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  • Should reviewers explicitly admit their total time with the game?

    Posted on September 28th, 2009 keving 4 comments


    Dengeki Games, a new Japanese magazine that launched its first issue last week, thinks so. This shot of a review page (for Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver) I swiped from Hachimaki-ko. In it, you can see that within every EGM-style cross review is a little bubble showing how many hours each writer played the game — in this case, 12 and 15 hours each. I figure that if you’ve already played both Pokémon Platinum and the original Gold/Silver, 12 to 15 hours is long enough to intelligently gauge out all the new things in this remake. I’m betting that most readers would agree with me, too.

    The mk2 series of websites, popular outlets for user-submitted game reviews in Japan, make writers give out hours-played with each review they submit. Not so in the professional ranks. The only “high-tier” game media I can think of that ever did this before Dengeki Games is Saturn FAN, a Japanese title from Tokuma Shoten that covered the Sega Saturn, and even they did away with it after awhile.

    Around 1999 or 2000 (I need to fish out the actual issue), Famitsu published a discussion between then-EIC Hirokazu Hamamura and Japan game-biz problem child Kenji Eno. The two did not exactly have the rosiest of business relationships at the time, and it was one of the better interviews Famitsu ever published, but I remember Eno asking Hamamura at one point why his mag didn’t reveal “time spent in the game” with each review. “I’ve thought about it,” the EIC responded, “but it depends too much on the individual. My one hour of play’s going to be different from someone else’s one hour of play, especially if one of us skips past all the cutscenes. I figure it’s just better to man up and say ‘I play it until I’m sure of what I want to say about it.'”

    Whenever some net commenter badmouths “professional” reviews. one of the pieces of conventional wisdom that always gets thrown around is “you know they only play it for half an hour, WTF do they know about this game?” But what do you think? Is printing total play time with the review something that encourages you to trust the reviewer, or would you cynically think they’re lying about that, too?

    (My personal opinion: I played through every single game I played for Newtype, including the goddamn Fullmetal Alchemist Trading Card Game. This is a bragging point for me, and I’d like to show it off to as many people as possible, because come on, are you ever gonna play through that game? Hell, if I was still working full-time for media, I’d love to have a webcam pointing at my cube during work, outfitted with timers for this and that game I’m “working on.” Pageviews would be through the roof. I swear it.)

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Dungeon Explorer

    Posted on September 28th, 2009 keving 5 comments

    Dungeon ExplorerDungeon Explorer

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 3/4/89
    5800 yen
    HuCard (3 Mbit)
    Genre: RPG
    PC Engine FAN Score: 23.66 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “Proceed through the game’s dungeons, overcoming the traps and auto-generated monsters along the way. A game with a lot of action and pretty graphics. Use the Multitap to play with up to five people at once.”

    This is one of those games that’s a bit difficult to gauge by modern standards. It’s heavily inspired by Gauntlet, an arcade game that, in Diablo, has an obvious successor that’s matured for years now. (The two DS/PSP Dungeon Explorer games released last year are basically Diablo clones, thus completing the two-decade-long cycle of idea borrowing.) Its most original gimmick is five-player simultaneous gameplay, which is nothing exciting or innovative to anyone with an Xbox Live account. It looks…well, very old and square and like something from a long, lost, forgotten age. But it’s still unforgettable…to me, and that’s what counts. But why?

    Dungeon Explorer (J)-002 Dungeon Explorer (J)-006

    Maybe it’s the historical value. This is the first PCE title (that I know of) that was developed by Atlus, just before it grew out of subcontracting and began to publish its own stuff. It’s also the first RPG (I’m calling it an RPG and I don’t want any guff from you homeboys who call Zelda an “action game”) on the PC Engine to support five players simultaneously, and this may or may not make it the first console [action] RPG to allow that period, the NES port of Gauntlet II not coming out for another 18 months.

    For that alone, it’s pretty noteworthy, but 5-player isn’t just tacked on, either. The game’s balanced to be easier with more people, and having a “party” in the D&D sense of the term allows each participant to take a specific role — healing, short-range combat, speedily grabbing all the power-up items and pissing everyone else off. By the same token, Dungeon Explorer is frustrating in one-player for the same reason Gauntlet is — you’ve got zero room to make mistakes and (depending on the class you choose) few emergency escapes if you find yourself in trouble.

    Dungeon Explorer Dungeon Explorer

    But maybe it’s the atmosphere. Dungeon Explorer is an aggressively dark game. It takes place in Cornelia, a “nation surrounded by beautiful nature” according to the intro, but in reality one of those abbreviated JRPG realms without any industry, agriculture, police force or any discernible assets apart from castles and monster generators. The entire realm is dark-colored, tiled, and aggressively depressing, like a trip through Pittsburgh in November except with fireballs. It’s hard fantasy.

    Then again, maybe it’s the music. No, I’m pretty sure a lot of it is the music, actually. It’s done by a guy named Tsukasa Masuko, credited as “Macco” in most of the games he contributed to; he did lots of work for Atlus through the mid-1990s and still makes occasional contributions to games today, although he does a lot more sound-system coding than actual composition. Masuko got his start composing with 8-bit computers that overtook Japan in the ’80s, and like a lot of musicians from that generation, his stuff is structured pretty simply — lead instrument, bass, percussion and that’s it. But he uses these simple tools to create a very hard-sounding feel that oscillates somewhere between twee fantasy and low-end metal at times. (Listening to this game, I also get the idea that Ys and Yuzo Koshiro were a major influence on Masuko at the time.)

    Put it all together, and you’ve got a game all but meant to manufacture nostalgia. The visuals, music, gameplay, and overall feel are made for hardcore folks, and yet the game itself is totally approachable. Atlus did a great job on it, and while it’s understandable that Dungeon Explorer never became a major brand, the sequels it’s received in Japan are a welcome sight.

    I can’t find too many decent videos of DE on YT, but some guys over at Nico have posted a series of long videos showing a 5-member party running through the game, with people swapping in and out as the night goes on and everyone having a drunken good time. If you’ve never gotten a chance to see Dungeon Explorer “the way it’s meant to be played,” it’s a must-see. (The Virtual Console version only supports 4 players at once, so a video like this is a rare sight indeed these days.)