Wednesday, July 18, 2012

RMN Review Drive: A Metric Buttload of Games

For the past two weeks I've been involved in RMN's NaGaDeMo Review Drive.  For those who aren't in the RPGMaker or indie game-development scenes, NaGaDeMo stands for National Game Development Month.  It takes place over the course of the month of June, and is the indie game developer equivalent of NaNoWriMo in November.

This year, RMN held an event encouraging developers to release demos and finished products during June.  The event was quite the success, with 31 Official Submissions, with that number roughly doubling if you include releases during that time that were not submitted to the event.  With such a large number of games released at once combined with the website's long-standing issue that only about half of the games on the site that are eligible for reviews actually receive them, RMN decided to hold a Review Drive as a follow-up event.  The Drive began at the beginning of July, and will continue through mid-August.  Since posting reviews on RMN has been something I've been planning on starting for quite some time now, I've been rather active in the Drive, and I thought I'd echo my thoughts about some of the games I've been playing here.

The Greats:

Maximus Jones: It's Sokoban.  It's a Zelda Trading Sequence.  It's Recettear.  It's Blackjack.  Maximus Jones is a collection of puzzle games all rolled into one.  No excessive plot, no filler scenery where you walk across the world in real time to get to the next puzzle.  A Game that sells itself on pure game.

Vagabond:  This one falls somewhere between the Greats and the Not-So-Greats. With only your trusty monster as a companion, travel the world and defeat monsters to bring peace to the land.

Doppelganger: A Visual Novel Demo by the same person who made RE: Alistair.  Wonderfully atmospheric and attention-grabbing.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Visual Novel Review: Angel Beats! Third View

Since I reviewed Angel Beats! Bonus Chapter two weeks ago, I've been meaning to post this as well.  Angel Beats! Third View is a visual novel by the same people who made the Bonus Chapter visual novel. (Technically, it might be more accurate to phrase it the other way around, since Third View is was their primary project, with the Bonus Chapter adaptation being a side-thing).  While I mentioned in my Bonus Chapter review that the story could be understood well enough by people who weren't already familiar with Angel Beats, the same statement does not carry over to this project: If you haven't seen the anime, don't expect to understand anything that's going on.

Storywise, Third View is basically an adaptation of the first half of the first episode of the Angel Beats anime, told from the perspective of an non-battlefront resident of the afterlife. It doesn't really bring anything new to the story yet, which may be because the project has only covered the very beginning as of right now (or ever, since the project seems to be deader than the characters of the series it's based on).  The authors were fairly careful to never place the Third View's Main Character in a situation where the anime already established that he wasn't in.  Unfortunately, there are still problems with the scenes that the character is put in: Namely, the character is a Sue.

At this point, it will probably be necessary to define the term "Mary Sue" as it will be used here.  This is a term with multiple possible meanings, depending on who you ask.  It could mean "Character who is very powerful", "Character who is an author-insert", "Character with an unrealistic background", "Character who never fails", or "Character the speaker doesn't like".  The common thread of these, however, is that the term is pretty much always a Bad Thing to have applied to ones work.  I do not think most of the above-listed definitions are inherently bad things, so I reject those definitions.  When I say "Mary Sue", I am talking about a character who elicits a reaction that doesn't logically flow from how the character is written.  An undefeatable swordsman is not a Sue, it's just a powerful character (who will likely become a boring character if the author doesn't realize that there are ways to generate conflict that are not physical combat, but still not a Sue).  A Sue would be a character who is an average swordsman in a group of people who will not suffer a severe loss of ability from said character leaving, but who is nonetheless treated as being irreplaceable to the point that the group would drop everything to get this person to rejoin if they left (This is assuming that the characters did not have other reasons for doing so, like the character being a friend/relative/having other irreplaceable skills)

Disgression aside, that last example was pretty much how I felt about Third View's Main Character.  The battlefront members are all crazy over the idea of getting him to join up with them.  Why?  The anime seems to indicate that battlefront has somewhere in the vicinity of 80-100 members, so why give so much attention to a single person who has definitively stated that he doesn't want to join them?  (Recall that they only made two attempts to recruit Otonashi, and the second was because he literally walked up to their base of operations).  One path of choices in Third View has the Main Character fight against Angel using a gun and grenades.  Where did he get such things without access to Guild?  (Alternatively, why does he know how to make such things himself?)

Moving on to technical implementation commentary: While Third View lacks the problems that Bonus Chapter had with the excessive commas and screen shaking, there are frequent fade-out/fade-in effects.  These are probably supposed to indicate a long amount of time passing between scenes, but when said "scenes" are only a few lines of narration long, it feels like they could have been compressed into fewer scenes.
The opening uses a rain effect that looked fairly crappy, which was a shame because the rest of the visuals were pretty good.
The title screen uses the title screen music from Persona 3.  It would be fitting music, but the association with another work is distracting.  Using fitting music from Angel Beats!, composing an original piece would be much better ideas that would eliminate this problem.  Using fitting music from a less-known source would reduce the scope of this problem, although not completely eliminate it.
The author's note at the end was a rather tacky addition.  Such things are much better served by being placed as a separate thing that can be reached via the main menu.  Narcissu and its sequel are an example of this done the right way.

Overall, I don't think I can really recommend Third View.  I realize that this was only the start of the project, but until such a time that the rest of the project is created, this first chapter really has nothing to attract readers.