How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Dungeon Crawler

I was something of a latecomer to the RPG party; yes, I was one of those people who discovered RPGs with Final Fantasy VII.

Consequently, I didn’t really grow up with first-person perspective grid-based dungeon crawlers like The Bard’s Tale and the early Dungeons & Dragons games. To the teenage me, an “RPG” was a narrative-heavy game with predefined characters who had limited customisation, and in which battles and boss fights were but punctuation in the overall experience’s storybook rather than the central attraction.

This isn’t to say I didn’t play any first-person dungeon crawlers, of course; just not many of them. And, while I enjoyed some of them — the original Lands of Lore from Westwood Studios being probably the most standout example — I still found the “J” approach to RPGs to be the most compelling and interesting to my specific tastes.

Which is why I was so surprised to find myself enraptured with Kadokawa Games and Experience’s Demon Gaze, a title which recently made it to the West courtesy of localisation specialists NIS America.

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Eorzea Diaries: Quest for the Atma

MMORPGs are constantly changing games, both in terms of the content they offer to players and the community that plays them.

This is particularly apparent in Square Enix’s MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which has been ticking along nicely since its release (well, re-release) last August. Ever since producer Naoki Yoshida and his team threw open the doors of their fantasy land to all and sundry, they’ve been listening very carefully to feedback from the player base and continually tweaking and adjusting the game accordingly.

Some of these changes are welcome. Some less so. And some just need a bit of refinement. The Zodiac Weapons quest added in the most recent major content patch Through The Maelstrom is one very clear example of the latter.

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Visual Novels and Games: The Same, But Different

Every time I settle down to play — or even to write about — a visual novel, I’m reminded of how much I love the medium.

I use the word “medium” when referring to visual novels rather than “genre” because in many cases, it’s not entirely accurate to call them “games”, despite the fact that they tend to be festooned in the trappings of video games. Most tend to include some sort of metagame element, be it a simple checklist of endings, a CG gallery with a completion percentage or, in the case of more complex games like the recently localised Steins;Gate, even achievements. Most of them are presented in a distinctly game-like fashion, with console-style main menus that make pleasing noises when you click on them, colourful but clear text boxes with a little spinny thing in the corner that tells you when you’ve reached the end of the current paragraph, and all manner of other things.

And yet they’re not games. Not really. They’re interactive stories — some having no more than one or two meaningful choices over the course of the entire narrative, and some even eschewing the element of choice whatsoever — that make use of multimedia presentation to distinguish themselves from, you know, reading a book. The combination of static background images, static or lightly animated characters, music, voice acting, sound effects and text all combine to create a very distinctive effect — and one that can be a powerful poke to the imagination.

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I Lost My Heart to a Starship

Ell, or Starship Ezekiel to give her her full name — yes, she really is a starship — is the resident “cute” character amid the cast of Alcot’s comedy visual novel My Girlfriend is the President.

My Girlfriend is the President tells an eminently silly story about how the protagonist Junichiro’s childhood friend Yukino becomes, through a series of unfortunate and hilarious circumstances, the president of Japan. But, like most visual novels, it doesn’t just tell that story; it also tells three more, and by far my favorite of them all was the romance between Junichiro and Ell, so it’s that which we’re going to explore today, with a delve into the other routes coming later.

Even more so than the overflowing moe of Yukino, Ell-chan is the character that you’re supposed to want to protect, hug and snuggle up under a kotatsu with. She’s also the resident Robot Girl — after a fashion anyway, given her true nature. And, for many people who indulge in the peculiar pleasures of My Girlfriend is the President, she’s a fascinating character whom you can’t help but want to find out more about.

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We Need to Talk About Your Sister

The definition of a “classic” varies from person to person in any medium, but if ever there were a visual novel that deserves to be branded with this label, it would be Kana Little Sister from D.O.

It’s a title that most enthusiasts of the medium have at least heard of if not played, and one which has gained some notoriety even outside of the core fanbase — though not necessarily for the right reasons, it has to be said.

Kana Little Sister, you see, makes people uncomfortable. Rather than this aspect making it something to shy away from, however, it’s one of the more interesting things about it. Considering why it makes people uncomfortable and whether or not those reasons are justified make up a big part of any discussion surrounding this remarkable work — and that alone makes it a fascinating title to study.

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Goddesses of Gaming

The time I finished Compile Heart’s moe PlayStation 3 RPG Hyperdimension Neptunia was the time I proved beyond a doubt that review scores were completely and utterly useless to me.

I kind of suspected this already, but the fact that I devoured and loved a game that Eurogamer gave a 2/10 spoke volumes about how far my tastes had drifted from the mainstream at that point.

With that in mind, here are some facts about it that may help you reach a decision as to whether or not you would find it an enjoyable experience. Not everyone will like it, and that’s fine — I really enjoyed it, but I recognise its flaws.

So here we go then.

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The Fastest Thing on No Legs

Emi is the first path most players end up on when playing Katawa Shoujo for the first time, so it’s fitting that we begin an in-depth exploration of the game with a look at her story.

Katawa Shoujo, lest you’re unfamiliar, is a Western-developed visual novel that was inspired by a Japanese doujinshi artist’s sketches of girls with a variety of disabilities. It attracted controversy due to its subject matter — plus the fact that its title translates from Japanese as “cripple girls”, which was understandably considered somewhat offensive —  but those who took the time to play it discovered a game that was surprisingly sensitive with its subject matter, and which told some very moving stories.

The nature of the cast (and, for that matter, the protagonist’s personal journey) in Katawa Shoujo pushes the player into initially identifying characters by their disabilities, meaning that at the outset Emi’s distinguishing characteristic is that she doesn’t have any legs. Progress through the narrative, however, and certainly in Emi’s case, her disability becomes arguably the least important aspect of her whole.

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