Switch, Switch, b*tch

That's it, dear fellow gamers: I finally (and deliciously) succumbed to temptation and treated myself to a shiny brand-new Switch.

I'm a complete handheld whore, yes I am.
Yeah, I know; I didn't wait a couple of years as I claimed I would. But that's because of the games. The games, folks! It seems that the optimistic scenario I mentioned in my post about the future of portable gaming is becoming reality, to my utter delight and relief: developers that used to toil on the 3DS and Vita are moving to the Switch en masse, and the console is suddenly being flooded with all sorts of appetizing nichey, budgety, low-fi titles. With the game release schedule picking up the pace and at least a dozen coveted games in my To-Get-My-Paws-On List for 2018, I had absolutely no reason to wait any longer before securing a Switch—all the more so as my main other reason for waiting a couple of years, i.e. the hope of seeing a portable-only Switch grace the market, seems rather pointless now. Most Switch owners seem to love the switching gimmick and use it profusely; and unlike the 3D effect, the switching thing poses no threat to one's health, nor does it make one want to regurgitate their lunch when playing. There's thus no sound reason for Ninty to release a pared-down Switch to cater to worried parents and gamers who don't give a crap about the gimmick du jour. The only reason for such a move would be the budget aspect, and I'm not sure Nintendo would do away with the Switch's main attraction for the sake of shaving off a couple of bucks. In a nutshell: no more reasons to wait, gimme that gorgeous piece of kit! And if Ninty does release a portable-only Switch down the line, well... A collector like me always needs backup systems, oh yes precious.

I'll let you on about a little secret, dear fellow gamers: there was actually one single Switch game that I really, really wanted to play. More like craved to play, actually. I tried hard to rein myself in, I waited a couple of weeks until the desire to play that game evaporated, I tried to focus on other games; but nothing worked, and my gaming instinct stubbornly refused to be swayed and remained hell-bent on playing that particular game and nothing else. Well, who am I to shun my ever-faithful gaming instinct? Heck, if I was so obsessed by that game, then surely it was a sign from the Universe that there was a mind-blowing gaming experience ahead, right? I've been playing said coveted game for a couple of hours now, and a blast is it indeedy. More on that very soon!

First impressions

—The Switch is much more comfortable to hold and play than I expected. I've felt no incomfort in my wrists and thumbs so far, even after long playing sessions.

—The analog sticks gather dust really easily, and they're quite hard to clean. The obsessive-compulsive in me is definitely not pleased. 

—It's incredibly easy to boot up the Switch in portable mode: I took it out of the box, plugged it and presto, I could play! To my utter delight, it's also possible to ignore the dock entirely and charge the tablet directly with the AC adapter, thus treating the Switch like a de facto portable system. Heck, I think I'm going to sell my dock and cables, because there's no way I'll ever use them.

—Although that large screen is undoubtedly a thing of beauty, I must admit that neither its size nor its resolution wowed me. It's not me being blasĂ© here, but rather the fact that when it comes to console screen size or videogame graphics, there's always a point of maximum enjoyment after which increases virtually cease to matter. For me, that point was the Vita's screen and overall brand of graphics; and any progress beyond that won't impress me much, I'm afraid. Like, I can feel a massive improvement when going from the GBA to the Vita, but I hardly feel any improvement going from the Vita to the Switch.

—For some weird and unfathomable reason, the Switch doesn't feel like a true blue portable console to me. I don't know if it's because of its sheer size or because the controllers are not built into the system, but the Switch fail to generate that feeling of coziness and intimacy that I get with my other portable systems. On the other hand, I remember hating the Vita upon first play; so maybe it's just a matter of getting used to the console.

So, do I love my Switch? Yes I do, and I don't regret my purchase one second. I'm glad I didn't buy the console one year ago and waited instead until my desire to get it became irrepressible. Now the games are pouring in, and my Switch is here to stay. Dedicated portable gaming is still alive and kicking indeed, and I'm insanely gladdened and relieved by this turn of events. We portable gamers get to press buttons and push analog sticks for one more console generation! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Stella Glow: I'm sated

20 hours in, just cleared the 8th chapter, and... Now come the SPOILERS! Avert your eyes, lest Stella Glow's main event loses all its impact!

Well, the game got me good with this one. I absolutely never expected Commander Klaus, i.e. the epitome of anime male perfection, to be a backstabbing traitor, let alone Alto/Elcrest's former-brother-in-arms-turned-jealous-rival. And yet, I guess I shouldn't be surprised at all in hindsight: although Alto was the titular Hero and Chosen One, Klaus was the de facto party leader, and the whole crew danced to the beat of his tune (pun totally intended). He lead us all on a leash like good little poochies, myself included, and I didn't realize it one second. I was totally and utterly fooled, and I loved being fooled. Well done, game.

On top of being pleasantly surprising, that plot twist answers the question nobody asked themselves: what if your typical messianic RPG hero that newly awakened to their destiny unwittingly ended up serving the bad side's interests? When you think of it, it's quite improbable that these guys somehow always magically wind up on the good side, all the more so as they are usually meek-as-lamb amnesic village boys who never wielded a sword before learning that they were The One, let alone took part in any fight with major stakes. My, they're really just ripe for the grooming, aren't they? I have to commend Klaus for being an genuinely clever and devious RPG villain: instead of charging dumbly against The One and setting himself up for a resounding defeat, he manipulated everyone and used Alto's and the Witches' powers to serve his own nefarious purpose. In hindsight, Hilda and her cronies' spiteful attitude towards Alto&co and their refusal to explain what they were up to makes perfect sense: they were actually the good guys all along, and we were the big baddies as far as they were concerned — and as scores of RPGs taught us, big baddies deserve nothing but contempt and harsh words from the good guys. Way to take the piss out of the players by turning RPG conventions against them, game.

As much as I dig that unexpected turn of events, there's a teeny-tiny problem: I really don't want to play Stella Glow any longer. See, everything until that point had led me to believe that the game was going to end there, at the end of the 8th chapter. I was fully poised for the grand finale: we were going to wipe the floor with Hilda&co, save the crystallized people, and restore world peace. Alto would be free to cavort with his own private little quatuor, the crew would live happily ever after, everybody would gorge on Klaus' delicious desserts until type 2 diabetes struck, The End. And now you're shoving that plot twist down my throat and telling me that the closure I expected is still some hours down the line, game? Oh heck no. I don't want to suffer through this, all the less so as I know exactly what's going to happen now. An inordinate amount of time will be spent laying down plan B, I'll have to run all around the world map to implement said plan B, Hilda will join my party and I'll have to Tune her several times, battles will get harder and I'll have to level-grind, yada yada. No thanks. In my opinion, the game should end right now — not only because that's what I was led to expect, but also because 20 hours feels like the right length for that game. According to internet wisdom, Stella Glow is roughly 40 hours long, and that's way too much, especially with a big baddie reveal at the 20-hour mark. How dare you pull a Tales of Hearts R on me, Imageepoch?

Nope, baby. No more Tuning for now.
And so I'm giving up on Stella Glow. I'm not swearing it off, mind you: I still see it as that delicious puff pastry of a game — but I'm sated now. Will I replay it at some point? Absolutely; I'll skip all them cutscenes, and I'll get my steamy endings with the Witches, my bro endings with the guys, and my harem True Ending with the whole crew at my feet. Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Chaos;Child: It's all over but the headache

That picture suddenly makes sense.
Here it is, dear fellow gamers: the last VN I snatched during the January PSN sale, and the last one to face the Shall We Get Physical Test. And my, what a handful Chaos;Child was. It left me elated, thrilled, shaken and nauseous at once. I want to replay it over and over; yet at the same time, I don't want to hear about it ever again. Let's try to sort out that milling mass of contradictory feelings, shall we? (Giant SPOILERS ahead!)

The "Gimme More" side: The story and atmosphere are absolutely mesmerizing. This is hands down the best VN I've ever read, putting to shame Steins;Gate and even favourite otome VNs of mine such as Bad Apple Wars and Norn9. Not only did Chaos;Child regaled me with its mind-blowing story, its enthralling atmosphere and its charismatic characters, but it also treated me to a delicious millefeuille of plot twists, most of which I didn't anticipate at all. Now that's what I crave from a suspense story, be it a VN, a book or a film: developments that I don't see coming miles ahead and plot twists that make shivers run up and down my spine and leave me gaping.

The "I wanna puke" side: The art is disgusting. The colour palette is ugly, characters look like sh*t (even though I got used to their faces after a while) and the overall character design makes no sense. The weird hair colours, improbable hairdos, oversized bosoms and slutty female uniforms scream "harem anime" and clash vigorously with the tense and creepy atmosphere and the story's serious tone. I cannot help but think that C;C's story would have called for a much more realistic and sober art style — but hey, maybe that's just me being an old fart who lost touch with anime tropes years ago. However, the art style is but a detail compared to C;C's biggest problem: that game is TOO DARN LONG. It claimed more hours of my life that any VN should have the right to claim, and that's without even playing the Heroine Routes and the True Ending. The last chapter alone is four bloody hours long, and the ten chapters that preceed it are not much shorter. Do you know how many books I could have read during all the time I spent toiling on C;C's main route, 5pb? Heck, that story could have been told so much faster. Like, stop writing down every single sigh, gasp or gulp uttered by the characters, stop describing every minute detail and every petty musing, and get on with it already.

Cutest girl in the game. Too bad she's not real.
Because that game has no respect for my time and has stolen enough hours of my life already, I decided to skip the alternative routes and call it a day. And after running to a story summary and spoiling myself rotten, I'm immensely glad I didn't toil through those routes. Not only do they pack disappointing developments, but I had actually foreseen most of said developments:

  • Nono's Route: My guess was that Nono had taken Senri's place at the AH hospital and endured the experiments in her stead; and let's be honest, I would have preferred that outcome to the real thing. The idea that Nono is actually a transformed Senri is deeply unsettling, and somehow destroyed all the love I had accumulated for the character. 
  • Hinae's Route: It's all well and nice to get privy to Hinae's family history, but there's a small problem: those people were never mentioned at any point in the story before that, and I couldn't care less about their endeavours. Also, I would have been really salty if I had endured that route only to be slapped in the face with its nasty and depressing ending. 
  • Hana's Route: As I guessed, Hana was a Gigalomaniac too, and her powers were tied to her voice. The developments in her route are so ridiculously overblown, improbable and anime that I uttered a big sigh of relief at the though of what I escaped by skipping her route. 
  • Uki's Route: The classic 'Character thinks he's doing stuff while he's actually unconscious' setting. We've seen this a million times before, and I have no need for a nth retelling, especially one starring a transparent and servile character I never quite liked.

I also spoiled myself regarding the True Ending while I was at it, and I was not disappointed this time around: the Chaos Child Syndrome is a really neat plot twist that I would have loved to uncover with my own eyes. I had an inkling that there was actually a collective delusion going on in Shibuya; but my version was a tad more drastic, as it involved Shibuya being still in ruins and having become a ghetto full of Psychics maundering around trapped in their shiny delusion of Shibuya being rebuilt and good as new. However, the game's version pleases me just as much, if not more than my own: the idea of the heroes being physically altered and totally unaware of it is fascinating, in a slightly gross and unnerving way, and it's the perfect ultimate plot twist to crown that amazing gem of a story.

Having said that, I'm torn about what the writers did with Serika. On one hand, I totally dig the uncompromising and radical fact that she was basically born to be a slave and punching bag to Takuru's overinflated ego and fulfill all his desires, no matter how twisted they might be; but on the other hand, I regret that her mannerisms changed so much when her real nature was revealed. It would have been much more striking and disturbing to let her maintain her happy-go-lucky ditzy self — not to mention more darn logical. The way it was done looks more like your obligatory 'Chirpy character turns out to be a creepy plotting b*tch' trope, and I've long grown tired of that kind of contrived plot twist. Also, she's the only character that escaped completetly unscathed from that whole mess despite her involvement in the murders, and that outcome left a sour taste in my mouth. Was she actually the main character in disguise all along? On the other hand, it's only fair that she gets a modicum of happiness for herself after having been Takuru's DUFF for so long. Karmic reward, I guess.

So, I loved Chaos;Child; but as it is, that game failed the Shall We Get Physical Test nonetheless. I cannot see myself playing through the whole thing again, let alone endure the alternative endings. I may change my mind on the long run, or I may decide that the 30 hours I spent playing C;C are enough for a lifetime. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Stella Glow: Warm and fluffy

Those are strange terms to use when talking about a video game, but I just can't help it: Stella Glow makes me think of a warm and fluffy puff pastry. It's comforting, heartwarming and gladdening, just as any good puff pastry should be; and I'm filled with giddy delight every time I indulge in a bite. If there's any such thing as comfort games, then Stella Glow is exactly that.

It's not just the fact that Stella Glow looks amazing, with its polished graphics, bright lovely colours and adorable character design; it's also the fact that it plays so smoothly and is so easy on the player. Heaven is in the details, as I always say; and stuff like the weapon dealer asking you if you want to sell your monster loot as soon as you set foot in her shop, or the game letting you know if a battle will occur or not in a subchapter, instantly won over my jaded gamer's heart. I also love how perfectly tailored to portable gaming that game is, with its short yet fulfilling subchapters and accommodating save options. I'm taking my sweet time and discovering the story at leisure, letting the game pamper me with its comfortable user-friendliness and delightful easiness. I only landed three Game Overs in battle since the beginning of my playthrough, and that was solely due to stupid mistakes on my part. (Except that time when Sakuya recklessly charged ahead and got herself killed, forcing me to dedicate a couple of units solely to protecting her fragile little arse.)

For once, I'm glad that Stella Glow removed both the necessity and the opportunity to grind from me. I won't lie and claim that I totally ignore the few free battles I'm offered; however, I don't abuse them either, and I play them solely to let units that are a bit behind level-wise gain a welcome XP boost. Because indeed, SG quickly proceeds to giving you more characters than you can use in a single battle, and that's something that should normally piss me off; however, I don't mind at all in that particular game. All units sport their own strengths and weaknesses and have something to offer in battle, and it's fun to switch between them depending on the combat circumstances. I find myself actually strategizing instead of simply charging ahead blindly until there's nothing left alive on the battlefield. Sure, I'm still very much an SRPG noob; but considerations such as "This is mountainous terrain, so let's use Ewan instead of Archibald" or "Let's first weaken that boss with my long-range units before finishing it off with my melee units" are pleasantly new to me.

To my surprise, I really dig the musical gimmick. Had someone told me that I would enjoy slaughtering foes to the beat of J-Pop, I would probably have laughed and dismissed the whole idea as ludicrous; and yet, I find myself really pumped up when I'm about to Conduct a Witch and unleash a wave of glorious J-Popness on the battlefield. And talking about Conducting, that whole business is decidedly brimming with erotic innuendos. I mean, you have Alto brandishing his thick little dagger and sticking it in the witch's body, after which said witch cries and moans in ecstasy... Heck, I think we all get the picture. And that whole Tuning thing, with Medea granting me access to 'the secret flower garden', asking me which girl I 'desire' and praising my 'amazing technique' her own words, not mine... My, that's really all a giant metaphor for comfort sex, isn't it? Mind you, I'm not complaining; quite the opposite, that subtle brand of fan-service is actually very much my cup of tea. I'll take that kind of subdued eroticism over maid outfits, bath scenes and outrageous displays of T&A any day of the week.

I've been playing for roughly 10 hours, and I surmise that I have to play for just as long before reaching the end of the story. I'm heading there at my own pace, one battle at a time; and I'm really enjoying the ride so far. I'll see you soon with more Stella Glow tidings, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collar x Malice: A bunch of douchey douches

Let's not beat around the bush: CxM's beaus majorly suck. Some of them are slightly less douchey than others; but when all is said and done, they're all big douchey douches. However, I have to give them credit for straying from anime tropes and subverting expectations to some extent. What I cannot commend them for, on the other hand, are their improbable and ridiculously messy haircuts. I know we're dealing with a crisis quarantine situation there, but surely there must be some hairdressers left in Shinjuku. And what's with the improbable hair colours? Those five guys suffer from a serious case of bad hair day, and that certainly doesn't help their overall case as far as I'm concerned. (Hoshino herself is no better, mind you; it's like she couldn't decide between a bob and long hair and settled on a sloppy mix of both.) Having said that, on with the show! (SPOILERS ahead!)

Shiraishi: The resident nutcase—with a feline twist. Although Shiraishi pleasantly strays from your usual otome psychopath by boasting strikingly good sun-kissed looks and a charming and playful personality, he's actually a really derivative character. Take Enomoto's chirpiness, mix it with Sasazuka's bluntness and brains, throw in a couple of cat-themed accessories for good measure, and voilĂ ! That's Shiraishi for you. The poor guy's troubled past and his love story with Hoshino are just as unconvincing as his sense of style: I cannot believe for a second that a couple of hours spent with Hoshino over a two-week period are enough to overcome years of hardcore mental conditioning. Either Adonis' conditioning programs are utter crap, or Hoshino has some superhuman hypnosis abilities. The ending, on top of being depressing, is just ridiculously improbable. You want me to swallow that young and beautiful Hoshino is going to pull off a Penelope and wait patienly and lovingly for her terrorist boyfriend to be released from jail? Yeah, like heck she will. More like she'll find a nice normal guy to warm her up during those cold, lonely nights away from Shiraishi, and that'll be the end of it. All in all, Shiraishi's route is by far the most frustrating, implausible and unfullfilling of all the CxM routes.

Enomoto: Right of the bat, I couldn't help but see the would-be samourai as a mix of Impey Barbicane from Code:Realize and Sha Gojyo from Saiyuki. Add to this his ridiculous eye patch, and you get a character that I couldn't take seriously for the life of me. Mind you, Enomoto's backstory was intense enough and could perfectly have redeemed his route and his character; but then he had to ruin it all by fretting every time Hoshino was kind to him, by fussing about indirect kisses and using first names, and by being generally way too impulsive and immature. And he's a crappy investigator to boot. Why am I even working with this guy, exactly? Not only does he do virtually nothing to help me, but I'm the one who has to drag him out of his procrastination misery and kick his butt so that he'll come to terms with his past. Yeah, sure! I have nothing more pressing to do after all, right? It's not like I have a collar choke-full of poison around my neck or something. In the end, Enomoto is not a bad character, but having to pamper and reassure him constantly just got on my nerves on the long run.

Okazaki: Dreamy-eyed Okazaki is a really slippery character, a character I couldn't quite figure out despite spending hours on his route. His ulterior motive is too far-fetched to be convincing, and his sloppy looks and anarchic sleeping patterns just don't square with his steely determination and bewildering physical abilities. He's also overbearing and a bit of a stalker, and yet he peppers his SMS with cute smileys. I get the feeling that the writers just threw together a couple of conflicting features in the hope of obtaining a paradoxical and fascinating beau—and in my opinion, they kinda missed the mark. Okazaki is a very inconsistent character, and ends up being painfully forgettable. On the other hand, he's by far the gentler and most affectionate of the guys, and the sweet atmosphere he manages to create by sheer virtue of his mellow demeanour and adorable smiles redeems his route quite a fair bit. That's how I'm ultimately able to claim Okazaki's route as my second favourite route in CxM, despite the fact that I can hardly remember what transpired in it.

Sasazuka: I thought I would be grappling with the resident tsundere here, but Otomate pleasantly subverted my expectations. Sasazuka is no tsundere indeed, but rather a very blunt and laconic character who doesn't mince his words and doesn't bother with subtleties such as politeness and putting himself in one's shoes. That tactless attitude is justified by the fact that Sasazuka spent years in the USA and was somehow contaminated by our famed barbaric Western rudeness. Hum, I wonder if the Otomate writers realize that Sasazuka is very brusque and brash even by Western standards? Oh well, nevermind. Sasazuka's bluntness and snarky comments aside, his route is actually my favourite in CxM. I dig the fact that he doesn't bother hiding his feelings, be they positive or negative; and I dig even more his boldness when it comes to carnal matters. Where the other guys hardly dare to brush against Hoshino and agonize endlessly over kissing her or not, Sasazuka just act upon his instincts. His relationship with Hoshino is pleasantly physical: he hugs her, kisses her and lays with her—and let's be honest, that's the last thing I expected from him given his ice queen demeanour in the prologue and the other routes. And since I'm a huge sucker for the 'Quiet Character That Turns Out To Be A Horny Pony' trope, I lapped the whole thing up. Oh, and the guy loves doughnuts—and anybody who loves doughnuts gets an instant pass as far as I'm concerned.

Yanagi: Sheesh, what a giant snoozefest. I hoped that the game's poster boy and true route tenant would pack some punch behind his nondescript looks and low-key behaviour; but alas, Yanagi is every bit as boring in his own dedicated route as he is in the prologue and the other routes. There is not a shred of chemistry between him and Hoshino: they don't ever seem to feel comfortable in each other's presence, let alone attracted to each other. Then there is the massive issue of their common past: when Yanagi mentioned that he and Hoshino were "perpetrator and victim", I immediately pictured a situation in which Hoshino would have to choose either to get her revenge on Yanagi, thus subscribing to Adonis' ideals, or to forgive him and break the insane and potentially endless vicious circle of crime&revenge instigated by Adonis. That would have been the most intense and perfect outcome, wouldn't it? But NOPE! It turns out that Yanagi actually rescued Hoshino from a random abductor back in the days, after which the matter is prompty ousted and never referred to again. I seriously suspect that this event was shoehorned into Yanagi's route to create a connection of sorts between him and Hoshino. Like: "Suuuure, there's no spark at all between those two—but hey, they met in the past!!! That has to count for something, right?" Well, I'm afraid not. Yanagi's route could have been redeemed by the fact that it let me flex my investigative muscle at long last—but infortunately, that was too little, too late. And I'm still pissed off that the game required me to input a certain character's full name without giving me the opportunity to save or check my files first. I sure knew all the character's last names, but their first names? Are you kidding me, Otomate? I had to reload my last save to retrieve the first name in question, and I was none too pleased by that interruption.

Nope, you can't have them.
On top of offering nothing but douchey beaux, CxM keeps the best guys tantalizingly out of your woiing reach. You sadly cannot get into Minegishi's, Morioka's, Mochida's or Saeki's pants, which is a huge pity given that they all have nicely normal haircuts and behave ten times more decently than Yanagi&co. (Morioka in particular is a real sexy b*tch, and I'm sure many a CxM player would have killed for some steamy lovin' between him and Hoshino.) I'm not sure I'll ever bother getting up close and personal with the CxM crew again—but then again, only time will tell. And after that lukewarm experience with CxM, I'll take a nice, long break from otome games. I won't take a break from visual novels yet, though: I have one more VN from that January PSN sale to put to the test, and I'll do it without delay. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collar x Malice: Not feeling it

Sheesh, is my otome tolerance running low already? Collar x Malice left me cold and utterly bored, which is certainly not a development I expected given the glowing reviews reaped by that game. So what's the problem exactly? Is it me, or is it the game? Why, of course it's the game! It sure cannot be me, because I was very much in the mood for more otome drama at the beginning of my playthrough. So, how did CxM manage to kill my otome buzz? I could draw up a neat list of the things that this game did wrong, but I won't do it because a) I already drew up lists in my recent posts about otome VNs and I'm getting sick of it, and b) I don't care enough about CxM to put that kind of effort into writing about it. See, that's how totally unimpressed I am by that game.

So I'll keep things neat and brief for once and go straight to the heart of the matter. CxM is an excellent game in many ways: it boasts gorgeous art, splendid character design, a stellar soundtrack, an enrapturing atmosphere and a captivating story. It certainly deserves its stellar scores allright; and yet, I didn't like it, because it didn't give me anything. No sweet love stories that made me stupidly warm and mushy inside, no gripping mysteries to uncover through the power of my mighty investigative brain—niet, rien, nada. CxM is basically Amnesia:Memories with collars, guns and terrorists—and without the thrill.

The two games sport a similar premise, i.e. an heroine thrown into a dangerous situation and forced to collaborate with a bunch of rude and wary beaus. Amusingly, both games also sport an uncanny number of branching bad endings in which the heroine gets killed by random people in gruesome ways; however, the similarities end here. Amnesia:Memories puts you in charge of your own destiny and makes you sweat to recover your memories and win the guys' love. Like a private eye on the prowl, you must pick up clues to figure out the nature of the heroine's missing memories and select the appropriate dialogue choices—all this while balancing your beau's feelings and worming your way into their heart. Ironically enough for a game whose main characters are actual cops and detectives, CxM totally fails to exhibit this kind of agency. As leading lady Hoshino, I'm completely passive and have no choice but to let the story unfold with hardly any input on my part. I'm the victim here, but my beau du jour is the one doing all the work and saving my arse. I'm not happy with that, not at all. Why don't I get to investigate, damnit? Am I the bloody main character or not? I'm the Collared One, and a cop to boot; and yet I cannot lift a finger without first obtaining permission from those guys I hardly know. It doesn't make sense story-wise, and it's darn frustrating gameplay-wise.

To add insult to injury, Hoshino's predicament is not even the focal point of the story. The collar is little more than an inverted MacGuffin of sorts: it's the plot device that drives the characters together at the beginning of the game, after which it's promptly forgotten and hardly ever mentioned again. Instead, the story focuses on the hardships of Hoshino's beau du jour, who gets to take centre stage and shine as the route's true star while Hoshino has to play second fiddle. Now listen, game: I have a bloody collar full of bloody poison around my bloody neck here, and I don't give jack sh*t about the troubled past of some guy I just met. That whole story should be about Hoshino first and foremost, and then about her beau du jour. Look at Amnesia:Memories: they nailed it perfectly by centering the story around the heroine's memories, which happen to include the guys. Now that's the way to do it, writers. If you choose to put your leading lady in a sticky situation, make sure she's the centre of interest all the way through and not just a mere side dish.

So, that's another otome VN that bites the dust and fails the Shall We Get Physical Test. That being said, I'm not writing off CxM completely yet. I may come to reassess it on the long run, just like I did with Code:Realize; or I may completely forget about it, just like I did with Steins;Gate. Only time will tell if that game wins a place of choice in my precious collection or joins the ranks of the Games That Failed To Impress Me. For now, CxM will occupy me just a little longer, as I want to write a full report about its resident unsavoury pricks. I did say that there were no sweet love stories to be found in that game, didn't I? Well, I sure won't let these guys off the hook so easily. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Children of Mana: My thumbs scream for mercy

I'm reaching that point where I'm longing to replay the very first games I played after my Second Coming of Gaming. Children of Mana was one of them, and I have very fond memories of playing it, somewhere between Sonic Rush and Dragon Quest IX. So when my gaming instinct compelled me to play it again, I gladly caved in and went for another round of hectic hack'n'slashy, dungeon-crawly action and with that sentence, the game is pretty much exhaustively described. Some critics back in the days blamed the game for straying too far from the Mana formula, but I beg to differ. Children of Mana harks back to the series' famed 16-bit era by being a pared-down retelling of Seiken Densetsu 3's grindy second half; and sure enough, CoM manages to replicate most of his venerable ancestor's pros and cons in the process.

The 'Yay': 

  • Stellar fighting system: as far as retro-ish ARPGs go, you won't find much better than CoM. The physics are top-notch, and punching every living thing into oblivion soon becomes ridiculously addictive and a true guilty pleasure. Now, if you want to have a real blast playing that game, do yourself a favour and pick up Tamber as your character. It's all too easy to dismiss her as your usual frail range weapon user, when she's actually a true melee beast. She hits just as hard as Ferrik and is significantly faster than him, which means that she can wreak havoc on the battlefield while swiftly avoiding enemy fire. Trust me, I tried them both extensively and my seasoned fingers know the better character when they handle them.
  • Mana charm by the truckload: The unmistakable graphical style of the series is there, as well as its most famous locales. Bright and shiny colours abound and the whole atmosphere is incredibly lovely and uplifting. Never had it been so heartwarming to destroy whole ecosystems by wreaking havoc on the local fauna. 
  • Battle fairness: Foes are affected by traps on the battlefield just like your character. Now that's just a detail, but that's the kind of thing that separates good and fair games from nasty cheating ones as far as I'm concerned. It always royally pisses me off to see foes waltz around hazards that eat away my character's HP bar, and I appreciate CoM for trying to redress the balance.
  • Great soundtrack: If you're any familiar with Mike Oldfield's work, many tracks sound a lot like his '70s output Incantations and the like. Now, I have to admit that this soundtrack tends to grate on my ear very quickly for some reason; but there's no denying that it's incredibly lush, polished and complex. And I really, really love the first track, a.k.a. 'Tower of the Flickering Prayer'; it makes me want to roam dungeons on and on!
  • Lots of lovely loot: Treasure chests! Monster drops! Stuff hidden in bushes! Forget about the village's shop and its greedy owner, all you need and more can be found in dungeons. Sell the extra items for good money, reinvest it in bigger bags and awesome gems and you're set.

The 'Meh':

  • Too. Bloody. Grindy: Hence this post's title. I never though I'd ever call a game "too grindy", but CoM is just too bloody demanding for its own good and for my wrists. Most hardcore grindy dungeon crawlers favour turn-based combat over action-based combat, and there's a very sound reason for that: the latter is bound to inflict a nasty case of carpal tunnel syndrome on the unsuspecting player before long. It would have been nice to implement less foes, or to make them less persistent and/or resistant. The difficulty spikes at the beginning of each dungeon are also a royal pain in the butt, because they require level-grinding and CoM is really not a game that lends itself to grindy bouts. The MC levels up way too slow and each level require the slaughtering of dozens of foes; and if your mind doesn't balk at the task, then your thumbs will.
  • Tedious sidequests: Sidequests could have been a welcome breather from all the crawly and grindy action; but instead, they involve crawling already explored dungeons over and over again while killing everything in sight. Also, they often feature an insultingly high number of floors and reuse the exact same floor layout ad nauseam. Eew
  • The second half is a total bore: Overblown dungeons, milling masses of insanely irritating enemies that take a million hits to die, a story that goes nowhere and a final boss that's a total pushover not worth the hassle. Nuff said. 

Since I polished off CoM back in the days and know exactly what to expect from it, I had no qualms about ditching it as soon as it became tedious, i.e. at the beginning of the Mana Ruins dungeon. Heck, I remember coming very close to ragequitting in the last dungeon back in the days, and I certainly don't want to go through that again. Still, I love that game despite its flaws, and you can bet I'll play it again sooner or later. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!