Category Archives: Video games

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
 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
 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.

Nintendo Switch OLED: Why the Cheap Seats Aren’t Impressed

Nintendo just revealed the Nintendo Switch OLED, and as you may have heard, the internet personalities are less than impressed. While the cheap seats are being won over with the typical edgy skepticism, I know the real reason for their disappointment, and it’s nothing for them to be proud of.

Yeah, I’m about to step on some toes. But before that, I’ll get into my first impressions based on the trailer, shown here:

The system is basically the same as the classic Nintendo Switch model, but with a big 7-inch OLED display for portable mode, and the dock has been given a slicker design with rounder edges. It looks hot, but it’s not that big a deal for me, as I do much of my gaming with Switch on my TV, and when I’m doing that, it’s the TV that gets the attention, not the dock.

Much of the trailer shows stock photo models doing things that they could already do with the classic Switch system, so my impression based on this is that I’m not going to be missing out on much if I were to give this one a pass.

The adjustable wide stand is just what many players have been asking for for a long time, but that’s another thing that’s not going to make much difference to a person who mainly plays on their TV.

There’s also a wired LAN port (cable sold separately). That’s great for those who care about it, but wasn’t wireless ad hoc already a thing on Nintendo Switch? While the data exchange rate would likely be better with wired LAN, it’s hard to imagine many players would actually use this at family get-togethers over the system’s simple wireless connection. Revealing a wired LAN port for the Nintendo Switch this late in the game is like if they revealed a new model of Nintendo DS (their first Wi-fi enabled system) with an ethernet port.

It seems the point of the Nintendo Switch OLED is to appeal to those who haven’t purchased a Switch yet. I already have a Switch, so for me, it’s an easy pass. Having said that, I’m not terribly disappointed. While it’s not much of a surprise that Nintendo has revealed a new model of their system, my expectations weren’t very high.

On the other hand, the web personalities are collectively disappointed. That’s to be expected when someone spends time listening to rumors and treating them as anything but just rumors.

So, you believed that the new Switch would be called the “Switch Pro”. Why was it collectively accepted that that would be the official name, when it originated as a fan term? So, you believed that the Switch would have an upgraded processor replacing the NVIDIA Tegra that they’ve been using. Did Nintendo reveal this information, and I missed it? Or how about my favorite one: that Nintendo would use happy-magical spacekitties technology to somehow enhance the graphics to old Switch games as they are being played in real time. That sounds suspiciously like some kid’s wish, which might be a hint to where that rumor originated from.

It’s difficult to avoid rumors. And they are tempting to scope out, considering that sometimes the alleged-leakers actually call it. But if people believe rumors just because they appeal to their fanciful thinking, or even if they sound believable enough, they’re usually just setting themselves up for disappointment.

When it comes to games and hardware, speculation can be fun, but it can turn into disappointment when people use what’s speculative to cultivate their expectations. You can board the hype train if you want, but you should want to get off before it takes you too far. If you consume what comes from the rumor mill, don’t be surprised when you’re left with a sour taste. Try not to blow your load before the big presentation.

I know why the major content creators spend as much time as they do on the rumor-mill: they want to seem more connected, especially with their pride on the line, and considering how hard they already have to work to maintain the audience that they have. Also, there’s the pressure to maintain scheduled content, which plays a huge part in holding people’s attention. When the news is slow, it’s hard to avoid commenting on rumors that are going around. It might even be productive, if to cast skepticism on what is plainly ridiculous.

Speculation is part of the fun, but can we be more careful about accepting rumors as fact? Odds are, some guy on YouTube doesn’t have an insider connection to Nintendo, and might just be posting video commentary, just the same as anyone else can.

Review: Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Genre: Strategy RPG
Rating: Teen
PS4 (JP), Nintendo Switch (JP, NA, and EU)

Nippon Ichi’s most popular SRPG just keeps coming back, and this time, with a protagonist that reflects their persistence. But does the latest incarnation come with a significant power boost, or is NIS’s determined SRPG starting to decay?

Disgaea 6 stars a zombie named Zed, whose mission is to slay the God of Destruction that threatens the Disgaea universe. For most Disgaea games, the cringy story was my biggest complaint, and it was a significant QoL feature to be able skip it, and get to the sweet, tasty level-grinding.

However, in Disgaea 6, the story is actually clever. At the outset of the game, Zed and his dog Cerberus storm the Darkest Assembly, which is holding a meeting to determine what to do about the God of Destruction. Once in the chamber, Zed delivers a startling announcement: He has already defeated the God of Destruction. Then begins Zed’s story to a skeptical assembly, with the first ten chapters being a recount of the events that led to the outcome.

The characters in the story are largely media parodies with obvious shortcomings, which include a wealthy king, a Disney-eque princess, a super-sentai heroine, and an elderly woman turned mahou shoujo. If you don’t know what some of those words mean, that might be normal.

The first few chapters introduce the characters, one-at-a-time, while the next few focuses more on their development. After that, buckle up, because the last few chapters are heavy on the twists and gets quite unpredictable. I think the story was worth sitting through once, but for those who really insist, the option is there to skip. If they don’t know what they’re missing, it’s not much of a tragedy to them, is it?

Disgaea 6 introduces a new feature: the option to fast-forward through battles, with an auto-battle feature that allows the computer to select your character’s moves, and an auto-replay feature that allows you to repeatedly replay a level, which combines pretty well with the auto-battle feature. This, combined with skipping attack animations, streamlines the repetitive grinding that Disgaea is known for.

What’s more, the fast-forward feature can be upgraded as an in-game reward, and can unlock the ability to speed through battles at rates as high as 16x and 32x, and ultimately, the option to skip ally and enemy effects altogether. This allows for streamlined automated grinding when setups are ideal.

But suppose you don’t like the battle plan that the computer chooses for you. There is a D.I. feature that allows you to select a characters plan in battle when controlled by the computer, which can be customized by assembling flowcharts which can plan out how a character moves, influence what they attack, and even what specific attacks they use. As the player plays through the game, more options can be unlocked in batches.

How well developed the options for automated play are goes to show just how heavily they were to intended to factor into gameplay. Without them, leveling up for post-game content would take a dishearteningly long time (even by Disgaea standards). If you’re the kind of guy who balks at cell-phone games with options like stage-skip tickets, then you’re likely to interpret Disgaea’s auto-play features as symptomatic of a trend in video games. But then, if you’re prone to taking things like that at face value, you’re not likely to appreciate the Disgaea series for the deconstruction of the SRPG genre that it is.

There is one slight drawback to the auto-play features, and that’s that because I’m not spending as much time selecting characters, moving them, and selecting their moves, I wouldn’t be developing the same appreciation I would for those characters as I would be if I were doing more of it. Some players might answer the complaints with the auto-play features by pointing out that they’re optional. Even if that’s the case, if it’s the most practical option that offers the most returns for one’s time, it’s the most sensible choice when one is playing a game of strategy.

And as I see it, the auto-play options are a welcome addition. Even if they seem suspiciously like a scheme to artificially drive up playtime through players that leave their Switches on overnight.

There are a few changes that returning players are going to notice. One of which is that the option to magi-change is out. That might seem like a tragedy to players that liked magi-change, but to be honest, I haven’t been doing much of it in most Disgaea games that featured it. In Disgaea 5, I had Usalia magi-change onto another character to help them level, but that might have been the extent of it.

Magi-change was not really a big deal in spite of all the fluff surrounding it, so it was a natural choice for deciding what’s vestigial.

But did NIS really have to leave the Skull class out of Disgaea 6? That was one of my favorites, and what’s more, it’s absence is all the more conspicuous with the fact that the Skull has been a series staple since Disgaea 1. What’s more, the Nekomata is out, and so are the Sabrecats. And the Kunoichi. And there’s more, too. But if generic characters weren’t a big deal for you, you might not much notice or care.

Also, weapon-specific techniques have been dropped in favor of class-specific techniques. It’s not really a big deal, as players previously tended toward weapons with techniques that expedited grinding (the 3×3 techniques, usually), which would have been rendered superfluous with the auto-play features, and a new EXP and mana system that distributes what’s earned among participants in a battle, whether they fall or not. Speaking of weapons, there are no more monster-specific weapons, and they are able to equip humanoid weapons. That’s a positive change, as I see it.

The option to interrogate captured enemies is out. That’s just fine, because that was kinda awkward in Disgaea 5. What’s more, the curry mechanic in Disgaea 5 didn’t make a comeback. That’s fine too, considering that it seemed more thematically relevant in that game, anyway.

And that’s what’s great about how Disgaea 6 causes the series to evolve: what’s dropped didn’t quite expedite the experience, which makes them a little hard to miss. Still, what players liked before, they might miss, so would it be too much to ask to add some missing classes in a future update?

There is a new Juice Bar facility, which greatly expedites the process of stat growth and class mastery. Mastering classes and collecting extracts was a huge chore in Disgaea 5, so seeing the Juice Bar is a welcome change. If collecting shards made a comeback, they’d have been rendered superfluous. But the rage meter didn’t return from Disgaea 5, which was connected to how to collect shards in that game. In spite of the bigger numbers, Disgaea seems to be somewhat simplifying, and in ways I consider mostly welcome.

When it comes to the new graphical style, I’m almost indifferent. It’s easy to notice the change at first, especially when the sprite art was what gave the series much of its charm. However, the cel-shaded polygonal models do look pretty decent. Personally, I suspect I’d be getting a little greedy if I were to ask that the chibi-style grid models had outlines, considering that players might have to be picky when it comes to the graphical performance options as it is. The more proportional anime-style models used in the attack animations do have outlines, which makes their absence elsewhere more apparent.

Nippon Ichi Software America, the company that localized Disgaea 6, usually does an excellent job when it comes to voice talent, and Disgaea 6 is no exception. The voices go to the characters perfectly. There are some scenes that don’t have voice acting, which isn’t a big deal. However, there are scenes in a postgame story where the voice audio ends abruptly near the end of the lines, which makes it seem like those scenes were done in a hurry, or weren’t edited by a professional. I’m not upset about it, but that’s something to be more careful about in future installments.

It’s obvious from early on that the level and stat scaling works differently in this game. Characters gain more levels at a time in fewer battles, and the stats like HP, INT, and RES increase more at a time. This allows players to more quickly reach the mind-bogglingly high stats which have long been a staple in the Disgaea series. It would appear as though the challenge level scales consistently through the main story, which would mean that the challenge level would remain comparable even though the numbers are higher.

As much as I’d like to have more to say about that, I got the demo before the game was released, and I went ahead and set the auto-play to get some super-powerful characters. I already had level 9999 characters at the point that the game was released, so the story itself was mainly like a visual novel interspersed with auto-playable stages that don’t pose a challenge.

I know it’s optional, but it’s also practical. Going to bed and waking up to a bunch of level 9999 characters has just become a valid playstyle.

By the way, the level cap can be increased in the postgame, so level 9999 is no longer the final level cap. What’s more, there’s also an additional play mode to supplement the Carnage area that challenged determined players in previous Disgaea games. The new area might be considered a selling point for Disgaea veterans.

To wind down this review, I’d like to give my impression on the new characters. No spoilers.

  • Zed – I like the new main character, in spite of my old dislike for zombies (or “bullet-magnets”, if you prefer). I wonder whether the writer for Disgaea 6 also wrote the story for Zettai Hero Project, because I notice similarities.
  • Cerberus – I like the irony of a zombie boy with a zombie dog that is more knowledgeable than the boy himself.
  • Misedor – He doesn’t seem to develop as much as other characters, but he does have at least a couple only-sane-man moments.
  • Melodia – Here’s the character that annoyed me more than the rest. It’s almost as though the skip button was made just for her dialogue.
  • Piyori – A justice-obsessed power ranger that becomes corrupted by a flawed main character is quite a Disgaea thing.
  • Majolene – She takes issue with her transformation because she takes herself way too seriously. She has tragedy in her past, and when it comes up, it hits differently.
  • Ivar – It’s hard to talk about his deal without a spoiler. He turns out different from what one might expect.
  • Beiko – Ten pounds of adorable in a five-pound sack.
  • The Last Boss – A deceiver and schemer par excellence, and sympathetic, too. The outcome for this character was very appropriate.

DLC Corner

Disgaea 6 has a DLC package, and I sprang for the season pass. Much of the DLC content is free, such as a package of 4 characters for those who preordered the game, and the collection of 5 Hololive characters which can be downloaded from the eShop. I don’t know what the significance of the Hololive characters would be, but there doesn’t seem to be much reason to turn down what’s free.

There’s an assembly of goodies in the DLC package, such as additional palettes for certain characters, and special gear for them which is more gimmick than endgame gear.

There was also supposed to be a big pile of 100 Boost Tickets, but for some reason, I didn’t receive them. I wasn’t the only player that had this problem, so hopefully NISA will address the issue soon. The Boost Tickets also seemed to be missing from the Starter Support Set.

For me, the big draw from the DLC was the characters, which seems to focus on previous Disgaea games. As of this writing, Mao and Rasberyl are already available, with Valvatorez and Pleinair coming next week, Fuka and Desco come two weeks after that, and in another two weeks the season concludes with Killia and Usalia from Disgaea 5, along with a completion bonus package which includes more colors for certain DLC characters.

There’s also a relatively-inexpensive Innocents package, which contains exclusive gear that have innocents attached. The description tells you what the innocents do, but not their level. They’re all at 100, and there’s 3 of the ones that influence critical hits, each at 100.

Does a person need all the DLC to fully enjoy the game? Not strictly. The heavy focus on characters from other Disgaea games lends itself to appeal more to fans of the series. None of the paid characters seems to break the game so far, so if you have to miss out on paid DLC characters, it’s not the end of the universe.

If you like Disgaea, you probably also like numbers. So here: 8 out of 10. That’s the score Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny gets.

Disgaea 6 is unbalanced, grind-heavy, and doesn’t seem to take itself seriously. And some people like it that way.

New JRPG Plays Itself, and I Have Thoughts

As I type this, my Nintendo Switch is running in the other room. I have a Joy-Con controller strap tightened around a Pro Controller, keeping a button depressed.

An option has been activated to have the battle play itself. Moreover, another option has been activated to automatically play through the same battle again. Depressing the intended button has the effect of fast-forwarding the battle, expediting the process.

By the time I return to the game, I expect my characters to have gained substantial levels. To speed up the outcome, I’ve maxed out the stage’s difficulty, further increasing the returns.

Next week, Disgaea 6 is released on Nintendo Switch’s eShop. Already, the demo is available. Included in the demo is the option to allow the game to power-level your characters for you, potentially granting you an immensely strong army of characters to reward your patience.

You can even program how characters behave in battle through the use of flowcharts specific to each individual character.

This got me to thinking: the trend where machines do things for us has even extended to the games we play, to the point that they’ll literally play our games for us.

Think about it: There are kiosks in fast-food joints that take our orders for us, replacing rude employees that want $15/hr for low-skill-low-output work. There are drones that autonomously identify and open fire upon humans that intrude in certain areas. There are robots that you can buy at Walmart that will vacuum your carpets for you.

We’ve gotten to the point that technology can do many of our tasks for us, even going as far as doing the jobs few people want to. As fascinating as this is, it brings up a question with some worrisome implications:

Is it becoming harder for humans to justify our collective existences?

At first blush, it would appear as though all of humanity would benefit from having most things automated. However, when considering the wealth generated by robots, it becomes evident that those who benefit from them the most would be the ones who reap the wealth they generate.

The justification for work done by humans is that in exchange for our time and effort, we are paid. But if robots take all the work, how do humans get paid? Perhaps a form of Universal Basic Income could provide for all those meatbags that have been put out of work, but the fact is, that money would still represent goods and services by virtue of the fact that they would be what that money would be exchanged for.

What it would basically come down to is everyone living on the providence of those who run the machines. The tech oligarchs would effectively become the most powerful people in society.

Under this scenario, the existence of these tech oligarchs as a special interest would soon result in a merger of corporation and state, with said oligarchs soon recognizing an incentive in the mass-removal of those who have the potential to threaten the system, and thus their control of the currency and means of production.

But hey, what historical precedent exists for that kind of scenario?

As much backtracking as it takes to go back to a video game from a grimdark dystopian futuristic scenario, there is a point to video games: to play them. Not that I’m against skipping redundant power-leveling where it can reasonably be done, and it’s certainly great to return to a game after an hour to find that your characters are much more powerful than when you left them.

Having said that, when we buy a video game, we’re paying for an experience. In a similar way that we can justify paying to see a movie or attend a sporting event, we can justify playing games based on how rewarding it is to overcome the challenge that the games present to us, as well as whatever other rewarding aspects there may be to the game, even if we don’t necessarily come away with anything material for the experience.

A moment enjoyed is not wasted.

Am I saying to not let your games autoplay? No, you can play with whatever playstyle suits you. Part of what makes Disgaea an interesting experience is that it rewards players for finding ways to game the system, and the sixth installment gives players another way to do so.

Just how much we allow our robots to do for us is up to us. But if we go too far, we might not have much to show when it comes to lived experience.

My Opinion of the Disgaea 6 Demo

While Disgaea 6 doesn’t drop in North America for Switch until June 29th, the demo for the game is already available on the eShop for free. I’ve decided to check it out, and here is my first impression.

By the looks of it, most of the major systems that you’d remember from Disgaea 5 are there: Quests, Squads, the Skill Shop, they’re there. By the looks of it, the Rage charge feature is out. But as you may expect, mainstays like the Dark Assembly and Item World will be in the final game, even if the Item World is unavailable in the demo.

As far as the gameplay mechanics go, they weren’t broken, so it’s great that they didn’t try to fix them. Okay, they are broken, but in a way that one would expect from the SRPG that deconstructs the genre and embraces everything about SRPGs that make them look overwhelming to those outside looking in.

The first obvious thing that makes Disgaea 6 different is the graphics. I’m not too fond of the idea that the colorful, stylized sprite art has been thrown out in favor of cel-shaded 3D models. Having said that, they don’t look bad, either. Would it have been too much to ask to have given the models outlines so that they’d look more like anime characters, considering that’s what they were going for?

Screen from Gematsu, showing combat.

However, when characters use skills, the animations feature more anime-style models with outlines. These look great. But it also makes the lack of outlines for the regular character models more conspicuous by reason of their absence.

I mostly ignored the story in Disgaea 5, because I didn’t really like it early on. But from what I’ve seen of the story in Disgaea 6 so far, it’s actually interesting. It starts out with the main character, Zed, and his dog breaking in to the Darkest Assembly. There is a meeting in progress concerning what to do about a super-strong overlord wreaking havok. Zed comes in claiming that he already beat the overlord, and from there, it seems that much of the game’s story is Zed recounting to the Darkest Assembly how it happened.

That’s actually pretty clever. If I were to get the full game, I might actually pay attention to the story, this time.

One thing to know about this game is that it’s one of those odd instances in Japanese media where the characters look childish, but the game has humor that more geared towards grown-ups. Even at the game’s outset, it hits with some pretty hard language. That goes to show just how much more laid-back Nintendo has become when it comes to the games that are made for it’s systems. But it might not be a bad idea to wait until the kids are in bed before having a go at this one.

If you’re worried about how the power creep has been hitting the Disgaea series, it pretty much hit Disgaea 6 like a Buick. It’s my understanding that they upped the level cap. That’s right, the game series that’s famous for having characters that could reach level 9999, and have stats in the tens of millions, has actually gone beyond.

Screen from RPGamer, showing a technique in progress. If you could deal quadrillions of points of damage, wouldn’t you smile, too?

What’s more, you also battle higher-level enemies early on, but you also gain more levels at a time, and start out with far higher stats. So, even though you’re playing with higher numbers, mechanically speaking, the game seems to flow in much the same way as previous installments.

While I haven’t given it a try yet, it’s my understanding that there’s an auto-battle feature to help take the edge off the repetitive grinding that you usually see out of this series. As odd as that might sound to console gamers, auto-battle and skip features have been a staple in cellular games for years. It might turn out to be a very welcome QOL feature for fans of a series famous for it’s mechanical power-leveling.

The save data from the demo is supposed to be able to carry over to the full version of the game, so if you really hack away at it, you can get a substantial head-start by the time the game comes out.

Would I buy the full game? Maybe. At this point, the main thing I’d hold against it is that the change in graphical style is a bit of a departure from what I’m used to seeing out of the series. Other than that, it’s looking like Disgaea 6 might actually be a winner.

Strike that giant enemy crab, for massive damage.

This E3, Nintendo pretty much won. Here is my opinion of what’s coming for Switch.

The Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) is easily the biggest video game industry trade show of the year. The big console manufacturers and software publishers save some of their finest to collectively show that the future of gaming is bright.

As usual, a curious eye is on the Japanese company that only grudgingly participates, preferring to do things their own way. Even though Nintendo would rather do things on their own time, that doesn’t mean that they don’t take E3 seriously.

It’s been years since Nintendo adopted a hybrid system approach, but it still comes off as weird to me that they have only one main system to present upcoming software. But with what we’ve seen this year, it’s still going to be quite the system.

Considering this, I’ve decided to do less of an analysis and more of a trash-post about my opinions of software coming for Switch. After all, what would a person come to my blog for rather than my opinion? To regurgitate the observations that the news sites are making would be boring.

(Note: Not all these titles may have been shown at E3 this year)

Metroid Dread

This years surprise of the show is the long-thought-cancelled Metroid Dread, AKA Metroid 5! It’s welcome news that Metroid is returning to its 2D platforming roots. The trailer showed a suspenseful scene in which Samus encountered a robot that was immune to her weapons, leaving the hunter powerless to do anything about it but run.

The gameplay showed a chase scene reminiscent of the SA-X scenes in Metroid Fusion. I’ll be honest, I’m not too jazzed about this, as those were my least favorite parts of Fusion. But if Dread allows for plenty of exploration and sequence breaking, it’ll be interesting to see the playstyles that develop when people start speed-running this one.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 (tentative title)

A new trailer showed that the upcoming BotW sequel will have a heavy emphasis on being airborne, with travel to landmasses suspended in the air. It’s reasonable to suspect that this game would sell millions of copies if all it did was provide the same basic experience as BotW, but with a new scenario, so it’s great that they’re willing to go beyond. The trailer concluded with Hyrule Castle being lifted up by dark tendrils, reminiscent of Ganon’s malice.

The trailer showed a release date of 2022, which is still potentially a while away. Have you beaten Ganon on BotW’s Master Mode, yet?

Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp

If all they did with this one was a couple straight ports of the GBA originals, that would have sufficed for me. Not only that, it’d be great to see one of my favorite strategy games getting some attention for the first time in years. But that in itself wouldn’t justify a $60 price tag.

So, they updated the visuals. And, to be honest, I’m not really that impressed. IMO, I think the anime portraits would have been just fine if they just presented sharper, less aliased versions of the originals. But I find how campy the new portraits look to be a bit distracting.

Oh, please.

There’s a lot to Advance Wars to love, but $60 is a lot to ask for a graphically-souped-up bundle of two GBA games.

Metroid Prime 4

We still don’t have anything to show for this one besides its logo. I know Nintendo likes to throw out the assets and restart development on games that stall, with only the ideas of the game developers to go off of (a practice colloquially referred to as “flipping the table”). I’m suspicious that that’s what happened with this one, and it’s difficult to tell when we might see more of it.

Pokemon D+P Remakes, and Legends: Arceus

I’m still looking forward to the upcoming Pokemon offerings. Because of course. Even at it’s weakest, Pokemon is still fun to play.

As much as I’ve criticized the artistic direction of the D+P remakes, they’d be what I’m looking forward to. Having said that, they definitely could use outlining and cel-shading, so they’d look like the anime-style games that they are.

Splatoon 3

I passed on the first Splatoon, but when I broke down and decided to try its sequel, I found out I was missing out. Splatoon has the potential to rival Mario Kart as the Nintendo party game. But more people need to give it a chance.

And why not? If you bought a Nintendo system, why would something that’s weird and different be off the table?

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny

I’ve already given an opinion on this one, but I’m a bit more open-minded about it now. The gameplay system doesn’t seem like it will change much, which is to be expected. But by the looks of it, you’d have far better animated character models to look at while engaging in hours of repetitive grinding to stand a chance against Tyrant Baal.

Why wouldn’t it be that guy again?

Axiom Verge 2

Thomas Happ is a total badass, and I recommend playing the original before the sequel drops. It’s been delayed multiple times, but I’m still looking forward to the sequel to one of the all-time best indie games.

Happ has pointed out that, if players desire, they could play the sequel first and still enjoy the first when they get around to it. Early material was vague as to whether the second game is in fact a sequel, or a prequel. With how clever Happ has proven himself to be, it’s reasonable to expect something special.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

This game is already out, so why the mention? Because they’re still releasing fighters for it (this time, Kazuya from Tekken). Also, believe it or not, I still haven’t gotten it. Even though they made my dream come true and brought Sephiroth to the fray. Maybe I need more money.

Guardians of the Galaxy

This multiplatform game is also coming to Switch. A noteworthy thing about it is that it will be a streaming game, like something you’d play on Stadia. Personally, I’m not that fond of that idea, as I’d prefer to have a version to play offline, and the knowledge that I’d have a copy of the game that survives the server that hosted the original.

I’m normally somewhat suspicious of licensed games, but I liked the movies, so I might find something endearing, here. Even if just for the duo of Rocket and Groot.

I doubt I’d buy all these games. To play through them all would be a tall order. Sometimes, you gotta choose, and the choice is not easy.

Why I’m Not Looking Forward to Disgaea 6 (or If Madden Were a JRPG)

Sometimes, you come to be known as that guy that likes something obscure. I’ve picked up a few obscure likes, and one of them has been a JRPG series known as Disgaea.

Disgaea is a strategy RPG developed by Nippon Ichi Software (NIS). While most strategy RPGs have exquisite political stories and intricate mechanics, Disgaea deconstructs those by starring bratty characters and by embracing imbalance and over-the-top complexity.

The main characters of the first installment (Disgaea: Hour of Darkness) are motivated by things like money and power (except the foil character, Flonne), but there is a certain morality at play that isn’t immediately evident, and though many of the characters claim to be demons, the true nature of what they are becomes apparent as the game progresses, and factors well into a subtle lesson about how good and evil aren’t necessarily evident by aesthetics.

The main characters of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness: Laharl (center), Flonne (left), and Etna (right)

However, Disgaea isn’t for everyone. Some people might be lured in by the stylistic charm, but quickly be turned off by the over-the-top complexity that quickly becomes evident just on the surface. What’s more, the pacing might be a little slow, even for what basically rewards power-leveling and gaming the system.

I’ve played most of the games, and of them, my favorite is Disgaea 3 (the one that takes place in a college). That one does the best job of catching the charm of the originals, while at the same time doing the most to bring the series forward.

Sadly, by the time of Disgaea 4, things started to go downhill, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so. It’s main draw was that the sprite art was redone for HD. However, that was the only positive thing about the fourth one, as the game system hasn’t changed much compared to the previous installment. Mechanically speaking, each of the more recent games have resembled the third, which means that they haven’t really done much to justify making new installments besides making up new characters and new stories to go with them.

Disgaea 5 held up pretty well (by sticking to the formula), but the writing early on was so cringe that I found myself glad that I had the option of skipping the cutscenes and going straight for the stages. I feel like I’ve enjoyed the game more for it, and I still don’t have any idea what motivates any of the main characters in Disgaea 5 (aside from that Usalia and Majorita can’t stand each other).

Overwhelming to most, but series veterans will feel at home.

So, what do we have to look forward to in Disgaea 6, as far as gameplay mechanics go? By the looks of it, it’s pretty much more of the same. On the one hand, one can point out that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. On the other, one can also point out that if an identical game already exists, then it becomes hard to justify spending an additional $60 on what is basically the same experience.

Then there’s the DLC abuse. If NIS weren’t such an obscure game company, it wouldn’t do such a great job of avoiding the criticism it should be getting for its DLC practices.

If you’re familiar with the Disgaea series up to this point, you know that it’s almost certain that most main characters from previous games will be present in Disgaea 6. The only question is, which characters will be available in the base game, and which ones will be withheld for release as DLC? At this point, we already know that Mao, Rasberyl, Usalia, and other characters are already being planned for DLC, even though the game hasn’t been released yet, which looks suspiciously like they’re being arbitrarily used to further drive up the profitability of the game.

If the characters weren’t complete in time for launch, that would be understandable. But when it seems like a game company knows just what they intend to release as DLC, that’s suspicious. But hey, Disgaea is supposed to be a deconstruction of Strategy RPGs, so maybe a pretense of DLC abuse is part of the humor, and when gamers buy the DLC, they’re participating in the joke.

Pleinair is the mascot of character designer Takehito Harada, and is frequently featured as DLC.

Another reason I’m not looking forward to Disgaea 6 is because my taste in games has changed quite a bit since I was first introduced to the series.

When I first played Disgaea, I was a poor guy. I don’t mean the kind of poor guy who collects hand-outs while at the same time could somehow afford all three major game systems and an enormous screen with which to play them. I mean the kind of poor where you work at a grocery store, and actually attempt to live off what you make. I had little flexibility in my budget, so when I did buy a game, I had to make my choice carefully. So I sought out games with high replay value for the price of admission.

At the time, Disgaea was just the kind of game I was looking for. I liked my games complicated, and with tons of replay value, even if that replay value was artificially inflated by hours of repetitive grinding.

Since then, my budget has been much kinder to me. Not only that, I feel as though my taste in video games is shifting towards the experiential and somewhat away from the strategic. I still enjoy strategy games, but I enjoy them in a different way; not out of a desire to extract as much replay value out of them as I can, but for the fun of exercising my judgement in intricate game systems.

For one thing, it’s great that NIS has discovered that people with Nintendo systems are actually interested in their games. It took them a really, really long time to figure it out, and it wasn’t much help that they tested the waters with droll stuff like Phantom Brave for Wii. It’s kind of ironic, considering that NIS is about as prolific as Nintendo when it comes to sequels, remasters, and generally playing it safe.

However, I would’ve been more excited about it a decade ago. As it is now, I don’t feel much excitement for a game series that I was once really into. While that might sound depressing in a sense, I don’t think so. Sometimes, change is an opportunity to discover something new. And the way it’s looking, Disgaea 6 doesn’t look like it will be doing much of anything new.

Also, it stars a zombie. And I don’t like those.

Fan Trailer Shows What the Pokémon Diamond and Pearl Remakes Would Look Like With a Huge Boost in Quality

When the trailer dropped for the upcoming Pokémon remakes, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, just about everyone was underwhelmed.

(blank stare)

The Pokémon fandom is pretty awesome, and one among them decided to produce a fan trailer for the upcoming D&P remakes. The result looks like what one might expect from the single highest-grossing intellectual property of all time, if produced by a company so rich that they don’t need to turn to a bank to finance their own projects:

The trailer looks like it’s for a video game that would be worth $60. That’s pretty impressive, considering that it was made within days of the official trailer.

Isn’t it something special that one fan could pull off in days what a team of professional game developers with years of experience did not?

In fact, it makes one wonder why the professionals didn’t even bother. In light of this, I’ve come up with a theory: What if the official trailer for Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl is actually showing us Cyrus’ world?

Cyrus (pictured above) is the antagonist of the original Sinnoh games. His ambition was to reshape the universe to eliminate concepts like human emotion, which he viewed to be flawed and incomplete.

In Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, Giovanni formed a group called Team Rainbow Rocket, which was composed of leaders from other teams which were taken from grimdark parallel universes where those team leaders actually succeeded.

If the official trailer for Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl showed us what the world would look like if Cyrus succeeded, it would go a long way in explaining why the humans in that interpretation of the Sinnoh games look so unimaginative and unexpressive.

(blank stare)

Somewhere out there, someone let their save file for Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, or Platinum sit for like ten years, without beating Team Galactic. Therefore, Cyrus seized the opportunity to bring his vision of a world of Nendoroids to life.

That’s why you beat your video games, kids.