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.

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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