Pokemon Mystery Dungeon-Explorers of Sky: Final thoughts

After roughly 19 hours of play, I am finally done with Explorers of Sky. I didn't fully explore the vast postgame territory as I initially planned, quitting instead in the early stages of Zero Isle. Although my postgame endeavours had started well with a quick and nice exploration of Mystifying Forest, things got rougher as I started progressing through the North part of Zero Isle. Traps were overabundant, ennemies were powerful and, cherry on top of the tediousness cake, I was not gaining levels anymore. After 15 floors, I also started suspecting that Zero Isle would be a ridiculously huge dungeon; a quick research on the internet confirmed that hunch, which turned out to be the proverbial last straw that prompted me to stop playing. I don't want my warm feelings about that game to be spoiled by a frustrating trudge through punishing dungeons, so I'll wisely abstain from clearing the rest of the postgame content altogether.

I'll abstain all the more so as I already had my share of fun while clearing the main game. I certainly got much more enjoyment out of Explorers of Sky than I had bargained for: I initially only wanted to get over my grudge and give another chance to the DS instalments of the series, yet I ended up loving Explorers of Sky even more than Gates to Infinity. Here's a list of all the features that made this game so pleasant to me:

—The story was excellent and told in a very convincing way. From the mundane beginnings to the unexpected plot twist, followed by the sudden discovery of higher stakes and crowned by a sweet emotional ending, the pacing was pitch-perfect. Talking about the emotional ending, I shed a tear or two while witnessing it, and I'd wager that I'm not the only one. Cutscenes were a precious few and judiciously dispatched while avoiding dialogue overdose, making for a pleasantly compact and streamlined storytelling that never treaded on the gameplay's territory.

 —The crawling was pure pleasure thanks to a winning combination of good dungeon design, lovely graphics and stellar music. Although the dungeon design of Explorers of Sky cannot be described as truly clever or excellent because of its randomized nature, it was still quite palatable: dungeons sported a reasonable size, with an average floor size that gave room for exploration without being overwhelming and a decent number of floors, and many dungeon layouts displayed patterns that could be used to streamline the crawling. The graphics were definitely finer than in Blue Rescue Team, with a abundance of exquisite details that made every dungeon unique. Last but not least, the crawling was crowned by a stellar soundtrack comprised of dozens of beautiful and complex themes that caressed the ear without ever becoming irritating.

—Spinda's Juice Bar, a.k.a. Drinking with benefits. This was the single most awesome feature of Explorers of Sky, as it offered the possibility to raise stats without level-grinding. Just give Spinda all the gummies you put your paws on, and voilĂ ! IQ increase for you, as well an extra point of Attack, Defense, Sp. Attack or Sp. Defense for each Gummi drink polished off. Even better, maps of extra dungeons can be found occasionally at the bottom of your empty glass; that's a lame explaination allright, but the outcome is certainly fantastic. I found two such maps, namely of dungeons called Serenity River and Lush Prairie; I obviously explored them, and was rewarded by a couple of boxes full of items on the last floor. All this awesomeness made me completely addicted to Spinda's Juice Bar, and it was not long before I found myself frenetically collecting Gummies in dungeons and buying all the ones available in Kecleon shop before drinking them all at Spinda's—rinse and repeat. Thanks to that juice abuse, I became massively overleveled and didn't encounter any difficulty during the boss fights—including the last one, which I wrapped up in a couple of turns. Juices are a Pokemon's best friend!

—The overall atmosphere was really lovely and soothing. I love mellow games that are welcoming to the player and make them feel at home, and Explorers of Sky was exactly that. This kind of sweet atmosphere was what I initially expected to find in the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series and failed to feel in Blue Rescue Team, so I'm glad I could feel it in Explorers of Sky. The settings were so enchanting that I even felt a bout of that gaming fernweh I already mentioned in my post about Astonishia Story: I wanted to be there, to explore that world myself instead of gazing at it on my DS screen.

And since I'm mentioning my DS screen, I can also say that Explorers of Sky reignited my love for the Nintendo DS and reminded me how much I actually fancy that system and its special brand of gaming. DS games have a visual style, a sound, an overall atmosphere that are unique and instantly recognizable and that I absolutely adore. I have somehow deserted my DSi these last months to concentrate on my Vita, but I feel now that it is time to lavish some love on it again. I have literally dozens of DS games to play yet, and I could use some positive Nintendo-related experiences after my recent disappointments with the 3ds. So until my next DS game, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Amnesia:Memories: The Joker Route (SPOILERS!)

Fifth and last route, folks! The Joker Route was my second favourite after the Diamond Route and an interesting conclusion to the overarching storyline of Amnesia:Memories. Orion's initial collision with my character's brain was justified in a rather convincing way, as well as all of Ukyo's seemingly random actions and weird declarations in the four other routes. If not for the uncanny amount of babbling and superfluous rehashing of the other routes' themes (I was vomiting the whole "childhood friends/big brother" drill with Toma and Shin at that point, I swear), the Joker Route could actually have been my favourite route of the whole game. Oh, well.

My exploration of the Joker Route led me first to its ridiculously numerous bad endings. We're talking about seven bad endings there, people, and I uncovered all of them first thing. Six of them belong to the 'branching path' category and can be smelled from afar; of course, I had to see what they had in store for me, and I jumped into the lion's den with some giddy masochistic satisfaction. Oh, the fun of being killed in a million different ways! I was murdered by Ukyo, kidnapped by Toma, crushed to death, burned alive and so on, in a deliciously gruesome display of bad luck. The seventh bad ending is tied to the Parameters and happens if the Trust and Affection Gauge are not filled enough after the other six bad endings have been successfully dodged. This was the last bad ending I uncovered; and after witnessing that most entertaining collection of grisly outcomes, I started hunting for the better endings in earnest.

During my first 'bad endings special' run, I had tried my hardest to convey my love to Ukyo and had been very demonstrative to him, forcing my attentions and my presence on him as much as the dialogue choices allowed me to do, only to get stranded in the ultimate seventh bad ending after dodging the other six. I then started a second run in which I tried to be more compliant and to go along with Ukyo's wishes. His main demand throughout the whole route was that I kept my distance from him, and I did exactly that while still being kind to him when we interacted. This behaviour paid off and I was rewarded by the normal ending, leaving me just one ending away from sweet, sweet completion.

I must insert a disclaimer here; although I unearthed that ultimate good ending all by myself, I have to admit that I didn't manage to pinpoint the exact requirements for uncovering it. My winning strategy involved uncovering all the memories from other worlds involving Ukyo and dodging the memories from the Joker Route involving anybody else while simultaneously trying to max up the Trust and Affection Gauges. My reasoning was that if I managed to avoid all memories of the Joker world until the scripted event that would trigger the memory of my encounter with Ukyo in that world, then Orion would not separate from me and would be able to save the day, leading me straight to the good ending. It turned out that this reasoning was unvalid and that Orion being kicked out of my consciousness was actually a scripted event as well; yet my strategy ultimately paid off and generated the good ending. Since I had reached completion at long last, I didn't play a test run in which I could have checked the validity of my hypothesis regarding the requirements for the good ending, for instance by triggering memories of the Joker world involving other persons than Ukyo. That is why to this day, I don't know if the good ending is tied to the Parameters, to the recovering of the memories of Ukyo from other worlds or to a mix of both. Well, that question will have to linger unanswered until my next playthrough of Amnesia:Memories.

If there is a next playthrough, that is. Although I will certainly not erase the game now that I've forked out some cold hard cash to purchase it, the inherent lack of replay value of visual novels may prevent me from ever replaying it. That doesn't diminish the game's merits in any way, though: this was an excellent gameplay experience and a really fun ride. I've been pondering whether or not Amnesia: Memories was intended as a deadpan parody of otome games. The game's assiduity when it comes to offering bad endings by the truckload and its zeal to craft entirely unlikeable bachelors—well-intentioned guys treating you like shit or psychos treating you amorously, pick your poison!—certainly comes across as humorous, but that may just be my own penchant for dark humour and satire speaking. At any rate, I want to play more visual novels with an otome flavour, which is why I ordered Norn9: Var Commons and Code:Realize just after clearing Amnesia:Memories. If you know other good visual novels with an otome touch, feel free to fill me in! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Amnesia:Memories: The Diamond Route (SPOILERS!)

Oh what a ride! Let's be blunt: when it comes to all things narrative, the Diamond Route was my favourite of them all. I dreaded playing it at first, yet I needed not. It offered me an amazing piece of storytelling that blended claustrophobia, suspense and emotion in equal parts and ended up being deeply engrossing and moving. This route's exclusive focus on interactions between Toma and my character was enthralling, and a welcome change from all the mundane chit-chat with secondary characters I had to tolerate in all the other routes. Once again, the outcomes of the Diamond Route were tied to my behaviour in an utterly logical way. Although Toma's actions are obviously designed to elicit a modicum—or an abundance—of suspicion and uneasiness, it is up to the player to decide whether they trust him against all odds or not. If the player treats Toma like the creep he seems to be and vent their hatred and contempt towards him, little Toma will go over the edge and start acting like a psychopath in earnest. This will lead straight into the open arms of the "We'll be together forever" ending, which is without a doubt the most gruesome and disturbing ending of the whole game. If the player decides to trust Ukyo upon a chance meeting instead of sticking with Toma, they will be killed once again in the "I'll take you with me" bad ending. On the other hand, should the player decide to give Toma the benefit of the doubt and show a modicum of kindness towards him, they will manage to escape mostly unscathed through the normal ending. Last but not least, if the player decides to trust Toma with their guts and to show some unwavering love and kindness towards him, they will be rewarded with a blooming love story in the good ending. I really liked the grittiness of that outcome: both Toma and the main character are obviously volatile people that have been nurturing a totally unhealthy fusional relationship for years, but they admit that much and decide to live with it. Their story of mutual unrequited love was actually quite touching, all the more so as unlike the other bachelors, Toma bottles up his feelings until the very end. It's pretty obvious from the start that he loves you, yet he won't bring himself to admit it, and that makes his final confession in the good ending all the more precious and moving.

I lapped up the Diamond Route allright, but that doesn't mean that I deem it perfect. I have a serious gripe with it, and that gripe is related to the existence of an extra Parameter Gauge that is exclusive to that route. This gauge measures a parameter called 'Doubt', a confusing name with an inherent ambiguity that prevented me from uncovering the good ending on my own. When I discovered that gauge, I automatically assumed that it was supposed to measure my suspicions regarding Toma's creepiness and that I had to keep it to a minimum while maxing up the Trust and Affection Gauges if I wanted to unearth the good ending. Unfortunately, it didn't work; and after several failed tries, I capitulated and resorted to following an FAQ. As I was progressing, I checked the Parameters and was utterly shocked to see that the Doubt Gauge steadily filled up along the Trust and Affection Gauges, until all three were nearly full at the end of the run. That's when I realized that my initial assumption had been erroneous and that the Doubt Gauge was actually measuring my suspicions regarding the fact that Toma was in love with me despite faking the opposite. Really, game? How was I supposed to assume that? Sure, I could have guessed it, given that the gauge filled up every time a telltale event revealing Toma's buried feelings for me occurred; but I have to admit that it was a trifle too far-fetched for me. Sure, I could have tried to max up the Doubt Gauge when I saw that keeping it to a minimum didn't yield the good ending; but it didn't dawn on me, so sure was I to be on the right track. This will remain my biggest regret regarding the Diamond Route; to uncover the good ending all by myself at the end of that favourite route of mine would have been the cherry on top of the cake. Oh, well.

Next and last is my report on the Joker Route, and then I'll be done with Amnesia Memories. Until that final post, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Amnesia:Memories: The Clover Route (SPOILERS!)

Here comes my report about Amnesia:Memories' third route, fellow gamers! Things started off nicely, as my first run of that route landed me the normal ending. I was not going to stop at that, obviously, and started a second run during which I once again closely monitored the Parameter Gauges in order to fill up the Affection and Trust Gauge and keep the Suspicion Gauge to a minimum. This micromanagement paid off beautifully and I uncovered the Good Ending, to my immense satisfaction. It feels intensely rewarding to be able to unearth good endings all by myself without resorting to FAQs, and I commend Amnesia:Memories for offering endings that are not so ridiculously arcane that they cannot be uncovered without help. (I'm looking your way, true ending of Steins;Gate.) After that, I started a third route in which I tried to be odious to Kent for a change. This produced the "Isn't it a beautiful night?" bad ending, in which I was murdered again by Ukyo. It's worth nothing that the Clover Route is the only route that doesn't contain any 'branching path' ending, every ending in this route being generated solely by variations of the parameters. When it came to unlocking the second bad ending and last ending of the route, I suddenly grew bored of tinkering with said parameters and resorted to an FAQ for the first time since I started playing the game, which allowed me to witness the rather chilling outcome of being locked up in a ward at Kent's instigation, probably for life. In terms of parameters, this ending pops up when the Suspicion Gauge is filled up while the Affection and Trust Gauge remain low—in other words, when you're cold to Kent while behaving in a highly suspicious manner. And that, folk, was the gist of my exploration of the Clover Route.

Although I had some decent fun while clearing it, I was a trifle disappointed by this route. My main gripe is that unlike the Heart and Spade Routes, the Clover Route doesn't offer the merest shred of a clue to help the player figure out which memories they are still missing. These missing memories could be absolutely anything at all for all the player's knowledge, which forbids any kind of speculation and kills the suspense before it can even be born. Things get even worse when said missing memories are finally revealed, because the plot twist they introduce can only be described as weak at best. Learning that Toma had attacked me in the Heart Route and that Ikki was the unwitting victim of some kind of creepy love trafficking in the Spade Route had some interesting shock value, but the sudden revelation that I had been in love with Kent all along and that I was actually referring to him when I told him about my heartbreak came accross as inane and maudlin. The whole route came across as inane and maudlin, if I have to be totally honest: it solely revolved about my totally unfascinating and awkward love story with Kent, conveniently sprinkled with pieces of cheap sentimentalism such as the episode with the dog. My character was also considerably more passive and whingeing than in the other routes and Kent managed to come across as ruder, duller and more annoyingly overbearing than Shin and Ikki combined, which is quite the feat. I started feeling some lassitude after my third run, hence the use of an FAQ to unlock the last bad ending—which I wanted to witness, yet not enough to risk failed runs by searching for it myself.

That's all for the Clover Route, fellow gamers! I'll see you soon with a post about the Diamond Route. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon Mystery Dungeon-Explorers of Sky: Sweet slow burner

I don't like harbouring gaming grudges, all the more so if said grudge is against a game belonging to a genre I favour and if that game happens to be a spin-off of one of my favourite series. I wrote off the DS entries of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series after a disappointing experience with Blue Rescue Team, promising myself never to touch them again; but now, one and a half year later, I felt that it was time to give the DS branch of the series another chance and to try my hardest to get over that saddening grudge. I had been toying with the idea for some time and had purchased a copy of Explorers of Sky, thinking that it would be better to start again with a brand-new entry; and lately, a review of that game on The Lucky Critical gave me the boost I needed to start playing it in earnest.

And so did I. The opening quiz produced Pikachu—to my mild surprise, since I had tried hard to obtain that Pokemon in Blue Rescue Team and failed entirely. I had already played as Pikachu in my run of Gates to Infinity and wanted to try out another 'Mon, so I took the quiz a second time... And landed Pikachu again, to my utter surprise. Well, I guess it was destiny! I thus went with Pikachu and selected Skitty as my partner, because hey, I just cannot resist cats. Especially if they're kittens. I decided from the get-go that this would be a duo run because a) I didn't feel like levelling up other 'Mons and b) The Lucky Critical's review had conveniently revealed that the last dungeon had to be tackled with your partner only, so better get used to it right away! And so, I dove into action with that colourful fury duo.

After 14 hours of said action, I am literally glued to Explorers of Sky and loving it more by the hour. I certainly didn't expect that in the beginning, given how slow and unimpressive were the early stages of the game. I was not allowed to tackle more than one mission at once, which was annoying as my greatest desire was to Crawl'n'Grind. Each mission was preceded and followed by unskippable cutscenes taking place at the Guild; and although these scenes were kind of cute and helped establish a sense of belonging to the Guild, they became irritating after a while. There was an annoying mini-game that further ruined the already slow pacing, and the story consisted of fending off the attempts at stealing food perpetrated by a team of cartoonish ruffians. All that was rather vapid, and although the game was much more pleasant than Blue Rescue Team, I was not exactly glued to it. I would play only once in a while, clearing a mission or two before closing my DS and diving back into Demon Gaze.

Fortunately, this lukewarm gameplay experience was not meant to last. After a couple of hours, the story suddenly took a most interesting turn thanks to some unexpected developments, gaining a much broader scope in the process; and to my utter delight, the dungeon crawling followed suit. My crawling horizons were suddenly expanded to massive proportions, as I could tackle as many missions and dungeons as I wanted and Crawl'n'Grind to my heart's content. And Crawl'n'Grind I did, clearing all the Dojo's dungeons and tons of missions. Oh, the delight! Once I was sated, I dove back into the story, without forgetting to take a break every now and then to grind and farm useful items. After several hours of that regimen, I'm totally and desperately hooked on Explorers of Sky: although I'm nearly at the Final Boss' door, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of the game. I want to keep gorging on crawling and grinding until I get my fill of it, and something tells me that these urges will not be sated after beating the final boss. Which is for the best, given that the game goes on after that. More crawling, yes please!

Of course, it certainly doesn't hurt either that the game looks and sounds amazing. This is a late-era DS game, and it show beautifully: the colours are splendid, the graphics bristle with exquisite details and the 'Mons detailed animations are absolutely adorable. There is a staggering graphical gap between that game and Blue Rescue Team, and it's all for the best given how primitive the latter was in that department. As for the soundtrack, it is a pure piece of ear candy with dozens of tracks in various styles, most of them being considerably more complex than what you'd expect to find in a Pokemon spin-off aimed mainly at kids.

Although I'm not done yet with my playthrough, I can safely say that the DS branch of the series has totally and beautifully redeemed itself thanks to Explorers of Sky. It has done so to such extent that I'm even considering giving another try to Blue Rescue Team, the game that started the grudge in the first place. Or former grudge, should I say, because this is now a thing of the past. The present is all about playing Explorers of Sky and enjoying it to the fullest, and you can expect more writing about that game before I'm done with it—and after, for that matter. Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Amnesia:Memories: The Spade Route (SPOILERS!)

Although I've not been writing about Amnesia:Memories this week, I've been glued to it and managed to polish off the four main routes already. This game is getting more engrossing by the route, and I will most certainly miss it once I clear the Joker Route, which I'm currently exploring. But we're not there yet. For now, let's concentrate on Ikki!

The Spade Route was quite different from the Heart Route in terms of narrative logic. Unlike the Heart Route, the Spade Route didn't offer me an enormous and conveniently obvious clue on a silver plate to let me know what memories I was missing and how to retrieve them. Ikki was also significantly harder to decode than Shin, and his feelings and intentions toward me were murkier. As a result, my first run ended up on two of the three bad endings, which was not exactly encouraging.

This opening run led me first to the "I'll get rid of those who hurt you" ending. This is a 'branching path' type of ending that is triggered by a single answer, regardless of everything that happened before, so it's actually quite easy to avoid once you know the crucial dialogue choice leading there. Since I didn't know, I fell prey to that ending and had to joy of witnessing my own demise at the hands of Ikki's crazy fan club members. My, what a chilling outcome! I was expecting to be murdered by Ukyo again, so this came as a total surprise. How many psychopaths are hovering around me, exactly? Anyway, I reloaded my last save file presto and kept playing, and unearthed the "I wanted us to live together" ending at the end of that first playthrough. Not too surprising, given that I had been instinctively odious to Ikki from the get-go. Still, getting two bad endings in a row stung a bit.

But I was not going to give up, oh no. I stood up, brushed myself off and started a second run in which I tried my hardest to be nice to Ikki. My efforts paid off and I unearthed the normal ending. Victory! Well, not quite. To be honest, I really couldn't fathom what memories I was still missing, let alone how to reclaim them. The only vague clues I had were the message about a report that was sent to me early on, Ikki's proposition to live together and that mysterious three-months deadline. No matter how I tried to piece these elements together, that was not enough to give me a clear idea of what I was supposed to do to get the much-coveted good ending.

I thus decided to resort to a different tactic, namely to monitor the parameter gauges closely and use them to guide me. This hadn't been necessary in the Heart Route because the logic there was so blatantly obvious, but this extra help was now becoming mandatory. My goal was to keep the Suspicion Gauge at its lowest while trying to max up the Affection and Trust Gauges, and I engaged in a assiduous micro-management campaign in which I saved before every dialogue choice, picked an answer and checked the gauges afterwards to see their evolution. I then loaded my save file, picked the other available answer(s) and checked the gauges again, and then loaded my save file again and selected the answer that had wielded the best result in terms of parameter increase. That may sound utterly boring, but it was actually immensely fun. I was surprised more than once by the 'best' choices, and was surprised even more when I finally discovered the ultimate plot twist of the Spade Route as the result of all my hard work. Gee, I knew that this mysterious message about a report was important! This was the prelude to the good ending, which saw me move together with Ikki while getting partially rid of the fan club clique. Only partially, mind you, because they are still hovering around him like hungry vultures around carrion. I guess nothing is ever perfect, in otome games like in the real world! Oh, well.

Elated and enboldened by this resounding success, I decided to hunt for the last ending of the Spade Route, namely the "Not bad, God" bad ending. Since rebuffing Ikki had led me to one ending already, I figured out that the requirements for getting the third bad ending had to be different, and my guess was that they revolved around the Suspicion Gauge. I had tried my hardest not to rouse suspicions about my amnesia during my previous runs; but this time around, I went for suspect behaviour full force and gave entirely dubious answers that made the Suspicion Gauge burst at the seams. The result was drastic: Ikki confronted me about my conduct, and went in a rage upon learning that I had not confided in him despite having amnesia. He sprouted a bunch of lies and threatened me before chasing me out of his room, and that was the end of both our relation and the run. Third bad ending successfully uncovered!

Since I was at it, I decided to uncover the second bad ending of the Heart Route. I though that being cold to both Shin and Toma would do the trick, but to my utter surprise, this behaviour generated the normal ending again. This unexpected outcome led me to the conclusion that I had to be cold to Shin and nice to Toma all the way in order to get that second bad ending. This was the only combination I had not tried, so it had to be the winning one, right? Well, I was not disappointed: it was the winning combination allright, and it led me to be murdered. By Toma. Seriously, game? I don't mind being murdered by random psychos like Rika or Ukyo, but always-nice, always-smiling big-brotherly Toma? That came as a shock, honestly. And indeed, it turns out that this adorable guy is actually the creepiest creep of them all—but more on that later. Suffice it to say that after witnessing that ending, I started having serious reservations about the Diamond route.

That's all for the Spade Route, fellow gamers! It was a challenging and fun route despite Ikki's irritating behaviour. I'll see you soon with my report about the Clover Route. Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Demon Gaze: Ce n'est qu'un au revoir

Now is the time to craft my ultimate post about Demon Gaze, before other dungeon crawlers take the scene. I'll keep it neat and nice, with a digest of my run followed by a list of the points that charmed me the most and a list of the points that moderately annoyed me and that I would love to see corrected in an hypothetical sequel. Without further ado, here are my final thoughts about Demon Gaze!

So, here's my run in a nutshell. I played for 38 hours, which is quite a reasonable amount of time for a dungeon crawler, and reached Lv. 72. I stuck to the same three Artifacts the whole time, namely Counter, Killer Edge and Slash (1 then 2), as they were perfectly fit for a solo run; the last two slots accommodated whichever extra Artifact I found, although none of them stuck for long. My favourite and most used demons were Mars, Chronos, Venus and Neptune; I occasionally cruised around with Comet, Hermes, Uranus and Pluto and never touched Jupiter and Astro. I obtained very few pieces of gear, usually sticking to the same ones for hours on end; this occasionally created slight unbalance problems, as I found myself overpowered by enemies because of my outdated equipment. I farmed gear very seldom and never needed to grind for money since I was playing solo; I level-grinded only twice, namely before the very first and the very last boss fight of the main game. And that, fellow gamers, is the gist of my run. Now let's move on to the good and not-so-good points of Demon Gaze!

The excellent:

I won't elaborate further on the lovely atmosphere, the solo run-friendliness and the awesome roaming since I already covered them in my first post. Instead, here are the new positive points that I discovered since:

  •  The fan-service is pleasantly varied, catering to every potential audience in equal measure. There's plenty of bare skin, bosoms and revealing outfits, both on males and females. Shotacon and lolicon adepts should be most fond of Lulu, Kukure and Prometh, while the yaoi crew will lap up Cassel and Lezerem's constant bickering and sentences such as Astro's "Take me with those eyes"—addressed to the main character in a deep, nearly sultry voice, of course. Yuri aficionados are not forgotten and get a pleasant treat with Pinay's hilarious obsession with Fran. It's nice to find such an open-minded stance about fan-service, and the pervasive humour at work in the game makes that inclusive brand of fan-service even more palatable. 
  • The boss fights are totally awesome, period. For a more elaborate take on the matter, check out my boss run posts here, there and there.
  • Instead of getting steadily larger, the dungeons inflate and deflate at random throughout the game. The largest and trickiest dungeon of the main game, Grimodar Castle, is located at the halfway mark, while the last and second-last dungeon are even tinier than the very first one, and in-between can be found dungeons of all sizes. This variety keeps the crawling fresh and interesting and injects a modicum of pacing into it. Cherry on the cake, the dungeons always remain easy to navigate and don't overuse cheap traps and tricks to disorient the player and increase the game's longevity.
  • The soundtrack is pure ear-candy—to the point that I was just that close to purchasing the special edition of the game for the OST only. A special mention to the theme track of Fall Palace, a.k.a. "Eden of the Monarch". These choirs!! This orgel!! Oh, the delight!! This track is the epitome of grandeur and one of the best pieces of music I've ever heard in a video game, period.  
  • The demons ooze charisma, so much so that I grew seriously attached to them. I really appreciate that so much effort was put into designing their looks, clothing, attitudes and speech patterns, making them sparkling and magnetic despite the fact that they are not even animated. Cherry on the cake, the voice acting is absolutely stellar, and I couldn't get enough of my demon foils' babbling. And it certainly doesn't hurt that they shine in battle and grant so many passive abilities, now does it? They are simply awesome, and I wouldn't be surprised if I miss them when playing my next first-person dungeon crawler. 
  • The romance with Fran was heart-warming and refreshing—just like the rest of the story. I half-feared that Fran would turn out to be the Real Final Boss in disguise, but these fears were unfounded; instead, I got a lovely "let's live together at the Inn forever!" ending that warmed my soft gamer's heart.

The "could have been a trifle better":

  • I was none too pleased with the fact that the best gear had to be farmed in Demon Circles, preferably with Increase, Strenghten and Gold/Silver/Bronze gems. Regular monster drops are few and far between and mediocre for the most part and the selection available at the Inn is absolutely pitiful, which means that farming is not an option but rather the only way to get something valuable; and to be honest, I resented that. I love grinding, yet I dislike farming; and I would definitely have preferred to grind for money in order to buy ludicrously expensive yet powerful pieces of gear in Cassel's shop rather than to try my luck in Demon Circles and manically reload my save file until I got a good drop. I'm not saying it's an horrible system per se, mind you; it just didn't click with me.
  • The Ether Forge was an awesome idea, but why put limitations on the strengthening? And why are these limitations totally random? It doesn't make sense that some pieces of gear can be strenghtened up to Lv.30 while others can only reach Lv.10. I would have preferred to have access to unlimited strengthening, be it against a hefty sum of money. 
  • The Treasure Maps were an great idea on paper, but the execution was flawed. Each individual map occupies one of the 99 available item slots in the inventory, so carrying these maps around at all times quickly becomes impossible; and once they are tucked away in the Inn's Storage, it's all too easy to forget about them entirely. It certainly doesn't help that most of them refer to places that belong to postgame territory and that they don't mention the name of the dungeon itself, but rather the name of the dungeon subsection where the item can be found, which forces the potential treasure hunter to do a lot of scanning and double-checking. Add to this the fact that the obtained treasures are items rather than pieces of gear and you'll understand why, as my run went on, I got into the habit of selling these maps as soon as I came back from roaming.
  • Only three Demon Slots, no matter how much you level up. That's plain stingy, game! 
  • Instant deaths because my "weakness was exploited", as the game kindly puts it. And no, Poinee Dolls don't work in such instances—tried and tested. Now that's plain cheap, game! 

Well, well. That's all about Demon Gaze for the time being, but I'm far from being done with that game. I loved it with a passion and still do, and I can assert with absolute certainty that this precious cartridge will grace my Vita slot again. And now, on to the next first-person dungeon crawler! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Amnesia:Memories: Auspicious start

Let me tell you this: Amnesia:Memories may be the first otome game I've ever played, but it certainly won't be the last. Because to my utter surprise and delight, I'm enjoying that game much more than I thought I would. Heck, I'm relishing every minute of it!

Interestingly, what fascinates and enthralls me so much in that game is not the romance side or the cast of bachelors. The romance is both utterly cliché and too twisted to feel rewarding, and the potential sweethearts are downright unlikeable, so these blooming relationships don't make my heart flutter in the slightest. What rivets me and glues me to my Vita screen is the challenge set by the game, which is none other than to try my hardest to figure out how to get all the available endings.

Unlike Steins;Gate, Amnesia:Memories sports a solid dose of logic when it comes to narrative developments. It is actually possible to determine which course of action must be followed in order to get a given ending, and bad endings can be smelled from afar. Likewise, it is pretty easy to figure out which dialogues are relevant to the plot and which ones are idle babbling that won't alter the course of events. The gauges that can be found in the "Parameters" options of the menu also help tremendously as they allow a close monitoring of the consequences of dialogue choices, as well as the fact that already chosen dialogues options are highlighted in subsequent reruns. Using all these clues as well as rational thinking, I cleared the Heart Route and managed to unearth the good end and the normal end as well as one of the two bad endings all by myself, and I'm quite proud of that feat. (SPOILERS ahead!)

That being said, I have to admit that the game fooled me allright at first and managed to lure me in the wrong direction in a most masterful way. I was introduced to Shin, who also happened to be a first-class prick, and it was pretty obvious that I was going to dislike him at first sight and clash vigorously with him. I suspected him of being involved in my accident and thus gave him the cold shoulder while being friendly with Toma during the first half of my run. I then realized that maybe Shin was not guilty after all and started being nicer to him, but the damage was already done and I got the normal ending as a result. I love how utterly logical this outcome is in the context of the story: I was being nice to Toma and colder to Shin, which obviously meant that I liked the former and didn't the latter that much; and thus, it made perfect sense that I would repress the memory of Toma attacking me because of my affection for him and wouldn't be motivated to remember said memory because my love for Shin was not strong enough to endure the pain of facing the fact that Toma attacked me. From there, I deduced that the way to get the good ending probably involved being as nice as possible to Shin and as distant as possible towards Toma; this would thus mean that I liked the former and felt disconnected from the latter enough to face the harsh truth and remember the accident, and I applied this reasoning in a fresh run of the Heart Route. This proved highly successful, as I uncovered the good ending at the end of that run. Victory! I also managed to nail down the "I'm not the culprit" bad end, which was, well, bad in an almost hilarious way. And talking about that end, I have the feeling that this Ukyo is fishy. What's with all this talk about me getting along with my friends no matter how we are involved together? Could Ukyo be a spirit able to navigate between worlds, just like Orion? Well, I guess I'll find out sooner or later. I still have one bad ending left on the Heart Route, and if my reasoning is correct, I should manage to unearth it if I give the cold shower to Shin all the way through, which I plan to try at some point. For now, on to the next one!

On a more general note, I wonder if unlikeable sweethearts and over-complicated relationships are a staple in otome games or if they are specific to Amnesia:Memories. The path to love is sure full of landmines in that game, and it felt a bit galling to work so hard to earn the affection of a douchebag who doesn't even seem to care that much about my transparent, uncharismatic character. If not for the challenge of trying to figure out how to regain my precious memories—i.e. how to get the good end and beat the game—I think I wouldn't bother playing the game at all. But fortunately, the challenge is there, and I'm lapping it up. Brace yourself, Ikki, I'm preying on you next! Until my next report on the matter, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!