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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Void Bastards (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I do so love me a very British future in videogames. Because it is, almost always, an absolute hellscape, but with black humour that somehow keeps it going. And so it is with Void Bastards, a game about being left behind, dealing with a system that hates you, and surviving for as long as you can.

It’s… Somewhat worrying that these are quite prevalent. A penal society? EEEEESH.

Wow, that doesn’t induce feels in pretty much anyone who’s had to deal with the state unemployment system here in the UK. Not at all. And the starships in the Sargasso Void certainly aren’t filled with mutated chavs, janitors, and British Tourists, so it certainly isn’t the dumping ground for the unwanted and the awkward. Nope, nothing going on here. But it certainly makes for an interesting presentation of a roguelike shooter.

So… Essentially, it goes like this: After a short tutorial you are not expected to survive (but potentially can), either you will be asked to restart the ship’s FTL dri- whoops, “Clients” have their citizen cards shredded, so you can’t do that, need you to go through derelict ships to find the right items to make a new one. To get this, all you need to do is obtain permit A38. Orrr get two items, neither of which are close to your own ship, the Void Ark, and then get back. Or you will die, be rehydrated (Turns out you’re not only forgotten about, but also dehydrated for easy storage. Damn, this government is… Well, I can’t actually believe they would actually be that efficient, but still, it’s a game, whatever), and then told that you need to get these items to get your civil ID card back and restart the FTL drive.

Anyone wanting to know how many lines it takes to create a look of worry and bed wetting terror with just eyes, look no further than this.

And so it begins. Tromping around dark, often dangerous ships, with a cel shaded comic book style exploration,traps, limited opportunities to heal, and a variety of enemies, most of whom are British. The Juves, the Janitors, the Screws, the bureacratic Scribes, the Tourists who explode if you get near them (but want you to be near them, because they have questions. Bloody tourists…) It’s legitimately nice that, once options have been unlocked, you get them for the characters after, but it should be noted that ammo is also scarce. Besides, fighting… Isn’t always the best way. As noted, healing’s kind of limited too. Basically, running a way a lot is a good idea. Or being sneaky and cunning.

Oh, and if you thought the ID card was the end of it, you’ve clearly never dealt with the joys of bureaucracy. Or a looted bureacratic starship whose step-by-step bureaucratic AI can’t even act properly to save itself.

…I’d probably give most people a pass on the latter, if we’re being perfectly fair.

Colour Blind Mode, aka Five Shades of Gray.

Anyway, while the comic book style is good, the UI is clear (except in Colour Blind mode, which hates you and everything you stand for), and it’s visually quite pleasing, where the game shines is in its voice acting, and its writing. If you want an idea of what British Hell sounds like, this comes pretty damn close. The bored teenagers have laser guns, but still oh-so-imaginatively think calling you a “Knobhead” is the height of wit, the shipboard computer is telling you that the worst thing about the Void Pirates is that they aren’t paying VAT on what they steal, and…

…Nobody’s actually a villain here. Nobody in the Nebula, at least. Just a lot of people, forced by terrible circumstances (and probably bureacratic AI) to deal with being abandoned to terrible circumstances.

What is it with this month’s reviews and the need for a “Content Warning: Too Damn Real”? Anyway, well worth a look, good example of British Humour, and a solid roguelike FPS to boot.

The Mad Welshman forgot to file Permit A-39, as noted by the circular B-65, so he can’t actually add the “Too Real” Content Warning until the process has been completed. We expect this to take around 20 years.

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Tales of the Neon Sea: Chapters 1-3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price:
£13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, how adventure games have grown. Sometimes forward, sometimes sideways… Sometimes, they take lessons from earlier eras. I mostly like Tales of the Neon Sea, because it’s using old puzzles, and one of the oldest forms of adventure game stylings (The side-on, almost platformerish adventure), and making an interesting noirish story with it.

Remembering that robots are now sentient… Trafficking is entirely the right word. Eugh.

It helps that there is at least one section that is entirely from the viewpoint of a cybernetic cat. That, I feel, is a big draw in and of itself.

It is the noir future (Eh? Ehhhh?!?), and you are Rex, a down on his luck, psychic robot, in a world where robots and humans… Sort of co-exist. Suffice to say, bigotry is alive and well. A murder of a little old lady leads… Well, interesting places. To a robotic serial killer. To a cat mafia. To meddling in a very important election. And, on a more day to day level, disassembling your household appliances because you can’t afford to fix your helper robot properly.

We will have need of that courage and respect, if the Families are to prosper, my friend…

Aesthetically, the game works quite well. Its pixel art is clear, and its text clearer, with context sensitive options, and, if you’re hitting E to examine and/or use like a wally, some fun hidden descriptions. Its grime contrasted with the bright lights fits the mood well, its character design is solid, and its music… Ah, atmospheric and fitting. A few of its puzzles (Mainly light/cable switching) could do with some colour-blindness support, but, overall, it’s visually pretty accessible, with a simple control scheme, and, while some segments have timing based elements, it’s mostly good for not being twitchy too.

In fact… It is, it must be said, a little slow paced. It’s a deliberate slow pace, a design choice, and I respect that, but when puzzles, especially later on, become these large, sprawling affairs, and even the run is a light jog, I can understand that would be a turn-off for some folks. However, the puzzles mostly fit in their world (Nothing really felt like a Resident Evil Lock, just… Security and some shoddy in-world workmanship), and the writing… The writing is enjoyable. Mostly light hearted, sometimes absurd, it nonetheless puts on the frighteners and those tense moments when it needs to.

“Why don’t you try adjusting the phase? That’s the… Rightmost dial…”

Overall, I’d say that Tales of the Neon Sea is a solid adventure, an interesting hybrid of traditional inventory hustling, platform puzzling, and just straight up puzzles. It should be noted that Tales of the Neon Sea is an episodic game, and, as such, the story is not quite complete (the later chapters are apparently releasing in the fall, so I shall take a look then), but there’s definitely a fair amount of play here, an interesting world, and I look forward to seeing more.

The Mad Welshman loves a good puzzle. He loves good robots. And he loves cats. So you might have to take this review with a grain of saline crystal or two.

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Nowhere Prophet (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: To Be Released soon. (Was $19.99)
Where To Wishlist It: Itch.IO , Steam

Nowhere Prophet continues to impress. And frustrate. Its world is intriguing, its difficulty mostly solid at this point, even if those rare exceptions… Frustrate the hell out of me. Still, that’s something to get to, so let’s backtrack a second and remind ourselves about Nowhere Prophet overall.

Each area of the route is predominantly of a single faction, although events are common to all areas.

Nowhere Prophet is an Indian themed post-apocalypse (Untouchables stand side by side with cybernetic horrors, and Rajs with mutated beasts), in which you, a Prophet, hear the last, garbled words of a fallen “star” (Satellite), and set out for the Crypt, the Promised Land which may or may not have the power to heal this ruined world. You set out with disciples, facing the world, and trying to balance your own health, and the efficacy, health, and morale of your followers. It’s a battle of attrition, as only perfection will allow you to escape the fights and trials unscathed… And these are many, while you and your followers are… Not so many.

Since I last took a look at Nowhere Prophet, it’s actually mostly done, with a closed beta until release. Areas are in, the intro and map have been spruced up, and there is, generally speaking, the more I had been curious about last time. It still hasn’t got an amazing amount of variety music wise, but the music that’s there is good, the visuals are both clear and striking, and the events mostly interesting and adding a little to the world, with extra possibilities unlocked by certain types of followers, number of followers or batteries (the currency of the world), or your level in the three philosophies (Believers, Scholars, or Altruists.)

This is bad. This is very bad. Yup.

Combat, meanwhile, is a Hearthstone like affair where, each turn, you have a limited pool of energy from which to summon followers and effects, which grows each turn (or with certain abilities), a limited battlefield in which (mainly) only frontliners can attack, and interesting obstacles and items on the field, such as Soft Cover, which gives health to those summoned nearby, or Acid Plants, which, if destroyed, also damage the entire column they’re on. Killling the enemy leader wins you the battle, while if your Prophet is killed… Well, game over. And, over time, you grow more familiar with what lies where, and what factions have which sorts of decks.

And this, funnily enough, is where the frustration sometimes happens. You see, some Elite and Boss decks are nasty, and, regardless of how far I’ve come, meeting these particular ones can be a slow, demoralising death. The Barrier Swarm (Rusters, the Cyborg/Robot faction.) The ArmourBoi (Union of the Five Fingers.) The Endless Taunt (Feral Wanderers, the bandit/beast faction.) These three decks in particular are annoying, because… Well, there’s seemingly not that much that consistently counters them, and their entire focus is “No, you can’t, in fact, hit me, you got more to worry about.” And, since they’re on Bosses and Elites, well… You’d have to do a lot of damage to take them out before they get going.

YOU’RE NOT WRONG, TOOTHY ONE!

But this, essentially, is more of a gripe than anything else, and I can relatively consistently get to at least the third map, with still more to explore, such as Daily Challenges, and, of course, working out how to unlock various tribes and leaders, for more deck exploration. Nowhere Prophet remains pretty interesting, and I’m happy to report that.

Normally, I would wait until release. But I noticed that I hadn’t reviewed in a while, and it has changed… Quite a bit!

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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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