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I’d Buy That for a Dollar

One of the most interesting major challenges in the games industry right now - especially for indies - is discoverability. With a constant deluge of new releases, there’s a serious signal-to-noise problem. How do we connect games people want to play with the people who want to play them? How do we help players who can’t find games that appeal to them, even though those games are in fact out there? How do we stop games from languishing in obscurity when they’d be bought and enjoyed by many, if the many only knew about the game in the first place?

As much as I enjoy the opportunity to pick up games I’m curious about for a buck or less, it’s a clear sign of how broken the discoverability is on the Nintendo Switch eShop that the best way to get people to notice your game is to heavily discount it. I’d rather be able to find games I’ll love and spend more on them, to truly support their creators and cast an economic vote for More Like This.


Capsule Review: SUPERBEAT: XONiC

A rhythm game where notes flow from the center of the screen to the left or right sides of an outer circle. Depending on the note type and the portion of the circle it hits, the player must press the correct button or stick (or on some platforms, tap the screen) in the correct way with the correct timing.



The trick is, when you're hooked on a game, you...

The trick is, when you’re hooked on a game, you need to harness that for good. For example, I bought a mini-elliptical to exercise at my desk. It sat in its box for a few days, and then I told myself I couldn’t play Final Fantasy XIV unless I was on the elliptical. No grinding in the game unless I was grinding in real life.

Less than an hour after that, I had the elliptical fully assembled and was stepping on it while questing through Eorzea.

My daily step count has been much higher since then.


Gaze Sometimes Into the Abyss, Lest You Forget it is There

I still remember how I lost myself in World of Warcraft.

I remember looking up from my laptop screen and realizing I hadn’t left my apartment in over a week. I’d just—gotten up in the morning, plunked down on my futon, played WoW all day, and gone to bed, again and again and again.

I wasn’t addicted, really. What I was was complacent. My life was in a darker place then, with decaying friendships and uncertain employment prospects. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything real. And it all seemed so scary and risky - especially after some events in my personal life had shattered what I’d thought was my closest friendship and my poor reaction to those events had gotten me fired from the best job I’d ever had. Why put myself back out there? Why work on building new relationships and finding a job when I could just end up burned again?

I filled the gaps with WoW instead, and it was more than happy to oblige. WoW was specifically and masterfully designed to provide the illusion of progress, the illusion of working together toward a shared goal. It sated my appetite but left me empty, giving me everything I wanted and nothing I needed.

I still don’t know if WoW was there for me when I sought comfort, or if it took advantage of me when I was vulnerable. Probably a little of both. Regardless, when I looked up from that screen and saw what I’d become, what I’d chosen to be, it sickened me and I canceled my subscription.

It’s been several years and my life has changed a lot since then. But I still remember the darkness. And this is why playing Final Fantasy XIV today leaves me with an occasional feeling of vertigo.

It’s like I’ve returned to hike a trail cut into the side of a mountain. It’s a lovely walk, especially with friends, but all I have to do is turn my head and I can see that just a few steps off the trail is a great yawning abyss.

I don’t think I’m going to fall into it again. I’m stronger now, more sure-footed, with more anchors to keep me on the path. But it’s still there, it’s always there, and to pretend otherwise would be to invite disaster.


Capsule Review: Senran Kagura Peach Ball

A pinball spin-off of the Senran Kagura franchise starring busty schoolgirl ninjas who take clothing damage (though there’s basically no ninjutsu or clothing damage in this one). Five of the series’s recurring characters (Yumi, Asuka, Murasaki, Ryōna, and Yomi) have been partially transformed into different animals (which mostly means they wear fur bikinis and animal ears while acting like a stereotype of the animal in question) and to restore them, you need to hit them with a pinball over and over.



Senran Kagura Peach Bawl

The latest Senran Kagura game, Senran Kagura Peach Ball, is a light-hearted comedic out-of-genre spin-off (it’s a pinball game where you have to restore the girls who’ve accidentally been partially transformed into animals by putting them on a pinball table and smacking them with the ball). So was Senran Kagura Bon Appétit! (Hanzō gets hungry and offers a wish-granting ninja scroll as reward for a cooking competition played as a rhythm game) so comparisons are inevitable.

Both games have the standard Senran Kagura trappings like the dressing room but none of the standard brawling - there’s only the out-of-genre gameplay which is solid but not spectacular. You have to enjoy both that genre and the Senran Kagura brand of fanservice and humor to enjoy the game. I like rhythm games and not pinball; I liked Bon Appétit! and didn’t get into Peach Ball. But Peach Ball actually left me outright sad and I think it’s because of the health of the franchise now versus when Bon Appétit! came out.

Recent Senran Kagura games have felt a bit slim for their price tag, and the comparison between Peach Ball and Bon Appétit! puts that in sharp relief - the more recent game has less content and does less to develop its characters.

Bon Appétit! has all twenty-two girls who were established by that point in the series, each with a unique theme song and set of themed dishes to cook which are the game’s levels. Story mode has a short campaign for each of the twenty-two girls based on why they want to win the competition (and in most cases, what they’d use the ninja scroll to wish for).

Peach Ball has only five characters - the same ones from Reflexions. (Plus Haruka to frame the plot.) The five girls each get… a unique animal transformation costume. And the game’s levels consist of only two similar pinball tables.

But more than that, Bon Appétit! came at a time when Senran Kagura was in a position of strength. It was right after Shinovi Versus had come out - a game which advanced and expanded the series’s story and world, and which was the first to get a physical release in the US. Bon Appétit! thus felt like a fun extra bonus for a healthy franchise (the cross-buy DLC with Shinovi Versus helped that even more). It was okay that it didn’t advance the story; there was good reason to have confidence that would happen in the mainline games. It was just a fun way to spend more time with the characters and see them in a different light - and whichever one was your favorite, she was in there.

Peach Ball came out with Senran Kagura in a much iffier position. The past few games have been in a narrative stasis with no real progress in plot or character development, and though many of them add more girls their worlds have been feeling smaller. The next game, 7even, is supposed to finally move things forward, but has run into problems mid-development with changes in what platforms are willing to publish and studio director Kenichiro Takaki announcing his departure. It’s hard to know what to expect, and that makes it harder to view Peach Ball as an extra bonus to a healthy franchise. It’s barely even a way to spend more time with your favorite characters - it’s only got a fraction of the cast and shines hardly any new light on them. It’s a reminder of what threatens to become the new normal: unambitious, exploitative games with shallow characters and absurd plots that provide titillation and middling gameplay without a foundation of moral and emotional depth.


Dragon Quest Builders shouldn’t block free play with the story

One thing that both Dragon Quest Builders games are weird about is the relationship between the story campaign and the free mode.

In DQB1, you can access the free mode (“Terra Incognita”) right away, but many recipes and resources are locked behind completion of the respective chapters of the story campaign. Since the entire point of Terra Incognita is to build freely, this makes the early access a pointless compromise since you have to play through the entire story to unlock everything.

In DQB2, things are more unified and the free mode (“Buildertopia”) is not actually separate from the story mode - instead, you have to complete the story before you can access it. Then the islands where you can build freely (and engage in multiplayer!) become available as destinations.

This feels like needless audience-narrowing to me. Some number of players are interested in the story and some number of players are interested in free play, and these groups overlap but they aren’t identical. I’m here for the story and not the free play (the entire reason I play DQB instead of Minecraft or Terraria or whatever is the context provided by the story and characters) so the games do work for me, as I can finish the story and then just stop. And players who want both, specifically in this order, are of course well-served. But players who don’t care about the story and just want to build freely in a Dragon Quest world are still obliged to play through what amounts to a full-length RPG before they can get what they want. This isn’t going to be worth it for many such players, and they won’t buy the game.

In DQB2 it’s even worse, since the Buildertopias feature the series’s only actual multiplayer so far. Want to play DQB2 with your friends? I hope you all want to play through the 45+ hour-long story first! (Can you imagine if Call of Duty made players finish a campaign that long before it let them online? Or if Smash made you finish World of Light first?) This can get in the way even if you do want to play the story - I played on PS4 and then found out a friend had the game on Switch, and if I could have jumped straight in to multiplayer I might have double-dipped so we could play together. But I’m not willing to pay full price for the game again and put that much time into repeating content again. And can you imagine how frustrating it would be to lose your save (which can happen for many reasons that are not the player’s fault) and then not be able to go play with your friends anymore unless you replayed the entire story?

Maybe there’s something I’m missing, but I just don’t see a compelling reason to constrain the gameplay this much when the styles are so different. In my view, the player should have full access to free play with all recipes and materials attainable in that mode, without ever having to start the campaign. I personally wouldn’t use this, but from comments I’ve read online, plenty of players would, and this seems like an easy way to increase the game’s audience without sacrificing anything.


Final Fantasy XIV and the Final Fantasy Identity

I’ve started the free trial of Final Fantasy XIV because I hear that it has somehow become the best MMORPG and I miss playing as a healer (though since I’m soloing to learn the game I’m starting with a different class). And I keep thinking about my claim that Dragon Quest has held on to its core identity more than Final Fantasy has.

I’ve dipped in and out of both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest over the years, but while every single Dragon Quest game (including other-genre spin-offs like Heroes and Builders) is instantly recognizable to me as Dragon Quest, I wouldn’t know FFXIV is Final Fantasy if not for the title. (Aside from it having Chocobos and Moogles in it, though the Moogles are on, like, what, their third drastic redesign?)

Like, I picked the ranged magic DPS class to start, and I’ve got ice, fire, and lightning spells. Why is this class called “Thaumaturge” and not “Black Mage”? Why is its lore about funeral rites? Why have the humanoid races been renamed again? Why are all the early enemies monsters I’ve never seen before?

This is all surface-level stuff, but it’s the player’s first impressions of the game and it contributes to a general feeling of unfamiliarity that’s less welcoming than what Dragon Quest provides.

I am enjoying FFXIV and intend to keep playing for now. But I’m also curious about the Dragon Quest MMORPG and I really wish that had been localized.