One of the girls from Azure Dreams who totally wants me, err, Koh. You get different portrait art when the girls decide that they like you.
I'm pretty sure every gamer has that one game that they've had for years, love to pieces, and yet somehow never quite finished. AD is mine: I wasn't an experienced dungeon crawler when I got it so the game was too hard for me, I tried to pick it back up again in college but I was just too busy, and I'm finally trying to complete the damned thing now. It seems wrong to love a game this much and never finish it. I'm referring to the Playstation version, the GBC one I have yet to try.
AD is the game that taught me how much I love dungeons, specifically random dungeons with lots of stuff in them. I don't know exactly what causes it, but for some reason whenever I enter a new room in a dungeon and there's stuff on the floor, I still get excited-- "OMG free stuff! I can just take it, and no one's going to make me pay for it! And if anyone tried, I have this sword right here so I could just kill them! BWAH HAH HAH!"
Ahem, and in addition to being a damned good dungeon crawler, AD has more: It's part Roguelike, part Monster Rancher, and part wacky Japanese dating sim. Unfortunately, you cannot date the monsters and fuse the women, but that would just be too awesome. I want that for Azure Dreams 2.
Stories are pretty much unnecessary in hard-core dungeon crawlers, but AD has just as much or as little story as you need. If you want, there's much more role-playing available than any other game of this nature between chatting up the local ladies and building new attractions for your town, but you can happily ignore it if all you want to do is kill monsters. Not only that, but you can ignore the role-playing aspects and then start on them at any point in the game without missing anything. Less obviously, the monster-raising aspect of the game is also optional: it's possible to complete the game with just the main character, although with great difficulty. It's an amazing amount of freedom in a genre where the majority of your time is usually spent sorting through your inventory.
While it is a random dungeon, it is not, significantly, a MYSTERIOUS dungeon game-- meaning, there is no draconian auto-save feature. Some will see this as a dumbing down of the formula, but I love it. As far as I'm concerned, having to reload after hours of play because I stupidly died and lost my good items is punishment enough without making it impossible for me to try again.
This game also has a strange feature which I feel compelled to mention, even though it's very minor and probably of little interest-- when you go to the restaurant (all part of the master plan to seduce the waitress, of course), Koh describes whatever dish he orders in surprising detail, to the point of outright food-porn. As a result, playing this game tends to make me ravenously hungry. I want to become a sprite right now so I can walk into this game and order Shining Prawns and Crystal Curry. Mmmmmm.
Last note: Often in RPG dialogues, you get a choice between the nice answer and the asshole answer. AD mixes this up by occasionally giving you TWO asshole answers. Which I guess makes the whole exercise pointless, but I laugh so hard every time it happens that I don't care. The World Ends With You
Games aren't typically analyzed in the same way that books and movies are, which puts me in a difficult position in regard to TWEWY: as a text, as an academic would call it, it's eminently fascinating. As a game, I have no use for it.
While on the surface a title consumed with being cool, with waif-like Emo characters and an infectious Jpop soundtrack, getting a little deeper into the game reveals something surprising: This game is a criticism of the trendy and self-absorbed character archetype that Square Enix is notorious for promoting. From the title on, it's a long diatribe on the dangers of self-absorption. Neko and his 'friends' are so content to live in their own little worlds rather than deal with reality, they have to actually die in order to realize what they were missing out on when they were alive. The central concept of the game, a kind of morbid reality game where dead contestants fight to win another chance at life, implies that people who go through life without relating to other people may as well already be dead; at the very least, they're not the ones who most deserve to live.
And yet, the most distinctive parts of the game, particularly the huge emphasis on fashion, belies this theme. I think ultimately the developers are trying to say something about the value of friendship and so on, but the main activity in this game other than fighting is paying attention to the most popular brands and dressing accordingly; in fact, wearing the right brand can literally mean the difference between life and death. So the game is telling you to focus on what's important in life, except the most trivial bullshit in life is your overriding concern while playing this game. What's that, Brand X is big on this street? Oh noes, I'm wearing the wrong pants!
Maybe the developers are saying that you can appreciate the trappings of self-absorption without actually being self-absorbed at the core, but I can't say I honestly believe that's what the developers were going for based on what I've played; I'm not sure they really knew what they were trying to say, and that's what bothers me about it. Perhaps the planning meeting went something like this: "Okay, we're going to make a game about the importance of friendship, where you and your partner defeat the enemies using teamwork on both DS screens, so every battle will reinforce the friendship concept. Also: Our key word is "trendy". Everyone who thinks of a cool trendy thing to put in the game gets a Starbucks gift card."
I want to finish TWEWY to see if it all comes together for me at the end, but that's the thing: I want to finish it. I have no desire to PLAY it. While the dual-screen, stylus-heavy combat is undeniably innovative, it's very labor-intensive, especially for people like me with a past history of repetitive stress injuries. The game's focus on collectibles makes me want to fight lots of battles and farm for drops, but the individual battles are such a hassle that I never enjoy the process very much. For gamers who are bored silly of traditional battles this could be a blast, but for me personally it's horrible. How can I finish this game if I don't want to play it ever again? The mind boggles.
Next blog, I might play something that isn't an RPG...no promises. I'm just saying, it could happen.