bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Deception IV: Blood Ties

Way, way back in 2007 we reviewed a game called TrapT. TrapT and Deception IV: Blood Ties just happen to be from the same franchise, although Blood Ties is the first of the numbered releases to make it to Europe. Thats something we dont see particularly often anymore (with the highest profile releases done in such a manner being the Final Fantasy games way back when), but then when the previous release is that 7 year old game that was met with a rather disinterested reception (it was also the last release in its native Japan), then its not really surprising that Deception IV: Blood Ties has only really been the focus of sites that pay attention to Japanese oddities.

And it really is an oddity. The entire premise of the game is that a group of heroes are trying to gain access to a variety of different locations to obtain a rare item that they feel has fallen into the wrong hands. When a group of these rare items are collected together, the devil can be released from hell. Stupidly, they carry the items that are currently within their possession into said locations with them, where you, the daughter of the devil, lie in wait with your minions and a bunch of traps that you lay down in order to bring about death and destruction and take possession of the sacred artifacts.

So Deception IV gives you the opportunity to actually play as the bad guy, couple this with some of the tools on offer and what we have here is a rather devilishly amusing little title that provides a wealth of experimentation and entertainment.

So, as the �heroes� invade your castle, manufacturing plant or any of the other locations you inhabit, you can lead them around from room to room, placing a variety of traps or trying to take advantage of the environmental elements such as trains entering stations or vats of molten steel. The beauty is that you can either lure them onto a single trap and chip at their health bit by bit or pause the action and spend time plotting out a twisted and delightful combination of devices, and as you progress through the game your options increase further.

The traps you can lay range from the humiliating (pumpkins being dropped onto heads, garden rakes on the floor) to the Sadistic wherein the idea is to inflict as much pain as possible in one go, through the Elaborate (which you can use to help bring the environmental traps into play). Thie general idea is that you try and combine all of these elements together to get as large a score for each of your victims as possible, the larger the score, the bigger your reward at the end of each chapter and the more new traps you can purchase to add to your arsenal.

The theory behind all of this is excellent and incredibly appealing. However, its the manner in which its all realised thats ultimately frustrating. There are times when you are sat through overly long conversations between characters, a problem with alot of recent games on the system, and at the beginning of each Act you are introduced to each of your potential victims, thus allowing you to find out their strengths and weaknesses. However, if you die, you have to sit through all of this again, and its certainly possible to find yourself in a position where you will have to restart thanks to the games rather claustrophic camera angles and locations which make it difficult to avoid being attacked or indeed on occassion fall victim of your own traps in some manner. This is all made even worse by the frequency at which you can save, which isn’t particularly often, what with it being at the end of each chapter, most of which last about an hour in total. Some will argue it makes the incentive to be more cautious even more important but its easy to make a mistake and for that mistake to make things harder overall and even a save state kind of save system would allowed for the freedom to experiment even further and play about in the games setting to get the most out of it.

Thats pretty much Deception IV: Blood Ties biggest issue. As a whole, the game means well, it tries to encourage you to act out some pretty dark torture based fantasies, but ultimately, due to some of the developers design decisions you often find yourself playing it a little too safe and this leads the gameplay to ultimately become a little repetetive and boring. All told then, Deception IV has some nifty idea’s and deserves more attention than it will ever gain, but its far from perfect and its flaws become frustratingly noticeable far too easily.

Gaming, Mental Health


Hah! Do you like that title? Punnerific, right? Because we’re all in some form of quarantine and, well, we have to do things with our loved ones now, right? Right. Well, this is a post about that and how we’re doing things.

Firstly, you’re all aware by now that I’m a family man, I have a partner and we have three children, ages ranging from 5 through to 15. This is tough, the ranges make doing a lot of activities quite difficult as either our youngest is a little too young or our eldest finds it too boring. We’ve tried not to be too forceful with the homeschooling, phasing in spelling, writing, reading and maths into general activities they can do such as gardening, cooking, sending messages to school friends via Skype (monitored, obviously) and they’re writing to one friend who lives on the route that the dog is walked on, and that’s posted through their door and they do the same in return. Mixed in with lots and lots of handwashing, PE with Joe Wicks (though as I write this an alternative may need to be found as he’s gotten into bed with The Sun) and other activities such as today they got to watch the Red Panda’s at Chester Zoo being fed via a Facebook stream.

As for the oldest, unfortunately, she has to do quite a lot of school work. She’s a GCSE student and they’ve cancelled her exams (she has the option of sitting them in September/October if the schools are back then), her school are working with the examination board and their own teachers to “give the students the grades they deserve” based upon work they’ve already done, how much they apply themselves and work that’s set for them over the next twelve weeks or so, and as her grades have slipped since her Year 10 mocks through the two sets of mocks she’s sat in Year 11, well, she needs to put in the graft to get to the grades her teachers were forecasting for her as she entered Year 11.

How is this relevant for Bar Harukiya, well, anything is relevant, that’s what meeting up at a bar is like is it not? You chat about stuff with your mates, get things off your chest, share advice, or at least that’s the way it should be if the culture over here wasn’t “let’s go and get pissed” (I’m not much of a drinker, but will drink socially as an excuse to have a good chat and a laugh).

Moving on though, how are my other half and I doing in all of this? What are we doing to stop ourselves going mad?

Well, we’ve bought second controllers for both our PS4 and our Xbox One and have been playing some “couch co-op”.

First up is we’ve spent a lot of time in Minecraft, digging holes, running away from Endermen, I often have to come to her rescue when she goes off adventuring, but mostly she’s been gathering resources and I’ve been building stuff “for her”. It started with us building a raised castle together, nicking stuff from any villages we found. Then we found a Mine, but it involved lots of jumping, climbing and swimming to get to, so I built a bridge from the castle that led to it. Said bridge now has a Redstone railway and a couple of staircases, one of which leads to our farm.

On the farm, I’ve built a couple of vegetable plots, an ornamental bridge, a greenhouse, plus a stable, an arbour, a chicken coop and a pig pen and now we’ve begun gathering the animals required to house in them. I need to build a barn for the sheep, cows and llamas too.

We’ve made a Spotify playlist that we listen to whilst playing Minecraft, its full of stuff we both know each other doesn’t mind listening to (we have fairly different tastes in music but there are some overlaps, she likes he 80’s bands like Bon Jovi plus some modern country music, I’m more of a fan of punk, metal, 90s alternative rock and grunge).

We’ve also been playing a lot of LEGO Marvel Avengers, I know a lot see them as kids games, but with Charly still physically and mentally recovering from her battle with cancer (she had her very last round of treatment this week, so at least we don’t have to worry about her attending hospital for a while), it’s a perfect game for us to just do something calming and simple that still requires a bit of communication from time to time (“I need you to be Cap” etc), plus I get to HULK SMASH on a semi-regular basis. She’s played other games in the series before, but aside from me dropping in a few times on Pirates of the Caribbean or the Harry Potter titles, this is the first one we’ve played fully co-op, she’s now asked for DC Super-Villains for her birthday, which is two weeks away has resulted in me having to change a fair few of the things I had planned to buy/do because of closures or stocking issues.

As for how I’m doing, I’m trying to find room amongst all this for reading, I’ve recently finished an Asterix book that I’ll be posting about, am grinding my way through A Feast for Crows and have a few Manga from NetGalley I plan to write about. I’m spending some quiet moments fishing in Final Fantasy XIV, though my enjoyment of that has been hampered a little as everyone seems to have suddenly started fishing thanks to the recent changes and additions to it. But on a last note, I’d like to add that despite all the above, I’m still very very stressed and very worried about the whole situation and the effect it could have on my family, and whilst the above makes it sound like I’ve got everything planned out, I most definitely haven’t and in all honesty, we do quite often just let the kids play on their tablets (though we have begun encouraging them to play games they’ll learn something from rather than just watch YouTube Kids all day long).

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Monster Monpiece (Vita)

Few games feel as confused about their identity as Monster Monpiece, a game that is, for the most part, fairly innocent. The core concept of the game that you actually play is an intriguing mish-mash of Card Collecting Game (think Magic or Pokemon…) and Tower Defence. However, and those of you who know anything about the title will already be aware of this, it does have a dark, seedy underbelly that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of what is present.

So then, throughout Monster Monpiece, you are placed in the position of May, a girl who attends an Academy where they learn to control “Monster Girls” (I’ll point out here that the entire cast is female), these Girls then used in battle and summoned via the use of cards, a series of events unfold that mean you have to travel from town to town collecting a special item that a hidden evil also wants to get its hands upon. This is all played out over text based dialogue sequences that go to alot of effort to flesh out each of the individual characters, and surprisingly for a game of its type, does try to make some element of groundwork on developing relationships between each of the key players that dont feel forced or out of place.

What does feel out of place, and I feel this is the perfect place to discuss the gameplay, is how you level up the Monster Girls. Now ordinarily, the artwork on the cards is fairly small and whilst it is pushing the boundaries of what is tasteful, the pictures are miniscule enough on the Vita’s screen that its easy to get away with. When summoned into battle they look nothing like they do on the cards, instead they take on the appearance of one of four types (Sword user, Archer, Healer and another type of magic using avatar). The more battles you win, the more “Rub P” you earn, this is then spent in the “First Crush Rub” area of the game in order to improve each card within your deck. From here you choose a card that you want to spend points on, the artwork is blown up to the width of the Vita’s screen which you have to turn around so the screen is in a portrait position. From here you have to fill a bar within a particular amount of time by rubbing hidden spots on each girl, which illicits various moans and groans of pleasure, until said bar is either full or you run out of time. Once the bar is full you then have to rub both the front and back screen simultaneously as quickly as possible to finish the whole process off and make that particular girl stronger.

The feels ridiculous out of context to how the rest of the game is presented. The discussion and artwork for the main cast of characters wouldn’t really look out of place in most JRPG’s (regardless of their content) and there’s no other reliance on any sexual overtones, and as for the card battles themselves, the above kind of damages what is an excellent and challengingly entertaining game.

Onto the positive. I’ve mentioned above that the battle system is rather good. What you have is a 7×3 grid split into the colours. 3×3 of Blue and Red with a 1×3 strip seperating them as a no-mans land. At each end of the grid is a building, the left side of the screen is yours, the right side your opponents. You then have different types of cards with characters that use different weapons (sword, bow, staff and wand). The sword users are close combat, archers ranged, staffs provide buffs and lastly the wands act as healers. Then there are different coloured cards and this is where the strategy comes into play. By placing down 3 cards, you gain an extra buff to your attack, Mana and health, the idea here is to keep doing this and allow the draw of your cards to stack as to allow you to take advantage of doing so. Each time you place a card on the grid, your drawn characters will auto attack and auto move until they’re either defeated by the opponent directly opposite them or you defeat them overall. Its the constant pushing forward that makes the battle system completely engaging and one false or intellgent move can easily result in the weight shifting in the opposite direction at any given time, and as the challenge increases the further you get through Monster Monpiece, the more entertaining the entire system becomes.

So to come back to my original point, Monster Monpiece really does feel confused. On its own, the battle system and the characterisation makes this a fine game for a handheld system. However, I, personally, found the “First Crush Rub” aspect a little too uncomfortable and I’m not of the persuasion that its anything to do with differences between Japanese and European cultures. If anything, Monster Monpiece doesn’t feel sure of its own strengths and I kind of get the impression the “First Crush Rub” stuff was included for the Japanese market which is becoming increasingly littered with titles that pander to the Otaku sub-culture, and whilst I can happily consume certain elements of that type of culture, the elements of Monster Monpiece in question take things a little too far I feel, but overall, it really shouldnt detract from a really entertaining game and its unfortunate that there doesn’t seem to have been an alternative system that was considered.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: OlliOlli 2 (Vita)

It’s no secret that I was a huge fan of OlliOlli back when it was originally released on the Vita last year. It had a few problems, which by their own admission, took developers Roll7 far too long to address (a crashing glitch being the worst culprit and a lack of leaderboards was a killer for some, although I felt sharing screengrabs on Twitter or forums felt like a return to the “olden days”), but overall, the gameplay was sharp and highly addictive. My one major gripe with it was that I could never ever figure out how some people were getting the scores they were getting, but thats high scores in general as far as my ability is concerned.

Just over a year later and Roll7 have already released OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood, which aims to add a whole slew of new bits and bobs whilst having things like online leaderboards available from day one. I was never really against having Leaderboards in OlliOlli but found their eventual addition took away a kind of communal discussion on the game, with players prefering just to check out the scores that way rather than resort to other means and actually engross in an element of rivalry and, for want of a better word, banter. Their immeidate inclusion here does make sense, its a bit of a no-no not to include them in modern day high score game, but its still a pity that that communal discussion will not take place quite so much for OlliOlli 2.

The other additions to OlliOlli2 come in the forms of methods of navigating each level, previously the only way to link tricks was to hit a grind, but now you have the option of landing in a manual so that even being on the land allows you to keep a combo going. You can also perform reverts, grind switches and initiate stance changes before you begin your combo, allowing you to find and customise your combinations when taking on others via the leaderboards or entering the now traditional Daily Grinds (which are still an absolute bastard!). Thankfully, none of this requires mastering any of the other buttons on your Vita as everything is still done via the use of the left stick + X and shoulder buttons, but as with before, different results are achieved by differing your input combinations and perfecting the timing.

Theres very little to accuse OlliOlli 2 of in regards to faults, its still as punishing as ever and whilst its perfect for short bursts of play via the Vita I’m not wholy convinced that the systems small analogue sticks are perfect for it, unfortunately I don’t have the hardware required to try it on something with a bigger analogue stick. This often makes performing a variety of tricks, or indeed the tricks sometimes set out in a levels completion goals, rather inaccurate, which does take away from some of the enjoyment of OlliOlli2 but overall, its still an excellent title that, I feel at least, is as essential for Vita owners as the first one was!

Books, Uncategorized

The Colony – Nicolas Debon

When we think of Anarchism in the world of comics (or graphic novels, whichever you prefer), we often turn to Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta” and tales of attempts to overthrow those in power due to corruption, however, theres actually alot more to the ideals behind anarchism than explosions, aggression and sticking ones finger up at politicians and its this other side that Nicolas Debon tries to teach us as he tells of the true story of Fortune Henry and the colony of L’Essai he founded, for a brief period of time, in the early 1900’s before the world fell into chaos as the Great War fell upon us.

The book opens with a man taking ownership of a plot of land, thought to be inhabitable and unworkable, he begins to transform it. The locals treat him with suspicion, often talking of the devil or wild man in the woods. But before long a small handful of people begin to take an interest in what he is doing and ultimately join him, as the colony grows, the workload also increases, they build settlements, work the land and sell produce at local markets.

However, its not enough for Henry, he strives for change, people believe in what they feel he is trying to do and his ideals of breaking down social constructs, promoting communism (or socialism, though its definetly the former that he says he is trying to bring to fruition, even to the extent of his first born having “no known parents” on his birth certificate as he “belongs to the colony”). He sets up a printing press, first selling flyers to promote the colony and the ideals it was founded upon, though as ever with such things he begins to take ownership, of his responsibility within the colony and also of his partner, acting jealous when she is around other men and resorting to violence when she questions his motives.

As his message spreads, his views become more damaging to the establishment and he is ultimately imprisoned, once free he finds that, without him, L’Essai has fallen apart and the colonists have moved on.

At around 80 pages, this is a short tale, covering the basics, additional information about Fortune Henry is provided at the back of the book, but you’re given a sort of one sided, almost diary like telling of the foundation and falling of L’Essai, albeit told alongside some beautiful art work that looks hand-painted, the earthy tones used give the impression of the book being hand-crafted and fit in perfectly with both the tale being told and the time period it is taken from and Debon does a wonderful job of just allowing the story to work towards its natural end, picking the exact moments to tell, be it the work and turmoil the colonists go through as the seasons and years progress, or the emotional challenges Henry faces. We’re never forced to endure anything particularly long, instead being given a snippet of the tale of L’Essai told in simple panels, though when Debon does give us a full page panel its always a wonderful piece of art work.

That said, this isn’t for every one. I can easily see people wanting some real history feeling like there’s not enough here, likewise, there’s not alot of incident or action to speak of to excite, its not that kind of tale. But if you want to read something that tells a true story that you hadn’t known of, The Colony will fit that brief absolutely perfectly.

#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowbackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 23

It’s been a while, for reasons, some of them I discussed here, but also because I really got put off this for a while, which I’ll come to later. So let’s get to it, though you might want to read my last update to remind yourself where I’m at.

Kuja watches on as the Invincible disappears, he accuses Garland of being reponsible, though he questions why he would come to Gaia in the first place, I presume this garland is the mystery man we were inroduced to in my last update.

Zidane arrives at the castle with Cid, Vivi, Freya and Amarant, they immediately decide to search for #dagger and Eiko. In the library Zidane hears a voice, “Challenge me if you dare!” it says. When I accept the challenge I’m thrown into a battle against Tantarian that I’m not prepared for. Tantaraian initially appears to be a huge book which opens on random pages. It’s defence is very high as I’m barely scratching it, with attacks only resulting in taking off double figures of HP. Eventually though, it opens on a page and inside is a blue spherical monster, which when attacked does take alot more damage. Vivi is the strongest here, his Blizarra deals damage somewhere in the region of 1500HP, however I spend most of the fight healing and ultimately I’m defeated.

It’s here where the game tests my resolve, I hadn’t saved in a while, in fact I hadn’t saved since the final round of the card tournament so I have to do all of that again, sit through all the talky sections again and play out Steiner and Beatrix’s last stand just to get back to this point. I do a little research and I could have saved in one of the rooms in the castle once I had control of Zidane, I’d just not done so as I went straight into the library, it being the closest room to where you have this party and ended up in the battle with Tantarian.

I also decide to Google some tactics on how to defeat this optional boss, its something I’ve refrained from doing up until now, but then most of the fights I’ve been able to brute force my way through.

This time out I stick everyone in the back row, Optimise their equipment and also equip the Devil Killer, Counter, Auto-Potion and Antibody abilities for those characters who have them. Once the battle begins I have Zidane stick to using Steal, with Freya casting Reis’ Wind to give provide all of the party with Regen, she also takes over duties of using Phoenix Downs and Ether’s when the need arises. Amarant, usually used for just hitting stuff, now uses his Chakra ability to heal a party members HP and MP, Vivi is the only one who can actually attack Tantarian, with the suggestion being that I use Bio whenever the book opens up on the pages that reveal the creature hidden inside, until that point the party just Defend unless healing is required.

Vivi’s Bio ability allows him to deal out around 1800 damage, though I also start to use Focus when the book is closed, which when I can attack again, increases his damage output to 3800, and so the fight actually becomes a walk in the park despite only one party member actually dealing out any punishment.

Once the fight is over I’m rewarded with a pair of Running Shoes, which allow the wearer to learn Auto-Haste, unfortunately Zidane only manages to steal a few Ether’s and a couple of Elixers. I save again and head in the direction that Dagger originally took, finding my way to the roof where Zidane tells the others to leave him to rescue her and escape from the castle before Kuja destroys it. The rest are reluctant to leave him, but he tells them this is important to him and he needs them to go, Freya resigns herself to leaving her friend behind, though she does so on the condition that Zidane doesn’t confront Kuja alone, he just gets Dagger and Eiko and flee’s the castle with them.

As he climbs the staircase, Alexander covers the castle with its wings in order to try and protect it, though it does so too late, allowing the Invincinble to unleash a pillar of light, blowing up parts of the castle in the process. As Dagger and Eiko are thrown from the balcony they were previously stood on, Zidane arrives in the nick of time to rescue them, using some bunting to swing them to safety. Once on some slightly more solid ground, Zidane apologises to Dagger for not being truthful about his feelings for her, but they’re not out of the woods yet as the remains of the castle begin to shake. The Invincible unleashes another attack, this one more powerful than the last and a huge shockwave spreads throughout the kingdom. On board the ship Garland talks of souls “returning” and states that in time, they will no longer belong to Gaia.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy (Vita)

Despite criticism of a lack of software, not to mention that Sony themselves seem to have abandoned the device, the PlayStation Vita has really carved a niche market for itself with its catalogue of Japanese oddities, dungeon crawlers and an impressive roster of indie titles. Operation Abyss: Neo Tokyo Legacy fits into that middle category and, having been developed by Experience inc, who were responsible for last years Demon Gaze, which we here at bitparade rather enjoyed, it comes with some pedigree.

Operation Abyss’ setting is fairly typical, if you can overlook Japanese culture’s obsession with having high-school students saving the country or the world then you’ll get by just fine. The plot involves said students investigating a rather nasty infected zombie type uprising, called Variants, that are abducting, dismembering and killing the local populace. This all takes place in the titular Neo Tokyo, a near future version of Japan’s most famous city.

Your squads investigation and search for said variants mostly takes place in a variety of abandoned locations, such as apartment buildings and warehouses. Which are a bit of a contrast to Demon Gaze’s forests and cave like locations. Exploring each location gradually builds up a map and you’ll soon discover one way door systems and areas that only accessible teleportation plates all of which is given viability by the games scientific occult like feeling.

Battles, the core of any JRPG regardless of subgenre, mostly happen at random. Obviously boss battles are pre-scripted but occasionally whilst exploring an icon will appear in a room or corridor you have entered advertising that there are Variants on that particular tile. Allowing you to void that particular confrontation if you wish to do so.

If you�re an old hat to the genre, then Operation Abyss is an enjoyable potential addition to your collection, if you�re seeking an entry point then I wouldn�t say that this one is for you. The games biggest problem is that whilst it likes to waffle, as do many titles within the genre, it�s just far too vague with some of its more simple concepts, not only that its really kind of forgettable and the studio�s previous Vita outing, Demon Gaze, is a far better, albeit crueller, example of what makes people flock to these types of games on handhelds.

Mental Health

Illness, Relationships and Self-Reflection

I’ve been writing here regularly for over a year now, but those of you who follow me may have noticed that aside from my bitparade posts, I’ve not actually uploaded anything since my The Handmaids Tale book club post, here isn’t the only thing I’ve let slip over the past few weeks, I missed two book club meets (said Handmaids Tale one and the one for volume 2 of Akira, though I did attend the meet for A Feast for Crows despite not finishing reading it). As I’ve just alluded to, my reading slipped too, likewise pretty much everything and theres a few reasons for that.

I’ll state openly that I’ve not been well for the past four weeks or whatever, part of that was a cold that took alot of my physical energy, but also, my mental and emotional health has been poor. For personal reasons I’m not going to go into depth on what the reasons for that were, there’s probably more than I can list here anyway, but I will say that at times everything in my life has seen some element of challenge over those four weeks and its taken a lot of deep, sometimes hurtful, conversation to break everything down, figure out where I’m at and work towards some conclusion, figure out where I needed to put more focus, where I was already putting too much focus, ignore some of the darker thoughts in my mind and just generally rally myself and spend more time with those I care for and love.

This has meant other things have slipped. So whilst writing Bar Harukiya over the past 12 months has been incredibly beneficial to me, both to share with you guys the things I love, but also just to occassionally get things off my chest or just to write any old thing, I’d gotten to a point where I was stressing over making sure I met the goals I’d set myself of writing regularly but also spending so much time watching the stats on the WordPress dashboard ticking up and getting upset if/when they weren’t improving in a why I deemed fit. I’d lost sight of why I wrote on here and ultimately burned out. Thats going to change, I still plan on writing as regularly as I did before, but I’m not going to force myself to write if I’m genuinely struggling for anything to actually write about.

Obviously, I’ve already said that during this period, I’d stopped doing alot of the things I was enjoying doing, and whilst part of that was due to stuff in my personal life and relationships, it was also because, like with my old bitparade site, I’d gotten myself to a point where I was doing stuff just to write about it and maybe missing just enjoying (or not as the case may be) those things for what they are.

So, here I am, back again, I’ve got a couple of posts lined up already, but the the point is that I’m not going to be putting pressure on myself to do stuff for the sake of contributing to Bar Harukiya. Don’t get me wrong, I love to write, but I don’t live to write, and thats the importance, even those of us who do this kind of thing for a living have to step away and find ourselves outside of what we type, and so, my focus is now on my partner and our relationship, her recovery from cancer and us finding enjoyment in each others company again after a very tough 18 months or so where maybe we both lost sight of that, and obviously our three kids who have had to go through all of this too. I’ll hopefully be offering a larger variety of content in future, especially now we can get back out into the garden and my partners physical and mental health improves to a degree that we can do stuff as a couple and as a family again.

I just hope you’ll join me on that journey, but if you don’t, don’t worry, I won’t be tracking the stats!

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Etrian Odyssey Mystery Dungeon (Nintendo 3DS)

t’s no secret that I’m a bit inexperienced when it comes to the Etrian Odyssey series, I’ve played many many similar games, but having not really spend much time with Nintendo’s handhelds over the years, the series has mostly past me by. The same also applies to the Mystery Dungeon series, although I had a brief relationship with the first European Pokemon entry and, again, have played a fair few similar titles, most memorably Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God (which I found to be quaint and humorous, if a little frustrating at times). Both genre’s appear, to me at least, to be rather punishing, or challenging (depending upon how you want to look at things), but really rather rewarding once you get around their mechanics. But what’s interesting here is that Spike Chunsoft (who mash out a huge number of games in both genres) have now made an attempt to combine the two with Etrian Mystery Dungeon.

This particular release takes more cues from the Mystery Dungeon series than the other half of the relationship, with the latter offering up the games character design, however the vast majority of the games graphical style, that being when you are in dungeons, is also taken from Mystery Dungeon and is definitely a case of function over form. This leaves the game looking uncluttered, which is definetly a good thing as there can be a lot to take in whilst exploring Etrian Mystery Dungeons… dungeons.

The �Rogue-like� nature of these sorts of games is what makes them challenging, which is what attracts most people to them. It’s far too easy to head into a dungeon unprepared and quickly find yourself overwhelmed and out of your depth. The games mechanics want you to explore but can just as easily punish you for doing so as your stamina slowly depletes and then chips away at your health. Being limited to the number of items you can carry means no trip back to town is wasted, although it will refresh your progress in any dungeon you are in. Speaking of the dungeons themselves, Etrian Mystery Dungeon has randomly generated dungeons for you to explore, thankfully though they don’t always remain that way, if you’re happy to spend the �En� (the games currency) you can place a Fort on any level that you have already explored, which will then prevent the dungeon from being randomly generated on further visits, making gathering resources and completing quests much easier.

Progression is split up in two manners, you can obtain Missions, these tend to be designed to further progression through the game itself, usually in advancing the story or unlocking somewhere new to explore, whilst Quests give you tasks to do in locations you have already visited, providing you with rewards of cash or items. It’s this element of segregation that encourages you to take the �baby steps� approach to advancing through the game that results in you feeling like you aren’t getting very far, but take a chance every now and then to push further and you’ll be rewarded with the sense that your party is actually stronger than you’d assumed they were.

Forts come in handy with character progression too. You can have a Guild featuring a number of members, however you can only take four characters in a party to go and explore, those left at your Guild HQ will gain some experience whilst you are away, but they’re progression will be incredibly slow, however by placing upto 4 members into a Fort, they will gain more XP by just being �out in the field� so to speak and level at a higher rate than those left at HQ, this all means its much much easier to juggle different combinations of parties allowing you to tailor your exploration group for each time you head into a dungeon rather than feeling like you are stuck with the initial four members that you create.

The game is constantly trying to throw new challenges at you, from random floors (usually on lower floors of a dungeon) containing monsters that have received a buff, to rooms that contain an inordinately larger number of enemies than others. Boss figthts too can be difficult and tend to thrown the games �just hit whatever enemies closest� mechanics on their head by requiring you to take control of each party member individually (something you can do at any other time too, if you so wish) and act in a strategic manner, providing buffs for your party, drawing attention to particular team members or areas of a room to take advantage of traps, that kind of thing. Things don’t tend to let up if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where a party member is defeated either, as the creature that deals the killer blow will receive a strengthening buff resulting in them being not only hitting you harder but being able to take more damage. Etrian Mystery Dungeon’s quaint appearance is certainly misleading, whereas Dark Souls (which shares many similarities with the dungeon crawler genre despite its playing perspective) looks foreboding, Etrian Mystery Dungeon looks cute, cuddly and easy. These things it is not, and some might say its all the better for it.