PSA: Zero Time Dilemma is Out Today!

Zero Time Dilemma Title Pic

Hey everyone! It’s your friendly neighborhood Squackle writer here to mention that Zero Time Dilemma is out today for the 3DS and the Vita! For those in the know, I’m sure you have been eagerly awaiting the exciting conclusion of the series, and for the uninitiated, a primer is incoming.

Zero Time Dilemma is the third adventure game in the Zero Escape series. Starting with Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (mo’ problems), and succeeded by Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, the titles take place in a world of pseudoscience where several people are forced into demented escape the room games involving supernatural powers. One part character drama, another part science fiction tale and two parts Saw (the movie); the Zero Escape games centers on themes of trust, betrayal and the limits of the human conscience when put under severe duress. That’s not taken lightly either, you often have to make terrible decisions that cause the deaths of several people to get the full story and this newest entry in the franchise seems to continue this trend with a blood-soaked vengeance.

maxresdefaultFun for a whole dysfunctional family!~

Taking place in the near future, Zero Time Dilemma is set in a secret compound in the Nevada desert. The nine main characters of our story are originally sent there to simulate a manned-mission to Mars, but things go awry once they find out that the whole compound is booby trapped. Even worse, a mysterious figure known as Zero appears and announces the start of the dangerous Decision game. Claiming that the survival of our nine main characters, himself, and the several billion people on Earth hangs in the balance, he forces them through a game where the only way to escape is by gathering six passwords to open a door. The catch is that the only way to gather the passwords is for six of them to die; each password equaling one death. Pretty hardcore, right? I didn’t even mention the part where each participant wears a bracelet that carries a mind-altering toxin that causes them to forget what happened in the previous 90 minutes or that it’s conveniently set to inject them every 90 minutes. Beyond that, there is also an insane cult with a disease that threatens to kills billions. Though, don’t expect the twist and turns to simply stop there. This series has a tendency to lift the rug right out from under the player.

For fear of spoiling anything for those interested, I’ll stop here. Just know that there are three games in the series and each one is well worth your time. So whether you begin here, start at the beginning or jump in somewhere in the middle, you are bound to have a good time with the enthralling narrative these three games have spun. Overall though, I’m sure I’m not the only one happy about getting a conclusion to this wonderful series of games.

When not participating in deadly escape the room games as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Message Quest (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Royal Troupe || Overall: 7.5

Heroes come in all shapes and size, and that’s precisely the problem in Message Quest. Published and Developed by Royal Troupe, Message Quest takes a step back from the usual hero’s story and focuses more on the one that literally delivers the hero’s call rather than the hero receiving it. Set in a land about to fall to ruin, the laziest member of the Order of Heralds must deliver an important scroll to an even more important hero in an attempt to save Avarange. The problem is that Feste, our main character, would much rather laze about than bother finding a hero who could be just about anybody. Thus leaving the player as both his conscience and fourth-wall-breaking audience member, you must goad, manipulate and eventually encourage Feste to complete his noble quest. The player will find a point-and-click adventure along the way.

Who Done It
Unfortunately, the answer to who killed Mr. Boddy remains
to be found.

The first thing you’ll notice about Message Quest is the art style. Bright tones and dark outlines give it a style similar to any stained glass window you’d find at a church, mosque, synagogue or personal shrine to your favorite anime character (I don’t discriminate).  Furthermore, each character has distinguishing features that are often exaggerated to easily tell them apart and add to their charm along with their mannerisms and random sound effects they make. As for the other sounds you hear, the music is littered with melodies that remind you of renaissance fairs or classic fairytales. Thankfully, despite the short length of the game, there are enough arrangements to prevent any individual song from going stale.

 

Message Quest is pieced by equal parts story and gameplay. The story section consists of a charming, but not too intricate, tale about Feste overcoming his laziness and being introduced to the virtues of hard work and responsibility. Unfortunately, it didn’t convince me that a lifetime of laziness can change in a story that probably played out over the course of a few days. Especially for a person who I had to literally drag out of their home to start the quest. There is also an interesting dialogue tree mechanic where you pick what each character in the conversation says, though in implementation I didn’t find it all that necessary considering it never really changed the story’s outcome. Still, there is a bit of fun in the tale and some nice references to other fantasy and classic tales as well. The characters are also amusing, though a bit one-dimensional.

Responsibility Stool
We need more virtue based furniture. I suggest the honesty sofa,
the loyalty table and the chastity bed.

The gameplay was really average at best and mostly consists of an assortment of jigsaw puzzles, and the usual point-and-click affairs of clicking on and manipulating objects in the background to advance the story. It’s hardly even difficult to lose track of your objectives, with the game having a convenient scroll at the top of the screen that tells you exactly what you are looking for, plus another button that shows you which items are clickable. The truly interesting bit was the odd battle mechanic this game featured. It more of a mental combat meant to deplete an opponent’s will and pump up Feste’s own will with a funny assortment of actions like jogging, making a puppy-dog face and playing dead. Though fun, it didn’t happen nearly enough for me to truly enjoy it.

Battle System
“Don’t make me pee my pants, woman!”

Overall, Message Quest is a pretty decent game that doesn’t quite hit all of its high notes. It’s very pretty, has a decent story and so-so gameplay. It’s also pretty short with it taking me all of an hour and a half  to complete, even as I took the time to explore my every option. To make up for the length of the game, the price point is befittingly lower, coming in at just under three dollars on Steam. While Message Quest isn’t necessarily ground breaking or a shining example of its genre, I can see it being the perfect video game chaser to play in between longer games since there is still some enjoyment to be had.

When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Hand of Fate (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Defiant Development || Overall: 9.5/10

Hardware Used: Windows 8.1, i7, Nvidia GTX 780, Xbox360 Controller

New trends such as Kickstarter and Steam Early Access have made feasible genres and products that theoretically may not have been available otherwise. With investment on the front-end rather than the back-end, some game developers take this opportunity to fill in very specific niches which may (or may not) further garnish interest and investment. Hand of Fate is a product of this investment trend in the form of a deck-building card game featuring action-based combat.

The set up for the story is you are challenging a talkative mystic to a card game, sitting across from him at a table. You get thrown right into the game, moving your piece across a set path of cards on the table with a boss at the last level. As you make your way through the first couple of bosses, you slowly learn the flow and mechanics of the game and learn more about the Dealer himself and the origin of the card game. With further progression you assemble the pieces of the story that each card tells and how they relate either to your nameless character or the Dealer himself. Hand of Fate begins to feel more like a throwback to an old adventure game with a narrator as you start to settle into the gameplay.

As you progress through the board, you primarily get items, equipment, or encounter scenarios. How well you do dictates what gear you get and how easy the action-oriented encounters can be. While you will primarily be spending your time at the table, you will port into encounters to beat up enemies and, eventually, bosses via action gameplay. The best comparison I can make for these interludes is something like a grounded God of War. That doesn’t mean you can’t feel quite powerful depending on the gear you get, though.

These action encounters are really only one part of the greater picture, but they are very important to successfully complete as competently as possible — namely not losing health. The action gameplay takes a little bit to get used to, but is mostly satisfying. Normal swings with your weapon feel like they “snap” to one enemy and you don’t cleave other enemies who seem like they should get hit as well – this is counteracted by being able to quickly “switch” targets around and stun them with a shield (if equipped) or counter an enemy ability. The combat seems to be mostly based on your ability to counter and dodge attacks and when to use special abilities (if you have any) as there are no combos to perform. The combat doesn’t feel flat, but can feel a bit like spamming one button over and over — this can take the fun out of it if you prefer at least some sort of alternate attacks despite there being special abilities that are on long cooldowns. You can also stun with your shield and it is required to interrupt an enemy’s impending attack in certain cases. Sometimes you sort of fly at enemies that are a couple of steps away due to the way the “snapping” is designed, which can be a bit jarring but ends up helping you more than not.

Encounters include combat, mazes, and shops. The locales in the combat are a bit varied, but you’ll begin to notice you see the same ones pop up over and over which allows you to familiarize yourself with the maps, which inevitably helps you. Traps are also set on the maps which can hurt both you and your enemies, so you may have to strategize exactly where you can run and which direction to dodge to. Mazes use these traps (and other unique ones) to hurt you, the motivation being to get through with minimal injury and to the treasure at the end of the maze. Shops allow you to buy health, buffs (called blessings), food, equipment, and remove debuffs (called curses). Depending on your progression and when you stumble upon a shop, it can be a game changer.

Since the overall goal is to essentially prepare your character for the boss, doing terribly in one of the encounters could swing a good game into a bad one. As with other rogue-likes, death is permanent and you will lose the current progression of your run and have to start over if you end up failing. Any tokens you earn from cards will be yours to keep regardless of the outcome, which unlock more cards to play with.

The Dealer reveals (and you are shown) early on that there are twelve bosses to progress through. For me, it was pretty smooth sailing for the first five bosses, but the sixth boss I felt a very large difficulty jump. Where you notice this difficulty jump could potentially be different for you depending on how many cards (and which cards) you unlock, but you’ll begin to notice that chance takes a very big toll on your progression. Some cards have a 25% chance to succeed, while others require you to have two lucky 25% draws. Most of the chance games require you to choose between four cards, but other chance-oriented games involve actions you take in a given story scenario. Depending on if you memorize what card does what you can mitigate chances towards the desired outcome in a story scenario.

Rogue-like progression takes charge in unlocking more and more cards as you naturally play. As long as you accomplish a particular card’s challenge you’ll attain a token which rewards you more cards. These cards may or may not be able to unlock further cards, which adds to the amount of encounters and equipment you can acquire in the game. There will be cards that you’ll have to encounter multiple times before you get lucky or remember what didn’t work last time before you’re able to acquire the card’s token. This can get subtly frustrating if they are based on chance on top of choosing the correct prompts.

Graphics and sound are also boons to the overall experience. Character designs and animations work well with each other with a cartoony “flavor” to it. The more unique character designs come from the Lizardmen and Mages, while other characters in the game such as Thieves and Skeletons leave a bit to be desired in the style department, but serve their purpose fine in the end. The soundtrack is enjoyable and properly matches what is happening on the screen. The table has ambient music and little sound effects for every time you activate a card. I also experienced no noticeable frame rate drops or graphics issues during gameplay.

Hand of Fate is fun to play, but in the end what is it that actually tries to excite you to come back for more? The challenge is certainly there and despite being a bit frustrating at times, you do get a sense of accomplishment when you finally take a boss down. But what is really fun, unique, and even mysterious about the game itself is one thing: the Dealer.

The gameplay of Hand of Fate seems to become only a tool in learning about the character of the Dealer. It is almost as if it is a character study when he says little tidbits about himself or what the purpose of certain things are, such as the card game itself and who he has played against before. He also voices a very strong opinion about in-universe-specific problems such as fake fortune tellers and other strange outbursts. As you replay the game over and over you’ll notice that you are hearing him say a couple of things repeatedly but for the first four or five hours, almost everything is unique, and he will usually have a little blurb for each new card.

The Dealer’s fluid animation is interesting as he will occasionally play with his bracelet or make amusing gesticulations. What primarily sells the character is the voice acting, which is perfectly executed in the context of this game with the voice actor chosen. You also learn a little more about the Dealer himself from the set design. The slowly panning camera reveals what is on the table, and the halls where the game is taking place are able to be inspected a bit. The progression in the game itself seems to head toward a particular goal, but without taking wild guesses (or cheating and reading spoilers) it isn’t outright predictable.

Game options may feel a bit sparse. You can only choose between Story Mode and Endless Mode. Endless Mode allows you to play with all of the cards you’ve acquired so far, which allows you to grind out locked cards. Endless Mode diverts from Story Mode’s rules in that every level you progress you draw a bad card which can be a Curse or something less impactful like loss of gold or health. The point of this mode would technically be Leaderboards, but I was using it to grind out some cards to unlock since I was having a lot of trouble with the sixth boss (and finally beat it before writing this review).

Also related to game options is a curious lack of character customization for the avatar you use in the encounters. It would be one thing if the avatar you play as were characterized, but since he is seemingly vacuous, it feels like something is missing in that regard. It doesn’t take anything away from the gameplay, really, but if they were at least somewhat randomized each time as far as the face/skin tone went it wouldn’t feel as large of an oversight – I’m just left wondering why the avatar you play as looks like that and what his purpose is. Part of the mystery, to me, is whether or not the Dealer actually sees “you” or the “avatar guy” sitting across the table from him.

Being that Hand of Fate has been available via Early Access, it has seen many changes: balance, UI, and otherwise.  There are also plans for DLC, such as extra cards which would expand the gameplay down the line.  It will be interesting to see just how much gets added by way of DLC and what impact it has on the game as more additions are made.

Hand of Fate is a very enjoyable game and a unique experience. Pushing on and completing the game, as well as unlocking all of the cards, can prove to be a time-intensive and challenging endeavor, but with hardly any harsh criticisms to be had about the game it isn’t a particularly daunting proposition. Hand of Fate is available for PC, PS4-PSN, and XBone-Live — console versions are available for download at 4 PM.

A reviewable copy of Hand of Fate was provided to Squackle.

 

Long Live the Queen (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Hanako Games || Overall: 8.0

Welcome Lords and Ladies, gentlemen and women of esteem to the tale of Princess Elodie. A young girl caught betwixt her royal appointment as upcoming queen and the many dangers that the title holds. Watch her take classes on the many facets of a proper ruler and matriarch. Watch her weave her way through the tribulations of both political intrigue and royal scandal. Watch her conquer both the battlefield and the ballroom with her might and refinement. And watch her die… and die… and die again…

Cheerful

Don’t get too attached, her many deaths will be the result
of your bad decisions.

 Okay, I had my fun.

 

Long Live the Queen is a visual novel of political intrigue, war and death all dressed up in a pretty, pretty pink ribbon for your playing pleasure. The game casts you in the role of young princess Elodie, fresh from the sudden and unexplained death of her mother; this understandably depressed young lady is now tasked with running the country until her proper coronation on her fifteenth birthday. You, on the other hand, are in charge of keeping her alive by means of a point and click adventure where you will raise up skills to complete tasks through menu commands. You will fail.

 

At its core, Long Live the Queen is a literal numbers game. You have a number of weeks until Elodie’s coronation, attempts on her life occur on certain numbered weeks, and you then avoid them by having leveled the necessary skills to survive to a certain number. Long Live the Queen’s success in this formula is in how fluidly this all comes together. The game does the number crunching for you while clearly explaining all in-game mechanics.

 

If described in one word, the “game play” in Long Live the Queen is “light.” A typical in-game week consist of first sending Elodie out to learn two skills in the form of classes, and ends with having her participate in some sort of event during the weekend. Both skills she has focused on are raised by a base of two points per day and, with no bonuses, results in 10 points for the week. This is further diversified by her mood; every weekend you are asked to have Elodie participate in some sort of activity that affects her mood and, in turn, her mood affects how well she does in her studies. If done correctly, you could gain a bonus that is about three times the usual rate. If done incorrectly, you could succumb to a penalty that results in an effective score of zero points for the whole week.

Skills

The skills range somewhere between “a lot” to a “crap load.”

Now while simple enough in execution, to make the most out of your skills and moods requires a careful point and click balancing act. First off, the skills are quite numerous and the game doesn’t really allow for your princess to train evenly in all fields. More often than not, you will find that making Elodie a jack-of-all-trades will lead to an earlier demise than min-maxing (minimizing the effect of undesired skills and maximizing the effect of desired ones). This can get particularly difficult when you find out that each skill has two associated skills that must be raised over 25 points before the skill you want can be raised over 50 points. Overall, you’ll find that a well-rounded princess usually equals a hated, useless and dead one.

 

Moods, to the same extent, also require their own special balancing act to make the most out of them. Each mood is set at one end of an eleven point scale and at the opposite end of that scale is a mood that is contradictory to it. For example, in this game, you can’t be angry if you are afraid, you can’t be cheerful if you are depressed, and you can’t be lonely if you are pressured. How much each of those makes sense is up to you. So whenever a certain activity gives you points in one mood, it also detracts points from its opposite mood. This will often have you subject your princess to a constant state of manic depression as you go from one end of each mood scale to the other in search of the right mood bonus to complement the skills you desire. Though, even with perfect mastery of both skills and moods, it doesn’t mean your princess will make it out alive.

 PassiveAggressive

 It’s not like I think that the combination of angry and afraid is being
passive-aggressive, but it could make sense, man…
Source

Elodie is going to die… she’s going to die a lot… but that is also part of the fun of Long Live the Queen. Even when you believe you have a perfect set of skills and moods to take your little monarch from princess to queen, the game has no problem throwing a surprise curveball at you and killing Elodie off. The process, while frustrating, often times fills you with a renewed sense of determination as you start fresh and tweak her skills to overcome that particular obstacle and then find another one to have you repeat the whole process. Even when you do eventually manage to make Elodie a queen, you can find yourself eagerly replaying the game to find out what other sets of skills can make her a queen and not a cadaver. Altogether, Elodie’s constant deaths give a sort of morbid charm to the game.

SwordBlood
ArrowBlown_up

Never before has brutal death been more adorable.

Visually, the game takes many cues from the art styles found in most shoujo (girl) comics in Japan, which makes sense since this game is targeted towards girls but with a wider audience in mind (justifying my manhood: done). The girls are cute and the boys are just as pretty. My only problem is that despite the game fitting the visual novel category, it seems far more inclined to just describe the story rather than illustrate it. The game could do well to provide more illustrations during the more important points of the story than just a portrait of a face and some text next to it. Though, when illustrated, the pictures are a treat to see.

 

In the audio department, the piano arrangements that accompany the story give it a fairy tale ambiance, as well as, just being pleasant on the ears to hear. It does well to highlight the sad, cheerful, and action scenes throughout the novel. In contrast, the sound effects are virtually non-existent. Which is a shame, since a well placed clang of steel or cheering crowd could have picked up the slack where the visuals did not.

 

There isn’t really much to say about the interface. To its benefit, everything is easy to get to, clearly explained and hardly confusing. You point. You click. You get on with Elodie’s life (or death).

 

The narrative does a good job at juxtaposing the pretty princess theme with the darker tones of rulership. One minute Elodie could be enjoying a grand ball, and the next she could be at the end of an assassin’s blade. Though, in that regard, it does exactly what the game promises; it takes you through the “typical” year of someone destined to be queen. Where the narrative thrives is in the fact that, despite one scene near the end, it is exactly what you make of it. Often times, you will even find that events from much earlier have great impact on events found later on in the story. Though, whether princess Elodie makes the castle her gilded cage to protect her from the world’s troubles, becomes a war mongering tyrant, or goes on an adventure to vanquish fantastical beast is completely based on the skills she takes and choices you make.

 Military Elodie

…or you could play her like I did. As a warlord skilled in both decoration and public speaking that I imagine
screams, “I AM THE PRETTIEST!” after every victory to the cheers of a loving crowd

 

and so ends our tale of princess Elodie. A tale, while lacking both in effects of visual and of sound, can be an intriguing piece that is delightfully frustrating and wonderfully addicting to come back to. To all the Lord and Ladies in the audience, I bid you “Adieu.”

When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Fran Bow (PC) Demo Preview

Currently in a crowdfunding campaign at IndieGoGo.com.

Developer: Killmonday

Overview:

Children. Strange happenings. Dirty walls. Psychotic medications. These are just some of the things I can’t get grandma to shut up about. These elements are also present in this great preview for an upcoming horror-themed point and click adventure. Fran Bow shares its name with the lead protagonist (Fran Bow, if you’re paying attention).

Story:

Fran Bow is a ten year old, saucer-eyed girl in the Bow family that seems to have trouble making friends. She receives a black cat from her parents and dubs it “Mr. Midnight.” She remarks that the cat is her only friend, although she quite likes her aunt Grace as well.

We all know that in any good story, if one good thing happens, five bad things have to occur right after. Fran Bow finds this out as she comes across her murdered parents one tragic night. This understandably sends her running into the night in a panic. She finds solace only in Mr. Midnight, and eventually blacks out from the traumatic event.

An untold amount of time passes, and we find poor Fran in a psychiatric evaluation center, surrounded by adults that either don’t believe her story, or don’t care. She is given a new medication that sends her into a bizarro world where there is nothing but death and misery every time she takes it.

She knows that her aunt Grace would take good care of her, but no one will let her leave. Can she find a way out? Will she find Mr. Midnight and aunt Grace? Does she need prescription eye drops to see properly?

Graphics:

The characters and setting are very stylized and detailed. Animations are on the basic side but I believe this was done for artistic purposes. Nothing looks out of place, and the game maintains a great visual theme throughout the demo. Little touches like the grainy filter covering the screen help to immerse the player further into the story. The characters are appropriately disturbed looking and mesh well with the creepy atmosphere.

Sound:

All music and sound effects are appropriate for the situation, which is really all I ask for in a game. Still, it would’ve been nice to have a few more sounds, such as a little jingle when you played with a toy.

Gameplay:

Standard point and click adventure mechanics, which you’d expect any game in this genre to have. You click on items to examine or take them, and use things you find to try to escape the asylum. Fran’s a very clever girl, so she can combine different objects together through her inventory menu and use them to reach her goals.

Fran also has a bit of a troubled mind. She carries around a jar of the psychotropic pills that the doctor didn’t want her to have anymore. If you decide to pop one, the room you’re in is transformed into some horrible alternate reality filled with dead bodies, evil spirits, and bloody messages on walls that sometimes hint at what you should do next.

There are several fun, just-challenging-enough puzzles to satisfy anyone looking to use their brain. These can vary from finding a key, to combing the right items together to progress the story.

Crappiest Part:

The fact that this is only a demo and the full version isn’t funded yet! That’s a not-very-subtle way of me telling you to go pledge on their campaign!

Overall:

Aside from a few grammar and spelling mistakes here and there due to the company not speaking English as their first language, Fran Bow oozes professionalism (and lots of other stuff if you take your pills). The demo is a good length, being just long enough to make you want the full game. I suggest anyone interested in well-done adventure games, or just games with a good story, to head over to their IndieGoGo page and throw down what you can to help make this great game happen.

Fran Bow IndieGoGo Crowdfunding Campaign