This Week in Games: UFOs, Valkyries, and Dream Diaries

by Heidi Kemps,

Nintendo is doing it again. They've got a Nintendo Direct ready to go precisely the day after this column goes live, which means everything I write here is going to seem horribly outdated within mere hours as everyone goes wild for Mother 3 or Super Smash Brothers Switch or Startropics: Return of Mike Jones or whatever inevitably gets announced. Well, at least I know I'll have a full news week next week!

Anyway, did you know HAL Laboratory (the primary Smash Bros and Kirby developers with that adorable dog-and-eggs logo) sometimes makes stuff without Nintendo's involvement? Yes, technically HAL is independent, and has been for a while – though Nintendo's propped them up a lot during difficult times, which is why the vast majority of their work is for them.

But they do release their own stuff on rare occasions, and one such game is the recent mobile title Part-Time UFO. For $3.99, you get a game where you play as an adorable little UFO who must grab things with its claw, carry them around, and stack them up for assorted clients. It's a deceptively simple physics puzzler that starts off easy, but eventually becomes surprisingly challenging. The more difficult levels will likely drive you bonkers, but my gosh, is this game ever full of charm – the music is delightful, the visuals have a WarioWare-like appeal, and the UFO character itself is so cute. Best of all, Part Time UFO’s got zero microtransactions, so $3.99 is all you'll ever need to spend for UFO-catching fun on the go. I highly recommend it.




Ahem! Okay, calming down a bit. Longtime readers may remember that I interviewed Tri-Ace producer Shūichi Kobayashi for this column's predecessor, The X Button, a while back, where he seemed interested in going back to the Valkyrie Profile universe but not quite committed to making a third game. I'm thinking this is Square Enix “testing the waters” to see if global interest in a new Valkyrie Profile is high. We still don't know what platforms this is coming to, but sweet Odin in heaven we're getting more VP YES!

The question is, is this a port of the PSP Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, or a full-on remake? Given some of the stuff Square Enix has pulled recently, there's good reason to be a bit worried about both potentialities. Honestly, I think the best route to go would be a port of the PSP game with a bit of extra spit-shine on the text and visuals. And by that, I mean “redraw the visuals with the aid of an actual art director and don't just run a bunch of old sprites through ugly filters or blend old and redrawn stuff dammit Squeenix don't mess this up.”


Marcin Marmot, community leader at CD Projekt Red -- the developers of the world-beloved Witcher series of open-world RPGs -- tweeted something intriguing the other day, hinting that the game's lead, Geralt, might be making an appearance in another title before the year's out.

“But Heidi!” you say. “Isn't this column mostly about Japan- and Japanese-influenced games? Why talk about a Witcher announcement?” Well, current speculation is that this is in reference to a guest appearance in a Japanese game – specifically, Soul Calibur VI. As you might recall, Soul Calibur V featured Ezio of Assassin's Creed fame as a guest character. Team Soul was willing to work with a Western developers to get Ezio in their game, so it only seems logical that they'd pursue a character from one of the best-reviewed games of the past decade for their next outing.


In a surprise twist, a fantasy anime that's related to another fantasy anime based on a pen-and-paper RPG session is getting a videogame adaptation. Okay, maybe it's not that surprising, but jeez, it sure didn't take Bandai-Namco long to hitch their cart to Grancrest War.

Then again, if anything this season feels tailor-made for a JRPG adaptation (besides Pop Team Epic), it would be Record of Grancrest War. Early news doesn't reveal too much: We know that it's a strategy/RPG, and that pre-orders will get Parn and Deedlit from Lodoss War as playable characters. What I'm more curious about is whether this one's going to get a localization. Remember waaaaaaay back when the Dreamcast Lodoss War was released overseas? It'd be nice if this did, too, though the market for console RPGs now is a very different beast than it was back in the early aughts.



Please be Balthier please be Balthier please pleasepleasepl- nevermind it's a villain character, fug


Unless another problem crops up, which honestly wouldn't be surprising at this point.


I finally had some time this week to sit down and look at Yume Nikki: Dream Diary, a (currently) Steam-exclusive follow-up/sort-of remake/sort-of sequel to an indie cult classic of the same name. For the unaware, Yume Nikki is a non-linear adventure game with very little in the way of explicit story or dialogue. You're a young girl (unnamed in-game but called “Madotsuki” elsewhere) who is confined to her room – whether by outside forces or by choice is unclear – who spends most of her time sleeping and journaling her dreams in the titular “Yume Nikki”: literally, a dream diary. The story behind it is utterly fascinating, and I suggest reading about it – it truly is a game shrouded in mystery in just about every way imaginable.

This edition of Yume Nikki drops the 2D, sprite-based visuals and goes full 3D, but the core conept behind the game remains the same. You, as the player, explore these dreams and the sights and sounds contained within. Madotsuki's visions consist of beautiful, surreal dreamscapes, horrifying perversions of everyday environments, and --- perhaps most distressingly -- various combinations of the two.

A beautiful dock under a startlit sky will contain a sea filled with jet-black snakes and ravenous, aimlessly wandering human/seagull hybrids, while a shopping center lit with eerie neon glows and static hosts silent, forever walking silhouettes, trudging along as you chase down what looks to be a sentient public ashtray. Other environments are far more hostile: a street where giant baby hands reach out from the alleys to grab you; sidewalks lined with shifting stone statues that aim to capture you in their red, judgmental glare; a slaughterhouse with a ravenous, grotesque monster that feeds endlessly. Even the more peaceful environments, like a sandy, crystalline beach with floating balloons, feel unsettling in a way that's difficult to describe, but Yume Nikki doesn't expressly spell out what any of this means. It's up to you to take in all of Yume Nikki’s imagery, from its peaceful, quiet forest vistas to its urgent action sequences, and decipher just what is going on.

As an adventure game, Yume Nikki: Dream Diary has a fair few puzzles of varying difficulty. Very little is given in the way of instructions, so it's mostly up to the player to explore and do some trial-and-error testing in order to figure out how to proceed. You may even need to venture into a different dreamscapes to find an object needed to advance in another. The lack of overt instructions may be frustrating for some, but I can't imagine it working in the atmosphere the game fosters. As far as I'm concerned, the less words used here, the better. (A major frustration, however, is finding a glimmer in the environment that you think is a key item, only to discover it's collectible concept art. We seriously couldn't have saved that for a post-game unlock?)

Of course, the big question is, “How does this compare to the original Yume Nikki?” Well… honestly, I feel that the original is a better experience. I don't think anyone will argue that. Sure, there are some really memorable and interesting 3D areas in this game -- heck, I just wrote a big paragraph about some of the places I really liked. But the 2D, low-fi art is far more effective in the creation of surreal environments and imagery, the pacing is a lot better, and there's just a lot more to see and take in. But I've seen this updated Yume Nikki getting a fair bit of flak, and I'm not entirely sure why – it's an enjoyable, sometimes trippy, often very unsettling experience in its own right, even if it doesn't reach the surreal heights of the title that inspired it. Given that the original game is free to play on Steam, and the remake is $20, however… it's kind of hard to argue forking over cash a product that isn't as good.


Another pretty sparse week for big releases – well, perhaps save for the debut of Final Fantasy XV on PCs as Final Fantasy XV Royal Edition. This updated, upgraded revamp of the beloved four-hot-dudes-in-a-car simulator is also coming to consoles, too, so fear not! If something less AAA and more doujin-flavored is your thing, there's Acceleration of Suguri 2, an intensely competitive bullet-hell versus shoot-em-up from the folks that brought us 100% Orange Juice. Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash brings sexy watersports (no, not that) to Steam. Those still stranded on PS Vita Island will be happy to know that acclaimed visual novel Root Double is hitting their shores. If everyone's Oculus Rifts are actually working by the time this goes live, then you might be able to enjoy Hatsune Miku VR for PC. And if you love awful games, you're in luck, because the legendarily terrible Drake of the 99 Dragons is hitting Steam after over 10 years as an Xbox (as in, original Xbox) exclusive.


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