Astrologaster (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the 16th Century. Such a wondrous age, full of poets, of doctors finally starting to learn what the heck they’re on about, and, of course, the Plague. It is a wondrous age to which our dear leaders wish us to return, in the hope that perhaps the Empire might also coincidentally rise again.

Ah, the British Empire, such a place of tolerance and… Oh. Yeah, it was kind of an exploitative hateful shitpile. I almost forgot. ALMOST.

Speaking of quacks… Astrologaster is a comedic tragedy, in the form of speechcraft and song (Often Madrigals) about a “Doctor” who used Astrology as his form of diagnosis, one Simon Forman. And, to be fair, he is a fitting subject, for he was tangenitally involved with… Well, a lot of London life of the period. The game takes liberties, but it does so to introduce quite a few other major players of the period, such as Sir Walter Raleigh’s circle, the Dean of Rochester, Thomas Blague (and his wife Alice), and Emilia Lanier, a poet, and suspected to have been the Dark Lady of William Shakespeare’s sonnets 127-154.

Yes, knowing this period of history helps with some of the jokes. But by no means all, for nearly everyone is mercilessly riffed on, excepting some folks whose lives… Really didn’t deserve that much mockery. In any case, a fair warning, the game does end rather suddenly, and the reason for this is that the good “Doctor” ended… Rather suddenly. But the aim is, through astrology (Or, more accurately, through a cunning combination of actually divining what’s wrong, and telling people what they want to hear), to diagnose folks’ complaints.

Ah, Dean Blague… Maybe one day you’ll make a sound investme-AHAHAHA I CAN’T FINISH THAT SENTENCE.

It’s very clear, in the sense that you know what’s what, even if the diagnoses are sometimes… Difficult, and the picturebook aesthetic works well. Where it really shines, though, is the aforementioned voice acting and singing. Jo Ashe does an excellent job of playing concerned wife Emma Sharpe (how do her older husbands keep dying on her?), for example, and the songs about Thomas Blague are wonderful examples of a new musical art form I would like to call “Getting owned by the Church Chorus.”

It’s… Honestly kind of hard to write about the charm of Astrologaster without either going on a history lecture, spoiling the results of some choices, or both, but… History buffs will get several laughs (and knowing nods), most folks will have a charming experience and quite a few laughs, and, overall… Yup, I like Astrologaster.

Astrologaster: Latest winner of the “NOT WHILE I’M [splutter] DRINKING COFFEE!” award.

I cannot really Madrigal, but Iamb good with that Pentameter. Honest.

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Divination (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: Minimum $1, but if you drop less than $5 on it I’ll be disappointed in you.
Where to get it: Itch.IO

Anyone remember Cyber City Oedo 808? To me, it was one of the more interesting cyberpunk anime out there, because it not only had your oppressive government and criminals trying to fight the system (Albeit, because they were captured by the system, in small ways), but vampires, ghosts in the machine, and psychics. It was short, but it captured the imagination.

Cop uses Divinatory Pair of Hands, aka “Letting you know it’s fantastical right out of the gate.”

Divination, also, is short. But boy, does it capture the imagination. Imagine, if you will, a city that had, until a while ago, been run by Mother, an AI that, for some reason, decided that life was pointless, and, since the people believed her… Well, suicides and horror skyrocketed.

Imagine, if you will, a disembodied pair of hands in a room. They choose runes picked by their claimant, who is invited to their home with accurate predictions of their near future to tempt them. The payment for this service, answering one of their questions, is to recount a dream they had. Imagine four such divinations, each difficult questions, sometimes painful questions. And, at the end of those divinations, the hands sit back, look at what they have done… And are, for some reason, unsatisfied.

OBJECTIVE NOT REACHED: RESTARTING DIVINATION OF DIVINATIONS.

Divination is short, but goodness me, it has atmosphere, a clever gimmick, and replayability. Helped by the fact that you do not, strictly speaking, know what the runes mean yourself. Your avatar, the Diviner, most certainly does, as their confident predictions based on what you choose show (I was only disappointed once, but it was an important one), but you don’t. And arranging those symbols well is the key to your choice.

Aesthetically, the game has M O O D. A darkened room. Slow synth. The sharp tap of your steel fingers to change channels, meet guests… The red words on your screen, endlessly repeated, to speak. And the writing… As mentioned, some of the divinations are painful. Will my daughter wake up? Is there meaning to my (robotic) life? (Robots have, since Mother’s suicide, been fitted with anti-suicide protocols, so this is… A very important question.) And the dreams. From the very start, they’re disturbing, symptoms of a city clearly in pain. The English isn’t perfect, but the mood still gets across, and the mood is, for want of a better word, portentous.

Ouch. Yeah, you’re kinda right, Robot Buddy. At least I have the hope of being able to watch Doom Patrol sometime this century

I won’t spoil what’s most disturbing about it all, but… I got there, and it’s an interesting twist. Divination is cyberpunk as hell, albeit from a twisted perspective, it’s definitely got its horrific side, and I heartily recommend it for fans of short, mood-heavy narrative pieces.

The Mad Welshman has cast the runes, and he confidently predicts he’ll have 20+ reviews this month. No, he didn’t already know that, shut up!

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Zanki Zero: Last Beginning (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £49.99
Where To Get It: Steam

CONTENT WARNING: It should be mentioned that Zanki Zero deals with adult themes like abuse (sexual or otherwise), gaslighting, and murder, so… Yeah, be warned, this game deals with squicky subjects.

It’s an interesting exercise, to tot up the thematic elements of a developer. And for Spike Chunsoft, there’s a fair amount to pick from. Sins of the past. Just about believable pseudoscience made believable. Big twists. And attacking the heartstrings with comically large pliers.

This… Isn’t going to end well. I want it to… But I know it won’t.

And Zanki Zero definitely goes in for all of these, along with a bit of cringe early on. If I had a nickel for every time a “wacky” cartoon character was just groan inducingly gross, I’d have enough to whack said cartoon characters with a small sack of nickels. Thanks, Zanki Zero, for the unnecessary addition that one of your MCs is proud of pissing themselves on camera. I’m only grateful that’s told, not shown.

Iiin any case, once the game gets going, the cringe seems to die down (somewhat, although content warnings for abuse, sexism, violence and murder definitely apply throughout), and the game gets interesting. A survival RPG/Visual Novel hybrid, Zanki Zero follows eight protagonists, and… Seven sins? Ah, one of them is secretly an architect of this whole mess where humanity is extinct, and eight (?) clones of people are asked to rebuild a cloning machine to resurrect humanity, despite the fact that they, as clones, cannot breed. I’m sure this’ll at least try to make more sense down the line, but at the beginning, mysteries, gribbleys, failed human clones, and ruins abound, with various systems unlocking as you go. Building elements of your base. Cooking, crafting, upgrading. And, through it all, the clone mechanics.

There are, thankfully, lighter moments, and the game paces itself well overall.

At first, as described, it’s stressful, and the game makes sure to kill off a character to get the point across, but, while death isn’t the end, and can be beneficial in certain aspects (Dying in Adult life, for example, extends Adult life by 1 day), it costs to resurrect someone, so care must still be taken, as there’s a lot that can screw you up. Traps, monsters, the threat that some of the gifts you get from the EXTEND Machine have strings attached. You know, losing what’s left of your humanity, that sort of thing. I’ve been playing it on the second difficulty setting, and this honestly seems reasonable for me, since my only party wipe was through overconfidence. It’s only later, with the introduction of various traps, that it starts to get properly mean. God-damn bird…

Ohhh, this feller. I have feelings about this feller… And all of them are associated with flipping tables…

The game’s pace is, honestly, pretty good, and, some odd keybinds aside, it tutorialises pretty well. This, plus the interesting way combat and “survival” plays out (The bars, equally, decrease and increase at sensible rates, so I rarely felt I was nannying) means that, overall, I quite like Zanki Zero. Sho, the cringier of the two Extend TV hosts, is a different story, but thankfully, his segments are quite brief. If you want to explore a VN/RPG hybrid which adds depth as it goes on, Zanki Zero is definitely an interesting one to check out.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have anything clever to say here. How can he, when Humankind is long gone?

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Phoenix Wright Trilogy (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £29.99 (£38.25 game+soundtrack, £12.99 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ohhh, we’ve been waiting a long time for this, but finally, the first trilogy of Phoenix Wright has hit the shores of the PC, and it’s quite the pleasing turnabout. After all, Phoenix Wright is, overall, an interesting and cool series, and the PC port is pretty good.

Wellington’s as excited as I am for this to have happened. Either that or we caught him in a massive porkie.

Okay, let’s get the niggle out of the way before we sum up the trilogy: It only remembers what window size it’s meant to be on loading. That’s pretty minor, so… Phoenix Wright. It’s a series of police procedural visual novels, in which you play the titular character, a novice lawyer, in the deadly justice system of what has been dubbed by fans “Japanifornia” (For being both Japanese and American), where simply defending your client isn’t enough… If you can’t find the real murderer in 3 days, your client is guilty by default. Game over, man… Game over.

It comes in two segments, investigation and the trial, but, thankfully, I can’t think of an instance where the investigation can end without you having collected the necessary evidence. The trials, however… Ah, they get tricksy at times, because not only do you have to choose between pressing for further details and presenting evidence, sometimes, what seems like the obvious path is… Well, the wrong one for the time. So, yes, occasionally there’s a bit of “Read the developer’s mind.”

Artist’s rendition of the player versus the developer in these moments…

Thankfully, you can save at any time, so if you’re unsure, remember the old adventure gamer’s adage: Save Early, Save Often!

Now, of course, is it good? Well, the original games and their HD ports come highly recommended for charming writing, good visuals, fairly accessible play (They were originally developed for the DS), and good tunes (Especially “Cornered”, which really gets the blood pumping), and, I’m happy to say, this particular port is… No different. The pacing and tone shifts are well handled, it breaks up the tension well with its comedic moments, and there are characters to love (Edgeworth, who definitely isn’t a secret Steel Samurai fan, nope), characters to love hating (Redd White and April May definitely come to mind for this), and I’m having a whale of a time playing through the first three games (Although I am informed that whales don’t get involved until Dual Destinies, which is outside the scope of this review.) As mentioned, there’s one correct path, and sometimes it involves reading the developer’s mind, but these are relatively few and far between.

When it breaks up the tension with humour… Well, it works. Poor Phoenix…

As such, Phoenix Wright Trilogy definitely comes recommended. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and hot damn, you do feel clever getting a case done without, say, looking at a walkthrough. For fans of mysteries and visual novels, Phoenix Wright is a no brainer.

The Defence Rests, Yeronner.

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Death Mark (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £32.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ghosts, it seems, are sexist. Either that, or they’re creeps. This is the impression I get from Death Mark, a visual novel/RPG with an interesting premise, but fanservicey art choices that don’t gel well with their horror narrative. So, more accurately speaking… Death Mark’s got a gender-bias problem.

I wanted at least one male horror, for comparison’s sake.

Let’s back up a bit. Death Mark tells the tale of an amnesiac protagonist, where it’s quickly established that they are amnesiac because of a death curse from a vengeful ghost. And so, with a living doll, a mansion that belonged to one of the victims, and the help of other Marked individuals, you attempt to find the spirit that cursed you to die in terror, forgetting more and more.

Let’s appreciate what’s good. The soundtrack is atmospheric and tense, and the sound design is pretty good. The UI is clear, except for the character menu (Which, apart from the END that leaves the game, can be explored just fine.) The art is good, except for some of the ghosts. The story beats are interesting, and the game sells its odd, urban legend inspired world. Similarly, the characters are interesting, and each has something going for them, where even the unlikable ones have some sympathetic aspects to them.

The most horrifying woman’s death CG in the game. And still shibari. SIIIIGH.

But, as mentioned, the game has a definite “Targeted toward the horny white male” vibe to it, as men are invariably murdered horribly, while the portrayal of women is… Well, this is the least sexy “Dead/about to be made dead” CG in the game apart from the intro. Inventory can be a bit of a pain, especially in Chapter 2, where the bottles of Nite Nite are not grouped, and yes, there are items of technically no use. Finally, while I could say the deaths/game overs for fuckups are annoying, the main reason this is so is because saves are restricted to the mansion, as, for the most part, puzzles do have clear hints (Sometimes in notes, sometimes inventory, sometimes conversation.) And finally, the monsters being in a different art style, while I can understand why (To emphasise their otherness), it doesn’t really land for me.

While Lee Chaolan has fallen on hard times, he’s still cheery as ever…

Nonetheless, overall, I enjoyed Death Mark, having completed the good route over the course of the weekend. I enjoyed its twist at the end of the main story, I somewhat enjoyed the DLC chapter, but would warn folks that the game contains mentions of abuse, child abuse, suicide, prostitution, rape… Heavy subjects. If that doesn’t turn you away, then Death Mark is pretty solid horror, and I do, overall, recommend it despite the reservations above.

The Mad Welshman says “Kill men sexily in horror games 2019!”

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