Draft one of my first book… Complete!

Journey During A Stone King Slumbers

I reached a major milestone with my story writing last week – I finished the first draft of what is now the first part of my fantasy novel. Granted, the the point at which I closed the first book was about half way in my original story plan, but it wasn’t a short story back then.

I have a new name for the story – A Stone King Slumbers.

I wanted to change the name to something a little more approachable for new readers. There are three parts to this book; A Silent Escape, The Lonely Parts, and Rise and Fall. Within these parts are a two-part prologue and forty-seven chapters. The book is just over 200,000 words which (I believe) equates to around 550 pages. I’m quite proud of this accomplishment, though I’ve only had people read the first part of the story so far…

Based on those readings, I’ve redrafted A Silent Escape four times now, and given the time the rewriting took, I’ve decided to leave the first story part for a short while as I make a start on the second part.

I’ve been quite excited to introduce two major new characters to my story for a while: Isaac and Edwin. They begin their story in the south of Bleakendom, and find themselves stacked against fearful odds while a routine scavenging trip becomes an assault from an old enemy of the island, long thought to have been gone for good. Barely managing to escape, they then find that they are no longer wanted in the town they call home and are chased away. They’ll meet one of my secondary characters soon, and eventually travel with Wil, my protagonist.

That’s all for now!

Made Mario and his Merry Levels

maker

I’ve owned the Wii U since its UK launch back in 2012. I’ve enjoyed the console a lot, but more often than not it spends its days gathering dust beneath the heavily used PS4 and PS3. With the exception of perhaps The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, each game I’ve purchased for Nintendo’s current console has provided me with a brilliant, but short, 5-20hrs of gameplay. Not to say that there isn’t more to the games on offer for the console (I’m sure Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros will one day break the magic 25hr barrier), but I’m usually no completionist, and Nintendo has certainly proved itself a master of short, sharp, fun games. They are the greatest while you are playing them through for the first time, but you are always left wanting to experience that feeling of discovery again, which you’ll never get back no matter how often you revisit them. It has almost always been this way with Nintendo. Even fond memories of my first epic journey through Zebes with Samus Aran on the SNES were revealed to be no longer than an eight-hour playthrough. Pity then that Nintendo don’t release a new game every week.

If only their games were just a bit longer. Better yet, if only they held an infinite resource of Nintendo magic in their colourful worlds.

Well, it turns out, for Wii U owners at least, that this is now a possibility for the much-loved Super Mario series!
Traps Galore
Nintendo’s Super Mario Maker, released on September 11th 2015, hands you the keys to a content creation tool that lets you dream up whatever outlandish plans you might ever have had for Mario during his 2D escapades. Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros themes are on offer, and within those shells are the backgrounds and bits and pieces that you will need for fashioning jaunts through six styles of level. This is a level design kit that anyone can use, as sure as Bowser will kidnap Princess Peach again.

The interface is staggeringly simple. Just drag and drop whatever aspect of a Mario game takes you fancy, and place it on the grid that will eventually form your level. Initial results might be rough in terms of design and flow, but thanks to the way everything is held together by the robust Maker tools, it will simply look and feel like Nintendo just allowed a member of their crèche to build a level. Everything looks, and feels, Nintendo.
Palette
When you start the game for the first time, you’ll be presented with scant few options, available on only the Super Mario Bros and New Super Mario Bros style levels. Thanks to a day-one patch, the content you received will now be practically rammed down your throat (rather than drip-fed over days), and soon fashion you with the full complement of Mario tools! Every component on offer has its own function within each of the styles of Mario game. Enemies will generally act the same way whether you place them in 1985 or 2012, but later additions such as Yoshi will be transformed into the shoes that Mario could bounce around in in Super Mario Bros 3. You can bring into the original Mario game all of the traps and tracks that were introduced in the games that came after, and create truly monstrous creations the likes of which you would never have seen on the NES. Yet still, they manage to feel authentically NES-y.

One of the limits you’ll have to deal with is that all planes are horizontal, unless you are making a winding track for a platform to follow (but even then, the platform will remain flat). This is but a small blemish on the creator itself, but had the player been allowed the slopes and slides that were introduced post-Super Mario Bros, then it would have been impossible to retain that NES feel on levels that might have incorporated them. If anything, I feel that the small limitation just asks that you get more creative. Try building ingenious systems of boosts and jumps instead, that will wow those that play them, and lend an intensity to levels that was never present back when you held your rectangular joypad with a D-pad and 4 buttons.
Test your levels
For everything else, it is likely that the user’s imagination will impose its own limits. You don’t just have the 60 individual tools available for creating your levels. Drag one of the icons from the tool bar, hold it over the grid and give it a little shake with the stylus. Chances are it will transform into something else, or being an exciting new variant on what you selected. A simple example of this is that a shaken Green Turtle will become a Red Turtle, a Bullet Bill will become a more ferocious, heat-seeking version. The modifications don’t just end there either! You can combine items with each other. You might drop a Mushroom onto an enemy and create a giant version of that creature, or you could drop pretty much anything you want into a pipe and shower the player with contents.

For me, I find that the Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros 3 creations are the most exciting. There’s something about the 2D artwork here that looks just as good today as it did when it was released. Each and every creation option you have is a joy to watch unfold in your own mini world. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the New Super Mario Bros stylings – despite firmly believing that New Super Mario Bros itself is the finest addition to the Mario series since Super Mario World itself. There’s something about the psuedo-3D looks that just doesn’t sit well with me. When I create a level and transfer it between styles of Mario game, I often end up balking at the New Super Mario Bros version and reverting to a more visually arresting choice.

So, for my money, the two styles of game that are unlocked last are where the most fun is at, however, there is another reason for sticking with the original Super Mario Bros besides the need for a nostalgia hit: Amiibos…

INTERLUDE

Upper (2)
Hi, my name is NanashiNoProfile and I am an Amiiboholic. It started, as do all addictions, with just a single peek inside Pandora’s Amiibo box. Just one, brief glimpse, and I came away with a Kirby Amiibo. Perfect model for me, as he worked in all of the games I owned that had Amiibo support. I only needed one. I told that to my colleagues, and I told that to myself. Kirby itself was an excellent, if simple, model. I scanned him into Kirby and The Rainbow Paintbrush and got a Star Dash power. It was a small function, but it was cool to just scan the Amiibo and get the power. I started fighting my Amiibo in Smash Bros, raced in his colours in Mario Kart 8. Small additions, but something so very Nintendo, and so very…

I bought Toon Link. Zero-Suit Samus, Bowser, Ganondorf, Shulk, Ness, Megaman, Pit…

Pretty soon I had 18 Amiibo, and more on preorder to come.

I’m 32. Most of the Amiibo really do very little. Except unlock a new skin in Yoshi’s Woolly World, become a “friend” to fight in Smash Bros, and unlock a playable icon for Super Mario Bros styled levels in Super Mario Maker! Nintendo really know what they’re doing with their plastic nostalgia models, and I have fallen hook, line, and sinker for them.

And will no doubt continue to do so as long as there are models left to be released. Bloody Amiibo.

amiibo lower (2)
END INTERLUDE

Tapping your Amiibo onto the Gamepad will cause the game to stop what it is doing as it allows a pixellated 2D approximation of your Amiibo drop onto the screen. It works for pretty much every Amiibo (and they’re at least a tenner each). You can then use this icon as a Mystery Mushroom, so when Mario picks it up, instead of growing larger he will become the character you have hidden inside, or simply take on a random form of the skins available if you haven’t otherwise chosen a specific one. These skins can only be used in the Super Mario Bros style levels, but once you get over the initial disappointment of that, you’ll likely start to see that you make a fairly authentic Mega Man level, or the ‘original’ Super Princess Peach. You can unlock skins by scanning Amiibo, or by completing the 100 Mario Challenge, once for each skin. The problem this presents is that once you get inspired, you’re going to want that skin. If you don’t unlock it after a few plays of the 100 Mario Challenge, you’re going to buy that Amiibo.

I bought Wario for this reason (to make Super Wario Waker, naturally), and then unlocked the bastard as soon as I had delivery notification…

So, you’ve made yourself a whole host of levels. You’re going to want the world to play them! Uploading your creations is simple – just prove to the game that the level can completed, give it an appropriate name, and you’re away. Super Mario Maker limits newcomers to 10 uploads to begin with, and you can increase that limit by having players play and ‘star’ your levels. It is a long road to earning more uploads. You’ll need 50 Stars for your first ‘Medal’. New medals grant you an additional 10 uploads. I have two medals, and have maxed out my upload limit. I need that third medal, but sources seem to to suggest I’ll need 150 Stars for that. I have 96. This is quite a problem with Super Mario Maker: it’s all well and good preventing new players from uploading hundreds of terrible levels from the off, but the fact that some there are many players with the full 100 uploads available now, players new to the game are going to have a hard time getting their levels noticed in and among the heavyweights. You’re going to need Wii U friends, a resource that I sadly lack. You can always delete your uploaded levels and place new ones online, but if you’ve ten or twenty solid levels up already, you might not want to do that. Fortunately, you can save 120 levels to your Wii U itself, so will have plenty of time to make new and exciting levels that you may want to replace the older ones you have online. I just feel it would have been a little fairer if the minimum upload limit had been a little higher – or that the medal thresholds were somewhat more reasonable!
Menu
And what of the levels that other players have uploaded? There are multiple ways to experience the creations on offer. You can play the 100 Mario Challenge, and choose between Easy, Normal, and Expert. This will throw you 8-16 levels that seem to be organised based on their completion statistics. It is important to remember that no level is impossible, but by the cliffs of hell some of them seem that way! Nintendo has implemented a sort of Tinder-like system where you can swipe away a level you are not getting on with and never see it again (possibly). Enjoy the sounds as it clatters out of your sight and is replaced with a fresh new level to help grind your gears. The quality of the content on offer is less a mixed bag, and more like a box of Quality Street where you’re after the Strawberry Creams but find only three in the box and about fifty Coconut Eclairs. I feel that it is hard to find great levels. There are sparks of brilliant ideas here and there, and some truly brilliant creations, but too many levels have dead ends, or unavoidable traps. Yes, the levels can be completed, but there is nothing to stop the creator (knowingly or unknowingly) create a level with a drop that won’t kill you, but one you can’t jump out of either. There is almost nothing more frustrating than playing a difficult level and then finding that the path at the end splits in three. Paths with no return. Choose one, accept your fate. That fate is usually a spike trap that you now have to walk on. As Super Mario Maker levels feature no checkpoints, “level design” like results in an immediate sweep to the right!

There are other common types of level out there as well. Super easy levels that ask you to run right (sorry, I also made one, though it was a joke), levels where you have to sacrifice Yoshi countless times – seriously, I feel like Yoshi’s use in Mario Maker has become little more than that of blood sacrifice. I’ve not played a single level where I get to sit on his soft leather saddle, and beat him repeatedly about the eye so that he will lick up those that would seek to do me harm on my way to the exit – or “auto” levels where you just start the level and hold still while a set prop boots you on your way to the finish. The latter can be genuinely impressive, but every now and then I actually want to run, jump, and stomp on Goomba heads. Of course, the game is only just out, the sheer number of these levels may die down, and at the least, the people who can’t make a level for toffee will hopefully just give up (or never get the Stars needed to upload more than ten levels!).
Bowser
Fortunately, there are sites that are gathering lists of great levels that means you can sift out a lot of the crap. You still have to enter a 16-digit code to play them (thanks, Nintendo). However you choose to do it, just expect some poor levels every now and again. This is a content-creation tool after all, that’s all there is!

For all the moaning I make about the levels that other players have made, I really love this game. I have spent so much time on it, in such a short couple of weeks, that the game is quickly becoming an addiction. I check every day for new stars, then end up getting lost in making a new level with an idea that came to me during the day. I can see the game being something that I will always come back to my Wii U for, in much the way Minecraft beckons me to my PS4 during a dry game spell. The bad content is a mere blemish on an excellent tool that Nintendo has kindly allowed us all to enjoy. Level creation is almost too simple for words, yet can result in astoundingly complex levels. You can’t really ask for much more than that, and I for one am happy that there will now always be new Mario when Nintendo is not releasing a new Mario game.

I think this game is finally the reason for anyone to pick up a Wii U.

Might as well ply some levels I made as well!

New Mario Bros Arcade (E1E1-0000-006D-8E3A)
Tool Up! (3CF9-0000-0070-91CA)
You Need It More Than He Does… (8015-0000-0077-D785)
Run Right, Run Left. Don’t Stop (8115-0000-0045-2062)
Inferno – Seal One (F3BD-0000-002F-7192)
Inferno – Seal Two (438D-0000-002F-DF75)
Inferno – Seal Three (9595-0000-0039-27E0)
Inferno – Final Seal (CF64-0000-0039-77BD)

Interesting Puzzles

Is This The Will of Steins Gate?

With long working weeks and plenty of life admin to take care of on those rare days off, I often feel like I just don’t have enough time to do everything I want to do. I’m sure most working folk feel exactly the same. How exactly do you make the most of your free time? Do you spend it all mulling over what you might do with it, or do you just take the bull by the horns and bust into whatever comes first?

I’m 32, work full time, and enjoy a number of time-consuming hobbies that really don’t leave much room for one another.

I want to carry on writing the novel I am working on (45 chapters in ~220000 words so far). There are literally hundreds of unplayed games from the NES to the PS4 on my shelves, gathering dust as they wait for the one I’m currently playing to be finished (some are still sealed). There is a whole Scotland out there that I want to chart on my terms. I like to read, and spend all of my train journeys with my head in a Kindle. I’ve recently discovered an interest in photography, even if I only have a phone and a basic digital camera to work with. I’m getting married next year and am very excited about planning everything with my wife-to-be. There is often something I’d like to write about on here, too.

Seins_Gate

Recently I played game on the PS Vita called Steins;Gate, a visual novel that tells the tale of Okabe Rintaro and his friends who manage to invent a time machine. For a man with little time on his hands, this game appealed. Okabe-kun did the kind of things that a wannabe time-traveller should really seek to avoid: he changed the past, frequently. The game sees you (as Okabe), change so much that he pushes himself further and further from his original world line, into a universe where the city he lives in is changed, where one of his friends is now a girl instead a guy, where his best friend’s fate is all but decided, and where he falls in love with a girl who by rights shouldn’t even be alive.

This game was incredible. So incredible that upon recollection the 25hrs I spent playing it seem to be both spread over weeks of play, and simultaneously compacted into mere minutes of joy. Some chapters felt like they took too long (because I wanted to see what happened next), but on the whole the game just didn’t last long enough. It is a rare thing to find a game that you wish would last forever, that you could inhabit forever. Almost as soon as the final credits began to roll I started to miss the characters. I wanted to time travel back myself and start over, meet everyone anew (or at least pretend that I didn’t know them). I wanted to experience Okabe’s change from irritating fool into stalwart hero just one more time, but feel that amazement without the knowledge it would come. That’s impossible now, I’ve played the game. I can never have that same feeling again.

I really can’t think of a time before that a game has had that affect on me. And this game is largely a series of still images that asks you to tap X to proceed through them, and occasionally answer your phone.

original

This was nearly two months ago. I haven’t played a game since. Poor Geralt of Rivia remains languishing in Skellige after 48hrs of wondrous gameplay, hoping against hope that I’ll take control of him once again and finally rescue Ciri. I thought that I loved The Witcher III, seriously thought that it was one of those games that I wouldn’t be able to put down until the credits rolled. It has been put down.

Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold turned up this week. The Etrian Odyssey series has been one where I’ve rabidly played through each release. All I’ve done is look at the box, then place it on the shelf.

I never thought that a game would have such an effect on me that it would kill gaming for an unknown period of time (I’m assuming it will all come back to me at some point in the near future, I still have preorders waiting!). But what Steins;Gate has done for me is free up a little bit of my time for exploration. Since seeing Okabe travel his last (as far as I know), and watching the platinum trophy chime in, I have contemplated playing a game many a time. However, almost as soon as that urge to play something begins to grow, I find myself putting on my walking boots and heading outside. It’s like I don’t even want to play a game again, even when some subconscious part of me tries to force it on me.

Instead, I’ve managed to explore a great deal of Scotland in the time I would normally have spent lounging about in front of a TV. Most of my travels have been local, but I have uncovered lots of places that had hitherto been hidden by woods or overgrown paths I had never previously thought to venture down.

I found a disused pier at a place called Braefoot after wandering through a wood nearby my house. I was almost trampled by two fleeing deer that saw fit to run in my direction, then sat down on the concrete jetty whilst the lazy River Forth lapped against my feet and sun slipped below the horizon. Then I walked back through the same woods in darkness, with no idea what was watching me that time. In the last few weeks I’ve also managed to make my way to Oban, climbed Schiehallion and Falkland Hill, and wandered around the distinctly creepy (in an 80’s fantasy film way) woods of Cullaloe.

Over the Bay

Cullaloe Wood Schiehallion Cairn Colour Ganavan Sands 2 McCaig's Tower

All of this done in what can amount to no more than four days off, because I finished a game so brilliant that it has me purposefully avoiding games for fear that whatever I play next will be nothing more than a pale and shallow imitation of the fun I have come to expect from games. I sit down at my laptop and my untouched library of Steam games beckon. Instead I end up writing more than I had previously, or work on touching up some photographs I’ve taken.

So that is what Steins;Gate did. It may have killed gaming for me (even if only temporarily), but it seems to have unlocked an ability to take hold of every other hobby I enjoy, and get as much out of it as possible. Steins;Gate has released me from the Friday night troubles of deciding what to do with the next day off. It has made me ponder less and do more. I was going to write a proper review for the game but in the end I decided that the effect it has had on my spare time after finishing it was review enough.

I would certainly recommend to anyone that they should play Steins;Gate, but just be very aware of the profound effect that it may have on you. I’ve passed the game over to two other people since finishing it and can confirm that I am not alone in feeling that empty, hollow sensation that comes after it.

If you are the kind of person that always feels like they have far too much that they want to do, then Steins;Gate is the game for you. Ironic that a game about time travel has freed up so much time for me…

Why do we procrastinate so much…

I had a whole Saturday to write, but I spent the first half of it with my sketchbook instead. I wanted to try and draw a draft of what I wanted my book cover to look like, and while the following is generally what I wanted, I think I’m going to have to redesign the text “bricks”: they look a little childish, and I’m supposed to be 32! I know what they say of course, but I’m not sure it is all that obvious to anyone else. I think the idea will work, if I spend a little more time on it. The shadow of Wil Havelock worked out well, and the scene looks fairly dusky as well.

This wall was partly inspiration. It is just next to my house. Much of the landscape in my story is organised between such walls, not big enough to make you feel towered over, but high enough that you’re forever wondering what lies over the top:

Inspiration

My sketch turned out like this (two versions, not sure which I prefer – they both look pretty amateur regardless!):Cover tests Cover tests_edited_1

The name is “Bleakendom Slumbers”, in case you couldn’t work it out. In the end I’ve split my story into at least two. The following part will be called “Bleakendom Roused” and I’m planning on a similar type of cover, only the shadow in that one will be of the antagonist in the sunrise.

Anyway. It’s 1630, I can probably get eight hours of writing in before bed. If only I didn’t have work tomorrow!

Edinburgh Evening Spirit Chasers

Without being any more misleading, this isn’t a piece on what beverage fits best for washing down a tequila or whisky, but is instead a review of the PS Vita and PS3 supernatural strategy RPG Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters. I just happened to play most of it in Edinburgh and can’t resist a bad pun.

Several years ago I would usually turn to Nintendo’s DS if I was after a left field Japanese game, but these days it seems that all the best examples of these games end up on Sony’s Vita. The Vita has become a hallowed ground for the weird and wonderful, as well as a format that the types of games I used to look out for on PS2 now crop up. Recent Vita releases such as Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters have also seen PS3 versions, but Sony’s handheld is by far the best place to experience them (and not just because I can easily grab screenshots from it).

Ghostly Beginnings

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is a frustrating game, let’s make that clear from the start. The game does feature some rather odd design choices, and is never quite sure whether it wants to be a Visual Novel or a straight up SRPG. Though despite the schizophrenia, it is an endearing game, and what it eventually ends up being is more than capable of holding your attention for the twenty or so hours you’ll spend on your first playthrough.

Your character arrives at a Japanese high school for reasons unknown, and immediately bumps into several people who manage to enrol him into a magazine company named Gate Keepers before any sort of background checks are done – for their benefit or yours! It soon becomes apparent that there is much more than writing and interviewing involved in the Gate Keepers position: the magazine is actually a front for a ghost hunting company! Before the first hour is out, you are fully fledged ghost hunter with (hopefully) one exorcism under your belt, and a part of a group that feels a lot like a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Ghostbusters. The only problem is that you’ll barely have a clue on how the game itself works.

Gate Keepers

The story itself is largely episodic, and structure of each chapter is rigidly set throughout: talky bit, fighty bit. Each self contained episode moves along a fair clip, and while the immediate nature of the game will be welcomed by anyone burnt out by games with unnecessarily long exposition, the game also avoids tutorials and does barely anything to explain exactly how you’ll be playing along the way.

Even the relatively straightforward story sections of Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters throw in unexpected mechanics that you can only learn by trial and error, and if you do happen to make an error you’re unlikely to understand what or how that was until much later into the game. To begin with, the game resembles a visual novel. You’ll sit back and tap “R” through the text and conversations. The story is well written, if fairly generic in places, and resembles any number of occult anime or manga you might have watched or read. The cast are a delightfully diverse bunch, but again they all fill the roles you have seen countless times before; it certainly helps that they are a largely likable bunch that will keep you entertained when the game seems intent on leaving you baffled.

And what of those unexpected mechanics? Well, you’ll be happily reading and tapping along and then suddenly a circular graphic will pop up with a range of icons on it. This is how you get to interact with the story, and make slight changes to the ways in which the conversation that follows will play out, reaching as far as later parts of chapter. But how? Although never properly explained any further than “Sensory Input System” by the back of the game box, these sections allow you to interact with the game by picking an emotion and a sense. Yup, you can angrily taste someone in Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters. Or maybe you’d like to lovingly sniff your obvious love interest Sayuri Mifune? You’d be correct in assuming that interactions such as this rarely go down well, hell, most folk don’t even like it when you try a fairly safe option like a friendly handshake. So weird are the options, and so strange the reactions, that you’ll never feel entirely sure how to proceed in the moments, but if you do get your choice “right” then you might unlock a “Sixth Sense” section toward the end of a chapter, providing more story and a trophy. Needless to say, if you’re after the platinum trophy you’ll need a decent guide or several weeks off for the trial and error that is otherwise required.

The system isn’t fantastic by any stretch of the imagination, but it is oddly compelling if only to see what horrendous situation you’ll put yourself in by sadly groping your boss.

To Battle!

With all of the talking out of the way, you’ll then inevitably run into the ghost that brought about the chapter you find yourself in. Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters fancies itself as a strategy role-player, and if you’ve bought this game then the chances are high that you’ll have played a game of that ilk before. You’ll be fine, right?

Wrong.

Maintaining the general theme of incomprehensibility is the fighting system, where you’ll progress the story, level up, earn money, and squeeze your Vita until the OLED screen distorts and becomes unusable. Initial impressions make the battles look relatively simple. We have a top-down view of a computer image of the battleground, it looks somewhat like a simplified version of Rondo of Swords – it plays nothing like it. The simplification is there for a reason, as the battle is being watched from the sidelines by fellow Gate Keeper Masamune Shiga. Your wheelchair-bound comrade is the genius of the group, but is unable to take part in fights due to his disability (this is eventually spoken about, but I had great concerns the game would end before we understood how Shiga came to be in his wheelchair). So you don’t actually play as yourself in battle, though you do plot where your gang will be heading. The USB sticks in the sides of the device denote your team on the left, and the ghosts on the right.

It is never explained why the ghosts have their own USB sticks.

For your team though, it seems to form a video link: whenever a character in the fray attacks (or tries to attack) a ghost, the view shifts from overhead map to first person headcam. It’s a really cool touch that finally puts you face to face with the ghosts you are hunting, and feels a lot like one of the supernatural ghost hunting “documentaries” you’ll get on the less worthy TV channels. Then only problem is that this zoom down also happens when the ghosts attack you, so I can only assume that Shiga wheels around and fashions them all with their own headcam prior to the hostilities. He’s a solid guy.

Ghost.

Visually, the battles are interesting, but structurally they are a damn enigma! Typical turn-based battles allow each side to take turns, but that wouldn’t fit with Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters’ take on how games should work. Instead, both teams move simultaneously once you have set the parameters for your own team. This makes it nigh on impossible to guess where your target will be in any given round. The ghost’s USB sticks will glow blue or red to denote whether they are attacking or chasing, but this is of minimal help as your own characters can move a pathetic distance anyway: if they foolishly wish to look left, right, or (god forbid) behind them, then you can fully expect all of their action points (AP) to be drained on the spot and for that character to remain useless until the next round. Without wishing to offend, these guys seem to be less mobile than the guy in the wheelchair! And just in case movement itself wasn’t restrictive enough, your attacks also have very specific areas of effect. Each character has a weapon that will form a green and red zone on the map, you need to ensure that this attack zone is set in a location that a ghost will move onto, or is trapped in. Some attacks are a long line, some are wider attacks. Some don’t allow you to attack the immediate vicinity of your character. Combined with a crippling inability to move, you’ll find that fights end in disaster again and again simply because you cannot maneuver your attacks into a location where the ghosts will be.

So we’ve established that attacking and movement are difficult to get to grips with. Does Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters remedy this with relaxed winning conditions? No, it adds a timer. A timer that rarely tops 15 minutes. These aren’t real minutes either, they are turns. That’s right, you’ve got to battle the ghosts and the game together and win, usually within 15 turns. Again, none of this battle system is ever explained to the player.

The clock ticks down, two minutes left.

“Predict their movements!” Shiga helpfully chimes in as another ghost travels in the opposite direction to where all of your team are directing their fire.

“Tell me how you got them to hold still for their fucking headcam fitting!” the whole team shout back.

2015-03-23-063131

Hopefully you can sense the outrageous frustration I felt while genuinely battling through the fifty or so fights that the game throws at you before you see the end. With a little fairness to the game, the battle system does at least give you a chance to level the playing field with the use to traps and gadgets in pre-battle planning stage. As long as you have a general idea of the where the ghosts might be, you can lay down salt to block thoroughfares, wards to direct the spirits in one general direction, or traps that cause minimal damage to the enemy. You can buy such items from a shop manned by a ninja. Making any purchase goes towards earning raffle tickets that allow you to win some pretty good (and pretty suspect) equipment. Furthermore, if the shop isn’t doing it for you you can also enlist Gate Keepers’ mad scientist Moichi to build you items, but you’ll need to bring him the raw materials to do so. Whatever you do bring to the fight though, ghosts can break it all with seemingly minimal effort. Of course they can. To prevent this you’ll need to buy better gear, but better things cost more money, and the whole reason you are fighting these ghosts is to make money for your boss, Chizuru Fukurai, not spend it on yourself!

Chizuru

Chizuru loves money, so don’t expect to hear kind words if you earn anything less than an “S” rank in battle. An S rank requires ghosts to be dispatched quickly, damage to the environment to be minimal, and costs for set up to be low. Bearing in mind that a missed attack will likely destroy some costly form of item on the battlefield, and that most attacks miss, you’ll start to see how difficult it can be to earn serious money. You’ll groan when Moichi Sengen destroys the tenth object that battle, wince as you see the damage report rack up, punch the air in happiness when you see the “Victory” screen and walk away clutching your 15 Yen.

I am being too harsh, I had around one million Yen by the time the credits rolled (yep, a whole £5000).

Your in-game website.Battles are by far the most frustrating aspect of the game, and you’ll have to fight at least once per chapter to continue. However, if you only do that you won’t be anywhere near the level required to tackle the later ghosts, or the later free-battles. Whether you like it or not, you will need to fight regularly, and these battles come about by taking jobs from the Gate Keepers’ website. Much like every other aspect of the game, the jobs are on a hidden page of your intranet (accessed with a simple button combination) which is helpfully hinted at but never outright mentioned. Job difficulty is measured in… tears? They’re probably spirits. Fortunately, the majority of these fights are more straightforward than the story-based battles. You can decide the difficulty of what you take on, and you can also give up ones that seem to much for you to handle. These asides are the best way to level up and make money. Money can rack up fairly quickly, but experience doesn’t come so easily. To level up faster you’ll need to fight harder battles, that much makes sense in any game. In Tokyo Twilight’s case though, harder battles simply mean battles where predicting enemy movement becomes an exercise in futility again. So, you’ll go with the easier fights, you’ll level slower, but you’ll face much less frustration and probably find that you’re really enjoying the game! At least I did, despite how the above reads.

One of the more surreal moments...

Visually the game is a mixed bag. The 2D character artwork is excellent, and feels like a premium quality anime. The UI of the game is slick and well signposted, even if the game doesn’t tell you how it works itself. There is generally a pleasingly consistent style going on until you factor in the background art of the areas you travel to. As with other visual novels, the game is presented with a series of still images. Despite the effort that has gone into the bits you’ll see up close, the backgrounds look like poorly photoshopped photographs. I’m convinced that some of them are. Perhaps to aid in focusing on the important parts, the backgrounds are usually blurred images of buildings, streets, schools and so on. They just don’t look good, and really do detract from the general aesthetic that the rest of the game shows off. This is in no way a deal breaker, but it means that Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters looks just that bit worse than other similar anime-styled games that are also available.

On the other hand, the audio aspect of the game is stellar. The voice acting is great to listen to, and fit well with each character. The soundtrack is so good I went and bought a copy. Of course, you’d expect quality where Nobuo Uematsu is concerned, and Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters does nothing to tarnish this opinion. A fun aspect of the soundtrack is that you get to pick what you want to listen to in each battle by way of slipping the relevant cassette into the stereo of the Gate Keepers’ van before each fight. It’s a small detail, but it honestly does make some of those skirmishes a tad more palatable.

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It can’t be denied that Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is a teeth-gnashingly frustrating game at times. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that 90% of players switch off after encountering their first ghost and never return again. The thing is though, despite all the annoyances and mental threats to hurl my Vita down the length of the train carriage, I did enjoy what I played, and I kept coming back to it. While the game does offer a New Game+ option and an extensive trophy list, I wouldn’t expect that to be a draw for many players. For those that have had a passing interest in this game though, I would certainly recommend a single playthrough of the game (and perhaps a download of the soundtrack). The game has stayed in my thoughts for some time after finishing it, and I may yet be back for more, but the heartiest endorsement for Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is that despite its many foibles, you’ll likely not play another game quite like it again.

Sayuri Mifune

Tales of Reminiscia

Perhaps Recollectia is a better name…

Tales Collection

My current Tales collection, numbering 38 releases from the series

There is actually another word I wanted to ‘ia’ for what was once going to become an encyclopedia of Tales knowledge, but it was too good to let slip. For those who have no idea what this long page is about, I am referring to the “Tales of” series of Japanese Role Playing Games. This is a bit of a rambler, so if you’ve no interest in the tried and tested tropes of a thousand console RPGs, then you’re probably better off navigating away from this page.

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The series began in 1995 on the Super Nintendo with “Tales of Phantasia“, a game which set the naming standard for a series of games that generally end in “ia” (though there are some exceptions that actually start with the second game), and has since proven to be a solid series that has reliably brought fans of the JRPG genre new entries with incredible regularity – if you’re a Japanese speaker. Tales games feature colourful, anime stylings often with pastel shades. Even when trying their hardest to be “mature“, they still end up being brighter and more cheerful than just about every other JRPG series bar Gust’s Atelier games. One of the most important features of the Tales games is the battle system, which mixes random battles with an action-style system that has evolved from something representing a crude Streetfighter, to  a complex beast that personally provides me with more fun than dedicated 3D fighters such as Soul Calibur. However, this is just the start, we’ll come back to the battle system later on!

But as good as the Tales games are, like most things you fondly remember from your childhood and earlier years, the recent entries just aren’t as good as the ones of old. Perhaps it is simply the frequency of which we hear about new games in the series but the last few years has seen merely good releases, and nothing that captures the excitement and scale of the older games. In many cases, feelings like this reveal themselves to be created by a solid pair of rose-tinted glasses, but I would personally guarantee that if you pick up any game in the series that was released before 2009 you’ll have a better time of it than you would with a more contemporary release. Part of me even believes that Bandai-Namco also agree, as they recently released a high definition update of one of their greatest entries, Tales of Symphonia (2003). If you do fancy playing some of the series, it may even be more prudent to work your way back and find the series improving as you delve into the past. I once had grand plans for a sizable tome on the series’ past, present and future, but the last few years of releases have put me off somewhat. Maybe this piece will inspire me to get back to it, or perhaps it will stand as the “thing” I write about the series.

Tales of Originia…

Tales of Phantasia was once just another member of the rich vein of  2D JRPGs that populated the SNES’ library. If you were into your role-playing games in the 1990’s, then you’d have been right to hope that that large, rectangular box under the tree at Christmas wasn’t a Sega Mega Drive!

Brattish attitudes aside, the SNES really was the place to be for levelling up, chocobos, moogles, and the exquisite views of twee fantasy worlds from atop cliffs. This was irrefutable if you lived in Japan, hard to argue against for North Americans, and the best place for those of us in the UK (though the PAL release schedule often left a lot to be desired!). The slight problem that came with the appearance of the Tales series was that it was strictly a Japanese-only game! On other platforms this might have meant you wouldn’t hear about the series for many years to come, but the SNES was reported on by a great magazine by Future Publishing called Super Play, and that magazine thrived on the Japanese games and oddities that the console had to offer. One of the issues I managed to get hold of when I was twelve-years-old was somewhere in the 30s of the 48 issue run (I’m pretty sure it was the magazine with the Secret of Evermore cover but it is currently 312 miles away from me to confirm, and it could have been Kirby), and inside this issue was a first look at Tales of Phantasia. More than anything else, the game caught my attention because it was a 2D JRPG, but it was also notable for being a game that required a 48Mbit cartridge so that the developers were able to include a host of voice acting for the characters, and songs on the soundtrack that included vocals: this was a Big Deal™ for 16-Bit consoles. Nevertheless, as much as I was intrigued by this game, my pre-teen self had no way of picking the game up, much less read the Japanese that would have been required. For now, the Tales series was just another one of those things I read about in Super Play that I had to accept I would never be able to play, alongside Final Fantasy III (VI), and Chrono Trigger

Tales of Sequelia

The next phase of the Tales series was actually turning it into a series. Much like Final Fantasy, the Tales games were developed as standalone games, and didn’t require knowledge from the previous games in the series to be fully enjoyed. As a gamer in the drab, flat lands of Lincolnshire though they did require a pricey foreign console as unfortunately Europe still remained a forbidden (dramatics) territory for localisation and publishing. The United States did get the second though: Tales of Destiny. With the SNES breathing a death rattle beneath the weight of the 32 and 64-Bit consoles, the second game abandoned Nintendo in favour of Sony’s PlayStation in 1997 (almost a whole year later for North America). While other companies saw fit to try out their games in these new-fangled three dimensions that the gaming world was going mad for, Wolf Team (the Tales developers of the time) saw fit to keep the bulk of the game set firmly within two dimensions (the world map was polygonal) and was all the better for it. Say what you will about classics such as Final Fantasy VII, Tales of Destiny has aged far better in the visual department!

Tales of Destiny perhaps wasn’t quite as good as Tales of Phantasia in my opinion, though it was still an excellent game that had me glued to my screen until the credits ran. Random battles were incredibly frequent, but the offset was that the fights themselves were fast and fun. The game must have made more than a few good impressions though, as North America solidified itself as a location that Tales games might be released in, and eventually welcomed in the third game in 2001.

The third game’s official name was Tales of Eternia, but thanks to He-Man it was stripped of its official title when leaving Japan and slapped with the thoroughly uninspiring Tales of Destiny II. The name made sense from a marketing point of view for the Americas, as the only other game released in the Tales series there had been Tales of Destiny, but as both games featured no ties save for general structure of the game, people wanting to continue the story were left scratching their heads. To make matters worse, a year later in 2002, the original Tales of Destiny actually received a Japan-only sequel, genuinely called Tales of Destiny 2. This game has never been released outside of Japan, but has seen a later port to PSP. All in all, the third Tales game may as well have been called Tales of Confusia, which would actually have been less confusing to someone coming into the series post-2002.

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Still, ignoring the naming slip-ups, the Tales series was now beginning to make a name for itself among Japanese and English speaking gamers. But what about us poor saps in Blighty, eh? We may have had Terranigma (a one-up over the US releases of Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger), but that game was released in 1996, and as good as it was, after tens of playthroughs I at least knew that I wanted something else: something unobtainable by normal means.

Tales of Importia

2002, United Kingdom. The Nintendo GameCube was released, and while perhaps not receiving the greatest amount of third party support (a sad future for Nintendo, really), they did gain the attention of Namco’s Tales Studio just the once. Fortunately, once was all it took before Namco graced Nintendo’s little purple box with arguably the best entry in the Tales series: Tales of Symphonia!

Now, while Tales of Symphonia was eventually released in Europe (twice, in fact), there was no precedent for this back when the game was first announced. Hell, there wasn’t even a guarantee that the game would see the light of day in the US, as they had already missed out on the real Tales of Destiny 2! Tales of Symphonia was also the first 3D entry into the series, and Namco had left it long enough that the 3D was able to make sublime use of cel-shading and as such remains largely unaffected by the ravages of gaming time. Now was the time for panic, now was the time for credit cards, Japanese dictionaries, Freeloaders, and play-asia.com!

Tales of Fantastica

Around the time of Tales of Symphonia, I was finally able to play Tales of Phantasia for the first time thanks to the shady world of emulation and fan-translations. I say shady only to make it sound dark and mysterious, it is actually a wonderful thing that I am fairly confident has played a large part in inspiring the big, brutish games publishers to make the effort to localise games for regions outside Japan. This was around the time that I was really getting into the Tales series. I had a PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube, as well as a PlayStation, Saturn and SNES and a host of handheld machines. Yet despite all of this newness, it was the first entry in the Tales series that had me returning to my PC every day. It didn’t matter if I finished the game, I just bust straight into NG+ again and again. It was brilliant, the soundtrack, the graphics, the battle system, the Whole. Damn. Game. Because of the amount of time I had spent with Tales of Phantasia, I just new that Symphonia was going to be better, or equally as awesome. At this point I didn’t even know that both games shared the same world of Aselia, and that Symphonia was actually a prequel that set up the world for Phantasia (huge spoilers, by the way, but the game is over a decade old). All I knew was that I needed the game, and a little bit of research led me to discover that it was actually very easy for anyone to bypass the GameCube’s region locking with Datel’s Freeloader: a simple disc that opened the console up to games from around the world. Never again would a lack of publisher confidence stop me from playing a game (until firmware upgardes on future machines, at least)! The only barrier now was the Japanese language. Not to be dissuaded, I picked up a couple of Japanese dictionaries, and a teach yourself guide. The game arrived (my first import!) and it transpired that basic Japanese wasn’t even that difficult to pick up! Within a few days I could easily read the menus, understand character names, items, basic plot points… Fair enough, I didn’t get the full extent of the story and the game took me over 100 hours to complete, mostly because for the life of me I couldn’t understand what “Penginisutomiton” meant, but by the time I watched the Japanese credits roll, there was the announcement that Tales of Symphonia would be heading towards the US! Even though I had just finished the game, playing it through again in English was just what I wanted and I went back on play-asia and ordered it again, this time in a language I could read in its entirety.

Incidentally, “Penginisutomiton” actually meant “Penguinist’s Mittens”, no bloody wonder that wasn’t in the J-dictionary!

Even so, while Tales of Symphonia did eventually get a PAL release, only the GameBoy Advance and PlayStation Portable received PAL versions of the Tales series for a while (re-releases of Phantasia, Eternia, and new IPs Radiant Mythology), and the “Mothership Titles” of the series continued to elude my PAL consoles. The PlayStation 2 ended up having similar options for importing to the GameCube, with the use of Swap discs, but they were never quite as intuitive as the Freeloader and required you to do things to your consoles that felt illegal, be it on the original model of the PS2, or its slim variant. Whatever. I needed the Tales games I didn’t have.

Tales of Collectia!

My awful penchant for collecting things came into full flow. Credit card in hand, and eBay to the rescue, I soon had orders for a US PS2, and Japanese PS2, and emails saying the Tales of Rebirth, Tales of Destiny 2, Tales of the Abyss, and Tales of Legendia had been dispatched. Then came the PSP imports of the Radiant Mythology games, Phantasia, Rebirth, and Destiny 2: Sony’s handheld became the place to be for the series, and the region-free nature of the machine meant that it was relatively easy to develop a collection for. It even gained it’s own games in Tales of VS and Tales of the Heroes: Twin Brave in its later years

Tales

It wasn’t just Sony’s handheld though, Nintendo’s GameBoy, GameBoy Advance, and DS also received their fair share of games (though they never had as many). While the GameBoy Advance made a home for yet another Phantasia rerelease, both GameBoy and Advance were the format for a spin off series known as Narikiri Dungeon. The Narikiri games were an offshoot of Phantasia, and were dungeon crawlers with costume-based gameplay: not quite the scope of the so-called “Mothership” games themselves, but pleasant offshoots in their own right, and the sign of a popular and well established series! What’s more, while the Tales series was really hitting its stride, it was somewhat noticeable for being a series that consisted of mostly good games. Sure, the games appealed to a specific type of gamer, but their action-oriented battle systems and grand casts of characters were well received by most that played them. It was at this point that the lacklustre entries to the series were the exception and not the norm. Not to sound completely damning of the current releases, but Tales of Legendia was largely remembered because it was (at time of release) the weakest entry into a generally strong series. It wasn’t even that bad when ranked among the myriad of JRPGs out there, but was notable for not being developed by the Tales studio, having a weaker battle system than the other games in the series, and the US release didn’t even have voice acting for the latter half of the game (which was technically post-game content, but provided as much game time as the rest of the story before it).

The Tales series was becoming a behemoth, releases were everywhere and on pretty much every platform that was worth owning, including mobile phones!. I had done everything in my power to own as many of the games as possible. I even picked up the obscure Tales of Fandom games on PS1 and PS2, though I haven’t had actually played them… Something unexpected then happened.

Tales of Vesperia

So here we come to a chapter in this not-very-to-the-point write up the Tales series that is actually named after a Tales games itself! In my opinion, Tales of Vesperia was the last truly great entry into the Tales series. It is hard to say to say whether it is better or as good as Symphonia. It was notable not just because it was a grand example of how the JRPG should be done, it was also released on the Xbox 360, and it saw a release in Europe as well as the US and homeland of Japan.

Tales of Vesperia came at a time when Microsoft was desperately trying to break into the Japanese market with its distinctly American box of tricks. The Xbox 360 was a good console (despite me burning through five of them), but it was not well received in Japan where it sold only 6 copies: nowhere near as well as Sony’s machines performed! If you were a JRPG fan and you had an Xbox 360, well you could count yourself very lucky if you only had Tales of Vesperia on it.

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I would also like to tell you that it was Tales of Vesperia’s Yuri Lowell that brought Troy Baker to the attention of the gaming world in general and ensured that he voiced every videogame character from 2011 onwards, but it was probably more likely to have been Catherine. Whatever, at least he put paid to Nolan North’s and Johnny Yong Bosch’s ubiquity.

Tales of Vesperia was a game that easily sits among the Final Fantasy VIIIs (yup.), Chrono Triggers, and Secret of Manas of our time. For starters, it looks amazing (and still does), featuring some of the most delightful cel-shading I’ve seen this side of the Wind Waker. The chief character, Yuri Lowell, was something of an anomaly among the Tales casts in that he was quite obviously a bad-ass. This was a guy who got shit done, even if it meant getting his own hands very dirty in the process (see 6.30 in the linked video), and it wasn’t just the one time. Seeing a protagonist outright kill a character in a series that rarely saw folk die (at least not in terms of being murdered) was something that I personally hadn’t witnessed in a Tales game before, and it was something strange to witness in a game that was so colourful and resembled a family-friendly game. Yuri’s story took him through many terrible choices, and had him lead an ever-growing group throughout a globe-trotting adventure around one of the largest Tales worlds. The game was quite easily the biggest entry into the series, and that it was on a console more suited to brown first person shooters was all the more baffling. Vesperia did eventually get a release on the PS3, but it was Japanese only and I’m not sure that English speaking Tales fans have ever got over that given that it was generally regarded as the better version (though this could simply be contrarianism at its finest!).

Tales of Disappointia

So, Vesperia had been released! The Tales series had proved itself as a worthy opponent to Final Fantasy (the current big hitting rival). Everything was good for the Tales series, right? Well, not quite.

Following on from Tales of Vesperia was Tales of Hearts. Hearts was a DS-only game upon release, and was also a Japanese-only entry into the series to boot. Despite being a “Mothership” title in the series, Hearts wasn’t released outside of Japan until a PS Vita port in 2014. Perhaps because of low sales due to the odd choice of platform for the worldwide release of Vesperia, the Tales series had sunk back into relative obscurity. Those that imported the Japanese DS games knew that there were great games in Innocence, Hearts, and (to a lesser extent) Tempest, but it certainly looked as though Namco had turned its back on the western world for Tales releases.

Following on from Hearts came Tales of Graces, a Wii-only game that formed the twelfth Mothership entry into the Tales series. The game saw good reviews in Japan, which only made the lack of a release outside the country more frustrating. Importing was possible, but after being able to play Vesperia in english, slogging through a game in different language no longer held the same appeal. We had tasted JRPG nirvana and we wanted it back! Namco did something strange.

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A puzzle was hinted at by Namco which eventually led to a website called “http://ataleoftworichards.com/” (site no longer works so I haven’t hyperlinked). From here Tales fans could see the above image, in which you could clearly make out the “Tales” of a Tales title! Yup, Tales of Graces was heading to both the US and EU newly entitled Tales of Graces f, featuring an extended epilogue and releasing on PlayStation 3. This all sounded fantastic, and there was hope once again for those of us clamouring for a new, readable Tales game.

I’m sure that many people enjoyed Tales of Graces f, and I didn’t hate the game. The problem with Graces though was that it just wasn’t up to the standards set by the previous epic entries into the series. The game featured two worlds, but each felt small and under featured, as though each globe was nothing more than a small village overall. The battle system was (as per the standard) hugely rewarding and fun to play for hours on end, but the characters were uninspiring and not a patch on those seen previously. The prologue took a long time to finish, and the story itself took such a long time to get going, made worse by the fact that there weren’t really many places to go so the world you thought was coming had actually already been traversed.

I finished the game thoroughly underwhelmed. It wasn’t too long after that another console entry into the Mothership series was announced with Tales of Xillia. The game did turn out to be better than Graces, but again did away with a decent overworld (there was no traversable map to speak of at all this time). Worse, the gameplay areas themselves were formed almost exclusively of canyons! Almost every location was a corridor walled off by rock walls making for a claustrophobic experience that didn’t express the epic nature that a Tales game usually shipped with. Back in my day (Phantasia) we would be on those cliffs looking at the lands below! Instead, the game plied replayability with the inclusion of two protagonists, a neat idea but one that didn’t really hold much water when there could simply have been a greater storyline in the first place. Once again, the battle system pulled me through the game, and the characters were a little more likeable. The game even sprung its own meme with a salesman who seemed to populate every town in the game, incessantly begging for someone to buy his damn mutton!

Well, Tales of Xillia 2 then came around, and was a game where you had to pay back a loan. Really.

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Again, it wasn’t a terrible game, but it was far from the heights we had seen from the series. Luckily, a ray of light shone from the PS Vita for Tales fans with the remake of Tales of Hearts. Tales of Hearts R was a fully 3D iteration of the 2D DS game. The game had stuck with the anime stylings (the original DS version shipped in two flavours: anime, and the hideous CG edition) and honestly resembled the games that longtime Tales players remembered: a huge world map, random battles (without enemies on the map), a large and fun cast of characters, two large worlds, and the kind of scale that we had come to expect with Vesperia and Symphonia. It wasn’t as good as either of those games, really, but it went a long way to show that a future epic Tales game could still be on the cards.

The future of Tales is somewhat uncertain from my point of view. It seems that handheld games are the place to be based on the latest releases in the series, but it won’t be long before the next console entry into the saga is released on both PS3 and PS4 with Tales of Zestiria. The game certainly looks good, and I’m excited to play it, but I’ve also read mood-killing reports of another smaller world despite being something of a free-roaming adventure. What’s more, we have also seen the announcement of Tales of Berseria (again for both PS3 and PS4) with an as yet unknown release date. Already, Berseria’s protagonist Velvet conjures up ideas of a female Yuri Lowell, but time will tell! I do genuinely worry that the games are getting churned out a little too quickly, but I do hold out a good deal of hope for Berseria. At least while we know next to nothing about it!

Tales of Battalia

Let’s not end of a bum note though. The Tales series still stands as my favourite JRPG series out there, holding its weight alongside the many Final Fantasy games, the less frequent Dragon Quest series, and tens of smaller collections I have across my PS1, 2, and 3. Even if the more recent games aren’t quite up to scratch, the series in general has many games that you can mine if you’re interested, and thanks to the 2D and cel-shaded 3D graphical styles of most the games they generally tend to be easy on the eye, all while countless other games from similar times past are practically hideous to behold. I’m no graphics whore, but knowing that a game has aged gracefully from a visual standpoint is at least going to be a good start.

The greatest way in which Tales games remain among the most playable JRPGs since the original release is almost completely thanks to an engaging take on the part of a JRPG that inevitably eats up around 70% of your playtime (or 50% if you’re playing a particularly cutscene heavy game). The Tales battle systems form the centrepiece of the games and have undergone many changes throughout the series, starting out as a 2D, side on fighter, and developing into a fully 3D brawler. The system was originally given the name of Linear Motion Battle System, or “LMBS” in its most simple iteration. The battle systems gradually introduced multiple lines of attack, the ability to run free, and even once tried to emulate Tekken in Legendia. As is expected with systems of Japanese origin in a videogame, the original LMBS became hilariously overtitled at times, seeing such hits as “Cross Double-Raid Linear Motion Battle System” (XDR-LMBS), but whatever the name was, the games have consistently provided a battle system that doesn’t feel old throughout the many hours it usually takes to complete a Tales game.

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Heading back to Phantasia, the fights on offer can feel somewhat sluggish by Xillia’s standards but are still remarkably robust (if a little on the frequent side). Trying to play through Final Fantasy’s ATB from the same time period is a painful experience in comparison! Even better, the battling really does feel different with each game, despite being fundamentally similar. This is a substantial boon for those considering playing through a large number of these games. You’re not just getting a new story laid on top of the same skeleton again and again. In fact, you’re actually getting more the opposite, as many Tales stories are relatively similar despite being incredibly exciting at best and merely passable at worst. Still, even if the stories can be a bit samey, you can kill all of the bad guys in new and inventive ways! And who can say no to countless variations on the Hot Springs? Oh, you can?

Tales of Summaria

Alright, perhaps Concludia might have been better, but I am trying to Tales-ify as many words as I can here, give me a breakia.

So you know what? Here you go Bandai-Namco – Tales of Compendia. That’s what I was going to call my encyclopedia of all things Tales (actually, perhaps “Encyclopedia” would have worked just as well…). Maybe you could trademark it now, maybe you have. Maybe you could ignore the fact that I was going to use it as the title of a book and simply slap as many games onto a Blu-Ray as possible and follow Rare’s suit with their upcoming Rare Replay and do every Tales fan out there an enormous favour!

If you’ve never played a Tales game before, or perhaps only played some of the more recent entries, you might find yourself quite surprised by the quality on offer in the back catalogue. While the series never seems to make as much of a splash as say Final Fantasy, the games are more consistently enjoyable than most series I’ve played. While the last couple of games have been a little shaky, I’ve yet to play Zestiria to say whether or not it does match up to the Tales games of years past. Clearly I’m hoping for a new Vesperia, guess we’ll have to wait and see.

tov00

Tales of Referencia

In order of appearance:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_(series)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Phantasia

http://aselia.wikia.com/wiki/Tales_of_Xillia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atelier_(series)

http://aselia.wikia.com/wiki/Tales_of_Symphonia

http://playingwithsuperpower.com/super-play-magazine/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namco_Tales_Studio

http://aselia.wikia.com/wiki/Tales_of_Eternia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Destiny_2

http://metro.co.uk/2015/02/15/nintendo-and-the-third-party-problem-readers-feature-5062671/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cel_shading

http://www.play-asia.com/tales-of-symphonia/13/702a0

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_translation_of_video_games

http://aselia.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Mothership_Titles

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_the_Abyss

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_the_World:_Radiant_Mythology

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_VS.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_the_Heroes:_Twin_Brave

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Phantasia:_Narikiri_Dungeon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeon_crawl

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Legendia

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http://aselia.wikia.com/wiki/Tales_of_Fandom_Vol.1

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Lowell

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_(video_game)

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Legend_of_Zelda:_The_Wind_Waker

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Hearts

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Innocence

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_the_Tempest

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Graces

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Xillia

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Xillia_2

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Zestiria

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Berseria

http://aselia.wikia.com/wiki/Linear_Motion_Battle_System

http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Battle_System#Active_Time_Battle

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Microsoft-5050013391119-Rare-Replay-Xbox/dp/B00ZFNLHK4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434900318&sr=8-1&keywords=rare+collection

A Fell Tale: Climbing the Peaks of the Lakes.

Until this week, my only experience with The Lake District was skirting the edges of it while driving along the A66 on my journeys south. I knew that it held the tallest mountain in England within, but I’d never really thought of the place as anything more dramatic than the bleak and atmospheric moors that I passed fairly regularly. Anybody else who knows the area would probably laugh heartily at me for holding such an image in my mind, and I am more than happy to poke fun at my ignorance now that I have finally spent a few days among the fells and dales that make up one of the most impressively compact series of towering peaks and breathtaking views that I have ever seen.

Overlooking Blea TarnDay One: Scafell Pike

At 2 degrees celsius, it was a cold start for mid-April. Granted it was 5am, but the plan of action for the first day in the Lakes was to climb Scafell Pike. I made the two-and-a-half hour drive to meet my brother at the Aira Force Falls car park, relatively close to the edge of the district. We had a short walk around the falls to stretch the legs, then got back in our cars and began the journey to Scafell Pike.

For the biggest mountain in England, it certainly isn’t very accessible. I’d say that this is part of the charm of the location, and while there is a slightly easier (longer) route to reach the mountain by car, we decided on taking the more epic journey that took us through Wrynose and Hardknott Passes. I had no knowledge of these roads prior to arriving on them, but I’m certainly never going to forget them, not after seeing the sign that greeted us:

Beware all ye who enter hereI don’t own the best car in the world, but it’s a fairly decent five-year-old motor. My brother was driving something a tad older that had barely scraped through its last MOT. The “Extreme Caution” at the beginning of Wrynose probably should have caused us to seek out a safer route, but we thought we’d go for it; you only live once! The road was wide enough for a single car, and the passing places weren’t exactly frequent. To begin with, working out how to pass oncoming traffic was the most annoying aspect of the drive. However, we soon caught up with a slowbee further ahead, just in time to reach those 30%+ gradients! These inclines needed a run up, and the cars struggled in second gear. At the top of the steepest chicane going up, the guy in front decided to slam his brakes on, causing both myself and my brother to have to come to a screeching halt on the hill. It was quickly established that neither the footbrakes or handbrakes of either car could withstand gravity at this angle, and we began to slide slowly backwards. To add insult to injury, the eejit in front carried on without needing to have stopped, possibly unaware of the awkward reversing that was going on behind him. We had to retreat far enough so that the road levelled out somewhat. We then checked for anything else out to get us and made a dash for it. Small engines roared, and tyres squealed as the two of us wound our way up the twisting, single track road. A short distance ahead was our nemesis, stopped in a layby. Being two sensible adults, we did little more than glare at him as we passed and made for the peak of the pass.

From here, it was downhill by the way of Hardknott Pass, the steeper of the two parts. Fortunately, downhill is somewhat easier, but picking up speed with the drops below was a terrifying prospect. I allowed myself to breathe once we reached the bottom of the road, and then spent the rest of the journey to Wastwater reflecting on the horrors of it all.

20150413_130151It was still fairly chilly upon arrival into the car park at the bottom. We took a look at the impressively deep Wastwater and the surrounding fells before turning our attentions to the biggest of the lot: Scafell Pike. On the lower paths of the mountain the weather was alright, and it looked like we could see the top. Ready for some impressive views, we soldiered on. I was genuinely impressed with the pace I was making, thinking that I would be a lot more tired than I actually was (all those local Scottish walks are having a positive effect!). My brother lagged a little behind, but he was carrying all of his camera equipment, a burden that sapped at his morale as the clouds descended and rain began to fall. We were around halfway up when the rain became more of an annoyance, but the tough stone steps were finally replaced by grassier options which made progress a lot easier on the both us. We passed a lot of people heading back down the mountain which made me wonder two things: was it really that bad up there now, and how early did these guys set off?

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As we entered the cloud cover, it stopped raining quite so much and instead turned to snow and icy wind. The thicker hoodies came on, as did the gloves and hat, and we pushed on through the mist using the frequent cairns as markers to find our way. It didn’t take long before the the fog thickened to the point where we couldn’t see the next cairn. More exciting that worrying really, as it meant we had to use the surroundings to look for clues as to the routes other people had taken; there wasn’t a trodden path at this point on the mountain, at least not with the snow cover. This made for a much more enjoyable trek to the top than Snowdon had made (another climb that came free with terrible weather and no views), and it didn’t seem like too long at all before we reached the peak of the Pike and looked upon the triangulation point and the monument to men of the Lakes in the First World War. As expected with the fog, the scenery was less than stellar:

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As is the case with most mountains I’ve been on, the return journey took a fraction of the time. The only detractor here was that we met up with the rain again, and it was much heavier.

Thoroughly soaked and exhausted from our mountain trek, we headed to The Bridge Inn, not too far away. Turns out that the Innkeeper thrice missed the memo about a twin room being required and we were greeted with a double bed. Soon sorted out, but not without some heavy blushing from the woman showing us to the room! We consumed a couple thousand calories and drank some tasty local ales before spending the rest of the evening moaning about the aches in our legs from the twelve miles of uphill and downhill.

Day Two: Ambleside, Blea Tarn, and Rydal Water

In an effort to swiftly work out the knots, we got up early, ate a fairly small breakfast considering the “Full” in Full English Breakfast. We first went to Ambleside so that my brother could try and get his fix of reflection photography. He got some pictures, but I’m not sure the wind was really playing ball, and the short walk around the lake was ended in favour of a trip to the more sheltered Blea Tarn.

The plan here had been to walk around the small Tarn before heading off, but as soon as I saw the bulbous Side Pike in the middle distance, before Raven Crag, the aches in my legs from the previous day’s climb seemed to magically disappear. We walked around Blea Tarn, following the path that took us to the edge of the unique looking peak.

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Being little more than a third of the height of the previous Pike we climbed, we made it up Side Pike in short order, though this one presented us with some welcome scrambling given that there was no real defined route up the hill. Even without being the tallest of the peaks in this area, the top commanded an impressive view over the surrounding valleys (see the first image for the view back over Blea Tarn. I spent much of my time at the top scouting the nearby peaks for potential treks on a return visit, and spied several tiny dot-like people making their own way up the distant hills. Side Pike was a relatively busy little peak, being a waypoint for many walkers making their way through the district. We decided that food was the best option at this point, and made the journey back down which turned out to be more taxing than descending Scafell as we chose to go down by a different, completely made up route rather than return by the way we came.

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After a bite to eat, we headed to Rydal Water (I think for more reflection pics to be honest…). The general path was a tame loop around the lake, but offered the adventurous several routes into the imposing hills that embraced the water. With a fair amount of walking behind us already that day, we stuck mostly to the path with just a brief scramble to reach a slightly higher one. Following this path that was most definitely not suitable for anything but feet, we came across a fantastic cave, marked only as “The Caves” on the map board at the beginning of the walk.

The cave itself was a huge, jagged mouth that arched over a large, enclosed pool of water (complete with fish, somehow). Deep on the left side, the shallower right side had numerous large rocks left as stepping stones to allow access into the depths of the cave. The masses of water droplets falling from the ceiling of the cave were almost as heavy and frequent as a fair rainfall. I gave up avoiding them as I got further into the darkness. From the back of the cave, the views outside were incredible. The reflections in the water made the mouth of the cave appear as just that, a vicious set of sharp teeth ready to swallow anything that dared enter.

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I think I understood my brother’s fascination with them for the first time. The general view outside was good as well:

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It was getting on for 6pm after visiting the cave, and the next hotel was about an hour away. We made our way back to the cars again and aimed to make it there before the restaurant stopped serving. This meant driving straight past a host of other impressive looking locales…

Another twelve miles walked.

Day Three: Buttermere and Honiston Pass

The last day in the Lakes was upon us and the rainfall was heavy. My brother suggested a fairly sedate walk around Buttermere while the weather got over itself. The drive to this area featured a slightly less treacherous hillside drive, but did provide us with a good twenty minutes worth of wasted time waiting for a lorry to sort itself out while facing another car on the single track road. I guess signs that say “Unsuitable for HGVs” don’t mean much to these guys.

Barely a minute into the car park at Buttermere and I was set upon by the local National Trust rep, trying to get me to spend £60 on membership. I tried to explain that I’m all for the outdoors, but in Scotland there aren’t many places I go that are National Trust owned, and plied the fact that most places were in fact free! He was having none of it, so I let my brother deal with him when he asked about the area.

Hoods up, we walked to the calm waters of Buttermere. Reflection photos again. In the ten hours (minutes, really) it took to get a few photos, I was joined by a local dog who wanted to play. The rain also stopped, and the clearer skies beckoned further exploration again.

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We made our way towards Crummock Water, which was fed by Scale Force waterfall – the highest fall of the Lakes. The path that led us to Crummock was a fun, waterlogged route. Numerous makeshift stepping stones were needed for the parts that were just too deep for my water resistant boots (more on that in a moment). We made it through that trial to find that the path leading to Scale Force actually didn’t exist, and we had to pick our way through a long stretch of bog, where an accidental slip proved to me just how barely water resistant my boots actually were. It also showed me that they looked better brown than grey.

Navigating the bog was quite the task, but with the weather warming up it wasn’t really too bad. We made it to a bridge that crossed a smaller fall and stream, making quips at literally every subsequent fall and stream that that one was actually Scale Force, the biggest fall in the Lakes. When we did actually make it through the mire to main attraction itself, it seemed that the rumours were indeed true.

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While photos were again being taken, I spied some red stones that seemed to be arranged in a makeshift path, snaking up the hill by the falls. Rather than sit and wait, I leapt up the steps and found a wondrous path that I can only really liken to the Hidden Valley in Glencoe. It really was a fantastic route, and I pressed on perhaps a little too far to see what lay around next corner and over the next hill. It seems that this particular trail led on a vast circular route around and onto the impressive peaks that formed the sides of the valley we’d been walking through in the morning. The destination was a fell named Haystacks, which we planned on going to later anyway. I left this route for exploration another time, and carefully picked my way back to the steps that led me up, careful not to trip over any roots and send myself careening into the inescapable ravine below. Unfortunately my video is too big to upload on my rubbish internet, and looks terrible compressed, so the image below is the view out from the path.

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As you can see, the weather was becoming pretty good, so our initial plan to visit Haystacks was firmly back on the agenda. We picked our way back through the bog, and I earned another wet foot for the trouble. Back at the car, we had a quick bite to eat and made friends with a local robin…

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Haystacks wasn’t particularly far away, but we chose to approach it from a slightly easier angle given that it was already mid-afternoon, and the standard journey up it was a day’s job. We drove through Honiston Pass (another treacherous, though more picturesque route, largely thanks to being at the bottom of the valley for the most part and not having to worry about driving off an edge while gazing around, gobsmacked by the sheer awe of the height on each side) and parked up in the Honiston Slate Mine car park. £5 each, pretty sure we could have got away with it as well, as after paying there was no ticket or anything to say we’d actually paid…

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This walk started with a steep ascent from the mine visitor center up a route that reminded me heavily of the climb up Cairngorm, with the large, pale rocks forming a path. After three solid days of walking (up to about 30 miles at this point, rarely over anything flat), the climb was taxing, and early on we took a few stops to let our legs rest. However, at the second stop a Labrador trotted on by, ran back down, and ran back up. Not to be outdone by a hound (and aware of the owners watching us climb ahead of them) we pressed on and tried to take few breaks. We soon hit the first peak, but that only revealed another long, straight path ahead of us. The people at the top were barely more than dots from this perspective, hammering home the effort required to carry on.

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Of course, we did make it, soon taking the flatter part of the journey in our stride.

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Once again, the views were astounding, but even these heights hadn’t escaped water (despite the glorious sun) and boggy ground claimed everything, including the path. Given the amount of time we’d spent in quagmires that day, the squelchy ground didn’t prove to be much of an obstacle in between the rapid photo taking. In the distance stood the Great Gable and Scafell Pike, notably without any cloud cover this time! While we took a moment to lament our misfortune at having clambered up the biggest peak in poor weather, we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that the views probably couldn’t get much better. Haystacks was not so far ahead, but still a decent walk. With the day wearing on, we came to the agreement that even reaching that was probably too much to do given the time that we had left, so we settled for exploring the hill that we were on, and drank in the sights of the fells that we didn’t have time to explore in greater detail.

20150415_170855_Richtone(HDR)We made a quick stop at a slate house that formed a stopover for weary walkers, and then made a beeline for a ridge that would allow us an impressive view of Buttermere and Crummock in the valley we had been wandering around that morning. Everything around us here dwarfed us: the plunging cliffs, steep slopes, peaks above, and sheer distance between everything. The immediate feeling was the need to explore every inch, with each and every destination in sight looking to be a unique stop off with lots to see and find. Once we had made to it the ridge, we had to climb down a steep slope to get to an accessible path. My brother went first, and although I watched which rocks he used to step on and take his weight, I found that I either weigh a hell of a lot more than him, or he loosened one of the rocks up just enough to send me tumbling down the slope. I had barely put a fraction of my weight onto a large, grey boulder that was jutting out of the hill when it simply came loose and rumbled down the hill, with myself falling almost headfirst right behind it. Fortunately for me, the strong heather and squishy ground saved me from anything worse than a brief shock and the belief that that was it, but it showed just how quickly and easily you can get into trouble, even with a degree of confidence. Shame brushed off, we carried on down and got a few more photos.

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And that was about all we had time for. We made our way back from this point to the cars, slightly dehydrated and a bit deflated that our time in the Lakes was up. We parted ways at the Penrith roundabout joining onto the A66, and I headed back up 103 straight miles of motorway towards Scotland. I almost fell asleep at the wheel… ready to dream about mini-Scotland, already planning the return journey.

I hope this was wasn’t too boring! I wrote this instead of the next chapter of my story XD

Criminal Girls: Invite Only – A Very Exclusive Party

You may or may not have heard of Criminal Girls: originally a 2010 PSP role-playing game that has now been updated slightly, given touch controls and slapped on the Vita with the subtitle of “Invite Only“. It has also somehow managed a western release this time around.

So what is it? Well, there are two types of people who seem to know about Criminal Girls: Invite Only, and when they discuss the western release, both take umbrage to the one part of the game that makes people sit up and notice it… In fact, if you too have heard of it, it is likely because of this one small aspect of the game.

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Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a JRPG that follows the tribulations of seven (later nine) girls who have prematurely found themselves in the afterlife; Hell, if you want to be specific. The girls are now classed as delinquents, having fallen foul of the seven deadly sins; some more vaguely than others. The caveat here is that the girls haven’t entirely succumbed to their transgressions and now have this opportunity to redeem themselves by making their way through four trials, with the reward of rehabilitation meaning that their once-miscreant selves can return to the real world. The man (no female choice here I’m afraid) who will be tasked with leading these girls from delinquency and back to life is you. Your own appearance in Hell is something of a mystery that is somewhat explained during the story, but never given much weight despite the massive solid you are doing these girls (and I’m not entirely making a lewd joke with that one). Thankfully, each of the girls themselves gets a decent chunk of the story assigned to them, and while often falling into tried and tested anime tropes, is actually quite entertaining, and definitely enjoyable enough to warrant seeing how it turns out for each girl.

So how does a girl that has fallen off the rails make her way back to her old life? Mostly through dungeon crawling, fighting beasties in a turn-based battle system, levelling up, and learning new skills – more on the latter later!

2015-02-07-201912You may have played a few dungeon-crawlers before, particularly if you’re a fan of RPGs! The systems are often fairly basic on the surface, while containing hidden depths that only those that persevere will uncover. Criminal Girls is no different, in fact, the general “crawling” aspect of the game is almost insulting simply. The game world is built up of several levels of Hell, each of which contain a few floors of their own. Your quest takes you upwards, out of cells, into a wood, through fire and through ice, and even around a school. It really is a good job that the levels each feature their own skin, as you’d never notice a difference based on the level design alone: Criminal Girls‘ floors are all simple mazes set across roughly the same spread of land. If we’re being brutally honest, the design is truly awful, and it’s painfully obvious that the guys in charge of setting quests had very little to work with when each goal of every quest and sub-quest forces you to traipse around the same corridors again and again. This aspect of the game takes up about 50% of the time you’ll spend in Hell. Maybe it really is just a good approximation of Hell, I don’t know, I’ve not been there (though there are some who say I will for playing this game). Fortunately, the deity in charge saw fit to break these woefully under-designed walks into short, easy to manage sections. You may well make a weary groan when a new objective sends you back across the same floor in the opposite direction for the fifth time in a row, but you’ll likely never be on each floor for more than half an hour, and in many ways the sense of progression through the underworld is one of the more compelling aspects of the game: you’re never really that far away from seeing what lies at the top of the next flight of steps. Okay, so it’s just more right angled corridors, but there is often some intriguing story to accompany it, and you’ll always know that it is never far until the next major plot point reveal.

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During your treks through the samey floors, you’ll be drawn into many a fight with denizens of the depths. Judging by my maths throughout this review they’ll take up about 45% of your playtime. Fights are genuinely interesting in Criminal Girls: Invite Only. They’re one of the main reasons that I kept playing until I watched the platinum trophy pop up on my Vita. The system is turn-based, and mostly made up of static images. So far, so 1992. Bear with it though, and you’ll find a wealth of depth behind the random nature of the attacks on offer. Each girl has a particular set of skills (yes, in the case of Tomoe, those skills), and they fall generally into the jobs you expect to find in a role-player: fighter, mage, healer, thief… It may be tried and tested, but it does work. How this game differs is that it doesn’t give you an array of menus to work through, but rather has each girl shout a line that offers a hint as to the type of attack they’re going to make should you choose them to do your bidding. You might get a simple command that has one to four of the girls attack one after the other, a buff to one or more of the girls, a debuff to the enemy, or a powerful special skill. Battles become a careful act of balancing health and magic points, guarding, and going for maximum damage. Some characters work better in some situations than others, enough so that it is more than worth your time to experiment with all the girls (no, not that way! Not yet, anyway). You’ll find yourself eagerly anticipating the next round of each battle, just so you can see what options will come next. If you’re grinding you’ll pray to the role-playing gods that you see a sweet area-of-effect attack, perfect for taking out swathes of enemies in one fell swoop.

If there is one area in which the battle system frustrates, it lies within the buff/debuff system. In short, it works brilliantly for the enemy, and is somewhat functional for your party. Do you like paralyzing your foes? Give it a go, but don’t expect the effects to work when you really need it. Conversely, do you find yourself paralyzed? Well good luck making any sort of effective attack, as Criminal Girls really like to punish the player when they are on the receiving end of debilitating effects. Again, maybe it is a Hell thing, but if ever there was a moment when I came close to switching off the Vita in frustration, it came at a time when the enemy got cocky with the paralysis!

By and large though, if you like role playing, you’ll probably like the battle system. Progression through the levels is swift, and you’ll find your party becoming noticeably stronger floor by floor, while always having challenging opponents lined up right up until the ending (and secret endings).

So where do these attacks come from? I guess I’ve put it off long enough…

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As alluded to at the beginning of this review, there is a reason why Criminal Girls: Invite Only is on the radars of the people that know of it: the “Motivation” minigames.

As I said, the girls of this game have a special set of skills, but they don’t necessarily know these skills right off the bat. In fact, none of the girls will even fight for you until you decide to try your hand at motivation, and a bat is probably what you’re going to need to get their attention. Motivation is a minigame that sees you interacting with the girls via the touch screen in a series of sexy scenarios.

Only, they’re not sexy at all. In fact, they’re just downright embarrassing. And the touch screen aspect of it all means that if you do happen to be playing in public you’ll be hunched over your Vita so awkwardly that your attempts to hide the screen become somehow more incriminating.

To grease the wheels, as it were, you’ll be provided with a whip so that you can slap the temptations out of each of the girls. Successfully completing a minigame will provide you with some arbitrary points that fill up a bar and unlock skills. The amount you score in each game barely matters, the games are so simple, brief, and altogether pointless that you may as well just sleepwalk through them anyway. Yes, close your eyes, for no matter how titillating whipping these well-endowed girls might seem on paper, you’ll not see anything through the pink mist that obscures your interactions, from the very first minigame to the last. Sure, the fog dissipates the more you persevere with the motivation, but all that does is reveal that the scenes behind the censor-curtain weren’t really all that risque to start with. The western edition makes a big deal of hiding the games, and the hiding makes it worse!

I’m not really sure who the motivation aspect of the game is supposed to appeal to really. For those after a bit of hanky panky, everything is covered up. For those who just want to unlock skills and move on, you’re never even really sure as to what you’re doing. Perhaps Nippon Ichi felt that censorship was the only way that Criminal Girls could justify a release on western shores (the game isn’t censored in Japan), but if you’re really after some softcore porn in a video game, then you may as well just knob romance Cassandra in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Yes, the motivation minigames are embarrassing, and are often the focus of many a review of the game. This is actually the reason that I left this aspect of the game until the end of this piece. For all the disgust that whipping, shocking, oiling, tickling, and… just touching(?) stokes up, you’ll very likely spend less than an hour doing so between the first cutscene and the last – for reference, reaching 100% completion of the game took me a whisker over forty-five hours, so you’ll actually spend very little time indeed in the chamber with the girls.

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Reading back over this review myself seems somewhat schizophrenic: I like it, I don’t like it, it’s fun, it’s embarrassing. 95% of Criminal Girls: Invite Only is an addictive trek through the well-worn world of dungeon crawling and battling. The story is fun, if fairly generic (and to see it all you have to complete it, like, nine times!), the maps are like Brio train tracks all made using the same twenty pieces, and the battle system manages to be one of kind despite looking like any number of turn-based systems. The game is almost (not quite) perfectly suited to portable gaming, being a role-player made up of many bite-size chunks. It’s basically a trashy anime in game form. If that description resounds well with you, then I think you’d be doing yourself a disservice by avoiding this game. Yeah, it gets scores like 10/100 from some sites because of the motivation side of things, but then again some people give vaccinations a similar review – you can only trust your own judgement with things like this (yep, I put the game on a pedestal much higher than it deserves there), and to form your own conclusions you should really try it yourself.

Hell, I platinum’d the game, and the only other games I’ve done the same for are Dark Souls and Dark Souls II. If I can be arsed to see a game through to the very bitter end, then it has to have something going for it.

Just so that nobody has any misconceptions about the game though, I’m going to finish (gross) with an image of the end-game motivation:

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Just don’t play it on the train.

Verdict: Criminally Underrated.