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!

Games — Mystic Messenger

Zen selfie

I met my current partner on the internet 15 years ago. We found each other in a newsgroup (which was like an email-based forum aka Google Groups) and built our relationship via a related IRC chatroom and the phone calls. So flirting with characters in a chatroom format feels rather nostalgic.

Cheritz, the Korean developer that created Mystic Messenger, is a studio I’ve followed for a couple of years now. I bought their debut game, Dandelion, directly via their website. They were early adopters of localizing their otome games into English and I was all about supporting that, back when options were very slim.

I was initially taken in by Dandelion’s cute hook of dating animals that turn into men, but stayed for the surprisingly bittersweet endings and endearing characters. I later recommended their follow-up game, Nameless, in my Offworld article about otome games. And I did a bit of a Let’s Play of it.

Mystic Messenger is a free-to-play mobile game, very much unlike their more premium priced PC games. But the Cheritz soul is still there. This time instead of a day-to-day simulation or liner visual novel experience Mystic Messenger’s story is told through interactive chatrooms that naturally unlock every couple of hours. You can expedite this process using the hourglass currency you can earn and buy, but I really recommend sticking to the natural cadence of the game. It makes for a better experience.

You can also use these hourglasses to backtrack to inserting yourself into missed chats. Otherwise if you don’t keep up the chat opportunities will pass and you’ll be reading through archives, watching the characters chat about you while you observe. It’s kind of lonely and extremely effective to encourage you to pay attention when the chats first pop up. That’s also why I transferred the game to my phone instead of my iPad.

Through your chats and text messages you’ll first learn that Jumin is a trust fund kid who loves his cat, Zen is a narcissistic up-and-coming actor, Yoosung is a college student obsessed with an MMO, Seven is an erratic sysadmin, and Jaehee is an eternally suffering personal assistant.

Over time you’ll get to know and prefer some of them over the others, either consciously or unconsciously choosing your chat responses to pay attention to and side with one of them. After a couple of real time days the story will branch and that character will be your focus for the rest of the game.

Oh and sometimes the denizens of Mystic Messenger will literally call you. You can put your headphones in and have professional Korean voice actors chatting in your ear. I always pick up immediately for Jumin and Jaehee.

Download Mystic Messenger on Android or iTunes.

Games — How Idea Factory (Otomate) Creates Otome Games

Siliconera recently posted an interview with Norihisa Kochiwa, development director of Idea Factory. Otomate is a studio under Idea Factory that focuses on romantically themed visual novels aimed at women. Some of their games have made it over to the west, such as Hakuoki, Sweet Fuse, and Amnesia: Memories. In the interview Kochiwa goes over thematic decisions for new games and bringing out their titles worldwide.

“What we at Otomate would like to focus on and strive toward now is to work with various partner companies and creators to bring more of our Otomate titles to fans worldwide! We appreciate all your continued support!”

“Also, we would love to have feedback from western otome fans! Our first step is to try and introduce otome games as part of gaming culture in western countries, and grow the otome genre with our fans!”

It’s nice to hear that they are making efforts to bring out more otome games globally! We’ve seen part of their efforts recently with Idea Factory International releasing Amnesia: Memories for PlayStation Vita and even porting it to Steam!

Additionally, the otome games Aksys announced for Vita a while back just had their release dates revealed. Code: Realize will be out October 20th and Norn9 will be out November 3rd!

Games — Amnesia: Memories released!

Otome dating sim Amnesia: Memories was just released for PlayStation Vita and for PC via Steam on August 25th! You can even get a significant 40% discount on the brand new Steam release if you buy it before September 1st. The iOS and Android releases will be out later this month!

But honestly “dating sim” seems kind of a misnomer when applied to something like Amnesia. In the West it’s used as kind of a blanket term to describe any romantically-themed interactive game, which can be both easy to understand but also confusing when nuance is concerned. The term “otome” is gaining some prominence, though (it’s even used in the Steam tags). But Amnesia itself plays out more like a mystery adventure visual novel, where your traumatized heroine tries to navigate existing relationships with guys she doesn’t remember via parallel worlds, thanks to the help of ethereal Orion who acts as your guide and your snarky commentary (he says what we’re all thinking, in a very meta sense).

So don’t go into Amnesia expecting to build sweet relationships among a pool of options. Instead each guy is honestly kind of a jerk and at times terrifying, and through dialogue choices you’re trying to suss out what your relationship even was in the first place without raising suspicion. It’s like watching a soap opera mid-season and trying to work out all the backstories. I find it very interesting!

Thinking about all this I’m reminded of this recent article by Carli Velocci in Bitch Magazine about text-based horror games and how marginalized women engage with it and use it as an outlet for everyday fears.

Games — Final Fantasy XIV

It’s been a while since I’ve really gotten into an MMO. Long gone are my college days of 40-man progression raiding vanilla World of Warcraft. I have so many other games I want to play and things I want to work on I can’t bring myself to dump the requisite hours into online role-playing games. I also worked professionally as QA on one for quite a few years, so they’ve kind of lost their glamour.

Before WoW I played a lot of Final Fantasy XI. To the excessive point where I felt I had to do something drastic. I snapped all my install disks, sold off my fortune of gil, and deleted my level 62 Beastmaster while wearing her full Artifact armor and Monster Signa staff—a sort of viking funeral. I remember the hardships that the old Japanese MMO designs required. Which is why I was extremely hesitant to start playing Final Fantasy XIV, their newest Final Fantasy MMO, when it initially came out 2010. And I later heard it was pretty bad. Bullet dodged.

Then Square-Enix announced the FFXIV complete overhaul with a new director at the wheel. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out and the revamp was made live in 2013, a time period when I was very busy. But gradually I was hearing how legitimately good the new FFXIV, subtitled A Realm Reborn, was. I finally grabbed a cheap copy during a Steam sale last year and gave it a shot. And wow, they weren’t wrong!

They even tied the world remake into the story, similar to WoW’s Cataclysm. I find the trailer for it very emotionally stirring….

Imagine my shock when I’m doing one of my first questlines, complete the requirements, and instead of requesting I go back to the quest giver in town, like I was used to in FFXI, I could turn it in at an outpost nearby and even pick up further quests there! This is something we’ve come to expect because of modern usability introduced by the likes World of Warcraft and I was really happy that simple questflow had made it into FFXIV. Also there were a lot of sidequests to gather and level up on, no more grinding on tons of enemies in forced parties.

Final Fantasy XIV cribbed a bunch of systems from other popular Western MMOs as well. There are public quests that pop up similar to Warhammer Online. Enemies’ special attacks are telegraphed by AOE indicators on the ground ala Guild Wars 2. Reputation systems and daily quest allocations like World of Warcraft. Simpler travel systems via paid attuned teleportation, Chocobo rentals, airships, boats, and personal mounts. This all seems like really basic stuff but seeing how they implemented it all so fast after the initial launch is amazing! The latest expansion even added in flying mounts.

I’m also compelled by the main scenario epic storyline pulling me through the game. It feels very Final Fantasy and so many references are lovingly weaved into the game with masterful localization. Magitek armor, Judges, summons, Cid. A recent patch added in a Gold Saucer area where you can learn how to play Triple Triad. I enjoy that the class system is not tied to a particular avatar and instead you can switch your class via weapon equip and level each one individually on your same character. Some advanced roles even require you to progress multiple classes to a particular level in order to unlock their starter quest.

Time did a profile on the new director, Naoki Yoshida, and it goes over a lot of his Western gaming influences.

I’ve read that Dark Age of Camelot is one of your favorite games. What other games, either past or present, have been the most influential to you as a producer and director?

As an avid online gamer, I can’t go without mentioning Diablo and Ultima Online. Diablo taught me about the joys of playing online with other players, and how to add value to an item so that players would obsess over it. I don’t even want to think about how many hundreds of hours I’ve put into that game (laughs). As for Ultima Online, the thousands of people sharing one world, the thrill of player killers, and role-play that is very free, were all very impactful to me. There are many other games that fuel my passion, but I would list these two as must-haves. I can still talk through the night about all of the episodes I had in-game.

Read the rest of the profile on Yoshi-P here!

You can buy Final Fantasy XIV itself for PC, Mac, PS3 or PS4. You can also get it on Steam where you can even pay your monthly subscription fee via your Steam Wallet.

Games — Understanding Dating Sims

After publishing my article on DRAMAtical Murder, Polygon has let me write up something new, this time concerning dating sims in general. I’ve always wanted to make a sort of how-to-play 101 piece on dating sims to link to my friends because I noticed a lot of them were having trouble understanding visual novel gameplay systems and repetitive story branching. It’s not exactly the mechanics breakdown I promised in my otome history post but it is another step in the series.

Also published recently is my friend Miellyn who wrote an article about romance in a wide variety of video games for Vice, and she was kind enough to get a quote from me for it. We were both on a Romance in Games panel at PAX East 2014, which was quite bawdy and a lot of fun! There’s also a lot of BioWare folks quoted in the article as well, along with my good friend Arden who made Kindness Coins.

I’m so excited to see interest in these kind of games and topics of romance increase. There’s a whole lot more to be explored in the genre and the inspirations these games cause could turn into some really unique games down the line!

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.


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.


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.


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 — Tour de Akiba and the #iluJam


For the past month my friend Jia and I have been plugging away at our entry for the dating sim game jam I organized, #iluJam. We released our game the other night, Tour de Akiba, just before the upload deadline ended. We’re both pretty proud of what we turned out!

Tour de Akiba is a Yowamushi Pedal fan game (yes we know technically the French is wrong, but it makes the title unique and endearing). Think of the game like an interactive fanfiction. Doujinshi games like this have an active community in Japan and are sometimes even sold at events like Comiket. Both Jia and I are huge fans of Yowapeda and working with the characters in such a fun space really drove us to complete our deadline goals.

It was also such a pleasure to work with my local friend Jia. I have always loved her art style and it was so thrilling plugging in her new portraits and backgrounds and seeing them paired up with my dialogue. She’d come over and I’d sit her down to test things out and she’d squeal, exclaiming “they’re alive!” It was adorable and super fun. And she was extremely dedicated to the project, going above and beyond to implement corrections and additional art to flesh out the game.

Initially we planned to include a representative of each major team in the game that the player could choose to invite to Akihabara. We originally settled on Makishima, Arakita, and Midousuji since they were favorites of ours. As the jam weeks progressed and we realized the workload that would be required we first considered Makishima a end-game bonus stretch goal. Then came the point where we settled on finishing just one route, and half the work was already done for Arakita’s. We still kept a Midousuji teaser in there in case we want to keep making character routes at our own pace. Imaizumi and Manami could be on the horizon as well if we want to keep it up that long.

I intentionally designed the game to be able to expand and contract depending on the situation, in order to make it safe to complete in at least some kind of deliverable state in a single month. The game would have an initial decision branch where the player would explicitly pick the route they wanted, rather than having to deal with a common introduction and multiple character stats. And that way I only had to keep track of one hidden stat in order to determine one of two endings the player got.

I wrote the game in third-person because I wanted to give the player the feeling of directing the action but not acting as a stand-in for Onoda. I worried it could seem voyeuristic but I also hoped it might help people who aren’t used to this kind of game feel less weird about it. And the content itself is about as PG as you can get. Just guys being dudes.

I plan to make a post later about my experiences using the TyranoBuilder engine to create the game, and share some of the tricks I learned a little too late to make my life easier.

The #iluJam itch.io page contains all the entries uploaded for the jam—16 of them! Now that my game is done I look forward to playing through everyone’s games!

Update 7/12: The game can now be played directly in the browser from the itch.io page!

Games — Monster Hunter rankings

Paste asked me to rank my favorite Monster Hunter games and I ended up with a lot of words on the topic. I’ve been playing this series for a long while now, accumulating many likes and dislikes over the years. It’s great seeing all the new editions and changes the developers try, though!

If you want to get started on Monster Hunter then I really recommend the latest entry, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for 3DS! It’s very approachable, for a change, and has a ton to keep you busy once you get rolling. I also linked a bunch of handy hunter guides a while back when it was first released.