Kotaku Column, Podcasts, etc

It’s been busy for me lately! But not in a bad way. It’s all been fun stuff.

I’ve started writing a column on sex games at Kotaku! Which I cheekily named Come Yourself To Death (I’m very excited to cover Hadaka Shitsuji when that localization comes out). So far there are two pieces, the first on the yuri (girl/girl romance) game Kindred Spirits on the Roof and the second on a game jam game about explicit consent, Cute Demon Crashers. I have a list of interesting games I plan to play and write about, so please look forward to that!

And on the podcast front last weekend I was a guest on Idle Weekend! My friend Danielle and I talked about Mystic Messenger, Yuri!!! on Ice, and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. Meanwhile, a bit ago myself and Mattie Brice tentatively launched the first episode of our podcast, called Affection Points, where we discuss particular games. The first episode we have is on Style Savvy, a game we both dearly love and would discuss often at local bars.

Otherwise I’ve been helping out other journalists as “otome consultant”, providing guidance for this Mystic Messenger article on Vice and this Mystic Messenger article on Kotaku. Mystic Messenger is very popular lately!

Manga — Persona Q

The Persona Q game combines two of my favorite thing—Persona fanfiction and Etrian Odysseys map-drawing. With all the manga news coming out of Anime Expo and Comic-Con this past week I’ve been reminded about the existence of separate manga adaptations of the Persona 3 side and the Persona 4 side of the game. And that they’re readily available to read through Crunchyroll Manga, thanks to publisher Kodansha, if you have a paid subscription! Print versions will be coming in Feb-March 2016.

I just read the Side: P3 version first since that’s the route I took when playin the game (I missed Shinjiro) and I wanted to see if it differed at all. The Side: P3 artist, Sou Tobita, draws really cute expressions and tiny dynamic character poses. Side: P4’s style, drawn by Mizunomoto, has slightly more realistic proportions but still in-line with the game’s super-deformed character designs.

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It’s hard to tell how much you’ll get out of these comics if you haven’t already played Persona 3 or Persona 4 and gotten attached to some of the characters. Though the set-ups do a pretty good job of explaining Persona Q’s unique situation and the different Persona games’ particular oddities.

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Also recently announced was UDON Entertainment is bringing over the Persona Q artbook and the Persona 4 manga adaptation into English! (You can preorder the print edition here) This is really exciting as I’ve been holding off buying the Persona Q artbook in Japanese and I’ll buy pretty much any Persona 4 adaptation that exists.

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Games — JRPGJuly — Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

Every month my friend Anne names a genre theme and encourages people to pick up and play a game within it, sharing your experiences with everyone! A community game-along, if you will. It’s a whole lot of fun when I can actually participate. Luckily the game jam I was organizing just finished and I had some bandwidth to get lost in something else.

This month’s theme is JRPGs! A genre near and dear to my heart. For my choice I decided to give Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne another go. I’ve owned a copy on PS2 for years now but had only put a few hours into it, though I liked what I saw. Considering the game is on sale for a mere $5 on PSN at the moment I opted to download it to my PS3 and start over.

Unlike Persona games, the Shin Megami Tensei series doesn’t have a social sim and romantic encounters, instead delving into the esoteric and encouraging more direct relations with the demonic. Nocturne in particular has a very cinematic feel to it, with its quick camera cuts and Lynchian set-pieces. Though you do have to endure a bit of old school grind in order to progress to the juicy bits. I’m really enjoying my time with the game and it’s quickly climbing up to one of my favorites. Also it’s really nice seeing how many of my friends on Twitter are so excited I’m playing it. Nocturne is indeed a cult classic.

There’s still time! You should pick out a game and start sharing your play experiences on the #JRPGJuly hashtag! It’s quite lively and fun! And maybe you’ll get exposed to a game you never considered interesting before.

Games — Fire Emblem Fates — First Comes Love

Lots of rumors and incomplete information have been floating around in regards to the new Fire Emblem game’s marriage system, with the inclusion of the mysterious new same-sex A+ social ranks but the unexplained inability for the main character to partake in those. Polygon confirmed in a statement directly from Nintendo that Fire Emblem Fates will have some same-sex S-rank marriage options, but it’s still a bit confusing. But yay, progress!

Apparently in the Nohr version of the game, Conquest, there will be a single male character that the player-created protagonist can marry regardless of their gender. In the Hoshido version of the game, Birthright, there will be a single female character that can be married regardless of the main character’s gender. These characters can also be accessed from the other versions of the game through a DLC that will bridge the two storylines. I’ve seen mention of who those two characters are but nothing definitive yet.

This seems like a pittance, but it’s actually a really huge step for very traditionally conservative Nintendo! They appear to be trying to listen, and hopefully they’ll keep up with the improvements. BioWare initially started out slowly with single character representation too, and a decade later they’ve built themselves up to stating and demonstrating that diversity is an important aspect of their games.

Now to hold out hope for Atlus with Persona 5

Keep Final Fantasy VII Weird

Final Fantasy VII isn’t my favorite entry in the series, but it was the first RPG I ever played and therefore holds a special immovable place in my heart. It was also one of my first introductions to the power of transformative works. Upon finishing the game I was pulled deep into the collaborative internet world of fanfiction, fanart, and doujinshi collecting. Some of the characters stuck with me and I wanted more.

But then suddenly I didn’t want any more. I did buy the deplorable fighting game Ehrgeiz just so I could face Cloud off against Sephiroth, and see dear Zack again. But each subsequent prequel, sequel, and spin-off didn’t capture what I liked about the original game and so I didn’t pay attention to it.

Something tapered off. Seeing most of the AVALANCHE gang cross paths in the original Kingdom Hearts was initially warm and fuzzy for me. But in Kingdom Hearts 2 it became less so. Dirge of Cerberus did not look like something that appealed to me, maybe because I wasn’t big on Vincent. I watched Advent Children once and pretty much don’t remember anything that was going on there. Reno was hot.

I did absolutely love most of Crisis Core, until the Gackt insert, poetry reading, and all-too-literal one-winged angel imagery showed up. The game’s missions could get a bit repetitive but the character sprites were endearingly expressive and the mechanics at play in the ending sequence were so effective in conveying what they needed to.

None of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII entries entirely captured my feelings about the original characters, and that’s difficult to come to terms with because then I realize none of the follow-ups ever will. It’s impossible. Final Fantasy VII as I personally know it is an imagined mental construct rooted in the 90s, with high school me diligently piling fancanon, vicarious strategy guide reading, and an active imagination along side the original material.

Even though via past experience I know I actually prefer Final Fantasy VII in its original form, I am really REALLY excited for the PlayStation 4 remake that was just announced at E3. When the lights dimmed at the Square-Enix presser and I saw the lifestream flourishes on the side displays I started yelling in disbelief. We had been trained to never believe in this one thing. And there it was. It’s coming, eventually, hopefully.

I’m worried that modern blockbuster game expectations won’t allow the Final Fantasy VII remake it to be as silly as its original incarnation, dolphin whistles and all, but playing the recent MMO Final Fantasy XIV has show me that flamboyant aestheticians and suplexing goldsmiths can still happily coexist as breathers between epic storylines. I hope the developers go for that feel and let Final Fantasy VII remain weird.

And Keep Cloud Awkward.

Games — Persona 5 preview released!

From all the city-life imagery released in earlier teasers I certainly didn’t expect Persona 5 to add in a madcap caper aesthetic! Be prepared to drag your hapless friends and prerequisite animal mascot into a life of thievery, or some other kind of Persona shenanigans that adults just wouldn’t understand, as The Phantom!

Also I’m really excited that they kept the look of Catherine for the 3D sequences. The in-game footage shown looks gorgeous!


Games — Dot Kareshi — English patch released!

 

You’ve been distracted from your beloved JRPGs. No time anymore. It usually happens as you get older and other obligations take hold.

But then you find yourself suddenly and inexplicably sucked into a fantasy game world, for real. And your questing party, all handsome young men of varying job classes, have a bone to pick with you.

Because of your habits and recent neglect, they’ve all become w̬̗ͥͦ́̈̓̈́ͥ ̞̺̊ͤͯͧa͇̗̗ ̝͎̳͌̎̍r ̞̤̬͊̒̊̇̂p͎͈ ̙͇e̮͔̳̥͔̳͉ ͖̼̠̩͓͔ͮd̪̟͙̓̀

This is the situation of Dot Kareshi, aka “Pixel Boyfriend”, a very unique otome dating sim visual novel where all the characters are takes on JRPG tropes. The game series was released last year in three separate installments, with four different pursuable characters available in each disk. The games are developed by Rejet, a primarily PC developer known for their beautiful games with twisted themes and also their lewd thematic drama CDs. None of their games are officially available in English but just the other day a fan-translation patch for the first disk of their Dot Kareshi series was released.

In the first disk of Dot Kareshi, ~The Legendary Maiden~, the strange situation of the game is established and the first four characters are introduced. There’s the Hero, with a petty grudge and a lust for breaking pots; the Wizard, a sardonic glasses-wearing pyromaniac; the Priest, who’s on a domineering power-trip; and the Thief, simply obsessed with stealing hearts or copping a feel. You as the main character don’t usually communicate except for visual emoticons and sometimes the guys telephoning the last thing you “said” back to you, in addition to you as the player selecting responses at certain junctures. You actually don’t even have a visible face during the CGs, playing literally an everywoman. But through the game you learn that your player character does have a personality when it comes to how she played the JRPG originally, with the guys often complaining about your brute-force grinding methods and disdain for sidequests.

My boyfriend, friend, and I did a group play session of Dot Kareshi! You can catch a recording of it here, if you’re interested in seeing what the game is like and having our bawdy commentary (warning, I have the mouth of a sailor after drinking). One thing you may notice in the video too is the guys come off as pretty aggressive at times. It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world always, especially when they have an entertaining roll going, but it’s definitely par for Rejet’s other games and sort of what you go to them for: an acquired opt-in taste. In the Let’s Play stream we yell at the guys plenty when they start to go overboard.

The great thing about Dot Kareshi too is it’s extremely easy to import, unlike other video games. Amazon.co.jp has an English language mode on their site and they will ship most media internationally. While they usually won’t ship Japanese video games, because of Dot Kareshi’s drama CD inserts it’s categorized as a CD instead, meaning Amazon.co.jp will ship it to the United States just fine. That is where I got all three disks from. And they are quite affordable at 3240 yen a piece (about $26 right now).

The English patch for the first game can be found here, along with installation instructions. It’s pretty simple actually, just installing Dot Kareshi from your purchased disk (and make sure you’re running with your language and system locale is set to Japanese/Japan) and replace some of the resource and data files from the patch, it doesn’t even touch the executable.

There are also demos of the games you can download from Rejet’s site! So if you want to try it out before you order from Amazon.co.jp. Additionally an English patch is available for the first demo as well. I’m pretty excited about these patches, as it makes playing through Dot Kareshi less exhausting for me and my basic Japanese. I’m also eager for them to get to the later disks. Disk two is fun with it’s inclusion of Knight, Monk, Beastmaster, and Dancer; but disk three is the best since it’s all the villains, such as Dark Lord, Dark Knight, Slime, and Villager! Yes, little old Villager A.

And maybe hopefully awareness through these fan-patches may alert someone at some publisher to consider a nice official localization of these games. I’ve always thought Dot Kareshi was weird and marketable enough even in the West, with their familiar JRPG aesthetic and simple routes. And even the relatively tame, if warped, content would be okay for release on a mainstream platform like Steam.

Games — Fantasy Life

 

I am someone that generally enjoys Level-5 games, the studio behind Professor Layton, Dragon Quest 8 & 9, Inazuma Eleven, Ni no Kuni and a whole bunch of other great games, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when Fantasy Life gripped my soul to an almost obsessive degree. I downloaded it the midnight it came out, thanks to good reviews from its earlier European release, and started my Life off as a Mercenary, since I usually prefer straight-forward melee combat classes. And off I went!

Fantasy Life is a very Level-5 flavored whimsical take on Harvest Moon / Animal Crossing / Rune Factory style games for the Nintendo 3DS. It’s like an MMO-lite similar to how Dragon Quest 9 was, where you’re tasked with monster bounty quests, resource gathering, gear crafting, and an epic storyline nudging you along to new locales. But the game doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, which has made it all the more endearing to me. The localization editing is top-notch and I have had to pause the game from laughter many times. The game is chock full of Eurocentric fantasy RPG tropes that it goes out of its way to subvert with its snappy writing. I was pleasantly surprised when the game originally bestowed upon me the cringe-worthy task of “Defeating the Dark Sultan” that it was very much not horrible like such caricatures can be, and the game played off these expectations.

While unfortunately the balance of gendered power is about what you’d expect from a high-fantasy world, as demonstrated by women Master NPCs only overseeing typically feminine professions such as Tailor, Archer, and Mage (the nine other classes have male Masters), there are a lot of demonstrably powerful women who act as the brains and muscle behind the operations—something my partner interestingly labeled as “sitcom feminism”. I at least appreciate the effort put in to make the girl Apprentices and Princesses of Fantasy Life dynamic characters and for the storylines taking the time to flip the expected outcomes on their head. It’s a little weird when later you are able to recruit royal ladies into your party who when partied with you before had worn tomboy disguises but now run around with you in full-out Victorian dress regalia—but it’s also kind of cool to have them kicking butt with you while all femmed out. So I’m torn. I do miss one of their pirate outfits, though.

As for job classes (or your Life, as they are called in the game) you can teleport to the Guild Hall and change it at pretty much any time. Your Life determines your stat bonuses, what special active and passive abilities you have access to, ability to complete some specific quests, and the bestowal and rate at which certain skills rise. So once my Mercenary went through the Miner starting quest and was given the Mining ability I was able to mine ore even when I was running around as a Mercenary. I would lose out on the bonus ore my Miner Life would earn me at every node and certain quests can only be completed while you are maining that Life, such as the mining of specific rare ore targets, but you aren’t really forced into one Life or another to make progress. The main story quests even give the option to opt out of combat if you find you’ve been focusing on a crafting-oriented Life. You also keep your ability to equip some types of gear as long as you’ve initially earned them from their associated Life and as long as the item itself allows it. So my Mercenary originally could not use Shields but since I later went to level up Paladin I gained access to some of them as a Mercenary. If you’re a completionist like me you’ll find yourself wanting to master every Life.

The crafting classes utilize simple timing mini-games in order to determine if you successfully complete a recipe. It also raises your skill level which helps determine how easy it is to make higher-quality items, which some quests request specifically. Items needed for crafting can either be gathered yourself, earned through side quests, or bought through NPC vendors who can be later upgraded to carry higher tiers of resources needed. You can make everything from weapons, crafting tools, armor, and even furniture for your home or vacation homes.

The game has a few usability issues that I wish they would have taken further cues from MMOs to tackle, such as not visibly changing the overhead quest icon of an NPC if you have a completed quest to turn in to them, and the world map downright sucks in any detail needed for finding pretty much anything. But the travel systems the game provides are very nice. Between rental and personal mounts, planes, airships, teleportation NPCs, and the ability to warp to one of your purchased houses, you can get pretty much anywhere in the game world rather quickly, which helps when you’re trying to suss out exactly where a quest target is.

I’ve clocked 36 hours into Fantasy Life already and I still feel like I could play it a lot more, and I haven’t even tried the expansion DLC yet. My friends on Twitter seem to have become quite enamored with it as well! I recommend it if you have a public transit commute that you’d like to grind away on (the game got me through two 4+ hour bus rides to NYC and back quite easily). You can purchase it at retail stores, order it off Amazon, or download it on the Nintendo eShop.