The Mystery Dungeon clone Touhou Genso Wanderer Reloaded was one of those games I picked up on the strength of my experience with it at a PAX, specifically at the sparsely-populated UNTIES booth in 2018. This was a year before I played Touhou Eiyashou: Imperishable Night, which was my proper introduction to the Touhou series. Later on, I would play through its predecessor, Touhou Youyoumu: Perfect Cherry Blossom, before starting the Switch port of Genso Wanderer, my first Touhou spinoff, more than a year later.
As it turns out, Genso Wanderer would lead me to starting a third mainline Touhou game, and the last one I had in my backlog: Touhou Fuujinroku: Mountain of Faith. This was because there are several prominent characters in Genso Wanderer who were first introduced in Mountain of Faith, the tenth entry in the core series of magical shmups. Two of these characters, Aya and Sanae, star in their own post-game sidestories in Genso Wanderer; another one, the kappa Nitori, plays a key role tied to the crafting system; and the rest of the cast make notable appearances at various points. While there are a bevy of characters from all over the Touhou canon featured throughout, I got the impression that Genso Wanderer‘s developers must’ve loved Mountain of Faith in particular.
Sure, I didn’t finish many games in 2021, though this year should be different. My backlog is, as usual, jam-packed, and end-of-year sales and gifts added quite a bit to it these past few months. My backlog is so large now that I have mini backlogs for individual series, never mind platforms. I’ve managed to whittle down the unplayed MegaTens to three (six if Persona spinoffs are included), and Dragon Quest games are at four now that I’ve slogged through Dragon Quest VII on 3DS. Disgaea is also at four, including a remake of the first game, which is one of my favorite RPGs of all time, and a co-op centric replay of most of the Halo series, this time via The Master Chief Collection, is in the cards.
Most of my Switch backlog, which has grown by leaps and bounds the past few years
The mini backlog which has concerned me the most these past few years has been for Ys. Ys games tend to be shorter than other JRPGs, with fast-paced action to match, so it’s a wonder why, at the start of the year, I had five of them sitting around. One of these is the PC version of Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, which was one of the very first games I wrote about for this blog, but aside from that, I haven’t played any of the others before. With DQVII done, and wanting a break from that style of gameplay, Ys: Memories of Celceta was one of two JRPGs I started last week. It’s good so far, with a lot of the Ys series hallmarks—driving music, huge bosses, interesting dungeons, and slightly clunky graphics—mixed in with some new touches. It’s pretty much what I expect out of an Ys, which is definitely a good thing.
The other JRPG, stared a couple of days before Celceta, is Touhou Gensou Wanderer Reloaded, a Mystery Dungeon clone set in the Touhou world of Gensokyo. It’s a solid rougelike with some nice tweaks to the formula, such as the ability to keep all of your items, including enhanced weapons, after being wiped out in a dungeon. This makes future runs a bit less painful, provided you don’t lose (or accidentally sell) your best gear. TGWR does assume familiarity with Gensokyo and its residents. (Despite the title, it’s the third in the Touhou Gensou Wanderer series, so it’s possible that some of the past events alluded to are from those previous two games.) I actually started Touhou Fuujinroku: Mountain of Faith, the last mainline Touhou game in my backlog, shortly after starting TGWR because I was curious about certain new-to-me characters. Both games are fun, though Mountain of Faith is harder than I expected, so I don’t know if I’ll ever beat it. As for TGWR, I’ve already finished the main campaign, but haven’t marked it as “beaten” since there’s so much left to do.
I want to start another game soon, preferably something short I can get through in one or two days. There’s a lot of those types of games in my backlog, but I tend to put off the narrative-heavy ones depending on how I’m feeling at the time. Seeing as how I was suffering regular bouts of insomnia for awhile, and still do on occasion, some of these games have gone unplayed for years. For the first one, perhaps I’ll finally finish my run through the Tale of Tales catalog and play Sunset.
Hopefully I can get through many of those shorter games before the year’s out. JRPGs as well; I have a lot of them sitting around unopened, and am aiming to finish at least five of them this year, and ideally, more like twelve. Anyway, that’s the plan. Good luck to everyone else tackling their backlogs in 2022!
We moved, and somehow even managed to order and receive some new furniture. That process wasn’t without its own headaches, and it’s not over yet. Nor is the unpacking; for starters, I’m still trying to figure out how to store and display my massive figure collection, especially since we have no walk-in closets this time. At least I was able to set up my office by mid-June, though a few other areas, such as the living room, are a work in progress.
The first thing I played on my desktop computer in the new house was Dungeons 3, which I reinstalled after picking up the latest and final DLC, “A Multitude of Maps”, during the ongoing Steam Summer Sale. As opposed to a mini-story, this DLC consisted of a set of skirmish maps, and given that I hadn’t touched the game in some time, it took awhile to reacquaint myself with the basics of play. The maps and missions were well designed, though I did miss having story content tying them all together.
Speaking of that sale, I installed Augmented Steam alongside a couple of other related browser extensions recently, and have been using it to see what the stats are for certain smaller games on my wishlist. Although I knew on an academic level that a lot of newer indie games have abysmal sales on Steam, it was still shocking to see some great-looking games—some of them rather highly-ranked on my wishlist—with Steam Spy-estimated ownership stats of 20,000 or less. My current plan is to buy a handful of these, including at least one at full price, alongside a few others that have done somewhere between a little bit and a lot better before the sale’s over.
For those who might’ve missed it, P.S. Triple Classic wrapped up a little over a week ago, with a fanart farewell post. You can now read the entire official English-language run of P.S. Triple online, along with commentary and some articles related to this comic. I’m still considering my options for the abandonware iOS apps, but I will try and make them available somehow, probably in the near future.
As for what else has been going on, I’ve been hard at work on the next 10th anniversary project, which will hopefully launch soon. I’ve also been playing a bunch of games, so let’s dive into those.
We had skipped PAX West (formerly PAX Prime) last year, and missed it terribly, so deciding how to spend our 2018 Labor Day weekend was a no-brainer. As usual, the whole process of obtaining the tickets was a white-knuckle affair—most especially and unexpectedly a few days before the show, when one of our PAX friends’ passes got lost in the mail. Fortunately, he was able to get things sorted out, and after a week of preparations on our end (including taking care of our own little emergency involving a pet sitting cancellation), we all met up in Seattle. This even included one of our group who had decided to skip PAX, but wanted to be in town nonetheless. PAX was here!
The following four days were packed with panels, games, and some delicious food, including some from longtime favorites Juicy Cafe and MOD Pizza. Downtown Seattle’s Rock Bottom Grill, our regular post-show spot, had since closed, but the Gordon Biersch in a nearby mall was a decent substitute; it was also the location of the first post-PAX Cheap Ass Gamer meetup that I organized seven years ago.
It’s time once again for my top ten games played this past year. Included with each selection is the developer/author, the platform it was played on, the year of release, and a bit about why I liked the game enough for it to make it on the list. I’ve also brought back the Honorable Mentions to highlight five games that didn’t quite make it, but are still noteworthy. So, without further ado…
• Glittermitten Grove – For its complex and quite funny journey through the land of More Than Just Fairies, despite an annoyance or two.
• Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon – For doing the 80s homage thing right, and a structure that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
• Pokemon Sun – For having a great story and some wonderful characters in a franchise not typically known for either.
• Space Invaders Extreme 2 – For being a worthy sequel to a fantastic game.
• Mountain – For its whimsy and frequent moments of beauty and joy.
Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below Omega Force | Windows | 2015
This Dynasty Warriors crossover/spinoff started off as a guilty pleasure, but ended up being a genuinely good game, especially if you love the Dragon Quest series as much as I do. Aside from the tons of DQ fanservice present in everything from the playable characters to the numbers that pop out of attacked monsters’ heads, there’s a lot of fun to be had in running around grassy fields and dark dungeons swinging a sword at dozens of enemies. The gameplay isn’t very complex, nor is the story, but both are peppered with enough DQ staples to keep things interesting, and the latter in particular works well enough to be satisfying.
Persona 5 Atlus | PlayStation 3 | 2017
Despite its issues—the predictability of much of the story, the hypocritical treatment of Ann, the tired and offensive stereotypes, certain bits of repetition, the odd pacing problem—Persona 5 may be the slickest game Atlus has made to date. Sure, the Phantom Thieves’ tale wasn’t perfect, but it did feature some great arcs (such as nearly everything involving Sae or Sojiro) and fantastic dungeon crawling, plus a superb final act which manages to contain some genuine surprises. On the aesthetic side, the distinctive character models, eye-popping user interfaces, and Shibuya-worthy score lend the game an irresistible stylishness.
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords Infinite Interactive | Windows | 2007
This match-three puzzle and fantasy RPG crossover was the most addictive game I played all year. The story is nothing special, but the RPG mechanics are made to fit into its puzzle trappings in inventive ways, the main one being the different types of mana that can be stockpiled via color matching and used for special moves. There’s an impressive amount of customization, a massive map, and tons to do and see. By the time I had finished, I’d hit the level cap and had exhausted all of my companions’ stores of sidequests.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call indieszero | 3DS | 2014
The first Theatrhythm was already a burst of Final Fantasy musical goodness, but this follow-up manages to improve on that even further, with an expanded selection of music (including tracks from spinoff titles like Tactics and Crystal Chronicles), new gameplay modes—most notably a quest system that strings together sequences of tunes—and many more characters. Perhaps the best part is that the core gameplay is as tight as ever, though Hitoshi Sakimoto’s Final Fantasy XII compositions aren’t as well-suited to a rhythm game as most of the rest. Either way, it was difficult not to wear a smile on my face while playing this.
NotGTAV NotGames | Windows | 2015
The first thing you should know about this game is that it is not Grand Theft Auto V, a fact that to this day confuses many, many people who post in its official Steam forums. The second is that NotGTAV is a Snake variant that is filled to the brim with British humour. Playing in turn as Welshman Daffyd, chav Darren, and (now-former) Prime Minister David, missions run the gamut, from running over campers with a lawnmower to steering your motorcade past protesters. It’s a simple, short game with a satirical heart, and as an added bonus, all profits from its sale goes to charity.
SteamWorld Dig Image & Form | Windows | 2013
Above all else, I found SteamWorld Dig to be relaxing. In between purchasing upgrades and solving puzzles, digging up ores, new paths, and other interesting things was a routine that proved to be as soothing as maintaining a farm in Harvest Moon. All of this takes place within a charming steampunk western world that’s quite pleasing to the eye. My one major complaint about this game is that it was over all too quickly, but fortunately, it seems like SteamWorld Dig 2 addresses this issue and then some. I can’t wait to delve into that one.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Nintendo | Switch | 2017
This welcome port of the WiiU’s Mario Kart 8 and all of its DLC (even those weird Mercedes tie-in karts) is also one of the best in the series. In addition to great new tracks like Electrodrome, Cloudtop Cruise, and a few homages to Excitebike and F-Zero, the selection of classics is tough to beat, with the highlight being a steampunky take on Mario Kart 64‘s Rainbow Road. Speaking of which, the newest Rainbow Road is a rare disappointment, plus there’s always the one classic course you wish was there but isn’t (Coconut Mall in my case), but these aren’t deal-breakers. Finally, I must note that the 200cc difficulty mode is absolutely bonkers.
Third Place Picross 3D Round 2 HAL Laboratory | 3DS | 2016
The original Picross 3D was my introduction to the Picross franchise; it was an sometimes tricky puzzle game that I played the hell out of. Picross 3D Round 2 goes beyond just being a fresh offering of puzzles and works in a new twist: two different types of blocks (resulting in either cubes or non-cube shapes) that not only enable more interesting, aesthetically pleasing forms, but a whole new way to unveil them, with color coded clues and markers. This was intimidating at first, but the learning curve is as smooth as it’s ever been in this series; once I got the hang of things, all I needed to concern myself with was the puzzles themselves. A wonderful travel game, and just plain great in general.
Second Place Road Not Taken Spry Fox | Windows | 2014
An unlikely pairing of two of my favorite genres—roguelikes and tile-matching puzzle games—should not work as well as it does in this game. The premise is fairy tale-esque: the player character is a ranger who, every winter, is called upon to save children who get lost in a haunted forest while picking berries. The game ends when fifteen years have passed and the ranger dies. It is a much darker tale than it appears on the surface, and has some cynical things to say about children and their relationships to adults and the world around them. The game part is smartly designed, even with over a hundred items and many more matching combinations in its randomly-generated rooms, and can get quite challenging. There’s also a simple relationship system and special difficulty tweaks to round things out.
First Place: Game of the Year NieR cavia | Xbox 360 | 2010
The future world of NieR (or Nier, or NIER, or NieR Gestalt) is grey, brown, depressing (especially in the endgame and everything that follows afterward), hopeful, funny, annoying, charming, weird, heartwarming, and very difficult to leave behind for good. This action JRPG—with touches of bullet hell—has so many markers of imperfection and second-tier craftsmanship, particularly when it comes to the combat, and yet it is also filled with so much love. Homages to other franchises and even entire genres are largely enacted through mere changes in perspective, and the music and voice acting are top-notch.
None of those aesthetic touches would work without NieR‘s world-building and characters. The post-magic post-apocalypse setting is barely explained within the game, yet the details—such as old railroad bridges, tiny canister houses mounted on the walls of a canyon, and the black and gold word clouds that are the Shades—are so distinctive that it’s largely forgivable. Then there’s the cast: affable warrior dad Nier, the uppity and proud Weiss, thorny loner Kainé, and kindhearted, ingenuous Emil, plus a handful of others. Seeing them bicker, cry, and support each other in unexpected ways made some of the more unbelievable parts a bit more forgivable, and helped lessen the sting of the game’s obtuseness and other smaller frustrations.
“Labor of love” is a term that is bandied around a lot for certain games, but cavia’s swan song NieR is absolutely deserving of the phrase. It’s not too surprising that NieR became enough of a cult hit that not only it, but even its indirect predecessor Drakengard have continued on with sequels after cavia’s death. Speaking of which, NieR: Automata is on my shortlist for games I absolutely must play in 2018, and it’s an experience I’m really looking forward to.
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