Video Game Review: Princess Connect! Re:Dive

Details: Been playing the last few months. Official site is https://www.crunchyroll.com/games/princessconnectredive/index.html

Score: 7.1/10

On the surface, Princess Connect! Re:Dive is yet another degenerate, waifu collector. However, Princess Connect is in actuality the most streamlined auto-battling gacha game I’ve ever played. With this game, they took your average, generic gacha game and polished and refined it into a fine diamond. It takes every gameplay element from the genre and makes it better. From the user interface to the gacha system, everything is at least a little better than the majority of competing games in the genre. The end result is an extremely polished game that does an amazing job of not wasting players’ time. This is something in direct contradiction of most gacha games who instead deliberately seek to annoy players and waste their time with the goal of pushing players to spend money.

One of the most impressive things about Princess Connect is that it shamelessly knows what it is and seeks to be the best version of that that it can be. This is a waifu collector. The first goal of the game is to collect as many female characters as a player may want while providing players with a wide selection of cute, anime girls to choose from. Is this degeneracy? Why, yes. Does Princess Connect do a great job of this? Why yes.

They excel at this by providing voice acting to the vast majority of dialogue within the game. This is a huge feat because most games simply don’t want to go through the hassle of hiring and organizing recording sessions with voice actors. It’s expensive and time consuming. Princess Connect bucks that trend and voices almost everything. This is something I greatly appreciate as dialogue without voice acting just makes me care less about the story of your game.

The other nice thing they did is that they provide a great deal of animated scenes along with the voice acted scenes, which help add to the overall feel of the game. This game really leans into the idea of playing through an anime. The game pretty much works the same way as most JRPG’s. You play through a few levels, you unlock an animated cut scene. Rinse and repeat. This traditional video game structure basically just incentivizes players to keep playing the game in order to see more cut scenes. It’s worked in the past and it works here.

I also like how Princess Connect drops the pretense of how generic, painful and boring the gameplay in most auto-battling gacha games is and instead of trying to change that gameplay formula, does its best to limit the annoying parts of it. For instance, Princess Connect offers a sweep system. That means that if you’ve beaten a level already, you can just instantly beat it again and obtain the rewards without playing it again. This is important because in this game and many games in this genre, you have to replay levels in order to obtain materials necessary to progress. Many gacha games don’t have sweep systems and are pain to play. Princess Connect does not have that problem, though I will say that sweeping a stage does cost tickets, which are a finite resource. Even still, you get plenty of sweep tickets so it’s mostly a non-issue.

As said above, the greatest thing about this game is how they’ve streamlined it into a comfortable experience that is easy to play. The user interface is intuitive and convenient. A good user interface is something I feel most gacha games fail at implementing well. They really should work on it as a good interface improves the overall experience of a game.

The game also runs really well, which is another issue that most mobile games fail at addressing. Most mobile games I’ve played are poorly optimized, lag, crash or raise the temperature of my phone to molten lava. Princess Connect seems to be very well optimized. It runs well and doesn’t burn up my phone. It seems like this is a minor thing, but again it impacts the overall experience and determines which games I will or will not play on my phone. For instance, I will never play Genshin Impact on my phone because it just turn my phone temperature nuclear. Because I can’t play it on my phone, I often times just avoid playing it at all. Technical optimization matters.

Overall, Princess Connect is a generic, but extremely polished gacha game. Compared to most games, it is almost fully voiced, has plenty of animated cut scenes, optimizes gameplay by removing traditional annoyances so as to not waste players’ time, and, on a technical level, runs better than most mobile games I’ve played. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it excels at being part of that genre and ends up being one of the best, if not the best game in this genre.

Video Game Review: Azur Lane

Details: Spent a couple days playing through the game. Official site is https://azurlane.yo-star.com

Score: 6/10

Azur Lane is one of the most popular mobile gacha games on the market. Accordingly, I decided to give it a try and see what all the fuss was about. What I found was a mostly derivative auto-battler that exceled in one main area: anime boobies.

Azur Lane takes place in a fictionalized world where famous warships have been anthropomorphized into cute, sexy, anime waifu’s. Like, literal battle ships from like World War 2 and beyond. It’s a weird concept that has taken nerds and weebs by storm. You play a commander of a fleet of these anime girl-warships and do battle with other fleets of anime girl-warships.

The biggest flaw in this game is the boring gameplay. While the presentation of battles is a little different from that of other auto-battler gacha games, it’s still pretty much the same. Teams of characters battle other characters. You don’t really have any control over your characters except that you can sluggishly move them around the screen in hopes of dodging projectiles. It’s not a very well implemented system and you will most likely just hit the convenient auto-play button and automate the whole process.

Other than the generic, automated battles, leveling and progressing your characters is also mostly the same as any other gacha auto-battler. You complete missions/battles, you get items and resources which you spend to make your fleet more powerful. There is a constant trickle of in game resource that you need to spend in order to participate in any activity. Spend your daily allotted resource and you can’t do anything else in the game. It’s all very uninspired.

The only thing that stands out in this game and which is also likely the reason why this game is so popular is the waifu’s. In other words, it’s the sexily or cutely drawn anime girls. When it comes to games where you collect characters, art is everything and the art in this game is very good. By very good, I mean very lewd.

To take things to the next level, Azur Lane has implemented Live2D for many of their characters. This is basically interactive 3D models of the anime girls that players can poke at. It’s not artificial intelligence, but it is a step up from the static images or slightly moving static images in all the other waifu collector games out there. Players that are desperate for female interaction and lack the ability to interact with real women in real life would probably appreciate this feature.

The gacha mechanics in this game are slightly different that in other gacha games. You don’t roll on a banner, but you build ships with an in-game resource. Those ships have a probability of being really powerful ships or less powerful ships. It’s a different skin for the same animal. In the end, it’s just a random gamble for an in-game character you may or may not want, not unlike any other gacha game.

Overall, this game is generic and boring in terms of gameplay, but exquisite in terms of collecting sexy anime girls and interacting with them and their Live2D models. If you are a desperate, lonely, weeaboo/nerd who gets their jollies from fake, cartoon girls, this game will probably make you really happy. Otherwise, it’s just another average, generic, auto-battling gacha game that offers nothing new in terms of gameplay.

Video Game Review: Disgaea RPG

Details: Played for a couple of days since launch. More information can be found at https://disgaearpg.boltrend.com/en/home

Score: 6/10

Disgaea RPG is new, auto-battling gacha game based on the Disgaea video game franchise. Unfortunately, this game was just too generic for me and offered little to nothing to keep me interested. I already play a few similar gacha games and there’s no reason to play yet another one when it offers nothing new.

From what I can tell, Disgaea RPG takes place in a fantasy world where demon and other villainous creatures aspire to be the greatest villain. In the pursuit of that idea, they get into a lot of comedic adventures. Disgaea RPG is mostly a comedy and doesn’t take itself that seriously.

Gameplay is about as generic as a gacha game can be. This is a turn based role playing game where you get into an instanced battle, then take turns hitting each other, casting spells, etc. While you can directly control your characters, most of your time will probably be spent using the auto battle function where you just hit a button and your characters do all the battling for you.

I think one of the reasons why the commonplace gameplay features in this game didn’t grab me while other gacha games have is because of the lack of innovation, the lack of multiplayer, its not that special visually, and I didn’t care much for the story. Disgaea RPG does almost nothing new. While the Disgaea series is known for allowing players to level up to astronomic heights and deal immense numbers of damage, that still distills down to the basic gacha gameplay formula of leveling a character, promoting a character, then doing it again and again and again. Disgaea RPG gives this a slightly different label, but it’s the same basic function.

The lack of multiplayer is also not helping my lack of interest because the main reason players care about how powerful their characters is to compete with other players. Without that urgency, any need to progress is far less meaningful.

The other reason players feel compelled to play gacha games like this is to collect characters. Usually, playing a game provides resources with which to gamble on new characters through its gacha mechanics. However, the characters in this game so far were mostly unappealing to me. No character was visually impressive nor was there an overpowered character that could easily get me through the current content. There was simply no reason for me to roll for new characters and without that justification, I felt no reason to play the game.

While the game isn’t the best looking game, it certainly isn’t bad looking. It’s a stylized, cartoony look that anyone familiar with the franchise would recognize. It just also isn’t very exciting.

Which also doesn’t help with the story since it is told in that overused, visual novel style that I hate. I simply don’t care about your story if you use a static image, visual novel style and don’t fully voice the scenes.

The music was pretty good and what voice acting was there was also nice.

Overall, this is a gacha game I simply felt no compulsion to play. It offers nothing new nor does it do any of the old things better than the other existing, competing mobile games. I gave it a couple days of my time, but I just ended up uninstalling it. I will say, I did enjoy the bits of humor I found throughout the game. Unfortunately, that was not enough to keep me playing.

Video Game Review: Arknights

Details: I’ve been playing this game for the past few months. More information can be found at https://www.arknights.global/

Score: 7/10

Arknights is a tower defense game for mobile devices. Or should I say, it is the mobile tower defense game. It came out a while ago and was incredibly popular at the time. That popularity has waned, but the core of the game is still pretty fun.

For those unaware, tower defense is a genre of video games that came out decades ago. I think the genre originated from the game Starcraft. In the first Starcraft game, they had a game mode where players could make their own maps with their own rules. One map involved a stream of enemies traveling from one point of the map to another. Players could build structures or recruit units all in the hopes of obstructing and defeating the enemies before they reached their destination.

Arknights continues that basic concept, except that instead of defensive buildings, your defensive structures and units are anime waifu’s. That means cute Japanese style cartoon girls. There are some male characters, but the vast majority are female.

At its core, tower defense games are simply puzzles games. A fixed number of enemies will travel from point A of a map to point B. Your job as the player is to defeat them before they reach point B. You do this by placing your units onto the map. Each unit provides a different function. Some units can block enemies, some focus on dealing damage, others heal damaged enemies. Similarly, there are a variety of enemies that provide their own variety of problem to the player.

Here’s some gameplay from a tutorial stage.

Like in most role playing games, defeating enemies and beating levels grants resources which can be used to upgrade your units. And you will need to upgrade your units if you want to progress through the game and beat subsequent levels.

As said above, tower defense games are mostly puzzle games. Using a specific combination of units in the correct order and timing will grant victory. Sometimes, you can brute force a map by over-upgrading your units, but generally, that is not going to be possible. This is a gacha game after all.

Obtaining characters requires going through the same slot machine like mechanics as all other gacha games. You have to pay a certain amount of in-game currency to roll and randomly get a combination of units. Hopefully, you will get some powerful ones. The game gives some in game currency, but if you want to collect all the characters, your going to need to get your credit card and spend real money.

I will say that the gacha mechanics on this game are slightly different than what I’m used to and they are interesting. Basically, a new banner comes along about every two weeks or so and you are guaranteed a five-character in your first ten rolls. The value of characters are rated based on stars with six stars being the most valuable, so five star units are pretty good.

Most other gacha games incentivize players to spend real money by offering a pity system, which means that if you roll on the banner a certain number of times, they will just outright give you a six star or similarly valuable character. Usually this number is somewhere between one hundred and twenty to three hundred times.

Arknights does the same thing by increasing the likelihood of obtaining a six star character by 2% every roll after your fiftieth, guaranteeing a six star character on your ninety-ninth roll. Additionally, Arknight also guarantees at least a five star character within your first ten rolls on a new banner. This is nice because, as a free to play player who refuses to spend any money on gacha games, this ensures I can get at least one new, valuable character on each banner. That character may not be a six star or highest tier character, but five stars are pretty good and it’s nice to get something new.

Visually, Arknights is nice. It has its own, style of anthropomorphic characters. The tone of the game is dark and post apocalyptic. It all works for the game and helped keep me interested. What I didn’t like is that this game employs the “chibi” style. That means that while the hand drawn art is very detailed and adult, the in-game models used look like they were drawn by the artist of Hello Kitty. I understand that they do this because this is a mobile game and making a game look to complex or realistic makes running the game on mobile devices difficult. Even still, I hate the chibi look and wish they used a different style to portray their characters.

The story is mostly ignorable. I’ve reached a point in my gaming life where if a story does not have voice acting, it better be clever and funny. Arknights’ story is not voice acted nor is the story clever or funny. I skipped most of the dialogue.

The music is very good. It’s kind of electro, dance, dub step-y. It’s what you’d expect to hear from a story that takes place in a dark, futuristic setting. Again, not real voice acting other than characters yelling their catch phrases during battle.

Overall, Arknights is a fun tower defense, gacha game. There are no other noteworthy tower defense gacha games as far as I’m concerned. If you like puzzle games, then you’d probably like tower defense games. And if you like tower defense games, then you’ll probably like Arknights.

Video Game Review: Guardian Tales

The above video is a joke anime trailer the developers made.

Details: I’ve been playing this game for the past few months. This is a mobile game available for Android and iOS. More information can be found at https://guardiantales.com/

Score: 7.5/10

Edit: Lowered the score by point five. There are some hard spikes in difficulty in later parts of the story mode (specifically chapter 10 and 11) that exist for no reason other than to push players to spend money for better characters and gear. The game is still mostly good, but this artificial barrier to seeing the ending is unnecessary and turns the endgame into a meaningless grind. There’s plenty of other places they could have made the content difficult, but the story mode was not a good place for that.

I’ve been playing a lot of gacha games during the pandemic. Some of them include Genshin Impact, Epic Seven, Exos Heroes, Arknights, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Princess Connect. In my opinion, Guardian Tales is better than all of them. Actually, Guadian Tales is the best gacha/mobile game I’ve ever played. Part of that is because of the charming and funny story. The other reasons is because this game truly has its own personality. You can feel that the developers of this game put their passion into this game before their greed, and that’s something that is not present in any other gacha game I’ve ever played.

This game takes place in a fictional world of very different nations. Some are magical, some are more science fiction. Aliens invade this world and it’s up to you, a soldier and guardian of one of the fictional countries in this world to find a way to defeat them. That means going on a grand adventure, exploring all of these very different nations and meeting a colorful cast of characters along the way.

The first and best thing about this game is the story, especially its dialogue. It’s very funny and I found myself cracking up constantly throughout this game. That’s not to say that there aren’t serious moments, because they do happen later on and they are well done. But for the most part, this is a very funny story.

What makes it especially funny is that the vast majority of this game pulls and parodies popular video games and movies. It constantly references things from nerd and weeb culture, but most surprisingly, American facing aspects of that. I would’ve sworn that this game was developed by Americans because of how American facing the references are. However, I recently watched a behind the scenes video from the developers and it seems that the nerds in Korea that developed this game are just as big of fans of the things that nerds in America are fans of. I guess some thing really do cross borders.

All this is to say that despite this being a Korean made game and that many foreign made games often translate poorly in the American market, Guardian Tales avoids all these pitfalls. As an American, I got all the video game, anime and movie references and that made the game even better.

Here’s a long list of some, but not all of the references I picked up on: Animal Crossing, Frozen, Bioshock, Kill Bill, Harry Potter, Mega Man, Doctor Who, Phoenix Wright, Shaolin Soccer, Full Metal Alchemist, Seinfeld, Dungeon Meshi, Final Fantasy II (or Final Fantasy IV in Japan), Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Monty Python and Holy Grail, Shaolin Soccer, and Dragon Ball Z.

You can tell by this list that the developers of this game have either done their research or are huge nerds/weebs. As a fairly nerdy person myself, the constant use of hilarious references to my favorite stories only increased my appreciation of this game.

Something else I love about this game is the look of it. It uses a very nostalgic 2D sprite style that long time gamers will be familiar with. It’s like something from the Super Nintendo. However, this is a modernized take on that style. Expect to see perspective changes, 3D models, and complex special effects that would never have been used back in the old days of video games. This style is a mishmash of old and new, resulting in a nostalgic, but contemporary visual style.

The music is also fantastic. Again, it uses the old synthesized style of old video games, but modernizes them with more complex, contemporary beats and synthesized sounds.

The same can again be said for the gameplay. You go through levels, beat bosses, and solve puzzles. It’s a top down style, action role playing game very reminiscent of games like The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past… except you can use Gatling guns. It takes that old visual style and adds speed to the gameplay as well as a greater amount of options. You can use swords, bows, guns, shields, magic etc. Again, the tone of this game is nostalgia of old video games combined with the contemporary gameplay developments of modern video games. It’s old and new.

With all that said, this is still a gacha game. Gacha games are heavily stigmatized and rightly so. Many siphon thousands of dollars from players lacking self control. Guardian Tales is certainly one of these offending games. However, I will say that Guardian Tales is far more generous of a gacha game than any gacha game I’ve played before. They give you a ton of gems throughout the game with which you can roll for new characters and weapons.

There is a still a hard wall or difficulty spike in gameplay which comes in chapter ten and again in chapter eleven. At the time of this review, there are only eleven chapters, so that increase in difficulty is very late in the game. This spike in difficulty is common for free to play gacha games. They increase the difficulty to tempt players into spending money to roll for more powerful characters and equipment in order to progress further in the game.

There is also a multiplayer component where players play other players. Like other gacha games, there is a metagame and doing well in multiplayers usually requires having the best characters and equipment, which usually means spending money. Doing well in multiplayer in gacha games is usually reserved for the whales who throw tons of money at the game and Guardian Tales is no exception.

Guardian Tales is guilty of this tactic, but I would say that it is less guilty than others. This is because the difficulty spike is based mostly on skill. No matter what character you obtain, it will still be extremely difficult to get past these gameplay barriers. Will some characters make it easier? Yes. However, it will still be difficulty for all and I think that helps lessen the greedy, money grubbing aspect of this gacha tactic in Guardian Tales. Personally, I really liked the higher difficulty because it forced me to get better at the game. On the other hand. I rolled a fairly powerful character that really helped me get through it… so your experience may vary.

Overall, Guardian Tales is my favorite gacha game I’ve yet to play. I like it more than Genshin Impact, Epic Seven, Arknights, all of those games. And that’s because it has personality. It has a funny, entertaining story. That’s something none of the above games have in my opinion. At the very least, it has a vastly superior story and dialogue compared to those games. That’s everything to me. Give me the constant pursuit of progression of a gacha game along with an immensely entertaining story and I’ll be a happy gamer. Guardian Tales gave me that.