So most of my gaming time in June went on a crazy experiment where I played twenty two games in twenty four hours! I cleared out my itch library and played some arty, horror and VN games. Read more about it here!
Famicom Detective Club
I’d been waiting for ages for this one, was very excited when I saw it announced. I love detective games and the old school anime aesthetic.
I really enjoyed this at first, and thought the menu that the player interacts with the game through was very cool and old school. To examine scenes or interview suspects, you have a list of vague subjects to talk about, and selecting them in the correct order allows more information to be revealed.
Unfortunately this got frustrating quickly, as the topics could sound ambiguous, leaving the choice of what to do next unclear. I likened this to a ‘narrative pixel hunt’. In my opinion, a good detective game should lead you to the answer while making you feel that you figured it out yourself, and here I felt like I was guessing at some points, or at others felt like I knew the next step but not how to express it through the game’s interface. I think the idea that the player can be ahead of their character’s thinking and then struggle to express their thoughts through the game is one of the key challenges of detective style games.
This frustration was felt the most when moving forward was prompted by doing or repeating an action that is obviously fruitless. There was no reason for me to try that action beyond trying every option, and it broke the fantasy of being a clever detective, making me and the character feel a little dumb. The option to perform an action that is impossible, like speak to a character not in the room, is often available, which leads to essentially a telling off by the character for making a stupid move.
Despite my grievances with the user experience, I did enjoy the story, with the school rumours, potential horror bent and references to Kabukicho creating a wonderful vibe.
I also really enjoyed the full voice acting in this game. I tend to prefer partial voice acting as I read faster than the speech, but this being in Japanese alleviated the issue and brought me more into the very Japanese world of the game. The art is also gorgeous, with lots of movement and more artwork than is normally expected for a visual novel.
New Pokemon Snap
I feel like this blog makes it sound like I just don’t like video games sometimes, as I seem to have a lot of complaints. Here’s a dozen more.
I was really disappointed by New Pokemon Snap. I’d played the original twenty years ago, getting the N64 cartridge for my seventh birthday, then patiently awaiting playing it as it was sealed away, along with my console, while we were in a temporary house until our new one was finished being built.
Perhaps this is the key to my lack of enjoyment – I was so excited about that game twenty years ago because I was pokemon obsessed. Nowadays though, I don’t know any pokemon after gen four and I think we’re on…eight now? So this felt more like a generic animal photography game than a pokemon one. That’s okay though – I figured I’d still get something out of it.
We started the game on a bad foot, resenting the incredibly handhold-y tutorial that wouldn’t let us try things or experiment. I understand that Nintendo’s audience can be young and this is who the tutorial was designed for, but we wished we’d at least been able to skip it as folk who are familiar with games.
Once we were in the game proper it was…okay? I can’t find anything to pinpoint as bad about the experience, but it wasn’t engaging either. After one or two rounds of a level I was bored enough to not want to play anymore. I wondered if the progression system was slightly to blame, with the natural discovery of new routes in the original game replaced with a ‘research score’ points based progression system, but even then I’m not convinced the actual core loop of the game would have held my attention.
Perhaps I’m just old and boring!
Resident Evil Village
So as a palette cleanser to the negativity, here’s a game I love.
While its overall world is a little larger, Resident Evil Village does the same thing that I adored about Resis 1,2 and 7 – it provides a small, enclosed environment that the player can learn, and that evolves over time. Not only does this let the player master the environment and provides fast traversal, it promotes both the horror feel and a solid sense of immersion.
One of the best ways to create immersion in my opinion is to provide a strong sense of player presence through a coherent and believable world. It doesn’t need to be realistic, but if it respects its own internal rules and the player can learn how to reliably interact with it, they feel as if they are really there. Mastering the small environment of Castle Dimitrescu really brought this feeling home for me.
I think creating this great sense of believability allows players, or at least myself, to suspend disbelief reasonably in other areas. The Resident Evil series has quite a few ‘gamey’ mechanics that immersion focused players like myself don’t generally enjoy but I almost revel in them here. I like trying to get all the rooms on the map to turn blue or knowing I’m safe in the safe room (though, looking at you Resi 2 for subverting that one!). The combination of a strong, learnable environment, puzzle mechanics and conventional mechanics that do not grate is quite reminiscent of some of the best Zelda dungeons, and I do wonder if nostalgia for these drives my love of this sort of setup.
The entire Resident Evil universe is also incredibly silly. So many things happen that just don’t really make sense and yet I really enjoy the lore, the characters and the batshit yet predictable plot. Sometimes its less about doing something unique and more about executing something well and Resident Evil Village is incredibly well executed, with its fantastic artwork, fun puzzles and exciting gameplay.
I’ve not finished the game yet, so unsure how I’ll feel as more areas open up, but for now I’m really enjoying it.