Wrapping Up #SimulatorGameDec

Considering that it’s December, which is normally my month of absolutely nothing going according to plan, I really went hard on this month’s Community Game-Along theme. However, as the latter half of the month was pretty scattered, what with all the holiday shenanigans taking up a good chunk of time, I managed to play more games than I got around to writing about.

Earlier in the month, I posted some Quick Looks at The Good Life, Spellcaster University, and Planet Zoo. Since then, I have put some time into three more Sim games, so this is going to be a three-in-one quick look to talk about each of those a little bit.

I feel like it makes sense to combine these three particular games because they all fall into that subset of simulation gaming – Chore Simulators.

House Flipper

Hours Played: Just shy of 12.

House Flipper has been on my wish list for quite awhile, and is the main reason I didn’t pause November’s Humble Choice. The game starts you with some small repairs and renovations, and as you make money, you can use that buy houses. Then you can completely renovate those houses to your taste before “flipping” them, but if you’re trying to appeal to specific clients for the purpose of completing achievements, you’ll have to pay close attention to what they want. When you auction a property, it always goes to the highest bidder, so if you’re a completionist, that’s a lot of customers you have to cater to.

However, I found the that deeper I got into the game, the less fun I was having. I liked the quicker jobs missions, and eventually, there aren’t any more. I really liked all the mechanics of cleaning, repairing, and painting, but I hated picking out and placing furniture. In a last ditch attempt to bring back the magic, I picked up the Garden Flipper DLC.

This had precisely the opposite effect. I appreciated (finally) being able to mow the unruly lawns, but almost every other mechanic was either tedious or annoying. I didn’t like planting, I hated gravel, and I basically stopped weeding once I realized the lawnmower could handle almost all of them.

I did like the skill unlocks and that they were related to how much of a specific sort of work you had done. There’s a good sense of progression, but once the jobs dry up, and you’ve acquired all the skills, I couldn’t find much reason to keep playing. That said, a dozen hours isn’t terrible even if I never revisit it – which I probably will.

Viscera Cleanup Detail – Santa’s Rampage

Hours Played: Just under two.

Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage is a Christmas-themed DLC level for Viscera Cleanup Detail, which is usually about cleaning up after alien and monster attacks.

However, in this festive level, you’re cleaning up Santa’s workshop after he finally snaps. There are so many dead elves, but there are also a lot of really clever bits of not-so-hidden story here.

Unlike a lot of chore simulators, this one is heavily physics influenced, so you actually have to think about how you move, and where you hold objects you’re carrying. Most items are disposed of by throwing them in the fire, but if you accidentally (or not so accidentally) toss something explosive in one of those boxes, the consequences can be pretty serious (and also pretty gross). If you bump into a mop bucket, you will spill it, and if you drop some … biological waste … it’s going to splatter.

Viscera Cleanup Detail is a game that I wander back to every now and then, and although I enjoy my actual playtime, I almost always walk away unsatisfied. No matter how well I think I did, I always seem to miss enough to have a poor performance review. That said, this might be a new holiday tradition for me, so I’ll likely be back at it next December.

Power Wash Simulator

Hours Played: Over fifteen with no sign of slowing down.

True confession – I had Power Was Simulator on my wish list figuring I’d pick it up when it drops to bargain bin prices because I didn’t see the allure, but so many people who I generally think of as having good taste have been raving about it.

And thus, one of my friends who likes to play Steam Sale Santa with me nabbed it for me for Christmas. I wanted to try it right away, because if I really hated it, I didn’t want to waste someone else’s money and I knew I could return it.

… I have barely touched another game since Christmas Day.

Now Naithan (another person who I think of as having generally good taste), liked House Flipper more than I did, and Power Wash Simulator considerably less. It’s imminently logical – out of all the chore sims I dipped into over the past couple of weeks, it has the least interesting premise on paper.

Over the last couple of days, I have really gotten sort of introspective about why this one is proving more satisfying and having more staying power than the others, and I’ve pinpointed a few things that are really working for me (and as always, your mileage may vary with these points).

First & foremost, I adore the sound of this game. You might be expecting some happy little tunes, but what you actually get is a little bit of ambient noise appropriate to the location where you’re working, and a whole bunch of glorious water sounds. There’s a reason that you can buy a lot of different recordings of moving water in all its forms – moving water is a very relaxing sound. Once I put my headset on and turn the volume up, the chaos of everything else just disappears in the soothing sounds of flowing water.

(For those who aren’t as big of a fan, there are no critical sound cues that make listening to your own music, a podcast, or an audio book a poor choice.)

Secondly, watching things go from dirty to clean in a predictable manner (and without all the accompanying aches and pains that deep cleaning brings in my actual life) is super satisfying. I do admit the basic tools you start with make things a little tedious, and two of the spray heads are borderline useless no matter how good your equipment is unless you like washing the same area four or five times, but it isn’t long before you can be buying equipment and upgrades that improve the experience quite a bit. I tackled the first few scenarios kind of willynilly, but I have now fallen into a comfortable process for tackling different sorts of jobs.

This has had the bonus effect of greatly decreasing how much time I have to spend on a 99% clean level looking for the last few spots of dirt I’ve missed. I did really appreciate the less-than-1-percent leeway you get on each individual item requiring cleaning, because you cannot end a job prematurely – you’re there until every tiny item has been checked off your list.

Which brings me to the last thing that makes Power Wash Simulator work for me – you have a discrete set of tasks that must be completed. You can choose which nozzle to use, whether or not to use soap, and the order in which you choose to clean, but you need to clean it all, and you need to clean it well. There is no real lose condition. You’re not timed. You won’t be penalized with dripping filthy water if you choose to clean the roof last instead of first. You can hit TAB at any point and the game will show you all the dirt remaining on the level. There is no question of being able to complete the task you’ve begun.

And maybe this is a result of being someone who’s been living with a chronic illness for awhile, but knowing that I absolutely can finish the thing I have started, even if I have to walk away 20 times, even if I only have five minutes to wash something, is incredibly fulfilling. Even if it is just fake chores in a video game.

… did I mention you can save at any time? I love games where you can save at any time.

I find that I don’t want to play for more than an hour or two at a time – which isn’t anywhere near enough time to complete some of the levels – but I also find myself dipping in an out whenever I have a few minutes throughout the day. I can make meaningful progress, whether I have five minutes or fifty.

Now, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the concept, I realize that I’m a lot closer to the target market for this game than probably most gamers, so I’m not sure I’m the best person to explain why this weird little game is appealing to so many people. What I can say is that it’s a pretty excellent example of it’s genre, not overly bloated, with upgrades having significant benefit, but almost never feeling mandatory, so there’s no hard punishment for choosing a “sub-optimal” upgrade path.

Quick Look – Planet Zoo

I procrastinated on picking up Planet Zoo for quite awhile – partially, because I expected it to show up in a bundle eventually, partly because Frontier Developments adores dropping a million piecemeal DLCs, but mostly because I suspected I wouldn’t actually like it, even though I really wanted to. I’m about five hours in now – getting full stars on the three tutorial scenarios, and full stars on the first actual scenario – and I am afraid I was right. The game is great, but I don’t much like it.

I have a lot of trouble with spatial relations, both in real life and when it comes to video games. Building things from parts that don’t just snap together tends to cause a lot of frustration for me, and because Planet Zoo really exists around assembling components in your own way, there’s a big part of the game that I feel ill-equipped to deal with. It does have Steam Workshop support, and you can download just about any kind of something you might need, however, sorting through to find items that don’t require DLC you don’t have might feel overwhelming. For me personally, I just want the game to give me some basic blueprints for whatever I might need. Sure, it obviously could be better if I customized it, but give me something I can plop down that my animals, staff and/or guest are going to find acceptable and let me move on.

It is pretty, though, and the basic mechanics feel good for the most part, although I admit to getting absolutely flummoxed by where to adjust something a time or two while playing. There’s a pretty heavy focus on both education and conservation, which is great. However, like Planet Coaster before it, it leans heavily into letting you build something that looks really great to the detriment of the actual management side of things. You’re given more money than you need for the basics, and I was never losing money for more than a few minutes at a time at any point.

I’m not saying I would never revisit Planet Zoo, but for the time being, the itch is scratched and my curiosity is satiated. Honestly, if I had a little less freedom in setting up my zoos, I think I’d probably still be playing. However, despite the game telling me I was successful, my hodgepodge of ugly exhibits certainly didn’t impress me.

Quick Look – Spellcaster University

I fully admit that a big part of what I enjoy about gaming subscription services is the opportunity to try out things that intrigue me, but that I don’t actually think I’ll like. Rather than keep them on my wishlist forever, I will play them on Game Pass or Utomik, and then move on. But sometimes a game surprises me, and Spellcaster University definitely surprised me.

The reason I thought I wouldn’t like it all that much is that, like every third game released in the past two years, there’s a card mechanic, and I am so over card games. Otherwise, it sounded right up my alley – you manage a magic school, building classrooms and services, hiring staff, and creating houses to focus the studies of certain students. Meanwhile, you need to make nice with various factions, and you’ve got to work quickly, because the Forces of Evil are coming, making it necessary to move on to a new location and start again.

In campaign mode, at the end of each level, you will be awarded a spellbook to use in all future levels, the strength of which depends on how many quests you were able to complete in the previous level. You will also get a new curse, which makes things more difficult. The seventh time you do this, you need to complete a series of quests to defeat the Forces of Evil once and for all. Or at least for 274.5 years.

There are five difficulty levels, five game speeds, and challenge rules that you can mix and match to customize your experience. I played on the standard difficulty (Sorcerer), but I decreased the game speed in order to have more time on each level, and it was still challenging to try to knock out all the necessary quests. I’m just shy of 14 hours in, and have not yet managed to beat the campaign. If you fail the final scenario, however, you are given the option to replay just that level, however, I elected to start over with all the knowledge I’d gained from my previous playthrough to see if I could set myself up for success a little bit better.

It’s a quirky take on your pretty average management game fare. As I suspected, the card mechanic is my least favorite part. When you have adequate funds or mana built up, you can draw three cards from the respective deck, and choose one to keep. On the upside, it’s not actually a deck-building mechanic, rather just a vehicle for some RNG. On the downside, it’s a lot of RNG for a management game. Often, I would need a specific classroom or service, and I just couldn’t seem to draw it (or obtain it through other means). On one level, I couldn’t manage to get my hands on any of the Arcane magic classrooms, so for the majority of the level, I wasn’t producing any Arcane mana. Naturally, it was a level where more than one of my quests required me to use Arcane mana, so it didn’t work out so well for me.

Each of the available decks have an assortment of card types. Early in the level, you’re probably going to want to focus on classrooms, but you can pull decor items & pets that provide unique buffs, as well as items that buff students once they reach a certain proficiency in the related schools of magic, and cards that will improve your teachers. Pets & decor can only be placed in certain places in your available rooms, whereas items are just dropped on the school and then given to students as they earn them. Teacher items are applied to their classrooms rather than on the character sprite. If this was well explained in the tutorial, I missed it.

If that was all Spellcaster University had going on, it would probably be enough. However, there are still a couple more mechanics. During play, you may get a quest that will open up a dungeon. When you travel there, you can take four students, and progress through until all your students die (which isn’t great for your school’s reputation, by the way) or until you decide you’ve gone far enough. Each level you progress adds to the threat level, and makes the encounters more difficult. Initially, I was really bad at dungeons, so I stopped doing them for awhile, but once I got the hang of it, I realized they could really be beneficial. Dungeon encounters can reward just about any card you could get from any deck, as well as gold, mana, prestige, and reputation.

There are items you can receive for your school that will grant you reagent cards at random while you’re working on everything else. Once you have three different reagents, you can combine them in the cauldron to create a potion. There are potions that grant each type of mana, potions that grand gold, potions that grant prestige, and a couple of other utility potions. In most levels, potions probably won’t be your focus, but eventually, you’ll run into factions that pretty much require you to work with potions, so it’s worth learning what combinations do as early as possible in each playthrough. Potion recipes are randomized at the start of each campaign, so it’s not possible to go into a new campaign knowing what combinations make which potions.

Students will eventually graduate, assuming they survive that long, and you will have the opportunity to see what career they pursue after graduation. Every student that graduates has a chance to reward you with resources and prestige, and if you are displeased with the future a student receives, you are given one chance to reroll. On most levels, one of the quests you’ll have is to have a certain number of students graduate into a certain profession. While that quest is active, any student who meets the qualification of that profession will automatically be placed there, which was a welcome change to the many parts of the game play that require a certain amount of luck.

Spellcaster University is a fairly solid management game, with a lot of customization options, but it isn’t without its flaws. I’ve found myself frustrated a few times, but it’s compelling enough to keep bringing me back. I initially played through Utomik, however, it is also one of the games available currently through Prime Gaming.

Quick Look – The Good Life (#SimulatorGameDec)

Since I like mysteries, life sim gameplay, taking photographs, and adorable animals, I thought The Good Life would be a slam-dunk for me. Honestly, the game has good bones, and all the pieces should work really well together. After five hours of playtime, however, I am put off by awkward controls, unsatisfying photography, unlikable characters, and an absurd amount of mechanic bloat. I don’t expect this is a game I will be going back to.

The player character is photo-journalist Naomi Hayward, whose signature phrase seems to be “A GODDAMNED HELLHOLE” and I am so very tired of hearing her say that already. She’s been sent by her employer to uncover the mysteries of Rainy Woods, the self-proclaimed “Happiest Town on Earth”, somewhere in rural England. I think the big mystery is supposed to be about how the townsfolk turn into cats & dogs at night, and I would apologize for the spoilers, but it’s also in the first paragraph of the game description on Steam, so…

If you’re already thinking, ok, this is a little weird, I’d draw your attention to the fact that this game was developed by the same person who made Deadly Premonition, and then tell you – it gets weirder. It doesn’t just embrace its weirdness, it wears it like a badge of honor.

Then of course, there’s a dead body.

The Good Life leans heavily into adventure game tropes, which by itself, I don’t have a problem with. The Good Life should feel free to be an adventure game if that’s what it wants. However, it gets in its own way over and over with non-adventure game mechanics that are, at best, distracting, at and worse, suck every drop of fun to be had right out of the game.

There’s a lot of focus on earning money – via quest completion (both for townsfolk and for your employer) as well as from taking photographs that align with popular hashtags and uploading them to social media. Hey, a need to have money to pay of a ridiculous amount of debt is a great motivation. The problem here is twofold. One, some of the “life sim” aspects mean you’re spending money faster than you can make it (you’re going to need a lot of food, and I’ve already had to go the doctor multiple times to cure ailments), and two, quest items and necessary camera upgrades are prohibitively expensive. If you’re the type who just wants to follow the story and do quests, well, too bad, because you need to spend an absurd amount of time doing things to make pennies, and most of those pennies will probably go back into buying food so you don’t pass out from starvation.

Also, at least in the early game, traveling around the map is going to eat up a huge chunk of your day. Your home isn’t so much far from the action, but it is somewhat awkwardly placed, and is the only place you can manually save. You can conserve your financial resources a bit by cooking items you find or grow in your garden, but if there’s a way to store pre-made food in your inventory to eat while you’re on the other side of the world, I haven’t discovered it. I found myself frequently wandering away from the active storyline in order to go home, eat, sleep, shower, and check my email. Which is annoying in and of itself, but the main story will occasionally drop you into “urgent” quests, which is bad because you don’t know when they’re coming, and some are rather long. If you haven’t recently refilled your needs meters, you may find yourself stuck and having to revert to an earlier save.

But the final straw for me is that I really am tired of listening to my player character. One of the last sections I played through has her screaming “YEAH BABY” over and over to the point where I almost turned the sound off. There’s another character who shows up way too often for my taste who just screams “LOBSTAH!” over and over and I hate him. I think you’re supposed to hate him, but not enough to want to turn the game off.

Look, I’d like to solve the mystery of Rainy Woods. I really would. Even though the humor is very much not to my tastes, I am fascinated by the world that’s been built, but not fascinated enough to have to jump through all the assorted hoops that are in my way. There are a lot of hoops, and the end of each play session had me more frustrated than entertained.

Quick Look – PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness (#VNNovember)

It’s been over a week now since I tried out PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness. I kept procrastinating writing about it, though, because I tried to tell myself I was going to go back to it. However, I’ve now accepted that, while it absolutely might be a great addition to someone who loves the anime it’s based on, it’s just not really for me, as someone completely unfamiliar with the constructs of the universe.

While you’re not exactly thrown into the middle of a story, the game doesn’t feel like it makes any attempt to introduce the player to the setting. Maybe that’s intentional – the character I chose to play as has a very specific sort of convenient amnesia. She can still function within the world, knows the rules of this society and her job, she just doesn’t remember anything about herself. It didn’t feel like that was any sort of attempt to allow the player to imprint themselves onto the playable character – I think that the protagonist’s story would have resolved on some level in the course of playing through the story. But it’s an odd set-up – if the character isn’t invested in herself, how is the player supposed to care?

I played through the first full chapter. I liked the procedural-ness of the game – making decisions about how to investigate a case with the risk of a wrong choice getting someone killed. But I couldn’t get past feeling detached from the setting. While it seems obvious that the characters would have a full understanding of the society they lived in, and their roles within in (weird-ass amnesia notwithstanding), I would have liked something like a “previously on” to get me up to speed.

Clearly, I’m just not the target market for this particular anime spin-off. It’s just unfortunate because even in my short play time, I could see how this could have come together to make it more enjoyable for newcomers. I have a soft spot for almost all media that revolves around solving a mystery, but I couldn’t chew my way through so much weirdness to get to the meat of this one.

Quick Look – Call of Cthulhu (#HorrorGameOct)

I’m not really sure what I was expecting from Call of Cthulhu, and by that, I mean, what kind of horror game I thought it was going to be. So far, it seems to primarily be a point & click adventure without inventory puzzles (thank god), with a smidge of RPG mechanics, and some really annoying stealth sections tossed in for flavor.

Thankfully, it’s also creepy rather than being full of jump scares, which I don’t love. It captures the 1920’s Lovecraftian vibe fairly well, putting you in the shoes of a detective on the edge of ruin, taking the case no one else wants because it’s either that or drink himself to death. I’ve completed the first four chapters (the first of which is little more than a very basic tutorial with some story sprinkled in). In all honesty, I’d probably be about halfway through the game by now, but I have hit that point that most horror games seem to rely on – the “solve puzzles in a dark space while trying not to be seen by anyone” section.

If Call of Cthulhu was a “save anywhere” game instead of one that is checkpoint save only, it might not be so awful. If I had ignored the instruction at the beginning of the game to adjust the brightness until the image on the left was barely visible, it might be more tolerable. As it is, the game is not really built around stealth, and I cannot see anything and am sure that using my lighter in most places in the chapter would just get me caught sooner. I absolutely intend to dive back into it, but I am also very sure that this is a roadblock that’ll push completion out well into next month.

… not that I actually expected to finish before the weekend is out.

That said, I’m not sure that this game really benefits from any of its mechanics – the story would be just as well told in a walking simulator or visual novel. In an earlier chapter, I finally had to consult a walkthrough after failing multiple ways to complete an objective. I spent probably too much time poking around and figuring out all the pieces to a puzzle, only to fail a requisite skill-check at the end, and render all that effort moot, and it discouraged me from looking around for less obvious solutions than the most direct route. Now I feel like if there’s something that seems absolutely idiotic, that’s probably the easiest way to reach my goal.

And yet I’m enjoying it for the most part. It’s visually striking, the sound design is excellent, and the story is interesting, if slightly slower paced for all the pixel hunting and puzzle solving you need to do. I have not yet given up on touching everything the game will allow me to, because finding an item that’s useful or that increases a skill you cannot increase with character points is more common than you might imagine. The character voice acting is hit and miss, but thankfully, the player character’s actor did a really solid job.

I tend to buy a lot of horror games, but because I am an epic wimp in real life, most of them sit in my library unplayed for approximately forever. I’m glad to have taken the leap with Call of Cthulhu, because it’s the right kind of horror for me, and manages to avoid the majority of irritations I tend to feel when playing most point and click style adventure games. Looking at the control scheme, I did note there is at least the potential for combat at some point, but I haven’t encountered any yet, and while I appreciate the eventuality of being able to – maybe – defend myself, there’s definitely more scare in being armed only with a lighter and your wits.

Quick Look – Ticket to Earth (#SciFiGameMonth)

Look, I know this isn’t the game I picked out to play for #SciFiGameMonth, but it’s super-duper-extra SciFi, so even though I still intend to sit down with Eliza sometime before the month is out, I’m counting this one anyway. Ticket to Earth is a turn-based RPG-lite with a tile matching mechanic that takes place on a non-earth planet in a strange dystopian world, with a fun comic book-inspired art style. That’s a mouthful, I know, but the way it all comes together, is so strange, and yet, at least for me, so enjoyable.

Bear with me here, because this is going to sound like a lot, but the game really does ease you into it gently. Each turn, you get two actions. The first type of action is movement, where you choose a color and can continue moving as long as there is another adjacent tile of the same color to move to – diagonals count. You cannot, however, backtrack. This not only moves you around the board, getting you closer to or further from enemies, it also adds damage to your basic attack, up to a cap determined by your equipped weapon, as well as charges up a special abilities based on the color tiles you’re transversing. The second type of action is well, an action, whether it be a basic attack, a special attack, or a healing or cleansing ability. There are other types of special abilities, for example abilities that provide buffs or debuffs or that change the color of nearby tiles, that do not use up one of your actions, and can be used at any point when they are charged. Each scenario will have a primary objective, and three bonus objectives. Initially, you start with one controllable character, but as you progress through the story, you will add more characters to your party, and be able to take more than one into battle with you.

Between encounters, there’s actually quite a bit you can do, again, doled out slowly through story-based unlocks. You can check the communications log, for information on what’s going on with characters you’ve met so far. You can upgrade or change abilities, purchase new weapons, forge gemstones and unlock talents, provided you have the adequate related currency to do so. The story is fed to you slowly between conflicts, and for me, feels just about right – you’re not getting bogged down in it, and since there is no voice acting, you can proceed through story beats as quickly as you can read; quicker, in fact, if you decide you don’t care about the story at all. Optional missions will pop up on the map from time to time, which are battles that aren’t required for story progression, but that you can take on in order to help your team get more powerful. Since I’m playing on the easier difficulty, I’ve mostly skipped over these thus far.

I’m about, and working on the second episode of the story. My party has grown to three people, which means there’s one playable character I haven’t met yet, since four character slots are shown. Individual battles aren’t overly long, so I’ve been playing this for an “in between” game when I only have a short period of time available. It’s not quite a coffee break game, but it’s also not unreasonable to play in increments of 30 minutes or less. I would say the weakest aspect of the game is probably the writing – so far, the dialogue ranges from fine to ridiculous, and the story is passable, but not memorable. If you’re not a fan of the combat style, there’s not really any good reason to push through playing this one.

Ticket to Earth was originally released in an episodic format, but all chapters are out now, so it’s a complete game, with an estimated play time of about 18 hours. Assuming that’s accurate, I’m not quite a quarter of the way through. The $15 price point seems pretty spot on, and the $3 I paid for it during this last Summer Sale was a steal.

Game (Almost) Over – Persona 4 Golden – #JRPGJuly

The good news is, I actually played a whole lot more Persona 4 Golden this month than I expected to. The bad news, however, is that I have reached a point where I don’t expect to actually finish the game. In a way, it’s sort of a shame to have spent almost 45 hours with it, but for me, there were just a few too many annoyances to get past, culminating in the solution to the Whodunit being wholly unsatisfying.

When a story is a twisty as this one is, there really is no good time to throw in the towel, because until the credits roll it’s always possible that unsatisfying story elements will slide into place in an epic A-HA! moment. In fact, when I last closed down the game, I didn’t intend to stop playing, despite being somewhat grumpy about the direction the story was taking. However, for me something had changed. Before the Big Reveal, I found myself playing at least a little every day, interspersed with a few marathon sessions when I wanted to see a particular story beat resolved before saving for the day.

Somehow, the appeal just disappeared. Sure, a big part of it was that I felt cheated by a major story point that – to me – made very little sense. But another, not insignificant, factor was the fact that I realized I was running out of time, and it was going to be impossible for me to do everything I still wanted to do. Being inefficient in the early game when I didn’t know any better meant that I just didn’t have enough slots of free time left to wrap up all the things I wanted to wrap up. I’m generally not a New Game+ player, so anything I couldn’t finish was going to stay unfinished, and that knowledge sapped my will to continue.

While it’s not that unusual for me to leave something unfinished, what is strange is actually deciding to do so, especially when it’s something I put this much time into. Did I get enough out of it? Yes, I think I did. There were characters I really loved, bits of story I really appreciated, and overall, I felt like it was a really solid game. I just wasn’t, necessarily, the right game for me. I tend not to pursue efficiency while gaming, and I’m not the biggest fan of time limits in a story focused game, even when they make sense inside of the plot, as they do here.

Quick Look – Persona 4 Golden (#JRPGJuly)

I’ve been playing so many shorter titles over the past year or so, it feels a little bit weird to be doing a quick look when I’ve already put more than ten hours into the game. But that is, of course, the good news – I’ve stuck with Persona 4 Golden for over ten hours now, which means I may just have broken my long streak of bouncing hard of JRPGs in general. The bad news is – at least for me – there’s still a lot of game left to go. Using the game play length estimate from How Long to Beat, I figure I’ve gone through approximately 15% of the game.

I do feel like I’ve finally gotten a handle on why JRPGs generally don’t work for me: one thing they all seem to have in common is the pacing of the early game is painfully slow. I would estimate that I wasn’t given a meaningful decision or bit of game play for about the first three hours, and that’s a long time to expect a player to hang in there to find out if they even like the gameplay loop.

Thankfully, this time, my patience was rewarded because I do (mostly) enjoy the game play here, both the life-sim style and the turn based combat of the dungeons. You will spend quite a bit of time with the former, where you build friendships (which are referred to in game as Social Links) and improve your character’s stats. The combat sections are firmly tied to in game dates, so you cannot jump into them until certain story beats are met. However, there are a lot of other things you can (and probably should) be doing, so it rarely feels punishing to need to wait. In fact, due to some early game blundering around, I have felt a little rushed from time to time, and that’s even considering that there are parts of the game I’ve either completely ignored or have yet to figure out.

The visuals on the boss designs are absolutely delightful so far.

I still don’t actually expect to get through the entire game this month – but I’m starting to lean towards the idea that I will finish a play through of the whole story. I am playing through on easy, and am consulting a walkthrough to make sure I’m not irrevocably screwing up my save file, so I don’t think I’m going to run up against a point where I just cannot continue. Thankfully, save points are abundant enough that – for the most part – Persona 4 will work for me to fill in some of the smaller bits of gaming time I have.

Game Over – Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces (#FashionGameJune)

For me, one of the best things about casual game sequels is that you know what to expect, and that’s going to be more of the same. After all, most casual game developers just keep doing the same thing once they figure out what works.

Not so with Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces, and as far as I’m concerned, the innovation here is definitely to the game’s detriment. Approximately half the levels function very similarly to the first game – you’re given styles, a few models, and a whole bunch of clothing, and you have the make the best outfits. Sure, some of the styles are even more outlandish than in the first game, but that’s fine.

The addition of male models & their associated styles was fine, for the most part. Most levels that had male models had them exclusively, so the game play was pretty much identical. It did get annoying in the late game when there were multiple genders of models in the same level, but without any corresponding increase in the amount of clothing available – more than once, I had to use multiple shuffles just to get enough pieces to fully dress a model, regardless of style, and I felt like the concept was cool, but it was poorly thought out from a play perspective.

What didn’t work for me was the new photo shoot levels.

No longer are you able to hover over the style types to get more details – you need to remember all the hallmarks of the styles and find the models that best match them. The timer on a lot of these photo shoot levels is super tight, and the models are often stacked up, meaning if you’re not careful, you may snap someone you didn’t intend. On the upside, the required scores aren’t too challenging, so you still rarely need to replay unless you’re going for perfect scores. I actually got irritated each time one of these levels cropped up, which they do far too frequently.

Overall, the second entry in the Jojo’s Fashion show series looks like an upgrade, but definitely wasn’t nearly as enjoyable to play. Every time I felt like I was getting into a groove, the rules would change, and it just wasn’t fun after awhile. Although my final play time was super close to that of the first game, it felt a whole lot longer, and not in a good way.

I know that I played all three games in the series many years ago, but my time with Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces has discouraged me from even trying to track down the third game. I wish the developers had believed in the old adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.