Miniview: Deep Labyrinth

I love…
…the story. Well, the one I’m playing right now; the game has two stories, or chapters, and I’m not sure whether and how they connect. I started with the first as, well, they might connect, and the difficulty is supposed to be lower. I’m not used to real-time games, and I figure I should learn to play before I start running. This one’s supposed to be the ‘lighter’ story, but thus far it’s turning out to be darker than what I’d expect from that.

I like…
…the magic system. Like Lost Magic, Deep Labyrinth has you drawing characters with the stylus for spells, and though most work separately, you can combine some characters to make more spells; I just love this kind of magic system, even if it rarely comes close to what Words of Power did. Enemies are usually colour-coded to show element or elemental weakness, and provided you can recall what the glyph is for the spell you want, magic is a pretty good way of dealing with things, as long as you have MP.
…the graphics. It’s 3D like Eternal Ring is – I should play that once I’m done with this – but it doesn’t try to do much more than the system can do. It’s all passable-to-good; environments are good and there’s a decent amount of variety in the decorations, whilst NPC models – mice in particular – are somewhat samey. Enemy models are fairly good, and outside of the dungeon you encounter them in, don’t repeat – they are reused to show off enemy elements or weaknesses, I guess, but it isn’t overdone, and with only one exception every model in the second dungeon is different from those in the first. Boss models look nice, too.
…the music. Sound effects are probably going to get repetitive, eventually, but haven’t yet, and the music is pretty nice, and doesn’t sound too synthetic.

I loathe…
…sword combat. Well, I don’t loathe it, but I’ve got three sections here, two of which are positive and one negative. Different stylus gestures mean different sword strikes – across the diagonals, or straight down, or horizontal. Enemies have weakspots, and the game suggests that some of them are weak to certain strikes, but it’s really difficult to tell whether you got a good hit in, or whether you got a lucky critical. Some enemies are invulnerable to the sword except in certain bits of their animation, and some can’t easily be hit by certain strokes, and that’s pretty nice, but I don’t know about weakness to specific strokes otherwise…
…boss stun animations. Thus far, every boss has been a matter of running straight up to it and hitting it until it dies. That’s all you have to do to avoid being hurt – no boss thus far has had an attack that works faster than my attack, and being stunned from getting hit interrupt their attempt at attacking me. Most also don’t move, and don’t seem to have ranged attacks, so there’s little to save them. One gave me hope, then they threw me against a dragon which stayed where it sat. I hope future bosses are more tough.
…movement. Everything but this is controlled by the stylus, and everything else controls fairly well. Movement, however, is via the d-pad, and is pretty insensitive – aiming for magic is a chore, as you can’t target-lock things unless you’re within melee range. It’d be worse if they also tried to control this via stylus, but as-is, my hand aches and I haven’t been playing for too long.
…swordsmen who throw their swords and then instantly have another reappear in their hands. That move is powerful, they do it when you’re out of melee range, and dodging it in a corridor is difficult. I wish it had a cooldown.

Verdict
Worth getting, as it’s pretty cheap for how good it is. Nothing much brings it above less-obscure games, though, aside from that. It also boasts of being the ‘First ever 3D first person RPG for NDS’ on Amazon… and is, I guess, as it came out before Orcs & Elves, which it surpasses. The plot’s more interesting and it’s more challenging.

Miniview: Monster Hunter Freedom Unite

I love…
…being able to import a character from a MHF2 save file. Nice to be able to continue with that one, if I want.
…the new and improved Item Box. Instead of stacks limited to sizes you can carry, everything seems to stack to x99. You can still only carry, say, 10 Potions at a time, but all of a sudden there’s much more room for loot. You can also combine things within the item box, with all valid combinations automatically being highlighted, not just known ones. In most cases relating to items, you can now take or throw things directly into the box – when employed Felynes ask for items, or when dealing with the loot post-mission.
…the Felyne stuff. Comrades are very nice, aside from the unfortunate tendency to hit ME with the bombs more often than the monsters. Employed Felynes now throw up a menu when they ask for items, which suggests they’ll be asking for more than one type at once, eventually. Also, I swear the dismissal sequence didn’t look like that in MHF2.

I like…
…how this one has a proper manual. MHF2’s was more of a pamphlet than anything, with minimal information on things gameplay-related, and less on anything else. Unite’s manual explains things much better.
…that the bow now has a paint shot. That was a really strange omission, given bowguns could do it, and I was always better at hitting stuff with a bow than with something thrown.
…the random nice little touches all around the game; you’re told when your Guild Card is updated, you’re allowed to throw items won after a mission directly into the item box, you can now change your basic clothing along with your hairstyle… though you’re ever less likely to see it than hair.

I loathe…
…Kushala Daora, still. I can’t think of anything to do with MHFU specifically, though.
…oh, wait. I’ve got something; the acronym sounds slightly rude.

Verdict

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is essentually MHF2+. There are a fair number of extra missions floating around, though right at the moment I can only access one, thanks to Kushala Daora. There’s some new music, the most obvious piece playing during Data Install – Unite’s improvement on F2’s pre-loading option. New weapons, too. Since Unite isn’t the cost of a full game by default, I think it’s a good purchase if you’re interested in the series, and a great point to start at if you’re new.

Miniview: Fathom (Browser-based)

I love:
…the atmosphere; the music, the surroundings, what the game looks like it’s a copy of. It’s lovely in the same way that Cave Story or Shadow of the Colossus are. Or, well, Eversion.
…the final area of the game, though I’m still not sure what on Earth happened.

I like:
…that boss. That fight is interesting on a couple of levels.
…what happens after that. It’s difficult to tell with only the small visible area, but pay close attention to the areas you’re exploring.

I loathe:
…the controls for the ‘main’ part of the game. Controlling your movement is difficult when you can only see clearly in the direction you came from, and can’t clearly see yourself, let alone what’s ahead.
…how the ending is a bit ‘…what on Earth just happened?’ Scratch that. See: the second point I love.

Verdict:
Go on, just play it. It won’t take long.

Miniview: MyBrute (Browser)

MyBrute.

I love:
…um. Hm. Nothing, honestly. It’s personal taste, but I don’t even think most of the graphics top even the Dino-RPG ones. I just don’t care for most of the style. The pet dog is okay, though, I suppose.
…how you don’t have to register to play the game. I knew there was something I thought nifty about it. You CAN register and add a password to ‘your’ Brute if you don’t want anyone else consuming all the day’s fights, all three of them, leaving you with nothing to watch in the evening, but you don’t have to.

I like:
…the totally interactionless fighting. I don’t love it as much as I did for Dino-RPG, though, as whilst there are many more options available to your little AI-controlled Brute, it seems completely random what it will do next. At least the dino doesn’t seem so much like wilful underperformance or the roll of a die. There just doesn’t seem to be much in the way of intelligence in that AI, and every so often you’ll see it do something stupid like… throw away its weapon in favour of something with worse accuracy when one more attack would kill the opponent, or throw a net on a target and then immediately attack it, breaking said net. But it’s still relaxing watching the Brute fight, incidents like that aside.

I loathe:
…the complete and utter randomness of it all. You don’t control the fights; it’s soothing to watch, though. Less soothing is the almost utter lack of interaction everywhere else. The only ways you can have any effect on your Brute are in choosing who to fight – based on very incomplete information – or through recruiting new players. Both of which give your Brute experience, win or lose in the case of a fight. You’ll lose a lot; the AI is dumb, as mentioned above, and you can’t choose what your Brute gets on level – if there’s any logic to what stats, weapons or bonuses you get when you gain a level, I can’t see it. If everything were fair and balanced, this would be a screensaver, and boring at that. However…
…the sheer unbalanced-ness of some of the level bonuses. Some of the things a Brute may get when they level are just plain unbalanced; take… the pet Bear, for example, essentially an ambulatory Club. Or the axe, which does close to one-hit kills on Brutes with normal HP for their level and only just edges out the Club. Or Pugilist, which lets you get a free hit much of the time after you’re attacked. Thankfully, due to the whole ‘randomness’ thing, you don’t face things with these or other broken stats all the time, but it also turns out very frustrating when you find your Brute facing any Brute that, by luck, got a Halberd at the same point yours got something like a fruit knife. You can guess that anyone without high stats or HP has weapons or pets or further invisible bonuses instead, but other than that, you’ve no idea what you’re getting into.

Verdict:
Well, it’s from the same people who brought us Dino-RPG. Still not quite as bad, though it’s still rather ‘meh’. It’s Progress Quest with graphics and a limit on how much you can do each day.

Miniview: Dino-RPG (Browser)

Dino-RPG

I love:
…interaction-void battles. They’re simplistic – you always know what attack your dino is going to do next, if you can remember the highest-strength to lowest-strength order of its elemental attacks – but they’re just nice to watch.

I like:
…the art. It’s cartoony, yes, but it looks like Pokemon bred with Jade Cocoon; there are races of monsters, and then there are monsters within the races that focus on different elements, and as such have different appearances. The map isn’t bad, either; visitable locations are obvious, even if the routes between locations aren’t always what you expect.

I loathe:
…the slow-as-molasses and/or expensive recovery of HP. Okay. My one dino has 100 HP maximum. It is currently at 10 HP. Recovering to maximum without spending extra gold requires doing nothing for ninety hours. Because you only recover one point an hour. As for the ‘expensive’ part, you get around… 200 to 300 gold for a fight, and healing items cost 700 gold minimum… which gets you 10 HP, and you probably took damage in that fight, too. Apparently eventually you can find an item that lets you recover 5HP at midnight in a specific location. Wow. [/sarcasm]
…the inherent slowness of the game in general, come to think of it. Sure, you could buy extra dinos – at between 16000 and 20000 gold – to direct around, but it’s still only one action – one fight, one movement – every… five hours, now, and still ramping up. I think it’s eventually supposed to plateau around one action every twenty-four hours, barring buying an expensive item that gives you one extra action. From here, we leap to…
…how the game is seemingly designed to make you pay real money to get anywhere in any decently-quick length of time. The three ever-present labelled links on the left bar of the UI? The highest one is ‘Get Coins’, which takes you to a screen where you can spend real money. People moaned about how the Zork online game seemed made to take your money, but this one is worse. Zork, at least, grew on me and became soothing, even if I still can’t decipher how your chance of winning is calculated for a fight. Decent online games allow more than a single action a day – Legends of Zork allows 25 to 30 turns, stacking to somewhere around 99 if you don’t spend them. Kingdom of Loathing offers 30 to 50, unspent turns collecting up to 200 total. Billy vs SNAKEMAN depends on your rank, but can give you over 50 if you plan things well, but they don’t rollover. This game gives you one and one only, unless you buy those potions.

Verdict:
…meh. Initially promising in concept, but the incredibly-low limit on how many things you can do in the day is a real turn-off. Nice art will never save you from that. Go play Jade Cocoon, Azure Dreams or absolutely any other monster-raising game instead; nice art and good gameplay.

Miniview: Time Hollow (DS)

I love:
…seeing things change as you mess around with the past. Time Hollow takes a stance similar to that of Shadow of Memories, where whilst the present changes with the alterations you make in the past, the protagonist – the character making the changes – remains mostly untouched; he has flashbacks of the new present’s ‘memories’, which serve to tell you how and why the new present differs from the old one, but otherwise is the same person he was before the change happened.

I like:
…visual novels, in general. This is one of the odd genre of games that sits somewhere between pure visual novels and proper point-and-click style games, filled with puzzles; I uneasily class it as an adventure game, but it has far less puzzles than a game like Another Code, Hotel Dusk, or Flower, Sun and Rain contains. At times I found myself wishing for ‘better puzzles’, or a protagonist as quick on the uptake as the player, but Time Hollow focuses on telling a good story, to great effect.

I loathe:
…a few, nagging loose ends. On the whole, Time Hollow does a very good job of dealing with these, even if you’d need to make a diagram to keep everything straight, but there are a few points that are never really answered, or weren’t in the playthrough I just completed. They kind of stand out.

Verdict:
A pretty good game, though any ‘challenge’ involved is fairly non-challenging. It’s similar to games like this one or the Fedora Spade games, where you just need to make sure to examine everything and talk to everyone, and make a few deductions yourself, to move the plot on. That said, it – and those others – tell very good stories, and are all worth checking out if you enjoy that kind of thing.

Miniview: The Path (PC)

I love:
…the atmosphere, and exploration. I don’t know how large the woods are, yet, but tomorrow – when I have enough time for the snail’s pace paces – I’ll get to it. Even just walking along the path seems fairly… not realistic, but true to life? Seedlets float on the wind, insects can be heard in the grass, and birds occasionally fly past, or land on the path nearby.
…how the game handles interaction. The controls in general, really; hold the mouse-button to walk. Move the mouse to turn. Let go to stop. Let go near something your character of choice will interact with – different for each of them – and they’ll do something. Fairly simple, very easy to pick up.

I like:
…getting a rank at the end of the journey. It might seem rather mundane, but… yeah. You get ranked. You get told how many things you’ve missed. I, (un)fortunately, am a gamer; I like knowing I’m getting somewhere, working towards something. This doesn’t really spoil anything – it doesn’t tell you what there IS to find, just that there are things out there that you haven’t seen.

I loathe:
…the walking speed. I know why it’s slow, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing it were at least a little quicker. Though it is nice seeing a walking animation that doesn’t slide over the floor one way or another.
…the lack of footsteps, talking of walking. For all the other effects the game has, it’s very strange that there’s no sound for footsteps. It’s not too obvious on a dirt path, but once you hit something different, it’s very strange walking silently with a cricket in the background, and a girl humming.
…the screenshots. Nothing to do directly with the game, but it looks far prettier in those than on my screen. Maybe I should see if there are settings to poke at, but as is… well, it still looks nice, but not as great as the screenshots suggest.

Verdict:
Tale of Tales’ previous major thing, The Graveyard, was not a game to me; there was no challenge, very little to be discovered in the tiny world, and ‘buying’ the thing just added one possible outcome which didn’t seem any more entertaining than what you get in the free version. You can’t fail… unless you buy it and don’t like it, but that’s more of a metagame, and not a proper loss. I’d call it ‘art’, but… no, still not enjoyable. Appreciable, perhaps, but I prefer even my art to have some kind of interaction. Shadow of the Colossus is more my kind of ‘art’.
The Path, however, is much more like a game than the Graveyard; there are choices, there’s more than one possible outcome, and it’s possible to miss things. You probably still get what you pay for, though. I don’t know if the screenshots in previews were using better settings or something, but I’ll need to check next time I play.

Miniview: Soul Nomad & the World Eaters (PS2)

I love:
…the fighting system reminiscent of Ogre Battle; each of your units on a map is really a collection of four or more characters with set moves depending on where you place them. When you direct your units to fight, you see each character in the unit attacking the enemy unit in a non-interactive sequence. It’s pretty close to that old SNES game, as far as the actual fights are concerned, and on the whole the game is more army-like than squad-like than all the other NI games I’ve seen.
…being able to randomly bully, steal from or kidnap any NPC you can chat to outside of a cutscene. Or to randomly be kind, instead.

I like:
…the graphical style. Nippon Ichi games have always been an example of why pixel-based graphics aren’t necessarily worse than 3D models. The sprites are the usual nicely-drawn pixel pieces, whilst maps are… well, literally maps, drawn as something you’d unfurl on a table. I can’t say I love the change, but at least it looks nice, as usual. Disgaea 2’s maps were a bit ugly in places.
…playing in a mortal world, rather than a Netherworld. I don’t know why, but I always preferred the setting of Phantom Brave to that of Disgaea or Makai Kingdom. Maybe it’s actually having a world map? Netherworld games aren’t particularly supportive of those, taking place over one or more Netherworlds linked by dimensional gates. Pity there isn’t even as much to do on the world map as there is in any ‘Final Fantasy Tactics’-esque game.

I loathe:
…how this game is pretty much out-of-stock everywhere by now. I missed this game when it first came out, and ended up paying extra for the copy I just bought. Worth it, but… oww, my wallet.

Verdict:
Very worth picking up… if you see it anywhere. It IS different from the usual fare, like how Phantom Brave was, but like Phantom Brave, it’s not disappointing.

Miniview: R-Type Tactics (PSP)

I love:
…the hex-based side-view battle system. I suppose it’s not greatly different from top-down hex-based systems, but certain things – such as fog-of-war, and weapon ranges – act quite differently from usual when encountering obstructions.
…the script. Though a lot of the plot is simply in the pre- and post-mission reports from… well, you, or your character, the commander of your forces… they’re very well-written.
…decoys. They’re fun. Good for scouting and good for detonating on enemy units.

I like:
…named pilots. Renameable pilots, actually. It’s R-Type – your units
are ships and your ships have pilots, much like any futuristic
squad-based strategy game. Pilots have skill and gradually gain in skill as you use them, and can pilot different types of units – captains pilot warships, squads pilot your smaller, more common units – collectively called Fighters, but there’s also a single unit called a Fighter, which is a bit confusing – and remotes handle any Forces you bring out.
…how they’ve kept to R-Type – and general side-scrolling shooter – elements; Fighters, for example – the ships you pilot in more mainstream R-Type games – can attach themselves to Forces, and gradually charge up their Wave Cannon over multiple turns. All your ships face and travel to the right to meet enemy forces – Bydo and other enemy units, such as human units in training exercises, travel left. I don’t know how this translates to versus mode; it’d be nice if the map were flipped and you always travelled right, no matter who you played.

I loathe:
…how the turn-change sequence spoils things. Imagine: orders to return to base have been cancelled, and you are instead ordered to take several units down to Mars, to retrieve research data from an abandoned research outpost. This is the first mission featuring fog-of-war, and it has a much larger map than the training exercises the previous missions were. So I don’t know what I’m going to be facing. Right up until I finish my first turn, at which point I’m told the Bydo Armada is making its moves.

Verdict:
I picked this up for cheap, preowned, but from the state of the game and materials, I’d say this is pretty close to good-as-new. Maybe someone bought it for a Christmas present, expecting a typical R-Type game? It even has information cards on previous games, still in a sealed bag.
Whoever took this back to Gamestation missed out on a good, unusual strategy game.
Ah, well. Their loss is my gain.

Miniview: Bars of Black and White (Browser)

I love:
…the barcode reader. I’ve always been interested in the use of machine-readable patterns – such as barcodes, or QR codes – to convey or, more commonly, act as a link to person-readable information. So I love the idea of using them as a variation on the ‘writing on the wall’ technique.

I like:
…what the barcodes translate to. They’re nice, but it seems like it’s trying too hard to impress a message on the player, but it’s difficult to tell exactly what it is; it’s definitely trying to tell the character you play something, though. ‘Paranoia is sometimes justified’? ‘You’re imagining everything’? ‘Pay more attention to the world around you’? I read short science-fiction a lot. I get those messages all the time. It’s getting a little dull.

I loathe:
…that the ‘puzzles’ are very simple, and all you really need to solve them is a keen eye. In short, there’s absolutely no challenge to simply completing this ‘room-escape’ game. There isn’t even much challenge in finding all the barcodes. This is probably why there are no badges.

Verdict:
If you read 365 tomorrows, any other short science-fiction site, or even short fiction in a book at all, you may have heard all this game will say before.
It’s still an interesting play, as though the concept of barcodes and QR codes to link to people-readable information is old, I’ve never seen it used before in a game. It’s also really, really short, and low-challenge, so it’s quick to beat.

Bars of Black and White @ Kongregate

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