Source: Cashmoneys Price: £1.69 Where To Get It: Steam
Bards have quite the reputation in tabletop circles. They can and will romance anything, or at least try to, whether it’s advisable or not. And, due to their natural charm, this will often work. It gets them into trouble, sometimes fatal, as much as it provides rewards.
So, in essence, they’re human beings who aren’t aromantic.
Okay, okay, there’s more qualifiers and nuance than that, but yes, Bard Harder is simultaneously about one of the more out there examples of bardery (A lich, to be precise), and of their player’s struggle to ask the DM they like on a date.
It’s cute, it’s silly, and, overall, it’s a story about the importance of knowing the target of your affections, listening to them, and clearly communicating with them. It’s a visual novel in which most of the bad ends are due, simply, to not using the information you gather.
I’ll freely admit I didn’t gather all the endings. I just wanted the one. But it was the main one, and it was sweet. Aesthetically, it’s pretty nice, UX is pretty standard for a Ren’py work, but the music and visuals appeal, and the writing… I have to admit, I agree with the people who simultaneously spoiler and screenshot said lich screaming “WHY ARE YOU SO CUTE?!?”
If you want a short, appealing visual novel, this one’s a pretty pleasant one, although I would drop the content warning of “Kissing a skeleton.” Even I’m not sure how that one works.
Source: Cashmoneys Price: £24.99 (Expansion Scenario: £5.99) Where To Get It: Steam
I just keep finding cheerily dystopian games with guitars in, don’t I? Well, this one’s particularly cheery in its corporate dystopia, and is a metroidvania style deal in which your abilities allow you to explore the world more, see interesting beasties, and get yourself wrecked by them, so it’s not like I can complain. All I can do is eat the monsters that look rich. Or, more accurately, drain their mineral contents so I can make sweet, sweet traversal items and upgrades.
And, just like a metroidvania, there’s a fair amount of being lost, because, apart from shortcut points, you’re basically relying on muscle memory and a few upgrades to work out what’s what, and where.
So, first things first, the humour. Oh god, the humour’s on point, and it’s clear which rich asshole(s) Kindred corp’s head are inspired by. They shall not be named, for they are also namesearching rich assholes. But it’s pretty obvious, and oh boy are they smug, clueless jerks who’d rather throw money and people at a problem than use resources efficiently.
That’s our job, apparently.
Aesthetically, the game is pretty clear, with a clear, unobtrusive UX, cool alien designs that make the beasties in question instantly recognisable (along with other features, equally clear), and a broken world that feels awe inspiring at times to travel in. Musically, well, it’s good, it’s frontier western guitars, and yup, dystopian future with space-trucker guitars again!
This is not a bad thing. This is, in fact, a good thing. Equally good is the world. The pufferbirds are very satisfying indeed to feed to the grinding maws, to punt, and to generally bully, the creatures are, overall, well designed, big glowy weak points and all, and they feel like they belong in this screwed up, shattered world. Which, like your journey, is one big, long WHOOPS.
But it’s an enjoyable whoops that controls well, has some good acting (and some delightfully godawful adverts), a dystopian story that nonetheless made me laugh, and an ending that I saw coming a few hundred parsecs away, but still delighted me in the details. I found some of the later stuff and some of the bosses a bit of a drag, mainly because said boss fights were multistage, but also relied on maneuverability with limited healing, but overall, I found it well paced, and likable enough that I wanted to 100% complete before hitting that lever to take me back home.
And after I do, what I’ve found will totally be used safely for the betterment of mankind. Right?
Oh. Yeah. Comedic hellscape.
This review sponsored by CAMPING CUBICLE, the portable office cube with a coffee maker in-built, so you can feel like an office drone even in the farthest reaches of space, as you should!
Source: Cashmoneys Price: £16.66 Where To Get It:Steam
One element of good horror is to take the normal… And bend it. Make it unwelcoming, emphasises what’s frightening about it, and emphasise its isolation. And there is little that isn’t already terrifying to the initiated than… A corporate office, or other appendage of a large company.
After all, a company often already has a friendly face,
but behind that face, the lies are revealed for what they are. Ohhh,
yes, we get diversity, but there’s no need to make emotional
decisions. We understand that people get sick, often in arbitrary
ways… But you have taken quite a few sick days working for us, and
I’m afraid that we can’t employ someone who’s sick more than once
every few months. That overtime? Oh, no, it’s not mandatory, you
can… Ahaha, you want to work normal hours? That’s going to
look bad on your performance review compared to the rest of us!
And that’s without me trying to think of examples. Oh yes, the
Company can be a terrible place. The addition of some nameless
“Witch”, corrupting the company from within for decades, causing
insanity and mutation… Well, that just makes the horror all the
more clear. Cue our protagonist, Brian.
Brian, despite being a low grade member of society (and judged, right
from the beginning, to be scum because of this) is, somehow, hired by
Sintracorp, the most prestigious company on the planet. Although one
has to wonder how this has happened, considering that, in a
blackly fitting symbolic twist, the company is a meatgrinder of
psychosis, supernatural mutation, murder, and paranoia. And,
honestly, a part of why this works so well with the way it plays is
because, on some level, it echoes the worst excesses of a corporation
Here, the milling, endless crowd of Induction, forever stuck in the limbo between internship and actually getting paid. There, the Archives, a system so archaic it has taken on the aspect of a Resident Evil puzzle lock, and the Library is overseen by horrors long forgotten in the dark by its parent organisation. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover, later in the game, that the office cougar met early on is a literal man-eater, as opposed to a figurative one. And the employees are, relatively speaking, okay with this, because eh, it’s a living… Horrifying.
And, in the middle of this all, Brian, who has been hired as a Witch
Hunter, despite having no qualifications for this, to fix a problem
that, in all likelihood, Sintracorp created in the first place. This
is one of the reasons it works so damn well. It helps that it’s a
pretty accessible game, with its horror well paced against its
lighter moments. Aaand then right back, as some of the light hearted
things show their grue-filled core.
Besides a few hitches in early cutscenes, funnily enough, it works
pretty well. The exaggerated art style of the characters works well
to express both the light and dark sides of things, and adds that
needed clarity for puzzle elements. To be both expressive and clear
is a good look, especially when darkness is also a core element of
the game. Puzzle wise, I’ve come across nothing cruel in the
puzzles, with there always being something to help ameliorate it.
A good example: Early on, you’re left in the dark by a Mysterious
Asshole Coworker, in the vicinity of some quite nasty, and ever
exploding “Mines.” Thankfully, the mines light up when you’re
near them, only arming when you’re closer, and exploding when you’re
close, so the puzzle is, interestingly enough, made a little
easier by the very things that will kill you if you screw up. You
still feel cool for having survived, and you knew that the little
helping hand was by no means a guarantee of safety.
Yuppie Psycho is, overall, a clever and interesting horror game, using its environment well both metaphorically and literally. Like other survival horror titles, it does have a single, limited save system (Requiring a photocopier, ink in that photocopier, and some Witch Paper to photocopy your souuuuuul… Oooowooooo!), but these seem reasonably placed, and I’d definitely say that this is one of the good horror titles of the year.
The Mad Welshman wants to stay the heck away from the Hell Offices. You can help do that via the support links. This has been your company memo.
Source: Cashmoneys Price: £39.99 Where To Get It: Steam
It is, in its own way, a glorious thing when, amid a high tension kidnapping story with more twists and turns than a conger eel, with terrorism, and assassins, and Super-Ebola, that I am having the biggest emotional rollercoaster ride with the story of a young woman trapped in a mascot costume, working for a terrible conman. Terrible, that is, in the sense that all of his schemes seem destined to go wrong.
Funnily enough, one of the reasons this review took so long was picking screenshots. There are so many screenshot worthy moments…
Poor Tama. Still, it highlights something interesting I find about 428: Shibuya Scramble, Spike Chunsoft’s latest Visual Novel offering – It’s cruel, but in a way that still entertains. A visual novel with a silly amount of Bad Ends, jumps and hints hidden in its text, and several plotlines that have to be progressed to the next hour toward an ending, although whether that’s the “best” ending depends on a number of factors. Including the fact that everybody is, to some extent or other, not very good at what they do.
Considering that at least one of these people is an investigator in the kidnap case, and another a freelance journalist… You might appreciate it’s a bit of a struggle to keep the story moving sometimes. But farce, as has been said, must be played with a straight face, and, for the first fifteen minutes or so of most of the stories, you’d be forgiven for thinking you weren’t in for this kind of wild ride. A wild ride, sure, as the kidnapping is the very first part of this storyline, but not… Everything else.
As a visual novel, its choice to go with live action (photographs and movies alike) works pretty well, as the actors have gone all out with their expressions, working well with the sound design of the game. And it contrasts well with the ridiculousness of the situations. Here, light music contrasts with the hopeless situation of Tama. There, rocking, overdriven guitars point out the heroism of the freelance journalist Minorikawa, while the text… Paints an entirely different story. It’s artful, whether it chooses to support or contrast, and it’s hard not to appreciate both that and the accessibility. Choices are clearly presented, and one of its core mechanics (Blue text for further explanation, red for “Jump” choices, which shift the timeline to another character to get around plot blocks) equally so.
The timeline, as in other Spike Chunsoft offerings, is easy to navigate, although it doesn’t truly show the complexity on offer.
Similarly, as a visual novel, it lives or dies by its writing, and the writing, is, as I’ve been mentioning quite a bit, excellent. I never thought I would say that tonal whiplash could feel good, but… In this particular case, it somehow works. Each character has their own voice, and, even with the contradictions the world keeps throwing their way, it’s hard not to get sucked in to their own presentation of the world. Kano, and his Dick Dictums (That’s private dick to you!) Tama, and her childlike demeanour. Even the side characters have interesting places in the story, so it’s hard not to see the Shibuya district as it is: A living, breathing place filled with interesting folks. No, really… Filled. The population density of Japan is no joke, as a sobering note about the rail system’s capacity shows.
As such, it would be quite hard not to recommend 428: Shibuya Scramble. Its digressions in blue text are as often illuminating about the Shibuya district and Japanese culture as they are amusing (and, in at least one case, hide progress by way of a JUMP point… Ohhh, you cheeky devils!), its tutorial was one I didn’t mind, even though it deliberately sets Kano, the detective, up for a Bad End right out of the gate, and it’s kept me playing where other games of its sort quickly lost my interest.
Choices have an effect, not only on the character you’re playing, but others too. But sometimes, even bad ends provide information you might find useful later on. Cunning…
The Mad Welshman thinks it a sign of quality that he didn’t want to spoil story beats here.