Harmony of Despair: Castlevania’s Red-Headed Stepchild

Speak to anyone who claims to be a fan of Konami’s Castlevania series and ask them what their favourite entry in the series is, and doubtless each one will give you a different answer.

Some will prefer the purity of the NES originals. Some will cite Symphony of the Night’s genre-defining nature. Some will extol the virtues of the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS titles. Some even have a soft spot for the 3D Nintendo 64 installments in the series.

One title you won’t hear a lot of people cite as their favourite Castlevania, however, is 2010’s Harmony of Despair, a digital-only game that originally released on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 platform — not typically a hotbed of Japanese games — and which subsequently came out on PlayStation 3 a year or so later, featuring a number of enhancements.

It’s a game that wasn’t received all that well on its original release, primarily because it deviated fairly dramatically from the Metroidvania format we’d come to expect from the series by this point. But although this game is far from your typical Castlevania of the erait remains worth a look, particularly as its age means you can now pick it up pretty damn cheap.

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Ne no Kami: The Extended Universe – Sacrament of the Zodiac

Due to the fact that they are often rather substantial, ambitious undertakings, in many cases with multiple narrative routes, visual novels are often treated as “standalone” affairs. As such, it’s relatively rare to come across multiple works set in the same narrative universe.

There are exceptions, of course: the Grisaia series, which we covered last month, presently comprises three very long visual novels, with the series set to continue further later this year with Phantom Trigger, which unfolds after the conclusion of Yuuji’s adventure. And this month’s Cover Game, Ne no Kami: The Two Princess Knights of Kyoto, also falls into this category, with protagonist Len’s story unfolding across two games, the second of which is yet to be released.

Ne no Kami doesn’t stop there, though. At the very outset of the game, we’re introduced to two young women named Hitsuji and Arissa, the former of whom is a friend of protagonist Len. We don’t see them again for the duration of Ne no Kami’s narrative because they’re not directly relevant to Len’s story, though there are a couple of occasions where Len comes across things in her new life that remind her of her friend.

It is possible for us to find out more about these two mysterious young women, though, through the visual novel Sacrament of the Zodiac: The Confused Sheep and the Tamed Wolf, a title that unfolds in the same narrative universe as Ne no Kami, but which has a very different focus indeed.

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From the Archives: The Last Story and the Art of Encounter Design

Although computer and console role-playing games share a lot of common ground with their tabletop predecessors, over time the two media have diverged significantly.

Western role-playing games arguably remain the truest to tabletop role-playing, which remains very freeform, flexible and sometimes even completely free of violent conflict. Titles such as Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls series allow the experience of living in a virtual world, exploring as you see fit and seeing what happens as you interact with it in various ways.

Japanese (and Japanese-inspired) role-playing games, meanwhile, are typically (though not exclusively) handled almost as “interactive storybooks” punctuated by regular, predictable and abstract battle sequences. This isn’t a criticism, mind; as any JRPG fan will tell you, this approach allows the games to focus on strong storytelling and characterisation at the expense of allowing you to steal every spoon in someone’s house.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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The MoeGamer GameCast: Episode 7 – Missing

In this episode of the GameCast, Midori, Yumi and I talk about music, and Plot Happens.

Original music, as ever, is the work of MusMus, and the awesome retro font is by Style64. Other music in this episode remains the copyright of its respective owners.

Screenshot 2017-03-19 16.47.05

If you’re having trouble running the browser version, take a look at the TyranoBuilder FAQ, which explains how to run browser games locally — though be aware there can be some security risks involved, so only follow its recommendations when you want to run a browser-based episode of the GameCast.

Download for Windows (148MB)
Download for Mac (151MB)
Download for Browser (120MB)

Please consider showing your support for MoeGamer via Patreon so I can pay for some proper hosting for the browser versions, allowing people (including Linux users) to play the GameCast online.

If you’re new to the GameCast, start from the beginning to find out more about the characters and what this is all about!

Shmup Essentials: Zangeki Warp

The shoot ’em up genre, having been around pretty much as long as the concept of “video games”, is relatively set in its ways.

When you think about it, this isn’t all that surprising. When the core concept of your game is as simple as “shoot everything, don’t get shot and don’t crash into anything”, there’s only so much you can do to iterate on that concept. And so most modern shmups distinguish themselves primarily through carefully choreographed enemy and bullet patterns, unique audio-visual design and a sense of “spectacle”. In other words, it’s relatively rare to find a modern shmup that does things a little differently in mechanical terms.

Japanese doujin circle Astro Port is one of a few developers that likes to regularly mix things up in the genre. And its latest release Zangeki Warp is just one such example.

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From the Archives: Aselia the Eternal’s World Made of Words

I’m an RPG fan, and yet I typically find myself drawn to more linear experiences rather than open-world affairs.

Specifically, I often find that the richly-detailed worlds of titles like Skyrim leave me cold due to their lack of “personality”, for want of a better word — they may be beautiful to look at and packed with things to do, but there’s no emotional connection there.

I’d like to expand on this a little for this week’s READ.ME column, with particular regard to Aselia the Eternal, which we last looked at a couple of weeks ago.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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Wii U Essentials: Super Mario Maker

The idea of a “construction set” for a video game being sold as a standalone product is something we haven’t seen a lot of in recent years, but it used to be a common sight in the earlier days of gaming.

Back in the ’80s and early ’90s, titles such as EA’s Racing Destruction Set, Interplay’s The Bard’s Tale Construction Set and SSI’s Unlimited Adventures allowed players to try their hand at game design without needing to know any of that pesky programming, albeit within the constraints of an existing game’s framework in most cases.

The concept of “programming-free game creation” was later expanded on by companies such as Clickteam (Klik and Play, Games Factory, Multimedia Fusion, the latter of which is still used by many indie developers today), YoYo Games (GameMaker) and ASCII/Enterbrain (RPG Maker) — these packages were more “general purpose” and could be used for a wider variety of projects, but became quite a bit more complex as a result.

Given Nintendo’s love of making “toy-like” games, it was entirely appropriate that it would be the one to mark a triumphant and high-profile return to the standalone, more constrained and accessible “construction set”. Super Mario Maker was the result, and it’s one of the Wii U’s most interesting titles.

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Oh, Japan!