Mobile Mini-Reviews – With an Open Heart, Sharp Wits, and Neon Blood

One hill I am willing to die on is that mobile gaming gets much less credit than it deserves.

Don’t get me wrong. Much like other platforms like Steam where smaller developers can occasionally throw whatever they want into the marketplace with varying quality, it can take some sifting to find some of the gems hidden in the digital mineshaft. Even then, those gems are a matter of taste and might not appeal to everybody.

With much I use my phone in waiting rooms and while I’m trying to accomplish other things, I’ve come across a few games that met with some personal criteria I had set up- a defined ending, for instance- which I would love to share with folks who might be struggling to find some way to cut their teeth on the offerings at their fingertips.

HungryHeartsTitleHungry Hearts Diner: A Tale of Star-Crossed Souls
GAGEX Co., Ltd
Genre: Simluation
HungryHearts1In a small village just on the border of a large city in Japan in the Showa era, a diner sits steeped in antiquity and small-town conversation. The owner of the diner has fallen ill recently, however, so his wife has taken over the duties of cooking, meal planning, and keeping the diner in business for the locals. Every small town’s citizens have a story, though, and a small eatery is a perfect place for them to open up. After all, food can bring up memories and emotions just as well as any other stimulus can.

Taking the role of the elderly wife, your job is to keep people in your diner happy and fed while improving the diner and its menu. With particular customers, you will be able to suss out their favorite dishes and what food will help them open up, relating their stories and troubles to you in small cutscenes once their affection has risen enough. The more you create your available concoctions, you will also be able to create other dishes which will earn more money and cater to your clientele even more.

HungryHearts2At its core, Hungry Hearts is a ‘tapper’ game, which won’t appeal to everyone. The game does have the occasional option to watch an advertisement to gain more experience or money, but they can easily be skipped. It is free-to-play as a base, however, and the trappings only obscure the heart of the game underneath.

Where this game excels is in its stories, characters, and atmosphere. Hungry Hearts captures the village feel that it is going for with exquisite results. More than once, I felt a tug of emotion at the writing and interactions between the people of the town, many of whom have stories that interact with one another despite their not interacting directly. Each unique character has their own full story to be engaged with and the endings are almost entirely well worth the investment. In between stories, the game was also incredibly relaxing with an ambient soundtrack and charming visual style that I found myself addicted to.

If you don’t mind dealing with some of the usual free-to-play inconveniences and you need a game to wind down with, you would do well to seek out Hungry Hearts.

PartiaTitlePartia: The Broken Lineage
Imago Software
Genre: Strategy Role-Playing
Partia1
Taking place on the continent of Partia in the kingdom of Grana, you play as the younger of two princes slated to sit on the throne and rule over the people. The people of the land, however, clearly have their favored candidate of the two, whether it is the responsible and headstrong eldest or the slightly rebellious and more approachable second-born. Some of those people, however, will do whatever they must to ensure that their candidate of choice ascends to the throne.

With no qualms of being derived from the likes of Fire Emblem, Partia concerns itself more with political intrigue and strategic choices over knockdown brawls. Divided into chapters, the game takes you through the moves made by those who desire power as you gather a group of allies willing to fight by the prince’s side. Following the mechanics of Fire Emblem to a near-perfect T, characters level up, receive weapons with particular durability, and can be lost forever if they perish in battle.

Partia2The game isn’t without its obstacles. Without exploiting the arena in town between chapters, you will lose a lot of your allies so grinding is a bit of a must. The translation in the build I played was also a little choppy in areas, though easily navigable. The team has released patches since, however, so it may be a slightly different experience to play now.

What is to be commended is that the game captures the spirit of the early Fire Emblem games with a bit of an overhaul on the presentation side. The battle sprites are simple but effective, and the portraits and other art evoke the styles of games like Shining Force and the GBA entries of the Fire Emblem series. A lot of heart and passion for the genre appears in the short time you will spend with Partia which, as of this writing, rings in at $3.99 to purchase. There are also two sequels available, and while I’ve only just started the second game, improvements already appear to have been implemented.

MidnightShowTitleThe Midnight Show
Takster Games, LLC
Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
MidnightShow1It’s 1985. You’ve arrived at the Orpheum Theatre where some of the hottest new films are playing and the staff is way cooler than you’ll ever be. If you don’t feel like taking in a show, you could always hit the arcade and try to win some prizes from the crane game there. For such a rad looking place, though, it seems awfully empty. Something feels just a bit off about that, doesn’t it? Maybe if you look around a bit, you’ll figure out what’s going on and why you can’t seem to leave the way you came in.

I may be biased given my love of horror, the 80s, and point-and-click adventure games. The Midnight Show, however, was probably one of my favorite mobile games to get through and play. It unfolds like any other point-and-click game does, but with the in-jokes and tongue-in-cheek tone, it feels right at home with games like Maniac Mansion (which is has a great poke at) and other LucasArts adventures.

MidnightShow2If I had one qualm, it is a bit short. This isn’t a major issue, though, as it doesn’t overstay its welcome longer than it has to, telling a tight story with a few atmospheric moments and just enough puzzles to make you think and explore a bit to proceed. My “qualm” probably lies in the fact that I wanted a bit more of the universe once the game closed up shop. Call me selfish, I guess.

As with the other two games here, the presentation is strong. While I loved the visuals, the soundtrack is where the game really hooked me with some strong 80s synth that found me sticking around a bit longer in places than I probably needed to. If you’re a fan of the music of the era, you’ll be hard-pressed not to relish in the soundscape a bit. Kudos to Wice and ALEX, who are credited as the featured artists.

Looking at the game, I don’t see a price tag on it anymore so it may just be free to download- which is a steal for the experience. The Midnight Show is well worth the price of admission, however, price tag or not, and it should be checked out if you have any interest after reading this.

I play quite a few persistent games that I could easily recommend, as well, and may write a bit about them in a future post. Having a game that has a defined beginning and end can be tough to find in a quality package and an affordable cost. Hopefully, this will point out some options to folks who might not be fans of mobile games to give a chance to!

Have any recommendations or thoughts on these games if you’ve checked them out? Any feelings on mobile gaming you’d like to share? As always, drop me a line here in the comments or on Twitter!

Octopath Traveler – Prologue Demo Impressions

Octopath HEader
I’ve been trying to keep my list of games that I’m anticipating this year short, but ever since it was announced, Square Enix’s Octopath Traveler has been near the top of my list.  Never mind the slick ‘retro’ visuals, but when you incorporate the Romancing SaGa-esque party gathering and a combat system that calls to mind Bravely DefaultOctopath already has the mechanical trappings to pull me in.

Back in September of 2017, the first demo for the game was released on the Nintendo Switch’s e-shop.  It offered up experience with the introductions of Primrose and Olberic, two of the choices for your main protagonist once the full game is available.  I played through that demo pretty fervently and liked what I saw- Primrose’s introduction was engaging and well-written, though the demo felt a bit short.  After that demo, Square Enix offered up a survey to help improve and strengthen the game before release.

After nearly 50,000 survey responses, another demo was released a few days ago on June 14th.  Dubbed the Octopath Traveler Prologue Demo, it offers a larger sampling of what’s to come in the full game.  Offering up a three-hour dive into the beginning of the game, the demo allows you to choose the protagonist that suits your fancy and work through their opening scenarios as well as some of the preliminary areas of the game’s world of Orsterra.  While I still have an hour or so left to my demo, I wanted to get down some of my impressions regarding how my experience has been with the demo so far.

From the character select screen, I chose to follow the story of Ophilia, a cleric from the Frostlands who ends up starting a pilgrimage due to a twist of fate concerning her monastery.  While the set-up isn’t the most original plotline, it does offer a lot of information regarding Ophilia and the characters she is related to, along with the town and people within it.  The church is clearly a strong and positive facet of the area, and Ophilia appears to be a respected figure among the community.

Given that everyone has a special talent that they use in the overworld, this respect for Ophilia and her station plays in nicely to her ability known to ‘Guide’.  Much like Primrose’s ‘Allure’ skill in the original demo, Ophilia can approach certain NPCs and interact with them with an alternate action that will request the character accompany her- which they will if she is of a high enough level.  While in battle, she can then ‘Summon’ them, which will bring them in as a temporary party member who will attack, heal or perform other actions before disappearing after a few turns.
Not only is this a unique feature, but it really helps the common issue that healer types have when they start a game solo in that battles usually feel like they take too long given their focus on magic rather than physical offense.  My usual issue was addressed pretty early on, though I’m interested to see how relevant it is once you’ve leveled up to the point of having a full and competent party.

After an hour or so, I reached the climax of Ophilia’s scenario which also involved the requisite boss battle.  While the battle was difficult, it was nothing I felt overwhelmed by.  Having a townsperson to summon- who would randomly heal Ophilia and attack- left me more time to strategize how to exploit the boss’ weak points.  Given the turn-based nature of battles, exploiting weaknesses is important.  If you attack an enemy with its weakness, there is a chance of inflicting a ‘break’ which will demolish their next turn card and lower their defense until they recover.

The other tactic in battle is akin to Bravely Default but does it much more effectively, at least in my opinion.  Each turn, you gain a ‘Burst’ point.  Once you’ve accrued enough of these points, you can charge attacks.  With normal attacks, this means issuing a number of normal attacks equal to the burst points you use (a maximum of four at a time).  When used with a special attack, it multiplies the power of that attack instead.  Pairing these bursts with breaking your enemy is the best way to make battles turn in your favor and that fact that it’s easy to raise your burst level makes strategizing feel a lot more manageable.  To be honest, I didn’t gel as much with the battle system in Bravely Default as I would have liked, but if it has been more like this, it would have felt a little less cumbersome.  I know the battle system in Bravely was highly regarded by a lot of gamers, though, so the streamlining may not be a clincher to everyone else.

Outside of that battle, I’ve gotten Ophilia to the next town and met another of the protagonists, a scholar name Cyrus.  Upon speaking with him, the game informed me that to have him join, I would need to play through his prologue.  This is where I feel like the game took a misstep.  It’s not because I’m not interested.  Going into another 45 minutes or so of each character’s backstory and playing through their prologues feels like it really breaks up the action.  While I’m sure the stories all tie together into the main narrative, as well, if the full game handles this the same way, this sort of tanks the replayability of the game and makes it feel less like I picked a primary character.  It feels more like I picked a starting point.  It’s still interesting but leaves a strange taste in my mouth about the whole choice in the first place.

Despite that qualm I have with the game, I’m honestly still jazzed that the release date is coming up fast.  The game is gorgeous and the music is just as much so.  While I’m not entirely sure on what the overarching plot is going to be yet, the plots I’ve gotten to look at for Ophilia and Cyrus (and Primrose, if things haven’t changed much from the original demo) have gotten me intrigued in how they will tie together ultimately.  I’m glad that it seems like data from this demo will be able to be transferred to the full game and while a little bit of the content feels like padding, I’m still satisfied with how much I’ve experienced over the course of two hours.

If anything changes in my third hour, I’ll definitely update.  Right now, though, I’d have to say that I think Octopath Traveler is living up the hype it’s been gaining.  Have any of you played it?  Do you have any thoughts?  Feel free to let me know in the comments or over on Twitter!

Octopath Church

Back and Forth, The Dance Goes On – Sega Genesis – Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom – 1991

Phantasy Star III Title

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom
Sega Genesis
Sega
Genre: Sci-Fi Role-Playing
1991

There are elements that a series needs to hold its own after a number of iterations.  Looking at franchises like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Breath of Fire– and yes, Phantasy Star- there is always a need for new mechanics, more engaging stories, and overall higher quality content to justify to the fans that they should return to your series.  The first entry is an introduction; a work that needs to be pushed through its outward presentation before gamers will give it a whirl.  The second entry is a proving ground, where a series shows that it can deliver lightning in the same place again with a few upgrades here and there.

The third entry is the experiment.  With Final Fantasy, we got interchangeable classes.  With Dragon Quest, the ability to create your own party with their own quirks.  With Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom, there was a solid jumping off point with the improvements that the second game offered over the first, but there were still some mechanics that could use a little work for one reason or another.  Given the success of the series thus far and being the first RPG series on the Sega system, it was imperative for the third Phantasy Star to dig in its heels and stake its claim to continue on successfully.  

While we know that Phantasy Star IV released, leading one to believe that part three can’t have done too poorly, how exactly does Phantasy Star III stand up to the rest of the series?  Given how fondly people usually speak about the second and fourth pieces of the mainline series, it’s interesting to see the evolution into the third and where it hits and misses the targets set up by prior entries.

If you’d like, feel free to check out my prior analysis of Phantasy Star and Phantasy Star II before reading up on this entry!

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A Deeper Shade of Inky Black – Sega Genesis – Phantasy Star II – 1990

Phantasy Star II Title

Phantasy Star II
Sega Genesis
Sega
Genre: Sci-Fi Role Playing
1990

Having recently played through the original Phantasy Star recently, I can say that it took a lot of steps to revolutionize role-playing games and was quite ambitious for the time.  You can see my impressions on that game here.  At the time, the market wasn’t as saturated as it is now, and while the premier role-playing games of the time can be difficult to go back to for a number of reasons, they tend to conjure up feelings of nostalgia and warm feelings of falling in love with a genre that was really beginning to flourish in the West.

Phantasy Star II has a few things going for it over the original from the beginning- Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy came out around the time so the market was starting to come into its own.  Not to mention the fact that its predecessor had been well reviewed by critics and the public alike.

Having had a couple of years to perfect and enhance the experience for their fans, how does the second entry to the series fare not only against the test of time but against the previous entry?

As a note, I’m going to try to delineate certain discussion points for future reviews to keep them segmented and outline where spoilers might be.  It may be expected, but given that this is a sequel related to the original, there may be spoilers throughout.

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Twitter Topic – What is Your Favorite Game for Every Year You’ve Been Alive?

mario and luigi with babies

Everyone loves talking about their favorite games.  That is, after all, part of what being a ‘favorite’ is all about.  Recently on Twitter, some folks came up with an idea: “what are your favorite games from each year you’ve been alive?”

Sure.  I can talk about 30+ games.  I love games.  I know what my favorite things are.  I thought to myself how simple this could be.

I was also terribly wrong.

Filtering through the lists of games that came out from each year, I was a little stumped in the early years, and by the time I got to the Super Nintendo days, I had to slough off a lot of games to narrow them down to my favorite for that year.

Special thanks to The Well-Red Mage (whose awesome site is here and well worth a visit once you’re done here) for doing his own list that inspired me on to do mine!

Now, without rambling on any further, my list of favorites games from each year I’ve been on this Earth-

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