All posts by Pete Davison

Former games journo (GamePro, USgamer) and expert on all those Japanese games and visual novels the mainstream press likes to go "ew, pretty girls" at. I write things at great length.

Atelier Rorona Plus: The Nicest Game You’ll Play This Summer

Ponder, if you will, the most common criticisms of the video games medium as a whole. The things that make people roll their eyes and exasperatedly say “videogames” (with no space); the things that inspire endless op-eds by well-known games journalists that ask that eternal question: why aren’t things any better?

Games, these critics say, are worryingly homogeneous; the domain of late-20s, early-30s, bestubbled, gruff-voiced male protagonists with a big chip on their shoulder and usually some sort of “dark past” (or, in the case of anti-heroes, a dark present) to overcome. Games are overly violent and show a poor attitude towards women; games are concerned more with chasing the gritty Hollywood blockbuster model than providing inclusive experiences for everyone to enjoy; games are rehashing the same old ideas over and over again, often on a yearly basis.

Now take a moment to consider Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland. Or, indeed, the original Atelier Rorona that came out back in 2011. Or, for that matter, the Atelier series as a whole. Spot anything interesting?

That’s right; it’s a series that deftly addresses a significant number of these concerns about modern video games — and yet it’s one that passes a significant number of people by. If you’re not already “in on it,” chances are you won’t give it a second look. And that’s a real shame.

Let’s take a look at why.

Continue reading Atelier Rorona Plus: The Nicest Game You’ll Play This Summer

Eorzea Diaries: Defenders and Ninjas

When Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn launched last year, it was promised that the game would enjoy significant new content updates every three months — and it’s a promise that Naoki Yoshida and his team has kept.

Not only that, but between the three-monthly big patches — which tend to advance the game’s main story, introduce new dungeons and endgame encounters as well as numerous other bells and whistles — the FFXIV team has been generous in providing players with a bunch of smaller updates in between times, helping keep the game fresh and interesting as well as improving the general quality of life for everyone playing.

The last of these smaller patches to hit the game introduced a few little tweaks to gameplay as well as the enjoyable but infuriating collectathon that is the Sightseeing Log — a system that finally makes the weather in the game relevant, but which in the process will cause you to curse it on a regular basis — but now, as we approach July, we’re looking forward to the next major content update: patch 2.3, known as Defenders of Eorzea.

Continue reading Eorzea Diaries: Defenders and Ninjas

Artistic Temperament

Having explored the narrative paths of all the other girls in the Western-developed, Japanese-inspired freeware visual novel Katawa Shoujo, it’s time to turn our attention to the final girl: Rin.

As I’ve noted in the previous explorations of Emi, Hanako, Lilly and Shizune, one of the interesting things about Katawa Shoujo is that while you initially — for better or worse — recognise each of the cast members through their disabilities, all of the narrative paths throughout the game serve to show that people most certainly aren’t defined by their most obvious physical characteristic. In many cases, they can surprise you greatly.

Rin is one such example. Despite having no arms, Rin is an artist, and a great deal of her path explores the way she deals with having an artistic temperament — and how protagonist Hisao learns to appreciate the beauty in everything around him. Thematically and tonally, it’s one of the more complex, difficult paths in Katawa Shoujo, but it’s also one of the most rewarding to explore.

So let’s do just that.

Continue reading Artistic Temperament

Goddesses of Gamindustri: Noire

With the Western release of Vita title Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection, a character-centric idol management game-cum-dating sim-cum-visual novel based on Compile Heart’s popular RPG series, I thought it high time we took a closer look at the game’s cast.

And, since Noire — also known as Black Heart — is indisputably my favorite member of the cast, I figured there was no better place to start. I’m not the only one who favours Noire, mind; such was her popularity in Japan that she recently got her own game: a Vita-based, Sting-co-developed strategy RPG spinoff of the Neptunia series that looks like being a lot of fun. There’s no news of a Western release of that game as yet, but in the meantime, we can enjoy hanging out with Noire (and her friends, I guess) in Producing Perfection.

But who, really, is Noire? Well, let’s ponder that.

Continue reading Goddesses of Gamindustri: Noire

Eorzea Diaries: Those Who Play Together…

I’ve tried to get my “real life” friends into MMOs in the past. Lord knows, I’ve tried.

And, for a brief, blissful period in World of Warcraft’s early heyday, it was successful. We were all playing together, enjoying ourselves and having a blast. Then the inevitable happened: one of us started playing more than the others, and started steaming ahead. Then another person did the same. Eventually, we were left with something of a split group, unable to practically and productively play together because of our level disparity.

This is a common problem that has plagued MMOs since their inception, and different games have tackled it in different ways. (Some games haven’t tackled it at all, for that matter.) Final Fantasy XIV, for my money, handles it in a fairly elegant manner that helps ensure that all the content in the game remains relevant, regardless of whether you’ve just levelled up enough to try it for the first time, or you’re a level 50, item level 97 veteran who has run it hundreds of times to date.

Continue reading Eorzea Diaries: Those Who Play Together…

An Unavoidable Tragedy

We see a lot of comedy in games these days — it’s something which a number of creators in particular have proven themselves to be particularly good at — but not much in the way of tragedy.

Oh, sure, we have sad scenes that are designed to milk a few tears from those with less-than-stellar emotional constitutions (like me) but very few games that truly explore tragedy in the Shakespearean — or more accurately Aristotlean — sense. That is to say, very few games that have the balls to present a main character that is tragically flawed, makes mistakes and undergoes a significant reversal of fortune — either from good to bad, or bad to good.

The last place I expected to find an example of tragedy like this was in a game from Nippon Ichi Software, a company best-known for somewhat more light-hearted titles, but here we have The Witch and the Hundred Knight, a game that is a significant departure for the Disgaea developers in more ways than one.

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Collectible Card Crusade

A couple of years back, my main gig was reviewing free-to-play mobile and social games from a business perspective. This proved to be something of an eye-opening experience.

One of the things I discovered during this period of my career was the astronomical popularity of a type of mobile game collectively known as “card-battlers”. Distinct from more traditional card games like Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering, mobile card-battlers are usually of Eastern origin — they’re particularly popular in their native countries — and are one of those breeds of mobile games that have lots of people making them, but very few people genuinely innovating in them. In other words, most of them are almost identical save for the artwork on the virtual cards you collect throughout the game.

Moreover, a lot of them are extremely unpolished affairs, their ’90s website-esque user interfaces, frequent lack of sound and music, reliance on data connections and excruciatingly slow loading times a clear hangover from the feature phone era. So why, why, why on Earth are these games so popular? And is there any redeeming value in them whatsoever?

Only one way to find out.

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Out of the Comfort Zone

Your average visual novel tends to have a number of different narrative paths to explore, each of which focuses on a different character from the main cast. The free visual novel Katawa Shoujo is no exception, with each of its routes focusing on one of five different girls — each of whom has a different disability — and what the protagonist Hisao learns from his relationship with them.

I found the path that centred around the deaf class president Shizune to be rather interesting, because I spent a lot of it not being entirely sure if I actually liked her or not. Her competitive, dominant, bossy nature is somewhat at odds with what I personally find attractive, and so I found myself wondering if pursuing her would have the same degree of emotional impact as the other girls Emi, Hanako, Lilly and — still to come — Rin.

I still haven’t quite made my mind up about it, as it happens, but it was certainly an interesting story, despite being the least interactive of all the paths through the game, with only one meaningful choice to make.

Continue reading Out of the Comfort Zone

Eorzea Diaries: Do Unto Others…

One of the things that can make or break a massively multiplayer game like Final Fantasy XIV is the community.

You can have all the great content and regular updates in the world, but if your community is largely made up of obnoxious morons, you’ll end up driving away the passionate but thinner-skinned players, leaving behind only the aforementioned obnoxious morons. And thus the problem continues to compound itself.

For the most part, in my experience, anyway, the community of Final Fantasy XIV has been a mostly very helpful and supportive place. And I think it’s important to keep it that way.

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Scars

Let’s talk about Hanako, one of the heroines from 4 Leaf Studios’ excellent free visual novel Katawa Shoujo.

As you’ll know if you’ve read the previous posts on Lilly and EmiKatawa Shoujo is a bold, remarkable work that tackles a variety of difficult subject matter. The most obvious demonstration of this can’t be missed: it’s a game where the main characters all have disabilities.

But that’s not all there is to it. It becomes abundantly clear over the course of the five main narrative paths through the game — each focusing on one of the heroines — that all of the characters are dealing with deep-seated issues other than the outward signs of their disability.

Hanako, the character whom you first come to recognise as the shy girl with the burn scars all over one side of her body, is no exception. Understandably traumatised by the events that made her look the way she does, she’s a character riddled with mental health issues — many of which are highly relatable to a general audience.

Continue reading Scars