A Delve Into the Abyss

The Abyss Beckons

I've always wondered how group photos like these are organized. "Less significant characters, to the back. Yes, that means you."

I've spent what feels like the best part of a month playing Tales of the Abyss, the eighth main series title in Namco Bandai/Tales Studio's venerable action JRPG franchise originally released in 2005 for the PS2 (2006 in the US) that was recently ported to the 3DS which also marked its European debut. What's often an issue when discussing any one of these Tales games is how difficult it is to avoid talking about how many of its core elements are shared between its predecessors and successors, due to how the series has evolved in a far more gradual and incremental fashion akin to Dragon Quest than in the much more experimentally diverse and discrete leaps between, say, any two given adjacent Final Fantasy games.

That isn't to say Tales is staid and formulaic, at least not entirely. The series is beloved by many because it sticks to its guns in some fundamental respects while returning to the drawing board for those facets which need to be refreshed: specifically, the cast of characters, the setting and some tweaking of tertiary mechanics that perhaps didn't pan out as satisfactorily last time. By allowing certain immutable elements, like the core combat systems and item naming conventions (though Tales is hardly alone in the latter - this is a particularly common trait among JRPG series to maintain a uniformity), the franchise feels lived in and familiar, which is the sort of tactic that can maintain a fanbase without repulsing them in turn by serving up the same dish over and over to diminishing returns. Like Zelda or the IGA Castlevanias, there'll always be a mix of visitors that will be satiated after a few entries, perhaps occasionally coming back to the series every once in a blue moon when a particularly well-regarded sequel transpires, and those on its wavelength that are salivating for each new iteration regardless of how homogeneous they are perceived by those outside the zealous fanbase.

This game came out nine years ago. I'm only just now playing it. I told you guys my backlog was hardcore.

Still, even with the numerous elements unique to Tales of the Abyss, it's way too easy to drop a couple hundred "this is a feature implemented in earlier Tales games" or "this reference calls back to Tales of ___". So... screw it. I'm going to do a full analysis of this game from top to bottom, throwing in as many allusions and references to the other Tales games as frequently as I deem germane. This'll include a deeper look at the lore, the setting, the characters and the finer mechanics of the various RPG systems in play. But, you know, in a typically frank and irreverent manner. Trying to talk around its dumber moments or how it entirely lifted ideas from earlier entries would be almost impossible, and I wouldn't have a whole lot of fun writing that sort of 'beating around the bush' scrutiny. Nor, I can imagine, would it be that much fun to read either. (I should also state here that there's spoilers up until the end of the first act of the game, which is only when the plot really starts to kick off.)

Tales of the Abyss can be awfully trite at times, the plot moves glacially at certain points and there's a veritable exhibition of very common tropes that appear frequently in the Tales series, and by extension to JRPGs in general, but Tales has always been more interested in inventing characters and letting them develop than it is in its greater schemes and stories. A lot of the story beats are the same old power struggles and wrong decisions spurred by good intentions, but it's in creating a likeable ragtag team of protagonists, putting them through these familiar rigors and letting them discuss these experiences among themselves that the Tales series usually flourishes.

Of course, each new team of Tales heroes and heroines are carefully designed from a gameplay perspective as well. Characters fulfill basic class roles as they would do in any party-based RPG, though Tales is fairly unique in how each character's fighting style is tailored to suit their personality. Tales' chaotic real-time combat plays out similarly to one of those arena fighters like Anarchy Reigns or Ehrgeiz, with each character given a list of special attacks named Artes that consume varying amounts of a "Technical Points" stat (a slightly convoluted means of allowing weapon skills and magic spells to draw from the same mana pool, which regenerates to some extent after each normal attack and the battle's conclusion); a foundation of frantic free-for-all chaos upon which greater layers of general team AI strategies are spread. Certain characters are predisposed for the front lines, of course, but whether they're there to run interference and aggro enemies while the player's magic-user does all the heavy lifting damage-wise, or if you've set those magic-users to support and healing while you, as the melee fighter, go to town with your best combos will often change depending on the story circumstances, the type of opponent(s) being faced or just your preferred playstyle. When discussing either their role in the plot or in battle, the characters adhere to broad archetypes but are nuanced sufficiently to set themselves apart as unique entities, even as the overall cast of the Tales series grows and grows. It's a factor that always been instrumental to the success of these games, and one the designers seem to always pay keen attention to above all else.

The Tale of Tales of the Abyss

Tales of the Abyss is set on Auldrant, a world locked in a seemingly endless war between two vaguely European sovereign states that between them comprise of most of the globe's five continents. The third, much smaller kingdom is that of Daath: a theocratic ersatz Vatican City that mediates the peace and not-so-secretly controls the two other factions with an immense prophetic scripture called the Score.

The Score is an all-encompassing and absurdly detailed divination regarding everything and everyone that was transcribed from a group of floating rocks during the Dawn Age, an ancient time of unparalleled technological advancement, that everyone follows without question. In exchange for utter obedience to the Score, the people and nations of the world are promised untold prosperity. As such, the fragile peace between the two empire-nations has been kept in check, until the Score decrees that the two must come to blows once again.

Now I'm fairly sure those last two paragraphs set off about five or six JRPG cliché warning klaxons in your head, but it's the nature of any Tales game to stick to a few common themes and find ways of shaking them around by the foundations a little, if never toppling them entirely. For instance, the game zigzags on the veracity and potentially nefarious nature of the Score quite a few times, setting up villains and heroes that adhere to and reject it in equal measure. The game also has a wild conclusion to its first act, spurring a complete moral shift for at least one of its characters and features an entire team of recurring villains that each get a surprising amount of screentime for their individual backstories that properly frames their motivations, among other factors.

Science Time with Professor Anime

The setting of TotA is unusual among Tales games because it leans so much more heavily on the game's bizarre invented science regarding fonons - an elemental matter I can really only compare to midichlorians given the number of times they've been used to explain away some scientific implausibility in a fantasy world that probably shouldn't be trying to apply scientific scrutiny to itself in the first place. The fonons are in both organic and inorganic matter and are instrumental in keeping the body's atoms held together(?). And there's a chain of seventh fonons that circle the planet like an accretion disc named the Planet Storm that civilizations have been drawing on to power their technology. And then it just gets weirder. The discovery that the entire world is suspended several thousand feet in the air, including the oceans, in order to keep the continents away from the now toxic surface of the planet is a bizarre twist, though given that something very similar happened towards the end of Tales of Destiny in reverse it's perhaps more that Tales is playing around with its own mythology a bit. Then there's a whole bunch of hooey about "isofons" - replicating a person or object by copying their fonic data and creating a duplicate from wandering fonons - and the game starts veering towards Parts: The Clonus Horror territory.

Where's anime Bill Nye when you need him?

Without getting too deep into all this pseudo-science (which is gradually explained to a main character ignorant of much of the world due to his sheltered upbringing) lest I inadvertently start spoiling things, Abyss immediately sets itself apart from its brethren by just how deep into its own lore (or up its own ass, if you'd prefer) it's willing to get. It's a fascinating, if absurdly detailed, narrative decision that aids the verisimilitude of what might well have been another batch of JRPG made-up "lifestream" hokum, and also helps to emphasize the point that there's a hell of a lot of weird business going down that most of the world's scientific community is only barely cognizant of, but are itching to discover (or rediscover, I suppose, given that all the ancients had this figured out at one point). When you start seeing the requisite "how the hell did they do this?" scenes when encountering ancient super-advanced machinery, such as the enormous light pillars keeping the tectonic plates afloat, it comes from a place of knowing just enough about the world's grasp of science to understand how far beyond the current level of technological advancement much of these ancient gizmos really are. It almost feels like a Jules Verne world (though I'm probably putting way too much stock into this game with that comparison) because the science tries to be as sound as it can be despite its entirely fictitious nature. Maybe Star Trek would be a better comparison: a show that supposes the existence of certain outlandish fantasy elements like the ability to travel at faster than light speeds by warping space, or creating food and supplies out of photons, but most everything else must have some degree of scientific plausibility for that world to operate effectively and come off as realistic to us, the viewers. At least that was always the case for the Next Generation, where they weren't bumping into mobster planets and Greek gods every other episode.

The game's also way more into eschatology than usual. It's not surprising to discover some sort of doomsday scenario in a JRPG which inevitably comes to pass during the game's events, but the Score's foretelling of a time of desolation is a central plot point and comes to define a lot of the characters' motivations as they attempt various means to escape the fate that the Score has preordained for the world.

And then there's the Kabbalah influences. The Jewish Kabbalah's one of those insane (in its complexity and scope that is; not to denigrate anyone's religious beliefs) mysticism things like Gnosticism that is as every bit as ripe for a JRPG adaptation as Norse or Greek mythology. Xenogears is a particularly well-known example of a JRPG that gets deep into wacky Judeo-Christian concepts while also balancing it with a bunch of mechs and a plot that moves one word box an hour. In Abyss's case, the entire world of Auldrant is represented as a physical manifestation of the idea of Kabbalah's Sephirot trees: a set of ten virtues that denote the divine potential of humanity, with chaos and toxicity surrounding it on all sides and threatening to smother those virtues in vices - in-game, this is represented by the floating Outer Lands being held up by literal trees of light referred to as Sephiroth gates, with the Qliphoth (a Kabbalah term referring to poisonous outside forces) as a sea of toxic "miasma" mud generated by the sick planet's core. Kabbalah involves a lot of complicated theological hoo-ha, and the game seems to simplify a few of its concepts, borrow its glossary and generates a largely facile facsimile with which to build its world around, but even so it's an impressively deep cut for a source for inspiration you rarely see exploited too often, even given the reputation JRPGs have for pontificating on too much spiritual twaddle.

Cast (Into the Abyss) (That Was a Thing I Did There)

As previously stated, any given Tales game puts most of its emphasis on its brand new cast of characters, developing them with backstories and complex motivations, and fleshing them out with various optional "skit" conversations between party members. Abyss only has six playable characters, a slightly lower number than usual for the series, but they're certainly a memorable bunch! (/movie trailer). I've included a "Pantheon Position" paragraph to discuss that particular cast member in the extended universe of Tales characters. Certain traits tend to repeat quite often, though even with my incessant critiquing I'm not above acknowledging a new twist on a character archetype whenever it emerges.

Luke fon Fabre

"Mr Midriff"

I think this outfit's a male equivalent for revealing female armor that doesn't protect anything that needs protecting.

Luke's a petulant noble youth from Kimlasca's fon Fabre family, second only in power to the Royal family. He was kidnapped as a child by Malkuth, the rival empire, and as such has been locked away in the family mansion for his own safety until he comes of age. A lifetime of confinement has made him both ignorant of the world and just kind of an entitled ass in general.

Luke as a child.

Even though his character goes through a drastic development arc due to accidentally nuking a town (hey, shit happens), he never quite settles on being a likable character. He's either too arrogant or too self-effacing, and painfully earnest in both incarnations of the character. It's apparently the unfortunate fate of every JRPG protagonist to be the oblivious straight man.

In combat, Luke's a tank. Unfortunately, that means he's also every bit as slow as a panzer, as most of his sword artes require some build-up time. He has the most diverse range of strike artes (as in, the ones that involve hitting things) but a lack of alacrity doesn't make him a whole lot of fun to play as.

Pantheon Position: Luke's fairly novel due to his bratty incarnation, and it's an interesting experiment to pull on the player to see how much they can tolerate following this spoiled rich kid around as he alienates everyone he comes into contact with. After the change he's pretty much every other Tales protagonist: Well-meaning, impulsive and a little slow.

Asch the Bloody

"The Luigi"

Asch never changes out of his Order of Lorelei robes, even after he's cut ties. Maybe he thinks the no-neck look is in?

Asch is also Luke. It's complicated. As the customary broody temporary character, Asch only joins the party at brief intervals when his and the party's immediate goals match. He's antagonistic throughout the entire game due to his disdainful opinion of Luke, and is seemingly irritated by every little thing he does. Like other temporary Tales characters, such as Kratos or Flynn Scifo, he's considerably more badass than anyone in the core team. You get the impression that he stays away just so the game can retain some degree of challenge.

Asch fights identically to Luke, but right up until the end of the game vastly overpowers him with his wide range of strike and magic artes.

Pantheon Position: Very much adheres to the Tales temporary character core personality model: He's powerful, but kind of a dick.

Tear Grants

"The Schoolmarm"

TVTropes calls this hairstyle "Peek-a-Bangs". I don't like TVTropes's naming conventions a whole lot.

If Luke has the thankless job being the humorless buffoon hero, Tear has the equally unenvious role as the strict but caring foil that steers him on the right course. A military singer priestess (sort of?), Tear's a special agent of the Order of Lorelei - the official church of the world of Auldrant. Attuned to the McGuffin-esque Seventh Fonon, a rarity among magic-users, Tear fulfills a convenient healer role in the group. When she's not sternly reprimanding Luke for screwing up again, she's acting coy around cute creatures, her "thing". Just imagine Azumanga Daioh's Sakaki-senpai with even more bangs and the ability to not-so-softly kill things with her song.

Tear's the healer, which means she stays at the back and helps out. Her Fonic Hymns are an unusual twist on magic artes, but not so unusual that they don't feel like regular spells with the requisite charge times and glowy pyrotechnics.

Pantheon Position: Tear's a healer, which is the standard female deuteragonist role, but her temperament as a cold, business-like soldier gives her some space to come into her own as the typical compassionate and thoughtful foil to the brash, inconsiderate hero in a much more believable fashion. Tear's arc is far more interesting than Luke's, though also oddly parallel: She was also raised in seclusion, given a very specific role in the salvation of the world as detailed by the Score and she's not entirely sure of who's in the right and how much she can trust those around her. She's also forced to fight almost everyone who had a hand in raising her, which is when we start seeing cracks in her detached veneer.

Guy Cecil

"The Yellow Dart"

The coolest motherfuc- wait, is that a dog collar?

My man, the Yellow Dart. Guy Cecil is a talented swordsman and servant of House Fabre, and one of Luke's few friends growing up. Guy's past is shrouded in secrecy for much of the game so I needn't delve into it here, but let's just say a smartly dressed fellow with an unusual swordfighting style working as a footman in a regal household is probably not all he claims to be. Guy's also a big fan of machines that run on fonic power and is intensely curious about how they work, in case he wasn't cool enough already without adding some Donatello to the mix. His humorous (but eventually tragic) character quirk is his severe aversion to women, at least while they're in close proximity.

Such a cool nickname.

Guy fights similarly to Luke, but greatly favors speed and combos over raw damage and high defense. Instead of tanking his way through most battles, Guy's more about hit and run tactics and has a very useful self-heal in case of emergencies. He's extremely adaptable and the easiest character to play as in combat.

Pantheon Position: Guy seems to have been created last second to give the player another swordsman (usually the Tales "class" with the most built-in artes) with a different speed/power distribution in case they wanted a change of pace. Story-wise he most closely resembles Loni from Destiny 2, or perhaps Chester from the original Phantasia - that sort of supporting "best friend" role that's largely incidental to most of the story beats. Of course, Guy has a secretive backstory that gets a lot of plot mileage, and he's easily the funnest character to play, so to call him inessential would be wildly inaccurate.

Jade Curtiss

"Above This Shit"

I like how few characters have overly elaborate costumes in this game. Most of these are standard uniforms. Also, yeah, that's a guy. Named Jade.

Jade's a Malkuthian Colonel and a sinister looking guy who on first impression comes across as cold and ruthless. Mildly sociopathic, even. The best part of Jade's character is that none of these apparent traits are inaccurate, and you spend the entire game wondering when he'll double-cross you, or at the very least leave you in an icy bathtub without your kidneys. The reveal that Jade's chequered past paints him as someone who once had to redeem himself after a mistake assuages the player's concerns that's he on the level, but not entirely. Jade's already a fantastic presence due to him being in his 30s and very impatient with his youthful companions' BS, which means I immediately identify with him, but the added wrinkle of being a potential supervillain who interferes with corpses certainly helps.

Jade's your standard mage nuke in combat, with most the game's most devastating spells. He can also summon a spear with the power of his goddamn mind and can perform a few magic-enhanced combos with it. He's suited for distance, ideally, but he's there for pure damage in whatever form it's required.

Pantheon Position: Jade both fulfills the "socially awkward mage" and "grouchy old man" roles common to Tales, like a cross between Rita and Raven for the Vesperia fans out there. He's been given the outward personality of a recurring scientist villain though (think: a much more grounded Hojo from Final Fantasy VII), presumably to change things up a bit and keep the player guessing, since party members betraying you and departing forever are certainly not uncommon to Tales. He's prone to inappropriate jokes (of the gallows humor kind, rather than the lascivious anime kind) and deadpan sarcasm, and is continually exasperated by the rest of his team and their youthful antics. I'd probably invoke Ricardo from Innocence had anyone actually played that game, because there's very few situations where he seems happy to be in most scenes unless there's some schadenfreude to enjoy.

Anise Tatlin

"The J in JRPG Stands For Jailbait"

She only looks sweet and innocent. It's all a facade. All of it.

Anise is the game's comic relief character, a man-hungry 13 year old eager to marry into wealth and somewhat more worldly than she lets on. She's also the bodyguard of the fey Fon Master Ion, the highest official in the Order of Lorelei, and leaves the fighting to her enormous war puppet Tokunaga. She's essentially Cait Sith, right down to the combat marionette and covetousness (and a certain other shared aspect that would be too telling to reveal). As creepy as her attempts to intermingle with men twice her age might seem, she's always rebuked and it's usually played for comedy. But, as you all know, anime is as anime does.

In combat, the tiny girl is inexplicably the strongest and slowest physical attacker. She's also an intermediate spellcaster, so she has a bit more variety than most of the other characters. I suppose an accurate description of her combat role would be a juggernaut: slow to act, but hard to stop. The various unique accessories she can use - which changes her puppet to resemble various Namco Bandai properties as diverse as Wonder Momo and The Prince of All Cosmos - also gives her something of a wild card edge.

Pantheon Position: Every Tales has their oddball character, one who takes a bit of practice before you understand their combat role fully. Combining a slow heavy-hitter with a magic user is inspired, because both modes take their time to get going. I'd hate to do this to Anise, because she's a lot of fun, but she most closely resembles the infamous Marta of the Symphonia sequel, simply because she's worldly, opinionated and utterly convinced of her own irresistible nature. Whether it's because she hits on everyone who looks like they might have a fortune stashed away, or because of her puppet's constant rictus grin, I just kind of get skeezed out whenever she's around.

Natalia Luzu Kimlasca-Lanvaldear

"Princess von Kickass"

I don't even know what's going on with that Elizabethan ruff collar. It looks like a satellite dish giving birth to a giant head.

Natalia is the regal and compassionate princess of Kimlasca, and Luke's betrothed. She's also Luke's cousin, so I don't even know what this game is saying about monarchy but it's probably accurate. Natalia's as naive and opinionated as Luke, but considerably more bearable to be around, and of all the characters is the happiest to be running across the world every five minutes for the next plot coupon. That makes one of us, I guess?

Natalia's an archer and the only true long-range unit. Most of her strike artes either stop enemies in their tracks or knock them back if they get too close, so she's a great character to control if you don't like to get hurt. She's also the party's second healer, so you can't really ask for better support.

Pantheon Position: Archers tend to get the short shrift in their character development, and I'm only guessing it's because they're usually treated as support characters both in and out of combat. Chelsea and Nanaly weren't particularly important characters in their respective games (Destiny and Destiny 2, for those asking) and the archers since then haven't really stood out much either. Natalia's healing elevates her support role to something practically indispensible, but she's given very little plot development beyond a certain mid-game twist that resolves itself fairly quickly. She's best utilized as a counterpart to Luke: a Royal who actually acts close to the ideal, rather than an entitled little brat.


"The Squeaky Mascot"

Some committee worked all night to maximize this... thing's cuteness.

Mieu's a cheagle, a race of semi-intelligent woodland critters that the Church of Lorelei holds in great esteem, for some reason. In broader terms, he's the team mascot and the conduit for the Sorcery Ring - the quintessential Tales item that allows the player to perform several field actions to get past obstacles or find hidden treasure chests. He says cute things and is cute and everyone just kind of tolerates having him around, except for Luke. Mieu is inexplicably tied to Luke due to some variant of the Wookiee life debt, but the hatred Luke feels for this fuzzy little annoyance is palpable. I think I got like three Star Wars references in that last sentence by mistake.

Mieu doesn't appear in combat. He's a lover, not a fighter.

Pantheon Position: Almost all Tales games have a mascot character, with varying levels of importance to the plot and to the fighting. For instance, Vesperia's Repede was a serviceable member of the party in battles as well as the "cute thing" certain characters would fawn over (though I'd hesitate to call Repede "cute). Mieu's just this trope obnoxiously dialed up to 11, since his only job is to be the Sorcerer's Ring equivalent.

Fon Master Ion


Man, do we have a lot of Ion fanart in our database. Clearly, someone has a type.

The Fon Master is the one of the highest ranks in the Church of Lorelei, second only to Funkmaster. Ion is like a young, bishounen John Paul II; a saintly ideal for the Order he represents. For much of the game he follows the party around, partly to dispense advice to a conflicted Luke, partly to use some very specific fonic artes when the plot calls for it but mostly so he can get kidnapped a lot and spur everyone onto the next dungeon.

Pantheon Position: Ion's that quintessential guest character, one who never fights but is there for color commentary for skits and the like. The guy also has "martyr" written all over him, considering his kindness and how he faints every time he has to exert himself, but don't let that concern you.

Emperor Peony Upala Malkuth IX

"Loveable Jerk"

The King of Kimlasca, King Ingobert VI, is your standard JRPG King, right down to imprisoning the party at a crucial juncture due to misinformation and composing operas about lost children, but the laid-back Emperor of Malkuth is a different matter entirely. Though he's kept his kingdom on the straight and narrow with his wisdom and foresight, the dude would clearly prefer looking after his pet rappigs and teasing his old friend Jade over doing any actual work. In New Game+, he even gives everyone Power Ranger costumes for the hell of it.

Pantheon Position: Peony reminds me a lot of Destiny's Max, largely because he was an off-beat authority figure who kicked ass whenever he was on screen. His friendship with Jade is an important part of the latter's backstory, but that's about it beyond being the far more chill and open-minded of the two rulers the party is forced to co-operate with often. He doesn't appear often enough in the plot for my liking.

Van Grants

"Definitely Not the Bad Guy"

Despite looking like a samurai Ming the Merciless, Van is introduced as Luke's sword instructor and mentor and an all-round cool guy. He seems to be Luke's only true ally early on, and frequently disappears around the world to stop the Oracle Knights (the stormtroopers of the Order of Lorelei) from doing bad things. The game really doesn't want you to think that he's a megalomaniacal nihilist obsessed with ending the control the Score has over the world by blowing it up and killing everyone. Let it never be said that a Tales villain's motivations aren't completely sympathetic.

Pantheon Position: Vesperia's Alexei immediately comes to mind, right down to the obvious heel turn twist, but almost all of Tales's main antagonists were well-intentioned extremists who bordered outright psychopathy a little more closely than anyone was ever willing to admit.

The Six God-Generals

"Oh, It's These Guys Again"

The six "God-Generals" (I have no idea what that means, but it sounds intimidating) of the Order of Lorelei are a group of recurring villains loyal to Van and Van alone. Though they seem like a disposable team of flamboyant villains, each has a deeper link to the plot or one of the six main characters in some way that eventually emerges as the game progresses.

We have Legretta the Swift, a gun-kata badass who regularly gives the party a run for its money. There's Largo the Black Lion, a hulking beast of a man with a giant axe who is nonetheless cool and calculating. There's Sync the Tempest, a mysterious masked fonic user who looks and sounds exactly like Fon Master Ion as if we wouldn't figure that out. There's Arietta the Wild, a former bodyguard of Ion and another tiny girl who uses monsters to fight for her (I have no idea why the Order of Lorelei doesn't hire adults to protect their most important official). Lastly, we have Dist the Reaper, a malevolent scientist who flies around in a jet-powered throne and sounds exactly like James from Team Rocket, because that's how you make a goddamn JRPG villain. The sixth is actually Asch, but he bails on the group almost immediately once he cottons on to what they're up to.

Pantheon Position: Most recurring villains in the Tales series either existed as a collective group that were fairly nebulous on an individual case by case basis, or they were simply independent recurring villains that didn't necessary align with one another. Symphonia's Desian Grand Cardinals are a good example, since they were largely autocratic and many were instantly forgettable once they had been dispatched; the few with a bit more story importance didn't really fall in with the rest. The Six God-Generals are each as important as each other, and none of them feel like superfluous "boss-fight bait" because of their ties to the heroes.

The Black Wings

"The Recurring Bosses That Aren't"

The Black Wings are another bunch of recurring villains, except they don't really do much to you besides inconvenience you a couple times. A troupe of circus performers who are secretly a crack team of international thieves is a trope as old as Final Fantasy IX, at the very least, but they're a colorful trio that tend to pop up whenever Asch is in the vicinity. How a humorless grump like that guy fell in with a bunch of gaudy Pirates of the Caribbean extras with their own Namco Bandai theme park hideout is anyone's guess.

Pantheon Position: It's odd you never get to fight the Black Wings, because the idea of a group of comical villains who are really only looking for ways to get rich quick than try to conquer the world has been around for ages, both in and outside of Tales. I brought up Team Rocket earlier, for a classic example, but these guys reminded me a lot of the flamboyant and oddly technological Scorpion Army from Secret of Mana, right down to their leader's vaguely dominatrix get-up.

Abyssal World Tours: Gaze Into Our Group Deals, And See What Gazes Back

Finally, I just want to take you on an around-the-world trip through Auldrant. Sometimes the locations have as much personality as the cast, and Tales usually never disappoints when it comes to at least a couple of interesting high-concept towns and cities. Usually, though, they usually rely on a few archetype templates and shift a few elements around to make them fit into the new world's style and history.

It's surprising how often they do this, in fact. Characters and locations both.


"Not a Pokemon"

Everyone loves riding the cable cars.

Baticul is the capital of the Kimlasca-Lanvaldear kingdom, and is home to Luke, Natalia and Guy. The city is built upon a cylindrical man-made structure that sinks deep into the earth, and was originally a smaller town built around an enormous crater caused by a falling fonstone - the immense glowy crystals that float in the sky and are instrumental to how the world's technology works. Baticul's a vertical city, which is a great visual metaphor for a nation with the haves and have-nots (though the divide isn't quite as pronounced here as it is in, say, Vesperia's Zaphias) as well as just being an impressive sight in general.

Baticul contains the game's obligatory Coliseum: the home to optional bosses and some of the best weapons in the game, designed to test the limits of the player's fighting prowess. The cameo battle, in which a group of characters from earlier Tales games fights the present group, is both a trial by fire and a symbolic passing of the torch. Can the new heroes hold a candle to the old guard, or will they get burned? How many more flame puns can I make before I'm fired? From, uh, blogging?

Like many of Abyss's place names, Baticul is a word associated with the Jewish Kabbalah (or at least some of its apocrypha), though oddly it refers to the "vice" of atheism. Its title is "The Capital of Light", though with much of it being in a big hole in the ground I'm not sure it's an apt slogan. Probably a tourism industry thing.

Grand Chokmah

"Try Our Chokmah Chicken"

Looks like Balamb Garden, but it's not.

Grand Chokmah is the capital of the Malkuth empire, a gleaming marble city surrounded by a man-made waterfall. The port is built like a fortress, and can completely shut down all of its borders in times of emergency, which is great for the city but not so great if you need to get in for whatever reason. It's because of this that it's one of the last locations the party gets to visit, but the Malkuth capital is rather instrumental to the plot for obvious reasons.

Grand Chokmah's like Baticul in that it's set up as an ideal place to live, and the gem of that particular empire's crown. Grand Chokmah, as with most of the Malkuth Empire's architecture, is far more reminiscent of Ancient Rome than Kimlasca's relatively modern steampunk trappings: both nations have an equal technological level of advancement, of course, or else it would be too much of a hard sell to convince players that their war has been in a stalemate for an untold number of years prior to the game. It just seems like Malkuth hides it better, or at least that would be the case if it didn't build enormous fortress-sized tanks and let them roam around the countryside.

Chokmah, or Chochma, is one of the ten Sephirot or "virtues" of Kabbalah and represents wisdom. It's definitely one of the chillest cities in the game. Its title is "The Floating Capital", referring to its unique artificial structure.


"The Peaceful Theocratic Nation of Daath Does Not Welcome Daath Invaders"

There's a reason Luke's running away from the cathedral instead of towards it.

Daath is an immense cathedral that houses all the members of the Order of Lorelei, the game's central religion, with a smaller city built up around it that really only caters to the clergy and those passing by on pilgrimages. It's an austere place, though the cathedral itself is so immense that there's a running joke of having priests everywhere ready and willing to escort visitors back to the entrance should they become lost. Anise and Fon Master Ion reside here, as do a significant proportion of the God-Generals and Oracle Knights.

Because the Order of Lorelei isn't quite as materialistic as the Catholic Church, thus more befitting a fictional religion based somewhat on a form of Jewish mysticism more akin to Buddhism, it's rather dull and ascetic in nature. The cathedral's not exactly fun to visit due to all its plain corridors, and the rest of the town's just a single road of street vendors leading up to the cathedral.

Daath (or Da'at, or Daas) is the eleventh Sepirot, usually kept off the diagram for whatever reason. It represents the culmination of the other ten, and thus is the holiest. Daath is simply referred to as the Headquarters of the Order of Lorelei; it doesn't really need much more than that. Dull place, but understandably so given the circumstances.


"We're Just Farmers. Sorry."

Engeve is that evergreen RPG staple of the peaceful tiny village where most journeys seem to start. Though the story really begins in Baticul in Luke's manor, the game only kicks off once Tear accidentally teleports Luke and herself halfway across the world. Engeve is the source of most of Malkuth's food, and is an agrarian settlement of very little importance. It's only really here to sell the party some cheap basic armor and to set up a chance meeting between Tear, Luke (a Kimlascan noble deep in enemy territory) and the Malkuth military (which is when Jade shows up, naturally).

Engeve's a stone's throw away from Cheagle Forest, where the party acquires Mieu and is the first real dungeon of the game. Most of Engeve's problems are related to the wild creatures in the forest as well as the cheagles themselves. Other than that, it's just your basic starting town. Can't beat the classics, I suppose.

Engeve's name doesn't have any obvious relation to Kabbalah, at least none that wouldn't be a stretch or a severe localization mishap. Maybe it's simply too minor. It's referred to as The Grocer's Hamlet.

St. Binah

"Tree Bien"

I suppose it does have a big wall around it. Still, Citadel?

St. Binah's a bit more interesting. Just as Engeve is the source of the Malkuth Empire's supply of cooking ingredients, Binah is the home to most of the curative herbs and medicines. Because the game has an interesting (if underexplained) ecology feature where completing side-quests and solving problems in certain locations drops the prices of specific export goods, each of the early towns has a link to one sort of purchasable item. In St. Binah's case, this includes all the healing consumables. St. Binah's otherwise a lot like Engeve: peaceful and dull, at least to begin with.

St. Binah also fulfills the requisite "town built around a giant tree" JRPG trope, which I believe might be a Shinto thing. I'm not saying it's not a factor in Western RPGs (Icewind Dale's Kuldahar immediately springs to mind), but there's so many towns like it in a wide range of JRPGs I could name off the top of my head. Vesperia's Halure, for instance, or the Nopon Village in Xenoblade.

Binah's another Sephirot, and one that represents understanding and empathy from what I can tell. The town's referred to as The Citadel, which might give the wrong impression. I mean, unless the tree is the citadel. Can trees be citadels?


"The Happiest Demilitarized Zone On Auldrant"

Glory to Arstotzka!

Kaitzur's not so much a town as the name of a region that includes one of the two official land borders between Kimlasca and Malkuth (most of their territories comprise of entire continents, and the only other shared border is the autocratic merchant city of Chesedonia, below). It's a fun place that's very much just two military camps right next to each other, but it's also where you can see the divide between the two architectural styles most clearly.

Kaitzur is one of those apocryphal vices of the Kabbalah I mentioned earlier, this time for ugliness. I'm not sure that's a particularly fair "sin", but perhaps they mean ugliness of the spirit too. Or the ugliness of war and hostilities, which I suppose would be more the case here. There's a long side-quest involved with two enemy military officers that fall in love that doesn't go anywhere fun, one of which is stationed in Kaitzur, so that might tie into that "war is pretty crappy, you guys" definition too. Kaitzur's title is simply "The Border Fortress". A lot of these titles are far more straightforward than I remember them being.


"It's Not Easy, Being Chese"

Being the leader of a city built on trade has its benefits.

Chesedonia's a central hub for commerce and one of those locations you'll be revisiting a lot due to the amount of goods available there to purchase. It's also a separate nation, of sorts, perhaps a bit closer to Hong Kong given its autonomy and focus on trade. It's also your requisite desert trader town, back during a more innocent time when the worst thing we'd associate with the Arab world was occasionally getting ripped off on a counterfeit Persian carpet in a dusty bazaar.

Chesedonia's home to Din's Shop, among other locales. Din's Shop is a recondite trading simulation type affair that Final Fantasy XII would eventually borrow, to a slightly more intelligible degree. You simply drop off all your trade goods there, each contributing points to different types of product (consumable, sword, helmets, accessories, etc.) and upon hitting an invisible number would "unlock" a new tier of item you could purchase. You would then pay a small or large optional amount to improve the quality of the payout, and be given items dependent on how many trade goods you donated and the money you paid. It's super convoluted and absolutely requires a guide, but it's also where you can get some of the best items in the game, some of which are available way earlier than they ought to be. I'd say it represents one of Abyss's more interesting one-off contributions to the series, though it's possible some form of it existed in one of those obscure Japan-only entries like Rebirth. Hell, I've still got plenty of the ones that actually got localized left to play before I start jumping into the fan translations.

Chesed is a Sephirot that represents mercy, lawfulness and kindness, and Chesedonia is referred to as "The Center of Trade". Also noteworthy to a lesser extent is the Desert Oasis: a small settlement deep in the Zao desert adjacent to Chesedonia which also has a handful of amenities.


"Ketel One"

Luke and the gang stop by Keterburg for some much needed supplies.

Keterburg's your classic Christmastime village, a cosy little Malkuthian vacation resort up in the mountainous and snowy continent of Sylvania. It's the town in which both Jade and the Emperor grew up, and Jade's sister Nephry is currently its governor. Keterburg's an odd place for a number of reasons: It contains the only casino in the game, a Tales staple often prone to exploitation; it contains a pair of odd wealthy twins with color-opposite interior decoration who never feature in the story or any side-quests whatsoever; it contains a four-floor luxury hotel with a hot spring and a famous restaurant, which only exist to give female characters swimsuits and waitressing mini-games; and if you bother to dig up the ludicrous 200,000 Gald investment fee, you can bankroll your very own "Labyrinth House": a mini-game that plays a lot like Tower of Druaga, but curiously isn't the one classic Namco game represented as an optional dungeon (see Nam Cobanda Isle, below).

I like Keterburg a lot. It's not a novel construct, as it's almost identical to Symphonia's Flanoir, but it's a town with a lot of mystery and amusing interludes. The rest of the continent of Sylvania is no joke, with one of the most confusing dungeons and the game's optional superboss, but Keterburg really feels like a calm resort town away from the terrors and politics of the world.

Keter, or Kether, is the first of the Sephirot and represents where humankind is closest to God. It's the northernmost Sephirot on the diagram of same, importantly, just as the arctic Keterburg is the town furthest north (and thus is presumably supported by the most northern Sephiroth gate). It's known as the Silver City, which a tourism slogan if ever I heard one. Precisely what I'd expect from a fantasy Aspen.


"You Want Airships? We Got Airships!"

Airships! This one's propelled by pointy things!

Sheridan's one of two functionally identical towns belonging to Kimlasca which researches and develops technology based on fonstones and fonic artes. Sheridan's the more practical of the two, constructing various machines and vehicles that run on fonic power. It's here that the party acquires the Albiore II, the game's obligatory airship, and befriends the salt of the earth community of elderly mechanics and builders.

Sheridan's home to some of the stranger side-quests in the game, such as tracking down "music discs" that you can play in a house built around a giant stereo, and investing a million Gald (which is a lot no matter how you slice it, in case you thought late-game inflation would make that amount trivial) in order to build a bridge between Sheridan and Belkend which you never end up seeing. It's otherwise just a town full of Cids, to break it down for Final Fantasy fans.

Sheriah is one of those vices again, seemingly the naming convention for any territory of the Kimlascan empire (the name Kimlasca itself is one too). Sheriah refers to rejection, which is always a bummer around Valentine's (or almost every day if you're unemployed). Its title is "The City of Craftsmen". Hey, they're saving all that creativity for their actual work.


"Joke Deemed Too Easy After First Draft Edit"

Belkend's the sister city of Sheridan and is more focused on research and development. They also have an enormous labyrinthine laboratory where most of the discoveries are being made, and was also the headquarters for Van and the God-Generals for part of the game. Importantly, this is where we learn a lot about the world's science as it pertains to fonons and the like, and where most of the pertinent information regarding replicas can be found. Belkend is often affectionately referred to Expositionville, by no-one but me.

I also like the look of Belkend. I posted a list a short while back about cities that feel like they're made entirely out of steel, and Belkend has a lot of iron walkways and metallic structures for little other apparent reason other than that they look cool. It's a bit of a chore coming to this place, since the guy you always want to speak to is at the back of the laboratory, which means passing through the whole town and then through several identical-looking rooms until you find the guy you want.

Belkend doesn't have any obvious correlation to one of the Kabbalah vices, at least not without some potentially specious guesswork. It's title is "The City of Fon Machines". Guy really likes coming here.

Yulia City

"Not Named After the Brunette from t.A.T.u. Not That Anyone Would Think That."

I bet you can watch some kickass concerts here.

Yulia City's the classic example of a hidden city, where the most secluded and concealed town in the world is somehow also the most knowledgeable and savvy about the rest of the globe. Usually these towns are filled with elves or ninjas, or elf ninjas, but in this case it's a subset of the Order of Lorelei that keeps records of the Score and its interpretations, away from prying eyes. It's situated in the Qliphoth - the name for the immense toxic sea that became the world after the core destabilized, and the reason why the ancients of the Dawn Age elevated the landmasses away from the venomous atmosphere that rises off that endless ocean of pollutants. Yulia City was left behind as a sort of shielded monitoring station, keeping tabs on the underworld in case things ever sorted themselves out. Since then, it's been the most carefully preserved remnant of that ancient era and something of a mythological enigma to those living obliviously thousands of yards above.

Yulia City's where Tear was raised, and features a lot of translucent walkways and people dressed in flowy robes. It's that sort of place, generally speaking, like Final Fantasy VIII's Esthar. There's also very little to do here except pop by for a bit of exposition about the ancients now and again. It looks cool, at least.

Yulia City's name isn't based on Kabbalah but rather the in-game world's own mythology. Yulia was the legendary scholar and priestess who originally translated the Score, and regarded as the most powerful fonic arte user of all time. The city was named in her honor as a bastion of ancient technology and wisdom. Its title is "The Watcher's Home".


"The Mining Town, Where You Can't Tell Your Akzeriuth From a Hole in the Ground"

Akzeriuth is the ill-fated mining town that causes the central plot of Tales of the Abyss to kick off after becoming infested with miasma. The miasma is a side-effect of the planet being a bit colicky, and its evacuation and investigation becomes the first big political cooperation between the two empire-nations in a long while. Luke inadvertently blows it up after Van tells him to. I mean, shit, nobody's perfect.

Needless to say, you aren't in Akzeriuth for very long, and there's not a lot there you can see and do with it being a simple mining settlement. After the first act, it simply ceases to exist.

Akzeriuth possibly comes from the Kabbalah term for cruelty, the vice. Its fate is certainly a cruel twist. Its title is "The Mining Town" (and presumably "A Big Hole That Used to be a Mining Town" from then on).

Nam Cobanda Isle

"We're Not Subtle"

Nam Cobanda Isle is Abyss's Tales-specific recurring in-joke town, usually named for the publisher that brought the game into existence (that would be Namco Bandai). There's no stores or anything plot-relevant here, it's just a place where various people dressed like cats and cows (or are actual hybrid creatures of some sort; the game leaves this to the player's imagination) build weird homages to Namco properties. You can ride down an elevator that resembles Pac-Man, play a mini-game that greatly resembles the Namco side-scrolling arcade classic Dragon Buster, watch the game's anime cutscenes through a "memory device" or marvel at the clockwork depictions of Mappy and Xevious. It's a little (all right, a lot) fanservicey, but these hidden locations are always fun for the obsessive types.

In case you hadn't figured it out, Nam Cobanda is Namco Bandai with the space moved to the left a bit. There's no grand Kabbalah inference here, though I'd be a little terrified at the coincidence if there was. In Japan, the island has the even less subtle moniker of Namcot Island, referring to Namco's old name for its home console development division. It's simply referred to as the Hidden City, though "city"'s pushing it. It's more like a cave filled with Namco dioramas.

Choral Castle

"Vacationing South of the Border"

Choral Castle is a summer vacation home of Duke Fabre that was summarily abandoned once the peace between Malkuth and Kimlasca broke down, as it's only a handful of miles away from the Kaitzur border. When the party wander into it, it's become a home to all sorts of monsters and ghosts and is one of the game's handful of puzzle dungeons. It's also implied to be the place where Luke was kidnapped from as a child. Still, though, you'd think they just leave a few servants behind to keep the place in good condition, rather than abandoning it to the elements just because Darfur was about to go down a little ways to the north.

Isle of Feres

"Closed For Repairs"

The Isle of Feres was destroyed before the game begins and was home to several characters during their childhoods. It's resurrected late in the game as a replica landmass and given the ability to float, which allows it to act as Van's mobile HQ for the latter half of the game. It also has Malkuth's trademark Greco-Roman architecture, so when you visit it in its dilapidated state it kind of feels like you're walking through the ruins of Pompeii. It's also a horribly confusing mess of burned out buildings and crumbling pillars and I hated it. I hate a lot of things.


"Foreboding Floating End-Game Dungeons? In My JRPG? It's More Likely Than You Think"

Finally, we come to Eldrant, the final location of the game. To say too much about it might be telling, but like so many final dungeons in the Tales series (and Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana, if we're really being inclusive) it dramatically rises out of the sea and kind of floats around being ominous until you're done with all the side-questing and just decide to finish the damn game already. Eldrant is supposedly the name of the ancient promised land, sort of like an El Dorado for Auldrant (I can only assume that's where the name comes from), but is a similar case to Feres in that it's actually the destroyed island of Hod semi-resurrected through replica technology. It's a bit lackluster compared to other final destinations of Tales games, alas, though they certainly don't make it seem small and insignificant.

Anyway, that's probably more about Tales of the Abyss than needed to be written for a "What I Played Recently" blog. It's just... when you spend so many hours on a game, getting to know it thoroughly, it kind of feels like you have to go the extra mile when discussing it. I dig the Tales series a lot, but they don't half build these things to last you a while. I believe I've overindulged enough for right now, so I'll probably be back to covering Indie stuff and other smaller titles for a spell after this. Thanks for learning all about the wonderful world of this nine year old JRPG? I guess? See you soon.


Tappingo Review

(Reviews are a bit... squirrely right now, so I'm going to leave this here and turn it into a review later when the site lets me. Tappingo's okay! Turns out! Probably not much competition for something like Picross e4, but still an interesting take on the ol' numbers and pictures format.)

Tappingo joins an increasingly populated list of worthwhile 3DS eShop purchases.

I'm a big fan of Picross. The venerable numerical picture game has long since been a mainstay puzzle sub-genre for Nintendo consoles especially, making its debut (in the West, at least) with Mario's Picross for the original Game Boy. Since then, every subsequent Nintendo portable has been the home for some manner of mathematical paint-by-numbers, and the 3DS has an embarrassment of riches in this regard with the Picross e series, the Virtual Console version of Mario's Picross and the backwards compatible Nintendo DS games Picross DS and Picross 3D.

Tappingo isn't quite a Picross game, however. It's clearly inspired by that puzzle format, but takes a slightly different approach that adds an extra wrinkle in requiring some foresight to plan out the puzzle, yet at the same time is far more relaxed towards errors and player experimentation. Tappingo instead embeds the numbers within the puzzle, and automatically fills in lines of color depending on the direction you tap the number: ideally, you want the number of panels it fills in to match the original number on the panel. With longer numbers, it's easy to identify which of the four cardinal directions you'll want to send the line, but the myriad of "ones" and "twos" will give you more pause for thought. More often than not, you'll need to set a perpendicular "blocker" out to stop a line from going too far, and there's cases where a small network of interlacing "ones" need to be set out in a specific order for the rest of the puzzle to work. There's a good chance this all sounds like overly complicated gobbledygook, but it's the nature of puzzles like these that the player can instinctively pick up the rules after a few easy tutorial stages and be tapping away like a madman (or madwoman) to complete puzzles as quickly as they can. Tappingo's greatest strength is that it reaches this intuitive point relatively early, and the puzzle-solving flows as rapidly as you'd like: there's rarely cases where you'll be stumped for too long, and though you might have to undo the last few moves to rectify an erroneous line, it'll never be to an extent where you might wish to restart the whole stage from scratch.

The unfortunate side to this is that it makes the game far shorter than its immense 104 puzzle inventory might suggest. Even the more difficult puzzles can be blown through in less than ten minutes once you're in "the Tappingo zone", though given that the price point is so low it's an entirely acceptable value to time ratio. There's other issues too: the nature of the game is that when you undo a move, the various lines that were being kept in check are then free to keep expanding, which means they also need to be undone. As will any lines that are emancipated from those undone lines. A single mistake could see you undoing the last half a dozen or so moves, depending on the situation. I couldn't find a simpler, instantaneous "undo" button, so undoing moves usually required that I send the line back to its origin point each time, hence all these snafus. The puzzle variety is also somewhat lacking; though the game begins with some fan-service with a few old-fashioned Nintendo controllers, the later puzzles depend on some rote animal and mythological themes. Oddly, almost a dozen puzzles are the same forward-facing animal visage with the barest of alterations made to separate them all into different species. It's a little disappointing, and suggests that the last few pages of puzzles were rushed to meet a deadline. It's clear from a designer standpoint that a single Tappingo puzzle requires more planning than a Picross puzzle due to the lattices of lines that need to be carefully considered before the puzzle can work, so here's hoping a sequel is given the extra development time it's due.

Overall, Tappingo represents excellent value and presents a new twist on Picross for fans of the format. There's no dearth of Picross games either on the eShop service or in physical cart form if they are your wont, and I'd probably still recommend most of them before trying Tappingo if you're new to the genre, but this is a game that tries a new angle with an established formula and all but succeeds despite the few issues laid out in the previous paragraph. It's certainly not an expansive game, but for less than three bucks - a rarity given eShop's often overambitious asking prices - you can't really go wrong.

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Spelunky Debunky

"So It Begins" - Beat the Tutorial. - 08/01/2013

Much has been said of Mossmouth's Spelunky of late. Originally a PC game, Spelunky began as a procedurally generated side-scrolling platformer inspired by the intensely difficult Atari 8-bit game Spelunker. Initially free, designer Derek Yu would incrementally update the game, adding new surprises and tweaking various aspects until it all culminated in a HD release in 2009. An enhanced version was eventually ported to XBLA in 2012 with a new graphical art style that dropped the pixels and assumed the cartoonish demeanor we largely associate with the game today, with additional ports the following year to PC and PSN that added a Daily Challenge mode and additional secret characters to find.

"Mines Shafted" - Reached the Jungle. - 08/01/2013

To say the game is naught but a crushing, frustrating challenge would not entirely be incorrect, but such a facile appraisal does a disservice to the game's many nuances. There's never any guarantee that you won't die despite being careful or packed to the gills in power-ups, or that the randomization factor won't unjustly screw you over from time to time, but every spelunker death that transpires in Spelunky is player-derived. Even an exploding frog setting off an irate shopkeeper is something a cautious player can immediately take into their stride and work around as best they're able.

"Jungle Jammed" - Reached the Ice Caves. - 08/01/2013

Furthermore, the game has bones aplenty to toss your way, like so many ambulatory skeletons. Each stage has a clear, if not immediately evident, path to the exit. Bombs and ropes are plentiful if you're sure to check crates and earn enough money to keep your stockpiles up. Every item has its use in the hands of a skilled and experienced player, even those as ridiculous as the camera or teleporter. Sacrifices are encouraged, whether it's a bomb in the right place or a human offering on the altar of Kali. Risks are rewarded just as commonly as playing too cautiously will still lead to an early demise.

"Seen a Lot" - Completed 50% of the Journal. - 08/01/2013

As the player sees more of what Spelunky has in store, their approach aligns ever closer to the correct course. As they enter new areas and learn what to avoid (which is to say, pretty much everything), they become stronger. They don't need persistent upgrades or power-ups that carry over from game to game; they become better at the game through practice and knowledge.

"Her Favorite" - Won the Kapala from Kali. - 08/01/2013

Of the many items in the game, few are as instrumental as the Kapala. Earned by collecting sixteen points worth of "favor" - an invisible stat that the player is never privy to but can easily calculate in their head with some experimentation - the player's tactics then shift completely: rather than take a largely pacifistic route to the exit, taking detours only for valuables, the player is then compelled to murder every living creature for their precious blood. As the hit point indicator ticks ever upwards, into the teens and beyond, the player's feeling of invincibility is the sort of encouragement that can either carry them all the way to the game's conclusion, or leave an overconfident corpse impaled on a patch of forsaken spikes somewhere.

"Ice Creamed" - Reached the Temple. - 08/01/2013

Reaching the Temple itself is no mean feat. Though the Ice Caves are considerably easier to navigate should a player be sporting a cape or jetpack, it's far too easy to fall into the endless abyss or be undone by an errant exploding UFO or a playful Yeti. The Temple, of course, contains some of the most malicious traps of the entire game, including the nefarious "Thwomp" traps that can grind an inattentive spelunker to paste nigh instantaneously.

"Made It" - Completed the game. - 08/01/2013

Though passing the ultimate battle with Olmec in one piece is something of a coup, the game won't let you rest on your laurels. I reached this point of the game after a single day, hence all these achievements being marked with the same date, but it's really only the tip of the giant golden sentient statue head. If you can see that enormous ancient Mexican countenance, you've only reached as far as the Simpsons' basement: there's still the caves of the Moleman lying deep beneath.

"Eternal Life" - Obtained the Ankh. - 13/01/2013

When resuming the game a few months ago, inspired by Patrick Klepek's forays in his daily series, I decided to venture on what is known as the Path to Hell. A convoluted series of treasures and hidden stages, the Path to Hell requires the player go out of their way to a great extent but at the same time prepares them in turn for the additional travails ahead. The player earns the Wadjet Eye by opening a locked chest in the Mines with a nearby key, which allows them to see valuables; they also then have an easier time locating the entrance to the Jungle's elusive Black Market, which allows them to stock up on all manner of valuable items either bought or stolen, which includes the Ankh. Up to this point, the player has done nothing but greatly increase their chances of succeeding in their fight against Olmec, should they ever feel that the Path to Hell is still beyond them. It's an inspired piece of game design to allow the gentle first half of an intense optional game completion route to be so beneficial, as players will happily adopt it into their playthroughs as standard and will be prepared should they ever feel confident enough to take the next crucial step.

"City of Gold" - Reached the City of Gold. - 23/01/2014

The Path to Hell only meaningfully diverges in the Caves, as it requires that the player deliberately off themselves in a specific stage to recover the otherwise useless Hedjet headpiece in order to continue on the Path. There's only two specific reasons to ever sacrifice the Ankh and whatever weapons you were carrying, and both those reasons involve the City of Gold. The City of Gold is a secret stage in the Temple, always accessible from 4-2, in which every block is packed with gold nuggets. High score pursuers, such as those going for the $500k achievement or the score-focused Daily Challenge, endeavor to reach the City of Gold with as many explosives as they can carry. The City of Gold is, ostensibly, the spelunker's chief reason for entering these doom-laden catacombs to begin with, so by reaching this gilt metropolis the player feels as if they have accomplished the game's narrative's core task. Importantly for those on the Path to Hell it is also where the Necronomicon can be found, which is required for the final step to enter Hell itself.

"Casanova" - Rescued 10 or more damsels in one game. - 29/01/2014

To digress here a moment from all the Hell talk, we'll discuss the game's damsels. The damsels have a hit point total of four, the same as the player character and most of the human enemies, and can be thrown around and used as bait for arrow traps. They can even be sacrificed on altars for the greatest favor boost possible, tied only with a co-op partner or hired hand. The game pokes some gentle fun at their disposability, but it's also making a statement about the necessity of the hoary game trope of a passive companion to rescue, whether unintentionally or not. The damsels are less a deliberately sexist inclusion (from either gender perspective) than part and parcel of the game's adherence to the adventure movie serials of the like Indiana Jones was based on, who in turn inspired the original Spelunker and many other archaeologically-inclined action video game franchises. As such, the frequent abuse they receive almost seems satirical. It's also worth noting that were one to provide the damsels with the dignity and support they deserve, that player is putting themselves at a distinct disadvantage due to the relative difficulty of escorting them safely to the exits, wasting bombs and ropes to extricate them from their remote spawn locations and all but eschewing entirely the invaluable rewards from Kali altars. New players go out of their way to save them; experienced players view them as tools to be used as they see fit. It's a little dispiriting in its dehumanization, but then it's every spelunker for themselves down there.

(As an aside: I would be so down with a "zero damsel death" achievement though. I can't imagine it'd be too difficult, unless the game decides that leaving them behind is tantamount to abandoning them to die.)

"Public Enemy" - Killed 12 or more shopkeepers in one game. - 17/02/2014

The shopkeepers remain an ubiquitous bane for any player, regardless of how lawful they intend to be. A great many things will draw a shopkeeper's ire, and attempting to fight one without a shotgun or bombs from a vantage point is practically suicide. Shopkeepers have an obscene ten points of health, which means they can survive most non-instant death traps including a Tiki statue or a shotgun blast (it would, in fact, actually take three of either to bring one down). A shopkeeper becomes irate if an item is carried out of their store, or attacked in any way. This is fine, as most creatures leave shopkeepers alone (except carnivorous mantraps, but shopkeepers will actually survive that ordeal intact and not hold you accountable) and thus the player would almost certainly be responsible for either of these trigger states being set off. However, the shopkeepers are also triggered when any part of their "store", which includes the surrounding walls, is damaged. This can be caused by a great many number of things, but most often by rolling boulder traps in the Mines, exploding frogs in the Jungle and UFOs in the Caves. They also don't like it when the damsels and hired hands in their care (read: indentured servitude) are harmed by anything or anyone, and wandering creatures are usually far less kind to them. Due to how a shopkeeper then becomes present at the exit to every level, lying in wait with a loaded shotgun, killing twelve shopkeepers becomes a challenge one does not necessarily need to go out of their way to complete than it is one they have to accomplish just to stay alive. Blasting through the seven shopkeepers present in the Black Market certainly helps meet that number sooner, though.

"The Entire Gang" - Rescued all 8 hidden characters. - 17/02/2014

One of the best developments during Patrick's series was discovering and then employing Fobwashed's amazing custom Patrick Klepek spelunker sprite. The game offers you several different characters with which to plumb the depths of Spelunky's environs, but the paltry four choices of the original Brown adventurer, Red turban warrior, Green go-getter heroine and Blue Colin Northway explorer aren't nearly enough variation. The XBLA version has an additional eight characters who need to be found before they can be used, and it's one of those processes like filling the journal that starts at full-speed and then peters off slowly until the very last few items, which require a considerable amount of work.

For instance, the Yellow hard-hat adventuress, the Purple pirate queen, the Light Blue polar pioneer and the Lime mariachi can all be found randomly while playing the game, one appearing in each respective area. A moonlighting Meat Boy can be found by those braving the secret Worm level, and the Black Van Helsing vampire hunter by venturing into the Jungle's Haunted Castle. The Jungle Warrior is given to those strong enough to defeat Olmec and the very final character Yang, he of the tutorial, is only unlocked upon defeating Yama himself. It's no mean feat to find all eight, and even more of a tall order to find the additional eight characters added to the PSN and PC versions (though Yang is still the hardest). All the same, no matter how many trials you went through to unlock a new character, you can't really beat one fashioned in your own image by an inspired and talented fanbase.

"Ironman" - Completed the game without using shortcuts. - 17/02/2014

Tunnel Man remains a decisive figure in the Spelunky community. His shortcuts aren't actually necessary, as jumping ahead to a later stage interrupts the development process of one's character (all the early money and easy power-ups from the Mines can really help further in the run) and entirely negates any chance of reaching Hell. In addition, he always asks for useful tools and, in his final appearance, asks for the Key from the Mines. Escorting this key from the early stages all the way to the end of the Caves - a process known as the Key Run - is one of the game's first major challenges for novice players. It's a huge help to have that Temple shortcut unlocked, because there's a lot about the Temple you want to be savvy about before wasting a fifteen minute run to get all the way there only to be vanquished by the first Thwomp or Anubis psychic blast or lava pit you happen to walk into. It's also quicker and easier, though certainly no picnic, to beat Olmec and complete the game from the Temple shortcut with next to no items if one's careful enough. Completing the Ironman run is a sure sign that you're ready for the game's more elusive and flagrantly unreasonable challenges.

"To Hell and Back" - Completed the game the hard way. - 17/02/2014

It's fair to say that the playthrough I had on the 17th of February, the one that unlocked all four of these achievements, was something of a major breakthrough for me. It was shortly after Patrick had already defeated Yama himself, but all the same it felt like the additional time I'd put into the game, relearning the patience required to play it and the advice (usually of the "don't do this" variety) I'd gleaned by example from daily Spelunkin' With Scoops streams, had finally paid off. Yama's an odd boss fight, because there's a few ways he can defeat you due to your inexperience. Most of these deaths involve his spike-, vampire- and lava-filled stage. However, a fully kitted-out hero with a jetpack, shotgun, bombs (you earn an extra 24 right off the bat by defeating Yama's two henchmen) and the amulet found in the first Hell level makes him almost trivial. The fact of the matter is, though, that reaching Yama is such a monumental achievement that it's easy to psyche yourself out the first time you clap eyes on Yama's hideous visage. You've gotten so far and have only a small distance left to go, like the last 300 yards of a marathon. I doubt anyone has reached Yama without feeling their heart trying to pump its way out of their chest. To die at that moment is one of the worst feelings in the world and, unfortunately, one of the easiest to make happen. Of course, the inverse is equally applicable. My only advice is to find a stable hiding place underneath a brick and toss a tactical nuke's worth of explosives towards his hands, and subsequently at his floating head, and try not to think too hard about how much of a bummer it would be to tumble off into a lava bath.

"Seen It All" - Completed 100% of the Journal. - 20/02/2014

Completing the Journal - and Big Money, below - felt like sweeping up in a lot of ways. There were more achievements left, of course, but I could not for the life of me ever see myself completing them. Filling in the Journal does require that you meet (and kill, preferably) every creature in Hell, as well as collect the Amulet and Vlad's Cape and emancipate at least one of those spinning metal ball and chains from its mooring. It also requires that you visit the Worm, Haunted Castle and Mothership levels at some point for their unique enemies and treasures, as well as introduce yourself to Old Bitey in a flooded Jungle stage. At this point, though, after defeating King Yama, it's not so much the next challenge tier than it is simply retracing your steps for everything you missed. For a completionist like me, that's generally good enough for an achievement. I can probably say I enjoyed unlocking this one the most, if only because it indulged my OCD tendencies.

"Big Money" - Obtained 500000 gold. - 20/02/2014

Big Money's no problem if you're a proponent of the Daily Challenge grind. It's entirely possible that you've gone to the City of Gold with a few dozen explosives and made it happen just in the process of attempting to best your friends on the leaderboards that day. If not, it's a challenge like "Seen It All" that doesn't require any extra difficulty to accomplish. You can earn it before you're even able to reach Hell, if you were so inclined, and I don't believe you need to complete the game once you've hit the golden figure. Though heading out of the Mines with a scant $50k or so might seem discouraging while in pursuit of this achievement, considering you probably felt like you picked up every shiny bauble in the passing, it's worth noting that inflation is a hell of a thing as you head towards future stages. The City of Gold, the huge rewards for beating Olmec and/or Yama and the somewhat dubious process known as "Ghost Mining" means there's more than one feasible path to becoming a half-millionaire.

"Speedlunky" - Completed the game in under 8 minutes. No shortcuts. - 24/02/2014

Speedlunky's the second most difficult achievement in the game, though on an initial glance of the achievements seems like the hardest. Eight minutes, two minutes per world, sounds like no time at all. If one were to rush through any stage, even 1-1, it's easy to picture oneself taking way too many arrow hits or surprise spiders and struggling to escape the easiest area in one piece in a respectable time, let alone in any condition to take on the rest of the game at the same pace. But the biggest obstacle of them all as far as Speedlunky is concerned is the intimidation factor. It sounds impossible. It isn't.

I don't want to get all "Spelunky Sensei", but I figure if you've read my self-aggrandizing anecdotes thus far I owe you something in return. Speedlunky is doable. It requires a bit of patience and a lot of skill, of course, but we'll assume at this point that you've completed To Hell and Back and have reached the point in the game where Speedlunky is the next logical target. You know all the stages, you know all the tricks, you know all the dangers. What's important about the first part of Speedlunky is to take the Mines at a brisk, but not sprinting, pace. Find damsels, collect money that's close at hand, forget about the key and chest unless they're right in your path and just head to the exit in a timely fashion. Bombs and ropes are invaluable, so don't use them for anything. Crates are the only thing worth taking a detour for. The only power-ups you really need are the compass (this is the only truly essential piece of kit, so I'd recommend grabbing ~$4k from 1-1 and keep an eye out for stores), a cape or jetpack (to quickly move through the Caves), spring boots (they let you leap over Tiki statues, and just seem to increase your speed in general) and a mattock (or Matlock, depending on whether or not you're Dave Lang). I'd say a mattock is the one item worth carrying with you at all times, more so than a damsel or even a shotgun: you shouldn't be trying to take on enemies anyway, just darting over/under them. Don't be tempted to go for the Kapala either, unless those altars and damsels fall square in your path. I shouldn't need to say it, but don't piss off any shopkeepers either (though if they have a jetpack...).

The Jungle's a little harder to navigate without incident, and might take you a little longer, but maintain that cautious but zippy pace. You ought to pass through the Mines in 90-120 seconds and the Jungle in 120-150 seconds. At this point, you hopefully have a compass, a cape/jetpack and a moderate stockpile of bombs (let's say around a dozen). The Caves can be beaten in about 30 seconds, thanks to how open they are. The Temple's intimidating, but it's only three stages (Olmec is always on 4-4) and can be navigated as quickly as the Jungle. It might also be worth bombing/mattocking your way down a story or two if you have those items to spare and the exit's right beneath you. Ideally, you want anywhere between two and three minutes left on the clock for Olmec, which is where the mattock and bombs come in handy: as usual, quickly build a big trench at the opposite side of the stage from Olmec, and then coax him into it. That's all there is to it, though being lucky enough to find the necessary items and pulling all of this off are different matters entirely. Good luck.

"Low Scorer" - Completed the game without collecting any treasure. - 01/03/2014

Low Scorer is the actual most difficult task in Spelunky, at least out of all the ones that earn you achievements, and unlike Speedlunky there are no specific rules to follow to make it easier. It's distressingly easy to accidentally pick up some money, whether because it was hidden in tall grass/treetops/snow, or an explosion threw some your way or you mined a gem from a block you were digging into. If you hit a Dark Level, you might as well restart then and there, because the low visibility, valuable scarabs and free money from lit torches make those places even more of a nightmare than they usually are. Low Scorer is much more about having a fortunate run than learning what needs to be done and pulling it off adroitly, and I can say with some veracity that it's one of the most frustrating experiences you can put yourself through. But ultimately, once again, entirely possible. Just watch your step.

"Good Teamwork" - Completed the game with at least two players. - 02/03/2014

It's an odd thing that Spelunky's co-op mode is actually easier than the single player, because we've grown accustomed to games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii where it's all too easy (and fun) to sabotage other players, should the option to directly interact with one another be available. More so, playing a co-op game on your own with two controllers feels like it ought to be the most convoluted thing in the world, and a big reason why I saved it for last.

In reality, even with the "two controller one player" method this is one of the easier accomplishments on par with perhaps Big Money or just beating Olmec in general. The second player can be immediately sacrificed for an item (or Kapala) and left to hover as a ghost until 4-3, at which point the player can clear a way to the exit, rescue them from the coffin and carry them into the Olmec battle. The standard tactic of digging him a trench to drop Olmec into is made no more difficult by having a companion, as you can simply sit them on the opposite side of the trench to watch the fireworks. The only real pitfall that can trip you up during this process is leaving the second player outside the screen for too long, which kills them for whatever reason. Of course, if you have a second human being of a relative skill level helping you, then this achievement is practically trivial. At least compared to Speedlunky and Low Scorer anyway.

"Addicted" - Played Adventure mode 1000 times. - 02/03/2014

I'll admit it, I hit around 850 total playthroughs in pursuit of every other achievement. That meant grinding the last 150 through killing myself over and over for about twenty minutes. Not the most ignominious thing I've ever done in pursuit of an achievement, but not exactly one of my proudest moments with this game either. I guess I can be somewhat pleased that I was skilled enough that I didn't unlock it naturally in the process of getting everything else, except I don't need to be any more pleased with myself right now. Already at dangerous levels of self-satisfaction after nailing Low Scorer.

All Achievements - 02/03/2014

So that was Spelunky for me. I wrote a half-assed blog a little while back where I gathered many of the tweets I'd made while playing Spelunky on and off since the start of the year, as I felt (and still feel) that they encapsulated the Spelunky process: one part deliriously happy that some major goal had been met, ninety-nine parts indignant about a death I could've either easily avoided or had no chance whatsoever to elude.

If Spelunkin' With Scoops didn't convince you to pick up the bullwhip and fedora and leap into an endless cycle of death then I'm probably not going to either, but all the same I'd happily recommend Spelunky to anyone. It's incredibly trite to call anything the "Dark Souls of X" these days, but very few games are able to ensnare a player by treating them so horribly initially and then revealing that the scolding and abuse is simply part of the process towards betterment and the pursuit of heretofore-thought impossible goals. Like a training montage in a kung fu movie, you might see your teacher smash a boulder with his pinky and believe for all the world that such a task is beyond you. Some hours of rigorous training, jump cuts, and maybe a Joe Esposito/John Cafferty power ballad later and you'll wonder how you were ever so useless.

Olmec ain't shit. Yama? More like yo' mama. Go show Spelunky who's boss. I did, and I'm about as coordinated as a drowsy puppy running across a waxed floor.

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A Brief Jaunt to... Japan! (Final Day: Yokohama)

All good things must come to an end. By extension, that also includes things like this playthrough of Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ (I'll miss you most of all, tildes!), an educational visual novel from H-Game developers Overdrive that was ported to Steam by MangaGamer. I will say that this game's been quite informative; a beginner's crash course in Japanese tourist hotspots and hoary anime tropes.

We're not done yet though. Akira's threatened to take us to Japan's major port city Yokohama for our last day. Is this where I reveal the feelings I've been harboring for her? Or has that ship sailed? I'm bound to run out of sailing puns schooner or later?!

Part 07: Sayonara

Hey, don't you start, you'll set me off.
So we start the day with Akira looking clearly exhausted and us being concerned, being the sensitive Saiyan that we are. She's immediately defensive though. This ought to be a fun day.
Man, it's almost as if we're emphasizing all this for a future plot twist. (No, she doesn't have cancer.)
Reaching Yokohama, Akira's in full tour guide mode. She's talking about the exciting landmarks in Yokohama's central theme park which, naturally, we don't get to see here.
Must... resist... obvious... joke... parallel... playthrough's... salacious enough already...
What tipped you off, Goku?
Yeah, I must be psychic or something.
Anyway, we get a bit more talk about Yokohama's Chinatown before Akira starts narcolepsing all over the place.
No, I don't think you're boring, bipolar disorders are still a somewhat rare condition.
Akira gets into a giant tizzy, runs away and we stalk her all the way back home. Bye Yokohama!
I got close with that "open our borders" bit, I'll admit.
Yeah, you'd think. It's not like Goku hasn't been performing thought crimes ever since he first met you two.
So here's the real reason Akira was out of sorts today:
She stayed up all night studying Yokohama, a city she'd never been to, just to impress Goku. Awwwww*hurk*.
She was definitely an informative and cheery tour guide during the parts when she was awake.
"Man, this has been such a great last day of my vacation," Goku thinks, as he apologizes to a bedroom door.
But Goku's fallen head over heels because she keeps yelling at him. Tsunderes gonna tsundere.
Anyway, it's tomorrow now, but since my flight leaves in the morning I might as well squeeze it all in this final update.
Farewell Japan, and farewell Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~. It's been, well, not so much a blast as a dull persistent thumping noise at the back of my skull. Thanks to everyone for stopping by, and I'll see you all again for something considerably less anime next time. Well, except I'm playing Tales of the Abyss right now, so really I'm just lying through my teeth. Dewa mata!

< Back to Part 6


A Brief Jaunt to... Japan! (Day 5: Kyoto Part Two)

Mokarimakka! We're still in Kyoto for a second day of anime shenanigans, or shenanimegans, in Overdrive's highly informative if barely interactive visual novel Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ (tildes wa sugoi). I promised you salacious content, or least heavily implied it, but the game's decided to grow up in recent updates. Instead, continue to enjoy this all-ages appropriate guided tour of Japan's old capitol with Makoto and Akira. (Not the Street Fighter or the psychic dead kid.)

Part 06: Summer of Samurai

Hoorj. Let's hope we see more temples today!
Here's a temple with a rock garden. Ryoan-ji's, to be precise. Apparently it has all sorts of cool visual trickery and was created several hundred years ago by an unknown artist. Mysterious stuff.
We took a last-minute excursion to a period town, presumably so we could get the girls to cosplay in traditional garb.
Man do I love some jidai geki. This game needs to stop reminding me of cool shit I could be doing/watching and go back to its comfort zone of boring temples and upskirts.
Speaking of the inevitable, here's Makoto-hime and samurai Akira. I did not add the lensflares.
Akira gave us shit for giving her a masculine costume to wear, but Goku's way into it so I don't even care what's going on any more.
Well! That was Kyoto! This must be the first anime game I've ever played to sidestep a hot spring scene.
So apparently because two of our three day trips in Tokyo were with Akira, we're now locked on her "route". Which means we get her grousing about how much more awesome her big sister is. Way to make me feel better about this decision, Ms. Silver Medal.
I'm kidding. Akira's a sweetheart. She's also the way younger one, so I'm really not quite sure if this is okay. But when has any of this been okay? At any point?
We were away for two days, but whatever. Maybe time in Japan works differently, I'm just a stupid foreigner.
Ah, that's right. The game is almost over. One more update for tomorrow and we're finally done with all this anime prancing. At least until someone buys me another regrettable visual novel off Steam that I'm compelled to LP.
Because we're still locked onto Akira's route, she bursts in to decide where we're going tomorrow. Were I on the other route, I think I'd be heading elsewhere. Replayability!
I guess we're going to Yokohama then. The big port city that isn't the one that WWE wrestler was named after. Let's see how many fish puns I can come up with.
Man, sudden foreboding Majora's Mask deja vu. Can Akira and I save Termina before it's too late?

< Back to Part 5

To Part 7: The Grand Finale >


A Brief Jaunt to... Japan! (Day 4: Kyoto Part One)

Okaerinasai! On the last episode of our virtual Japanese vacation, as directed by Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ (~raise your tildes~), we made plans to visit old Kyoto town to cap off what's been an eye-opening excursion to Japan, from its majestic shrines to its bustling metropolitan centers to its naked animes. I hear Kyoto's a very traditional sort of place though, so maybe we'll finally get some peace and quiet.

Yeah, I'm not fooling anyone at this point, am I? Let's get this over with.

Part 05: Kyoto is an Anagram of Tokyo. That's About All My Kyoto Knowledge.

Oh god, Goku just would not shut up about the damn Shinkansen. It's all "Shinkansen this" and "Shinkansen that" since today started.
Of course, when you're riding in a goddamn bolt of lightning emanated from the butthole of Zeus himself, I guess that can be exciting.
I've generally not been impressed enough by the Ren'Py-esque nature of the artwork in this game to comment on it, as adequate as it is, but I do like the motion effect with the backgrounds of these train scenes. The motion effect I've neglected to capture for y'all because gifs are hard.
And we're back to the "All hail Japan!" business for a while.
Why don't you just marry Mt. Fuji, Goku?
So here we are in Seatt- Kyoto, at last. The game has a lot to say about its history, unsurprisingly.
"...And I'm an idiot!"
Can't go to Kyoto without looking at a few temples. This is one of them. Apparently Kiyomizu-dera is where you can take a running jump off a waterfall to "prove your conviction". I think I saw that in a Takeshi's Castle episode once.
And then we hit Rokuon-ji, which is best known historically for hosting that fight between Wolverine and that old man in the samurai robot. (I just made that up. Not the whole thing, as I'm no highly paid Hollywood screenwriter, just the part where it happened here.)
It's funny, when you call them a "high-class" geisha, it's almost as if you're confusing them with a prostitute. This explains Goku's immediate follow-up plan to hire one for the evening.
"So beautiful we thought it would be an insult to draw it, so here's a cloudy sky again."
Wow, so this day kind of just came and went. Lots of sightseeing, very little inappropriate ogling. Maybe they're saving all the fun stuff for tomorrow? We'll find out together, I guess! Sorry today sucked!

< Back to Part 4

Onward to Part 6 >


A Brief Jaunt to... Japan! (Day 3: Shibuya)

Guys, I'm running out of two things: Tokyo districts that I've heard of, and patience. As we enter the fourth day of this unnecessarily hypersexualised informational visual novel of an ideal Japanese vacation - the exclamation- and tilde-swathed Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~, a product that was seemingly gifted to me entirely to get my dander up - I'm hoping we'll finally get a day where we can focus on the many interesting and exciting locations to visit in Japan, and perhaps a little less on walking in on half-nude anime teenagers.

Yeah, right.

Part 04: Shibuya? She Hardly Knows Ya!

Which is why we'll politely knock on her door and call out to her, right?
Oh fuck you, game.
She's not wrong, Goku. She's not wrong.
Are those sirens I hear in the distance?
Ah, victim blaming. Looks like Goku's off the hook again. Even Akira looks surprised at this development.
So anyway, I picked Shibuya because I remembered that it was the setting of The World Ends With You, a game I probably ought to be playing instead of this.
Yaaaay. A whole day with Miss Buttshot. This won't be awkward.
First, we get this Greyfriar's Bobby (or Jurassic Bark, if you're a Futurama fan) sob story about this dog. There is literally another statue of a dog with the same story behind it in Edinburgh, if you're ever heading that way.
Oh man, that whole ending bit with Seymour waiting at the pizzeria for Fry... how you could not cry, you heartless anime wench?
Once I stop bawling over concrete puppies, we meet the massive clusterfuck that is Shibuya's biggest public crossing.
Akira manages to stop me from getting trampled to death. No Reapers' Game for me, it seems.
Oh hey, some Ganguro teens that the game didn't feel like drawing. Akira calls them "Gals" and "Gal-Boys", which sound like something entirely different.
I'll just avoid the obvious power level joke as Akira and Goku visit Meiji Shrine. Feels like I ought to be more respectful anyway.
OH COME ON that has to be a deliberate visual choice.
Please, Goku, that wasn't television. Or rather, not the type of television that you don't have to pay for on a nightly basis.
So in addition to just creeping on her all day, I'm also stealing her crepes. Do the Japanese have a word for "restraining order"?
Ah, the old "girl can't cook, inadvertently food poisons boy she's cooking for, boy needs his stomach pumped and spends several weeks in a coma on the brink of death" comedy routine.
Of course, there's cooking something comically badly, and then there's apparently filling it with quaaludes.
When I finally come down and stop seeing Piplups crawling along the ceiling, I'm informed that we're leaving Tokyo for a two day trip to finish off the vacation. We're goin' to Kyoto!
Kimonos and hot springs. Very little chance of accidentally catching either girl in their birthday suit, I bet. Sigh.

< Back to Part 3

Onward to Part 5 >


A Brief Jaunt to... Japan! (Day 2: Shinjuku)

Ohayou! We're now in Day 2 of our virtual Japanese vacation, courtesy of the edutainment visual novel Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ (tildes till the end). Today we're heading to Shinjuku, perhaps best known for hosting Kabukicho - Tokyo's infamous red light district. However, this decision was less spurred by wanting to see even more inadvertent creepery (creepitude? creeposcity?) than the fact that I'm semi-familiar with this area due to the Yakuza games, which largely take place in a fictionalized but otherwise identical version of this district.

Who knows? Maybe the game will finally stop being so damn saucy for one day and just give me an innocuously wholesome day of sightseeing and history lessons.


Stylish? What's stylish? What has style got to do with inadvertent anime nudity? What does this even mean?!
Yeah, let's just keep digging this hole we're in. I'll break out the Matlocks.
God? There is no God here. No God would allow this in an all-ages educational game about Japan.
I think I know how this game is going to end, guys.
Why don't you explain what rice is too, while we're here?
Right, so we're off to Shinjuku. I'm just a glutton for punishment. Glutton for something, anyway.
I'm, uh... gonna have to plead the fifth here.
This game was honestly the last place I'd expect to find a City Hunter reference, but then considering that manga is about a dude who turns into a raging lech whenever women are around perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.
We apparently spent the whole day walking around, presumably so we could have a nighttime Kabukicho scene.
Yep, we're in the red light district with a teenager we met on the internet. Wonderful.
Agh, Yakuza 2 flashbacks flooding through my mind. I really hope I don't have to fight a pair of tigers tomorrow. Wait, what am I saying? That'd be awesome.
Too bad. The next time we see her will probably be on one of those websites you're not supposed to visit.
Or maybe she's just getting hit on by a creepy street tough ten yards away. Who am I, Detective Stabler?
"Hey Noob Saibot, get your damn hands off her!"
I actually told him to beat it in English. Apparently that's intimidating. So, good tip for anyone dealing with muggers in Japan: just yell at them in English and they'll leave you alone.
So here we reveal the biggest twist of them all: Goku is none other than our very own Brad Shoemaker!
This is the first non-itinerary choice I've seen so far. I gotta know what Japanese pizza is. It's corn and mayonnaise, right?
If you say so. Grilled pancake, pizza, same difference. And yeah, it looks like I really did drench it in mayo. Bon appetit!
Once I'm done throwing up in the bathroom (and provided I don't turn on the bidet again, because that could get real messy), we'll move onto Day 3. But what else is there left to see after manga and strippers? I guess we'll find out.

< Back to Part 2

Onward to Part 4 >


A Brief Jaunt to... Japan! (Day 1: Akihabara)

Well, I since I'm out here in Japan doing it up right, I might as well turn this into a daily series for the rest of this week. Of course, it's not actually me in Japan, but my lascivious bumpkin avatar Goku in Overdrive's Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ (must include tildes, always) - a visual novel created exclusively for English fans to teach them about Japan's superiority, as if everyone buying this game wasn't already on the same page. Fun fact! Overdrive has created many visual novels over the years, and almost all of them (except this one) are pornographic in nature. That would explain Makoto.

Part 02: Maid You Look

This is known, Khaleesi.
I cannot be this incognizant of the world. Surely. There are very few European countries where people still poop down holes dug into the ground.
Wait, maybe I'm actually Crocodile Dundee?
Turns out Akira's into cosplay too. And possibly lacing her sister's morning OJ with tranquilizers.
So here's the first decision of the game. I have six districts I can visit, and each is attached to a certain sister - rather than choosing one to go with, each scenario is designed with one in mind. I'm going to visit Akihabara though, because you just know it's going to be nuts. Maybe I can pick up some better visual novels at the Super Potato?
But first I gotta hit the konbini for some bento. Some konbini-bento, even. That's bento you get a konbini. What was the age range for this game, again?
Goku: expert on Japan.
Rail cards, convenience stores, toilets with buttons: it's like some kind of magical future utopia.
Because there's a train leaving for each district every five minutes. To be fair, as someone from the UK, it is kind of impressive to see trains rolling in on time.
It's funny, I chose to go to Akihabara, so I'm actually in some way complicit in everything that happens next.
I'm also getting a history lesson, but I'm too busy ogling at girls in maid costumes to take any notice.
I actually take some offense to the assumption that I don't know what an otaku is, given that I'm playing a visual novel.
I guess "cloudy sky background" is code for "we don't feel like drawing the inside of stores". Also the game never explains what doujinshi are, let alone DOUJINSHI doujinshi, yet somehow otaku is a far more obscure term.
Oh lordy.
Yeah, Akira wasn't best pleased we dragged her behind the beaded curtain. Goku: perfect gentleman.
But she's still cool enough to bring us to a maid cafe for whatever reason. When in Akihabara, I guess.
Yeah, let's ask the waitresses if they would be into that.
"Well, they're clearly doing it to get attention, am I right? Can we go buy a fedora, I think I left mine on the plane."
I've opted to escort Makoto to the nearest store for ingredients for tonight's meal to "protect her" from god-knows-what, except I'm not entirely sure of Goku's intentions any more.
Let's see if we can go another day without the protagonist managing to get himself arrested. Here's hoping!

< Back to Part 1

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A Brief Jaunt... to Japan!

So yeah, I was recently gifted the new Steam release Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ (I'm only assuming the tildes are important) and who am I to turn down a vacation in the land of the rising sun? I can eat sushi, relax in hot springs and maybe even meet the anime of my dreams?

No seriously, what the hell is this thing? Why am I getting sent even more weird anime games? Well, I guess I ought to find out. Right? It's only polite.

Go! Go! Nippon! Part 01: Wakarimasen...

Welcome to Go! Go! Nippon! I'm probably going to get into all sorts of trouble. Both with the Japanese tourism industry and with the site administrators for uploading so many big screenshots. Oops! Gomen nasai!
All right, what the hell is this already? I'm not actually planning out a vacation am I? If so, I'd probably be exchanging pound sterling anyway. I'm tempted to make the exchange rate super high so I can run around buying cars for fifty bucks, but then I wouldn't want to deal with all the suicidal bankrupt businessmen hitting the pavement while I'm trying to buy souvenirs.
I'm tired, but I'm also too excited to sleep! Japan!
At this point, we dramatically zoom in on those clouds in the background. I suspect this game might be stupid.
I think someone mismatched the caption with the image. Or I really am controlling an idiot.
So in case you hadn't cottoned on quite yet, we've flown to Japan and are sort of excited about being in Japan and doing Japanese things. What's hilarious, or hilariously sad, is that my character apparently knows fuck all about Japan despite all his "studying".
Anyway, I'm keeping a look out for these two. They certainly look like anime sidekicks. Like, the left guy is the handsome sporty one, and the right guy is the stocky comic relief who likes food but has a heart of gold. Man I can't wait to meet them!
Nope, bait and switch. By the way, I'm Goku. It's an ingenious sobriquet I've assumed for the sake of easier cultural assimilation.
So this is Makoto. She's certainly, uh, realistically built. Goddammit, first Lady Sword and now this. What have I gotten myself into?
This is Akira, a.k.a. the dubiously legal option. She's a tsundere! (No seriously, kill me now.)
I'LL SAY! (*record scratch*) (Come and knock on our door... We've been waiting for youuuu...)
Oh no.
Let's... not do this.
The girl on the right is clearly 14, let's please stop whatever this is from continuing further. Please.
Phew, we've changed topics to an in-depth explanation of how Japanese transit cards work. I'm going to assume that the game's secondary goal, after ogling minors, is to teach would-be tourists how to get around Japan?
This is going to be a common thread I fear. The fact that my character may have just flown in from a small town stuck in the 1950s.
A brief stop at Tokyo Station and... wait, what kind of expression is Akira sporting here? Is there a panda behind me?
You thought I was kidding about the 1950s thing? Who doesn't know what 24 hour convenience stores or vending machine are? It's possible I'm vacationing from Albania, but there was no option to exchange my lek.
Being the informative game that it is, it tells me what tatami are and that you should never walk across them wearing shoes. This is important cultural information, I'm sure. I wouldn't even want to imagine the state of his other "bad" socks, but it's distressingly easy to connect the dots with all the lascivious comments made thus far.
For an obnoxiously Japanophile guy like me? Oh, for sure.
Even she's like, "All right, jeez, dial it down a notch otaku-san."
Oh here we go.
Don't. Don't even.
Then don't do or say or think anything to feel guilty about. I'm serious.
If there's some sort of mini-game where I have to hide my perpetual boner, I won't be pleased.
Tsundere! So moe~! (She cooked me dinner, that's what's going on here.)
Presumptive son of a bitch, aren't I? They aren't obsessed with baths, incidentally, just the idea of them.
By the way, I started talking (and thinking, for some reason) in Japanese to help me get the hang of it. I'm paying very little attention to it though. Instead, I'm fixated on the entirely natural dialogue concerning Japanese plug adapters.
This is a sentence I just said in my brain. I wanna go home...
I can't even conceive of what fresh Hell awaits me tomorrow.

Boy, that was fun! I can't wait to head out into Tokyo tomorrow to see all the wonderful sights and sounds of Japan! I've retreated into some kind of denial-induced fugue of chirpiness and excitement!

All right, so I may continue my adventures in Japan in the comments, but with way fewer screenshots. I didn't realise how big these things were until I started uploading them, so if any site engineers are reading this... hey. This is an important cultural exchange of ideas and customs, so I'd say it's absolutely worth the bandwidth.

Arigatou! Matane~!

Forward to Part 2 >