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Poor Man’s Zelda

The box art. Image via MobyGames.Yesterday, I beat 3D Dot Game Heroes, a Silicon Studio/From Software joint filled with lots of love for the 8-bit era, and the baffling design decisions that accompany it. A brief list:

– The plot of the game is basically the same as A Link to the Past‘s, minus the alternate world. However, the design takes very little else from that classic. One excellent example: in LttP and many other Zelda games, acquiring a new piece of equipment tends to be closely followed by a section—maybe even in the same room—where you have to use it. This is basically a micro-tutorial for the player, getting them accustomed to using the new gear. There’s few, if any, such scenes in 3D Dot Game Heroes. There was even one special item that I had accidentally missed and had to go back and get later on when I became stuck elsewhere.
– On a related note, the vast majority of bosses can, and probably should, be beaten without the use of any special equipment or magic.
– The dungeon designs range from all right to boring, especially when the room layouts start to repeat between temples. A particular cave passage specifically reminded me of the largest, most tedious dungeon in Final Fantasy—not a good thing.
– Many hidden caves abound, some of them with goodies, which can be opened with bombs. However, there’s more than one where talking to the NPC will reveal their anger at you blowing up their front door and extract compensation from you, typically 20 gold. Just one of these caves would’ve gotten the point across, thanks.
– There are lots of little sidequests that require obtaining items/information and delivering them to the right people. However, much like in the NES era, most people look the same, and those giving you the info offer very little else, text-wise, in the way of identifying information.
– On a similar note, there is at least one special area in the game which would’ve been much easier to find if there had been more differentiation. Also, some rocks can be blown up, but are only very slightly different, color-wise, from the indestructible ones.
– An item called the Bestiary can be obtained and used in battle to add monsters to it. You would think that whapping a monster once would be good enough for an addition, but most require multiple hits with the thing, some needing dozens.
– The loading screens are homages to old games, and, similar to the Bestiary, there’s an in-game gallery where they can be viewed. However, not a single one will unlock there unless you’ve turned on the right setting.

The game does have its charms. Along with the chunky pixels, there’s a slight tilt-shift photographic effect at work throughout, and said pixel chunks scatter nicely when various objects are destroyed. The soundtrack is pleasant and reminiscent of old games—I particularly liked the Dragon Quest-esque save-loading music—while mostly utilizing modern sounds. Some of the writing is witty. The Producer and Developer Rooms are cute.

However, if I put some more thought into it, I could likely come up with more annoying things to add to the list that makes up most of this post. 3D Dot Game Heroes is slavish in its devotion to the 8-bit era, good and bad.

My In-Game Bookshelf


This past Saturday, I played through the walking sim Tacoma. As in other walking sims, and many other games besides, one of the things I could do as the player was browse bookshelves. Tacoma takes place aboard a space station where something had gone wrong, and there are six crew members, each with their own quarters and set of shelves. Given how much one does or doesn’t know about the books on offer can tell the player—or not—a little bit more about these characters. I found novels, nonfiction books about a wide range of subjects, and a handful of names and titles I was familiar with. My favorite find was a set of Alice Munro titles, including the short story collection Too Much Happiness; I read the title story when it first appeared in Harper’s and it’s remarkable.

While examining all these shelves, I began to wonder: if I was a character on a video game spaceship, what books would be in my quarters? I decided to come up with a few books that I’d bring along on my video game space voyage. My current reading habits lean heavily toward multi-volume manga, so with one exception (in a nod to that Alice Munro set), each of these is a single book.

  • Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo – the exception. Six thick volumes of shouty young men, political intrigue, metaphysics, and gorgeous architectural disaster. One of my two favorite manga of all time.
  • Azumanga Daioh by Kiyohiko Azuma – this would have to be the single-volume omnibus edition, though I personally own it broken up into its original four volumes. A lighthearted and cozy school comedy, highly influential “moe” work, and my other favorite manga of all time.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I’ve read this three times: once as assigned reading in high school, again in college, and the third for my own enjoyment. A true “Great American Novel”, and just a good read.
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – my favorite book when I was a kid. Would be especially fitting for a sci-fi bookshelf like those in Tacoma, given that the title character resides on an asteroid.
  • Add Toner by Aaron Cometbus – a collection of excerpts from the beloved punk/memoir/essay zine Cometbus, which I’ve been following on and off for roughly thirty years now. It’s either this, Despite Everything (the first Cometbus compilation), or a pile of Cometbus back issues, including the ones that contain “Double Duce” and “In China with Green Day”.

Are there other books I’d bring along? Probably, but I’d have to think on those a bit more. These five, however, are my must-haves.


Last night, I finished catching up on Fist of the North Star, after being a few volumes behind. Viz’s kanzenban edition wraps up the first massive arc in Vol. 10, then the second starts with a timeskip in Vol. 11. Vol. 10 closes out with main character Ken (aka Kenshiro) facing off against his greatest rival and Hokuto brother, Raoh (aka Kenoh).

Raoh learns what he lacks in acquiring the ultimate techniqueThere’s quite a bit from Raoh’s point of view. Here, the reader learns that Raoh’s fear of Ken stems from the latter’s sorrowful eyes. Ken’s sorrow is shown to be the source of his strength, and the reason why he was chosen as the successor to the deadly assassination art of Hokoto Shinken. Raoh doesn’t understand either sorrow or love, which prevents him from obtaining the most powerful techniques and thus fuels his inferiority complex. His journey to become Ken’s equal leading up to their final battle is thus one of comprehension.

When I was a newbie anime fan in the early 90s, Fist of the North Star‘s reputation stemmed from its violence, with exploding heads and fountains of blood streaming from the remaining neck stumps. All of that is certainly here, and more dramatically effective than it may seem going by that simple description. Ken’s deadly acupressure often has a time delay component. He’ll strike a pressure point on an enemy, then start walking away. Said enemy will erupt in laughter, believing that Ken isn’t all that. Ken whips around, points at the enemy, then delivers his epitaph, “You are already dead.” Cue exploding head, or torso, or entire body.

Such scenes are the hooks to draw readers in. What has kept me here is Ken’s stoic compassion, his personal tragedies, and the assortment of friends and rivals who emerge throughout. Key amongst them are Bat and Rin, a boy and girl who serve as the reader proxies and accompany Ken nearly everywhere. At the end of Vol. 10, it’s their voluntary separation from Ken which gives this arc its true finality.

Rin is one of a small handful of girls and women who appear in Fist of the North Star, but isn’t the most important. That would be Yuria, the kind soul who grew up with Ken, Raoh, and their other “brothers” during their martial arts training. Yuria is the love of Ken’s life, and plays a central role early on, albeit in a stereotypical fashion. Other women don’t fare much better, mainly serving as people the men of the story wish to protect, though there is sometimes the likes of Mamiya, who is willing to fight back.

One thing that’s curious about this manga is that, throughout its post-nuclear hellscape, there are a number of people (and occasionally animals) that have become powerful giants, and they are almost always male. It’s never stated outright, but this gigantism seems to be a side effect of radioactive fallout, in addition to being a visual indicator of power. Sickness is the only other obvious symptom of radiation exposure, which leads to a different sort of drama.

Although there was one particular moment when I considered dropping the series entirely, the story made up for it with the very next volume. With Rin and Bat now grown up in Vol. 11, I’m sticking with it until the end. Fist of the North Star is certainly a product of its time, an era in Shonen Jump history which also gave us the beginnings of other classics like Dragon Ball, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and Kimagure Orange Road. Ten years ago, I never would’ve thought I would enjoy this series as much as I have, nor would I have thought it as nuanced as it actually is at times. For all of its ultraviolence, Fist of the North Star is also tender and moving. Ken’s tears are as powerful as his fists, and his smiles, on the rare occasions that they happen, make all of the previous pages of blood and guts and agony and despair worth it.

Below and Beneath

The adventure begins...I had been looking forward to Below for several years and promptly bought it when it launched on Steam in December 2018. However, I did not touch it at all until this past October, roughly five years after said launch and three years after its most significant post-launch update, which added the easier Explore mode. A large part of why I had held off of playing it for so long was because the conditions had to be right. I had to be in the right mood, it had to be the right time, before I started it. When this year’s spooky season started, I finally decided that it was time.

SINoALICE Global Odds and Ends

Dawn of the Final Day
Dawn of the Final Day
It’s been a little over a week since SINoALICE Global shut down. I had originally planned to play the final chapter on the 13th, but had to punt it to the very last full day, the 14th. I had been using Global’s in-game archive of story content as translations while playing through Act of Elimination in JP, and wasn’t able to finish on the 13th. I did so on the following day, and then, it was time for the ending.

During those past few days, I sent some goodbye messages to a handful of co-op buddies who were still around, thanked my wonderful guildmates, and continued saving what I could for posterity. The final chapter was a straightforward affair, with Alice being the only possible playable character, and wrapped up the story in a very Yoko Taro fashion. In the JellicleCats Discord, microtia wondered if JP will get the same ending; after playing it, I could see where he was coming from.

Anyway, I promised odds and ends in the title of this post, so here they are. Spoiler warnings for everything:

Memories of the Library

SINoALICE Global launched in July 2020 with its first collaboration event, with NieR:Automata. This included a special conquest against a Disembodied Emil Nightmare.

After a stage ends, you can befriend any of the CPU or co-op players... if they aren't bots. Lammy was a special bot for the event "An End to Summer Dreams", and this is what popped up when trying to follow her.

The ending of "An End to Summer Dreams", with Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty looking upon Lammy and a mountain of Twilight Crystals.

Guild medal events typically came with pages like this, which tallied the total amount of medals earned by the guild.

The Space Invaders collab event is where SINoALICE truly begins its decent into weirdness.

The first and only character popularity contest in Global was held in October 2020. Most of my votes went to Sleeping Beauty.

Global's first Christmas event came with a special purification screen... well as a special home screen background.

As with all gacha games, the playerbase dropped a bit after the initial launch period. Guilds with only a few people, or even just one person, started to become more common.

My profile, from February 7, 2021, shortly after joining Jellicle.

As far as I can tell, this is the very first time that Jellicle slimed: March 26, 2021

Commemorating our sliming with a bad pun.

The incredible "Campout Cuisine" event, starring Alice, Sleeping Beauty, Dorothy, a racoon, and a whole lot of stock photography.

Oh, and the curry that is actually apple pie, really!

April Fools' Day 2021 involved a very strange scavenger hunt.

Schiroh tallies the number of guildships we take down during a Colosseum match.

Our crowning achievement in Gran Colosseum was reaching (and winning in) the League 2 finals in May 2021.

One of the weirder collabs was with the Fishing Star franchise. One of the story battle attacks involved a whole school of fish swarming at you.

NEVER FORGET (I'm sorry, aliciaLX!)

First Anniversary time! Lammy joins us in counting down the players' favorite Nightmares, while fighting... the dev team.

I finally got Sleeping Beauty/Poacher thanks to a special catch-up grimoire that ran during the First Anniversary event.

We're having fun! We're having fun!

The event "End of Summer Shadow" was one of a few that we got that were held at or near the same time as in Japan.

My profile on September 21, 2021, featuring a hard-won Snow White/Mage.

During the first Colosseum Sin, we prepared for a losing battle with a team of Kaguyas.

We had, of course, built up a reputation for using a certain other class during similar situations.

The crossover event with Final Fantasy Brave Exvius was pure fanservice.

A lovely progression screen for the second Christmas event, in 2021.

One of my all-time best pulls.

"Divine Mechanism of Rebellion" was an event that paid homage to giant robot shows, complete with "Next Episode" teasers.

During Valentine's Day, players would receive chocolate versions of familiar upgrade materials.

My home screen on March 10, 2022. The Dorothy's Workshop classes had recently debuted, with one of them being Pinocchio/Corrective Measures, as seen here.

Even the Nightmares suffered from allergies during the pollen and idol themed "Ode to Sakura". test caption

Shooting Gallery events were rare, but often had the best prizes.

From the introduction of "Sanctuary of Children's Song", a Children's Day-themed event whose scenario was rerun in May 2022.

"Mystery in the Limelight" came complete with the option of deducing a culprit for the event story's crime scene.

One of the stranger in-game conversations for JellicleCats.

JellicleCats continued to climb the ranks, eventually cracking into the overall top 500, which was, of course, quite... nice.

Okay, maybe THIS was my best pull. Note the special 2nd Anniversary outfits for Parrah and Noya.

We once got into the semi-finals for Colosseum Sin!

And we wound up in second place!

World Gran Colosseum was an extravagant, though imperfect, event, which pit the JP players against Global. During the second and final WGC, MilkVoid made us Global players proud by climbing the ranks.

Non-participants could watch the matches live in-game, though they were plagued by lag.

"Autumnal Ardor" was themed around photography, and included a feature where players could arrange the event characters for snapshots.

In the winter of 2022/23, we all wished each other Merry Christmas via the in-game chat, and then we all did it again for the New Year.

An example of the ridiculously detailed stats for a single attack done in Colosseum.

From Nutcracker's exposition-heavy Act of Fusion arc, which also featured unique backgrounds and combinations of Nightmares.

The finale of the Fullmetal Alchemist collaboration, the very last collab that Global would receive.

The White Day event "My Fair Beau" saw Snow White, Dorothy, Gretel, and Cinderella become male idols. Players could attend special meet and greet sessions with each one to gain their affections.

Gretel's brother had quite an unexpectedly large role in this event.

As Act of Fusion moved into Act of Elimination, things started to get a little weird during Colo...

...and then a lot weird.

Act of Elimination took its name seriously.

An image from a preview video for an Act of Elimination arc.

Alice vs. Cinderella was a match for the ages.

"Sanctuary of Children's Song II" came about, and with this sequel, the return of the phrase "Lolisho".

Amongst the final new class types that Global received were the Demon series, inspired by the Demons summoned during Colosseum.

From the "SINoZOMBIE" event in June 2023. Of course, the August event would feature sharks...

Sharkshooter, aka Shark Gun, was a featured weapon that many of us received in a certain banner instead of whatever class we had wanted. It was indeed a curse.

Third Anniversary arrives with tripled rates for the daily free 11x banner.

Here are Parrah and Noya in their Third Anniversary finery.

Alice and Dorothy face off against each other as Act of Elimination continues.

"Jaws of Terror" ended with a giant Little Mermaid taking on Jawzilla.

The Big Little Mermaid made for an amusing clear screen.

Our team, buffed out to the max.

Yoko Taro: don't say he didn't warn you...

Chatting with Dainsleif, one of my co-op buddies, after the End of Service announcement drops.

"Autumnal Ardor" and its photo booth return, this time with more character options.

Goofing off in Conquest co-op, knowing that this would be one of the last times we could do so.

Grinding with ecilaOnis.

SINoALICE is a predatory gacha game. Heavily built around drop-in co-op and guild vs. guild PVP, it is laden with power creep, with many of the strongest units and summons paywalled. If you wanted to be the best, you had to pay up, to the potential tune of thousands of dollars over the course of the game’s lifetime.

However, for those who were a bit more casual—in other words, the vast majority of the playerbase—SINoALICE could be a good, even great time. The story was decent, the characters were varying degrees of fun, the music wonderful, and the in-game community reasonably friendly. I loved it. I did dump somewhere north of $500, including gift card funds, into the Global version of the game these past three years, but it was out of love for the game and its characters. Even though I wish I could have spent more time with them, I don’t regret my purchases.

That’s right, SINoALICE is shutting down. Starting from today, the final chapter is available, and the game’s servers close for good in the wee hours of November 15th. We first heard about the impending closure two months ago, when crystal sales abruptly ended and a final roadmap was posted. We were shocked and saddened, but made peace with Pokelabo’s decision, being well aware of the dire straits the game had been in over the past year. Unfortunately, our story is ending with the fifth act, Act of Elimination; Japan was able to get the three which followed, and many more timed events and collaborations to boot.

The in-game world of the Library is one in which fairy tale characters come to life, battling and eliminate Nightmares and, eventually, each other. There are a ton of stories for all the characters and many Nightmares, and even more weapon tales, those being a tradition in Yoko Taro’s games. That said, here are some of my own stories of playing SINoALICE. Some of these memories are imperfect, but they are all things I hope stay with me as this game fades away into obscurity.

(And while you’re here, click on the image at the top to scroll through a gallery of three years’ worth of SINoALICE Global screenshots! )