I’m not done with everything I bought or wanted to play in 2017, but it’s almost halfway into 2018 and I just finished up the last “major release” of last year that I was interested in. Not going to write about stuff I already wrote about.
To be honest I don’t see why this game was made, except to satisfy Kishida Mel’s desire to draw lots of high school girls. I prefer his designs for Atelier over the ballet-styled magical girl outfits here. The game plays out like a magical girl anime where the protagonists fight monsters and get involved in their classmates’ real life personal problems, except they are all dealt with in a restrained subdued way that doesn’t have the same appeal as actual magical girl shows where the emotions and colors pop out. Some of the topics it mentions are probably targeted at people interested in an older, more “realistic” cast, but the work lacks the motivation to carry anything out. At the end it’s just a lens into a subdued world of high school girls and a magical girl anime that doesn’t have any kind of climax. The conversation that leads into the final boss fight is some random scene where one girl warns another about ネカマ (guys pretending to be girls on the internet).
Also the skirt physics are very detailed and the shirts become see-through if you go outside in the rain, so the target audience is quite obvious. I am probably in the target audience, but I found nothing entertaining about the game even in a pervy way. The dialogue is dull all around and the battle system is both boring and full of long animations. The gameplay systems barely have any thought put into them.
In the last decade, looping worlds and a small group of people getting trapped into a death game are two rather common premises in the template of plot-driven novel games. Using two extremely tried-and-true popular elements, Raging Loop crafts the most uniquely engaging experience I’ve encountered for ages.
This was a game where I simply could not stop reading. Every line you read makes you want to advance to the next one, and the text is never tiring to read despite being far more verbose than I expected out of a console ADV that at first glanced looked like it was more about the twists and turns than the characters and narration. The writer, Amphibian, simply does not slack when it comes to making the game 100% engaging. He is highly aware of how the reader’s mind works when playing through a death game x loop scenario, and manages to keep the protagonist and user on almost the exact same page. When I theorized about the situation in my head, Haruaki would run through the exact same theories I did. When I noticed something unusual or odd about a certain character, he immediately did as well most of the time. Generally loop stories do a good job with aligning the player with the protagonist emotionally, but Raging Loop has the most comfortable point of view in a game for me because the protagonist aligned with me almost perfectly on a logical thinking level. Despite the game being full of suspense and gruesome deaths, I always felt gently embraced by the text and Haruaki’s POV was oddly comfortable to read.
The very concept of a death game invites having a cast of characters that operate on a template of symbols and traits, but Raging Loop avoids that by having extremely in depth characterization and conversations. It leverages its structure that mixes two commonly used premises to create a unique experience where even the characters that seem like throwaway early death stereotypes get the chance to occupy important roles and thorough explorations of their personality. Most characters are incredibly charming in different ways, with plenty of screentime and scenes showing their different sides. The game does not slack in shedding light on every character, exploring them to their logical extremes under a death game situation while remembering to free them from being defined solely by a single action.
At its core, Raging Loop is not only about a thrilling game of Werewolf or its twists, but it’s also an interesting exploration at how a small, isolated community justifies murder through the influence of religious belief. The warping of morality leads to psychological leaps that drive the “werewolves” to justify murder directed by a religious narrative in a superstitious environment and the “humans” to agree to sacrificing a possible innocent for the sake of probability. Every reasoning and logical step appears rational, yet the actions they result in are otherworldly. The presence of a religious narrative that grows in the face of fear and isolation provides an interesting perspective in the way the stopper for murder loosens in perfectly normal humans. The climax of the work as a thriller is the third route, and while some people are of the opinion that the final route feels rushed and has too much of an “explaining every aspect of the mystery all at once” vibe rather than exploring deeper into the interesting psychological themes, but there are still some extremely neat parts and I am mostly satisfied.
There are technically heroines and routes in the game, and while the art doesn’t make it look like a galge, the heroines are actually extremely appealing. Amphibian has a sense for conversation, making all of the character interactions feel meaningful and entertaining. All the heroines are very charming. Something also need to be said for the protagonist, who plays a very big part in making the relationships work. There are countless works that describe girls falling for a dude in the matter of days in rather unnatural ways, but if there was one guy who I could see girls falling for shortly after meeting, it’s Haruaki. As a reader I was sucked into his character and thought process in a matter of minutes. His dialogue is smart, charismatic, but also spiced with a bit of “bad” playfulness that makes for the ultimate handsome guy. The conversations are so smooth you get effortlessly suckered into a world where a real deal ikemen naturally flirts with memorable and attractive heroines. The game has quite the volume and is long, but I blazed through it in a matter of days and could not stop reading because Haruaki was such a fun protagonist to see the world from. I loved all of the heroines and many side characters, but Haruaki is what truly makes the game.
This was probably the most memorable experience I had with a game in the second half of 2017.
I played the trilogy all in one go and would recommend everyone to do the same. The Re;Lord series is probably too weird about what it tries to do for the average consumer expecting a work with an obvious direction and consistency in tone. I’d argue that only people who enjoy eroge as a whole regardless of genre — both the perverted silliness of lighthearted comedy games that come with a stripping battle system and the potential for a serious and focused development that really does go all the way — can handle the harsh tonal difference between the first and third game that is also taken seriously in a smooth and logical transition.
The first game starts out as silly as its stripping battle system, with a storyline about stuffed animals and comical plot developments like the protagonist’s kidnapped father-turned-stuffed-animal getting in his way because he wants to keep getting crushed by the boobs of a hot witch. It’s in line with Escu:de’s other titles in tone, complete with a silly battle system that’s there because it’s a porn game. At first the plot just seemed like a non-serious excuse to strip-battle girls, yet the protagonist Wil is created with special attention and care that seems out of place in such a game. The best way to describe it is Disgaea 4 but in an eroge. Wil not only has an extinct design and a 濃い personality but is also voiced by Furukawa Tetsuto outside of eroscenes, leading experienced players on that there is something lurking below the silly and comedic events of the first game. There is striking consistency in his characterization, even in eroscenes where he does not waver in his admiration for his dad and mantles.
The series doesn’t really show its true colors until the end of the second game, which is why it’s such a hard series to recommend. Normally speaking, people who actually want a story like what Re;Lord eventually becomes would not be thrilled to play the first game, and those who enjoy the first game for what it is are likely to be turned off by the ending to the second game and the entirety of the third game for their cruelly serious developments. It starts with the most eroge premise ever, and ends up being nothing like a modern eroge by the third game. The experience felt similar to Kikaijikake no Eve, where the premise, gameplay, and lighthearted parts are exactly like what you would expect only from an eroge (where else but porn games will you find a dildo-manufacturing simulator) but it turns into a completely different beast by the end. The difference is that Eve’s direction is easier to understand since the prologue properly sets the tone for what it eventually becomes, whereas Re;Lord is quite smooth and linear in its transition from “disney” to “real deal”.
I found the series engaging and entertaining most of the time, and despite the extremes in tone between the beginning an end, it’s actually a really smooth narrative experience. The events are gradually built up to and the foreshadowing is done quite well, slowly leading the player to expect the events of the third game even when they are literally trying to strip a witch and watching the protagonist’s dad indulge in his masochistic fetishes. Those familiar with the writer’s previous game, Furuiro Meikyuu Rondo, may see a link in how the concept of 運命/destiny is interpreted in Re;Lord 3, and while it doesn’t go as deep into it as the former, it’s overall a much more leveled exploration with less sudden developments that come harshly at the player.
My favorite thing about Re;Lord is how it develops into a focused relationship between Wil and a main heroine who has no eroscene, and takes everyone else seriously as individuals with different agendas and roles in the grand events that eventually unfold. In a completely natural way. Wil’s doofus of a dad is a silly comic relief that is also amazingly taken seriously in the third game, and the other heroines and subheroines are depicted in completely unheroine-like fashions with no 媚び to the player or protagonist. In many games you’d expect the heroines and subheroines to get some special heroine-like salvation, and for them to develop special feelings for the protagonist. In Re;Lord 3 they live out the logical conclusions to their roles and circumstances, carrying out their purpose as a character even if it goes against their very development as an eroge heroine. Of the witches, I enjoyed Iris the most.
The main heroine is great, and the one truly romantic scene the game builds up to is worth it. It’s nice seeing a relationship where both sides work, and only for each other. This is a true 純愛 game.
Sen no Kiseki III
This was the longest Kiseki game at 116 hours for me. I found it to be a lot better than Sen I and Sen II, and it actually feels like what I originally expected Sen I to be. The military academy setting actually feels like a military academy instead of a school that rich kids attend for status. The scenario also involves the entire school a lot better, bringing all the other classmates together into the main plot. I’m enjoying the new cast and Rean’s new position a lot more than the old class VII, and the second half of the game is really good. The main downside is that a lot of the dialogue writing is carried over from Sen I and II, leading to a lot of weirdly sanitized and inhuman filler dialogue in the first two chapters (which, by the way, took me over 50 hours). The ふふはは stuff and stiff dialogue templates really bring down the beginning, and even returning favorites from Sora sound a lot more sanitized here.
I have to praise the third chapter for bringing back the feeling of Kiseki that I missed from the Sora and Crossbell days –a special kind of fun that was missing in the restrained scripts of Sen I and II. I live for that kind of moment. The rest of the game is full on exciting plot and building up to what should be cool events, which I hope actually happen since we’ve had 3 extremely long games of buildup. I enjoyed it a lot more than Sen I and II, and am excited for Sen VI with a reasonable level of hype. Not expecting another Ao no Kiseki, but I am practically married to the series now and unlikely to file a divorce.
Dragon Quest XI (3DS version)
It’s a very solid Dragon Quest, probably the second one I’ve managed to finish. With that said, it’s a Dragon Quest. I’m inclined to say that what you like about Dragon Quest will be in it, and what you didn’t like about the games when you last tried one will also probably be in it. I can imagine DQ as a series representing a home to return to for long time fans: no matter how many unusual, unpolished, horribly broken, or lacking-in-content JRPGs you get tricked into buying, you will always have the next DQ to count on with its familiar battle system and promise of an adventure.
With that said, I don’t actually enjoy DQ unless I’m in a specific mood. The battle system is the standard turn-based system people came to expect as a staple of JRPGs since the 90’s, despite how every modern JRPG is actually quite different and always has something setting it apart from the old template. The characters are well-defined and make up a fun party that should have an interesting dynamic, but the script is minimalist like an SNES game. Many people probably prefer this over modern games that tend to have too much tedious conversations that don’t seem to go anywhere, but I realized I prefer watching a bunch of characters talking to each other while going on an adventure rather than experiencing my own adventure with party members that give me room for imagination. The dialogue says enough to show off the characters’ quirks and further the plot but doesn’t really provide satisfying interactions between party members outside of a few scenes or memorable lines. I enjoyed Veronica and Kamyu the most since their scenes and dialogue stood out in comparison to the rest of the party.
Many people have praised the story and characters of DQXI, claiming that they’re the best or one of the best DQ has ever had. I haven’t played enough DQs to do anything but nod along since I was a lot more engaged in the scenario than in DQIX with its silent customizable party members. The story starts out pretty engaging since it went differently than I expected, but it soon gave way to the old JRPG template of collecting x magic items required for y major event in a roundabout way by going to various kingdoms and solving their problems. I lost my interest and attention span quite hard there since the new places I had to visit weren’t that interesting (aside from an underwater place that was really cool). This isn’t a problem limited to DQ (a lot of my personal favorites have parts like this but disguised better) but DQ’s 王道 template makes the elements I don’t like about certain older games a lot more obvious. It took a while for things to actually become interesting again, but the eventful parts of the story are pretty good. I liked the turn of events in the final third of the game at least, and the plot is strung together pretty well on a high-level view.
Gameplay-wise, it’s the simplistic turn-based battle system that many have grown a fondness for. At some point it was everywhere, but by 2017 it seems like nothing else new on console actually uses such a straightforward pure turn-based system with no other special mechanics. I don’t dislike it, but I don’t like it any better than the battle systems of previous DQs I’ve tried. I think my favorite part of the gameplay is actually the skill palette since later on you can cheaply reset your build and test out various different directions with each character. The dungeons are all quite simplistic and the difficulty felt nonexistent until the last few bosses, which might be my fault because I ran into metal slimes a lot more often than I expected. Still, I was not a fan of how the dungeons…didn’t feel like I was going through a dungeon. There are some special monsters that you can take control of to do special actions like jumping or scaling the wall or riding currents up and down, and I was really hoping to see more interesting puzzles using them.
I don’t think anyone who dislikes what Dragon Quest stands for in the JRPG space or got bored in previous games will necessarily change their mind with DQXI, but it’s a good entry point into the series for anyone who’s interested. People who like Dragon Quest games will probably love it as it’s a very solid entry in the series.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle
While it’s not as good as Sophie as being a game focused on the classic Atelier concept of running a shop and taking requests, nor is it an impressive adventure with bold gameplay focus like Firis, Lydie & Suelle sees a major improvement in writing compared to the previous games in the series. My main beef with the Fushigi series was that the scenario and text are extremely dull and lack direction, resulting in a simplistic script with no charisma and only some extremely bizarre and poorly timed attempts at humor. Compared to Arland and even the early parts of Tasogare, the Fushigi series felt like it was just not trying at all when it comes to the scenario. Lydie & Suelle basically fixes that by having actually entertaining character interactions, countless hilarious scenes with great comedic timing, and a main scenario that is actually quite moving while firmly sticking to the game’s theme of being just an RPG about daily life.
やっぱり世界を救わない、日常系RPG is a fitting descriptor for the game. It revolves around the titular pair of twins as they travel through magical paintings. Unlike the Tasogare series which is set in a fully fantasical world with rich otherworldly elements or Firis and her journey through an impressively varied world map, Lydie and Suelle are just running their Atelier and taking on requests while trying to improve their rank. The dungeons depicted in the paintings are extravagant and romantic, letting their visitors experience rich scenery worlds beyond the normal forests, wastelands, and mountains that they get to visit in real life to gather materials. While they get to briefly glimpse into the epic narratives that the paintings tell, it is merely a glimpse.
The phantasmagoric worlds of paintings are alluring sure, but at the end of the day this game is about alchemists doing their work in real life to solve some problems around the town. The game truly shines in its slice of life moments and the main scenario ends up focusing on a very small-scale, personal subject to the protagonists that is moving because it is personal. Despite sharing a cheery atmosphere with Atelier Sophie, L&S managed to fill me with a warmth that I never felt before when engaging with the series. Each scene knows precisely what it’s set out to do, leading to an impressive level of direction despite being even more of a slice of life story than previous games. Plus the writers are a lot less restrained in depicting each character’s weird quirky traits, while simultaneously being better at balancing comedic scenes with scenario intended to be taken seriously.
Lydie and Suelle probably doesn’t beat its predecessors in any department as an actual game, but it’s a high quality slice-of-life scenario that finally conveys what the Fushigi subseries wants to be. It’s the first time in years where I felt satisfied by the text in an Atelier game.
Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth: Hacker’s Memory
Hacker’s Memory is a story that runs parallel to 2015’s Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth, showing the world and events through the perspective of a newbie hacker Keisuke and the hacker team he joins, Hudie. It sort of tells the back side of the events in Cyber Sleuth, not from the side of the “protagonists” but from the view of a normal hacker who has no choice but the react to the events happening around him.
Keisuke is in an interesting position as he begins the game with his EDEN account (basically your entire online identity) hacked and stolen, and takes a break from school to join the hacker team Hudie for the opportunity to track down the perpetrator and get his account back. He develops a strong bond with his team, and Hacker’s Memory becomes not a story about bringing down an evil organization or saving the world, but a story about the lengths one in the 裏 will deal with the 表 events in order to preserve the camaraderie of their team.
Hacker’s Memory further explores the futuristic world where the internet is a lively virtual reality integrated into people’s everyday lives, presenting many sidequests with distinct scenarios to give the player a taste of the technologically advanced world on many levels. EDEN forces you to use an avatar that matches your appearance in real life, but there are many illegal and grey zone operations that take place. A salaryman tracks down his childhood friends and they use questionable methods to make avatars of their childhood appearances and play as children in a private server where no one talks about their real life occupations. Rich old men with dulled senses and damaged organs pay high prices to buy other people’s memories of drinking the best coffee in the world for the first time to inject the sensation into their brains and monopolize the very experience of drinking said coffee. A cruel classroom cheating situation occurs where illegal and hard to detect EDEN login devices are used to simultaneously log the entire class into EDEN in the middle of an exam into a private server and the smart wimpy kid is forced to control everyone else’s bodies to write correct answers on the exam. The game explores many interesting scenarios about normal human life in a hyper technological society, depicting a mix of strange and possibly dark situations in an upbeat and colorful world full of excitement.
Central to the game’s theme is the border between real and virtual, and what makes one’s identity. I liked how it went further than its predecessor on the aspect of memory and identity, which makes the final scene with the main heroine, Erika, quite memorable. I don’t think it goes nearly as far in exploration as something like Baldr, but I was very satisfied with the ending of the game.
My main problem with the game is that its “Chapters” are poorly sectioned off, it’s long and the middle parts are quite slow as there are literally chapters where you just take on hacking jobs from clients. The gameplay and flow is also the same as the previous game so it gets repetitive and tiring. You mostly just accept a request –> go through a very short dungeon –> defeat a Digimon who is causing the problem. There is a new system where you battle for territory between two hacker teams and I found it more fun that just going through dungeons but it doesn’t get used to its full potential. Speaking of dungeons they are reused from the last game and don’t feel like proper RPG dungeons at all (mostly small areas). It doesn’t feel like they improved anything in the gameplay aside from adding some more Digimon. The importance of defense/int-piercing attacks are as prominent as last game, and I basically played this game the same way as I did then. The hard mode difficulty balancing is also weird, but at least some of the bosses felt like real boss fights on hard.
Overall I found many parts of the game to be cool but there is a lot of 中だるみ. I was actually trying to do all the optional quests as they popped up until chapter 15 or so, which definitely contributed to my burn out. I had enough of the system by the time I finished Cyber Sleuth in 2015. The Japanese release bundles Cyber Sleuth with Hacker’s Memory so it’s actually an extremely good deal as each game is over 50 hours long.
After I finished Xenoblade 2 I went back to play Xenoblade 1, which I found to be a much more well-directed game. The scenes are focused, the story is smoothly paced, and I even thought the dank reveals at the end were better executed. It’s overall a much more consistent experience than Xb2. The sidequests were massively annoying though, since you had to track down people who had timed daily schedules with no indicator on the map until you are close.
There’s still other stuff I played in 2017 and games that I intend to play sometime, but yeah it’s a pretty cool year.