Options for a new game.

Options for a new game.

In hopes of being a so-called “better influence” on my (current) partner’s video game-playing son, I decided to spend a lot of time playing Banished. This was largely because it was something that his father approved of, as it “required strategic planning” in order to achieve whatever goal you decided upon (unless, of course, it was to decimate your villages – that was fairly easy to do within the first few seconds by total accident). I can’t really remember how long I’ve had this game, but I recently realised that it was available in my Steam collection so I figured that I should give it a try and see if it was as amusing as the reviews I’ve read for it have said it was (or if it was actually “well thought out”). Unfortunately, I think I may’ve ended up with a game by the same name that wasn’t anything like how I’d imagined it would be.

A basic map with a town.

A basic map with town and citizen stats.

Banished is a city-building strategy game where you’re in control of a bunch of people who have been exiled and forced to start over in a new land, though I’m not really sure why they’ve been exiled; I’m assuming that they’re debtors and other minor criminals who were being shipped away from their former land in hopes of establishing a colony (you know, like Australia), but there’s not really any back-story available for what they’ve done and how you’re supposed to feel toward your newly settled group of colonisers.

Really, I ought to start with the more positive aspects of this game: It’s a city-builder. This is probably more of a positive to me because I quite enjoy playing those when I want to think a little bit but be able to just mindlessly do something else because there’s a lot of waiting involved. There are a few interesting challenges for in-game achievements, such as trying to get the achievement for Mountain Men (maintaining a population of 50 or more on a small, mountainous map with a harsh climate for 20 years); these make the game more interesting than just idly creating cities, though there are some that cannot be done simultaneously.

Food producers who died of starvation.

Food producers who died of starvation.

There are, for me, quite a lot of downsides to this game. The biggest problem I have with it is that there is a lot of awkward AI. I can have an adequate (but not superb) food supply and people will still manage to starve to death; the people who are most often starving to death are, ironically, the same people who are employed in food production. Rarely do I see my labourers, builders, stonecutters, woodcutters, or miners dying from lack of food. It was always my gatherers, hunters, fishermen, farmers, and herdsmen who failed to procure rations. It’s a bit awkward that the game would have them deliver food to the storage barn or market and then, for whatever reason, walk off to do something else entirely despite starving. I frequently watched citizens who were “searching for food” walk up to a barn that was at 60% capacity with items like roots, onions, berries, venison, and mushrooms only to turn around and go search for food somewhere else, though I don’t quite know where; the whole process never made sense to me.

Along with strange AI that starves citizens to death, the builders can’t build too much at once because they’ll just… wander off somewhere else entirely for no obvious reason. You can employ a full crew and have more than enough resources in storage to make a set of buildings, plop down four locations to be built, and watch them be neglected for approximately a full in-game year or longer. This especially becomes frustrating when the game’s yelling at you that your food supply is too low, but your builder-citizens won’t even build the fisheries, gathering huts, or hunting stations that you’ve requested. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve screamed “If you’d have built that fucking thing when I told you to, you wouldn’t have this problem” at my citizens.

Citizens’ inventory is something that I can’t quite wrap my head around, either. They seemingly set things down or neglect to pick things up, regardless of what their job is. Some time after you command them to, labourers will go collect resources such as stone, iron, or logs; rather than picking them up and taking them along to the stock pile, they just leave them in the middle of a forest to be acquired later. This happens even when you have a very open stock pile, which makes it even more infuriating. You’re more likely to run out of stone and iron before you are logs, and it’s annoying for the citizens to just leave things anywhere they please on the map without actually doing what they’re programmed to.

Other things that I didn’t like included storage buildings. Specifically, the trading posts don’t show numbers for items stored in a way that is more useful to players; they show the number of currently in-house items, but they really should show what the capacity is using the numbers of items the player wishes to store in them. For instance, say I want to have 1000 logs and 1000 firewood in my trading post; regardless of how much of either is currently there, the capacity shown to me should be the capacity of the total amount. What you’re actually given is the capacity of what the trader-citizens have moved there, so it could be the capacity for 589 logs and 352 firewood; that doesn’t help me organise my surplus items because I could be over capacity with what’s currently there and having to constantly readjust it to figure out the best possible storage options.

The capacity also impacts trade, which is a bit annoying. Considering most of the items that you’re trading for are not staying in the trading post, counting them among the trading post’s capacity makes little sense. They’re not staying in the trading post, and it causes unnecessary difficulty in trying to calculate where the trade you’re trying to make is “over-capacity.” There are moments where capacity clearly doesn’t matter: You can trade for cattle, sheep, or chickens with no issue. None of these items, though they’ll stay in the fenced area of the trading post until a pasture is built or has space for them, count toward storage. Similarly, the various orchard and crop seeds have no impact on trade capacity and are stored in a town hall (or, if you don’t have one, are perhaps in town memory to be conjured whenever they seem appropriate).

Some of the amusing loading screen captions.

Some of the amusing loading screen captions.

I really must mention a caption on the loading screen that keeps catching my attention every time I see it; it makes me feel quite uncomfortable, especially since I can’t tell what the context is for the joke. Overwhelmingly, most of the captions are quite harmless and semi-witty quips related to establishing a town, surviving in an environment, or generally playing a game: Creating unique snowflakes, Restricting camera angles, Generating names for townsfolk, Hiding chicken eggs, Checking random number generator. I was amused by most of these.

"Banishing native people from their land."

“Banishing native people from their land.”

But when I saw “Banishing people from their native land,” it immediately made me feel conflicted. I can’t tell if it’s attempting to poke fun at colonialism and colonial history, pointing out what colonial governments have done and been doing for centuries; I can’t tell if it’s meant to be just a snide joke at the expense of indigenous peoples. There’s no context for it, especially on a tiny loading screen. As a result of seeing a lot of other aspects about mainstream gaming culture, I find it hard to believe that it would be a quick commentary about colonisation; I feel like it was something that was just tossed in there because it sounded, to someone who may not be willing to put forth the energy to understand and learn the history of colonisation and how in impacted indigenous peoples, like a funny and harmless little joke.

It may do one good thing for some people: It might remind them to be more conscious of the impacts of colonisation and to be willing to learn about it. However, I don’t think it’s something that most people would be paying attention to because there is nothing else to evoke the messages that you’re essentially playing a game about colonialism. It’s essentially a non-violent colonisation simulator. There are no obvious indigenous peoples to push out of the land (either through assimilation or violent removal), as it is inherently empty, which has been the history perpetuated by the governments that colonised lands of many indigenous peoples. I’m glad that doesn’t exist in the game, but it makes it quite weird that this one caption exists in the loading screen; there’s nothing to further discuss it in any way.

Overall, it’s a pretty decent time-killer for a city-builder, but it feels like it also has quite a few flaws that could be addressed to make it more enjoyable (and less awkward). Most of the AI could be tweaked to be more responsive or logical, and there are a lot of aspects that probably could be made more obvious to players rather than having an irritating learning curve or hunting for information.

Otome games are ridiculously easy to get into, and it’s usually because they’re so simple to play; the story’s path is relatively straight-forward and hard to deviate from, and it’s rare that options actually have any impact on what’s going to happen. Long Live the Queen isn’t like that, though. Its entire premise is that you must keep Elodie, a young soon-to-be-queen, alive despite the growing threats as she makes decisions for her kingdom.

Elodie's list of deaths.

Elodie’s list of deaths.

That aspect is what makes this game interesting: You have to keep Elodie alive for the entire 40 weeks of the game’s story, making sure that she’s crowned queen on her fifteenth birthday. In order to survive or to alter aspects of the story, you have to ensure that Elodie can meet certain skill checks; there are a ridiculous amount of skills to improve for her, which leads to multiple paths and endings. Some of the threats that you have to beat include a vengeful elite, Elodie’s magical aunt, assassins who attack your carriage, and elites who attempt to poison Elodie; there are many more dangers that she has to survive or avoid, but it does get harder to keep track of all of them.

The 24 potential epilogues.

The 24 potential epilogues.

That also makes this game both difficult: you genuinely have to attempt to keep Elodie alive, unless you’re looking to gain the achievement for her eleven deaths. If you happen to be an achievement hunter, as I sometimes can be, the game forces you to repeatedly murder your protagonist by making poor choices. This is where your options actually feel as if they have a reason. For instance, when Elodie is sent expensive and rare chocolates as a gift from an unknown person of her court, she can decide to eat them. Doing so will cause her to die from poison, but she can also survive it by having a high enough skill check in either Poison or Dogs; she’ll know to save it for later and accidentally poison a member of her castle’s staff because they wanted to try the chocolates or feed it to a chicken in order to find out whether it was laced with poison.

The game is full of a ridiculous amount of tropes. Almost every single Adult in the whole game is incredibly useless; Elodie’s father is supposed to be one of her advisers, yet he never intervenes to even provide suggestions on the decisions she makes. She’s capable of starting a civil war, of executing both commoners and people of her court on a whim, and murdering the family who opposes her or sacrificing her young cousin to a kraken; her father never once provides necessary opposition to his young princess daughter. He isn’t the only person who does this; every adult does something that encourages their children to harm others, and it doesn’t seem to matter who those ‘others’ are.

Elodie as a magical girl.

Elodie as a magical girl.

Despite being quite interesting and a bit fun in terms of the way the story plays out and changes based on the decisions you make, there are some rather distracting details in the clothing acquired for improving skills beyond a certain level. While some of the outfits are quite cute, they don’t quite fit the supposed era the story takes place in; one of the options available is a catsuit with a monocle, which doesn’t quite work together. Elodie’s Lumen outfit, which boosts her skills in magic, is a highly stereotypical Magical Girl outfit that is clearly out of place in the game’s aesthetics. This is pretty common in the other outfits, as they’re all from different periods of time.

As a whole, I enjoyed the game’s structure. It’s still pretty easy to keep Elodie alive once you pick up the nuances, which is really what turns the game into “Murder the Young Princess Before Her Birthday.” It’s good for a few playthroughs, but it definitely gets very old pretty quickly.

I’ve been continuing with my easy-to-finish visual novels, particularly as it’s been difficult for me to focus on actually completing games these days. It’s probably also partly due to the fact that I’ve since moved, which has completely changed my schedule. So this time, I’ve spent a bit of time playing Analogue: A Hate Story, which is a visual novel that I would mostly recommend because it’s somewhat different to the others.

Introduction screen explaining the story's background.

Introduction screen explaining the story’s background.

The story of Analogue starts with the player being a person who has been hired and sent to investigate the ruins of the Mugunghwa, a ship that mysteriously failed in its mission; you’re meant to look through the ship’s files and download them. During that time, you meet two characters who are AI: *Hyun-ae and *Mute. The asterisks are silent, denoting their status. This means that the entire story is told primarily through log files rather than directly through the characters; they provide explanation for any logs you find, and they outline their own feelings regarding the people in the logs, as they both had relationships with the people of the Mugunghwa.

The phrase influencing the story.

The phrase influencing the story.

The first part of the game is spent with *Hyun-ae, and she provides the most information on a character in the log files known as The Pale Bride. When you meet her, she provides you with some information regarding the society; it includes a Korean phrase that apparently means “valuing men above women.” She also details the society from the log files in darker terms and focuses on how patriarchal values have undermined the value of women, treating them like objects; this is something that is clearly shown through The Pale Bride’s diaries, as she originally grew up within a society that had more equality and options. Her diaries show how confused she is, not understanding how the society aboard this ship could’ve gone from what she’d known to the patriarchy she now has to survive within.

My feelings about *Mute, really.

My feelings about *Mute, really.

The second part is spent with *Mute, who is a frustratingly subservient female AI that will get frustrated with you almost any time you say anything about being an independent woman or a man who supports women. She’s confused by women who haven’t found their place by a man, who haven’t done their duties as wife; she uses very sexist language and often throws around slurs about women that I’d rather the writers not use. She also talks about one of the women who started having an affair with her husband’s mistress, making fun of their love and describing it as being ‘scandalous.’ Understandably, this is part of the story that’s told in the log files; the society that had been aboard that ship was not one that was friendly to anything other than a traditional heteronormative society, and there is a log file provided where the husband finds out and basically torments both his wife and the mistress.

One of *Mute's more minor offenses.

One of *Mute’s more minor offenses.

Most of this is probably why I like this visual novel, even if it can be a bit uncomfortable to read at times. I especially like the endings where *Hyun-ae exists; she makes the story relevant with the commentary she provides, and she is far easier to be empathetic toward. *Mute’s paths are particularly difficult to tolerate because of the excessive sexism she provides as a literal product of the society in which she was developed, with exception to the ‘harem’ ending – an ending where you’re forced to kind of break the fourth wall and find a file that neither character has shown you – because you force her to somewhat empathise with and understand *Hyun-ae.

How *Hyun-ae viewed this society.

How *Hyun-ae viewed this society.

There are some problems with *Hyun-ae’s paths, though. She proclaims love for a person she’s only just met (you, the unnamed protagonist), and she will ask in two ways to basically be your wife. She becomes awkwardly infatuated with your character, and it’s a bit awkward when you pair it with the other aspects of her characterisation. She’s supposed to be strong, independent, and cautious; that was precisely what led her to the decisions that she had previously made. But when interacting with your character, she becomes awkward in many ways that feel counter to everything else you learn about her. That’s really the biggest problem with her.

It’s surprising as a visual novel because one of the elements they rarely deal with includes anything about feminism; the female characters in visual novels are almost always subservient in some way to someone, which is part of what makes the genre typically uncomfortable and frustrating. It’s also part of what makes it such an easy genre to spoof (Hatoful Boyfriend, anyone?), since it often is over the top in so many ways. Analogue takes a different route and actually makes an interesting story that has some elements that could potentially challenge the typical visual novel story. It’s still problematic in its own ways, but it’s enjoyable and something that I can recommend.

The loading screen (and waiting room) for Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist.

The loading screen (and waiting room).

Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist is a short game with an almost annoyingly long title that was released as a complimentary title in an effort for Crows Crows Crows to give themselves free advertisement (but at a cost to themselves) and generate hype for their future endeavours, which is a pretty damn good idea because it’ll keep people pretty interested. I know it’s got me. The whole thing runs approximately fifteen minutes — though it can be extended by thorough exploration of the rooms as you enter them — and is voiced almost entirely by one of Britain’s most beloved stand-up comedians: Simon Amstell. Or, at the very least, he’s a comedian I quite like and was quite happy to hear in almost any form. Oh, and it’s also directed by William Pugh, who is known for designing the Stanley Parable.

It’s a pretty adorable adventure where you play as a character who is attempting to play a game but finds that the staff who operates the game’s internal mechanics have all gone on strike. As a result of being understaffed, you’re kind of pushed into doing multiple jobs to ensure the Current Player is capable of completing the heist without a problem, even when they’ve made decisions that the Stage Manager (Amstell) isn’t quite prepared for.

Strike signs and story boards.

Strike signs and story boards.

Throughout the whole thing, there are a series of signs and notes that manage to give this game a lot of depth despite being so (understandably) short. There are resignation notes littered throughout the rooms; some of them are coherently written while others become a range of I QUIT, I QUIT, I QUIT and are reminiscent notes scribbled on the pages inside of a severely frustrated high school student’s notebook. These are all things that Previous Players have seen, which can explain why the Current Player seemingly alters their path and deviates from the intended story. Interestingly, that’s not really a thing your Player Character can do, as there are few options within the game and certain tasks must be completed in order to move on. You know, much like the vast majority of other games.

There are a couple decisions that can be made throughout the game which do change the dialogue, and they’re mostly found within Lighting. You can press buttons marked as either ‘lasers’, ‘secondary disruptive’ or ‘unknown’ to get different dialogue in the game. The Stage Manager will immediately chastise you for your curious nature and pushing any of the three, though his level of shock is a bit different depending on which one you choose. Somewhere down the line, he will chastise you for having played with them at all because of how you interfered with the Current Player, who may’ve not been prepared or ready to handle what would be thrown at them as a result of pushing them.

Pretzel room! Or maybe keys.

Pretzel room! Or maybe keys.

In order to find certain things, replaying is a requirement. If you’re a bit of an achievement hunter, you must take the tape player that’s left in the first room; as you move through the game, you can collect old cassette tapes with different stories of people who had previously been involved in the game’s operations. All of these tapes are voiced entirely by other people, which gives you a slight break from Amstell’s voice (though I can’t imagine who would want that), and give you a moment to just stand around in a quiet room after completing the objectives. One of these tapes is left behind some bizarre child (adult?) who left pretzels in every nook and cranny of the studio, which you can search for later.

Dr. Langeskov is actually really easy to replay, not just because it’s a fairly simple game; it’s enjoyable, particularly as you get the feeling that your character is annoying to the Stage Manager. I can’t help giggling at the scenes where he’s getting frustrated by your actions, even if he isn’t being mean about it. I adore many of the papers strewn throughout the studio, and I love the art within the game; even after playing it a few times to collect all the achievements, it felt as if there was something new I’d not noticed prior. It’s fantastic for a free fifteen minute adventure, and it makes me look forward to the work Crows Crows Crows plans to do.

Also, I find it hard to disrespect a game that includes this:

No vaping sign. I heavily agree.

No vaping sign. I heavily agree.

What Hiyoko thinks will happen if Sakuya acts rudely.

What Hiyoko thinks will happen if Sakuya acts rudely.

As it was recently Valentine’s Day, I figured that I would play one of the most ridiculous otome games. It’s entirely about a young Homo sapien‘s attempt to romance birds. Or die by the hands (wings?) of birds. Or engage in some paranormal pudding event with birds. Or… well, it’s a completely absurd game where you romance birds, parodying the general stereotypes and tropes of otome games. It’s called Hatoful Boyfriend, and it will break your brain in some way.

You play as Hiyoko Tosaka, who is a human attending a school for birds known as St. Pigeonation’s; she’s the only human in attendance, so she tends to stick out quite a lot. Whether she lives or dies is entirely up to the path taken, as some end up with her being completely dismembered (not visibly) while others have her running off with the bird of her choice. Unless you try to romance a maths professor, and then thankfully he tells you to come back later once you’ve matured.

Sakuya decides to be a bit of a jerk toward Anghel.

Sakuya decides to be a bit of a jerk toward Anghel.

This game provides you with a variety of love interests who have awkwardly different backgrounds that come together throughout the different endings, both creating a somewhat complete story and allowing you learn how they’re all related to each other in a bizarre way that segregates humans and birds through war. You can romance Hiyoko’s best friend, Ryouta Kawara, who is a rock dove she’s known since childhood; you can romance the French transfer student and fantail pigeon, Sakuya Le Bel Shirogane, or his elder brother Yuuya Sakazaki, who has a troubled past and many James Bond references. If you’re into highly energetic and incomprehensible birds, you can choose San Oko and be pushed into some ending that covers the planet in pudding; if fallen angels are more your style, you’ve got Anghel Higure, who is a slightly eccentric and rambling Luzon bleeding-heart that will lead you to an ending full of Pokémon references and a path that includes some Filipino insults. Perhaps you might enjoy your elders and choose your narcoleptic maths professor, Kazuaki Nanaki, or the incredibly creepy school doctor, Shuu Iwamine.

You even have the option of getting a job and helping Azami Koshiba, a Java sparrow who owns a takoyaki cart and a pink scooter, get back together with her ex-partner Rabu, a yellow budgie who is a regular customer at the café where Hiyoko gets a job. This doesn’t end the game, but it does get in the way of the other relationships, especially Ryouta’s. It’s kind of adorable, but it’s sort of annoying at the same time because it forces you to unnecessarily complete the story while not being able to romance any of the other birds. Because you got a job. Which is apparently unattractive? I’m not sure.

Nageki's retort to Ryouta when questioned about how he exists.

Nageki’s retort to Ryouta when questioned about how he exists.

Personally, my favourite ending involves the mourning dove who can only be found in the library, Nageki Fujishiro. Hiyoko finds it curious that he never interacts with other birds and can’t be found in any other location. Through his discussions with Hiyoko, he comes to understand that he’s actually a ghost and had committed suicide in this place; this explains why he’s unable to leave. In the ending where you successfully romance him, he admits that he loves Hiyoko and fades away because of this realisation. If you complete every ending for every single bird, you’re granted a final ending that explains who he really was and that he was being used to develop biological weapons against humans because his body contained the virus. He didn’t want this to happen, and he ended up killing himself through self-immolation and hoping to destroy his whole body to prevent anyone from having access to the virus within it.

Apparently, the world being covered in pudding is a thing.

Apparently, the world being covered in pudding is a thing.

The stories are clearly ludicrous, and it’s with good reason; they’re making a clear attempt to parody the otome genre, which is rife with absurd tales that are genuinely meant to be mostly serious. That’s what makes this particular otome game enjoyable; it doesn’t take itself seriously by any means and is incredibly self-deprecating, openly acknowledging that it’s beyond ridiculous.

There are a few things to note: It provides a ‘human mode’, which allows you to see the human versions of the birds in their introduction screen; you will never again see that version of them, which is somewhat disappointing when you really like certain character designs; I really quite wished I could’ve seen more of the character art throughout the game for Sakuya, Anghel, or Shuu. I got kind of bored by the bird portraits after a while, especially after completing all of the more than ten endings, many of which barely changed the story progression with few exceptions and all of which required you to essentially play from the very beginning of the game repeatedly. It would’ve been nice if more of the events had changed so that it felt a little less like replaying an identical story on repeat until you progressed to get the final ending.

But it’s still worth playing! Probably not all at once, but it is quite an endearing game. I will be watching for sales on the upgrade and the sequel because it’s interestingly ridiculous, and I quite enjoyed it spending an entire Valentine’s Day playing it. Also, birbs.

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