Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal (Review)

Source: Gold Coins from Captain Skully Bartella.
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the majority of which were written by tabletop legends Steve Jackson (NOT THAT ONE) and Ian Livingstone, were an interesting part of the tabletop scene, although early books in the series were well known for gotcha traps, instant death paragraphs, and some highly frustrating collectathons. Looking at you, Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and your god-damn keys.

Ah, the heady days before “Mimic” became common parlance for anything pretending to be a chest…

They were also experiences that, like your linear, curated experience in a game, could be successfully completed on replaying… Through the notes you took last time, reducing the challenge of future runs.

Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal reduces the latter to a certain extent with its adaptations of the Deathtrap Dungeon trilogy (Gamebooks 6, 21, and 36, all written by Ian Livingstone), while… Faithfully preserving the gotchas, instadeaths, and collectathons.

As such, it can best be politely described as “An acquired taste.” Less diplomatic descriptions are usually long strings of vulgar language, interspersed with terms like “Garnet” , “Infinite Unwinnable Fights of Padding”, “Gotcha”, and “Black Imp.”

To be fair to the developers, they have taken steps to palliate this, with multiple difficulty levels and a lives system, allowing you to take multiple runs without losing your progress… To a point. Default difficulty has 9 lives, and, unless you are supremely lucky on those die rolls, and know exactly the path to take through the game… You will lose at least a couple of those lives. We’ll get back to that.

The Fighting Fantasy Experience, Part 1.

First, there’s something we’ve been missing this whole time: How have Nomad Games and Asmodee Digital adapted a set of Choose Your Own Adventure books? As a sort of top-down, tabletop like experience with dice and cards, with random encounters to both spice up the emptier bits of the dungeon, and replace one-off events that you’ve already dealt with. It looks pretty nice, with some good artwork, definitely nice looking maps, and music that doesn’t, generally speaking, outweigh its welcome. Menus are clear, and, while I would have liked some of the map segments to look a bit less muddy, clear icon signposts for direction choices and doors helps with this a lot. Text is in neat boxes, choices are clearly highlighted… It isn’t bad, in this respect.

But, amusingly enough, part of the problem is that it is a mostly faithful adaptation of the Deathtrap Dungeon trilogy. A trilogy which has some rather painful moments, such as, early in the Trial of Champions gamebook, six fights in a row, with minimal healing every two fights. Oh boy, I hope your skill rolls are good, my friends, because otherwise, even the generous checkpointing for this particular part (So notable because it’s more generous than, say, the entirety of Deathtrap Dungeon, which has precisely one checkpoint), you may well lose a few of your precious lives here! Add in some difficult, if not unwinnable fights with meager rewards in some paths, gotcha traps in both set and random encounters (Take 2 Stamina Damage. No, just take it, this isn’t a Skill or Luck roll like the others, you Just Take Damage), and some places where only memorisation will save you from unpalatable options there’s precisely no signposting for. Looking at you, rat staircase and arena fight in Deathtrap Dungeon! Looking… Right… At you!

It is, however, nice in that you do get to keep your items, and setpieces you’ve completed remain completed, even if you die.

The Fighting Fantasy Experience, Part 2. Albeit without the part where you skim through the book to find the paragraph number where you succeed.

Overall, Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal is, as noted, an acquired taste. So long as you’re okay with the fact that this digital adaptation only slightly pulls the punches of CYOA gamebooks from the 80s, with arbitrary game design moments to match, then you may well find joy and interest in this title. If this isn’t your thing, then y’know what? I don’t entirely blame you, as going back through this trilogy, swearing at various elements, and then thinking “Oh… Yeah, this was roughly how I felt the first time” was quite the experience. The game is also, at the time of writing, somewhat crash prone, although I’m sure that will be dealt with in time.

Still… It’s not often I both congratulate and curse a developer for correctly emulating the feel of an old property… Not often at all…

The Mad Welshman still remembers how his first experience with another CYOA series was the Deathlords of Ixia. He feels this may have had lasting effects…

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Omensight (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Artbook £7.19 , Soundtrack £7.19 , Collector’s Edition £29.87)
Where To Get It: Steam

Omensight is, on the one hand, a game I quite like, set in a world I quite like, and spiritual successor (set in the same world, but some time/place else) to another game I quite like by the same company.

On the other, it’s a game where some of its options and choices are, to my mind, flawed and hamhanded. Still, let’s describe what’s basically going on. Because this will be the last time, both in game and review, it is basic.

Battle animations are fluid, and you can dash quite a bit round the battlefield… But then, so can some of your opponents.

Omensight is a spiritual successor to Stories: Path of Destinies (by the same company), and involves many of the same themes and mechanics remixed. There are time travelling shenanigans for our hero(ine. Being some form of spirit, gender is not assumed) , the Harbinger. There are fights to be fought against enemies using light, heavy, and special attacks in combos, with better performance leading to better rewards (And some enemy types being largely immune to some attacks.) There’s lore to collect, with the overall goal of solving a murder mystery: Who killed the Godless Priestess, whose demise has unbalanced the power structures of two warring kingdoms, and is about to end the world in a single night?

Problem the first: The solving bit is slightly inaccurate. What you’re doing is going through the last night of four individuals, trying to encourage them to lead you to both clues and, in the end, the solution via the cunning use of memories and following them. Sort of a Dirk Gently mystery. And the more efficient at solving the mystery you are… The less you get to know about the characters, the world, and the very mystery you’re involved in, beyond the core bullet points.

Twenty minutes after taking this screenshot, I accidentally ended up taking the path to the next chapter, through my desire to open locked doors. WHOOPS. This screen (Reminding of clues) is not available in “True Detective Mode.”

Equally, beyond a certain difficulty level in the detective mode, you lose out on a tool that can just as much remind you where you are after a break as supposedly give away the way forward. The same way forward that the Priestess will mention… The characters will mention… And… Look, as a murder mystery, it plays its hands too heavily, which means it’s very tough to miss out on the solution to each chapter’s conundrum. Which leads into the problem that you can, quite easily, miss the story collectibles because the game is too good at solving its own mystery.

Continuing on, there are four keys, and each chapter contains one of the titular Omensights, visions with which the plot’s direction… Changes. Funnily enough, the game does foreshadow its twists fairly well, even if, as noted, I don’t feel like much of a detective because its clues are heavy handed, and the four main characters are fairly well written. They play on you being a silent protagonist. Sometimes, as in the case of the cheeky (Yet brittle) leader of the Rat Clan rebellion, Ratika the Bard, they put words in your mouth. Sometimes, like when you’re collecting things, they speculate as to your motives. This can get annoying, but I also appreciate that yes, when the Harbinger, the being that both presages and is meant to prevent the apocalypse, takes a break to smash barrels for money, you too would wonder what was up with that. The voice acting is pleasant, although sometimes stereotypical (Hi Emperor as Grand Vizier! Hi Thug Bear With A Heart of Gold! ), and the music is good. Not always memorably so, but it fits well with its areas and its timing.

One of the titular Omensights, which the Harbinger will then show other people… To get to the truth in perhaps the messiest way.

Beyond the sound and story design, combat in Omensight is a little annoying, as, on any difficulty above the easy, quick reflexes are mandatory for the dodging, and being able to quickly visually identify your enemies is mandatory if you want to do well in a fight, as some enemies have shields (Meaning that light attacks will just bounce off), some have counters (Meaning you’d best be away as soon as the Angrier Exclamation Mark appears, or else), and some are flying, and so a pain in the rear end by definition (with the saving grace that all but one of these flying enemies falls down when hit, and can be coup-de-graced immediately after.) It doesn’t feel especially great, and, for all that there’s a lot of fighting in the game, it’s by no means the strongest aspect of it.

For all these flaws, Omensight still works fairly well, partly because it has a fairly strong storyline (Although it’s a downer… Apocalypses generally are), some solid, low poly aesthetics (Each area has a different feel, and I like that) , some good voice acting and music, and adjustable difficulty separated into the detectiving and combat end, so, if you really want, you can turn both to their lowest settings, and just… Enjoy the ride. That’s the nice thing about adjustable difficulty: You get to do you.

I’ll let you guess which clan is which.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say today. It’s incredibly hot at Chez TMW.

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Moonlighter (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s interesting how marketing can change your mind. If I, perhaps, hadn’t been told, by quite a few people, that Moonlighter was “Recettear with the bad trimmed off” , I would perhaps feel nicer about it. As it is, the comparison leaves me distinctly unimpressed, and I can no longer quite be certain that my assessment of it on its own as “Alright, but never really excelling at any one thing, including making me care” isn’t based on this comparison.

Will, bridger of the gap between Merchant and Warrior. Twice the work, half the happiness.

There is a world, a world with a dungeon. As with many worlds with dungeons, people exploit this one, and an economy surrounds it. Or rather, an economy is restarted by it, as Will, a Merchant who owns the dungeon shop Moonlighter, re-enters the dungeons for things for his shop. Cue action RPG with shopkeeping elements.

As with many ARPGs of the modern day, the key to playing Moonlighter well is to know when to attack and dodge, using a variety of weapons, judging enemy patterns. It feels meaty, I’ll definitely give it that… But it also feels frustrating, for several reasons. Inventory limits are a starter. Every trip to the dungeon, only 20 things (plus equipment) can be carried. Items stack to their own limits (usually 5 or 10), and both cursed and uncursing items don’t stack. Why is this system here? Mainly to add something to inventory management. Unfortunately, what it adds is… Inventory management.

Shopkeeping is similar. What gets added when you level up the shop once? Shoplifters. Extra work, on top of the work you’ve got from extra features. You can, eventually, get shop security, but in the meantime… Enjoy chasing thieves to hit spacebar over them, or lose your stuff!

Is enjoy the right word? I’m thinking, and I’m thinking that the answer is no.

“Now remember, this one can only go to the sides, this one breaks if you get hit a bit, this one stops that rule applying for the first thing with rules it…” Please stop. Please.

Similarly, there’s a narrative, and it starts… Well, honestly, it doesn’t start well at all. Will goes into a dungeon ill equipped, gets his ass handed to him by a feature never seen again, gets told “Don’t look into the dungeon” by his Wise Old Mentor, then gets given a sword by said Wise Old Mentor, who continues to tell him not to go into the dungeon. Getting mixed signals here. Meanwhile, something builds up as you explore the dungeon, where it appears the dungeons are not, strictly speaking, dungeons, but parts of other worlds, randomly snatched with their security features still active. Is there a reason for it? Yes. Is it revealed? Yes. Does it, eventually, get resolved? Yes.

Is it particularly satisfying? Not really.

Indeed, this is the main problem, narrative wise, with Moonlighter. There’s little to no pressure, it’s true. But there are also little to no stakes involved, not much of a reason to care about the shop, not much of a reason to talk to any townsfolk outside of the shopkeepers. There’s an economy, but since nothing seriously threatens that economy, there’s no real incentive to keep those wheels turning except… That you need to do it if you want a decent chance of getting to the end of the game. Long before which, due to the lack of either threat or incentive to spend, you will have more money than you know what to do with, because, despite the seemingly silly costs of anything above the second tier, the rewards from the dungeons correspondingly increase.

So, in summary? It somewhat works mechanically, in the servicable, achieves its goals way, but Moonlighter feels uninteresting, at least in part because there’s nothing, good or ill, that properly ends up pushing the narrative forward.

I will give the game this: To be an adventurer is to often perpetrate or be complicit in otherwise criminal activity, and it acknowledges it.

The Mad Welshman is sometimes confused by what his peers consider “With the bad bits gone.”

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Princess Maker 5 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

For all that the Princess Maker games are, in their way, somewhat unfriendly, there’s nearly always something delightful about raising your small child, be that into a great scholar, a dancer or musician, or a HELLION OF BATTLE. And Princess Maker 5, recently localised into English (A little clumsily, it must be said, but still mostly understandable) does well at showing the joyous end of raising children.

HRNGH, GONNA STUDY, YEAH! (I love how *pumped* she is for academia. Always)

So, the Princess Maker games have changed in the details many times over the years, but the core life-sim gameplay has remained the same: Schedule time for your daughter’s activities, grow her stats (while paying attention to her needs), take part in events, and, depending on what you’ve done over the years, get one of the many, many endings. For all that it is somewhat complex, since there are no, strictly speaking, bad endings (Or few, easily avoidable ones), I can somewhat forgive the unfriendliness of the Princess Maker series. This time, it’s set in the modern day, and adventuring has returned!

Wait… Modern day? Adventuring? What’s my daughter beating up, the undeserving homeless? No, monsters do exist, because your lovely daughter, saved by Cube during the revolution after the end of the (sadly unlocalised) Princess Maker 4, comes from another world. A world that impinges on ours soon enough…

…But this, like many elements of Princess Maker 5, take time to get to. For the first year or two, it’s the usual deal of taking part-time jobs, studies, electives… Of making friends, and going to events to destress… Of buying Winter and Summer dresses (Sidenote: I enjoy how accurate the game is that children’s clothes are much more sodding expensive) , and, of course, exams. Mostly, features work as well as they did before. Weekly scheduling is better than PM3’s more confusing system, the town is hard to get around at first because you don’t, without a guide, know where anything actually is, and, if you’re looking for a specific ending, then you’re probably not doing it without a wiki.

On the one hand, there are a *lot* of stats. On the other, don’t worry, focus on a few, others will come naturally.

Still, the issues of an older lifesim game re-released aside, and some odd translations that seem odder if you don’t know Japanese culture (Bathe with your daughter is communal bathing, a common practice, and not anything filthy), Princess Maker 5 shines in one area in particular: The job animations. When studying or practicing skills, good performance feels good (Such as Athletics club, where she pulls ahead of the pack and wins by a nose), and when failure occurs? Well, I’ve winced more than a couple of times in sympathy, especially with Karate club, where failing to break those planks is… Particularly painful. There’s a lot of character to the daughter, and the cast is also characterful and interesting. Adventuring makes a welcome return, albeit with less control, but hey, adventuring, heck yes!

If you like life-sims, Princess Maker was one of the first big series in the genre, and Princess Maker 5 is definitely worth a look. I wasn’t sold on the blond moppet at first, but the animation, the writing, and the world definitely charm, and, not gonna lie, one of the things that charms the most is the cultural references, such as going to see a Tokusatsu show and cheering on the protagonists twice a month. GO BLADE MAN! YOU CAN DO IIIIIT!

As you deepen relationships, even more events unlock. Alas, love relationships are hetero only, but still… BASEBALL.

The Mad Welshman would probably be a terrible parent in real life, but here, he’s raising a master of both art, both in the traditional and martial senses. Fran: The Demoness With A Paintbrush.

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The Spatials: Galactology (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Spatials: Galactology is an ambitious game, in some aspects. Building and managing a station, exploring worlds, diplomacy, tourism… There’s a lot to the game. And so, it’s perhaps unfortunate that I’ve not been able to get very far with it because it doesn’t explain most of its own complexities, and some of them? Just plain don’t make sense.

The Hygienizer 3000. On a permanent Spin Cycle, it seems…

Case in point: The shower has interrupted the sleeping. It will always interrupt sleeping if it’s in the same room. Even if, as in the above shot, it is neither in use or supplied. Now, I can’t speak for all showers, but my own? Doesn’t do this. In fact, it’s utterly silent until turned on. I have yet to encounter a shower that does more than silently sit there until turned on. Admittedly, putting a shower in your bedroom is probably not a wise idea (It’s clearly not a futuristic sonic shower, it needs soap. Which I don’t have) , but that it’s the noise that’s the problem? Baffles and infuriates.

Okay, a load from the nearest quicksave fixed that. Showers set to be built elsewhere… With a whole bunch of balloons in the shower room because, inexplicably, they also make the place look bad. So decorations are mandatory if you want people to feel good. Noise mainly seems to impact sleep. And then something breaks down. I’m also running out of metal to build things with. Ohhh yeah, I can set my ships to pick up cargo from more than one place, why didn’t the game tell me this before? So, off I go, to a thankfully human planet with metal on it, and… My first combat encounter, hoo boy! Combat, diplomacy, exploration, it has it… NO, STOP BUILDING THAT STORAGE DEVICE, KEEP YOUR FRIEND HEALTHY, YOU – Oh, the only guy with a gun is dead.

OM NOM NOM NOM NOM UNWARY PLAYER DELICIOUS.

Time to restart, I guess! Or… Not. The Spatials is, it’s true, an ambitious game, with a lot of elements. But I am, funnily enough, not one of those people who enjoys basic, important mechanics obfuscated from me, and it does this a whole lot. It has the dreaded Decoration Tax, a mechanic I’ve always despised, not least when it’s employed in the oddest of places. Yes, I can understand how a recycling machine may be noisy and clunky. I do not understand why a shower room won’t be enjoyable for its occupants unless it has a minimum of 2 balloons (1 to cancel the shower’s aesthetic penalty, 1 to improve the aesthetic to “slightly nice.”) Research, similarly, means the early game, normally a case of “Build things to make you self sufficient”, becomes “Research these eight things you need simply to get people to come to the planet and buy things before your money runs out.”

The Spatials: Galactology, will, I’m sure, be fine for people who actively enjoy the heavy amount of micromanagement and wikiplay needed to get off the ground here. I am not one of those folks, and the unfriendliness and lack of decent information is a major turn off. Its aesthetic is serviceable, but the bizarre internal logic… Not so much. Not so much by a long shot.

Every now and again, the VP will turn up and give you big demands for desperately needed money. It’s p. safe to say I did not, in fact, build 8 objects.

The Mad Welshman has already railed against the Cabinet Tax… But Balloon Tax? This is getting silly…

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