Fhtagn! Tales of the Creeping Madness (Review)

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

I do love me some Lovecraftian shenanigans. I also love party visual novels. So you can perhaps imagine my pleasure when I saw Fhtagn! (Pronounced Fuh-tagh-un, Fe-Tahh-gun, or Steve), which is both of these things, involving the summoning of Dread Lord Cthulhu (who sleeps and is dead in his island city until the Stars Are Right comes on the telly.)

Ahh, the sleepy town of Arkham, home of scenic Night Terrors and a solid, if mind-bending academic institution!

It is, in its basics, a very familiar formula: There are up to four players in local co-op, eight locations, seven stats, six turns, and eight possible endings in the base game. With two tasks per location, each giving some combo of three stats (Except gambling at Madame Fufu’s), and only one player allowed per location, it’s up to the players to get their stats up to the major and minor requirements of their chosen ritual by succeeding in stat based events and upping stats with their chosen activity, while…

…Ah, now this is where it gets interesting. As I found out when streaming the game, just one of the players succeeding in their ritual isn’t enough for a victory… So there is a co-op element… It’s just, by its layout, you expect it to be competitive. Good trick!

In any case, this is one of those games where the writing is important, and is it good? It is! The humour in this game lands a lot more than it misses, like how a spicy burrito coming back to haunt your cultist can, in some circumstances, actually bring you closer to your goal… Whether that’s by successfully blaming your gastric upset on someone else, or by holding it in and inspiring the cult to greater eldritch dancing by your own tortured contortions. It’s a game aware of, and affectionately parodying its inspiration, while also sidestepping a lot of the stuff that makes liking Lovecraft’s work rather awkward (You know, like the fact that a lot of it is based on racism as well as the limitations of rationalism.)

IA! IA! HOWARDU FHTAGN!

Aesthetically, it also hits the shoggoth on the (nominal) noggin, with some lively, jazzy music to get you into that roaring 20s mood, some good animations, and, in the Mayor’s office, Himself rules over Arkham, perhaps for a Newer, Better Deal… Well, until we wreck the place and summon the Older, Awful Deal, anyway…

As to flaws, I can’t really pick anything out as more than a minor niggle, for two reasons: While the base game itself is quite short (In less than 2 hours, which includes a lengthy stream, I have 5 of the 8 endings), the developers are adding content quite soon to the game, and it has a content creation tool, which some folks have already added things, and you can, too (LINK)

As such… It’s tightly designed, fun to play with friends, got a lot of humour and charm, and you can make new content for it? That’s two squamous appendages up, Fhtagn!

LovecraftianMood.JPG

The Mad Welshman has only two squamous appendages, so this is a hefty endorsement indeed!

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Monster Prom (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Monster Prom is one of those games where, when the lines land, they really land, for good or for ill. Case in point, I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness inherent in my Slayer-assisting class being a Gun-Haver (Superpower: Have all the guns) , but, earlier that game, there’d been a joke about sedating someone for drinks, and pretty much everyone playing both grimaced, and said something to the effect of “Not cool, game, not cool.”

Porn: Setting unrealistic standards for sex since 7200 BCE!

The Monsters in Monster Prom are monsters in more ways than one, you see. But to backtrack a little bit, Monster Prom is a dating sim visual novel, set in a place called Monster High (no, not that one), with local and online multiplayer for up to four players. In a very real sense, it’s a party game. Can you get your stats high enough, in the right places, over the 12 turns of a game, to find love at the Monster Prom with your proposed date? Or is something odder going to happen?

It’s a game that looks and sounds good, I’ll definitely give it that. The cartoonish style works well, it’s got a clear UI, it has a good mood to it, and the art supports the base situations pretty well. It feels fun to play with others (Especially if one or more of you is skilled in Dramatic Reading), and it’s simple to pick up and play.

The turn order can be decided in a party game fashion, or hitting the random button. Many can probably guess why we hit random here.

Which means that really, the only major reason folks might not like this game is how its humour can sometimes go places that would be uncomfortable for folks, or, at times, just plain isn’t funny. Sex mentions might put off some, drug mentions will definitely put some folks off (Aside from the aforementioned sedative “joke”, there’s also cocaine and heroin mentioned), and bullying or abusive behaviours are also sometimes mentioned (Such as the old “Stuffed in a locker” thing leading, potentially, to the “stalked through radio tag” thing… EESH.) Some are kinky and genuinely amusing (such as Miranda’s confusion about what a Leather Daddy is, or how everybody at the school reads an erotic dragon fanfic), and some are good lampshading (Oh isn’t it convenient that everyone at Monster High is over the age of consent, huh? Haha, these wacky monsters all conveniently over 18, eh?!)

Overall, it hits more than it misses with its humour, but when it whiffs, it whiffs harder than Charlie Brown playing baseball. I’d still recommend it, because it’s a good concept, mostly well executed, and you’re certainly not going to run out of events early (It speaks volumes that even the developers seem to think chasing every single event down might be a bit much, with the “get everything” event called “Honey… This isn’t healthy…”), but I would also say: Be aware that this game might, with its humour, touch on subjects you’re uncomfortable with.

You can, in fact, choose fanfic over prom-dates. Nuff said.

The Mad Welshman, a noted monster himself, is somewhat fond of this game despite its missteps.

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My Lovely Daughter (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

How far would you go to save a loved one, or a family member? In a world of magic, such as My Lovely Daughter, the answer is mass murder. But it’s okay, honest, because they’re homunculi, things created to be used and killed. Right… Right?

I’m gonna go with “Nooooo” here. Somehow.

My Lovely Daughter is, described mechanically and reductively, a life-sim VN. You’re trying to earn enough money for upkeep (of the corpse of your daughter, and ensuring your homunculi don’t run away) by doing jobs for your fellow townsfolk (Because a pitchfork and torch up the strap often offends, and they have money) or selling them better materials (made from homunculus-daughters who have levelled up enough), in order to achieve the statistics needed for an ending (or the perfect ending, all of which are obtained by… Slaughtering homunculus-daughters to feed the stripped out soul of your daughter, and are essentially the Four Humours of greek medicine and their appropriate moods.)

Goodness me, there’s a lot of murder and tragedy hiding under that mechanical description, isn’t there? And this is part of why I’m so fond of My Lovely Daughter: It goes all in on the Gothic front. All of your homunculi daughters love you, in their own ways… But they’re often twisted by the emotion they represent (such as the Mud daughter’s attempts to seek attention) or the form they take (Don’t worry about your other daughters, kill ’em all, and we can play in the water together, daddy – Mermaid Daughter) , or indeed both (Poor Animal daughter… Already depressed, and people call her a freak for having a fox head on top of that. Rude!) The Alchemist Faust is, mysteriously, alive again after a spell of being dead, and… Well, the whole thing oozes of tragedy, well written tragedy, from that of Faust, whose ego drives him to force that soul back into his daughter’s body, again and again, to the homunculus-daughters (who are not all innocents, but are, in their way, the most blameless of the cast), and the townsfolk, outcasts all, each with their own secrets, their own stories to tell.

Oh, no, you must be confusing me with my daughter, I’m sure she shopper here t- ohwait.

So yes, I quite enjoy the writing. I also quite enjoy the art, being hand drawn sketches, reminiscent somewhat of woodcuts, with procedural stains of various types giving the impression of a run down, grimy world, a world of obsession that’s slowly winding down… And leads me to that eternal question: But is there anything you don’t like?

Well, yes. But not a lot. Mostly, the fact that everything can be discovered in a single night is sad, it’s true. The game loop being repetitive is not something I’m annoyed with, because on the one hand, the game loop becomes quicker the further you get into actively searching for those endings, and on the other, as mentioned, the game is relatively short. Are these, even in combination, enough to stop me from recommending My Lovely Daughter? No. I feel I’ve seen an interesting, bleak world, I’ve been allowed to play in it, to explore its gloomy environs, and gotten a good, tragic tale of gothic hubris into the bargain. I’ve easily understood how the game is to be played, and I appreciate how even the forced tutorial at the beginning is part of its storytelling. Like gothic horror? My Lovely Daughter is, I feel, pretty good.

Er… Yes. I will play with you in the water, my daughter. Certainly. Later. Yes.

Having confirmed that he would be a bad dad, The Mad Welshman returns to what he’s good at. Moustache twirling.

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LOCALHOST (Review)

Source: Cashmoney
Price: $4.99+ (Approx. £3 , with the option to donate more)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

“It’s just a self defense mechanism.”

Androids and Gynoids are, in a very real sense, a way to treat dehumanisation. The feelings are invalid because you’re constructed. You are a made thing, not a born thing. And LOCALHOST plays on that pretty well. After all, you’re not being paid to care. You’re being paid to erase drives. Data. Nothing… More…

Oh, don’t worry, that’s just *simulated* pain/shock/fright they experience on waking, part of the boot-up process!

A little context here: LOCALHOST is a visual novel by Aether Interactive, set in a grim, dystopic robotics shack where your boss has informed you, a new hire, that you have to wipe four drives. Of course, very quickly, you realise a problem: They don’t particularly want to be deleted. And, having personalities (An uploaded human personality; the original host, LOCAL, a troublesome model line that keeps achieving self-awareness; A network admin AI, and something else), they argue their case. They have personalities. They have histories. Although the final determination is up to you, what seems to matter is that all the drives are both wiped… And not broken.

As such, the game is more about the journey than the destination. Do you try to explain love to an AI that thinks it knows what love is? Do you try to understand how a human upload is meant to have mistakenly arrived in this workshop, or what connection it has to LOCAL? Or do you simply take the seemingly most efficient route to convince them to unlock their own drives for deletion?

“And yet, you know this LOC-192 model. Please, tell me more, and remember that this conversation is being recorded for monitoring and training purposes.”

It’s interesting to note how much attention has been paid to making things seem just a little bit off. The music by Christa Lee varies depending on the situation and the personality you’re talking to, but they all have some subtle dissonance, something that doesn’t seem to quite fit, even if I can’t put a name to what it is. The visuals, by Penelope Evans and Arielle Grimes, are dirty, but subtly evoke different personalities in the single, broken gynoid body you see throughout. Sophia Park and Penelope Evans, meanwhile, give the idea, through the writing of the dialogue and characters, that it’s not just these drives that are dysfunctional. Assisants are Gynoids, and Workers are Androids. Such a simple phrase, but the matter of fact way in which this can be stated implies a society where yes, gender roles are firm, even if they don’t fit, and even if they only apply to the droids in question, it’s pretty grim.

Overall, I’d recommend LOCALHOST, and, since a single playthrough can be completed quickly, to play it through more than once. Maybe you’ll break everything. Maybe you’ll just do your job… Maybe… Just maybe… You might end up doing something at least nominally good in a dystopian world.

Er… Yes. There’s no false standard here, friendo, it’s just the rules. We put “Droid pain doesn’t actually matter” next to that bylaw about chickens.

The Mad Welshman broke a drive. It was an accident. He is simulating sadness nonetheless.

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World of Darkness Preludes (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

White Wolf, purveyors of the World of Darkness (In which supernatural creatures of various kinds try to deal with their problems, including the need for secrecy) have… Very identifiable writing, at times. Style, they can do. Purple prose, they can do. The fantastic, they can often make believable, even relatable.

Subtlety, nuance, and focus, however, are often things that escape them. And these two pieces of Interactive Fiction very aptly demonstrate this. When one of your two showpieces is called (no joke) “We Eat Blood And All Our Friends Are Dead”, you know you’re in for a very White Wolf time. Whether you will enjoy that time very much depends on you. But I’m not betting on it. Let’s unpack why.

I’M SUBTLY SAYING THIS ISN’T SUBTLE, FOLKS!!!!

First up, let’s get the nice out of the way, because it’s all too brief. The mobile phone conceit of We Eat Blood is a nice one. Not one we haven’t seen before, but it works in the context, and allows for multiple threads. That’s good. Similarly, Refuge (The Mage portion of this twofer) has some cool visual stylings you’d associate with Mage (glitching, sigils, and the like.) So, visually, the stylings are pretty good. Similarly, for the most part, the tunes and sounds are also well presented.

So, there’s your style. Mostly. But the core of an Interactive Fiction is the writing, and its here… Where it starts to fall down. The general premise is that these are introductions, two people thrust into their respective supernatural worlds. But both quickly run into their own problems. Let’s begin with We Eat Blood, the stronger of the two. You are an artistic type, a drug user, general fun-haver, and, after a party, everything went horribly wrong. You can’t eat food anymore. You feel hungry as heck all the time. You have to learn how to deal with this. Oh, and your dead mother is also a vampire, a creepy one speaking in imagery, and there’s a racist bus driver, a lab monkey turned ghoulish killer, and…

Hey, did you know that vampires were originally more zombie like, and sex had next to nothing to do with things? Well, now you do!

…It has a hard time keeping focus. There’s a lot going on in We Eat Blood, and it’s about as subtle as a bag of bricks wrapped around a smaller bag of bricks. The main character is an artist surrounded by artist friends because it allows really purple prose about how sexual bloodsucking is for a vampire, oh my god it’s so good, it’s like having communion with God, only that communion is also fucking, and… I didn’t actually mind that so much, having experienced my fair share of it when I enjoyed White Wolf RPGs (I still do, to some extent.) But the story is trying to build a world that’s meant to entice you into the World of Darkness without actually referring to things, so as to keep the mystery going, so if I didn’t know WoD, old or new, I wouldn’t have realised (possibly until the end) that I’m a Nosferatu, my mother’s a Malkavian… I could go on, but there are supernatural things, and Hunters (yes, with a capital H) and Ghouls, without explanation or context, and, rather than entice, it somewhat turned me off with how it seemed a collection of incidents without any real focus.

Now, I mentioned a racist bus driver, just off hand, and this is as good a segue as any into the Mage portion of the duo, Refuge. The name is, I’m assuming, a play on words on a couple of levels, as the main character is a woman called Julia, who lives in Malmo, Sweden, working for Nordic Aid with Syrian refugees. Her husband is a maker from San-Dieg- Oh. Wait. This would be a good time to mention this half of the duet I ragequit pretty early on. Because, like We Eat Blood, it’s highly unsubtle, and reading it felt like a highly painful clout to the head.

So… Minor digression here: Done well, games that discuss Issues (capital I, the big problems facing us today) are perfectly fine. Done badly, you have something very much like Refuge. Our heroine is a loving wife for a techbro who’s helping the girls into Maker culture, and is obviously the “good” , and the introduction of the “bad”… Is where I ragequit.

Yes, I get that this so-called “Professor” hasn’t actually *read* any Clarke or Asimov, if they’re saying dumb shit like this. Yes, I get that we are constrained by our “nice person” character to only be mean passively or actively. I GET IT.

Julia, I largely didn’t feel one way or the other about until this segment. She’s “generic nice person”, so generic, in fact, that it wasn’t until I looked at the store page that I realised she was a she (The first person narrative doesn’t help there.) But while yes, this guy is an asshole who, I would lay money, will be at the right-wing rally that apparently happens later in the game (Because this is a game about Issues as well as the introduction to the world of Mage), these responses are… Bad. And this so-called professor is quite obviously Bad, and the main character is so obviously Good, and I can almost hear the capital letters forming around this narrative. I could also hear poor ol’ Dr. A starting to revolve rapidly in his grave, but that’s purely by the by. When, before the bad things even happen, you find the reader yelling “I F*(!IN’ GET ITTTT!”, like Billy Connolly at an opera, it is a sign that you are handling things with all the subtlety of a Bagger trying to do microsurgery.

It may come as no surprise to learn that most of the story revolves around the Nordic Aid, magical elements kind of take a background to the whole thing for most of the narrative, and that the black-and-white presentation continues pretty much throughout. Oh, and for those of us waiting to hear if the Mage elements are as formulaic as they can be, yes, the character Awakens at a rave.

In summary, while We Eat Blood is unfocused in places, it is definitely the superior of the two games, but… Honestly, I can’t recommend either. They’re not terribly good at introducing you to the World of Darkness, or even their relative segments of it, there’s only the tiniest hints of subtlety in the writing at places, one character is only halfway relatable (We Eat Blood’s, who is still an asshole), while the other is a cookie cutter Nice Person, and, because of their primary conceit, you may not even realise there are multiple paths through the game (Seemingly mainly influenced by early choices), because of course the game isn’t going to tell you you’re a Nosferatu, or a Gangrel, or a Hollow One, or whatever the hell. And that, funnily enough, is sort of a problem. They become generic, rather than part of their world, one by trying to introduce too many elements, the other by sidelining the magical elements with a hamhanded handling of the refugeee crises in our world and the resurgence of nazi assholes calling themselves the “alternative right wing.”

Hitting that “Compassion” button like there’s no tomorrow. I mean, it’s good advice… But there’s a page and a half of this. I’M TALKING ABOUT SUBTLETY AGAIN, IN CASE YOU HADN’T NOTICED.

The Mad Welshman remembers the names of all the supernatural beings who cross his path. There’s That Guy, and That Thing, and This Thing, and… 

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