Sunday, June 28, 2020

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked Box Front

604,800 Seconds Over Tokyo

From its humble beginnings in the 1980s, Atlus’s (first Namco’s) Megami Tensei series, whose earliest installments remained in Japan, would encompass several subseries and the main Shin Megami Tensei sequel series. Among the later gaiden games the franchise would spawn was the strategy RPG Devil Survivor, originally releasing on the Nintendo DS. Tactics games were nothing new for MegaTen, as the Majin Tensei spinoffs featured mechanics similar to the Fire Emblem franchise, albeit with their own unique twist. An updated rerelease would come out for the Nintendo 3DS, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked, for the most part a good port.

Overclocked, like the game’s original version, occurs on contemporary Tokyo, Japan, following a seventeen-year-old student and his companions, who experience an outbreak of demons, some of them becoming their allies. The protagonist whom the player names is able to see the remaining lifespans of other Tokyoites, and thus works to deter as many deaths as possible. The plotline is well-developed for the most part, with the potential for different events in each playthrough, and variant endings based on decisions made throughout the game. Some of the twists derive from other Megami Tensei titles, but otherwise, the narrative is one of the game’s high points.

Fortunately, the port doesn’t mask the fact it occurs in Japan, Atlus mostly doing a good job with the localization, with legible, realistic dialogue free of spelling and grammar errors. Unlike the Persona subseries, moreover, the localization team didn’t leave Japanese honorifics in the game text, for the most part a good thing, and there are occasional genuinely-funny moments where Atsuro, one of the main characters, calls Yuzu “Yoohoo.” Not all is flawless, however, as some of the skill descriptions can be misleading, and there is occasional Engrish such as “Immobilized (demon/character name)” when a character or demon is frozen or paralyzed, but otherwise, the translation is definitely above par.

The core gameplay of Overclocked is structured across seven days, with the protagonist and his companions able to visit different parts of Tokyo via a list of locales for story scenes, and, necessary to advance the plot, fight story battles; mercifully, there are no random encounters of which to speak in the game. For supplemental grinding, there are “free battles” where the player, if they find the tide of combat turned against them, can retreat back to the map of Tokyo, with experience retained (a feature unavailable in story battles).

At the outset of free or storyline battles, the player sets up their party of up to four characters on designated locations on the battlefield, with starting positions rarely, if ever, critical to triumph in combat. Outside battle, the player can set skills on the human team leaders, and give each two demons to form their respective squadrons, each character sprite indicating different teams on the battlefield, the same going for enemy demons and their occasional human leaders. When battle commences, the player can track their characters and the enemy’s turns via a turn order meter.

When one of the player’s characters reaches their turn, they can move around, with team leaders and their demons each able to execute one skill, some of which can actually be useful, such as one ability that recovers magic points for a cost of hit points, which was central to my endgame strategy. Whenever a player and enemy team are adjacent to one another (unless one has an ability allowing for ranged attacks), they can engage in a skirmish, with players able to input commands for their team, with each side executing their commands likely depending upon agility, although turn order isn’t always consistent, and sometimes a great deal of foresight is necessary.

If one side exploits another opponent’s weakness, they may gain an extra turn (or not if a ranged attacking team engages in a skirmish with a team only able to attack adjacent squares), where, after an initial round, the obtainer(s) of the extra turn(s) can execute an additional command. If the player’s team leader and demons have killed one or more opponents, all survivors of the skirmish gain experience for occasional level-ups, not to mention money to purchase demons at the demon auction or summon them from a demon compendium, players able to register demons with their current skill sets so they don’t have to re-grind them to unlock grayed-out skills.

At the offset of battle, the player can set their team leaders to “crack” new skills from enemies, where the assigned leader’s team must kill the demon having the prospective skill in order to acquire it for assignment among the acquirer or other team leaders, although some of these learnable abilities can be missable. One particularly-useful bonus is that depending upon how well certain team leaders and their demons fight, they may gain a skill set bonus where they can assign one HP or MP-consuming skill to one of their demons, provided they’re still alive during the acquisition of this initiative.

Fulfilling the objectives of the battle naturally wins it for the player, with living team members and demons during story battles receiving bonus experience (which free battles don’t yield). Players can ultimately fuse demons to create more powerful ones, with the protagonist’s level indicative of the maximum level for which he can combine them. Devil Survivor, moreover, was the first entry of the Megami Tensei series to allow players to select skills manually for fused demons to inherit from their precursors in contract to the randomization of skill sets posed by prior titles such as Nocturne.

The battle system has some good ideas, and works well provided the player regularly grinds, which is also the main detriment of the game mechanics, especially towards the end, and the typical Japanese strategy RPG trope of wasted time in story battles plays part. There are also some missions where the player has to defend weak, defenseless NPCs from dying at the hands of demons lest the player receives a Mission Failure and has to reload their previous save. There’s further the potential for the game to freeze when analyzing datapads on the battlefield that can provide new skills, money, or let a demon learn a grayed-out skill, and ultimately, these issues prevent the gameplay from truly shining.

Devil Survivor, however, is surprisingly user-friendly, with a linear structure preventing players from ever getting lost of wondering how to advance the central storyline, and the chief game interface is easy, along with a suspend save present in the middle of combat should real-life interruptions arise. There are a few issues such as the unskippable cutscenes (although players luckily can scroll through text to cut voiced dialogue short if they’d rather read than listen), and the aforementioned bug in battle involving datapads, but otherwise, the game interfaces well with players.

The soundtrack contains plenty of rocking themes such as one of the overworld tracks, with battle music and that within skirmishes being enjoyable, although some of the pieces can become fairly repetitive. Overclocked also brings voice acting into the mix, although it’s largely hit-or-miss, with characters such as Midori being among the weakest performances, and while performers who obviously don’t have Asian blood voice the Japanese cast, the lack of honorifics in the dialogue make it sound convincing. Mercifully, if the player doesn’t find the voicework their cup of tea, they can turn them off completely. All in all, a decent-sounding game.

Aside from the introductory sequence before the title screen, the port doesn’t really utilize the 3DS’s three-dimensional capabilities, although the graphics do have nice colors, prerendered environments in battle, solid character art narrating cutscenes, and great demon designs, although demons during skirmishes are inanimate, with every skirmish having a first-person perspective where the player doesn’t see their team leaders or own demons in action at all, aside from some good ability animations, and there is the rare bit of pixilation during the dramatic camera pans that sometimes accompany skill sequences. The game is far from an eyesore, but could have definitely looked better.

Finally, the port is a little on the long side, two to three days total, although there are plenty of things to keep players coming back for more such as the titles serving as achievements (and I achieved a grand total of zero during my singular playthrough), and various new game plus modes allowing the potential for seeing different endings and making different choices in subsequent playthroughs.

In the end, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overlocked is definitely a solid strategy RPG in many aspects, such as the general good ideas behind its battle system, the tight control, the engaging narrative with potential variations aided by a polished localization, the good soundtrack, and plentiful lasting appeal. Granted, it does have issues of which players need to be aware before investing their money and especially their time in it, such as the grindy nature especially towards the end and lack of graphical improvement over the original. As physical copies have become expensive, interested parties would save themselves money with a digital version of the game.

The Good:
+Battle system has plenty of variety and strategy.
+Great control.
+Excellent narrative with potential variations.
+Good localization.
+Sounds nice.
+Plenty reasons to come back for more.

The Bad:
-A little grindy.
-Can crash.
-Some translation incongruities.
-Little graphical improvement.

The Bottom Line:
An enjoyable strategy RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 6.0/10
Controls: 8.0/10
Story: 9.5/10
Localization: 7.0/10
Music/Sound: 8.0/10
Graphics: 6.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.5/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 2-3 Days

Overall: 7.5/10

Friday, June 26, 2020

Lilo & Stitch


Watched this on Disney+ since today's Stitch Day. Definitely enjoyed it, and I can relate to the themes.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Chasing Colton's Tail

Chasing Colton's Tail by Todd Aldrington 

This furry novella, in which the author writes “himself,” opens with protagonist Todd Jackson Aldrington, a blue raccoon, indicating that others hail him as a hero for winning a basketball game. Todd’s primary target of affection is the fox Colton Vincent, with a mysterious note serving as a catalyst for much of the story’s events. Colton doesn’t have any friends at Sekada High, largely due to his unfriendly personality, with his twin sister Courtney asking Todd to the prom. At first, Todd is adversarial towards Colton, using the prom to shame him, although the two ultimately become a couple.

All in all, this was a short and somewhat-sweet story with some occasional commentary on religion that doesn’t border on negative, although aside from the cast of anthropomorphic characters, it doesn’t do a whole lot to distinguish itself from other LGBT stories that feature humans, and uses the real world as a setting instead of its own universe. There’s also a lot of obligatory swearing throughout the novella, and the few scenes of intimacy aren’t all that alluring. This story very much has limited appeal, with furries in particular likely to get the most of it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


Uncovered book cover.jpeg

The fourth entry of Kyell Gold’s Out of Position / Dev and Lee series opens with the author providing a note about the bonus story that precedes the main text, after which comes, like in the previous books, an explanation on football from an animalian perspective, and a map of where the cities serving as the various settings would be in the real-life United States. Brenly, Lee’s father, narrates the bonus story, explaining how he took sleep for granted, spending time with his ex-wife Eileen. The central narrative occurs immediately where the prior book left off, with the tiger Dev en route to film a beer commercial.

Dev is anxious about his vulpine boyfriend Lee’s gay rights activism and thus doesn’t want to commit to doing public service announcements in addition to playing football. Lee himself still has maternal issues, given his mother’s involvement with an antigay group, and Lee finds himself still largely unwelcome in the locker room of Dev’s team, the Chevali Firebirds. A fight breaks out at a game that Lee is involved with, a brief investigation occurring. Dev gets more starring roles in commercials, with Lee eventually accepting that sometimes relationships need distance.

For most of the book, while Dev readies himself for a championship match that his team hopes to win, Lee is separate from Dev, temporarily residing with his friend Hal. Overall, this was a somewhat-enjoyable story, although the references to things such as “Lion Christ” somewhat break the fantastical setting that Gold insists is separate from the real world, and while Gold does make some good quotes about relationships, the commentary comes across as ham-fisted at times. Furries will definitely appreciate this yarn, but it’s certainly not a must-read and at best has a niche audience.

Monday, June 22, 2020


ICO Box Front


Just as Sony’s PlayStation videogame console was receiving fewer titles and its successor system, the PlayStation 2, was fledgling, designer Fumito Ueda conceived a game centered around a “boy meets girl” story originally intended for the former system. Technical limitations, however, forced the subsequent game, Ico, onto the PS2, receiving adulation as one of the greatest games of all time, although abominable cover art for the North American version contributed to weak sales. The following generation saw a high-definition remaster for the PlayStation 3 included with spiritual successor Shadow of the Colossus. Does it live up to the hype?

Ico generally sports a generic “rescue the kidnapped princess” storyline, with the eponymous horned protagonist leading Princess Yorda throughout a massive castle to safety, with an evil queen wanting her lifeforce to prolong her lifespan, and occasionally sending shadows after her. Although some points of the game have a cinematic feel for the plotline, development of the characters and events is incredibly scarce, and most of the backstory and other elements players can only find on the Internet, with no in-game mention of them. The translation is good, in fact probably the high point of the game, but is largely unmemorable.

That leaves the gameplay to shoulder the burden, and lamentably, Ico doesn’t fare any better in this regard. Most of the game players spend escorting Yorda out of the castle, with Ico occasionally encountering shadows that attempt to capture her, and when successful petrify Ico, necessitating the player continue from the last stone sofa serving as a save point or more rarely, the last checkpoint, which unfortunately aren’t indicated. Fortunately, when a shadow does take Yorda to one of their portals and sink into them, Ico has some time to rescue her, and must fend off the attacking shadows.

Ico can attack shadows with either a wooden stick, with which he starts the game, or later on, a sword or other optional weapons, which mercifully aren’t critical to completing the game. One thing that somewhat hurts combat, though, is that there is no targeting system, so players may often find their hits cutting air even when they think they’re fighting shadows. How many hits one needs to take to down a shadow is unfortunately up in the air, given the total lack of health gauges for enemies, although Ico himself is basically immortal in combat; however, a sizeable time is necessary for him to get back on his feet before he can defend Yorda again.

Another way to eradicate shadows in an area is for Ico and Yorda to approach “idol doors” that the latter can open. Throughout the game, Ico can hold Yorda’s hand and force her along, although he can separate in order to do things such as solve puzzles. However, if Ico is separate for a significant time, shadows can appear and try to take her away, leading to an unceremonious death and need to continue from the last save or checkpoint. The final boss battle somewhat mixes up things, although death is still easy, and it can be tricky without referencing a walkthrough.

Equally central to Ico’s chief game mechanics are the puzzles and obstacles he must overcome in order to advance, although given the total absence of in-game maps, one can find it very easy to get lost and need to reference a guide, which can be unreliable at times given regional changes to the gameplay. Ico can jump as well, which lamentably creates the added annoyance of carefully-timed jumps in order to advance (and long falls lead to death), with the player potentially spending a few hours trying to continue forth. The camera is also among the worst I’ve ever seen in a videogame, seeming to have a mind of its own, and in the end, the game mechanics are far more frustrating than not.

Aside from a good ending vocal theme and sound effects, the audio isn’t anything to write home about, with Ico being another one of those games that relies far more on ambience to do the job. The game also features gibberish voices, with Ico’s call for Yorda to come along sounding like “Bonsoir!”, for instance, and generally not helping the aurals. All in all, there’s little reason for players not to listen to other music while playing the game.

Although critics have lauded Ico as a hypothetical work of art, the visuals too are nothing to sing praises about, easily still passing for a PlayStation 2 game except for the slight upscaling. The lighting effects and shadows are good, although the scenery frequently contains blurry, pixilated texturing, and the awful camera doesn’t help matters. The character models look decent and have good proportions, but there are a few times where the graphics themselves affect gameplay; for instance, I spent significant time looking for a doorway that happened to blend in with the walls. Generally, the graphical presentation is below average.

Finally, the game is fairly short, six to twelve hours, much of which involves repetition due to death and trying to advance the main storyline, with little in the way of side content, and while a subsequent playthrough allows more ample opportunity to collect trophies or see translated subtitles for the in-game language, a replay would frankly be tortuous.

Overall, while for some unfathomable reason critics and fans have extolled the game (which I attribute to bribery or drugs), Ico in the end lengthens my sizable list of acclaimed disappointments, given its overreliance on many classic Japanese videogame kusottare such as the repetition and stingy save system, not to mention the poor camera, unengaging narrative, below-average music and graphics, and general unenjoyability that makes subsequent playthroughs unbearable. The game definitely shows the blatant unreliability of mainstream and even independent videogame journalism, and while it’s said one person’s trash is another’s treasure, the opposite very much proves true.

This review is based on a single playthrough to the standard ending.

The Good:
+Good vocal theme.
+Decent translation.

The Bad:
-Not short enough.
-Weak control, including lousy camera.
-Frustrating jumps.
-Derivative, underdeveloped plot.
-Minimalist musical presentation.
-Disappointing visuals.
-Not fun enough to replay.

The Bottom Line:
Not nearly as good as critics claim.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 2.0/10
Controls: 1.5/10
Story: 0.5/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 2.5/10
Graphics: 3.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 1.0/10
Difficulty: Artificial
Playing Time: 6-12 Hours

Overall: 2.0/10

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Pit Fighters 3. Side Gig

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The third entry of Rick Griffin’s Pit Fighters series opens with protagonist Paris the rabbit awaking at the hospital after a losing match, visited by his friend Logan the deer. Paris is in debt, and thus takes on a job as a courier, first delivering to a woman who attempts to seduce them, then to his rival / semi-love interest Porte the skunk, who too gets a job at the delivery service and attempts to seduce Paris. When continuing his deliveries, Paris meets his idol, Sultan the kangaroo, after which certain events cause his termination from his job and temporary incarceration. Overall, a quick, fun story with good illustrations, although it’s definitely for adults only.

Thursday, June 18, 2020


Divisions novel frontcover.jpg

The third entry of Kyell Gold’s Out of Position, or Dev and Lee, series, opens with an introduction by the author indicating he wrote a lot when formulating the tertiary entry of his literary franchise, followed by a description of football from an animalian perspective, with certain species playing certain roles on the game field. As in prior books, he shows a map of the United States indicating where the cities serving as the various settings would be in real life, although the author’s injection of real-life elements into this story somewhat mars the alleged escapism of the book.

Following the introductory elements is a “bonus story” featuring the journalist Hal, who is formulating a story on self-outed football star Dev, whilst betting on games. As in books on this kind, one can find difficult keeping track of the species of certain characters, and thus, a list of dramatic personae would have been welcome. The story proper opens with Lee’s father indicating he is divorcing his wife, with the tiger Miski and vulpine Farrel families celebrating Thanksgiving together. Dev meets his mother’s sister, his Aunt Ania, with his brother Gregory annoyed at not being the center of attention.

Lee is impressed how mellow Dev’s formerly-intolerant father is, with Dev himself feeling sexually-repressed, and his fox boyfriend inviting his father Brenly to his home in Chevali. One major plot point is the suicide of homosexual Vince King on account of his bigoted parents, with Dev torn between supporting his boyfriend’s heightened activism with the group Equality Now, or starring in commercials for various products such as beer. To Dev’s chagrin, the pompous cheetah football player Lightning Strike is traded to the Firebirds, although he is at least a decent athlete.

Lee’s former spotted skunk boyfriend Brian plays some role in the narrative, as does the fox’s mother, who has affiliated herself with the anti-gay organization Families United, with Lee himself having altercations with his matriarch, and while they don’t break up, Lee spends New Year’s Eve alone without Dev. Overall, furries in particular are sure to appreciate this story, although the sociopolitical commentary comes across as incredibly ham-fisted, somewhat exemplifying what’s wrong with the furry fandom with its general focus on fornication and sexuality, and suffering from its mirroring of real life.

Diablo: Hellfire

To Hell and Back

Developer David Brevik initially conceived the first entry of Blizzard’s Diablo series as a turn-based RPG, although the company’s success with the inaugural entry of the real-time strategy Warcraft franchise led to its transformation into an action RPG, released for Windows in North America at the beginning of 1997 to commercial and critical success. Later in the year came an unofficial expansion developed by Sierra entitled Diablo: Hellfire, which introduced new features such as a fourth playable character class, additional items, and two extra dungeons, and which would digitally release. The game is definitely important in the history of PC RPGs, but does that mean it’s any good?

Most of Diablo’s story is related in its supplemental content, which tells of a world of Men, Sanctuary, existing alongside the High Heavens and Burning Hells, with conflicts between them, and the Dark Lord Diablo consequentially sealed away underground above where a monastery was built, and by where the town of Tristram was founded. King Leoric rebuilds the ruins of the monastery as a cathedral, with its archbishop, Lazarus, manipulated into destroying Diablo’s soulstone prison, with the Dark Lord possessing the monarch himself and then his son Prince Albrecht. Thus, it’s up to the character the player creates to defeat Diablo and possibly rescue the Prince.

Players can create said sole controllable protagonist of one of four classes: the warrior, which specializes in melee combat; the rogue, which specializes in ranged battle; the wizard, which specializes in magic; or the monk, which is a good fighter and magician, and in fact can be more powerful without weapons (but still is good with staves). Afterward, they choose a difficulty level, and the game begins in the hub town of Tristram, where the player can talk to the local healer to restore all HP and/or purchase health recovery potions, “identify” weapons and armor with special properties, purchase new equipment, or speak with the local witch for MP-restoring items, staves, spell books, and magic scrolls.

The core of Hellfire’s combat occurs in the main sixteen-floor (with some occasional extra areas) dungeon, with basic point-and-click gameplay utilizing the mouse of the player’s computer. The player hovers the mouse cursor over an enemy and repeatedly clicks the device’s left button to execute basic attacks against foes once they approach them. If the player doesn’t want their character to move around during standard attacks, they can hold the Shift key to remain in place. Relentless attacks aren’t always a good idea, as there are many foes, particularly those who can fire ranged magic, that constantly flee from the player, and can consequentially lead them to their death.

Diablo’s magic system stems from the use of spell books that both partially recover the player’s mana points and grant them a new spell that consumes a certain amount of MP, with effects such as healing, fire, and lightning. Each spell has a minimum magic stat requirement in order to be usable in the first place, the player able to use books representing the same spells again to increase their potency whilst reducing their usage cost. One spell I found useful towards the end was Mana Shield, where enemy attacks damage the player’s mana instead of health until it runs out, and the fire and lightning bolt spells can snipe long-ranged foes, unless they have resistance to certain elements.

Slain enemies may drop money, consumable items such as health and mana potions, and one-time-use magic scrolls, although they may also leave behind money and equipment, with the player’s character able to equip one piece of body armor, one helmet, one two-handed weapon or a one-handed weapon and a shield, two rings, and one amulet. Inventory management plays a significant role in Hellfire, with space indicated by a grid where equipment and items consume a certain number of squares, the player unable to carry any more when reaching maximum capacity. When the player’s inventory does max out, they can use the town portal spells or its equivalent, buyable scroll to get back to Tristram to sell what they don’t want, after which they can return to the dungeon where they left off.

Leveling both fully restores the player’s character and allows them to distribute five points into the four main stats: strength, dictating attack power; dexterity, dictating accuracy; magic, dictating maximum mana; and vitality, dictating maximum health. One main positive of the battle system is that enemies in the main and side dungeons don’t respawn, although even on the easiest difficulty setting, some players may have trouble later on, compounded by the general slow pace of leveling, in which case they can restart the game with all dungeon adversaries reset, as well as equipment, items, and stats retained (although there are rare glitches in this regard).

Overall, the battle system definitely has its enjoyable moments, and is generally straightforward, even potentially good stress relief, although not all will appreciate the restarts that are necessary to grind in order to survive the final areas of the game. Diablo’s difficulty at times largely depends upon the class chosen, since each has its strengths and weaknesses, and as I played as the monk, I definitely had issues with even the Normal difficulty, although for significant chunks I was playing with a weapon equipped on him; when I removed it, I had no trouble with the final boss. All in all, combat isn’t perfect, but the different character playstyles give plenty reasons to come back for more.

The game’s structure is straightforward, so there’s no getting lost, as long as the player converses with the citizens of Tristram, who may initiate plot-centric quests, all characters at times having their occasional personal takes on these missions. The controls are generally easy, the player can record their progress anytime (reducing wasted playtime due to death), and the game is pausable, as is expected of an RPG with real-time elements. Granted, not all will appreciate the occasional tedium of inventory management, the unskippable voiced text, the inability to see how equipment will increase or decrease the player’s stats before buying it (with monks, for example getting a defensive decrease with heavy armor), or no in-game tracking of playtime. Regardless, interaction could have certainly been far worse.

Diablo’s story definitely has much going for it, given the intricate backstory and setting, although as one would expect of an RPG with a blank-slate protagonist, it certainly isn’t one of the game’s high points, given the absence of said mythos from within the game itself and its mostly-exclusive relegation to the manual, although what dialogue there is generally well-written. Some of the non-player characters do have backstory, such as the peg-legged Wirt, although the ending might be a bit confusing to those who don’t look up the plot details on Wikipedia or another site. Overall, the narrative largely isn’t anything to write home about.

Neither is the soundtrack, although it does have positives such as a cool town piece with good guitar riffs, and excellent ambience with regards to the various dungeon themes. The sound effects are believable, as well, and all characters have voice acting, with some half-decent performances in spite of occasional inconsistent quality. Mercifully, when the voice acting is at its weakest, it’s fortunately bad in an enjoyable fashion, with Griswold’s pseudo-Scottish accent, for instance, and lines such as the monk’s “Now that’s a big mushroom!” and the warrior’s “I gotta pawn some of this stuff!” Ultimately, a decent-sounding game.

The visual presentation could have used some work to a greater extent, although it has good aspects such as the anatomically-correct character models, good colors, fluid animation, and a few CG FMVs. There are some negatives, however, such as plenty of palette-swapped enemies, the blocky illumination within the various levels of the labyrinths (which otherwise look good), the lack of emotion for the character sprites during story dialogues, and the occasional sudden popup of enemy sprites when wandering the labyrinths. Generally, while the graphics definitely aren’t perfect, they’re hardly an eyesore, and don’t detract too much from the gameplay.

Finally, beating the game as a monk took me a few hours less than twenty-four, which includes several restarts, and the diversity of character playstyles, along with occasional variations in which quests appear and which don’t, provide plentiful lasting appeal, though doesn’t seem to offer anything in the way of achievements or accomplishments to further enhance replayability.

In the end, Diablo: Hellfire is an enjoyable expansion that hits the right notes regarding its straightforward game mechanics, linear structure, half-decent sound, and plentiful reasons to go through the game given the different character classes. However, it does have issues with its gameplay of which mainstream, casual players need to be aware before they invest their money and time in the game such as the potential difficulty and repetition, and there are other faults such as the lackluster narrative, general unmemorability of the music, and average graphics. Mercifully, the monetary and temporal commitments aren’t that great, and those interested in this piece of computer RPG history can give the main game and its expansion a look at

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy digitally downloaded from using the monk class to completion of the main dungeon, with several replays necessary to see the standard ending.

The Good:
+Straightforward combat.
+Linear structure.
+Some decent music and voices.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-May require multiple playthroughs to beat.
-Lackluster storytelling.
-Unmemorable soundtrack and inconsistent voicework.
-Average visuals.

The Bottom Line:
A half-decent piece of CRPG history.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PC
Game Mechanics: 6.0/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 4.0/10
Music/Sound: 6.5/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.0/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: < 1 Day

Overall: 6.0/10

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Secret Life of Pets 2

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) Final Poster.jpg 

This showed up on Netflix so I gave it a watch. Max the dog's owner gets married and has a child, and goes on a roadtrip with them, with Gidget tasked with safeguarding a bumblebee squeak toy, and Snowball the bunny playing superhero and helping rescue a white tiger from a brutal circus owner, which ultimately ties in the main plot. Fairly humorous, with good voice performances, and I don't regret watching it.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Pit Fighers 2. Orientation

Pit Fighters 2. Orientation by Rick Griffin 

In the first Pit Fighters sequel, Paris the bunny prepares for a fight with Porte the skunk, and fights himself overwhelmed in his first fight, despite lauding from fellow fighters on resisting. Before the next fight, Paris has an encounter with Porte that turns sexual, and when the next battle comes, Paris puts up more of a fight. Overall, I definitely enjoyed this story, although it has a fair bit more of mature content than its predecessor, and one can find it difficult at times to keep track of the species of specific characters; thus, more reminders in that regard would have been welcome. However, I would be more than willing to read the third book.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Isolation Play


Although this is officially a continuation of the story in Out of Position, author Kyell Gold notes that the story is self-contained and enjoyable on its own in a foreword. As in the prior book in the Dev and Lee series, there’s explanation about the sport of American football, with Gold explaining it in an animalian perspective, with certain species specializing in certain roles. Also like in the book’s predecessor, there’s a map of the United States showing where the fictitious cities of the “Forester Universe” would be in the United States, although as in Out of Position, rare references to American politics and religion somewhat break the story’s fantastical nature.

Despite that, the book actually isn’t half-bad, and picks up where the first left off (though this somewhat mars its being a “standalone” story), with tiger football player Dev having come out on national television as homosexual. His vulpine boyfriend Lee consequentially ponders coming out at work, and Dev receives assurance that if he continues playing on the level he has been, he’ll be welcome on his team, the Firebirds. Dev wants to introduce Lee to his parents, although his father believes the fox has no place in his family, even threatening to disown his own son.

Certain events result in Lee’s brief hospitalization, and while Dev sometimes receives teasing from his teammates, they seem more accepting of his sexuality than his father, and even invite the couple to watch a football game with them. Dev continues to try to convince his father to accept him, although they have another fallout, which just strengthens the bond between the football player and his boyfriend. Lee tries to reach back out to Dev’s father, whilst tabloids hinder the relationship between the gay couple. Lee actually thinks about going back to college, and attempts one final reaching out.

Several reversals terminate the sequel, with the hook for future books that Dev and Lee’s relationship is just beginning. Overall, this was an enjoyable follow-up to Out of Position, and despite the aforementioned real-life references sometimes marring the escapist disposition that one would expect from a book of its caliber, it’s probably an improvement, with good moral themes. Furries in particular will probably appreciate this book the most, and it’s definitely for adults only, given the maturity of some of the illustration, sexual content, and language, and those who enjoyed the first will most likely enjoy the first sequel.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Pit Fighters 1. The Opportunity

Pit Fighters 1. The Opportunity by Rick Griffin 
This short story occurs on the fictitious Island of St. Marten-Cristo, with the rabbit protagonist Paris watching a brawl on television between kangaroo fighter Sultan and Farin the boar in Three Circle Arena. Paris is annoyed by his smothering mother, and thus seeks to get away by signing a contract with the Pit Fighters, where his sexuality, given the masculine orientation of the order, comes into question, and he’s reluctant to fornicate before marriage. Knowing that he starts off as a Pit Fighter in debt, he knows that his first night will be fitful. All in all, this was a short, sweet story with nice illustrations, and nothing sexually explicit, although it somewhat has niche appeal.

Arctic Dogs

   Arctic Dogs poster.jpg

A bit of a hodgepodge of elements from prior animated films such as Balto, Zootopia, and Despicable Me, but I definitely don't regret watching this. Loved the French and German conspiracy theorist otters.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland DX

My Neighbor Totori

The Gust-developed Atelier series didn’t see exposure outside Japan until the localization of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana by NIS America, Koei-Tecmo eventually taking over translation duties. The franchise would endure mechanical metempsychosis since its PlayStation 2 debut, given the differences in the Atelier Iris and Mana Khemia games, this trend continuing with the series’ movement to the PS3 with the Arland trilogy, which would see several remakes and rereleases on future systems such as the Nintendo Switch. The latest incarnation of the second game of the Arland trilogy, Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland DX, largely provides an experience on par with Rorona.

Totori follows the eponymous adventurer as she attempts to make her mark with an adventuring license, with alchemic duties in the mix, pun intended. Throughout her adventures, she meets a number of new and old characters to help her through her quest, who contain good development throughout the game, additional story scenes unlocked depending upon how often the player uses them in battle. There are also multiple endings, which enhance replayability, and the plot is consequentially a good driving factor, although the subplot of Totori finding out what happened to her missing mother, also an adventurer, isn’t a completely original concept.

Even while largely legible, the translation effort doesn’t wholly help the storyline: the names used for characters throughout are generally consistent, and there is a choice of English and Japanese voicework, but there is the rare bit of Engrish, and battles, naturally, have the worst writing. Moreover, whenever the game introduces new characters, there’s the odd decision of displaying their full names in large letters in a decorative textbox, with the name repeated in a smaller font below the border and aligned to the right. Ultimately, the translators could have put more effort into the localization.

Fortunately, the general game mechanics are far better, with Totori, like its precursor, melding alchemy and adventuring, the former done at either at the titular Atelier Totori or Rorona’s workshop. Before she can, the player must gather ingredients from different areas across Arland, the player able to hire up to two allies that can help her in those regions that contain visible wandering enemies and random battles on the overworld. Walking on the overworld and gathering items consumes a certain amount of days, with these times potentially reduced through having synthesizable items on hand.

In the various fields and dungeons that enemies inhabit, the player can see them wandering about (or in the case of certain “boss” units, sitting or standing still), and Totori can attack them with her staff to give her party the initiative in the subsequent battle. Fortunately, enemies don’t seem to be able to do the same to the player’s characters, and in combat, they and the enemies take their turns depending upon speed, a turn order meter mercifully showing who takes their turns when. Characters can attack with their equipped weapons, use MP-consuming skills, defend to reduce damage, or attempt to escape.

Only Totori and Rorona can use consumable items synthesizable at either of their workshops, which can, depending upon their traits and effects, can actually be the difference between victory in defeat in the hardest battles, namely one the player has to win in order to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the central storyline. This adds some degree of strategy to combat, which can later on the game feel challenging, but mercifully hardly cheap. Death of the player’s party on the overworld results in days lost equivalent to how long to get back to a workshop, all characters revived with 1 HP.

Death on enemy-infested fields and in dungeons yields the same result, though another synthesizable item can take the characters back to an entrance, all revived with 1 HP and no days wasted, and outside battle, there is no need to waste items reviving them. Moreover, characters that are still dead after a battle receive full experience points, level-ups somewhat common and consequentially increasing the leveling character’s stats by a bit; enemies also tend to drop items usable in synthesis. Outside combat, the player can equip each character with a weapon, a piece of armor, and an accessory, the first two obtained from equipment synthesis at Hagel’s shop and the last acquirable through workshop synthesis.

Another synthesizable item allows for instant return teleportation to Totori or Rorona’s workshop with no days consumed, which can make beating the game’s time crunch somewhat easier. Anyway, once the player has acquired enough ingredients, they can perform synthesis at either atelier, with verbal notices from Totori prior to syntheses cluing in players as to how they will fare. Successful synthesis nets Totori alchemic experience for occasional level-ups separate from her adventuring level, whereas failure results in no experience and a pile of ash. In the case that Totori has a minor chance of alchemic success, but fails, they can reload a prior save within whatever workshop she’s at.

Enemies don’t drop money, and in order for Totori to make any, the player must take on quests that involve providing a certain number of ingredients or synthesizable items, or killing a certain number of a specific enemy type, to solve her monetary issues. Performing such quests, along with alchemy, travel, and battles, are essential to acquiring Quest Points that occasionally allow Totori to “rank up,” which is actually necessary on a mostly-yearly basis for the player to continue the game to the end, lest they risk a premature bad ending, in which case the player must start the game from the beginning, the tutorial sequences mercifully skippable, with only each character’s equipment at the time retained.

Overall, the various gameplay systems work harmoniously, with each having their own degree of entertainment, and while battles have a “turbo mode,” they’re still faster than average even without the increased speed enabled. Exploring new areas for new ingredients and enemies is also fun, as is performing quests for money (which is necessary to purchase many alchemic recipe books) and acquiring points for adventuring, alchemy, battle, and quests themselves. The ability to retain more progress in subsequent playthroughs would have certainly been nice, but otherwise, gameplay is perhaps Totori’s strongest suit.

Control is, as well, albeit to a lesser extent. Totori is semi-open-world, and even with said element, there’s almost no getting lost, with clear direction on how to proceed, Totori keeping occasional notes about subquests that fortunately aren’t fundamental in seeing the standard normal ending. The game menus and other interfaces such as those for alchemy, shopping, and quests are also easy, and saving is available on the overworld and in the workshop. The only major flaws are perhaps the inability to skip cutscenes outright (players can only fast-forward them), and a weird glitch when trying to bring up menu options on the overworld. Otherwise, a generally user-friendly game.

Like its many precursors in the Atelier series, Totori features a wide assortment of bouncy tracks, starting with the theme during the opening animation, although it does reuse some music from its precursor in the Arland trilogy such as the themes in Hagel’s shop and workshop themes. The battle themes are different, however, with the main one lasting for a while and rarely looping, given the speed of fights. There is a track that sounds like a slight ripoff of John Denver’s “Country Roads,” and the quality of the English voicework is spotty at times (though the Japanese performances are available). Overall, the game sounds good, but has issues in that regard.

Totori largely uses the same visual style as its predecessor (in addition to the opening anime cutscene), with character and enemy models sporting cel-shaded appearances, which superficially looks pleasant. However, like Rorona, during cutscenes, the graphics “fuzz out,” with static character portraits largely doing the job of narrating the storyline. Granted, the artwork does convey a range of emotions for the characters, although the story style is somewhat lazy, and what’s also visually lethargic is the reskinning of many enemy types. Ultimately, the graphics leave plenty room for improvement, although they definitely aren’t an eyesore.

Finally, seeing the worst ending takes only around six hours, though getting the standard normal ending took me a little over thirty hours. Fortunately, the game is enjoyable enough to go back through again, given the multiple endings and sheer amount of side content, though the option to skip cutscenes fully instead of just fast-forwarding through them would have been welcome.

In summation, Atelier Totori is for the most part an enjoyable sequel that hits many of the right notes, particularly regarding its enjoyable fusion of alchemy, combat, and questing, the general user-friendliness, the well-developed narrative, and many reasons to come back to the game for subsequent playthroughs. It does have a few serious flaws of which mainstream, casual players need to aware, such as the occasional interface quibbles, the lackluster localization, some music reused from its predecessor, and the weak visual execution, but those who enjoyed Rorona will most likely appreciate Totori, which is very much on par with the better games of the Atelier franchise.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy digitally downloaded by the reviewer, with one of the standard endings obtained after one initial playthrough and two clear games.

The Good:
+Enjoyable adventuring and alchemy mechanics.
+Good control.
+Great story.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Some interface issues.
-Lackluster localization.
-Some recycled music.
-Visuals could have been better executed.

The Bottom Line:
A fun, if flawed, sequel.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 8.5/10
Controls: 7.0/10
Story: 8.0/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 6.5/10
Graphics: 6.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.0/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 6+ Hours

Overall: 7.0/10