Waifu Wednesday: Al Azif

Nitroplus’ Deus Machina Demonbane is an absolutely remarkable visual novel.

Combining elements of Lovecraftian horror and giant robot anime with a generous dash of noir, it is quite unlike any other piece of interactive entertainment I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

And a big part of that is due to one of its major characters: Al Azif, typically referred to just as Al.

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My Earliest Visual Novel Memories

Although it was quite a few years ago, I have some vivid and fond memories of my first experiences with what I now know to be visual novels.

I commonly attribute my present love of visual novels to 2012’s Katawa Shoujo, but in fact my earliest encounter with the medium was some years earlier. This was back when I first discovered an interest in Japanese popular media in general thanks to a combination of promotional Manga Video VHS cassettes my brother brought home on one occasion, and the discovery that I really liked JRPGs thanks to Final Fantasy VII.

Those early visual novels had a pretty strong impact on me, and I was delighted to discover that there are ways to play them once again on modern machines — more on that later.

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Puzzler Essentials: Magical Drop III

Magical Drop III, first released in 1997, is widely regarded as the best installment in Data East’s series of frantic puzzlers.

The series as a whole is noteworthy in that it provides a distinctly more fast-paced take on what is typically regarded as a relatively sedate genre, but Magical Drop III took the core mechanics established in its early incarnations, polished them to a fine sheen and created one of the most addictive puzzle games of all time… not to mention the origin of the “Fairy Bounce” meme.

Magical Drop III got released on all manner of platforms, but today we’re primarily concerned with the European PlayStation release, which includes a port of the Saturn version, itself somewhat rebalanced from the arcade and Neo Geo versions, as well as a port of Magical Drop Plus 1!, an enhanced version of the first game in the series that was originally released in the West as Chain Reaction.

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PS2 Essentials: Ace Combat: Distant Thunder

Better known by its other name Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, the fourth installment of Namco’s series of fighter jet games was released under a different name in Europe.

Ace Combat: Distant Thunder, as we shall refer to it from hereon because I am European so deal with it, is a game that, despite its age — and the fact it was the series’ first outing on PlayStation 2 — remains eminently worth playing today.

It’s also a relic of a different time, when flight simulators in general were a much more common sight on both computers and consoles than they are today… which in some ways makes it all the more noteworthy from a modern perspective.

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Fate/stay night: Oneself as an Ideal

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Fate/stay night’s complete three-part narrative opens with the simply named Fate.

In the original 2004 release of the game, this 30+ hour path was a prerequisite to unlocking the other routes of the game Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel, though the 2012 Réalta Nua release on PC split the three routes into separate executable files, allowing them to be played independently, albeit with some shared save data.

It’s still best to play them in the order they were originally intended, however, since Fate, as we’ll explore today, carries the important role of allowing us to understand the context in which the other narratives unfold.

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Waifu Wednesday: Peridot

I love puzzle games, if that was not already evident.

However, I particularly love late ’90s arcade puzzlers such as those put out by Taito, Data East and their peers, for one reason in particular: as well as providing solid, addictive gameplay, they also had a tendency to have a cast of wonderful characters to accompany the action.

While you may want to debate whether or not Taito’s 1997 block-breaker Puchi Carat is truly a puzzle game or not, one thing we can hopefully agree on is that it features a spectacular cast of waifus.

And Queen of the Puchi Carat Waifus, so far as I’m concerned anyway, is Peridot.

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Taito Essentials: Elevator Action Returns

Elevator Action is an established classic of the ’80s arcade scene, and saw a wide variety of ports to most of the popular computer and console systems of the period.

While the original game is still relatively well-known today, many people remain unaware that Taito followed it up with an official sequel in 1994, some eleven years after the original game’s release.

These people are, of course, also unaware that Elevator Action Returns is an absolutely awesome game, even from a modern perspective.

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Puzzler Essentials: Cleopatra Fortune

Cleopatra Fortune is an arcade game from 1997, developed as a collaborative effort between Taito and Natsume.

It’s a falling block puzzle of the type that was fashionable throughout the 16- and 32-bit eras in the mid-to-late ’90s. But despite having a touch of Tetris about some of its mechanics, it’s an altogether unique experience. And, moreover, unlike some of the more well-known names in the puzzle genre, particularly in recent years, it’s not one that’s been endlessly cloned, reskinned and recycled.

It is, however, brilliant.

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PS2 Essentials: Shadow of Memories

The first game I ever played on the PlayStation 2 was Konami’s Shadow of Memories, also known as Shadow of Destiny in the States.

I’d wanted a PS2 for a while, but even back then, I felt like I didn’t want to pick up a game that I felt I already knew all about from reading about it in magazines. So I deliberately chose a game I knew absolutely nothing about as my first PS2 game, then sat down to play it and found myself utterly entranced by something quite unlike anything I’d ever played before.

Combining elements of traditional adventure games, visual novels and even open-world exploration, Shadow of Memories remains a highly noteworthy title in the PS2’s library, and well worth exploring even today.

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Fate/stay night: Introduction and History

This article is one chapter of a multi-part Cover Game feature!
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To say that Type-Moon’s Fate/stay night is an influential work in Japanese popular media is something of an understatement.

Since its first appearance as an adults-only visual novel in 2004, the series has gone on to spawn a visual novel sequel and all-ages remake, numerous spin-off games for a variety of different console and handheld platforms, several anime series, manga volumes, light novels, movies and, most recently, a successful free-to-play mobile game.

The original game is regarded as one of the best visual novels of all time, and indeed was a bestseller in its year of release in Japan. And yet, for some reason, we’ve never seen an official localisation in the West, even from long-standing powerhouses of visual novel publishing such as JAST USA, MangaGamer or Sekai Project.

Thankfully, all is not lost, thanks to the continuing efforts of various fan translation groups, who have not only translated the original 2004 visual novel, but also the 2012 release of the Réalta Nua remake, including the ability to re-integrate the adult content from the original.

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