A visual novel, point and click game inspired by FTL? Well that certainly sounds different.
Demos! Do you remember those? Little slices of a game to help you decide whether you should fully dive in or not. I used to get demo CDs with PC Gamer magazine back in the day and play some of the demos avidly. The ones that were most effective would be ones that had a story with a little cliffhanger ending that would demand I look into the full game. Also Half-Life: Uplink. That was awesome.
So here we have How To Build A Planet, from Hexagon Blue (who made the pretty damn cool Unloop). This was once again made for a Game Jam (still not about competitive preserve eating sadly) called Adventure Jam, in which teams make an adventure game in around a week. Obviously creating anything of significant length in this time scale is challenging, which is why this game is set up as being the opening chapter of a much larger game.
Due to its short nature, I won’t say too much about the story. You, as Oizo Lumiere, wake up from stasis aboard the Darwin, a ship seemingly seeking planets suitable for terraforming. You’re met by the robot Beasley (who I loved) who explains that you and the crew have been asleep for around 7 months. After a brief walk around the ship and a few conversations, some odd things happen resulting in a significant discover. And then we cut to black and the story ends on a cliffhanger that had me wanting to find out more. The story plays out in about 10 minutes but did enough to make me want to learn about what happened and where the plot would go.
The game plays a little like a visual novel at this point, with a few choices in each room and some conversations to have. You travel to rooms by clicking on them and select an option. I wasn’t sure which rooms to head to at first, but this just lead to me exploring the ship and in most cases I simply needed to find and speak to one of the crew members. At this early stage there isn’t a great deal in terms of diverting from the main path, but there are supposedly plans for this in the future which I’ll go into shortly. The game’s environment looks strikingly similar to FTL, with rooms spread throughout a top down view of the ship. The art work of the characters is all distinct (again, Beasley is a standout here) and those that can be interacted with have identifiable personality traits that will likely crop up later.
This is chapter 1 of a game with a much larger story, described as a sci-fi thriller. There are plans for this to be a visual novel with point & click adventure and puzzle sections when the game gets a full release next year. I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops. I have hopes for a branching story and more characters to arrive. I have no idea if this will happen, but that’s half the fun of demos: where will this game go in the future?
How to Build a Planet was developed by Hexagon Blue. I played the game on PC and recommend you give it a go (click on the link near the start!) if you’re interested in seeing the beginning of a science fiction story that has potential. And with such a short play time, what have you got to lose? I for one am looking forward to seeing where this goes and will post about this again once the final game is released. Get the game and give it a go here: Link!
Not so long ago, I talked about how looking at guides for games is absolutely fine. I even included Dara O’Briain’s remarks on video games being the only form of media that denies you access to more of it unless you prove you’re good enough. I mentioned how there really should be ways for anyone to experience the stories that games provide. But that’s not how games work (well, most of them anyway). There are bosses. Those big chaps and chapettes placed in your way to test you on everything you’ve learned so far. Sure, you’ve eliminated those enemies, mowed down the mooks and bested many baddies, but can you face down this ridiculous robot? That colossal creature? Those ferocious fighters? Alliteration aside (ha!), let’s have a look at some of those end of level guardians that have given me a serious run for my money.
Some rules as ever. Only one boss per franchise and only bosses I have faced and defeated. Oh, and if you’re offended by crude language, this is one of very few posts I write that will contain swearing. Because, seriously, some of these guys are absolute dicks.
Psycho Mantis – Metal Gear Solid
Let’s start light. Because Psycho Mantis isn’t terribly difficult once you know what to do. In fact, I technically didn’t find him all that difficult when I played this, but I’ll explain that in a moment because I recognise why this clown is so difficult. You see, you can’t shoot him. He dodges everything as though he can read your mind (he can because Metal Gear Solid is insane) and react before you fire. Not only that, he will also attempt to control your companion, Meryl, and attempt to have her kill herself. The strategy to defeat him, as I’m sure many of you will know, is to swap your controller from port one to port two on your console, thus confusing Psycho Mantis and allowing you to shoot the crap out of him.
In terms of boss battles for the era (or indeed any era), this was very inventive. And if you don’t know how to beat him, I can see how this could be incredibly challenging. Now, on to how I managed to beat him. I played this on PC, in which to defeat him you need to play using the keyboard. I did not have a gamepad for the PC and used the keyboard for the whole game so he proved to be only mildly challenging. Still, I thought this boss should be included due to the potential challenge.
Ornstein & Smough – Dark Souls
Alright, let’s get this two bastards out of the way. The Dark Souls original gank boss. The multi-man brawl that From Software have tried to emulate ever since. One of the hardest bosses in the series (I know there are others that people consider harder, but this pair whooped me for hours). Bosses in Dark Souls are no joke, but here we have two hard ones at once. One (Executioner Smough) is big, powerful, and capable of destroying the pillars that provide cover. The other (Dragonslayer Ornstein) is quick, powerful and has wide sweeping attacks that are hard to dodge. Keeping an eye on both of them whilst trying to land even a couple of hits to whittle down their health is extremely challenging.
Oh OH, and once you beat one of them, the other grows to twice the size and becomes even more powerful. Just to make sure you get no breaks. Because letting up just isn’t Souls style. If you defeat Smough first and take on a doubly powerful Ornstein then prepare for the battle of your life because he is an utter arse once powered up. The gorgeous journey through Anor Londo up to this point simply cannot prepare you for the pummelling you’ll face here. Victory is unbelievably satisfying, even though it took me summoning two phantoms to help with taking them down. I love this series, but there’s no way I’m going back to take them on again.
Lou – Guitar Hero 3
This is a weird one to include, but it is a boss battle. Guitar Hero 3 had a story mode of sorts, with your band being confronted by the devil (Lou) for a final face-off. Boss battles in this game were in the form of songs in which you and your opponent you play sections against one another, with powerups allowing you to disrupt the other player. Attacks could make notes become invisible, or one of your strings to break which makes playing a section correctly much harder. The final song was a rather creative rock cover of the rather excellent The Devil Went Down to Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band, with a ton of notes everywhere. Playing this in the game was hard enough, but throw in disappearing notes and buttons that temporarily won’t work and you have a recipe for plastic guitar breakage.
Seriously, this is rather good, and the Guitar Hero 3 version is pretty good too.
No meaning to brag, but I was pretty good at games in this series. I could rattle through most songs on expert mode without too much trouble. But this. This song with those stupid attacks was near on impossible. I eventually beat this, but only by swallowing my pride and dropping down two difficulties to normal. I know, I still feel the shame burning me now. I really liked the plastic instrument craze, but this boss battle song crap can piss right off.
Shao Kahn – Mortal Kombat 3
I was torn between Shao Kahn and M. Bison from Street Fighter 2. I went with Shao Kahn because he’s such a cheap git. M. Bison can be beaten with careful zoning and good positioning. Shao Kahn needs Sub-Zero and a shit ton of luck. Shao Kahn can practically dash right in front of you and send you flying. Over and over again. Along the ground or in the air. The dash attack also breaks your block. Oh, and he has projectile attacks which he can spam. Plus a hammer attack that can stun you. So my experience was something like this: jump attack lands on Kahn, hammer to me, dash attack me into the corner then I die. This happened many, many times.
I know I finally beat him based entirely on luck. Sub-Zero could freeze Shao Kahn in place, allowing an upperful (one of the most high damage single attacks). I used that and resorted to staying crouched and hoping an air dash attack would come my way, allowing another free uppercut. It went like this for a long, long time until I finally bested him. A dishonourable victory perhaps, but that’s what he gets for being such a wanker.
Yellow Devil – Mega Man
Oh this guy can just fuck right off. Cheap, extremely hard to dodge, takes ages and can pretty much only be beaten by luck, glitching, or having more patience than Jesus. In fact, I’m pretty sure Jesus would just switch the game off and play something else. Like Doom. Anyway, the Yellow Devil is one of the final bosses you face in Mega Man and it is a bastard of one. He starts by flying in piece by piece from the left, and good luck if you don’t know the pattern by heart. You’ll almost certainly get hit by one or two pieces (suffering significant damage) before he opens his eye for a split second to fire. I hope you were paying attention in that one second as that’s the only chance you have to damage it before the pieces fly to the other side of the screen. Repeat until you die. And I did. Repeatedly.
To be fair, with enough care and attention Yellow Devil can be taken down. It’s just the number of times you need to face it before you have the patterns down. And once you lose all your lives its back to the start of a long and difficult level to get back for another go. That’s the bit that irritated me the most. Once I got past that, I managed to wear him down. But getting to that point was a trial. This was not the last time this boss appeared in this (or other) series. The music was pretty exciting for the battle too. At least, the first few times.
Some (dis?)honourable mentions. Vicar Amelia from Bloodborne took me a long, long time to get through. She hits hard, moves quickly and could heal most of her health back mid battle. If you couldn’t out-damage her heal you didn’t have a hope. Another boss I had to summon for. Then there’s Capital B from Yooka-Laylee. I think I’ve made my feelings on this arsehole clear before.
Who’s kicked your ass repeatedly in games? Don’t feel the shame, share below and feel better about yourself! Carrying that defeat around will just bring you down, share it with the group…
I’m pretty confident that Japan does this to troll English speaking audiences. They get the development team together and name, grab an English dictionary and pick out 5 to 8 random words and tell us that’s the English title for the game. Let’s break down that title shall we? So we’re in Tokyo, during twilight probably. We’ll be hunting ghosts. Then there’s…daybreak? Wasn’t it twilight a minute ago? And what’s a special gig? Are we a band that fights ghosts? You know what, forget all that. A band that fights ghosts sounds like a great idea for a game. Make it happen Japan!
I picked this one up on a whim. I knew it was a visual novel with ghost battles and a supposedly good soundtrack so I grabbed it on sale. And I tried to like it, I really did. For a while I’m pretty sure I was into it, but it didn’t last for oh so many reasons.
I don’t mind visual novels at all. Most have really quirky stories and a gameplay mechanic that is completely absurd (I’m looking at you Danganronpa) in the context of the story. Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters (I’m just going to avoid writing the full title anymore) fails in the first part and only occasionally hits in the second. You play as yourself, having transferred to a new school and quickly make friends with a bunch of people who can see ghosts because you can too! Convenient! Before long you find they write for an occult magazine who do a secret side business in exorcism under the name Gate Keepers. You prove yourself by fighting off a ghost in the school and are signed up as a full employee! Well done you.
The game is split into episodes in which you and your team will find out about a ghost, investigate it and then try to take it down in the actual gameplay section. Here’s the first problem though, I played through 10 out of the 13 chapters (I gave up, you’ll see why later) and there was seemingly no connection between each of them. This lack of connection during the story put me off as I felt no particular reason to return after completing a chapter. There was no drive to discover more. Sure, your colleagues were interesting and some of the ghosts had back stories to find, but I didn’t feel a sense of curiosity to push me forward.
This being a visual novel, the interaction is limited to the ghost battles and the occasional conversation inputs. The latter is sometimes simple, sometimes utterly confusing. Some of your interactions will have you select a statement which is fairly standard, but sometimes you need to respond using body language. This is achieved by selecting an emotion to convey and which of your five senses to use. Sometimes this was obvious such as aggressive touch being a punch, or a sad look conveying how you feel. But it’s possible to curiously sniff someone. Or aggressively taste them. These are weird enough combinations, but you can’t always be sure what combination will do what. I could chose curious look, expecting to look for clues in an area, but the game decides I want to look at the person in front of me in a quizzical way. The player feedback is really rather poor here.
The main gameplay is the ghost battle scenes, which play out using a turn based “we go” system. The map is set up in a grid, with arrows showing your characters and the ghosts, assuming you have located them. You set each character’s movements and attacks before setting everything into motion with both your movements and the ghost movements happening together. This means you’ll need to guess the ghost’s movements to ensure you land a hit. And I do mean guess, more often than not I found myself restarting battles due to the time limit running out as I chased ghosts around trying to land a hit. You can lay traps before the battle to force ghosts to move in certain ways, but as you don’t know the ghost’s starting location, this ends up being even more guess work. When I got it right it was satisfying, but for the most part it was just dumb luck.
The characters you take with you level up as you use them, but you quickly realise which characters are the most useful. Characters with wide attacks mean you have a much better chance of hitting a ghost, whilst some can self heal and detect ghosts out of visual range. Occasionally though, you are forced to take characters on missions, whether they are leveled up or not leading to some truly frustrating battles unless you spend huge amounts of time grinding your under-leveled characters up (assuming you’re even allowed to!). Then there are the wild difficulty spikes that were the final nail in the coffin for me. Going from manageable battle to one in which the ghost can take out all of my team when counterattacking was just too much for me to put up with.
On the plus side, the art work is great in the story sections (less so in the battles) and the soundtrack is full of fun J-rock music and has the occasional voice work. The characters are quirky and interesting to meet and interact with who have different motivations in each chapter. It’s just a shame the chapters didn’t seem to be building to anything before I finally gave up. Having said that, if your story isn’t grabbing me after 15 hours then I don’t think it ever will.
Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters was developed by Now Productions and published by NIS America (in Europe anyway). I played the game on Playstation 4 and wouldn’t recommend this at all. It’s irritating and dull for the most part, even when you consider the dreaded Staring Man Eating Ambulance ghost. What the hell Japan?!
Who here has heard of Philosopher’s Quest (or Brand X as it’s sometimes known) on the BBC Micro? It’s a 1979 text adventure and it’s apparently hard as hell. It’s from an era in which some games came with a little “hints and tips” booklet that you could open to give you some guidance (The Legend of Zelda came with one if I recall correctly), but only if you broke the seal on it, admitting that you weren’t good enough to even get through the early areas. My dad had a copy of it that he allowed my sister and I to play, and being about 6 and 4 years old we had no idea about what to do or what was going on and thus died repeatedly. I asked about the tips booklet I saw in the box, still sealed, and was told that we were never allowed to open it as the game should be beaten without any help. I’m sure the game is still in the house somewhere, unbeaten and with its still sealed tips booklet. Bet it’s worth some money now. That’s the cover of it in the featured image. Can I just point out how amazing it is? I mean, it looks like The Blue Man Group picked up the wrong pot of Dulux and decided to attack Moses.
I recalled this memory not so long ago, and thought about how the idea of guides in gaming has changed in the years since then. Back then, using a guide was admitting failure and would often come with a financial penalty in the form of purchasing a guide, or a magazine, or (heaven forbid) phoning one of those damn premium rate phone lines. Nowadays though, guides are pretty much freely available, through professional (or sometimes not so) websites, wikis, YouTube videos and probably other sources that I just haven’t thought of.. And yet I still find myself with that stigma of “I’ve given up” if I look at a guide. I haven’t beaten the challenge myself. I didn’t beat that boss with my own skill and ingenuity. That puzzle beat me!
But then…aren’t games supposed to be fun? Yes, they’re a challenge, but a challenge to enjoy surely. And when a fun activity ceases to be enjoyable, why carry on with it? To be the best in the world? An admirable goal, but not one that most of us play games for. To prove that I can? But to prove to who? The developer? Random people on the internet? When it comes down to it, I enjoy playing the games I have, but when an obstacle within those games stops it being fun and descends into frustration then the game has almost failed in its own purpose. In the past, it would have been a case of give up on it, or beat my head against the brick wall of frustration in the hopes the game becomes fun again later on.
No more though. I’m a grown up now (seriously, I’m allowed to drive cars and everything) with limited time and limited patience. If I want to look up a guide for beating Ornstein and Smough then I damn well will. If I need help on the best way to play Symmetra then that’s alright. And god help anyone who says that finding a walk-through for one of those point and click adventure games with the moon logic nonsense is wrong.
The great Dara O’Briain gets it.
When it comes down to it, it’s your product that you’ve purchased, and the player can play it how they wish. This is even more true with single player games where the progress you make is your business. Hell, why aren’t players allowed to cheat in single player experiences anymore? Even if the challenge is part of the game, should people be excluded from the experience and story because they aren’t MLG-Pro enough? In the end, enjoy your game, and if there’s a barrier preventing you from continuing that enjoyment, find a way around it or find some guidance wherever you wish. And if it’s still no fun, don’t be ashamed to call it a day and give it up. Life’s too short for smashing your head against a brick wall.