Spiritfarer is one of those games that I liked more and less than I expected at the same time. As a management game, it was … ok, I guess. The pacing was weird and frustrating. However, thematically and as a series of character studies, it was brilliant and heart-wrenching, and so much more powerful than I was anticipating.
You are put into the role of Stella (and her faithful companion, Daffodil), who have just being their tenure as the Spiritfarer – an entity responsible for rounding up spirits, and delivering them to the Everdoor. More importantly (and taking up the bulk of the gameplay), you are also helping them finish up whatever they need to do (or have done) before they can move on to their final rest.
I spent about 24 hours with Spiritfarer over the course of a couple of weeks, and that took me to the credits. There are things you can continue to do after the game ends, but I don’t know if I’ll go back. I only had two character stories left unfinished, and if I’m being completely honest, I actually wish the entire game was about half as long.
The art and music are lovely, the writing is excellent overall, and the characters are artfully depicted. But the mechanics of the game means that character development comes slowly as you muddle your way through fulfilling requests. For me, because some stories felt so drawn out, it lessened the impact.
That’s where the management flaws come in. Gathering resources can be tedious – traversing the map is especially slow early game, and resource nodes are limited and will need to recharge. You will need to get currency (Glims) as well as resources to perform upgrades to your ship which are needed to open up areas of the map, as well as increase the size of your ship and unlock additional blueprints. In case that’s not enough unlockables for you, you also need to collect Obols from the spirits in your care to deposit at shrines for new movement abilities, which allow you to go to previously inaccessible places.
It’s a lot, and it feels gargantuan what to prioritize because you just want to figure out where to get the one thing you need to move a quest along.
If you are comfortable with a some tedious and oh-so-slow gameplay, the emotional payoff is immense. I fully admit there were tears, and twice as many times when there were sniffles. Spiritfarer doesn’t just tug on your heartstrings – it ties them to a truck and steps on the gas.
If you are comfortable with the pervasive death theme, the slow pace of the game, and a story that’s told more through character development than plot, Spiritfarer is probably worth your time, but I hesitate to say that it would be enjoyable. There are a lot of things that this game does well, but – at least for me – fun never really entered into the equation. I was absolutely captivated and invested, but I don’t know that at any point, I was actually enjoying the gameplay.
I’m going to start out by admitting that I’m feeling just a little bit guilty on this one. For #FightingGameMonth, I may have adhered to the letter of the law by choosing Injustice: Gods Among Us as my game for the month, but ooh boy, did I tweak it to the point that I skipped out entirely on the spirit of the thing.
First off, although as far as I’m concerned, I completed the game (there were credits!), I only played the story mode content. I’m not overly experienced with fighting games in general, but I don’t even know that most of them have story modes. Then, I did this to the difficulty settings:
Yep, not just easy. Very easy. Do you know what happens when you play on very easy? You can finish the entire game without successfully executing a combo as long as you mash enough buttons. I was pretty attached to this plan already, but then I attempted the tutorial.
That’s right – I finished the game, but couldn’t get through the tutorial. Playing with the keyboard wasn’t too bad, except that it didn’t always register all my key presses – I assume I could have futzed around in Windows settings to make it so pressing three keys at the same time wouldn’t cause a problem, but I figured I’d try to play the game with a controller instead.
My oh-so-cost-effective controller that I bought despite not liking controllers, generally speaking.
Real talk: I was no more successful with the controller than I was with the keyboard, but at the difficult level I selected, it didn’t matter. Leaving the tutorial and entering the story mode proper was like rolling back down to the absolute bottom of a the difficulty curve. I turned a fighting game into a really basic hack-n-slasher.
And I enjoyed it.
I would say that story mode was probably 60% cut scenes, 30% fight sequences, and 10% weird little Quicktime-style events. The story was passable, even as someone whose knowledge of DC Comics is almost entirely based on a cross-media enjoyment of all things Batman. It really didn’t matter that I didn’t know much about the majority of the characters, especially since the story was focused on a parallel universe concept.
All told, reaching full completion of story mode took me just under four hours over two play sessions. Even on very easy, the last few fights were a little rough (and I had to retry a single fight after switching back to keyboard and putting my hands on the WRONG DAMN KEYS).
I’ve definitely played games I enjoyed less, but nothing about the story wowed me enough to want to figure out the game play, instead of just faking my way through it.
The Danganronpa series – and V3 in particular – are really hard to talk about in any meaningful way without spoilers. In fact, to go any further into the meat of the game other than the basic premise has the potential to ruin the experience for someone who hasn’t played yet.
In fact, I managed to inadvertently spoil myself twice during my play through, so I fully understand how annoying that is. So I’m going to keep this free of spoilers for the characters and the plot line, and focus more on my relationship with the series as a whole, and some of my issues with the mechanics of this game (as well as its predecessors).
The Danganronpa games are part murder mystery visual novel, and part friendship / dating simulator, with some very twitch action sequences, which as far as I’m concerned, plays as oddly as it sounds. In each installment, you have a group of teenagers with memory issues that need to figure out who they are, why they’re trapped together, and how to deal with the evil teddy bear who wants them to kill each other.
Each game is divided into three separate segments that alternate throughout the story, as well as periods of pure VN exposition. Player choice is limited to who you choose to spend time with during the daily life segments, and how much effort you want to put into figuring out (and obtaining) gifts for those characters. Investigation segments have no fail state – in fact, the game will prevent you from moving on until you’ve found all the necessary evidence.
The class trials are where that evidence gets put to use, and get progressively more difficult mechanically as the game progresses. Although these segments are my favorite parts, they can also be the most irritating, as they require a level of skill that the rest of the game doesn’t (although turning down the difficulty for the action portions should give you far more time than you’d ever actually need).
It was a little over a year ago now that I dived into the world of Danganronpa for the first time. Initially, I was drawn to it because of the “stranger in a room” conceit – I love well told stories that start with this premise, and Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was extremely well-reviewed. Despite not being a huge fan of the aesthetic, and in truth, not really enjoying a good portion of the elements of the game, I still charged through the twenty-odd hours of game, being dragged along behind a whirlwind story, and mostly unconcerned about the other elements.
I only managed to wait a couple of months before similarly devouring the sequel Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, putting in about 25 hours over the course of a week. As with many successful sequels, it was more of the same, with minor improvements, and with the outlandishness kicked up a couple of notches. The things that didn’t impress me from the first game were still key to the game’s completion, but I was so invested in the plot, it was – at most – a minor inconvenience, providing me with an opportunity to catch my breath in between the parts I found more interesting.
After I finished it, I tracked down the “third episode” anime – I wasn’t ready to be finished with the story, and according to the fans, this was the next step. Once I finished watching that, I was more or less content with that being the end of the story.
I knew there was a third game, I poked around enough to learn that the ending really divided the fanbase, and I decided that – especially considering the $40 price tag – it wasn’t something I needed to play, and so, I mostly put the Danganronpa universe out of my mind until the Steam Summer Sale, when I decided to get Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony for about $12.
I have spent 26 hours in the last five days with Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, and in a lot of ways, it’s my least favorite of the series. However, part of the reasoning for that is how deeply uncomfortable the game made me in places, and for me, that’s a sign of a successful piece of art. It doesn’t matter if you love it – what matters is that it makes you feel something.
It may seem obvious – of course a game about teenagers being forced to kill each other as a mystery game is going to be at least a little bit uncomfortable, right? Well, having seen this exact setup twice before now, the game has lost some of its shock value. It wasn’t the plot twists either – if I could get this far in the series without expecting plot twists, I clearly hadn’t been paying attention.
In fact, I would say that, as a video game, DV3 plays well into its own established tropes. There are characters you’re supposed to love, and characters you’re supposed to hate. There are mysteries of all sizes to be solved, and sometimes the player will feel clever, and sometimes they won’t, but in the end, they’ll get the answers they’re looking for. None of this is subverted.
So what was it about Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony that actually made me squirm in my seat? It was the offhand background commentary, the stuff played off for laughs. Although the game is around three years old at this point, there are several moments that feel especially poignant as someone living in the United States in 2020. One or two references felt absolutely like foreshadowing of current events, and although my logical brain realizes that in a lot of ways, that’s a result of the writers throwing a lot of things at a lot of walls, it still broke me out of the in-game universe and sent me back into my own reality.
In all three games, there have been characters I felt were solid, some of them almost in spite of their unlike-ability, while others were just painfully absurd, but overall, I felt as if the characters in the third game were the least interesting when taken as a group. This meant for the first half of the game, I was less invested in the outcomes of the cases than I otherwise might have been. Sure, I wanted to know what happened, but I didn’t much care about the victims or the murderers, which for me was definitely a weak point, and if I hadn’t been invested in the universe as a whole, I might not have continued playing through what – for me – are the dull parts, and just read a plot summary on the internet somewhere.
I wouldn’t classify myself as a hardcore Danganronpa fan – to be honest, I have never even poked into any of the bonus modes that unlock at the end of each game. For me, when the story is over, there isn’t any point in continuing to play, because I play for the mysteries. Still, I was satisfied with the game as a whole, and the ending didn’t ruin anything for me, rather, I appreciated it for what it was and how it fit into the themes of the game as a whole.
Although I’ve often played games with dating sim elements, I think this is the first game I’ve played where I went into it thinking about it as a dating simulator, if that makes sense. I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but in more ways than one, for me at least, Purrfect Date fell short.
Here is the most frustrating thing: I made one mistake, and my only recourse if I want the “true” ending is to replay the entire game. Now, the game was only four hours long, but that’s an awful lot of rereading just for .. a cut scene? Some exposition? I don’t know, and I don’t expect I’ll run through the game again to find out.
There is no going back to a save point, no replaying single chapters. There isn’t even a fast replay option; you’ll need to page through all the dialogue, even if you don’t re-read it. If you only want to play the game once, chances are you won’t get the best ending.
Putting that (admittedly not so minor) gripe aside, I liked the game well enough. Although I was disappointed in the inability to date more than one character simultaneously (once you pick a date, that character is locked into that choice for the duration of their chapter), I did enjoy the distinct personalities of all the date-able characters.
That said, the “game play” portion of the game felt very forced. After every three events, you need to rest (and if you forget, the game will remind you). The only reason I could fathom for this mechanic is to toss in an achievement (and potentially an “ending”) for completely ignoring the mechanic, but it’s another thing I really don’t feel compelled to go back and check out.
I managed to successfully romance each character, and I felt like the “correct” response was always pretty obvious. A successful romance, however, only requires 2 of 3 correct answers, so if that’s your main goal, you can actually afford to make an error.
I got the happy ending in five of the six chapters, and I found those resolutions satisfying – an “awwww” or two might have even escaped my lips.
I really hate saying that I walked away from the game feeling very meh, because almost all the pieces were really well put together. Normally, I can overlook a clumsy element or two when everything else feels right, but for a narrative driven game, I feel like a second full play through in which I need to only make a singular different choice is too much of an ask.
While I like a game that is built with an eye toward replay value, I think Purrfect Date swings for that, but misses, and that miss makes it far less appealing for even a single play through. Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of great stuff here.
It may have taken choosing an extremely short title for #PlatforMonth, but I managed to finish up Type:Rider in just over two hours!
If you’re looking for a platforming challenge, this isn’t it. If you’re looking instead for a lovely romp through the history of typography (or even if you just appreciate a clever use of letters as art and some pretty graphics), then you’re in the right place.
True confession: I didn’t push myself playing this game. I did make it a point to get all the asterisks, but I skipped over any letters I couldn’t immediately see a way to get to. I didn’t hunt down the ampersands either, but I grabbed a couple that I practically bumbled into.
I assume that one or both of these things are required to get to the “bonus chapter”, so I did not manage to unlock it. However, I actually started to struggle on the final chapter, and although I enjoyed my time playing Type:Rider, I didn’t feel an overwhelming pull to go back and try to hunt down all the collectibles.
For a budget game (full price is just under $5), I think Type:Rider was a worthwhile experience, but it probably will only appeal to a very niche audience.
Yoku’s Island Express is another game that I probably wouldn’t have picked up on its own – at least not for a long time – when it showed up in the August 2019 Humble Monthly, I figured it was worth a shot. As someone who isn’t particularly good at pinball or platformers, I didn’t go in expecting a whole lot.
But after roughly 7 hours, I managed to finish the main story of the game (despite my save file putting me a mere 37% completion), and for me, that qualifies as a satisfying game experience, especially considering how low my skill threshold is.
It was a near thing, too, because of this stupid vine filled with flowers I needed to spin around on. Out of my seven hours of play, it’s no exaggeration to say that at least two of those, I spent trying to get up to the top of this vine. For three days in a row, I would play for more than half an hour, just trying to make all those jumps and failing over and over. Finally, I told myself that if I couldn’t make it up during that play session, I was done.
Clearly, I just needed an ultimatum.
Otherwise, I found the game to be not terribly difficult, although I started playing with the keyboard, and since keys are NOT remappable, found myself using my Logitech controller instead. The pinball mechanics felt a whole lot more natural using a controller’s trigger rather than the left and right shift keys (which my brain thinks of as interchangeable, so I’m sure that was part of the problem).
That said, if something wasn’t absolutely required to progress, and I couldn’t figure it out within a few minutes, I just moved past it. Completionists might struggle more, but I decided early on that I would be happy if I could get through the story.
I did consult a walkthrough a couple of times in order to figure out where I needed to go in order to obtain a couple of required upgrades, but mostly, I muddled around a lot. Sure, I’d point myself in the direction of a quest, but if I got off track and ended up at the other end of the map? I would explore a little before trying to get myself back to where I needed to be.
Overall, I thought Yoku’s Island Express was clever, and generally felt good to play, but it isn’t going to end up on a list of my all-time favorite games anytime soon. In fact, it’s not even my favorite pinball-centric game (that title would have to go to Rollers of the Realm, which I enjoyed immensely). I doubt I’ll be re-visiting it for another play through, or even to seek out achievements and a higher completion percentage, but I definitely enjoyed playing.
In an effort to eke out every last bit of value of the free Uplay+ trial, I decided to load up Transcendence tonight. It’s a weird little game, and probably a really fantastic VR experience, but if you’re okay with non-linear storytelling and drawing your own conclusions in a creepy atmosphere, it’s probably worth a play through even without a VR headset.
The whole thing took me about 90 minutes from start to finish – I missed a couple of audio and video logs, but really, this isn’t a long game any way you look at it. There are no fail states, and every puzzle can be solved via trial and error – in fact, that’s how I managed to solve many of them.
It was dark, and creepy, with a couple jump scares and a lot of little details that will likely leave you with a very bad feeling in the pit of your stomach. Don’t play this looking for a happy ending, or to have all the loose ends tied up neatly.
For me, the experience was worth the time, but I think that the asking price of $25 borders on criminal, because there is absolutely no replay value here except for the most dedicated of completionists. I might even go so far as to say there’s very little play value – there’s very little to be gained from actually going through the game yourself versus watching someone else play it – at least from a non-VR perspective.
Transference is a neat little experience – if you’re going to subscribe to Uplay+ anyway (or if you want to squeeze it in just under the expiration like I did), but if you’d rather just watch, pop yourself some popcorn and fire up the video below.
Click here if you want to check out my first impressions!
I realize how long it’s been since I first loaded this game up, and I can assure you that for most folks, this is probably a single-evening kind of game. I am not most folks.
If you don’t tend to wander around, the levels can be completed in a fairly linear manner in about 30 minutes. Each level adds a few new mechanics, pretty seamlessly, which is wonderful and I suppose would keep it from getting stale for some. I really just wanted to touch everything to see what it did – does it light up? does it make a sound? does it blow me halfway across the map?
Each level is gorgeous in its own way, but I think the last one – with its many colored spotlights – was probably my favorite. And although I’d really like to chalk it up to getting quicker to figure things out, the last one might have also been the easiest.
And then, just when I thought it was over:
There’s a super short collect-em-up bonus level – no puzzles, just grab all the orbs you can. And it’s Christmas-themed, right down to the music!
I think the most telling thing I can say about Ode is that, despite having completed it, I absolutely intend to buy it when my Uplay+ runs out. It’s something I can see myself replaying from time to time when I just want to kick back and relax, and for $5, the game is a steal.
I feel like I need to start off saying that I really enjoyed playing Little Dragon’s Cafe, because hoo boy, do I have a million nitpicks. The game worked great, it was super relaxing (even during the “stressful” busy parts), but there were a ton of things that I feel would have made the game even better.
Until now, the way I have been making games is to make the game system first, and then add in characters and all the meat of the game afterward,” he said. “For Little Dragons Café, I worked on this backward where we thought of the characters and the story and the art style first, and then decided how to turn all that into a game.
Yasuhiro Wada – from an interview with CJ Andriessen on Destructoid
I loved the art style, and mostly really liked the characters, but the one thing I can’t give Little Dragon’s Cafe any credit for whatsoever was the pacing. After the prologue, the chapters felt so very slow. And there were a lot of chapters.
It seems a little disingenuous to complain about busy work in a game that, let’s be honest, is at least 75% busy work to begin with. Scrounging around for recipe fragments and cooking ingredients was a lovely, chill experience, but it wasn’t anything exciting. But there were far too many days which served to only be a short cutscene, which added almost nothing to the story, with instructions to further the story by going to sleep.
The other thing that threw the pacing off – at least for me – was the process of raising the dragon. The first three stages of your dragon’s life happen fairly quickly, and then you’re stuck in adolescence for what seemed like forever. At that point, you did have the entirety of the island to explore (minus one small “end game” zone), but that also meant that there were blocked off recipe fragments in a lot of places, taunting you, that you couldn’t get until your dragon reached adulthood.
I feel like Little Dragon Cafe would have been a smoother experience with a couple of small tweaks. Having four rarities of about half of the ingredients made the total number of ingredients wholly unmanageable, considering there are 160 unique ones to begin with. Due to the extreme limits of the fertilizer system (only getting one per day with a max carry of 9), it was really rather useless for targeting specific higher rarity ingredients, and actually using the ingredients was just a guarantee that you’d have to change your menu often.
The relative rarity of a few certain key ingredients was also pretty annoying to deal with. Rice was used in a lot of recipes, but only came in two base varieties. The same with flour, which was used in even more recipes than rice. Early on this was fine, but as you progressed through the story, and your cafe got more famous (and therefore busier), there was no way to keep up with the demand for these ingredients, so you ended up with a rather lopsided menu that used very little of either.
Finally, while it was very handy to have a garden right outside your cafe, the fact that you had absolutely no control over what grew there made it far less useful than it otherwise could have been. The more ingredients you found in the wild, the more variety your garden produced, meaning that you basically got an insignificant amount of a lot of different ingredients.
The cooking mini-game was fine – I didn’t particular look forward to cooking new dishes, but I also didn’t struggle to get four to five stars on most anything I cooked. I am grateful that the ability to change your menu while out in the world was available, because in the latter half of the game, I sometimes found myself needing to change my menu multiple times a day as ingredients ran out. My cafe employees did a lot of slacking off, but unless I was near the end of a chapter, I found I could basically ignore it, since there was no financial incentive to make the cafe run smoothly provided you met the satisfaction metrics for a given chapter (and if you didn’t you just needed to spend a few days getting satisfaction up before the next story beat would start).
With no fail state that I could find, Little Dragon’s Cafe is a respectable low-key game that can be played in bite size chunks (frequently, I’d play two or three days in about 30 minutes). It’s a little annoying that two of the remaining three achievements I have yet to unlock require playing past the end of the story, and I’m still undecided whether I’m going to prioritize finishing those up. I suppose it depends on how much I find I miss playing.
I would recommend Little Dragon’s Cafe for fans of the genre, but the odd pacing and grindiness of the game make it hard sell (at least on PC) for the asking price.