By Mento 4 Comments
It's the twentieth of these! I'm starting to suspect I won't be able to get through the list I've prepared, though all the same I'm happy with the progress I've made so far. I have plans for the final week - they involve starting games that'll take longer than the three days to beat, with the idea being that I can continue to plug away at them after May is over - so really there's just a handful of days left for odd little games like the one I'm covering today.
I'll come clean before we begin, however, by saying I have a vested interest in this particular Indie game because it was developed by a Japanese developer that once created a lot of JRPGs of which I'm very fond. The game I'm about to cover was their attempt (and that of their publishers, the obscenely rich publishers of the Puzzle & Dragons franchise GungHo Online Entertainment) to "test the waters" of the modern PC market, I suspect, and are preparing at this moment to release more of their back library on Steam. Of course, the JRPG is oddly well represented on Steam already, with many Nihon Falcom games like Ys and Trails in the Sky (explicable, since they've been computer game developers since the MSX and PC-8801), Square-Enix's various Final Fantasy PC ports, Sega's Valkyria Chronicles (where's Skies of Arcadia, dang it Sega) and those weird and vaguely porny Agarest: Generations of War/Hyperdimension Neptunia games. Even so, couldn't hurt to throw a bunch more classics from the PS1/PS2 era on there.
The company in question is Game Arts, and the games they're best known for are the Lunar and Grandia series. I'd love nothing more to see those two represented on Steam, especially Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete and Grandia II. The latter, it appears, is now an inevitability, so I figured I'd celebrate by looking at the charming little Indie puzzle-platformer they put up at the end of last year, converted from a 2013 Vita release.
Dokuro ("Skull") is a fairy tale-like game about a lowly henchman of a Dark Lord. His master kidnaps a beautiful princess one day, and since the henchman is treated like dirt and goes unnoticed by everyone, he decides to help the princess escape. The princess is a tad on the oblivious side, so she also tends to ignore the henchman as well as the castle's many, many traps. It's up to the hen- (you know, I'm just going to call him Dokuro. It fits) It's up to Dokuro to get her safely through his master's castle, stopping the other minions and henchmen along the way.
The point where this game gets cute is when Dokuro drinks a tonic that unleashes his heroic alter-ego, who appears to be a handsome if still partially skeletal prince who fights with a rapier and is generally more dashing and heroic than his little henchman form. Not only does the princess seem to acknowledge his presence in this form, but she can be carried past dangers and obstacles for as long as Dokuro can maintain the transformation. Both the prince and the henchman form have their uses - the henchman can fit through smaller gaps and has a double jump; the prince can permanently eliminate enemies, carry the princess and survive small pools of water - and the player needs to switch between them fairly regularly. In addition, the game introduces a magic piece of chalk that is needed for a handful of puzzles, though it seems to mostly take a backseat to the transformations. Dokuro's storybook aesthetic is already heavy on the chalk drawings, so it stands to reason that more chalk can summon whatever is drawn into being.
I've gotten through the first three worlds (actually different parts of the Dark Lord's castle) as of this blog. They're fairly short, ten stages apiece, but it looks the game has around 15 worlds in total which makes for 150 stages. It's not a bad number. I'm enjoying what I've played so far, though it can be a little finicky with the precision aspects and the princess is as dumb as a box of hammers. She is, at least, predictable with her behavior, which is all you can ask for in an AI companion with "helper" puzzle games like this or something like Mario & Wario or, uh, Rocko's Modern Life: Spunky's Dangerous Day (sorry, I'm still working on a bunch of weird SNES wiki pages).
What's truly disconcerting is how the game is getting panned on Steam because of technical reasons. Not even bugs, as far as I can tell, but a lack of graphics/screen options and control remapping and joystick support and the sort of things only PC gamers care about. It's the sad state of the industry we're in right now where UI and technology trumps artistic merit and imagination when critiquing a game. (The controls really are a bit iffy though, to be fair, with A and D for lateral movement, the comma and period buttons for jump/act and the mouse for using chalk. It's impossible to have enough fingers to be prepared for it all simultaneously.)
I could extend this Dokuro coverage to tomorrow, but I'm thinking I should move onto something else and keep playing Dokuro on the sly, like Life of Pixel and a handful of others so far. I'll keep you posted on developments, but it seems like a straightforward puzzle-platformer. Probably nothing too surprising ahead.