Princess Maker 3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where to Get It: Steam

Well, this is technically a Going Back, but, since the game has now been released in the West, localised where previously it… Wasn’t, it’s in one of those interesting grey areas. Which, honestly, is a good segue into how I feel about Princess Maker 3 compared to Princess Maker 2. In places it giveth… And in others it taketh away…eth.

The Fairy Queen, both plot device and save/load feature.

Princess Maker 3, while by no means the most recent title in the series (I’m pretty sure we’re at 5 right now) is once again the tale of a single parent father figure who is given a small child by supernatural agency, and told to make them a Princess… Or at least, do the best they can. Just like the rest of the series, you do this by assigning study, work, and rest periods, buying things for your child, talking to them (Greeting to talk normally, Gentle to be uplifting, Strict to be stern), and generally really trying to earn that #1 Dad Coffee mug. Or pulling a Gendo Shinkicker, and raising your child badly. And yes, like other Princess Maker games, there are Bad Ends.

Beyond that, though, it feels very different, and, in some ways, a lesser game. Some of it, I’ll freely admit, is purely my own feeling. I don’t like the fairy butler, I’m used to Cube, the demonic butler. But other things are a lack of clarity. Wait, that’s the calendar? I added an entire year’s worth of study before I realised that what you’re actuallly doing is setting a week or two (hitting the B key to see how it affects your Budget in the calendar screen), swapping between the three categories, before finally hitting right click, watching it play out, and occasionally stopping things to have a heart to heart with my dear daughter. Who became a spoiled teenager. Although the achievements assure me she’s going to make a fine Southern Fairy Princess… Er, if I do some things it’s not told me about. Meanwhile, I liked that I could customise said Dad to more of an extent (now giving him a profession.)

Oh, damn, I missed the boat on a second Summer vacation!

Meanwhile, no more adventuring. It’s just working, studying, talking, and the addition for Princess Maker 3… Rivals. My darling girl is quite right to be weirded out by these individuals, one dimensional nerds whose only goal in life is to pick someone who seems to be about to best them in classes, pick on them until they either give up or are bested, and then, as a result of being bested, they… Become besties with my daughter? It’s very confusing. Part of this is because the game is less clear in how it presents information, part of it a general problem with lifesim games in general, which have not received as much designer attention and learning as other genres. And this is, after all, an older example of the genre.

It’s taken several years to build this building, but by god, we did it!

Is it a bad game? Not… Really. It does its job okay, it is, in some ways, a more focused game than Princess Maker 2, and in others, it’s a less clear game than the previous installment. I honestly hope that we see the rest of the series hit Steam, as, from a design standpoint, it is definitely an interesting game, in a largely underexplored genre. But it is definitely a game of its time still, and it shows, in accessibility issues such as hard to read text and unclear tooltips. So pretty much a straight port. As such, if you’re interested in lifesim games, go in with the caveat that this is, pretty much, a straight port of a game from 1997, with all this implies.

Pathfinder Adventures (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99 (£29.99 for Obsidian Edition, £3.99 each for a cosmetic DLC and a “Some good cards and nice dice” DLC)
Where To Get It: Steam

You lose a lot of stuff when adventuring, it seems. Sometimes, in the most dickish of ways. “Get hit before the fight even begins, Discard 1d4-1 cards (Unless you have armour, which won’t always work)”, “Permanently lose this card to close this location (Which you need to do to win the adventure)”, “Permanently lose this thing to pass this other thing.”

“If you didn’t have a weapon, or have and roll low, become slightly more screwed. Oh, and it goes back into the location deck for you to encounter again later.”

If it weren’t for getting new cards, and not having to pay money for all but the best cards, I’d probably have quit Pathfinder Adventures (a tablet port of a collectible, co-operative card game that has now hit Steam) long ago. As it is, getting those new cards introduces its own irritations. But we’ll get to this in a bit. First, the general idea.

The general idea is that you play a party of adventurers (modelled after the Pathfinders, the mascot group of Pathfinder, which, itself, is off brand Dungeons and Dragons) , each with a limited hand, trying to fulfil quests where both time and hand size are against you. Run out of the Blessing deck (ticking down 1 per each character’s turn, more if you encounter the villain of each adventure early and let them get away), and you lose. Run out of cards to draw from your adventurer’s hand, and they die, making it harder to win the adventure (and dying permanently, losing you a lot of hard work, if you’re foolish or brave enough to turn Permadeath on.) There’s a lot more to it than that, and the tutorial feels quite heavy because it has to introduce a lot of concepts, pretty quickly, but that, in essence, is the core of it. You draw cards at a location until you hit either a henchman or a villain, and, depending on which it is, you either fight them to “close” the location (IE – “The Villain Ain’t Here, Boss, And They Can’t Run Here”), or you encounter the Villain, and try to make sure they can’t go anywhere else while you finish them off. Failure to do so, as mentioned, screws you, as the villain escapes and takes valuable turns to deal with said villain with them, to a random location you didn’t manage to close in time.

I have four or so locations to close. I *can* close three of them. Maybe.

This, in essence, is a lot of my problem with Pathfinder Adventures: It’s very adversarial, and, even in victory, most of your rewards (whether added to each characters deck in play, or via post adventure rewards) are going to be thrown away, sold for the pitiful in-game currency sum of 1 Gold Piece per card, seemingly regardless of rarity or use. To give some idea of how insulting this feels, a generic blessing sells for the same price as either a better blessing, or a spell that adds 1d10+1 (big numbers, for low levels) to a wizard’s normally quite shitty combat skills, a quest generally rewards you with 100 GP for completion, and a chest that allows you to add four random cards (and sometimes dice, a cosmetic item) to your Unclaimed pile (which, thankfully, you get to keep until you “claim” them, at which point they become subject to the same “Most things get thrown away” rule) costs 500 GP.

Generally, your progression will be upward, to better, more damaging and more roll increasing cards, but any adventure that involves a lot of banishing cards is going to reduce that trend, and there is, like very old school Dungeons and Dragons, the occasional “No, fuck you, you just take damage” that makes the adventure more difficult in entirely frustrating ways.

Just in case you thought I was joking. “Damage taken cannot be reduced.” Damage = Discard cards from your hand. The one saving grace is that it isn’t *Banish* cards from your hand (Permanently lost.)

Visually, it’s quite nice, even if some UI elements (like that Blessing counter that determines whether you run out of time or not) get lost in the crush, and the sounds are okay. But I got tired of the music (especially the wailing violin of the theme tune) very quickly, there is no multiplayer that I’m aware of (Unlike the card game itself, which you play with friends), and honestly? The adventures have started annoying the hell out of me with the aforementioned “No fuck you, things get worse” pretty early on. It has a fair bit of depth, it has a fair few strategic elements that help minimise the luck based elements (Such as adding dice via blessings, changing the skill used to one you have better dice in via other cards, etcetera, etcetera), and I will, in its defense, say that it currently keeps Pay 2 Win and microtransaction fuckery to an absolute minimum, but otherwise, if I wanted to be told “Rocks fall, you lose 3 cards” , I’d join a Pathfinder game without asking what kind of DM was running things.

The Mad Welshman hastens to add that, if you like Pathfinder, you may have a more enjoyable experience. Emphasis on “may.”

Sin Castle (Experimental Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where to Get It: Steam

You’ll notice the “Experimental” in the title here, and this is for a very simple reason: Sin Castle has not yet been translated into English, and I was curious to see if it was as accessible as it seemed from the video. Could it, in short, be played without knowledge of the language?

In short? Yes… And no. Now let’s get into the long, unpacking where it does well, and where it fails (Sometimes regardless of language.)

There was this Serpent, see? And he convinced the first two folks to… And then THINGS HAPPENED.

To give a brief summary of the game and what I understand of its story, it’s a puzzle game with roleplaying game elements where you click on things to interact with them, and use items to get ahead in what will be your main interaction, clicking on monsters to kill them (While they do their level best to kill you too.) The eight levels are themed on the Tree of Knowledge (Which started this whole Sin mess, if you believe some interpretations of the Christian Bible) and the Seven Deadly Sins of Christianity (Sloth, Greed, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, and Pride. Not in that order.)

After only four hours of what can best be described as “Bumblefucking my way through”, I have reached what is either Greed or Envy. The level graphic could, to be fair, mean either, but I’m tending toward envy, as equipping good items seems to raise enemy stats. Each level, as you might have guessed from this, has a somewhat thematic set of gimmicks. And sadly, it’s these gimmicks that make the game harder if you don’t speak the lingo, and at times bring the game down regardless.

Let’s take the first chapter, the Tree of Knowledge, and its two main gimmicks to start with. One gates progress, while the other simply makes things more difficult at the end. Let’s start with the one that makes it more difficult to beat the level: Some of the enemies (Demons of some variety, I’m guessing) have a two-faced symbol on them. There are two items you get fairly early on: A stocks (of the “Put someone in the stocks!” variety) and a Rod of Asclepius (Symbol of healing and medicine.) Kill the monsters with the two-face symbol without using the right one of these two on them (And it is not always the Rod, unsurprisingly), and they buff the Tree’s draconian guardians, with a worst case scenario of making the final three guardians tedious, and the last one nigh impossible to defeat. Use the right symbol, and a blue winged shield will appear, presumably saying it’s fine to kill them. Wrong one, and you might as well not kill that enemy.

Each level of the castle is its own thing, with progress not being carried over. And, after the prologue, maps can get big.

This is an interesting gimmick, but the language barrier makes this one a bit trial and error, as does, for example, the gimmicks of three of the four boss monsters in the second level, Gluttony. The other gimmick of the first level, however, is…

…Look, you can’t kill certain monsters (As you don’t have the right weapons) until you beat the Serpent of the Garden in Rock-Paper-Scissors. Except it’s Sword (Quicker than axe, breaks on shield), Shield (Blocks sword, axe breaks shield), and Axe. And, unless you went fully Hitpoints on your stats, you have, at worst, 2 incorrect answers before you die and start again, compared to the Serpent’s 5. To say I am not enchanted with this is an understatement along the lines of “The Atlantic is a bit damp.” I am also less than amused with how certain monsters are a matter of slooooooowly out damaging them, waiting for your regeneration to hit safe levels before hitting them for just more than they can regenerate in the same time, and… It takes a few blows to see, on average, if you’re actually doing anything with said creatures.

Hrm… 50HP deducted for each wrong answer… I feel the deck is *slightly* stacked against me, Mister Snake!

You can, for a certain (rising) fee, respec your character, or attain silver and gold keys you might be running low on or out of, and you do slowly get money on a timer, but these both feel, not so much balancing out, but padding. Especially as both price and timer on the keys go up as you attain more. Each Sin’s level is self contained, starting you at Level 1, no stats, no keys, and some levels, yes, have less keys than others. It can be frustrating at times.

Overall, though, this is an interesting concept, it does some interesting things, and it has a cool and good aesthetic to it with what appears to be good colourblind awareness, nice music, and okay sounds. It’s just the execution could use a little polish.

The Mad Welshman knows a fair bit about Sin. Kind of comes with the territory of being a moustache twirling villain, really…

Syberia 3 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £29.99 (£39.99 deluxe, £9.99 deluxe upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store

The Syberia series has always been interesting to me, with a charming alternate world, interesting art direction, and some haunting melodies. You may think this is a prelude to a positive review. Alas, it is mainly an informative review, because Syberia 3 is an example of how certain design choices should, perhaps, stay in the past.

Giant furry ostriches, somehow not knowing where their own ancestral mating ground is. Still charming as heck.

Syberia 3 is the continuing story of Kate Walker, a lawyer turned adventurer, and currently the White Saviour of the Youkol tribe, whose migrations are being disrupted by racists in the town of Valsembor. As such, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, writing wise, as the Youkols are very interesting, and the focus of the story is meant (As in the previous two games) to be on natural conservation, but, in adventure game fashion, they are oddly helpless. As, as it turns out, is Kate Walker, at the mercy of the adventure game protagonist’s natural enemy: Awkwardly placed objects.

While there is no fail state for the game as far as I am aware (So no Sierra style deathtraps, or Dead Man Walking scenarios), there are puzzles that rely on finding things that are hard to spot, even with the addition of context sensitive dots that fade into existence when you are close to a thing you can interact with. Some of them, alas, also rely on adventurer kleptomania, and talking to the right individual to change the situation somehow. When the very first main puzzle (A shifty psychiatrist presents Kate with a key that’s meant to set her free, but it’s deliberately damaged… And no, there’s no way to see this beforehand that I know of) involves not only stealing a key from a sleeping patient, but to enter an area that it’s not that clear you can enter, take a mechanical parrot to lure a rather odd owl… It gets a bit nonsensical at times, and as such, you will sometimes find yourself more blundering on the solution than having thought of it.

You, er, don’t want to maybe close the door behind you, Kate?

The control scheme is mouse for interaction, keyboard for walking, although the controller is not only an option, the game recommends it, and it’s not hard to see why. While not actually tank controls, Kate Walker has a bit of a turning circle for a lithe adventurer, and it’s fairly clear that the game’s interface was designed with controller in mind first. This is a shame, as there’s elements to the controls I quite like, such as shifting objects or opening things (occasionally) by moving the mouse, but to page through the inventory for the one thing I can use on an item gets somewhat annoying.

This is a real shame, as the voice acting really isn’t bad, the music is still pretty damn good, and the aesthetics, if they cleared up some problems where consistency of location has overruled both the principle of leading the player’s eye to places they can go or things they can do, and the one where you might want to help colourblind folks see a little clearer. Yes, you can be stylish and still colourblind friendly, folks, there’s certainly enough games I’ve complimented on this in the past to see this.

Pictured: An obviously Not-Good Person.

In any case, while it definitely has some style going for it, the substance is somewhat wonky, and I would only really recommend this either to folks who really want to see where Kate Walker has ended up, or adventure gamers well used to the foibles of the genre.

The Mad Welshman, it should be mentioned, really likes that key at the beginning. It makes next to no sense, but it’s a very pretty key.

Golden Krone Hotel (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.10

With Golden Krone Hotel, we’re looking, once more, at a turn based hack with transformation as a core gimmick. Earlier this week, we took a look at Midboss, a game with similar themes, but the difference between these two games couldn’t be more stark than night and day. Which is fitting, considering the transformations in Golden Krone Hotel.

Hahaha, stupid humans can’t see in the dark (The game has, as of 0.10, a tutorial. It plays once, and gives you the absolute essentials quickly and efficiently)

The general idea is that you are a General, who is also an assassin, and you are infilitrating the Golden Krone Hotel, owned by a Vampire called Fane. Vampires and Humans uneasily co-exist here, and as such, you’re going to get into a fight whether you’re a vampire, a human, or, worst case scenario, a Werewolf, who nobody likes when they’re obviously being a Werewolf. So form, in this game, truly matters, and it matters in a number of ways. Vampires, for example, don’t read (No, don’t ask why, although I’ll be coming back to this), get damaged by sunlight and fire, but can see in the dark. Humans, on the other hand, can improve themselves, read, but can’t see in the dark and have to eat to survive. Werewolves are basically humans, but become murderbeasts in the full moon. And, depending on whether you’re a vampire or a human, vampires or humans will talk to you, telling you things.

In a way this, along with the narrative framing, are the weakest portions of the game. There’s not a lot folks have to say, except to remind you that General Arobase has a serious grudge against Fane, and couldn’t possibly be here (They’re a master of disguise, we couldn’t possibly be General Arobase!), and the roles of various human or vampire enemies. So if you’re playing for rich lore, or a deep story, look elsewhere, this isn’t exactly Bard material, and bits of it fall apart under scrutiny (Vampires not being able to read is purely a mechanical conceit, and not supported, as far as I can tell, anywhere narratively.)

“I hear this General Assassin who’s good at disguise is here, but you couldn’t *possibly* be them!”
Ha. Ha ha ha ha. Haaaaa.

But mechanically, the game is both strong and simple. Movement is in four directions, everything moves when you do, and you know exactly what to expect. Playing as a vampire, you can heal by licking up blood, and as a human, you can eat, heal if you have the skill, cast spells, and fire a revolver (With limited ammo.) What makes the game interesting, however, is that just because you start as a human or a vampire or a werewolf, doesn’t mean you have to stay that way, because some potions… Change you. And others will affect you differently depending on what form you’re in.

Demon’s blood, for example, will turn you into a vampire temporarily, but will also buff you if you are a vampire, while Luna potions will turn you into a werewolf, again, temporarily. And enemies will change their reactions accordingly. So, playing as a vampire, if you want access to spells, you drink a specific kind of potion, and bam, all those books you picked up are suddenly read, you have skills, you have extra stats (Which last beyond that human transformation), and you can read what lore there is, without having to worry about spellcasting humans. There’s also a fair amount of “neutral” enemies, who’ll try to kill you no matter what, from the get go. So there’s difference, and there’s interest, and everything is accessible and clear. Even the usual equipment problem is abstracted: Better equipment is kept, adding its bonus to your defense, melee, or revolver attack, and worse equipment is added to your score, measured in gold.

Just like Midboss, reviewed earlier this month, you attack enemies by walking into them or casting spells, and numbers happen. The spells, however, are more dynamic, and there’s more to do with the environment.

As such, if you’re looking for an entry level game to let you know what the fuss is with all these roguelikes, roguelites, roguelikelikelikesortas, and whosamaroguesits, Golden Krone Hotel is definitely not a bad start. It’s pretty colourblind friendly, clear in its concepts from the get go, and, being turn based, it doesn’t require manual dexterity or good reflexes to play. Its not the prettiest game out there, the music and sounds are okay at best, “meh” at worst, and you’re probably not playing it for the rich lore, but I would recommend this to both roguelike fans and people looking to understand what the fuss is about.

The Mad Welshman, alas, is not a master of disguise. Although he does enjoy throwing his disguise aside and cackling wildly. Perhaps that’s part of why…