Quick Recs (Guest Review)

Act did one of these so I will too! Here are a few good games I’ve played recently ages ago, plus one novel to show that I’m cultured.

Bonfire
(PC, RPG/Roguelike)
This game is simply really fun. I don’t normally like non-story games, but I’ve logged quite a bit of time into this one. The interface and mechanics are fairly simple but there’s a lot of emergent complexity, and the enemies are simply brilliant, in both form and function. I was consistently amazed at the ingenuity and originality of basically everything. There are a lot of twists on the typical RPG formula I hadn’t even thought of – like, there’s this one enemy that transfers any debuffs on it to you, and it can also grab every debuff from an ally. It’s not strong on its own, but it can turn your own abilities against you and thus shakes up a debuff-dependent strategy. Heroes have a lot of clever abilities and synergy as well. Experimenting with different party setups against different enemies is really engaging, and battles feel incredibly involved and tactical without feeling too difficult or drawn out. The game’s pace is quite fast, actually – turtling is discouraged due to a mechanic that reduces your maximum health over time. You can actually get pretty far without any healer at all if you dispatch enemies quickly enough.

I feel like there are some balance issues, though. Not every party combination is viable; there are a lot of gimmicky heroes with little to no offensive capability, and if you get a party full of them there’s not much you can do. (This is especially problematic in endless mode, where random party members replace dead ones – getting stuck with gimmicky characters happened to me a few times.) I also feel like some heroes and enemies are too compartmentalized in their strategies – there are a few enemies that are an absolute nightmare to deal with under normal circumstances, but are a joke if your have the right hero. (Hello, crystal golems.) Diverter, in particular, really changes things to the point he’s kind of gamebreaking. Bosses are particularly bad; the general design philosophy seems to be to make them into puzzles with particular solutions, but those particular solutions tend to involve very particular party setups. For instance, if anyone’s defeated a bladewolf without using Assassin, I’d really like to hear about it. And if you run across a djinn without any heroes that can remove effects, you’re up the creek without a paddle.

It’s still fun, though – there are even more puzzle-like “challenge” quests for those of us who prefer more deterministic RPGs. The music and overall art direction is great too. Give it a try!

Majesty
(PC, real-time strategy)
You play as the sovereign of a generic fantasy RPG kingdom, which sounds strange at first but I found it pretty fun. Your units are standard RPG classes (warriors, rogues, wizards etc.), but the twist is that you can’t control them directly. You have to act as the RPG questgiver, motivating them with money to do stuff for you. There are still the epic battles and solid characters that make RPGs enjoyable – heroes and villains both have a lot of personality with their over-the-top voiceacting, and there’s some interesting story background in the pre-mission briefings. The flavor text on units and buildings is really nice too, be sure to read it (it’s easily missed). There are balance issues all over the place and I found a lot of quests got pretty repetitive in terms of strategy (ballista towers for everything), but it’s generally a fun and thrilling experience. (Except for “Legendary Heroes”. That quest can die a slow and painful death.)

I’ve heard there’s a sequel, but I don’t know much about it and I’ve only played the first game.

The Blue Contestant
(PC, jRPG)
I never got into Lysander86’s games, but now I can see why he’s so revered. This game is short and sweet, with simplistic but effective gameplay that provides a lot more tactical diversity than most jRPGs. The gameplay does certainly have issues – in particular, there are a dearth of save points, which is really the worst kind of fake difficulty, especially since there isn’t even any mechanical disadvantage to constantly trekking back. The game could have used free saving and nothing would have been lost. The class balance was also wonky – medic and soldier are crazy overpowered compared to everything else and I never had any reason to change into a student or gambler. It’s still fun, though, and despite the tense setting the game really lets you take your time and strategize. I liked the story too, and I think it’s a good example of how to do a 999-style plot derail effectively. The reveal was beautiful in its simplicity, though I felt the romantic angle was hackneyed and cliche.

The Heart Pumps Clay
(PC, jRPG)
A short RPG where one of your party members gets weaker after every battle. This is a concept I’ve heard discussed in various circles, but this is the first time I’ve seen it put into practice. Forcing the player to choose between getting optional powerups and having a solid tank to hide behind is quite interesting, and I like how your strategy is forced to gradually shift because of it. I went for a completist run (of course) and quickly noticed how battles got tighter and tighter as there was less HP to go around. (There’s a clever way to compensate for it, but I didn’t realize it until very late.) It’s got a nice story, too (and a female protagonist!). It’s got a few issues – random steal rates in a few places, missable stuff, battle strategy can get repetitive, the power progression system is all sorts of imbalanced, and the final boss is a huge difficulty spike that requires a very specific strategy to defeat – but overall I liked it.

“Crazegames”
(PC, RPGs/Roguelikes/Metroidvanias)
“Craze” is the name of a prolific game designer in the RPG Maker community. His games are often very experimental and don’t always pan out, but he is definitely committed to innovation and interesting gameplay. Most of his games are gameplay-focused non-linear RPGs, but recently he’s injected more character and story into his works. Not all of them are for everyone and they vary in quality, but I’d recommend giving at least some of them a try. They tend to be pretty short, so why not? If nothing else, I highly recommend Wine and Roses, which I personally think is his best work. It’s a Metroidvania RPG emphasizing tactics and exploration, with a focus on female characters and a decently interesting story going on in the background.

Midnight’s Children
(Novel)
Historical fiction centered around post-independence India, with a heavy dose of magical realism to complicate things. The central conceit is that children born in the midnight hour of India’s independence day are gifted with magical powers, with the protagonist being the most powerful on account of his being born on the exact stroke of midnight, but this premise is really just a springboard to examine the history, culture, and life of twentieth-century India. I don’t believe I am qualified to unpack the mountains of political and social commentary the book features, but I did find myself agreeing with most (though not all) of its messages and portrayals. There’s a very strong rejection of hyperindividualism and protagonist-centered morality, which I found incredibly refreshing, and the abundance and diversity of female characters is incredible. I also believe it is quite possibly the best-written novel I have ever read – in particular, I was blown away by how truly dreamlike the nightmare scene was. I have never seen any writing so effectively capture the surreal and incomprehensible nature of dreams, before or since.

10 Comments

  1. SpoonyViking says:
    Historical fiction centered around post-independence India, with a heavy dose of magical realism to complicate things. […] but this premise is really just a springboard to examine the history, culture, and life of twentieth-century India.

    Seems very interesting! Can you give a summary of the plot without any spoilers, if it’s not too much trouble?

    1. Mini-Farla says:
      The framing story is that the narrator is writing his autobiography before he dies of some vague disease which is probably magic (because the cynicism of modern Indian politics are destroying the idealism of India’s founding or something metaphorical like that), so he just recounts the history of his family in extreme detail, starting with his grandparents. It’s basically just the story of a wealthy Muslim family living through a turbulent period in India and, later, Pakistan, with the magical realism spicing up the protagonist’s personal life. But this really isn’t a book you read for the plot; the focus is on the characters and writing. (One of the funny things I noticed is that the protagonist spoils literally every plot twist far in advance except for, like, two. I feel that adds to the surrealism; it’s darkly comedic and absurd in a way.)
      1. SpoonyViking says:
        Hm… Have you read Gabriel García Márquez or Jorge Luis Borges? If you have, would you say the prose in this novel is similar to theirs?
        1. Mini-Farla says:
          I have not — I am actually not very well-read, especially when it comes to non-English authors. The prose is very rambly and stream-of-consciousness — lots of tangents, asides, and comparisons. I normally find that tiring and dull, but the prose has a rapid, engaging pace that drew me in, and the asides were actually clever and interesting. If those authors have similar writing styles, I’ll have to look into them.
          1. actonthat says:
            I really enjoyed GGM’s writing (I read Chronicle of a Death Foretold). It’s always hard to say how much is on a translator versus an author, but I found it readable and engaging, and the nonlinear way the story was told was excellent.
          2. SpoonyViking says:
            I heartily recommend both of them, especially Gabo (as Gabriel García Márquez is affectionately called)! :-) They don’t really engage in much stream-of-consciousness, though; I thought of them mostly because of the mentions to magical realism.
            I’m not usually a fan of stream-of-consciousness, but it can be done very well (Terry Pratchett immediately comes to mind). Ah, what the heck, I’ll try and find this novel, it seems very interesting! :-)
  2. Nerem says:
    Wine and Roses is fantastic, by the way. You did not give it enough love.
    1. Mini-Farla says:
      I made an encyclopedia file compiling every single enemy, item, and upgrade in the game, so yes, I think I did. :p

      Thinking back on it, though, I think I might like Teenage Costume Squad better overall. The two games are very similar, but while TCS has a less ambitious plot, the humor and characters are a lot more engaging.

      1. Nerem says:
        You should share it!

        Though I literally just beat the game. The final boss was a pain if you didn’t win fast.

        1. Mini-Farla says:
          I did! I gave it to Craze and he put it in the RMN page description.

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