Operation Backlog Completion 2017
Feb 222017
 

About a month ago, indie developer Radical Phi sent me a review copy of Angels With Scaly Wings, which they described as “The Dragon Dating, Mystery & Drama Visual Novel.”

A dragon dating game? Sure, why not? After all, a game about dating birds proved to have hidden depths.

When I started Angels With Scaly Wings, I realized right away that the romance is only a small part of this visual novel. It began with an explanation of how humanity discovered a portal that put them in contact with a world of intelligent dragons, and from there quickly spiraled into a murder mystery with hints of conspiracy.

A few hours later, I reached a rather depressing ending. Determined to get a better outcome, I plunged into the story again and reached my first “good” ending… which was almost as bleak as the bad one. I realized I might need to play many times to get an actual happy ending.

But not only does Angels With Scaly Wings make that painless through features that let you fast-forward text you’ve seen or even skip entire scenes, it actually incorporates it into the narrative.

The presence of dragons might make you think “fantasy,” but this really is a science fiction story, and the sci-fi elements play a more central role than just setting up the premise. In particular, there’s time travel. When you start a new game, it’s because your character is in a time loop.

Ah yes… time travel…

While the game puts a great deal of enthusiasm into its time travel, it does present problems and paradoxes if you look at it too closely. On the other hand, the time loop creates a neat way to integrate the way most fans play visual novels–repeated playthroughs for each and every character route.

Now, despite the fact that you spend much of your time dating dragons, the sci-fi mystery story is stronger than the romance. You get to know these characters, learn their backstories, and grow close to them, but it isn’t given enough time or depth to feel especially romantic.

It’s also possible for at least some characters to get their good endings without accepting their romantic advances at the end, and a couple don’t have anything beyond lightly implied romance.

So if you’re looking for real serious dragon romance, Angels With Scaly Wings won’t be what you expect. (And if you’re looking for a happy, silly game, it’s definitely not what you expect.) However, the mystery is intriguing enough that it kept me hooked on my first playthrough, and subsequent playthroughs held my attention as I tried to see every scene, uncover every part of the story, and figure out how to help my dragon of choice.

In some ways, it felt like a puzzle: if I make this choice and go to this place, will I have the tools I need to get so-and-so’s good ending?

The more I played, the more my choices began to affect other playthroughs, because of the time loop. This was a pretty cool feature that tied into how the true ending actually works from a narrative perspective. It wasn’t perfect, as the game occasionally referenced events I hadn’t actually done, but overall it’s one of the most interesting aspects of Angels With Scaly Wings.

Some parts of the story and exposition could be handled better, and while some character interactions were engaging, others felt bland. However, I enjoyed playing Angels With Scaly Wings. It made me work hard for my happy ending, and intrigued me enough to make me do so. It might not be a perfect game, but I’ll be interested to see what Radical Phi does in the future.


Speaking of visual novels, don’t forget to back Ascendant Hearts on Kickstarter. No dragons here, but we do have romance!

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Feb 202017
 

After Dream Drop Distance and χ Back Cover, only one part of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue remained: Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage.

It was awesome!

Now, the very premise of A Fragmentary Passage spoils Birth By Sleep, so if you aren’t that far in the series yet, save this review for after that fantastic game.

Got it? Everyone else here is okay with knowing the ending of Birth By Sleep?

Good.

A Fragmentary Passage follows Aqua during her time in the Realm of Darkness after Birth By Sleep. Technically, however, it starts right after the events of Dream Drop Distance: it’s a frame story as Mickey tells the others about his meeting with Aqua in the Realm of Darkness.

Although it doesn’t advance the plot in major ways, it handles its storytelling well (much better than the awkward pacing of Dream Drop Distance), does an excellent job of showing how Aqua has begun to break down from the tricks the Realm of Darkness plays on her, and establishes a solid hook for Kingdom Hearts 3.

Click for A Fragmentary Passage spoiler

The combat feels like a blend between Kingdom Hearts II and Birth By Sleep, and it has some awesome new additions.

For example, it takes Birth By Sleep’s Command Style system and expands it into Situation Commands. Once Aqua has dealt enough damage, she can use a Situation Command to enter a Command Style form like Spellweaker or use a powerful attack such as Firaja. You can even build up multiple Situation Commands at once and unleash them one after the other.

It feels great, and the game also looks fantastic. Magic is impressive and dazzling, and so are the strange, fragmented worlds you travel through.

Maybe there’s a little Xehanort in me, but the Realm of Darkness is beautiful…

What I loved even more about the world is that even though A Fragmentary Passage is a shorter game, without full-fledged worlds like you’ll find in other Kingdom Hearts games, it allowed for a lot of exploration. There were secrets to discover and optional objectives to complete, and overall I enjoyed exploring more than I have in several Kingdom Hearts games.

A Fragmentary Passage has been described as almost being a tech demo for Kingdom Hearts 3, to show us what the next major Kingdom Hearts entry will be like. Well, if Kingdom Hearts 3 plays like A Fragmentary Passage, I’ll be very happy.

Despite only taking a handful of hours to complete, Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage might be my favorite part of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. If you haven’t played it yet, grab Kingdom Hearts 2.8 and give it a try!


Like fantasy and comedy? Don’t forget to support my visual novel (I’m the writer), Ascendant Hearts, on Kickstarter!

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Feb 172017
 

I finally finished The Wonderful 101.

The Wonderful 101 is about a superhero-like organization fighting alien invaders known as the GEATHJERK (which stands for Guild of Evil Aliens Terrorizing Humans with Jiggawatt bombs, Energy beams, Ray guns, and Killer lasers). It was a fun game, but one I’m not likely to play again.

I had The Wonderful 101 in progress for quite a long time, even though it took me less than 20 hours to complete. Even though I enjoyed it, I kept taking long breaks to play other games that interested me more… a situation quite similar to another game I tried to play, Okami.

But unlike Okami, which I eventually gave up on, The Wonderful 101 doesn’t last so long that I got completely tired of it.

It does have some pacing issues. The game is divided into operations, each of which has multiple parts, and each part can take a while… especially boss battles, which often seem to parody similar boss battles by going on and on and reaching an increasingly larger scale.

(The Wonderful 101 doesn’t take itself too seriously, so it’s full of parodies.)

It’s also not a game you can easily take long breaks from, since the combat can be pretty challenging. Combat is where another Okami-esque aspect comes into play: drawing!

You control a group of superheroes who can unite into powerful weapon forms. For example, if you draw a circle, they form a hand to grab things or punch enemies. If you draw a straight line, they form a sword. And so on. There are many different weapons, and getting the game to recognize my attempts often caused me frustration.

Different enemies require different strategies to defeat, and it gets a bit complex.

On the other hand, while The Wonderful 101 is often challenging in its combat, it’s also very forgiving. If you die, it penalizes your score for the mission and brings you back with full health right where you left off the battle.

This, together with the shorter length of the overall game, is probably the main reason I didn’t quit it like I did Okami.

The Wonderful 101 also has a fun tone, a lot of humorous moments, and some surprisingly serious scenes. I liked the characters (with the exception of Luka, whom I couldn’t stand) and enjoyed the plot. In fact, it was interesting enough that if they are making a “Wonderful 102” or whatever they’d call the sequel, I’d look into it.

So in short, it might not be a new favorite game like Bayonetta, but finishing The Wonderful 101 is probably as close as I’ll ever get to finishing Okami.

Do you like superheroes? Alien invasion stories? Games that don’t take themselves seriously? And are you all right with complex combat that involves drawing shapes to form giant weapons? Then give The Wonderful 101 a try!

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