Category Archives: Video games

Review: Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness

Developer: Chime Corporation
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Genre: Action RPG
Rating: Mature
Platform:
 Nintendo Switch, PS4, PC

There isn’t usually much expectation that a video game based on a manga or anime would hold up when compared to the original source material. But when considering how beloved Akihito Tsukushi’s Made In Abyss is, one can hold out hope that the developer and publisher would understand just how important it is to the fanbase to do justice with Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness.

While one may consider it a pleasant surprise when a game is released months ahead of schedule, if you’ve been following the game industry long enough to develop a little cynicism, you’d see it as a sign that the publisher decided to rush it, perhaps because funds were starting to run a little low. Or, as was likely the case with Binary Star, Spike Chunsoft wanted to rush the game to market while the recently-aired second season of the Made In Abyss anime is still fresh in the memories of viewers, and the game is in a better position to profit off the popularity of the license.

That’s not to say that Binary Star was a bad game. The skeleton of a highly ambitious project is there: great worldbuilding, an intriguing story, well-fleshed-out characters, and great potential for treasure-hunting mechanics. Of course, it’s easy to point out that these are owed to the source material, and that the follow-through would be in the efforts of the game developers. And that’s where things start to falter.

This game would be a blast if it weren’t for a few bad design choices that could have easily been decided against. The most notorious of which would be the repeatedly-spawning enemies. Normally, when a game character is placed in a sprawling, expansive environment, the player’s tendency is to take a minute or two to bask in the beauty of the scenery they are presented with. But don’t take too long doing that in Binary Star, because when you enter a new area, a timer ticks down, and when enough time passes, enemies start spawning. And they’ll usually teleport into existence right behind you, as though the game itself has a problem with you just wanting to chill.

If this sounds like it might be an annoyance to you, you might want to go for the Steam version. Some clever players have developed a mod which prevents enemies from spawning in such a way. Otherwise, you might end up getting triggered at the sight of ferrets.

I get the idea that the game makers had a hard time deciding whether to closely follow Riko’s adventure from the manga, or give players a new, customizable main character to go on his/her own adventure. To the credit of the game makers, they decided on including both. However, it’s obvious that the meat of the game is in the new main character’s campaign, while Riko’s story (which only includes her adventures up to the second layer) acts as a kind of tutorial that’s a few hours long.

Unfortunately, to get to the better part of the game, to complete the tutorial first is mandatory. And as far as tutorials go, it doesn’t really work that great. Riko and Reg are likely to annoy you as they repeat the same lines over and over again while traipsing about in the Abyss. It won’t take long for you to get used to the fact that Reg “senses something” when he and Riko are in no immediate danger.

This is one game that isn’t to be judged by the first few hours.

While I’m complaining, I can also point out that the “strains of ascending” are a huge inconvenience. I know that it’s a huge part of the worldbuilding in Made In Abyss, but from a game mechanics perspective, it’s likely to bust your groove when you want to, you know, go up.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the irony that some twisted jerk built a staircase in a place where the very act of ascending causes people to barf.

But as much as I can think of to complain about, I found myself enjoying Binary Star quite a lot, especially when I got to the point when I could play the main campaign. That was when I could finally create and name my own customizable character, and have him interact with the other characters in Made In Abyss. And the execution was compelling and addictive enough that I eventually developed a forbearance concerning the game’s shortcomings.

The story follows a child who joins Belchero orphanage alongside a group of other kids. At that point, it’s been months since Riko departed into the abyss in a quest to find her mother, and since then, the other children began to speak of her as a legend. You might have noticed a dark undertone in the reasoning for training orphans to mine in the abyss, as there’d be fewer people who would miss them in the event that an expedition turns tragic.

If you see tendrils bordering the screen, you might want to wait a few seconds to acclimate. If your character barfs, he/she can get hungry again in a hurry.

The action in the game takes place in the Abyss, where you’ll have to make careful judgements as to what dangers to brave and how far you’ll go, considering that at the end of an expedition, you’d have to make a return trip. As you journey, there are many things to account for, such as what supplies you brought, what healing items and food you brought, and the weight of the treasures you find, considering that there’s a limit to how much you can carry before your character is slowed.

In addition to the HP bar, you’ll also have a hunger bar, which decrements with time. Hunger is something to account for when making longer trips, as when the hunger bar is depleted, your character becomes helpless. There’s also an energy bar, which depletes when the character takes an action. However, it’ll completely restore when the character stands still for a few seconds, as long as the character is not starving. However, it doesn’t recover on its own when climbing a rock face, which places a limit on how much you can climb at a time.

It’s possible to cheese some of the more dangerous primeval creatures, if you’re patient.

There are also status conditions to watch for, such as two different kinds of poison. There are also arm injuries, which temporarily limits the actions you can take with your arms, and leg injuries, which temporarily decreases mobility. Special items heal these conditions in a hurry, which is great, because some of them can be a serious problem when a dangerous monster is upon you!

While the game isn’t heavy on delivering the tension, there’s still a sense that things can go horribly wrong, even from just a moment of poor judgement. Just slipping on a rock face can result in your character falling to their death. It seems that this game’s M rating is largely owed to how grisly some of the possible deaths are. In some cases, it seems a little gratuitous, but it’s not as though the Made In Abyss series was made for kids.

Evil ferrets.

Made In Abyss is one game where if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. While in Orth, you can plan for runs into the Abyss, with shops for replenishing your equipment, food, and medicine. There’s also a facility for selling off relics that you find for money. You also have access to your room, where there’s a chest where you can decide what to take with you. There are also many armor items, but many of the more effective ones add significantly to your weight allotment. It’s a judgement call as to whether it’s worthwhile to settle for a particular armor set, or upgrade for a set that might be worth the weight it adds to your gear.

It bears pointing out that your character doesn’t gain EXP directly from beating enemies, you mainly get those from selling relics and completing quests. Thus, it’s usually better to avoid dangerous primeval creatures unless you need their drops or you have some other reason for fighting them.

It’s generally better to pick a cap with a lamp, even if it’s not the highest-defense option.

As the story progresses, more main missions open up, the completion of which can lead to the player growing in rank, such as from Red Whistle to Blue Whistle. Growing in ranks grants access to more skills, which can then be unlocked with points that players accrue by leveling up. Some of these skills are quite significant, and can increase the number of items that can be crafted, and improve other skills, such as mobility when climbing or dodging, or even increase the bag’s weight capacity.

It’s a bit of an indulgence, but there is some enjoyment to be had in having your own customizable character interact with characters from Made In Abyss. You can even give your character heterochromia, if stereotypical OCs are more your thing. And like stereotypical OCs, you can proceed to have them befriend just about every established character in the series that appears in this game. Having said that, there are at least a couple established characters which, if I were to see them while walking down the street, I’d cross to the other side of the street.

There are a few boss characters, but with a few exceptions, they’re some pretty simple battles that can be cheesed. But this doesn’t bother me, as the boss battles aren’t really the main point of this game. Once you’ve completed all the boss battles and most of the game’s major objectives, you’ll come to a steep drop-off in reason to continue playing. Sure, you could continue to take on missions and develop White Whistle skills, but there isn’t much at that point to do with those skills.

While spawning enemies can be annoying, you can use them to your advantage. They can become a great source of food and other drops.

This is one game that can be pointed to as being highly ambitious, and having a lot of potential just from the source material, and while there are some redeeming qualities, the whole deal is held back by an apparent rush to an early release date, and some poor design choices that could have easily not been made.

I think an appropriate score for Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness would be 6.5 out of 10.

This might be one race to the bottom that you could get behind.

UPDATE: Literally, update. Among the changes in version 1.0.3, you can skip the Hello Abyss mode and go right into Deep In Abyss mode, which is where the meat of the game is. That’s great for players who might lose their patience with the initially-mandatory pseudo-tutorial mode.

But that’s not all, they also changed the system that spawned in minor enemies when you spend enough time in one area. Not by eliminating that mechanic entirely, as I might have preferred, but by making it take more time for the enemies to spawn in. I gave the game another try, and I noticed that it took much longer to get attacked by evil ferrets.

It seems the developers at Chime were aware of gamers’ biggest complaints, and they addressed them. That’s great for those who are still on the fence on whether to give Binary Star a try. But the update came weeks after I already completed all the game’s major objectives, so they wouldn’t make that much of a difference for me unless I decide I want to give this game another go.

Missing a better initial experience with a game that ends up getting an update is one of the ways that the game industry, in its current form, would punish a gamer who rushes through a new release like a freak.

Review: Pokémon Scarlet and Violet

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

I wanted to put off writing a review for this game. I was awaiting the hypothetical update that would take care of the performance issues. After all, once the problems were patched, any review that stated them as being the main problem would quickly grow obsolete. But the only notable update that came (aside from the day one patch) took care of a fun glitch that actually benefitted players. So, it looks like this game is going to continue to stand as being too ambitious for the dated Nvidia Tegra X1 chip. Either that, or the game devs were in a hurry to push something out for a strategic release date.

For most games, performance issues are enough to kill them. But oddly, in the case of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, that’s not the case. Somehow, the game manages to be so awesome that it overcomes the performance issues, which mainly have to do with dropped frames. Which would mainly be an issue for those who insist that their games be completely realistic, which is not much of an expectation when it comes to the Pokémon series.

Scarlet and Violet are GameFreak’s first attempt at an open-world experience for the Pokémon franchise. As one might expect, it doesn’t so much change open-world games as it does change the way Pokémon is played. Considering what we’ve been seeing out of Pokémon Legends: Arceus and Pokémon Sword/Shield, the series has been tending in that direction. Finally, the franchise has made a committed attempt at an open-world game, and it does not disappoint.

It’s a welcome change, as most Pokémon games up to this point have been strongly formulaic. Sure, some of the old tropes remain, such as that you still choose from three types for your starter, and there are still 8 gym badges to collect as part of a League challenge. However, the League challenge is only one of three main story routes, and the three culminate in a finale story, and in the case of the non-League stories, the writers really told some moving tales.

It starts out with the main character about to start his first day at an academy (the name of which varies on which version you’re playing). The academy director and a new rival direct you towards the academy, but there’s a diversion which involves the main character meeting a new legendary Pokémon, which serves as your ride Pokémon throughout the game. At the academy, you meet a bunch of new characters that will be relevant to you during the three branching stories.

Then, you’re set loose on the Paldea region, where you can take on any challenge that you want (aside from the central Great Crater, which remains off-limits until near the end). The region of Paldea is open to you, and you’re not compelled to go in any one direction. Any of the three main stories can be taken on in any order you wish, and you can put any of the three on hold at any time, either to further another storyline, or to run about and attempt to catch the Pokémon you set your sights on. Personally, I recommend prioritizing taking on the titans, since that path rewards you by increasing your mobility, enabling you to further appreciate your freedom to move about through the Paldea region.

As far as I know, the game doesn’t explicitly spell out a recommended order for its objectives. You can take on the gyms in any order you want, you can take on the Team Star bases in any order you want, and you can take on the titans in any order you want. Just be warned that the levels of most opponents don’t scale based on your progress level, so it’s possible to wander too far and end up overwhelmed by gym leaders you weren’t prepared for. But this also allows for players to, in a sense, set their own difficulties by pushing themselves as far as they care to at the game’s outset.

The core Pokémon games are, at their hearts, turn-based RPGs. Thankfully, this core aspect remains intact in the series’ conversion to an open-world experience. The overworld switches seamlessly to battle scenes by showing the battles as taking place in the overworld environment, in a manner reminiscent to Pokémon Legends: Arceus. However, Scarlet and Violet differ from Legends in that wild Pokémon battles are 1v1 affairs, with other wild Pokémon in the area looking on as spectators, which is a nice touch!

A new and welcome feature is the Let’s Go mechanic, where you can send your own lead Pokémon into the overworld, and it’ll passively seek out wild Pokémon to battle, and defeat them. It’s a relatively fast way to level up your own Pokémon, putting aside that EXP points are decreased when you battle with this method. But considering that you wouldn’t be constantly switching between overworld mode and the battle scene constantly, this may still be a fast way to level up your team. Also, your Let’s Go Pokémon won’t beat up shiny Pokémon with this method. Shiny hunters, rejoice! Just be warned that this style of battling doesn’t trigger evolution, so you might want to level up the old-fashioned way at some point to trigger evolution to occur.

As fans have come to expect with each new generation of Pokémon since X and Y, Scarlet and Violet introduce a new game mechanic that makes battles in Scarlet and Violet distinct, as compared to battles in other games in the franchise: Terrastilization. It’s an act which causes Pokémon to take on a crystalline appearance. The Pokémon will change its type mid-battle, and its moves gain a boost in power, depending on the type it takes on. It’s a neat little gimmick that adds spectacle to in-game battles, and is certainly something to account for for competitive players participating in competitions that allow for it.

Aside from competitive battles, much of Scarlet and Violet’s post-game content seems to hinge on Tera Raid battles. You can find some easier ones during the main playthrough, but you’ll eventually have access to five-star raids, which pose a serious challenge to players who intend to solo them. Afterwards, players can access six-star raids, which are a lot more challenging than the raid dens in Sword/Shield. In many cases, it’ll take a team of players with specific Pokémon and specific builds to be more likely to win.

The soundtrack, by the way, is the best in the series. No question. Whether it’s the upbeat gym leader tune which is almost as good as the gym leader tune in Sword/Shield, the atmospheric environmental tunes that switches to an alternate track when mounting the ride Pokémon, the recurring leitmotif, and the bangin’ battle themes that play during a few key battles, it’s various degrees of excellent. Toby Fox’s presence may be controversial, but it’s plain that he’s a positive asset, and Pokémon’s music direction benefits huge from his input.

The game isn’t without flaws, but those mainly come down to performance issues, which make it evident that the game was rushed. Yet, this is one case where the good greatly overtakes the bad, to the point that the issues with performance are actually easy to overlook, even if they do sometimes take one out of the experience.

I suppose another complaint that one can think of is that there isn’t much of a postgame for those who aren’t terribly interested in Tera Raid battles. Because, those aside, there aren’t many post-game battles that are much of a challenge. That’s a problem that might be resolved through a future DLC package, which would be great for those who are patient and willing to spend more.

But as for the game as it is, I feel like I definitely got my money’s worth. If it weren’t for the technical issues, it wouldn’t seem out of place in the running for distinctions such as Game of the Year.

But as they are right now, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are deserving of high recommendations, and a score of 9.5 out of 10.

But if you’re a fan of the Pokémon series, you probably already bought it. Great choice.

Bulbagarden Founder Posits Theory That New Gym Leader Is Trans and Non-Binary, Gets Debunked Less Than 24 Hours Later

It seems like with every new major media release, someone from the questionable sexuality community will come forward with speculation (often stated as fact and foregone conclusion) that a character depicted represents their favorite flavor of sexuality.

As Bounding Into Comics points out, this time around, the speculator is Liam Pomfret, the founder of Bulbagarden, who posits his theory that the newly-revealed gym leader in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, Iono, is non-binary and transgender.

Here is the promo video featuring Iono:

Upon what is Liam basing his theory? The initially ambiguous use of pronouns, and her choice of hair dye:

Image from Bounding Into Comics

One would expect the use of such flimsy inferences from an undiagnosed schizophrenic who believes that their TV is communicating secret messages specifically for them, not a Doctor of Philosophy. Our education system is fucked, isn’t it?

Because he was tripping over himself to find trans representation in a Japanese game marketed towards anyone in the family, he looked at the soft blue and pink hair (kinda looks lavender to me) and immediately thought of the trans kid flag, rather than the recurring red/blue coloration of Pokémon’s flagship games, Scarlet and Violet included.

Less than 24 hours later, Nintendo dropped supplemental promotional material concerning Iono. It’s the kind of thing that looks like it would have been released simultaneously with the promotional video that originally featured Iono, so maybe it was hastily thrown together after the fact.

The promo specifies Iono as having the feminine pronoun of “her”. Iono is female. Because we’ve already established that speculation is fun, maybe Nintendo threw this out there because they knew what Liam Pomfret was saying, and were all like “Nope. We’re not having that.”

If “Bulbagarden” sounds familiar, then you’ve been following along back when I pointed out how inappropriate it was that they used their Pokémon fan platform to soapbox about an immigration policy that they blamed on Trump (the problem was actually Obama’s fault, and Trump resolved the matter through an executive order).

This was Bulbagarden’s forum header at the time:

Fucking creepy.

And a fantastic opportunity to warn parents out there that there are some predatory actors in fan communities who use their positions in their respective communities to pressure younger members. Oftentimes, their activities involve performing “favors” over video chat. Of course, there are many ways that bad people can take advantage of children online.

That PSA aside, it can also be pointed out that there is a certain obsession with pointing to Japan’s status as a relatively advanced, orderly, and peaceful society. Oftentimes, someone on the radical left will attempt to glom onto a form of Japanese media, in a sad attempt to make the case that the Japanese are actually just like them.

What these attempts overlook is how Japan as a society got to be as advanced as it is. Japan is a heavily structured and stratified society that favors family, career, merit, and respect. To further reduce that, Japan is conservative. In fact, it’s one of the most conservative societies in the world.

Sometimes, a weeaboo pops up who thinks of Japan as being their kind of society, probably because they got ideas as to what it’s like from anime and manga. The fact is, Japan is a society of norms. If you move to Japan, you’re expected to conform to the norms. If you don’t want to, then you don’t belong in Japan. It’s as simple as that.

Red light districts aside, Japan is an advanced, peaceful, and orderly society. If your thinking is different from theirs, that might have a lot to do with it.

Iono is pretty far from the first character from Japanese media to have gotten this kind of attention. It wasn’t long ago that Shiver from Splatoon 3 came under scrutiny as possibly non-binary, but it turned out she was female. Nanachi from Made In Abyss is a frequent target of this, because author Akihito Tsukushi prefers to leave Nanachi’s sex as unknown. Or, more famously, there’s Bridget from Guilty Gear, who is male.

That’s not to say that there are no “non-binary” characters in Japanese media. However, such characters are seldom portrayed as sympathetic. But why would they, when there is something obviously wrong with their thinking?

Iono is merely a character in a work of fiction. She’s just made up, therefore nothing about her has any bearing on the reality of any matter. It doesn’t matter whether she represents anything, except maybe in the deluded thinking of those who lack the ability to parse reality without the assistance of a fictional construct. If this describes you, then you need to seek help. And get over yourself, while you’re at it.

Was the Crystal Onix Early To Terrastallizing?

When the Dynamax phenomenon was first revealed in a trailer for Pokémon Sword and Shield, some players recalled that certain oversized Pokémon had already appeared in the first season of the anime. First was a Dragonite just a few episodes in, then a Tentacruel a few episodes after that. Later, we’d see more in the appearance of giant Alakazam, Gengar, and Jigglypuff.

While it’s not likely that a connection between the appearance of these Pokémon and the implementation of a new gameplay mechanic decades later was intended as of the time of their first appearance in the anime, it’s still fun to think that they might have factored into the thinking of Game Freak as they developed Sword and Shield.

But with the upcoming Pokémon Scarlet and Violet games, there is a new mechanic, called “terrastallization”. This makes a Pokémon take on a crystalline appearance, as well as gain a new type.

As tantalizing as it may seem, there actually is precedence for such an occurrence in the anime, decades prior. To see it, we’d have to go back to the Orange Islands. The Pokémon I’m referring to would be the Crystal Onix.

In the early days of Pokémon, the Crystal Onix captured the imaginations of fans everywhere. Not just for its dazzling appearance, but also for the fact that it seemed to resist the Water types that would normally lay an Onix out flat, but was weak to Fire moves, which they usually resisted.

As it so happens, terrastallization doesn’t just change a Pokémon’s appearance, it also changes its type to whatever Tera type that the individual Pokémon has. Based on the evidence provided, we can determine the type of the Crystal Onix, as there is only one type that resists Water but is weak to Fire, and that type is Grass!

It’s interesting to think that decades prior to the implementation of terrastallization in a main Pokémon game, there was already a similar concept shown in the anime. But what do you think? Does this look like a coincidence to you? Or might the Crystal Onix have been in Game Freak’s consideration as they were developing Pokémon Scarlet and Violet?

A New Trailer for Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Just Dropped. Here’s What I Think.

As the graphic above taken from the latest promo trailer shows, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are have gotten cover arts, and are available for preorder on Nintendo’s eShop, which is great for those who have already made their minds up.

But as for the promo itself, here it is:

Okay, honest opinion: I’m somewhat underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still looking forward to the next games. It’s that this trailer didn’t get me as excited as the first one. However, it seems my opinion isn’t the popular opinion, as typical Pokémon fans seem to be gushing over the newest promo spot. It does have it’s great qualities.

For one thing, I might be imagining it, but the character models look a lot better, particularly the outfits. I remember that the models for the Pokémon themselves looked great in the first trailer. Also, it’s great to see more natural movements for the human characters.

Speaking of human characters, we have two new professors. They both seem pretty cool, and they seem to have different themes: one is a cave woman, and the other wears a futuristic getup. Also, is that calculus on their dry-erase boards?

The trailer shows 4 different player characters taking off in different directions, showing that as many as 4 players can interact in the same field at a time. This also shows that there will be plenty of customization options for physical features such as skin tone, hair style, and hair color. There are also a handful of clothing options, but I’m still not impressed with them. Something like a studded jacket or round shades would be cool.

The trailer also showed a few new Pokémon, including a pig-like critter named Lechonk, a new Pikachu look-alike named Pawmi, and an adorable little olive named Smoliv. Of the three, I think I like Smoliv more. Maybe because olives are tasty.

The trailer briefly shows a battle scene with the typical options. Apparently, the battles are going to be turn-based, but it’s not clear whether it’s traditional turn-based RPG fare like Pokémon has traditionally done, or something more akin to Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Between the two, I don’t have much of a preference, though Pokémon’s traditional battle formula is pretty well-tested, while the one in Pokémon Legends: Arceus still seems experimental.

After that, we see some trainers running about in environments populated by Pokémon. The environments are great as far as something stylized goes, but certain features might still need work. After all, as we’ve already seen, Pokémon fans can get pretty picky about how well the trees are detailed!

But then, we see the perspective speed along some environments, as though to take us to see some far-off features. If you would have guessed that we’d get to see some new legendaries, you’d be right:

The new mascot legendaries are named Koraidon (the scarlet one) and Miraidon (the violet one). Apparently the themes of these games are past and future.

The models for these Pokémon are pretty well-textured. Also, check out Miraidon’s eyes.

Overall, it’s not a bad trailer. I was a bit underwhelmed, but that’s just me. I suppose it’s only natural that a second trailer for a Pokémon game would reveal more about the region, lore, and characters, and save the nerdy stuff like gameplay elements for another time.

However, those gameplay elements do matter. It’s going to make a big difference, especially to competitive players, whether elements from previous games such as Dynamax, Mega Evolution, or Z-Moves make a return. So far, we haven’t seen a sign of any of that, or of a new battle mechanic.

But I suppose that a Pokémon game that allows for free exploration rather than confinement to linear routes might be a sufficient selling point for me. After all, I’ve been wanting to see this in a traditional Pokémon game for a long time, and Pokémon Legends: Arceus nearly pulled it off.

But as far as the community as a whole is concerned, it seems that GameFreak has done a great job with this new trailer. Here’s looking forward to the next one.

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 the girl is cuter (as to be expected), it’s odd that she’s wearing the same outfit that the boy is. 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. 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, as well as their fashion options, that I would have expected them to be aware that males and females tend to dress way differently. As is obvious to most, there are obvious physiological and psychological differences between males and females, many of which are expressed through fashion choices. Anytime anyone attempts to dress them in similar outfits, the attempt comes off as unsettling, and a failure to properly acknowledge one of the foundational elements of their identity.

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. Either that, or they’re fraternal twins, like the duo gym leaders Tate and Liza.

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 him 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.