea that this game is for the nerds. That sounds about right.

Another of the game’s highlights is the story, which is packed with humor. It can also get a bit preachy at times, in a way that it “hits different”, and may even hit a bit close to home for some players. I could say more about it, but spoilers. I’ll point out that much of the humor and dramatic elements are at the main character’s expense. The guy fights an uphill battle to get some respect.

For the NIS fans out there, yes, Asagi Asagiri is in this game. But that’s not much of a surprise, now is it? If you get the Switch bundle, you can also see Asagi’s NIS debut in Makai Kingdom, so you can see just how hard the poor girl fell from her starting point. By the point ZHP was originally released, she wasn’t taking things very well.

My opinion is that if you’re into JRPGs, SRPGs, or are just into Disgaea, ZHP is worth giving a chance. It’s definitely one of the finer RPGs from NIS’s catalog of classics.

For those who like skipping ahead to the score, here you go: Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger Vs. Darkdeath Evilman gets a score of 8 out of 10.

There are multiple endings that can be accessed by playing through the game at least once. Replaying through story stages many times doesn’t appeal to me, so I didn’t much bother with that. However, there is a lot of content outside the main story, and there are extra dungeons for players who might appreciate a challenge. This adds replay value to this game, and does a lot to make it worth the price of admission.

That’s the great thing about this style of game for those who would find it interesting: they’re usually packed with value. And ZHP certainly is.

The Female Protagonist From Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Has Been Revealed, and I Have Thoughts

The female protagonist for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet has just been revealed. It might be that the official art for her was revealed alongside the reveal trailer, and it flew under my radar. But however it happened, the official art for the girl is in the picture above, shown next to the boy.

My initial criticism of the boy was that he was boring and unexpressive. While I admit that the girl is cuter (which is to be expected), she suffers from much the same problems as the boy. It doesn’t help that she is wearing pretty-much the exact same outfit.

To show why this is so unusual, here is a collection of official art for the protagonists for previous games (up to X and Y):

These characters look far more interesting, and the sight of them kinda makes me want to play some of their respective games. Which is one of the reasons why you should get the protagonists right. These characters are much more colorful and expressive, and are the kind of protagonists that players would want to serve as avatars for a Pokémon experience. And because they were among the selections for previous games, they did a lot to cultivate expectations for subsequent player characters (after all, check out how many of them wear red or white headwear).

It’s because Game Freak has plenty of experience designing male and female protagonists and their fashion options that I would have expected them to be aware that males and females tend to dress way differently. As anyone who doesn’t live in a fairyland has come to peace with, there are obvious physiological and psychological differences between males and females, and they tend to have drastically different fashion choices. Anytime anyone attempts to dress them in similar outfits, the attempt comes off as an advancement of an unwelcome agenda.

It seems I’m not the only one weirded out by the new protagonists, as artist Profitshame drew up a side-by-side comparison of these protagonists with the ones from Pokémon Sword and Shield:

I have my own theory about why the boy dresses like the girl, and it’s not just because the girl shops for him when he plays Magic: The Gathering with his buddies. I think it’s just easier to design one character instead of two.

If Scarlet and Violet are going to be like recent Pokémon games, they’ll include lots of customization options so that at least their outfits wont be so tacky. And personally, I’d prefer playing as a character that doesn’t look like the chess club punches them in the hallways.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet: My Opinion Based On the Reveal Trailer

It’s been a few hours since the reveal of the upcoming installments of the Pokémon series, Scarlet and Violet. I think that’s enough time to allow what I’ve seen to congeal in my mind, and develop a non-hot-take opinion.

For one thing, it’s obvious that expansive areas with gorgeous scenery is going to be the way forward for the Pokémon franchise. Things tended towards that direction since Sword and Shield, and Legends: Arceus took it much further. While Legends has a very Breath of the Wild look to it, I’m interested in whether Game Freak will take that style of play and give it a voice more it’s own.

It seems like open-world adventures is going to be the direction that more games go in, which Skyrim did a lot to pioneer, and Breath of the Wild did a lot to popularize. I’ve been wanting to see Pokémon games like this since the Gold and Silver days, as I’ve considered the follow-route-to-destination formula to be a tad on-the-rails, and not really living up to the potential of a grand adventure in the great outdoors that a Pokémon journey can easily be imagined to be.

I’m also noticing that Pokémon games are now showing more realistic architecture in its settings, and I know I’m not the only person who appreciates this. I remember a time when Pokémon games largely just featured a bunch of large boxes, many of them without doors, and what of them that had doors usually just had them facing one direction. I also remember a time when Pokémon had no dynamic camera, and this was often the case even though the hardware running the games was capable of this. Link could run around Hyrule with a dynamic camera in Ocarina of Time in 1998, and playing Pokémon Colosseum on GameCube, I wondered whether Game Freak would get around to making a Pokémon game with a dynamic camera.

I’m liking that Pokémon are shown wandering about like they do in Legends: Arceus. But that also comes with a concern: Are the upcoming Pokémon games going to have much about them that differentiates them from Pokémon Legends? I beat the main story and post-game in Pokémon Legends, and I’m kind-of concerned that Scarlet and Violet might just provide more of the same experience. While that’s to be expected from a new game in nearly any series (not just Pokémon), Pokémon Legends is still new, and Scarlet and Violet come out later in the same year! Considering that Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were released a few months ago, I can understand if some of the die-hards would like to take a break for a little while.

But as for the Pokémon, I’m noticing that the only new Pokémon that were shown were the starters. I know that Pokémon games are getting to be challenging to make in such a way that they include all (or even most) of the many characters that have been developed up to this point. So, I’m wondering whether Game Freak is deciding to keep the number of new Pokémon low, and focus more on developing other areas of the game, and choosing from among the many designs from earlier games.

As for the starters:

At first, I thought they looked goofy. But since then, they’ve grown on me. But among the three, I still haven’t decided which is my favorite. Knowing as little as I do about them, I’d probably go with the duck, then the cat second. If I knew what their evolved forms look like before playing, that might play a factor in my decision.

Now for the player character:

Sorry, but he just looks boring. I do like the bucket hat, which is very practical for one who plans to spend a lot of time in the sun. But a shirt and tie? That makes him look more like he’s ready to spend 8 hours in the office. That blank, unemotive expression doesn’t help much, either. This is one character that would benefit from some customization options. Is the girl character going to have more personality?

So far, from what I’ve seen, I’m actually not terribly excited. There’s likely going to be a lot more to show in the months to come, and hopefully, that will do a lot more to stoke interest from gamers who are probably still busy with Game Freak’s most recent offering.

Pros:

  • Expansive wild areas, showing that Game Freak is serious about implementing these in their games,
  • The familiar Pokémon are a welcome sight,
  • The new region is simply beautiful, and reminds me of a Mediterranean setting. Perhaps Greece, Italy, or Spain?

Cons:

  • The starters look kinda silly, but they’re not off-putting,
  • The dullest-looking main character I’ve ever seen.

What I’d like to see:

  • More human characters, particularly a more interesting main character,
  • The return of game mechanics that players liked, such as Mega Evolutions. Even Z-moves would be welcome,
  • More details about the adventure, such as important locations, characters, and opponents.

Because Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are being developed in-house by Game Freak, the team who made Pokémon Legends: Arceus, it’s likely that these upcoming games are going to have a whole lot of heart. I’m looking forward to seeing more in the months ahead.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet Versions Just Announced, Coming Late 2022

A Pokémon Direct has just concluded, and with it comes the announcement of two upcoming Pokémon games, named Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet.

Here is the reveal trailer:

In the announcement, a detective investigates an apartment, then sees the trailer for the upcoming games.

We see some details of the new region, and get a first glimpse:

Like Pokémon Legends: Arceus, this new region seems to favor expansive explorable areas:

It also shows Pokémon wandering about, also like Legends:

There a town plaza, which seems very European. Perhaps the setting for this one is inspired by Greece or Italy.

The main character seems to get an oceanfront home, this time:

We were also shown the player character. There likely will also be a girl, as is the case in most Pokémon games.

We also get a brief glimpse of part of the region map:

Afterwards, we return to the detective. Perhaps the apartment is filled with clues as to the setting of the upcoming games, such as this food that’s sitting out:

Then, we see what is likely the new starters for these games:

According to the official reveal page, the cat is named Sprigatito, the croc is named Fuecoco, and the duck is called Quaxly. I like the cat and the duck, but the croc reminds me of Bubble Bobble.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are coming later this year to Nintendo Switch. What do you think?

Review: Pokémon Legends: Arceus

On the timeline that we are currently on, GameFreak outsourced development on a Pokémon game to another developer, and then released a different Pokémon project just months later, in the cold of winter. And what’s more, this new Pokémon project blows everything that they have ever done clear out of the water.

No one expected this. This is the franchise that’s almost as famous as Madden for playing it safe. Since it’s inception, the Pokémon franchise has stuck to typical formulae for their releases, which have come to the point of being yearly installments where the most recent would be considered the definitive edition, and remaining current on the franchise required purchasing a new installment every year.

As Pokémon Legends: Arceus shows, GameFreak is willing to give a fresh take on a franchise that’s been regarded as among the most conservative. In fact, so much has apparently been poured into this one, that it’s more than a willingness, it’s a passionate desire.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus (hereafter Legends) takes place in Hisui, which is the Pokémon world’s region of Sinnoh as it would have been in centuries past (Sinnoh being inspired by the real-life location of Hokkaido). In this period of time, the people of Hisui are relatively few in number, and largely view the Pokémon creatures themselves as dangerous, and with some amount of suspicion. But then the main character comes along, and joins the Galaxy Team, a group of outliers that capture Pokémon and study them in their habitats.

As for how the main character got there, that could probably be called a spoiler, even though it happens at the game’s outset. However, it carries potentially huge implications for the Pokémon franchise’s branching timelines. In fact, the Pokémon community is already buzzing with speculation as to the impact that events in Legends would have in the continuity of Pokémon’s multiverse. So no, it’s not just some banal story about a kid from a small town collecting badges from gyms.

In Legends, the main character sets out on expeditions, where he (or she) catalogs data on a proto-Pokédex for Galaxy team. As you control him, he wanders freely about in one of the game’s immense open areas. I admit that I was a little concerned about this, as Pokémon Sword and Shield’s wild areas seemed like they’d be sprawling in early materials, but turned out somewhat small in the final game. Legends’ many areas may not be interconnected in the same way as in Breath of the Wild, but Legends’ wild areas are so huge in size that you’ll hardly feel confined. Not quite BotW, but the feel is almost the same. Better still, the Pokemon characters and other interactables such as trees and pick-ups are drawn from a considerable distance, which is another huge improvement over Sword and Shield.

Legends may not be the hyper-edgy game that some fans might be making it out to be, but it does have a bit of edge to it. Noticeably, there’s a connotation of danger from the Pokémon themselves. Pokémon can actually attack the main character, and if he takes too much damage at a time, he’ll be rescued, but lose a few items in his inventory. Players can capture Pokémon by throwing Pokéballs at them, though if they notice you first, that might not work. Even then, it’s still an option to send out a Pokémon, and battle the wild Pokémon one-on-one.

Except, it’s not always one-on-one. If there are other Pokémon nearby that notice you, they might join in and gang up on you. Interestingly, during battles, you can use the left control stick to reposition your character. Considering that it’s possible to take damage from being in an attack’s area of effect, it’s not a bad idea to stay out of the way. Adding to this is that the battle takes place on-location, rather than in some generic battle environment.

Over the course of your adventure, you’ll come across some Alpha Pokémon which, if you were to attempt to battle them, might give you a hard time. But if you can catch one, it might be a great asset, as they tend to come at a high level, with high stats and great moves. But, they might not obey until you progress in a certain way. My first one was a Golduck, but it disobeyed orders when I tried using it in battle.

Certain Pokémon are encountered as part of the story as “Lords”, which act as boss battles in this game. The battles with them involves avoiding their attacks while attempting to calm them with satchels, but only infrequently do you have the opportunity to use your own Pokémon during the battle. Other Pokémon still are the kind that you befriend, and they increase your mobility when called upon, which is handled in a way that is super-convenient. These can help you do things like cross water and climb cliffs.

One of the best mechanics that I’ve seen involves crafting your own items, which you get the capacity to do on-the-go early on. In most Pokémon games, stocking up involved buying lots of items at PokéMarts, which still remains in a certain way in Legends. However, you can obtain recipes so you can craft items like Potions and Pokéballs from items that you gather while on expeditions, which does a lot to make the expeditions feel really worthwhile.

Legends also brings some welcome changes to battles and Pokémon customization. One is that the Speed stat works differently, giving faster Pokémon opportunity to attack more often, rather than going first in strictly turn-based battles. Pokémon can also “master” moves, giving them the option of use “agile” or “strong” moves, which can offer more or less power and have an effect on turn order. This adds a lot more finesse to battles that was missing from many of the older games, not to mention a new element of strategy. Also, Pokemon no longer forget moves. While Pokemon still select from four moves during a battle, players can customize these moves from learned moves while outside of battle.

I can also point out that Legends is certainly harder than the core titles that Pokémon players would be used to. For a short while after getting started, I was surprised at how durable opposing Pokémon were, and their ability to consistently deal about 50% of my Pokémon’s HP in damage. Even level-grinding didn’t seem to result in as huge an advantage as it would in other RPGs in the franchise. Perhaps there was a change in the formula for damage calculation. Whatever the reason may be, I suspect that players wanting a higher level of challenge from the Pokémon franchise may appreciate Legends.

While many are comparing Legends to Breath of the Wild, I’ve heard others say that it’s more comparable to Monster Hunter. I haven’t played Monster Hunter, but if it’s anything like Legends, I’ve been missing out. But hey, has everyone already forgotten about Skyrim, all of a sudden? Skyrim did a lot to popularize this style of game, too.

In any case, it seems like more games are tending towards the freedom of an open-world adventure. While the story in Legends is linear, the gameplay has a sweet sense of freedom, and is certainly a blast of fresh air, which is something that this franchise has needed for a long time.

For those of you wanting to skip ahead to the score, here you go: Pokémon Legends: Arceus gets a score of 9.5 out of 10.

If you wrote Pokémon off as some nineties fad, then day trading might not be your thing.

The G4 Meltdown

G4’s attempted return didn’t go so well, as shortly after the brand’s relaunch, hostess Froskurinn went on a tirade about sexism in response to a viewer’s comment.

It’s a bit of a dirty secret among content creators that once you’re big enough, you don’t interact with the audience. Mainly because of stuff like this.

Back when G4 was at its height, it was actually considered a respectable outlet by gamers. I didn’t pay it much mind, considering that I preferred to use the internet to hear the opinions of my peers, rather than have journalists attempt to tell me what they are. But I did have an IRL friend that was into G4, so it was something that I heard of. I didn’t care or notice when they were gone, however. Life goes on.

When commenters were going on about how they didn’t find Froskurinn as attractive as a previous host, this clearly got under her skin, which led up to the explosion. Personally, I suspect that the comments were troll comments. If so, she handled them the wrong way.

When you’re being trolled, you’re not supposed to let them know they’re getting to you, as the usual point of trolling is to get a reaction. An angry outburst was the exact opposite of how Froskurinn should have handled it, as it’s giving the trolls what they want. When Chris-chan was being trolled, it got to the point that trolls suspected that they were being trolled right back, because he consistently handled the matter poorly, often by completely flipping out.

Right now, G4’s ratings are plunging. And I don’t feel bad for them. Attacking your own fans is a bad strategy for content creators. While one might bring up the co-hosts, and how they might not sincerely hold Froskurinn’s views, the fact is, they were right there, clapping like trained seals, playing along to try to avoid being a pariah in the eyes of a dominant feminist, and they found themselves in that position because of a failure to gatekeep.

This matter conveniently comes up just as I’m hearing chatter about how journalists want to try to bring back GamerGate. Why would they want that? Because journalism is in the gutter, clicks are down, people don’t trust them, and they want that enraged engagement that they got from the GamerGate days.

But it’s not going to work, and here’s why: GamerGate was a precursor to the woke movement that’s been around for a while. It may not have been the main catalyst, but it played a huge foundational role. The fact is, GamerGate already happened, and the woke debacle is still ongoing, and has progressed to the point that people are getting sick of it, and is getting public pushback. If another GamerGate were to happen now, it would just be considered another element of the woke movement that people are already sick of.

Trying to bring back GamerGate now would be like trying to ignite an engine that’s already running, and on the brink of failure.

Right now, journalism is in a shitty state. At this point, few people trust them, and journalists are attempting to hang on to viewership with a steady stream of outrage-porn to keep the few they have left interested. That, and they have old people who remember way back when news was their only outlet for information.

They pursued the quick-and-easy, waving off the price that they’d have to pay in the long-term. Now, the time has come for them to pay the price. Naturally, they don’t want to pay it.

The moral of the story is, gatekeep as though your business depends on it. Once someone from one of the many flavors of woke get in, they have a knack for hijacking your brand, and making everything about themselves. Once it gets to that point, it gets hard to remove them in a way that avoids causing more damage.

I wasn’t interested in G4 back in the day, and I’m still not. And if they’re going to lash out at their viewers and go woke, they’re just going to end up with attention that they don’t want. Maybe they’ll go as far as to say that they’ve fallen while on a moral high-ground, as a cynic’s quest typically ends.

Those who die on the hill of their choice, still die.

Review: Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl

Developer: ILCA
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Rating: Everyone
Platform:
 Nintendo Switch

“Old fans would not want us to mess with their good memories… but there is no point in just redoing the same thing, right?”

GameFreak President, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver

It’s plain to see what approach was taken this time around. Because as it is, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (hereafter BDSP) may be the most predictable game I’ve ever played. At this point, the Pokémon franchise has pretty much cornered the market on those who like their games completely non-surprising.

Let’s go, Brandon!

This review almost saddens me to write, because I had some fond memories of the original Diamond and Pearl. It seems I’m far from the only one, as gamers have been calling for Sinnoh remakes since the well-received Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. While nostalgia is a selling point for Pokémon remakes, the previous remakes cultivated an expectation of an upgraded experience, not simply a retread. Up until the Let’s Go games, the remakes were usually done in a style similar to the most recent core Pokémon games at that point, and they usually included tweaks to the gameplay, and elements that weren’t in the originals. Considering this, it should be understandable that the Sinnoh remakes would have the same approach. But it wasn’t the case for BDSP.

Pokémon Diamond and Pearl were really early to the whole smart watch dealie.

I often start reviews with a brief, non-spoilery synopsis of the game’s plot, but in this case, it’s easy enough to guess the story direction for BDSP. A trainer starts out in a small town, and after picking from among three starter pokémon, the trainer embarks on a quest to obtain 8 gym badges, with intermittent interruptions from a team of bad guys, culminating in a showdown with the Elite Four, then the Champion. The story is the same as it was for the originals, so if you’ve played Diamond or Pearl before, then BDSP will have pretty much no surprises for you.

When it comes down to it, BDSP are almost straight ports of Diamond and Pearl, with some elements from Pokémon Platinum, but some upgrades to the production values.

But not by much.

For some reason, ILCA decided to go with a chibi graphical style for the overworld models that are reminiscent of Nendoroids.

Believe it or not, this was already a thing.

I was initially skeptical but open-minded about this, but in execution, these chibi Nendoroid models leave much to be desired, especially when the games do a dramatic zoom-in, which happens often.

Watch out, here comes Team Galactic to teach you some respect!

When these extreme close-ups happen, the jaggies and aliasing on these character models becomes really apparent, and the result is so cringy that I’ve found myself wishing that ILCA didn’t bother with them.

Interestingly, ILCA is short for ”I Love Computer Art”.

She’s not the only one.

The music tracks are on point, and while that’s normally a great thing, that brings up the question of why two different aspects of production so starkly differ in quality. This dissonance becomes more apparent when you see that the in-battle scenes look current-gen, complete with proportionate anime-style character models. Why couldn’t they have done the whole game with these models?

This is not Sword or Shield.

I’m going to come right out and say it: BDSP seem incomplete. To the point that I actually closed the game to check to see that I was playing with the day one update, which I was (1.1.1). It’s hard to believe that this was a full-price professional product, let alone the latest core installment to the single highest-grossing intellectual property of all time.

Smol Gyarados.

Yes, that following Gyarados is undersize, and that seems intentional. But for some reason, it spawned on that thin log. Who else is looking forward to what the glitch hunters are going to find?

As far as gameplay goes, BDSP is pretty much a classic-style turn-based RPG. There was less call for that to be messed with than anything else, so maybe it’s not bad that ILCA didn’t do much to tamper with it. Each turn, attacks are selected, then the pokémon take turns executing their attacks, with the ones with higher speed getting priority. There are many complex gameplay elements that can alter the flow of battle, and many players formulate their strategies based on these. Usually, a player that can exploit an opponents type weaknesses will have a significant advantage, but different offensive and defensive stats introduce an element of complexity that sometimes makes the best play unclear. As is the case in most installments in this series, the flow of battle can change drastically due to a variety of buffs and debuffs.

But hey, you may have already known how to play Pokémon already, especially if you’re in this game’s target audience. Even if you don’t, getting though most of the game will be pretty simple, especially now that the EXP system rewards all pokémon in the party, not just the one that did the battling. Yes, like just about any other RPG.

If you’re great at competitive Pokemon, college may not present you with much of a challenge.

I know that I’m not being greedy when I say that I wish that ILCA did more to mess with the experience that I remember. The Hoenn remakes did include soaring, which wasn’t in the original, and the Let’s Go games had mega evolution. Would the addition of a similar mechanic to a Sinnoh remake have been too much to ask?

I enjoyed the Sinnoh Underground in the originals, and I’m happy with the experience this time around. I’m okay with how relatively little they’ve messed with the experience of digging up treasures. What’s more, there are mini-biomes in the underground which, upon their discovery, increases the variety of pokémon available to the player. If players find, catch, and use pokémon that weren’t part of the typical walkthrough of the originals, that counts as a somewhat changed experience, right?

I suspect that the nurse was the one that polished the floor.

It’s really hard to imagine who I’d recommend this game to. If someone is already a Pokémon fan, then they’ll likely have already played Diamond, Pearl, or their original remake, Platinum. If someone is one of the people left who haven’t, BDSP isn’t likely to impress them. If someone is such a Pokémon fanatic that they’re determined to buy them anyway, they’re not likely to change their minds based on anyone’s recommendations.

So, who is this game for? It’s really hard to say, which factors well into Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl’s score of 6 out of 10.

Remastered music, updated graphics, and some gimmicks that don’t do much to the core experience. There’s your TL;DR.

Pokémon is Not As Childish As It Looks

The idea that Pokémon is a childish game has been around for quite some time. It’s a superficial observation, which does hold up to an extent. But some of the themes of the Pokémon games are quite a bit darker than they get credit for.

Let’s examine some of the themes of each generation of games, one at a time.

Generation One (Kanto)
Shows how casino gambling can be used to fund genetic engineering experiments which culminate in a psychotic, telekinetic battling machine.

While Team Rocket were certainly the bad guys in raiding the corporate offices of Silph Co., let’s not forget that Silph was developing a proprietary PokeBall that bypasses the will of a Pokémon and guarantees its capture.

Generation Two (Johto)
Team Rocket cut off the tails of Slowpoke to sell for profit.

Later, in what can be called a TI’s paranoid delusion having come to fruition, electromagnetic waves were employed that literally drove certain creatures within its area of effect berserk. If all you know about Team Rocket is the buffoonery of Jessie, James and Meowth, you’re not getting the whole story.

Generation Three (Hoenn)
We get to see both sides of the climate change extremes.

With the Hoenn remakes (Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire) came a postgame episode that showed all of Hoenn being threatened by an impending meteor impact. The Devon corporation proposed teleporting the meteor to an alternate dimension, where it would strike a different Hoenn region in a different timeline, instead. Yeah, for an alternate Hoenn region, it could have been death from above, with no warning and no way to respond.

Generation Four (Sinnoh)
Hoo, boy. This one is a whopper. Where to begin?

The bad guys resemble a sci-fi cult. Like many cults, the group exists for the aspirations of its leader. Cyrus doesn’t share his true motives with the rest of Team Galactic, which involves wiping out the entire universe then replacing it with an emotionless universe governed by Cyrus. Grandiose, much?

In the anime, Cyrus meets his end when he’s killed by Giratina. If you don’t know what a Giratina is, it’s a Lovecraftian monstrosity that was banished to a different dimension for it’s violence. Considering what animals in this world do just to stay alive, to be so violent to end up banished to another dimension for it is quite a feat. And judging from the condition of the Distortion World, Giratina might not have learned its lesson.

Generation Five (Unova)
The theme of this one is philosophical, but goes to show that the popularity of an idea can cause people to give up something that’s clearly to their benefit to keep. Behind it all is a cultist who stands to benefit from everyone else giving up their Pokémon, and he actually came up with a plan to change society, first through persuasion, then through peer pressure. When his plan fell apart, he pretty much went insane, even as far as railing against his adopted son, and not accepting that he lost.

In the sequel game of gen 5, the bad guy attempts to murder the main character.

Generation Six (Kalos)
Are you sitting down? You might want to. The bad guy wanted to wipe out all humanity, except for whoever happened to be in his little team, with the Malthusian reasoning that there wasn’t enough resources to go around. Like many who think like that, he’s as enthusiastic as he was because he fantasized about being the one to manage all the world’s resources.

In the anime, Lysandre became one of the few humans to have been killed by a Pokémon, when he was killed by Zygarde (Bonnie’s friend Squishy shared in the guilt). It’s hard to imagine anyone shed a tear for him, but Malva might have. She was Lysandre’s girlfriend, and a TV anchor. So yeah, in Kalos, a Malthusian infiltrated the tech industry and the mainstream information media. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Generation Seven (Alola)
As much as I’d like to say that things cooled down since gen 6, gen 7 depicts a monolithic corporation endangering two universes for selfish reasons. Then there’s all that Lillie had to go through. That poor girl watched in slow motion as her family was torn apart, first when her father disappeared, then when her mother went insane looking for the ultra beasts, then when her brother ran away from home. In the original Sun/Moon, Lusamine ended up in an intermittent coma due to the cells of Nihilego remaining in her brain, and Lillie went to Kanto to search for a cure. If Lillie grows up to be normal it’s going to be against some pretty steep odds.

The Ultra variants of Sun and Moon have a postgame story where Giovanni enlists the bad guys from different regions, from different grimdark timelines where those bad guys succeeded in their plans. Considering how screwed up some of their plans were (see above), that’s a lot to contemplate.

Generation Eight (Galar)
The bad guy imprisoned a cosmic dragon, and slowly tore it apart, one fragment at a time, to continually extract energy from it. By the time the player encountered the thing, it was nearly a skeleton of its former self. What’s more, the bad guy was willing to risk a catastrophe for the entire Galar region, just to solve an energy crisis that would have been centuries away from being significant.

Is this to say that Pokémon is mainly about its dark elements? Not really. If anything, Pokémon is about the connections that one can form as they meet people who share their interests. But to dismiss Pokémon as being merely childish is to demonstrate how easy it is to hide an edge behind a disarming exterior.

Review: Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers

Developer: Twilight Frontier
Publisher: Phoenix
Genre: Fighting
Rating: Teen
Platform:
 PC, Steam, Sony PS4, Nintendo Switch

The characters in Touhou are just about everywhere nowadays, to the point that it’s getting to be impossible to escape from them. Now, an official installment of the Touhou franchise has come to Nintendo Switch, this one in particular from among the fighting games in the series.

Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers follows the adventures of Reimu Hakurei and a handful from among her many, many acquaintances as they investigate a strange phenomenon known as “perfect possession”, which allows a pair to swap places with each other at will, even in the middle of a fight. It’s basically an in-universe explanation for the tag battle mechanic. It can be really hard to be the fourth wall in Touhou, sometimes.

As you might imagine, some more ambitious characters are using perfect possession to gain more power, using it to their advantage in matches. But the story mainly revolves around a pair of tricksters who have found a way to misuse perfect possession as a way to amass wealth for themselves, and effectively become an unbeatable tag match. Complicating matters is that the very use of perfect possession has unintended consequences for a parallel universe known as the “Dream World”.

Sorry, I didn’t find Cirno in this one.

The story mode has you selecting a duo and following their quest over the course of a few relatively-simple battles (difficulty may be adjusted, depending on whether you’re a super-soldier or drunk). At first, there is only one story, but as the story progresses, more stories become available, perhaps even a few at a time. The game calls its overarching story “bittersweet”, which is fitting, as even completing a duo’s story segment may result in setbacks that are a part of the narrative.

If you’re not already familiar with Touhou, you may be taken aback by the sheer amount of lore surrounding each of the characters. It’s not necessary to know what motivates the game’s handful of characters, as you can just half-pay-attention to the story and focus on winning matches. However, some in-game bios would have been nice to provide some background on these characters, which may have helped to better appreciate the story. An example in which this might have helped involved a cameo of Kaguya. If the player knew that Reisen was Kaguya’s pet rabbit, that may have helped the player to better understand the interaction between the two.

What are you looking at?

But it’s the gameplay mechanics that make it a game, and for AoCF, they mostly hold up.

In concept, I think the idea of anime waifus throwing bright, colorful attacks at each other sounds brutally awesome. In execution, however, most in-game matches come down to finding out how to cheese the opponent to take their health bar down, at which point they’ll move on to the next phase, which usually takes a different strategy to defeat. While that may make matches against story opponents highly predictable, it seems as though the game intends for players to find the right cheese strat for each phase, and the match usually ends before the process gets too old. Which is clever, in an odd sense.

While this is a tag team game, I found myself going through most battles with just the Master of the pair, just fine. One in-game opponent switches things up by using a special bullet that doesn’t affect the Slave of the combo, which is one way the game encourages the use of the perfect possession mechanic.

Jyoon and Shion may be the bad guys, but they are enviably cunning.

The characters in Touhou fly. What this means in this game is that the battles don’t take place on the ground, but in the air. Instead of jumping, when the player presses up, the character floats up, but then returns to the same horizontal point she originated from. Pressing down works in the same general principle, but with a downward movement, instead. Avoiding projectiles in this manner can be tricky, though a mid-air hang can be achieved through the use of certain attacks. In many cases, it’s better to use a barrier to block attacks.

The controls are pretty simple, with a basic principle that carries over for each character. There’s a button for basic attacks, which can be expressed differently based on the direction held. The same goes for a special attack button, but characters also have super-strong attacks which are usually pretty broken, but is limited in use depending on whether a meter has filled to a certain point. There is also a defensive shield, which may be the best choice against attacks that seem nearly impossible to avoid.

In non-story matches, players are free to choose their own combination of characters, rather than what the story calls for. It’s probably best to pick the character duo that would most effectively complement each other’s abilities, but I can imagine that many players would just pick their favorite characters and team them up, regardless of how well they’d perform. Which is something I could identify with.

It’s quite a shame that the fighting mechanics weren’t polished to a higher degree, because this game is great in just about all other areas. For one thing, the sprite art and portraits are crisp and clean anime-style art, and as far as that goes, it’s just right. The music is… well, it’s Touhou music. Of course the music is great. I’ve had at least a couple of these songs on YouTube playlists before even playing this game, they’re that charming.

Yukari just found a place to crash.

One potential gripe is that the English translations have numerous errors. But hey, if you like campy anime-style games, you were forgiving of that kind of thing to begin with.

Did I feel like I got my money’s worth with Antinomy of Common Flowers? In a word, yes. The game is flawed in ways that I’m aware of, but it’s still a satisfying game to play which, for many players, may be welcome as a guilty pleasure. Or, more than that, something to bust out at parties which might amuse the guests.

Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers gets a score of 6.5 out of 10.

Don’t worry about it if you still don’t know what the name means.

Review: Metroid Dread

Developer: Mercury Steam
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Platformer, Exploration
Rating: Teen
Platform:
 Nintendo Switch

After having spent years as an urban legend, Metroid Dread has finally dropped, which goes to show that it’s going to take a lot more than being cancelled to stop a true warrior.

In the long-awaited sequel to Metroid Fusion, and what is currently the last in the series in order of the current timeline, the Galactic Federation has dispatched a group of E.M.M.I. robots to the planet ZDR to investigate a strange transmission. However, when contact with the E.M.M.I. has been lost, Samus goes to ZDR to investigate, fearing the possible return of the dreaded X parasites.

During the investigation, Samus encounters a Chozo warrior, and is quickly overcome in battle. Mysteriously, the battle has resulted in Samus being without most of her abilities. In a reversal compared to the rest of the series, rather than starting the game from Samus’ ship and descending into the caverns of an alien world, Samus instead starts at the bottom of the remnants of a civilization, and must ascend to the top in order to escape alive.

Matters become far more complicated with the fact that the borderline-indestructible E.M.M.I. have gone rogue, and will hunt Samus down if she goes anywhere within their coverage areas.

If you’re in this spot, you don’t wanna miss.

So, that’s the story, but how does the game actually play? That’s where it gets even better.

Like most Metroid games outside of the Prime series, Metroid Dread is a 2D platformer set in huge, interconnected areas that main character Samus Aran explores autonomously. Most areas have multiple branching paths, with very subtle (if any) clues as to which path would take Samus to either a major confrontation or an upgrade to her mobility. Even dead ends may provide opportunity to discover power-ups such as permanent expansions to her missile-carrying capacity, so players have incentive to explore ZDR’s huge caverns, for the treasures that await them. Even getting lost may have its rewards.

Initially, Samus’ techniques are limited. But as she picks up major upgrades to her mobility (such as improved jumps and the series-staple Morph Ball), more functions are mapped to the control scheme. While the controls get complex by late game, the gradual implementation of Samus’ abilities helps to keep players from being overwhelmed by the amount of techniques.

Samus does start the game with some useful abilities that remain helpful throughout. One of these is a slide that allows her to go under narrow openings, which acts as a convenient alternative to the Morph Ball when in a hurry. Another helpful ability is when Samus aims with a laser pointer, allowing her to fire in any direction. Samus has to be standing still to do this, which makes sense, considering that in real life it’s usually easier to aim with precision when standing still. During boss fights, this usually means taking the risk of standing still if it means possibly getting in more accurate attacks.

Ride that slide!

I’ve noticed early on that Missiles are usually better to use during boss fights than charged beam attacks. I remember that in some previous Metroid games, the opposite was true, and I liked spamming charged attacks. It’s a change I welcome, considering that it’s sensible from a game mechanics perspective for the resource that has the potential to be limited by quantity has higher damage potential. But unless you’ve been missing a significant amount of ammo upgrades and play carelessly, you should have plenty of missiles for most boss fights.

Metroid Dread may provide a lot of abilities, but that doesn’t mean it holds the player’s hand. It’s expected of players to pick up on acquired abilities quickly, and if players can recall them late in the game, that might make some difficult boss battles go a lot smoother.

That brings us to the next point: Metroid Dread is not an easy game. Even on the normal difficulty, players of average skill level can expect to take multiple attempts on bosses before finally emerging victorious. I remember that there was at least a couple times in which I had taken a few attempts on a boss, so I decided to make attempts where I mostly just performed evasive maneuvers, with minimal attacking, in order to practice at avoiding the boss’s attacks. That helped, as subsequent attempts mostly went a lot smoother.

Comparisons have been made with Dark Souls in terms of the difficulty of the boss battles, so victory against most bosses aren’t something that’s just handed to you. Beating the bosses in Metroid Dread is a matter of skill, and when a boss is overcome, it feels like an accomplishment.

Run, girl!

But the bosses aren’t the only things in this game that bring the tension. In Metroid Dread, there’s a total of seven E.M.M.I. running about. Each of the E.M.M.I. has an assigned area which it doesn’t leave, but because you’ll have to run through these immense areas to proceed, Samus will have to confront them.

When you come across an E.M.M.I., there’s usually nothing you can do except try to avoid being noticed, and when you are noticed, you pretty much have to run and hide. What’s more, these things are scary intelligent, and usually come along to investigate where they hear sounds.

If an E.M.M.I. catches Samus, it’s usually Game Over. Yeah, there’s a brief quick-time opportunity to escape it’s clutches, but because it’s so hard to time, just touching an E.M.M.I. usually means having to retry. But thankfully, Metroid Dread is generous with restarting the player just outside E.M.M.I. areas and boss doors, so the player can make another attempt right away if they so choose.

In exploration platform games, colloquially known as Metroidvania games, a significant part of the experience is the sensation of movement. And thankfully for the chief genre-namer, movement in Metroid Dread is a joy. Samus responds with just the right combination of realism, momentum, and lack of hesitation to controller input. And what’s more, there’s a sense of power to her many mobility upgrades, to the point that by the end of the game, it really feels as though nothing is missing from Samus’ arsenal.

It’s not polite to point.

What’s more, none of the upgrades unbalance the game. There’s no one upgrade that’s perfect for every occasion, but they usually come with a sense of freedom that comes with knowing just how it can be used to overcome an obstacle that rendered previously encountered passageways and power-ups off-limits. And when you find out that an upgrade that you might not have been thinking much about at the time might make a boss battle much easier, that’s really satisfying in its own sense.

It usually goes that when someone buys a new game, there comes a risk that a game with current-gen visuals compromises with mechanical soundness. However, in Metroid Dread’s case, there is no such compromise, as the game offers tight, rewarding gameplay with excellent production values, all wrapped in the same package. While the platforming is in two dimensions, the environments are rendered in polygonal models. Metroid Dread is far from the first game to do this, but what Dread accomplishes is so rich and atmospheric that it’s a strong argument in favor of upgrading to a Switch OLED if you intend to spend a lot of time playing in handheld mode. There are many little touches here and there which goes to show just how much thought that Mercury Steam put into it. For example, there’s a thin, barely-noticeable haze of display static when Samus is in areas where there is an E.M.M.I. active, which conveys an eerie, unsettling technological sense that something is off.

What the E.M.M.I. can’t see, can’t hurt it.

As much as I’d like to discuss the events in the game, and what they mean for the overarching Metroid narrative, I think the best way to discover them is to play the game for yourself. This is one game that’s a blast to play, so that discovery isn’t likely to feel like a chore to a gamer without a crippling case of ennui.

Now, onto the score. It’s my great pleasure to give Metroid Dread top honors:
10 out of 10.

In times past, Metroid games have been something that one might consider to hold themselves over while waiting for some other big release. With Metroid Dread, the Metroid series demonstrates that it’s deserving of more respect.