Digitally Downloaded's Reviews
If you had asked me if I thought Piofiore: Fated Memories needed a sequel, I would have responded with a very firm “no.” That game is right up there with the likes of Steins;Gate and The House In Fata Morgana as a visual novel with literary merit, and arguably the masterpiece of the otome genre. But then I played Piofiore: Episodio 1926 and realised that the writers weren’t out of ideas from their first outing. This game is every bit as dark and majestic as its predecessor, and assuming you can stomach its harder edges, it’s essential (but just make sure you’ve played Fate Memories first, if you haven’t yet – don’t ruin this on yourself).
At about 15 hours in length Beasts of Burden respects your time and moves beautifully from plot highlight to highlight. It’s the perfect “Sunday morning gaming” game to unwind with while enjoying a coffee and there’s a humble warmth and love for the genre that makes it difficult to criticise those small things that don’t quite work in its favour. Thanks to the monster collecting, this is the finest in the Voice of Cards series so far, but you really should play them all.
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is, simply, an excellent game. If you haven’t played it yet, you should. The new wave of re-releases of it, for the modern consoles, but especially the Nintendo Switch, give you the chance to do that. So, if you missed it last year, here are your Halloween chills for 2022 served up to you.
Penko Park was considered something of a hidden gem on the PC. I don’t know how it’s going to perform commercially on the Switch, but as a game concept, it’s much more at home on Nintendo’s handheld. Its biggest strength – the incredible creativity of the monsters that you’ll be taking photos of – really does make it worth your time, even if the game really could have done with finding an identity of its own and distinct from Pokémon Snap.
Potion Permit is twee. It’s sweet and charming, and made with love. The developers were also successful in finding a new take on the Moon-like rural life sim, and Atelier fans in particular are going to enjoy this crossover. The combat is the only real misfire, and thankfully it’s never present enough to make the rest of the experience taste sour.
The biggest problem that DioField Chronicle faces is probably its theme. Post Elden Ring, Dark Souls, Game of Thrones, the new Lord of the Rings TV series, and all the rest, you’ve got to wonder whether dark Euro-fantasy is starting to wear thin on audiences. With that being said, the elevated presentation and abstract qualities of the game will hopefully help it find an audience even among those that are bored of the standard approach to the genre, and the relatively fresh take on real-time combat will hopefully help intrigue people. When you consider that 2022 has arguably been the best year of all time for the sheer quantity of excellent JRPG releases, the fact that DioField Chronicle comes across as a fresh and different approach to all of them is a truly impressive feat.
While playing, I realised that Hokko Life is trying too hard to be other games that it never really has the opportunity to grow into its own thing. It doesn’t shine on its own. The devs tried. They really did. Hokko Life is an obvious labour of love. But there is a certain je ne sais quoi lacking… charm, maybe? I’ve played a lot of life sims that made me excited to return, but this one didn’t. I know that a game’s not really hooking me when I’ve got to talk myself into playing it for hours just so I can get my review done in time.
As one chapter in something that is almost experimental for video games – a genuine epic, spanning decades of game development, a half dozen consoles, and a dozen titles – Trails From Zero is a very fine entry indeed. The rich complexities of the narrative engage the brain, while the charming writing and characterisation also make for an entertaining experience. The story is everything to this series, so it’s just as well that is spot on, though thankfully the combat is enjoyable in its own right, and it’s all backed by excellent aesthetics. If you are new to The Legend Of Heroes, this isn’t a bad place to start. If you’re a veteran of the series you must surely love how one of the best games in the series has finally got the full localisation it always deserved.
Soulstice is an excellent first effort in what must be an enormously difficult genre. Just imagine the work that must go into crafting such big, challenging action set pieces and leave the player feeling satisfied rather than infuriated. Soulstice isn’t perfect, but I hope the development team does stick at this, because they’re on to something special.
I can’t imagine the niche for this game will be too big, but even as someone who doesn’t know the anime, I found myself enjoying the unique take on hell that Made in Abyss throws at players. Once you learn to play it within its rhythms, rather than expect it to be something more conventional, it has a charm all of its own.
The developer uses the term “cottagecore” a lot to describe Wylde Flowers, but I feel that reduces it to just being a trend. Wylde Flowers is so much more than that: it’s heartfelt, inclusive, clever, and witchy. It’s the kind of game that makes you feel at home, and the kind of game you want to come home to. It’s a must-play game that I’d recommend to anyone, and that’s darned impressive considering it’s Studio Drydock’s first game (but not surprising if you go to its website and read about the resumes of people behind it).
There’s not much more I can say about Amnesia without going heavy on the spoilers, and part of the reason it has been re-released on Switch is so people can experience them for the first time. However, what’s important here is that Amnesia: Memories is a well-written visual novel, and in so many ways epitomises the qualities of what you might expect from a “classical” otome game. For that reason alone, genre fans, and anyone interested in learning about it for the first time, owe it to themselves to check this game out.
However, regardless of the platform you play it on, you should play it. Whether it’s called Clap Hanz Golf or Easy Come, Easy Golf, it’s one of the finest efforts from this highly specialised, legendary development team. The Switch lets you enjoy the game without the subscription model attached (which is an inherent plus), and the price is more than reasonable for something that is this big. Grindy, yes, but once you fall in the habit of playing once or twice per week to check in, unlock a few things, and participate in a tournament or two, you’ll realise that you just never stop playing it. Over a year later, you’ll realise that you’ve chalked up dozens of hours and that this is one of the most fundamentally enjoyable sports games you’ve ever played.
Ten-pin bowling works as a little minigame, aimed at a social and party environment. It’s a simple, easy-to-grasp sport, and the consistency with the rules makes it ideal for pick-up-and-play fun. However, PBA Bowling 2023 aims to be more than that. This wants to be a serious simulation of a sport where the skill involved cannot be adequately abstracted into button presses. As a result, while PBA Bowling 2023 is a perfectly well-made game that is free of bugs and glitches (sadly a rarity among niche sports titles), it is also an intensely boring, shallow game. You’re better off sticking to the light and frivolous take in Wii Sports.
It took Nintendo just three releases to turn Splatoon into one of its biggest and most valuable properties, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s not complex: Splatoon is something that almost everyone can enjoy. For those who want to be competitive, the blend of weapons, items, and abilities gives the game plenty of nuance, and there’s a true curve from beginner to excellence. For those that just want to jump in and have a blast, it’s a game that’s welcoming, has an excellent single-player mode to onboard you, and never feels like it’s punishing you if you spend less time playing it than others. At a time when online play is becoming increasingly hostile to anyone who isn’t willing to make the game their entire hobby, it’s nice to have a company like Nintendo remind us what it’s like to have simple, uncomplicated fun in online multiplayer.
Temtem’s disappointing, because it promised to be so much. In a genre that has been so utterly dominated by one particular property, and then lightyears back to the nearest rival, here was a game that seemed like it had the ambition and scope to actually rival Game Freak’s giant on its home turf. Unfortunately the result is more akin to the more egregious MMOs – a waste of time that exists to be a waste of time.
Kaichu – A Kaiju Dating Sim could have easily been bland, but it’s not (despite the lack of oomph to the relationships). The game is adorable, funny, and relatable on a personal level. I quite like the way the entire dating experience is framed by the reporters, it was an incredibly creative way to link the dates to each other as well as to deliver a little bit of narrative to go along with the dating experience. The dating pool is quite varied, with someone for everyone… well, hopefully. You never know with love, do you?
Steelrising sits right up there with the original Nioh as my favourite example of a Soulslike made outside of From Software. The spectacular alternative history backdrop is a delightful way of getting people interested in the events and people of the French Revolution, and that’s backed with some of the most enjoyable and distinctive level and environment design that we’ve seen from the genre to date. Of course, it’s not Elden Ring, and was never going to hit that level of polish or scope, however, it also wasn’t trying to. It’s very comparable to the likes of Nioh, and the sheer thought that went into making every building block within it relate to its themes and artistic vision makes it a compelling and thoughtful entry into an increasingly over-crowded genre.
Many of my complaints from the previous two collections apply here. I would have liked to have seen more effort go into the game’s history – give us scanned copies of the manuals or digital art books or something to make it feel more than a launcher for two games picked at random out of the back catalogue. Nonetheless, these are two deeply nostalgic and important artefacts from a genre, and La Pucelle, in particular, is a pioneering title that every genre fan should play.