A Look At – Re;Lord

This is a story where demons lived among the denizens of the world. And it’s the demon realm that was about to face an unprecented crisis when three “Witches of Ruin” suddenly appeared and invaded the demon country of Saarland.

Possessing power beyond what the demon kingdom could muster a defense against, Saarland had no choice but to surrender the region of Groessen to these invaders. The witches were not content to stop there as they also decided to make an example out of the demons by transforming them into stuffed animals to further rob them of their dignity.

Half a year has passed since the appearance of the witches. As if straight out of a fairy tale, the majority of the people of Groessen have been transformed into stuffed animals and live under the rule of the Witches of Ruin. It is up to Wilfried, son of the governor of Groessen, to lead his ragtag army into battle with the witches and liberate Groessen.

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Escu:de is one of those eroge companies that like to include mini-games to go along with reading wall of texts, which is an element of their games that originally drew my attention. My (admittingly short) amount of experience with them does place them firmly in the “solid, but not groundbreaking” camp, below the likes of companies like Alicesoft…

…which is why it came to me as a bit of a surprise when Re;Lord was picked up for localization, in fact, I believe it is the only Escu:de game to be available in English in any form at this point of time. Personally, I would have liked Eiyuu X Maou myself, but I digress.

Re;lord is one of those “Visual Novels with heavy focus on Gameplay”, for the lack of a better phrase (given that I personally believe that once something gets a critical mass of “gameplay”, can you really call it a “Visual Novel”?) – these are always very hit and miss because there’s a very high chance that ill-conceived gameplay can make actually the player finishing up the story significantly less likely to happen, and it introduces a fine balancing act – if the gameplay is too good, having to stop and read 2 hours of slice of life scene really puts a damper in things, but so does the reverse of having to play 2 hours of boring RPGMaker-tier battles before being able to progress the plot.

While Re;lord doesn’t reach any of those extremes, I do find myself bouncing between wanting to see where the plot goes next and thus wanting to skip the gameplay, and also the opposite in between all the slice of life scenes, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag here.

The game could be said to be split into two segments, a “strategic overworld” part, and a “combat system” part when you encounter enemies on said overworld. The mechanics are fairly simple either way. Because I don’t believe the gameplay is stellar, I won’t spend much time describing it as I would with others that I find top notch in the genre, so here goes.

In the “strategic overworld” segment, you have an assortment of Tetris Shaped blocks that you place on the map in order to build a path to your destination. Enemies, chests, monster generators and barriers are littered through the field, and it’s up to you to build an efficient path towards them. More blocks can be found in chests and sometimes as rewards from winning battles and achievements, but you’ll also always have an unlimited supply of basic 1-blocks to prevent “dead man walking” scenarios.

Some curveballs you’ll have to handle are monsters being able to demolish your path (unless you use the special unbreakable version, which are more limited than the usual), and herding monsters together in order to fight them all in one fell swoop, which grants bonus EXP at the end, but these quirks feel fairly minor in the grand scheme of things.

So it’s partially a resource management puzzle game? In theory.

In practice, the time limit is pretty lenient – it’s not really meant to be a huge brainteaser, it seems. As long as you use something outside of the default unlimited 1-block, you can comfortably finish each chapter with plenty of resources to spare. I’m not sure if I would actually prefer a hardcore resource management simulator, but this segment of the game does feel kinda toothless.

The other major gameplay aspect is the action battle system. By holding down left-click and dragging your mouse in a line, you “slash” across the path in order to attack your enemies. In-fiction, this is actually the main character using sorcery, so the attack comes in two flavors – the faster “Wind” attack, and the stronger (and supposedly stronger) “Fire” attack. The former also costs less MP to use, a resource that slowly refills over the course of the battle, so Wind feels like the superior choice most of the time.

In addition, by holding down your right mouse button, you can Guard against enemy attacks, reducing the damage done. Much better would be to Guard right before the attacks strikes, which allows you to take no damage and also restore some MP, which is a rather common “Just Guard” mechanic used in many games to provide spice to their defense mechanics.

You also gain a total of 3 cooldown powers as the game progresses – a heal, screen-clear attack and a slow enemies/restore MP. You pop them when you need it, shrug. Incidentally, you get the explanation for every single one before you actually unlock them in the game, which leads to a bit of confusion and having to remember that they technically did the explanation way beforehand. No confusion here, that’s for sure.

Now I admit, after reading some reviews online, I’ve decided to pick Easy mode rather than Normal, as reviews of the game claims that while Normal mode starts out at an acceptable difficulty, it quickly hits a difficulty spike that leads many player to softlock their playthrough. Thus, this is an observation based off a setting that may not be the “standard” intended one by the developers, but C’est La Vie.

On Easy mode, while the system supposedly has some intricacies such as different enemies being weak to different elements, in practice you can win every battle in the game by holding down your left mouse button on a target until it dies, then moving on to another target. Strangely enough, trying to “slash” multiple enemies does not seem to be an effective tactic in terms of winning battles efficiently, because damage is significantly cut when hitting multiple targets.

(I suspect the damage formula uses a straight [Attack – Defense] formula and the damage reduction is applied before substracting Defense, so the only point of trying to hit multiple enemies at once is to gain the bonus EXP for simultaneous multi-kills.)

To the battle system’s credit, it feels very smooth, and it sorta give me a nostalgic feel because it reminds me of Flash games I’ve played as a youngling. But on a whole, it feels very repetitive and I don’t really think there’s enough “meat” here to last the entire 10 hours or so that the game takes to complete.

Oh wait, I almost forgot. So anyhow, the game’s advertised for its clothing damage mechanics in battle, but if you were particularly looking forward to this, I do suggest you tamper your expectations – most of the fights are with the titular “stuffed animals” (with some particularly obnoxious voice clips, I may add), rather than the titular “witch” – fighting actual humans is a comparative rarity in this game.

(This is also where the aforementioned battle system complexities is supposed to come into play, with different articles of clothing being more or less resistant to certain elements. They always seem to deplete their HP gauge first on Easy mode though, because it seems like Clothing Destruction was supposed to be the main method of victory on the harder difficulties.)

Or maybe I was supposed to just upgrade Clothing Damage without raising a single point of HP damage. Re;Lord has a really basic “RPG Customization” system, where you earn Skill Points from leveling up and then sink them into stats. It’s pretty barebones, and you’ll definitely gain enough skill points to max out all areas 2/3rds of the way into the game.

With gameplay out of the way, let’s move on to the story/writing. The one thing that strikes me about Re;Lord’s set-up is that the Demons feel very Disgaea-esque, in that rather than being personifications of pure evil and whatnot, they’re mostly just a bunch of goofball weirdos. A lot of the character interaction is the “wacky” MC and his “straight man” best friend Ria which feels basic, but nonetheless is perfectly serviceable in the grand scheme of things.

I’m also going to jump the gun a little to the summary of how I feel overall, but while some parts of the plot intrigued me, there’s WAY too many scenes of our heroes ordering pizza and other sundries through home delivery (clearly they’ve been prepared for living in a post T-Virus world), so I came out of it pretty eh.

So is there anything I thought was interesting at all about the writing?

Well

The fact that the main character is described in several areas as a “Right-Wing Nationalist.”

I went into Re;Lord knowing as close to nothing about it outside of marketing blurbs, and for the life of me I cannot remember where that little tidbit cropped up, because I can no longer find any source of the main character being described in that way (outside of the game itself), but it made me do a double take when I read it and I went in wondering how that would express itself.

Well, play the game long enough and you’ll learn that the protagonist Wilfried has some rather spicy opinions, such as his disdain on one of the main gimmicks of Triangle Strategy. I think the final cherry on top of everything is that one of his voice clips is yelling SIEG SAARLAND!, which always cracks me up when I hear it.

I’m slightly ashamed because originally I thought this was just random worldbuilding but then I realized it was a historical in-joke about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand (Von Aegir) – hey, wait a minute, Wilfried IS a German name…

Why do I find this so fascinating? I think it’s because in Western culture, “right-wing politics” is a subject that’s quite a landmine in many communities. People are afraid of expressing opinions that may be interpreted as being in support of similar views for fear of social ostracization, and bad faith actors analyzing media for “hidden subversive messages” are rather common, so storywriters tend to tread lightly to prevent setting off unnecessary PR scandals.

(Perhaps its for this reason that I seem to have a hard time finding the exact marketing blurb where I read about this MC’s particular personality trait – I suppose it’s something that the English publisher would be happy to sweep under the rug to focus on more marketable aspects of the game.)

I’ve seen many people get angry over what they perceive to be “right-wing” perspectives in the writing of videogames, which I consider interesting because these videogames are usually written by people who claim to lean the other direction in reality, thus going back to the whole “analyzing media for hidden messages” thing – what if someone were to just write their honest opinions directly in their videogames without having to hide behind allegory and subtext? And what would it look like if said opinions were right wing leaning? I feel like this is the closest I would ever get to fulfilling my curiousity.

I don’t think that would ever happen for anything outside of fringe indie games for the West – anyone who came up with this concept would never be able to pitch it to a company to produce the game. But maybe it just seems very ballsy in my eyes from a different cultural perspective and this topic is not particularly a social taboo for Japanese writers, unlike trying to bring attention to war crimes (that’s reserved for “Square Enix Themed” games.) so it might not be as subversive there.

Though I don’t want to give off the impression that the game is “obviously” in support of the MC’s ideology (something that people seem to believe when the concept shows up in media), because that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Pretty much every other character just kinda roll their eyes and dunks on him for being a weirdo whenever he goes on about it. There’s some amount of plausible deniability if that accusation is going to be leveled against this game.

(Not that I subscribe to the theory that a writer must actively condemn controversial viewpoints in order to utilize it in fiction – the days of the Comics Code Authority should hopefully be long past us.)

Well, the other defense for using controversial subjects in fiction is writing quality – tackling subjects such as slavery is much more palatable when its done in the hands of anyone other than your average Isekai Harem authors, after all. Does Re;Lord pass the benchmark?

Mmm, not really. The game’s goofy most of the time, so it’s clear they probably didn’t intend to take a super serious approach to things. For the most part, the MC just comes off as a rather standard “anime schemer protagonist character” like Lelouche (why do I keep using Code Geass examples in my writing), albeit much more silly.

Wait a second did they mistranslate the name of the country lmao

I think there might have been something going on with the juxtaposition that the main character’s public speeches which he uses to attempt to rally his countrymen into “throwing off the shackles of their oppressors”, while similar to those in many fiction that involves “underdog” rebels defeating their invaders, read differently once the context has been tweaked.

I have an inkling they were going for a slightly deconstructive effect where you thought you were playing a heroic liberator throwing off the shackles of the oppressor, only to become the new tyrannical law in town, but I will say the effect is kinda blunted after watching 5 slice of life scenes of the protagonist going on about how capes are cool and misspending war funds on acquiring a collection of them in between the serious parts of the story.

So then… would the intended story of Re;Lord be the tragic downfall of a man who, while a harmless outcast (albeit one with a rather supportive network) at the start, eventually turns into a monster because of his inherent beliefs combined with the necessity of having to resort to underhanded means in order to defeat an overwhelmingly powerful opposing force? I’ve seen some people online hold this theory, referring to what Wilfried does to his captives as support for that particular reading… but all things considered that particular element of the character really just reads more like your standard erogame affair subject to the usual handwaving erogame logic where the characters just react like they had a really mean prank played on them as opposed to something that would be considered ultra immoral in real life.

That theory being true would be the only plot development that would interest me to continue reading the story though. The cliffhanger of Chapter 1 seems to imply that the protagonist’s friends will eventually turn on him, and hints that this occurs after he has “gone too far” into extremism… but truth be told, I’m not particularly confident this is going to be the actual plot direction given the standards of writing displayed so far – I’m more inclined to believe there’s probably some silly cop out with a “true evil mastermind” revealing himself to have framed the MC and all that.

Say what, Chapter 1?

So this is the elephant in the room for me personally – Re;Lord is an episodic game, back when it was the trend to divide your story into multiple games so you can try to squeeze out more profit out of reusing assets and engines. There might have been some strengths with this approach to game creation, but IMO, it also had much more flaws that overweight any benefits (guess what happens if the earlier installments of an episodic game doesn’t hit its projected sales amount.)

Re;Lord is a completed series in Japan, so at least it’s done and over with. Here in Englishland though, only two of the three chapters have been translated… and it took roughly 3 years between them. I didn’t think the game set my world on fire that much that I would be particularly willing to wait a literal 6 years to finish it up – I’ll probably forget half of the plot by then as I grow senile in my old age.

It’s a bit of a shame because having played a couple of hours into Chapter 2, there seems to be quite a few improvements made to the game system – for example, an income system based on capturing areas in the strategic map, which is multiplied by the number of turns remaining for the current map segment. The money earned this way can now be exchanged for goods and services consumable items or gear. So there’s actually reasons to be somewhat efficient in your map clearing now.

(In Chapter 1, there’s really no reason not to drag out every area so you can collect every resource and farm all the EXP until you have 1 turn left, since leftover turn limits doesn’t carry over between new map segments. So you can clearly see there’s some thought put into fixing the flaws of the original.)

But hey, right now, I’m gonna forget about the game and see if it’s finally complete in 2025.

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A Look At – Succubus Academia

Due to the sudden appearance of the seductive Succubi, the Academy begins to collapse due to the influence of the Dream World, becoming a dream-like setting where fantastic “monsters” roam for their prey. If unstopped, the “real” world will soon become nothing but a distant memory.

With no real means to battle them, the only hope for the Academy is for a human to satisfy them, in hopes of them leaving after devouring their fill. However, the only way to satisfy a succubus… is to be drained to death.

This is the story of the Chosen Sacrifices…

Image from Succubus Quest

It is impossible for me to talk about Succubus Academia without first talking about their developer – a doujin circle named SQDT, likely short for “Succubus Quest Development Team”, named after the first game they ever released (a game which may very well be featured here one day, we’ll see.)

You see, Succubus Quest is quite possibly the Grandfather of a rather (in?)famous genre in the RPGMaker scene – I shall loosely call them “Monstergirl” games. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the general conceit of these games is that the enemies are attractive but inhuman ladies of all kinds, but instead of using their 4-arms-wielding-swords to kill you to death, as they would in Final Fantasy, they instead smooch you until you give up and renounce your vow of celibacy*.

* This is the clean Steam-friendly version of what usually happens in these games.

Succubus Quest was a success, and thus came a gaiden game (named as “Succubus and The Blank Book” on DLSite), which I believe also did quite well. With their pedigree well proven by that point, SQDT aimed higher, announcing a Tactical RPG spin-off named Knights of the Dream and releasing a promising demo for it. The future of the group seemed bright…

…and then tragedy struck. Maybe.

I don’t believe there has been any actual confirmation on what happened – rumours were floating around about drama between team members, but one day, SQDT’s presence on the web simply vanished without fanfare. No announcement, just their official website displaying a lovely 404 error. Knights of the Dream ended up, amusingly enough, as something that would only exist in our dreams…

Yet nearly a decade later, SQDT suddenly resurfaced, with a change of plans – due to their long dormancy, the new team were not confident in their ability to deliver a TRPG with the standards of quality that they envision, so the decision was made to “return to their roots” – rather than finish up Knights of the Dream, their new game, Succubus Academia, would be a “One-on-One Battle” Monstergirl RPG, just like the original Succubus Quest.

When I learned of the news, I was a little ambivalent. All things considered, while there are games that make the effort of spicing up that style of combat, I just believe that tactical gameplay tends to have more full-bodied mechanics and are thus more interesting to me.

That being said, I’m happy to be proven wrong somewhat. SA’s battles are surprisingly engrossing, featuring three “personality” types to select from which affect not only combat style mechanically, but also changed the dialogue interactions with the enemies.

There’s the Path of a Hero, focused around giving yourself defense buffs and self-healing, the Path of a Coward, a battle style consisting around comboing several effects that stack together multiplicatively for a dramatic finish (which reminds me of playing a Rogue in World of Warcraft), and finally, the Path of a Slave, which increases the critical rate of BOTH parties in a fight, ensuring that a resolution to the battle will certainly be fast… even if half of the time, it isn’t in your favour.

While the game gives you the freedom to choose your style for the most part, you’ll find it worthwhile to eventually use all of them, due to factors such as some bosses having abilities that will force you into specific personality type, which is a very good way to find yourself completely underpowered if it’s one that you have neglected so far.

Succubus Academia also has excellent pacing overall, a far cry from the early days of the circle’s games where each new area have to be followed by 30 minutes of grinding in order to gain enough levels to progress. While this is an expected norm nowadays, certain RPGMaker games definitely did not get the memo, so it’s a relief to see that Succubus Academia does in fact understand the value of time.

There’s quite a few innovations explored with the game’s progression system – while an EXP system is in place by absolute technicality, most of the progression is item-based, collecting trinkets that allow you to learn another talent in the skill tree or upgrade your gear. Rather than raising your base stats, gaining enough EXP to level up simply spawns random items, which is certainly an interesting take on things, and while these items could potentially be the aforementioned trinkets (meaning that a level up could potentially provide permanent stat boosts), you will generally progress faster simply progressing through the dungeons and picking them up from the treasure chests within.

Each dungeon also has its own gimmick/puzzles which I found to be just interesting enough to add a bit of spice to exploration without being frustrating enough to warrant using walkthroughs or other external guidance – for example, the Swimming Pool area involves raising and lowering the water level which will cut off or open new paths, while the science lab involves looking at the shadows cast by characters while interacting with light sources.

So we’ve established that the gameplay’s pretty solid, but by far the most interesting thing about the game for me is the writing. I had expected the story to simply be an “excuse plot”, but as it turns out, Succubus Academia is a lot more subtly clever than I gave it credit for.

So let’s go through the general concept of the game again – In (Name Of school Here), several Succubi have decided to reveal themselves, which is pretty unfortunate for the humans. As denizens of the dream world, Succubi cause the surrounding area to collapse on itself, breaking the boundaries that exist between reality and fantasy, so even if you manage to find a nice hidey hole to survive the onslaught, you’ll poof out of existence when the world goes blip anyway.

There’s one, tiny glimmer of hope – if all of the Succubi can be satisfied and thus move on to other pastures, then maybe, just maybe, the survivors can get out of this situation intact.

Shame that involves the death of the poor sap who drew the short straw of having to actually perform that task.

Nowadays, I think most people just think of monstergirls as very exotic waifus, so it can be very easy to forget the first half of that word. While certainly not the only game to do so, Succubus Academia trends towards a bleaker tone than most. Death by Snu-Snu is a common fate in Monstergirl games, but that is generally reserved for Game Overs. In theory, in most other games of the genre, if the player savescums a lot and refrain from making poor decisions, they can reload their way to a Happy Ending where none of the dark stuff ever happens.

Not so in Succubus Academia, where the end result of every final showdown with the “main heroines” is death… even if you beat the boss battle! Complete with a “You are Dead!” text flashing on the screen written in blood red like it was some kind of Dark Souls game…

…which leads to the second gimmick of the game – you don’t play as one MC-kun…

…but multiple of them.

In a move that reminds me of Romancing SaGa 2, through the help of a mysterious witch with suspect motives, each character will pass on his stats and his unique ability to the next poor sap in line, and it’s up to the player to make full use of their very short lives in order to resolve the scenario.

To continue the pointless Dark Souls reference because I’m a hack, Succubus Academia never delivers its thesis statement outright, though it certainly isn’t very hard to figure out.

You see, Succubus Academia is an allegory for the ultimate fate that no Man can ever escape from.

Death.

Struggle, beg, cry, despair. In the end, Death comes for us all.

So how does one face the inevitable end?

Only by living life to the fullest can you leave the world behind with no regrets – a supernova shines brightest right before it fades into the night.

Yet our story does not end there, metaphorically speaking. In Succubus Academia, the theme of dealing with death is also inextricably tied with another – what we leave behind once we’re gone.

The inheritance mechanic is one of the main elements of the game that really showcase this theme – a single man is unable to resolve the situation, no matter how hard he tries. It takes the combined efforts of every hero, passing their abilities on to the next “generation”, to reach the end of this tale.

Succubus Academia takes a very common criticism of certain JRPGs and makes it a part of the actual narrative itself – the interchangeability of the playable characters. While the characters each have their unique trait, the longer the game goes on, the less these traits matter as the character you are playing as eventually inherits all potential powers and carries them over in a NG+.

Eventually, the player is left to ponder – who are you, really?

Are you Seiji, the timid young man whose life is overturned in an instance by the sudden knowledge of the true nature of his childhood friend? Are you Tohru, the rough delinquent with a heart of gold, who secretly feeds the cats behind the school even as the world goes mad? Nozumu, a member of the Drama club, prone to flowery self-expression. Junya, a member of the swim team with a crush on his beautiful team captain, or…

Perhaps you are neither of them.

Perhaps you are all of them.

In a manner much more literal than it appears, the game makes you realize that a person is, from a certain point of view, made up of all those who came before him.

But there is a second piece of the puzzle – this one, a little more meta.

You see, Succubus Academia was part of a collaborative project with other members of its genre. Characters from other monstergirl themed media would appear in Succubus Academia and vice versa, with the most well-known one likely being Alma Elma from the Monstergirl Quest series.

Traditionally, collaborations and crossovers have been treated as a bit of non-canon fun – perhaps Lelouch is thrown into a fantasy world, has exciting battles and lives his life peacefully from then on, but it’s all separated from the “real” story and ultimately has no bearing on the original source material.

This seems to be the case in Succubus Academia, as the collaboration characters are presented as optional superbosses for those who desire a greater challenge from the battle system. Just a bit of fun tongue-in-cheek, post-game bonus fights, right?

Only they aren’t. In fact, these bosses are actually key to achieving the game’s true ending, and tie into the themes of the story in a manner that will only really hit you once you let it stew for a while.

“As long as our spirit lives on within others, are we truly gone?”

Without Succubus Quest, all those other games inspired by it would likely never come to fruition. In a sense, it’s a give and take between generations. It’s a bit touching to see that a game that has inspired so many others will also be inspired by those games in return.

Succubus Academia’s main thesis is by no means original, though cleverly using the medium of game mechanics to deliver it gives it a lot of points, and is definitely noteworthy for a game that was just supposed to be an experiment for the developers to find their footing again after a long hiatus!

Outside of the RPGMaker tileset, which is rather unavoidable as a part of Japanese RPGMaker content by now, Succubus Academia has excellent presentation, with artwork that feels very professional compared to the usual reputation that the engine holds. Boss battles are animated, which adds a nice touch of motion to the entire thing, though it does unfortunately strangle low-end PCs.

But the most important component of SA’s excellent presentation is the fantastic custom OST by cres, a composer who does a lot of work in the genre (and apparently has some mainstream credit for working on tracks for rhythm games like Beatmania), who has made the soundtrack available for purchase digitally.

I’m fond of the first boss battle theme “Mystic River”, which really does exudes an aura of mysticality as its name suggests, really drawing you into its dream-like atmosphere and conveying the sense of a timeless myth, passed on through the ages.

I also like the progression of the Town theme, which become more distorted and dissonant as the game progresses and reality begins to break down, adding an element of horror to the proceedings.

Image from the defunct Demo version of Knights in the Dream (夢の魔物とお伽の騎士団)

So Succubus Academia was a rousing success for the company – the question is, what next? Personally, I’m hoping they’ll revive the Knights in the Dream project even if the final product will never be the same as what was originally showcased, but it would be nice to close the book on that project.

I end the article telling you to go buy the game with a picture of the awesome merchant dude, clever!!!

While I personally experienced the fantranslated version of Succubus Academia, the translator has been in contact with the developers and as of Feb 12 2022, the game is now officially available in English and is likely the definitive version of the game. You can find a link to purchase it at the end of the article.

(The fantranslation was based off an earlier version of the game – since then, additional post-game content has been added. There is also apparently a burgeoning mod scene for the Japanese version of the game, though I haven’t looked into it too deeply.)

By the by, I wasn’t quite joking with my Steam gag way earlier, because according to the official website, SQDT really is attempting to publish an All-ages version of the game there. I’m honestly not sure how they’re going to succeed given the well-known unwritten policy of Steam regarding characters in school uniforms but hey, some people like a challenge.

Related Links:
DLSite
Soundtrack

Posted in Eroge, Fantranslations, Game Spotlight | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Fire Emblem Fangame Roundup: Part 1

A Friendly Easygoing Guy

Hello and welcome to another installment of rounding up fangames. However, today we shall move on from the world of Super Robot Wars and set our sights on fairer shores for a change of pace: The Fire Emblem community.

More than a decade after the release of Fire Emblem 7 for the Gameboy Advance, this unassuming game spawned a dedicated community of fangames through modification of the original, with the game code being deeply dissected it’s only rivaled by Final Fantasy Tactics as an engine for fangame creation.

With how long the community has been around, so too has the attitudes towards strategy game design changed as experience in the hobby grows. While early attempts were rough due to major limitations such as the inability to change certain cutscenes, today FE fangame creators have access to many features such as mechanics from FE games both past and present and full control over the script, allowing them to easily build their dream game… if they’re dedicated enough.

Of course, with so many of them available, it might be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. The tastes of FE fans have changed, and I can safely say that simply slapping a smattering of underleveled, underequipped brigands on a wide open plain is no longer considered the pinnacle of game design. As usual, I hope this series will help bring attention to some that you might choose to consider, rather than be paralyzed by the wide spread in front of you.

Justice and Pride

Traditionally, going from the official Fire Emblem games to fangames tends to be a bit of a cultural shock. As fangames tend to be created by dedicated longtime fans of the series, there is a tendency towards a higher difficulty level overall, due to the expectations that anyone going into the field is already familiar with the concepts such as commonly accepted long-term strategic decisions – using the Jeigan rather than benching him, early promoting choice units (especially healers) in order to acquire more early powerhouse units, proper enemy baiting tactics and much more.

Justice and Pride is thus our starter introduction to the scene, as it refreshingly aims for a difficulty curve more similar to games like FE7, allowing players to enjoy themselves casually… without being a complete cakewalk like certain other games (Sacred Stones joke here)

J&P is also a good showcase to witness the QoL improvements that are now considered the de facto standards for GBA FE Fangames, especially for players coming in from the 3DS games with their massive breakthrough in that department. Some examples of such features are being able to press Select to view the total range of all enemies at once, view character Growth Rates and finally, the addition of a Fates-like skill system, perhaps the most impressive of the bunch, as only the final GBA game had implemented a rather rudimentary version of that feature.

The story of J&P does not end with this game, however, as additional games in the same universe such as J&P Gaiden has since been developed after the release of the original. Due to a change in design philosophy, I hesitate to recommend these games at this moment, but mostly due to the fact that I’m recommending J&P as a beginner’s game where the other games in the series lean more towards the “Experienced” side that’s usually the norm for FE Fangames. Feel free to check them out if you’re into that though.

The Four Kings

While new features are cool and exciting, not all fangames should feel obligated to use them, especially if they run counter to their personal design philosophy. While a very popular mechanic, some people consider FE’s skill learning mechanics to take away from the elegant simplicity of earlier games in the franchise.

One such fangame that eschews this feature in favor of its own take on character uniqueness is The Four Kings. And just what is its answer to the question of how to differentiate characters from each other without the sheer potential that having access to character skills gives you?

Unique weapons for each and every single one of the characters in the game.

Whether it’s Cielo’s Skyshot, a bow with an oddball 4 Range, Zachary’s Restrainer which deals half of the enemy’s HP on hit, Max’s Claymore, a massive blade that leaves the opponent no chance to counterattack or just the basic simplicity of Lionel’s Sabre, a sword effective against other Sword users, each character has a unique tool available only to them that grants them an edge over the competition.

Unit differentiation has always been something that Fire Emblem has struggled with, especially in earlier games where characters can start to blend in together and feel redundant due to the necessities of balancing around permadeath.

With that in mind, the standout feature of Four Kings fits snugly with the rest of the design in order to bring out the strength of its characters – due to the set-up of the game, most of the cast will see play in some form or another, with changes made to the standard FE mechanics to facilitate seeing your units as more than interchangeable pawns, such as an improved form of the Relationship mechanic where characters can get bonuses by being in close proximity with each other – in 4K, units are able to attain bonuses from a radius of 3 rather than 1, making it significantly easier to utilize them.

Coupled with strong mission design which require you to have a strong grasp of your units’ individual strengths and weaknesses, Four Kings is definitely a very solid fangame overall which really showcases its designer’s ethos and tastes when it comes to the Fire Emblem series. Just like J&P, Four Kings has additional games in its universe, such as the short prequel Deposition that you can check out after the main game if you are thus interested.

Void’s Blitzarre Adventure

Out of the games covered here today, this is by far the most “non-traditional” one, which also paradoxically requires one to be quite familiar with the general tropes of Fire Emblem to fully comprehend what it’s trying to do, and thus I have saved this for last.

VBA was created as part of a project known as a “Blitz”, a collaborative project where a group of interested creators team up in order to create a fangame under a very limited amount of time (to prevent schedule slippage and perfectionism), which is an original concept which I totally was not inspired by at all.

Due to the nature of the project, Blitz doesn’t have a plot to speak of, outside of the memetic “The Demon King killed my family!” line, which has become a running gag as the sole motivation of our heroes in similar projects.

Rather, Void’s strength lies in playing with many of the common FE gameplay tropes. For example, while a questionable idea, you can literally promote the main Lord at level 1 if you wish, as she starts with her special promotion item right from the very beginning of the game, a contrast to the common GBA FE criticism where they could only do so very late in the game through forced story events.

Or how about the starter Paladin character Leeroy, usually an invincible powerhouse in many other FE games. In VBA, he does have the massive power part down… in exchange for having god awful defenses, together with the pictured skill that will ensure that everyone and their dogs will hunt him down as a No.1 priority.

VBA’s gameplay is just wild overall – buyable Stone scrolls, which delivers an attack that petrifies enemies that can be used by anyone (thus meaning the only character stat that matters is Accuracy), Ballistas as drops, weird character/skill combinations, the list goes on. From a pure gameplay perspective this fangame is just a topnotch take on the usual Fire Emblem formula. I highly recommend it once you have some familiarity with the core FE systems under your belt.

That’s all for the first installment of the Fire Emblem fangame round-up! With such a wide variety to choose from, I hope this helps in taking your first steps into the wide world. As always, til next time.

Posted in RPG, Strategy | 4 Comments

A Look At – No Tears Rebirth – A Revolution in the Republic

Theme of this Product – “Pure Love”

The hero rides on his adventure in order to prevent the revival of the lord of another dimension…

No Tears Rebirth is an indie/doujin RPGMaker by NoTearsProject released in 2017 (JP)

(This article will contain major spoilers past a certain point, please refrain from reading past the point if you wish to experience the game on your own)

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Posted in Eroge, RPG | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Dead & Buried – Netmonster – Shunt Over, Yokai Watch!

1998 – General PTO first became aware of NetMonster life while examining the HTML source of a broken web page. Working intensely to develop a way to communicate with the creature, in time, he was able to create a dialog with it.

NetMonsters – digital creatures which make their home within the Internet. While largely benign, the malicious ones are responsible for wreaking much havoc on the Internet, breaking links, corrupting images, crashing servers and much more. Their leader? The enigmatic Netmonster known only as Shade.

1999 – the NetMonster Resistance Corp is formed. Dedicated to keeping peace and order between humans and NetMonsters, they are the last line of defence against the enroaching spread of Shade and his minions.

NetMonster is a Monster Collection Battle Game released in 1999 by White Mask Productions.

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Wizard’s Climber – Fantranslation Release

Softhouse Chara is a company known for several simulation games, such as island survival simulator Nangoku Dominion, but outside of its native homeland, the company has been rather unknown due to the fact that none of their games have ever been made available in English

Seems like this changes today, as an anonymous group has now released a fantranslation of one of their more popular games – Wizard’s Climber.

Wizard’s Climber is a stat raising simulation game, somewhat similar to Gainax’s Princess Maker, where you play as a Wizard assisting the heroine Celes in her attempt to become a great Wizard and win a Magic Tournament.

Fans of such games may find this to be of interest. You can find Wizard’s Climber translation patch here

Posted in Eroge, Fantranslations, Simulation, Visual Novel | Leave a comment

NewType Republic Released!

Hello everyone and Merry Christmas Eve!

For a long time I have unfortunately been neglecting my game design projects in favor of simple writing due to life issues, but hopefully this is where things turn around.

Some context to start with – a “RPGMaker Super Robot Wars SRPG Engine” was released recently and I just thought I would do a little something in it. This is a short 20 minutes crossover SRPG that admittingly comprises of my particular in-jokes so I’m sure most of it will be incomprehensible unless you’ve been following me for quite some time. Still, maybe you’ll get a chuckle or two out of it.

You can find NewType Republic over at the Misc page.

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Reflections on Dark Hero Party

(This article is intended to be read after the full completion of the game in question, as it assumes viewer’s knowledge of the events of the game in order to perform a full analysis.)

Dark Hero Party is an allegory for real life.

Despite its status as a meme, Dark Hero Party poses several interesting questions about the world we live in and asks us to reflect on what we truly value – both in fiction… and in reality.

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Posted in Eroge, RPG | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Dead & Buried – Sword Girls – The BH Era (Before Hearthstone)

Swords Girls Title.jpg

The Lazion Empire is a grand power present in the Sword Girl universe holding most of the territory. One day the empire asks for tributes to be paid, with their vast forces, the smaller countries quickly conceded. However, The Royale Kingdom and The Republic of Vita refused and other countries soon followed. Sword Girls follows the story of four girls within different factions. Sita Vilosa of the Vita faction, Luthica Preventer of the Crux, Iri Flina from the Darklore faction and Linia Pacifica from the Academy.

Swords Girls is a Korean Browser Based Digital Card Game running from 2011-2013 (EN) / 2017 (KR)

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A Look At – Nangoku Dominion – I’m a Survivor

Nangoku Title

You play as Aloha, a young man with amnesia who is stranded on a volcanic tropical island with nine other people (six girls and three men), and the objective is to survive on the island, and perhaps regain your memory or gain the love of one of the girls and escape with them.

Nangoku Dominion is a Survival Simulation game released by Softhouse Chara in 2005.

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Posted in Eroge, Simulation, Visual Novel | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments