Saturday, June 16, 2018

Rakuen (Review)

I don't usually post 'traditional' reviews on this blog, but I really wanted to share my thoughts on this game with you. I posted this review on Steam first, but felt it would be worth uploading here as well.

Rakuen is a beautiful adventure/puzzle game about a Boy and his Mom. The Boy has to stay in the hospital, but using a special storybook, his Mom shows him the way into the magical world of Morizora's Forest. This game is played from a top down perspective like an RPG Maker game.


I don't want to spoil anything, but I will offer a general overview: The hospitalized Boy visits Morizora's Forest in hopes of getting a wish from the forest guardian Morizora. But to get his wish, he needs to help the other patients resolve their problems by going through their history and finding out what led them to where they are. As a result, the story is filled to the brim with charming and interesting characters who you really get to know as you work to help them out. And of course, there are plenty of emotional moments. There are lines that'll make you laugh, and there are lines that'll hit you like a punch in the gut. If you're looking for a story with powerful emotions across the board, look no further.


Having heard Laura Shigihara's work in Plants vs. Zombies and To The Moon, I had lofty expectations for the soundtrack, but even those were surpassed. The soundtrack is filled to the brim with beautiful tracks, from atmospheric pieces to melodies that will get the most stoic people teary eyed. Not only are Laura's amazing vocals present, she has also brought in several guest vocalists who all perform their pieces admirably as well.

The visuals are also strong, with plenty of recognizable character designs and vibrant areas. The visuals and story work together in smart ways, too; the colors in the hospital are much more desaturated than the bright colors of Morizora's Forest, for example.

My only minor problem, if you can even call it that, is that some characters in Morizora's Forest don't have many character portraits. Tony Bear could have used maybe one more portrait, just to shake it up. Not a completely unique pose, just a few more facial expressions, like his human counterpart.


Rakuen mostly revolves around exploration with some light puzzle solving. Fortunately, the puzzles generally tie into the story and history of the characters you are helping out. They are usually not very challenging but offer a nice change of pace. Some areas are reminiscent of classic RPG Maker horror games like Ib and The Crooked Man in how they require you to figure out the environment and its interacting pieces.

My one minor problem with the gameplay, I would say, is that the game asks if you want to look at or read something a bit too often. Sometimes you'll be looking at an item with two separate 'do you want to read it?' or 'do you want to look?' questions. I understand why this is - there are lots of things to read, and you don't want to accidentally read the same thing twice, but in that case it might have been better to separate it into two interactable items instead.


Rakuen is a beautiful game with amazing visuals and music as well as a powerful story, with plenty of fantastical and frightening places to explore. Any complaints I could have are too minor to make a difference. Recommended for everyone.

Try it here:

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ace Attorney and the Lion Lilies: Parental Bonds #1

This article will spoil just about everything there is to spoil about the Ace Attorney series, including Ace Attorney Investigations 2. If you haven't played them yet, I strongly recommend that you do so first. I will be using names from AAI2's unofficial fan translation for this article.

Back in 2011, Capcom released Gyakuten Kenji 2, also known as Ace Attorney Investigations 2: Prosecutor's Path. Though it never got an official English release, people who played the game or its fan translation quickly came to agree that it was one of the series' best. 

The bond between parents and their children was a prevalent theme in Ace Attorney Investigations 2. This inspired me to look into just how present the theme really is in the game as well as the games that came before it. I'm going to start with the latter and build towards AAI2. Let's go on a quick journey through the series and pay homage to the moms and dads of Ace Attorney.

The Misty Circumstances of DL-6

The DL-6 incident is a pivotal moment for the Ace Attorney series, the ramifications of which are felt throughout the entire series. The theme of parental bonds is strongly present in this case, most obviously because it is the case in which Miles Edgeworth's father, Gregory Edgeworth, was killed. The killer, Manfred von Karma, then takes Miles under his wing and raises him to stray from his father's path. Gregory Edgeworth was a righteous defense attorney who sought the truth, but Manfred von Karma raises Miles to be a prosecutor whose main goal is to achieve 'guilty' verdicts.

This part of Miles Edgeworth's story is a very important factor in understanding the brilliance of AAI2, but another part of DL-6 isn't talked about as much: The involvement of Misty Fey, Maya's mother. Just as Miles inherits his father's final case in The Inherited Turnabout, Maya - in a sense - inherits DL-6 from her mother.

Misty Fey channeled Gregory Edgeworth, but the person she then accused of his murder turned out to be innocent. This failure is what caused the Fey family to lose much its reputation and caused Misty to go into hiding, leaving Maya to pick up the pieces. And she does indeed, getting herself held in contempt of court just to save Edgeworth and stealing the final piece of evidence back from Von Karma.

In supporting Phoenix, she succeeds where her mother failed. Maya's support is so impactful that, according to Gumshoe, it made Edgeworth's lip tremble.

I think it's very powerful that Maya gets to finish what her mother once started by wrapping up DL-6 for the better.

Morgan Fey, Worst Mother Ever 

The Fey family is shown to be quite dysfunctional, and Morgan Fey the clearest example. She tries to frame Maya for a murder to establish her daugher, Pearl, as the new Master of the Kurain Channeling Technique. If we did top 10 lists on this blog, Morgan Fey would easily earn the top spot in a 'top 10 bad parents.' One of her children ends up as a serial killer and is executed, another becomes an accomplice to murder and is arrested and she very nearly makes a murderer of Pearl as well. Her attempt to use Pearl as a tool to get back at Misty is what sets the events of Bridge to the Turnabout in motion and leads to the untimely death of Maya's mother. 

The difference between Morgan and Misty is quite apparent. Misty came out of hiding to protect her daughter and her niece, and ends up dying to achieve that end. Morgan used her daughter as tool to channel her other deceased daughter in an effort to kill her niece for completely selfish reasons. 

Maya and her mother had become estranged, but at the very end, it's revealed that the talisman Misty always carried - the thing that gave her strength - was a picture of her two daughters when they were young.

And the Rest

The Fey family plays an important part in the series' overarching storyline, but there are many more parental figures on a smaller scale. They don't impact Ace Attorney Investigations 2, so I'll keep this short and sweet.

- Turnabout Big Top's Russell Berry is Regina Berry's father as well as a father figure to Acro and Bat. He dies by walking into a trap intended for his daughter.

- Viola Cadaverini, a minor character in Recipe for Turnabout, is considered a threat by Furio Tigre due to her doting grandfather Bruto. Her grandfather throwing his weight around is the only reason Furio pays for her life saving surgery.

- Zak Gramarye is Trucy's father and an all around terrible person. He abandons her, leaving Phoenix to raise her instead.

- Lamiroir is Apollo and Trucy's mother, but she has lost her memory. As of yet, Phoenix still hasn't revealed this fact to Apollo and Trucy.

- Drew and Vera Misham are forgers, though Vera does most of the work. They are both poisoned, but only Vera survives. 

- Similarly, Wocky Kitaki's parents from Turnabout Corner ask Apollo to defend him. Interestingly, Wocky also needs life saving surgery.

Hidden in Plain View

And that ultimately brings us to Ace Attorney Investigations 2.

Ace Attorney Investigations 2's theme of the bond between parent and child is presented in an interesting way. To those who have finished the game, it should be obvious that such a theme was prevalent throughout the whole game, yet someone experiencing the game for the first time might not realize it until they reach the final case. The story focuses mainly on Edgeworth's struggle on the Prosecutor's Path, which his father's position as a defense attorney plays a major role in, but other characters' bonds between their children or parents are only discussed later.

In Ace Attorney Investigations 2's fifth and final case, 'The Grand Turnabout,' all unsolved affairs and out-of-place elements from past cases are suddenly revealed to be significant. This is in no small part because it reveals many parent-child relationships that had been hidden thus far, like Justine's adopted son John. It really solidifies the presence of this theme by introducing a flower, the Lion Lilies, which are explicitly stated to represent the bond between parent and child.

source: ZSlyzer on YouTube

But I want to start from the beginning of the game to really explain just how well AAI2 plays with this theme that has long been present in the series. Please join me in the next part when we examine the theme of parental bond in Ace Attorney Investigations 2, case by case.

Thinking about helping me in my journey analysing and writing about games? Please consider supporting me on Patreon!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Doki Doki Literature Club - Narrative Empowered By Its Genre

In my last article, I shared my summary and thoughts on Doki Doki Literature Club. In this article,  I'll examine in-depth how Doki Doki Literature Club's approach to a 'meta narrative' is something only a visual novel could do.

This article was written with the assumption that the reader knows and understands Doki Doki Literature Club. There will be many spoilers past this point, so please consider playing the game for free on Steam before reading this. There are also spoilers for EarthBound, Undertale and OneShot.


Allow me to get straight to the point: Doki Doki Literature Club is a dating sim wherein one of the characters, who is not a romantic option to the player, becomes aware she's in a game and that her role is simply that of a supporting character. This realization frustrates her to the point of manipulating and eventually deleting the other characters from the game's folder, just so she can have an "ending" with the player. Her manipulation of the characters leads to many glitches, disturbing situations and horrific imagery, such as Sayori and Yuri ending their own lives. To me, this represents the best 'meta narrative' I've seen in a game as of yet. To explain why, please allow me to discuss a few other examples.

Games acknowledging the fact that they are indeed games, being played by a player, have existed for some time.

The Onett police force offers some quality advice.

Many games over the years have made a point of breaking the fourth wall, generally for the sake of comedy, but sometimes as a part of their story as well. EarthBound is a good example of a game that does both, and its finale includes a special moment where the player is acknowledged as separate from the game. Please be aware that this is a spoiler, but you can view this particular moment here. EarthBound was extraordinary in how it reached out to the player, but it was limited by its technology. It had to ask for the player's real name at some point in the story, even if it did so in a subtle way and never mentioned it again until the end.

As technology marched on, so too did games find new ways to reach out to the player, or to acknowledge and make use of the medium they were part of. To name two good examples, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes.

Eternal Darkness is a horror game, and one of - if not the - first game to employ a sanity mechanic. Eternal Darkness had the usual tricks we associate with a sanity mechanic up its sleeve, such as whispers and distorting visuals, but it also messed with the player directly by pretending to lower the volume, unplugging the controller or switching the channel.

Unfortunately, this hasn't aged very well.

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is a stealth game starring Solid Snake. There are a lot of strange characters in the game, but Psycho Mantis is one a lot of people will remember, mostly because he activates the rumble on your controller and tells you about the contents of your memory card. He does this on top of also pretending to change the channel and requiring you to move your controller to a different port to defeat him.

Psycho Mantis is judgmental about your taste in games.

The Metal Gear Solid example is particularly strong because the game uses the controller and memory card to its advantage, just to mess with the player. There have been other examples of games using the technology at their disposal to acknowledge or mess with the player, but these have usually been less explicit.

In recent years, we've also seen more and more indie games find creative ways to use the medium and its technology. A particularly popular example was 2015's Undertale, which parodied and questioned the conventions of RPGs and remembered certain player decisions, even if they hadn't been saved explicitly.

Flowey will know if you took a life, whether you saved or not.

Undertale's is a world where it actually means something to SAVE and LOAD. These aren't merely game functions, separate from the story, but a very real power that the player - not the main character - has as a part of the story.

Lesser known but even more appropriate to mention is OneShot. Much more explicitly than in most other games, the player and protagonist are acknowledged as separate entities. You, the player, are considered God, and Niko, the protagonist, is seen as your chosen Messiah. Niko will even talk to the player and ask him or her questions. OneShot sometimes communicates to you through error messages, and to solve some of its puzzles, you will need to actually look for files on your PC or do something with the game window. That's just scratching the surface of what OneShot has to offer, as it included some of the most inventive puzzles I've ever seen.

OneShot isn't afraid to poke fun at you if you try to solve puzzles without thinking them through.

So, what does all of this have to do with Doki Doki Literature Club? To explain that, I'll go over my examples one more time. EarthBound and Undertale reached out to the player to enhance their narrative. Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid used the technology at their disposal to startle or poke fun at the player. Lastly, OneShot spoke to the player and used technology because both its story and puzzles were entirely centered around this concept of the game being a game running on the player's computer.

Though they almost couldn't be more different, in my mind OneShot and Doki Doki Literature Club are closest together when it comes to their use of a 'meta narrative.' Both games feature an entity within the game that becomes aware and begins to interfere with the player and other characters. Both games end on a sour note but can then be replayed with a radically different story. In both games, glitches occur as part of the story. Both games feature a pivotal moment where the player must interact with the characters' files on their computer. Now, these are shallow parallels, but those are simply the reasons why I associate the games in my mind.

So why did I state that I find Doki Doki Literature Club to have the best implementation of a meta narrative? It's finally time to bring up the topic of genre. Breaking the fourth wall or calling the player by name is great, but any game can be self aware or self referential. What I was personally looking for in games that used some kind of meta narrative was:

1. The meta narrative plays a critical part in the story or makes up the entirety.
2. The meta narrative interacts with the gameplay in a meaningful way.

OneShot met these standards, but I felt like there was something missing. OneShot's moment to moment gameplay very much feels like a canvas for its meta narrative. The actual game has little gameplay beyond top down exploration. This, of course, is perfectly fine, but it also means that the game has no genre or genre conventions to play with. The complexity and novelty of its meta elements surpassed Undertale's, but the way said elements tied into the story and particularly the gameplay did not.

confused cat noises

This is where Doki Doki Literature Club picks up the slack. The game is very explicitly a dating sim, a fact it smartly uses to set expectations in the first act which it then proceeds to break later. In fact, you're probably not even aware that Doki Doki Literature Club has any kind of meta narrative until you reach the end of act 1 and witness Sayori's suicide and subsequent deletion.  

In other words, the meta narrative plays a critical part in the story, but the game only reveals this once you're in deep. 

For this reason, tt's a treat to replay the first act of Doki Doki Literature Club. Many of the things you see pushed to their extremes in Act 2 are hinted at in Act 1. Sayori and Monika's poems are particularly good examples, with the former demonstrating her depression and the latter showing her awareness that she's part of a game.

Of course, defying expectations is one thing, but it's the content of the narrative itself that truly elevates Doki Doki Literature Club. Many of the aforementioned meta narratives or puzzles could feasibly be tacked onto other games without too many changes, but DDLC's narrative cannot. Monika's frustration is a direct result of the fact that she's a supporting character in a dating sim, without a route for the player to pursue her. It is for this reason that she ends up changing the other characters to make the player dislike them and even taking away the player's options. At the very end, she even hijacks the poem creation mechanic so you can write a poem all about her.

In other words, the meta narrative interacts with the gameplay in a meaningful way that could only work with this specific genre. 

In conclusion, a lot of games have had a lot of great ideas about having their story or gameplay reach outside the boundaries of their software, but none did it in a way that had its genre cleverly tie into the meta part of its narrative and gameplay. None, that is, until Dan Salvato created Doki Doki Literature Club, where all the fourth wall breaking events are a consequence of an in-game character's frustration with the game and its genre conventions. Because the game establishes the formula of its gameplay and story in the first act, the changes in act 2 are all the more frightening and interesting. 


Thanks for taking the time to read my personal thoughts on the meta narrative of Doki Doki Literature Club and various other games. Did I articulate my point well? Or wasn't I making much sense? Please feel free to post your own thoughts in the comments.


"You know..."
"This is just some kind of tacky romance game, right?"
"I kinda have to ask..."
"...What made you consider even playing in the first place?"
"Were you that lonely?"
"I feel a little bad for you..."
"But I guess everything worked out perfectly in the end, for both of us."
"I got to meet you, and you're not lonely anymore..."
"I can't help but feel like this was fate."
"Don't you feel that way too?"
"I'm so happy we have this ending together."


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Some Thoughts on 'Doki Doki Literature Club!'

I generally use this blog to write longer articles analyzing certain details I like about games, but I'd like to change it up a bit and just offer my general thoughts on this remarkable visual novel. I may follow up with a more in-depth article in the future. I strongly recommend that you play it before reading this or any other material, since it is completely free:

Even if you don't mind the spoilers, we will be discussing a few disturbing topics. 

With that out of way, let's get started!

Doki Doki Literature Club! appears, on the surface, to be a pretty normal dating sim. Your only clue that something isn't right - if no one spoiled it for you - is a content warning near the start. Once you pass it, nothing could make you believe you're playing anything but a sweet little dating sim. Of course, you'll remember that content warning and the rumors you've heard and won't trust the game at first. But Doki Doki has a lot of tricks up its sleave to catch you off guard, no matter how well prepared you believe yourself to be.

Doki Doki sets up its story like any dating sim might, starting with a schoolday that our featureless protagonist begins with his childhood friend. She coaxes him into joining the literature club, causing him to be surrounded by 4 girls, 3 of which are romantic options in the game. Sayori is the aforementioned childhood friend, Natsuki is a rude and passionate girl who secretly loves cute things and Yuri is a shy and polite girl who not-so-secretly loves horror and dark subject matter. Monika is the friendly but somewhat passive leader of the literature club. You may notice that these girls generally fit into common anime and manga tropes. Natsuki, for instance, is a very clear example of a tsundere and the game even acknowledges this fact. Pointing out these tropes is not intended as a condemnation, as tropes are merely tools and how they're used, not if they're used, is decisive.

From left to right: Sayori, Natsuki, Yuri.

The skeptical player may expect the tropes to quickly give way to a horror experience of some kind, but as the story progresses the characters are fleshed out properly with unique illustrations for each character's 'route.' The game even has a unique system whereby, at the end of an in-game day, the player has to "write" a poem by selecting 20 words or subjects. Each word or subject appeals to a different girl, so your word choice will affect which of the girls will be most impressed with your work. Having well established characters and a distinctive mechanic very effectively sells Doki Doki as the cute dating sim it always seemed to be.

Doki Doki Literature Club continues its harmless streak for a long time. Even for a fast reader who isn't skipping anything, it may still take about an hour to reach the game's 'turning point.' It would, however, be unfair to claim that it takes an hour for the game to give you any clues. The girls' poems say a lot upon reflection, and Sayori's poems in particular. Depending on how much you read into her words, her eventual suicide will be more or less expected.

So, what started out as a sweet dating sim about poetry ended up taking a very dark turn where a character who had been struggling with depression commits suicide. It's a powerful twist and quite thought provoking, but skeptical players probably weren't too surprised. The game's presentation and mechanics may have lulled them into a sense of security, but as soon as the topic of depression came up, one could guess what might happen next.

Except, while Sayori's suicide marks the turning point, it's only the beginning of what lurks beyond the surface of Doki Doki Literature Club. As the player sees Sayori's hanging body, the game shows visual glitches and even programming errors before abruptly announcing 'END' and kicking you back to the title screen. Not only have all the player's files now been deleted, Sayori's picture on the title screen has been replaced with a glitchy mess and the 'new game' button is similarly unreadable. It's very obvious now that a lot more is going on in this game than just a dating sim with a dark twist at the end.

Unsettling glitches.

If the player gathers his or her courage and starts a new game, they'll start the story again... but in this version, Sayori never existed and the player character is directly invited to the literature club by Monika. The story seems quite similar, but it would be a mistake to simply skip through the text. The new playthrough is riddled with strange visual glitches and some of the character dialogue has been replaced with "interesting" lines that exaggerate the character's quirks.

Yuri's dark perspective becomes a lot more explicit.

Yuri and Natsuki, who had a passionate but friendly rivalry in the initial playthrough, interact in a much more aggressive way. This is notably the first time the game actually begins to use foul language; on a first playthrough the game's language is squeaky clean.

The tonal shift from the entire first playthrough is shocking and very effective.

And it's not just the character's tone or dialogue - many expectations that were set with the initial playthrough are turned on their head. On top of visual glitches, there are unusual zooms, distortions and filters. The text box can get interrupted mid-line and the player even receives unsettling "tutorial" messages. This contrasts strongly with the more static, traditional presentation the game maintains during the initial playthrough.

But what does all that amount to? To put it one way, meta horror or horror that breaks the fourth wall. Doki Doki Literature Club breaks your expectation of a visual novel by adding a dark twist. But then it breaks your expectation of the twist by adding a meta layer to it where the dead character is now deleted from the game and it's up to you to discover why, how and by who.

Recently, games like Undertale and Oneshot have used the world outside the confines of the game to strengthen their story and gameplay. Many games have broken the fourth wall over the years, often in the name of comedy, and the cult hit Eternal Darkness even used the fourth wall as its canvas for horror. But Doki Doki Literature Club's 'meta narrative' could only work for a visual novel, and in fact, could only ever work for a dating sim specifically. 

CONCLUSION (kind of):

Doki Doki Literature Club subverts your expectations not once, not twice, but many times. Its initial fun and charm make way for a depressing twist, followed by a terrifying mystery as you replay the game with one fewer character and completely different rules for the writing, visuals and tone. Clean writing becomes rough, with much more swearing and lots of glitched text. Static visuals with only subtle animations are replaced with unsettling zooms, filters and little animations. Some parts fast forward and some rewind, completely outside your control. The way it sets its expectations and then subverts them could only ever happen in a visual novel, and its 'meta narrative' where characters are changed or even deleted ties into this.

In a follow up article, I'll explain just why Doki Doki's 'meta horror' and 'meta narrative' is so well designed and so perfectly suited to a visual novel. I hope you'll join me for that one, but until then... I hope you have a great day! 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017



This month, I've finally gotten my blog on the rails again. It reminded me of how much I love to write! And then I realized that sooner or later, my schedule will push it right back out of my life again. Instead of letting that get me down, I've thought of a possible solution: Patreon.

I have a lot of doubts about this - I don't have a consistent readership outside of my friends, and I'm not sure if there is a great market for this sort of thing - but why not give it a shot? It'll help me support my writing efforts and build and involve a community. You can check it out right here:

I won't ever put articles behind a paywall, but you can find funny background stories and anecdotes if you decide to pledge!

Right, that's it for this update. We'll get back to Color Splash very soon!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Paper Mario: Color Splash Critique #1 - Streamlined, Yet Cumbersome

I recently finally got a chance to try Paper Mario: Color Splash. I've been a fan of the series from the very beginning, so I was interested to see the changes and how informed they are (or aren't) by proper game design. I want to make it clear that Color Splash is a fun game with a beautiful presentation, and this critique isn't intended to condemn all the work that went into it. In this first article, I'll examine my main problem with the game, the battle system, and how it tries and fails to streamline the series' formula.

Paper Mario: Color Splash's battle system is, in a word, odd. Rather than allowing the character a set amount of moves to strategize with, the player instead relies on a finite set of cards acquired or bought in the overworld. In that sense this is very much an evolution of the battle system present in Paper Mario: Sticker Star.

There really is no in game justification for why Mario requires cards to use the jump and hammer he is naturally armed with, but the lack of an in-world explanation doesn't necessarily condemn the battle system - only the degree to which it meets its intended goal does.

So what is its intended goal? It seems to me that Intelligent Systems attempted to streamline and simplify battles. Your average battle in Paper Mario: Color Splash takes one or two turns at most, for a few reasons: All attacks do a lot of damage (and that includes the enemies') and Mario can perform many actions in a one go. To name an extreme example: If you were two play 2 'worn-out hammer x 5' cards, you would be doing 10 hammer attacks in a single turn. You wouldn't be interrupted by any menus, everything would simply come down to your timing until your cards have run out of paint.

I understand and respect the basic idea of this system. You could potentially face down a tough group of enemies, and by choosing just the right cards in just the right order, defeat them before they land a hit on you. You can pack the strategy of what prior games would do in multiple turns, in just one. To further support this, the game always takes special note if you get through a battle without taking any damage and rewards you for it with a 'perfect bonus.'

That doesn't sound so bad, does it? But that's just the concept. Let's talk about the execution.

To choose your cards in Paper Mario: Color Splash, you are required to look down at the Wii U Gamepad. From there, you can choose your cards from a list. Unfortunately, however, the UI for selecting cards was obviously not designed with the sheer number of cards in mind. You might find yourself awkwardly dragging past a dozen of the same kind of card before finally finding what you want, even if you use the game's 'organize' button. Next, you have to drag said card - and later, cards - up to its spot to confirm you want to use it. Sounds pretty cumbersome, right? But it only gets worse.

Once you have selected your cards and confirmed your selection as a separate action, the game then requires you to paint in the cards. Even if all cards you selected were pre-filled, which they thankfully can be, the game still shows this screen and requires you to confirm that you are done painting the cards. If they weren't, you are expected to hold down on each card for a while to paint it. It's slow and feels extremely unnecessary. Why have a step deciding the strength of your cards when the cards themselves already do this? You have worn-out hammers, ordinary hammers and even big and giant hammers; and you can find and buy them at will. Other cards, like the jump, are much the same. Was the extra variable and the extra time it costs to fill in the cards really necessary or useful? Most of the time, you'll want to fill the entire card, since you're unlikely to ever run out of paint anyway. On top of that, Mario's attacks don't do a clear number of damage, so it's impossible to use an "informed" amount of paint.

So after making you find, select, drag, confirm, color and confirm your cards again, the game decides to waste your time just once more by forcing you to drag the cards up. After that, you're finally in business, and can perform Mario's attacks with their Action Commands as you would in any other Paper Mario.*

The underlying thought of the dragging is cute - you're sliding the cards from your Wii U screen up to your television - but the sheer amount of dragging and selecting actions the game asks you to take every turn makes me think they never tested it for extended periods of time.

Compare this to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, where it'll never take more than three button presses to start an attack - and it lets you actually select the enemy you want to attack, whereas Color Splash simply attacks the enemies in order, with the first card attacking the first enemy, and so on. Regardless of how many cards are at your disposal, it ends up limiting the player's choices in the end. In the end, the vast majority of them are simple variations of the hammer and jump attack.

In conclusion, Paper Mario: Color Splash had a good idea to streamline battles into intricately planned out turns, but the poor implementation of the Wii U Screen, cards and paint make it so cumbersome that each battle ends up taking an unnecessary amount of effort. The system absolutely does not lend itself for the amount of battles and how repetitive they are. Paper Mario: Color Splash, like its predecessor, tries and fails to streamline the perfectly convenient battle system of Paper Mario 1 and 2.

In the next article, 'Overworld Joys and Overworld Woes,' I'll discuss the overworld you navigate in Color Splash outside of battles. Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to your feedback.

* Update: On Reddit, I received a reaction about something I glossed over because I was too focused on the interface itself. In Paper Mario Color Splash, the Action Commands are almost exclusively timed button presses. In the first and second game, the Hammer Action Command worked by tilting the control stick, and there were a variation of Action Commands and stylish moves on top of that. This is another simplification that ends up making the battle system more tedious and monotonous than it could have been. Thanks for pointing this out, /u/rendumguy!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Breath of the Wild Discussion: A Post-Apocalypse Without Murder?

This article will contain spoilers from various games in the series, including Breath of the Wild, so read at your own discretion!

Back in March, Nintendo surprised the industry with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a huge open-world game and a complete change in direction for the series. The game has many merits, but today I'd like to discuss a strange rule the game seems to stick with: Link isn't allowed to kill anything that is - or looks - human. 

Breath of the Wild's world is populated with many monsters such as Bokoblins, Moblins, Lizalfos, Chuchus and Lynels. But seasoned fans of the series will notice a few fan favorites are missing: Poes, Gibdos, ReDeads, Stalfos and Stalchildren, for example.

ReDead from Ocarina of Time 3D. Source:

What do these enemies have in common? They are all undead people. (Though Nintendo has admittedly tried to retcon the ReDead into being a magical, non human creature.) Indeed, though Breath of the Wild has tension and atmosphere, it very rarely engages with the dark locations and enemy designs that Majora's Mask, Twilight Princess or even Ocarina of Time dealt with.

At this point, you may question the premise, pointing out that the absense of the aforementioned enemies simply resulted from Nintendo's choice to steer away from disturbing locations and enemies, and not actually a problem with killing humanoid enemies specifically. However, considering which enemies are in the game, the problem with this argument becomes clear: most common enemies have a 'Stal', or skeletal, equivalent.

Link fights a Stalnox. Source: Robinotta on YouTube

In other words, Nintendo had no problem involving undead skeletal enemies... so long as they weren't human or Hylian. On top of Stalnoxes, Breath of the Wild includes Stalkoblins, Stalmoblins and Stalizalfos, but the classic Stalfos and Stalchild - humanoid skeletons - are missing.

However, Breath of the Wild actually does have humanoid enemies. It's time to address the elephant in the room: The Yiga Clan.

Link is ambushed by a Yiga Clan assassin. Source: DivDee on YouTube

The Yiga Clan, though masked, are confirmed to be Sheikah defectors and thus part of the same race of people, and Link is able to fight them. However, the way these fights end proves the original premise furter: unlike monster enemies, which visibly die and drop guts and teeth, people of the Yiga Clan teleport away from Link when defeated, dropping only Mighty Bananas and money. They are completely unique in this regard.

The one exception is Master Kohga, who does seem to die after you defeat him.

Master Kohga in all his splendor. Source: Zelda Gamepedia

But rather than having Link strike him down, in the cutscene after his battle, Kohga brings about his own demise by summoning a large metal sphere which ends up pushing him into a chasm. Words don't do it justice; You can view the clip here.

And even Ganon himself, whose human form Ganondorf met a grisly end in Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, has no such form in this game. Instead, his first form is a monstrosity with a vaguely human head.

Calamity Ganon. Source: Boss Fight Database on YouTube

Interestingly, though thousands must've died in the events leading up to Breath of the Wild, Link isn't allowed to seriously harm any human being, alive or undead. Human enemies are kept to a minimum, with even their skeletons replaced by those of standard enemies, and human enemies that do appear aren't killed. That's why I think Nintendo consciously decided that Link wasn't allowed to kill any human in Breath of the Wild. 

That's my conclusion from these design choices, but I could be completely wrong. I'm very interested to hear your thoughts on why Nintendo made these choices, and whether or not you feel there is any meaning to them at all. Depending on responses, I may write a follow up to address the best arguments and theories.