Tag Archives: RPGMaker

2019 Game Review Haiku, #12 – Once Upon a Spirit

Crow steals child’s soul
Switch to spirit realm, find it
Could use editing

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

LISA sadistically plays with your emotions and expectations

I’ve only seen Mad Max: Fury Road in terms of the dystopian action series, but it’s possibly one of my favorite post-apocalyptic worlds, even if it is ultimately the most deranged and harshest on its people. LISA reminds me a lot of that movie, though there is much more humor to its telling and characters, and some of that humor works well with the ultra high amount of violence and disturbing imagery…and sometimes it doesn’t gel at all. That’s okay though. In this wasteland, where pain is living, nothing can be perfect.

Right, on with it. LISA is a quirky-as-quriky-gets side-scrolling RPG in the same vein as EarthBound–which I still need to get to ugh–set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Beneath this charming and funny exterior is a world full of disgust, moral destruction, and a general theme of “that’s messed up”; in fact, the game’s full name is LISA: The Painful RPG, which is a little on the nose. Players will learn what kind of person they are by being forced to make some serious choices, which do ultimately permanently affect how the game goes. For instance, if you want to save a party member from death, you will have to sacrifice the strength of your own character, the protagonist called Brad. This might entail taking a beating for them or even chopping off a limb or two. It’s pretty rough out there in this world of no women or children and only power-thirsty men. The story follows Brad as he stumbles upon an abandoned infant, a baby girl, who is later kidnapped.

Naturally, you’ve got all the standard RPG basics to manage, such as weapons, skills, limited energy for special attacks, and numerous stats that can be improved with items, leveling up, or purchasing new equipment. The combat in LISA is turn-based, though Brad’s general attack can be changed with manual inputs to do extra damage per hit, so long as you know the right string of keys to hit to perform the combo. Over the course of the game, Brad will come in contact with a diverse cast–and I do mean diverse–of potential party members that he can recruit by doing a range of odd and random tasks, and each brings their own special personality to combat. Currently, my party consists of Terry Hintz, who is not all that useful honestly, and someone else whose name I can’t remember, but I got them to join after listening to a lot of his sad stories. It looks like there are many characters that can join your party, just like in Chrono Cross.

Items in LISA range from mundane necessities to oddities like horse jerky, sweatbands with fire damage, greasy ponchos, and kung-fu scrolls. No phoenix downs so far. Stats are tied to a character’s level and equipment found or purchased from vendors in one of the game’s many towns. Settlements and towns sometimes offer respite from the outside world with places to sleep, which recovers the entire party’s health and skill points, but also includes randomized, potentially damaging events, such as getting robbed or having a party member kidnapped. You can also save your progress in specific spots.

Generally speaking, whenever games allow me to make moral choices, such as Mass Effect or Fallout: New Vegas, I always play the good guy. Sure, being a rude dude or scoundrel can be fun when it is make believe, but there’s a serious part of me that feels sorry for causing others pain or just being a complete dick for no reason other than to get a reaction. Yes, I care about polygon or sprite-based figures that are essentially just bits of code, and I care even more about how I interact with them. LISA makes being a good guy tough, constantly driving home the notion that being selfish and heartless is the only way to survive in a world like this.

Unfortunately, I think I might be stuck, unsure of where to go next. The problem is that it isn’t often clear where next should be, but also tied to the fact that there are hidden doorways and passages everywhere, and they are exceptionally well hidden. There’s some light platforming to do in LISA, with you being able to hop up small ledges, but falling from a great height will actually damage Brad and his companions’ health. Naturally, sometimes you have to do this to progress, but I can’t seem to figure out where to go. Of course, I could always look up a walkthrough, but I feel like I’m still too early in the game to be seeking outside help. Truly, this is the greatest suffering that LISA can throw at me.

Return home to familial strangeness with Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1

I am one of those people that grew up in the ’90s reading those various More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books by Alvin Schwartz, and, yes, I was extremely disappointed when they got reissued with all new art, illustrations that did not immediately make your blood run cold and stay with you for years on end. One of my favorite short stories from these horror collections–favorite is actually a weird choice here, but I think you get what I mean–was “Harold,” which is mostly about two farmers mistreating their scarecrow and then getting their just desserts. Both the story and Stephen Gammell’s intro art for it have never left me, and I mention all this only because Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 features a scarecrow up to no good. Alas, it’s not as terrifying.

Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 is a horror-mystery, point-and-click adventure game where you must find the truth about your mother’s death. It’s free on Steam…well, this first chapter is, and it should only take you about a half hour to get through it. The police came to the conclusion that Helen Lancaster’s suicide, where she gutted herself with a kitchen knife, was due to the grief of losing her husband. However, her son, Clint Lancaster, doesn’t believe a woman as deeply religious as her mother would do such a thing and plans to investigate. As you further explore your childhood farmhouse, you’ll discover that nothing is as it seems; in fact, things are getting stranger by the minute.

Gameplay is fairly simple. You can use a mouse to click everything or use a controller…though I stuck with the keyboard mostly. Like, the up, down, left, right arrows and the enter key; I’m a relic. Item use and item combination is all automatic, which some people may like, but it results in a lot less thinking when it comes to solving puzzles. Oh, this cabinet door is stuck? I’ll just immediately use this cane from my dead grandfather to prop it open. No, no, don’t worry, I got this for you. I really didn’t want you to have to try out all the other items on it first. Again, it’s fine, if a little dumbed down. Also, a couple of items are tricky to spot, so there is a small amount of pixel hunting to deal with. Other than that, you are mostly exploring different rooms in the farmhouse and watching them change as you go, with your true goal being getting into the cellar.

Over the years, I’ve grown to dislike a many RPGMaker-made games. They all contain a similar look and menu UI, and, at first, I thought it was really neat and awesome, but I’ve grown tired of seeing the same pixel art and character portraits and start screens. It seems like the “new releases” tab on Steam, on any given day, contains at least one or two creations like this. I don’t know if Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 was made with RPGMaker, but it feels like it; that said, it has a better design to it, and I do like the small circle of light around Clint, which does obfuscate parts of the room you are exploring, leaving room for scares and surprises. The writing, while a little rote in places, does a good job of leading you along, revealing enough dribs and drabs about Clint’s parents for you to fill in the rest with your imagination.

According to the Steam page description, there are three endings to discover. I’m not sure if that is meant for Chapter 1 only or the series as a whole. Not exactly sure how different of an ending I could have conceived as I felt like I found every item and solved all the puzzles, but maybe there was something I missed. Oh well. Honestly, I would have preferred not to see the [redacted] at the end, but that’s me, an animal lover. Looks like Chapter 2 is available now, with more chapters to go down the road, but this didn’t draw me in enough to have me foaming at the mouth for more. I’ll leave Azurael’s Circle forever closed.

Help Craig escape his house and get back to making potions

craig gd impressions demo untitled 002

First, let me clear something up: Craig is a black and white game/demo for a future game that takes place on two screens. I already used the first screen for my completed haiku review, which left me with the second screen for this final impressions post; alas, the second screen is more white than black, which throws a wrench into my Grinding Down style of using big, blocky white letters atop it. That’s why the above image is green, but please understand that’s not how Craig looks after escaping his house. I’m not here to misrepresent.

In Craig, you are Craig, a long-nosed local potion maker who wants nothing more than to get to his potion shop and start his day. Unfortunately, to his horror, some hooligan has barricaded him inside his own house overnight. Thankfully, Craig is a resourceful soul and can use the materials and items inside his house to escape, though it’ll take a bit of examining and trail and error to do so. I’ll spoil this much and say you do get outside, though the next roadblock involves getting inside your locked-up shop.

It’s a point-and-click adventure game, which means you’ll be clicking…a lot. Once you click on something, a list of options appears. You can “look,” “greet,” “pull,” “use,” and do other context-specific actions, and each action results in a humorous slice of writing. Make sure you greet every single object, no matter how silly that might seem. Seriously, the writing is what makes Craig worth exploring for twenty or thirty minutes. The gameplay is fine, but you’ve done this all before, and the puzzles are fairly logical to deduce, once you figure out that you’re supposed to read the ripped up recipe in the items menu and not actually try to put it back together with some kind of adhesive. Also, if you notice a “?” attached to some item, that means you don’t have enough information yet to perform the extra command; come back later.

Craig was made in about a week by someone under the username of Pai, and though it encompasses only two screens and is more of a tech demo than anything else, the writing and characters are there. I’d love to see Craig become a full-fledged release, with a focus on creating different potions from a variety of items, as well as a personal quest to build up his manly physique. If such a thing pushes forward, I’ll be right there behind it, ready to click, more than ready to greet.

The Mirror Lied is an experiment intentionally too vague

gd final impressions the mirror lied maxresdefault

Earlier this year, I finally got with the times and played To the Moon, which I quickly followed up with its holiday mini-episode. I ate both up quickly, excitedly, and then immediately went to Freebird Games’ website to see if there was anything else to play. Turns out, yes, seeing as I had a copy of The Mirror Lied in my videogames folder for some months now. I’m guessing I never grabbed a copy of Quintessence: The Blighted Venom because I saw that it was incomplete and currently on hiatus. Too bad. Regardless, I finally got around to playing The Mirror Lied a few nights ago, and I have no idea what went down by the time credits rolled, which seems intentional, if not entirely successful.

I’m going to now give you my interpretation of The Mirror Lied‘s plot, but this could be entirely wrong. You play as Leah, a young, faceless girl living in a house all by herself. She has a friend–a bird called Birdy. Somebody keeps calling her house’s landline, telling her what to do, when all she really cares about is watering her plants, choosing the right dress to wear, and exploring the house for secrets. Eventually, she’ll escape, to the roof. Or maybe it’s all a metaphor for depression slash nuclear war slash coming of age slash menstruation. Really, I’ve got no idea, so tell me your take below in the comments.

Similar to To the Moon, this is an adventure game, where you explore your surroundings, gather items, and advance the plot. One strange mechanic here though is that you have a limited amount of time to reach the ringing phone, which makes sense from a logic standpoint, but gameplay-wise it’s just annoying. I’d be watering the magically growing plant only to suddenly learn I had five seconds to get to the phone; figuring out how to trigger the ringing a second time after missing it was hit or miss, with me forcing Leah to wander aimlessly until it happened again. It might have seemed neat on paper, but not in function. There’s also a single scenario where you have to use the inventory menu to load an empty gun full of bullets, which was clunky. Otherwise, just have Leah walk up to stuff, examine the items, and move on.

Interpretation certainly has its place in art, such as with the ending to LOST or that couple of dressed up lovers in The Shining who are clearly into some raunchy things, and videogames occasionally let you determine for yourself what you just went through. The Stanley Parable, despite having a narrator tell you every little detail, leaves plenty of room for your own take on events. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP says a lot through very little. I still occasionally ponder what LIMBO was trying to get across years later.

However, here, in The Mirror Lied, it all felt like an exercise in simply trying out mechanics and puzzles–nothing more, nothing less. A half-hearted attempt at a narrative to connect everything was provided with Leah, Birdy, and the phone calls, but the rest is left on the back-burner, because it doesn’t matter if you understand what is happening by the end, only that you got there, by figuring out how to unlock drawers, access a computer’s email network, and fill up a bucket with reddish liquid to water your ladder to freedom.

The Mirror Lied‘s developer Kan Gao stresses that it is not a horror game, that nothing will jump out at you. Can’t argue with that.

Alas, a JRPG is still a JRPG in Like Clockwork

like clockwork final impressions gd ArXigN

Look, I’m well aware of the numerous shortcomings when it comes to Japanese role-playing games. If for some reason you don’t know about any of them, allow me to recommend The Grand List of Console Roleplaying Game Clichés, which does not specifically target Japanese-only RPGS, but many of the elements on the list do overlap. Also, if you ever want to lose yourself in the Internet for a couple hours, check out the trope pages simply for Chrono Trigger, Breath of Fire, or Final Fantasy VII. You’re welcome, and I’m sorry.

Like Clockwork is a comedy RPG that likes to take these well-known tropes, bash them in the face repeatedly, wave them around victoriously for all to see, and then do things differently. It opens with the Sleepyhead Rule, wherein the main character is awoken by his mother to start his quest. However, he is quickly killed in a freak accident involving a police car, resulting in his female companion taking up the flag to finish the hero’s quest. Yup, instead of playing as the brooding, sulking introvert that everyone loves and champions because whatever, you instead play as a young woman who happened to be in the right place at the right time. And she wears actual battle armor, not a metal bikini. This is just the start of spinning those known tropes on their heads.

Made for Fuck this Jam 2014 by John Roberts and created in RPGMaker, which also birthed such interesting things like Starbot and The Stoneville Mystery, Like Clockwork looks exactly as you imagined it might, compiled of a number of recognizable sprites and shapes. To the point that uncommon elements, like a cop car or massively large troll, look instantly out of place. Either way, it’s a bright, colorful RPG world spread across a handful of screens, though more time was obviously spent on the opening town area than anywhere else. Similar to other games created in RPGMaker, you can access a pause menu for stats, skills, and other things that might not even matter, though it does make more sense in this type of environment.

As you go through the early motions of Like Clockwork, your cop car companion Tam McGleish, a rather angry Scottish Detective Inspector, will complain with every breath he takes about JRPG trope after trope, calling them out right on the spot. Eventually, he even breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the developer–and, on one occasion, cause him physical harm–in order to see things change for the better. Like when the random encounters become too much. Also, in good ol’ silly fashion, the main heroine passes out when having to make a moral choice, as if the decision is too much to handle for her frail frame. There are several other fun moments to discover that I will spill now.

All that said, it’s still a JRPG, just one that points out all the annoying bits. You must go through the annoying bits, at least once, for them to get taken away and changed into something more streamlined, modern. I found Like Clockwork to be lightly amusing, though I guess I’m not used to reading the c-word so many times, as it’s been a bit since I reread my A Song of Ice and Fire books. In actuality, I would’ve liked to play more, to get into a few more battles and level up my party, but that’s not the point here–it’s not a full game, just a snapshot of the tiresome elements of the genre. A riff. It works fine enough, but now I want to load up my years-old save data for Eternal Sonata and get my true JRPG-ing on.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #42 – Like Clockwork

2015 games completed gd like clockwork

Don’t be the hero
You start as, twist this genre
Fear the angry Scot

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.