A Few Hours with Visual Novel Maker


The past weekend, Degica, the company that publishes the RPG Maker engine line, had a free period where you could try RPG Maker MV and their recent in-house release, Visual Novel Maker. I’ve been curious about Visual Novel Maker ever since I heard of it. I don’t have much experience in visual novels. I played around with Ren’py for a bit and made something, but I’m no expert in it. However, Visual Novel Maker, like the RPG Maker line, promises an accessible game making experience, so, I thought that I should check it out.

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Preview: Patchman vs Blue Squares

Enkian Games wasn’t the only developer that emailed me about checking out their game. I also got an email from Naturally Intelligent Inc, who talked about the game they got up on Kickstarter and I thought, “sure, let’s check this out.”

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Patchman vs. Blue Squares is the upcoming second game of a series called Don’t Be Patchman. You play as Patchman, but, you also don’t want to. I don’t know the specifics, but apparently Patchman caused the drone-filled dystopia tormenting people (called “Sheeple”), so that’s a pretty good reason why he doesn’t want to be him. But, I guess Patchman’s taking responsibility to fix the mess that he apparently made. The plot seems to be going in the direction of fighting corporate entities and if that idea’s approached sincerely, I’m all for that.

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The demo consists of one level, running around a junkyard on the outskirts of some facility to help a drifter. While there’s platforming elements, Patchman’s more of an adventure/stealth game. From the trailer, you can do stuff like putting on disguises to fool drones, but it doesn’t show up here. It’s mainly just dodging around and running like hell. The gameplay is just sorta alright to me. I’m not exactly wowed, but everything works fine. Gotta say though, isometric platforming is usually hell for me, but it works out fine in this game, so props for that.

Personally, the strongest aspect of the game is the art style. The character designs themselves are simple, but their pixel work is pretty detailed. On Patchman’s design, him being mostly purple helps him stand against the environment, which I appreciate. I also think the environments are done well and I especially love how dirty and decrepit the junkyard is. There’s also a lot of minor details to the game that I appreciate. For instance, Patchman’s facial expression shifts for a bit after a cutscene, like running and crying in despair after seeing a picture of the new villain to fight before eventually collecting himself. There’s a whole lot of debris in the junkyard that adds detail, with a lot of it being capable of being kicked around for some interactivity. Stand near one of those blue square posters for long enough and Patchman rips it off the wall and crumples it into another object to kick around. I really love these kinds of details, it adds more life to the game.

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Development of Patchman vs Blue Squares is being funded on Kickstarter and has 26 days to go, as of this writing. Personally, I feel that the demo needs to be longer. Looking at the trailer and some of the promotional stuff for the first game, there’s a whole lot of mechanics beyond what’s shown in the demo and if that stuff’s going to carry into the new game, I feel that Kickstarter backers should have a taste of some of that. I like the look of the game, but I don’t think the demo is a sufficient taste, if that makes sense.

All Our Asias

I’m going to be taking a break from my New Year’s Resolution queue and yelling about RPG Maker games this week. In fact, instead of playing oldish games like usual, I’m gonna get with the times and ramble about another recent release.

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All Our Asias is a narrative game by Sean Han Tani, most known for his work on Anodyne and Even the Ocean (which I previously wrote about) with Joni Kittaka. It’s a story of a young man named Yuito that wants to learn about his estranged, dying father. To know who he is, Yuito signs up to go into his father’s Memory World, traveling through a dreamy visualization of his past and learning about the things he got involved with.

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Yume Nikki – Dream Diary –

The long awaited day for Yume Nikki fans has finally come. After a decade of inactivity on the front of official works, an official reimagining of the cult classic dream exploration game was announced. It finally released Feb. 22 on Steam and as a fan of the game since middle school, I pretty much bought the game as soon as it was available.

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Yume Nikki – Dream Diary – is developed by the Kadokawa Corporation, which is largely known for developing the RPG Maker engines that helped birth the original Yume Nikki to begin with. The original developer, Kikiyama, reportedly gave input on the project. There’s conspiracy theories that Kadokawa just made the game on their own since Kikiyama is anonymous and chooses to stay that way, but that’s nonsense, considering the fact that Kikiyama’s own website updated with the new logo (it’s the first link under the first red text on the left). I don’t know, maybe next people will claim that the site was hacked on Kadokawa’s behalf.

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Midnight Animal – The History and Remnants

The Hotline Miami series may be over, but, like many game franchises, fans try to keep its spirit alive with their own efforts. The games have had mods and the second game ended up getting an official level editor more than a year after release, bringing more content into this realm of ultraviolence. However, the one mod that garnered the most attention – and the most controversy – is Midnight Animal.

In late 2015, Midnight Animal was announced by Spencer Yan, promising a follow up to the Hotline Miami series. It aimed to be a total conversion mod of the first game, with the blessings of Dennation to proceed.

Screenshots from Steam
Taken from Midnight Animal’s still-intact Mod DB page

The original premise of Midnight Animal took place after the events of the second game, where the American nationalist group, Fifty Blessings, now rules. You were to play as an operator named John, taking up contract killings in the name of Fifty Blessings before choosing to betray them.

I kinda wish that the original announcement trailer was still around to put up. I found the music that was used for it though and I think it’s pretty sweet.

Midnight Animal ended up going on Steam and was successfully greenlit March 2016. Initially, the game was promised to be released on August 18th. However, in June, Midnight Animal was announced to go on indefinite delay. While the announcement post is gone, reactions to it indicated that Yan was having some life problems. The most vocal reactions to this were compassionate and understanding, which is a contrast to later reactions down the road.

Yan announced that development started back up in August of that year. The game took a bit of a shift at this point, with Midnight Animal getting disconnected from the Fifty Blessings bad future. However, further changes were down the road.

Now, what happens from this point is a bit fuzzy. The game’s official wordpress blog has been privatized, the Steam page for the game has been deleted and pretty much most of the promotional material outside of the Mod DB page is gone. All further information on the game’s history is picked from second hand accounts.

And so:

Screenshot taken from “How “Midnight Animal” Became “Midnight Anime”” by Karma Chameleon

On Feb. 13 2017, Midnight Animal‘s Steam Store page updated, presenting a new vision that nobody expected. The game was now rebranded as Midnight Animal: A Story of Love and Forgetting. Instead of being advertised as a top-down action game, it was then referred to as a “top-down roleplaying game with life simulation and visual novel elements, heavily influenced by the Persona series.” The original gameplay is still there, but it’s second fiddle to all the new stuff.

Needless to say, plenty of people got really upset. The negative reactions, at best, were stuff along the lines of “I hate this, but it’s his decision.” At worst, there was just flat-out anger. Probably my favorite response that I saw was a guy complaining that he wanted to play as a hypermasculine guy and not androgynous anime boys while having a moe anime girl avatar. But yeah, the general response to Midnight Animal‘s shift was mainly negative.

The game kept getting worked on. A video for a new build of the game showed up, showing the core Hotline Miami experience. However, on Sept. 11, Spencer ended up announcing that Midnight Animal was canceled, the frustrations of working on the game and the negativity getting to be too much.

There’s two big problems with the Midnight Animal debacle. One of them was that it was hoisted up on a high pedestal, by Yan and Hotline Miami fans. The initial trailer and follow up information created a whole lot of expectations, so deviations from those expectations were pretty much doomed to have negative reaction. Another lesson in getting hyped about games.

The other problem, though, was communication, which is a genuine problem on Yan’s end. From what I can tell, Midnight Animal‘s shift was completely unexpected. I mean, I’m sure that people would have been mad anyway, but the blowback might have been lessened if it it wasn’t so sudden. Also, consider that Spencer Yan has a Patreon and that a lot of people likely became Patrons because of the original Midnight Animal vision. If anyone had a right to know about this shift beforehand, it’d definitely be the Patrons, and as far as I know, that wasn’t the case.

What ended up taking Midnight Animal’s place? In the cancellation announcement, Spencer also announced a new project. To carry on the narrative themes that he was hoping to convey with his vision of Midnight Animal, he announced the Exegesis of John the Martyr. “In many ways, it’s more of a literary event than a ludic one” – just call it a visual novel, man.

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Nov. 5, 2017, Yan published the prologue episode of The Exegesis of John the Martyr, Home Sweet Hole. The Fifty Blessings agent, John, is now a former agent of a vague Empire in a cyberpunk-ish setting. He was apparently one of the best at whatever the hell he did, but after committing some crime that isn’t elaborated on, he spent years in a drugged-up isolation. Suddenly, the Empress wants him back and he finds himself heading back home.

The presentation of Exegesis is unique in that it’s essentially a visual novel, but Hotline Miami‘s top-down style is used to move around and interact with the world. This presentation allows the game to put detail in the surrounding setting for the player to engage with. There isn’t a lot of interaction, as John will just give exposition over stuff you mouse over, but it’s still an interesting way to present this stuff.

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The story is initially kinda slow, with John getting picked up from the airport by an imperial agent named Thomas. They have a car ride full of ramblings with the most eventful takeaway being John’s sort-of-exile. I feel that the story starts picking up when they reach a service station, where you see the results of a failed robbery turned massacre. There’s a sense of mystery here and it kinda encourages trying to understand Exegesis‘ setting to get a sense of what’s going on. I’ll also say that this sequence is my favorite part of the game. Thomas parks outside and you hear faint music in the background and this slow music gets louder as you enter the station. The music undercuts the massacre that happened there, giving an eerily calm mood to the scene as the robot worker cheerfully addresses John’s concerns. It gives off this feeling of, “yep, just another day on this bitch of an Earth.”

My main issue with Exegesis is that its writing feels really jargony. It feels like characters say more words than necessary to get their point across and sometimes it just felt like a cyberpunk version of those stuffy 19th century fiction stories that love to ramble a lot to feel smart. A lot of story and setting concepts are thrown at you, but a lot of it still feels vague, enough to the point that it’s hard to really care. Even after the station sequence, when I feel that the game eases up a bit, my reaction to some of the stuff is just “okay, yeah, sure.”

I’ll be honest, I’m not really feeling Exegesis. I’m not saying this as a Hotline Miami fan, but I’m saying this as somebody that likes visual novels and doesn’t get all reactionary about anime. The presentation is interesting, but I wish that there was a clearer focus to the story. I’m hoping that the second episode for this improves in this regard and, also, hopefully gives a better idea on what the deal is with John, because I’m at least willing to give it another go.

The Exegesis uses Hotline Miami’s presentation, but it clearly isn’t Hotline. On Nov. 27, however, something that was more the speed of a normal Hotline Miami fan was published on itch.io: The Document of Midnight Animal.

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The Document of Midnight Animal is a postmortem of what could have been. Its gameplay is pretty much what was seen in the above video but touched up a bit, minus the cutscenes. Document contains four levels as well as a room where you can test a bunch of weapons, including some stuff that doesn’t show up in the game proper.

The action of the game feels very punchy. Screenshakes and light effects accentuate gunshots to an extent that it feels flashier than the original games, while visual effects accompany melee strikes. As your combo builds up, the screen gets fuzzier, culminating in a television snow effect. While I like the effects, I feel that it needs to be toned down a bit because it could get to the point of being distracting; at the very least, there should be an option to lower screenshake. Scores count up in the corner along with text declaring your method of violence, but instead of being in flashy colors and the like, it’s blocky white text. The aesthetics feel very different from the original games. Whereas Hotline Miami‘s violence comes off as flashy and campy, Document‘s brand of violence is grittier yet more professional. If I had to make comparisons, it feels like Hitman‘s tone crossed into Hotline Miami‘s brand of stuff.

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Document is also like. Strangely anime. Your character gets a flash step – not a combat roll, he’s just straight up teleporting a few feet ahead. Rack up 20 kills and your character just suddenly gains a sword, which the warehouse refers to as a “psychic weapons,” so I guess he just materializes it. It does wild, over-exaggerated , shadowy swings. The art in the pause, game over and victory screens is also animesque instead of being something along the lines of the crude facial portraits in the original games. I’m kinda mixed on it, because while I think it clashes with the game’s other aesthetics a bit, it doesn’t ruin the tone for me. I’m not too mad about the anime sword, but also, I don’t want the anime sword to replace my perfectly good gun.

Now, what does ruin the game’s tone for me is the music. Instead of the typical synthwave stuff or high energy music, it’s a whole bunch of stuff that… isn’t that. A fellow on the Hotline Miami subreddit, FreedomFallout, compiled the music in a playlist and boy, is it a weird assortment. One song is a cheerful Billy Ocean song while you also got some anime themes mixed in (and honestly, ones that aren’t very good). The music is also randomized when you enter a level, so the music is effectively just background music instead of music to set the scene, if that makes sense.

I liked the gameplay of Document, but I found it to be somewhat buggy. I don’t know whether the flash step move is intended to go through walls or not, but either way, it works really inconsistently. Enemies can also kill each other by accident and while realistic, I also doubt that this was intended.

…And those are the successors of the original Midnight Animal project. I liked the style Exegesis is going for, but it didn’t quite hook me in yet. Document is also a very solid foundation for a Hotline Miami mod and while there isn’t a lot of content to play around with, I still think it’s enjoyable.

Spencer Yan is still working on Exegesis and Document, at the time of writing. He’s actually promised an update to the latter sometime in February, so my impressions on it might be outdated, depending on when you read this. All this isn’t the original vision he proposed years ago, but I welcome his efforts and hope that he continues to work without further hassling.

Artifact Adventure

My New Year’s resolution was to clear through my backlog of games, and I’ve been making good on that so far. Helen’s Mysterious Castle, Space Moth DX and Monolith were part of that list and I consider them cleared. And so, I continue moving on through that backlog with Artifact Adventure.

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Artifact Adventure is an RPG Maker game made by Bluffman, published by your friends at Playism. A nefarious Swamp King is threatening the world and so the king calls on a bunch of heroes to deal with him! …And that’s pretty much the main plot.

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I talk about RPG Maker games a lot on this blog and I’ve spent a lot of personal time on those, but the other type of game I’ve spent lots of time on are roguelikes. More specifically, those twin-stick roguelike shooters. Well, you’d probably call them “roguelites,” but man, I’m not getting into that terminology argument.

There’s an addictive appeal to these games and their action means that they don’t have the slowness of a lot more traditional roguelikes. According to my Steam, I’ve spent almost 300 hours on Nuclear Throne, probably 50 on Enter the Gungeon (between Steam and PS4) and 200 on The Binding of Isaac; there’s a lot of things about the latter that frustrate me, but the fact that I ended up spending so much time on that anyway is a testament to how much I get into these games.

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So, it’s no surprise that I picked up Monolith, which is also a twin-stick roguelike; more specifically, it’s the dungeon crawling type where you advance room to room. The game is by Team D-13, who describes themselves as a trio of roguelike and shoot em’ up appreciators, their love of the genres uniting into this game.

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160+ Hours with Persona 5 Later…

All pictures taken from my twitters

So, I finally finished Persona 5 after 160+ hours. Beat new game plus, beat the bonus boss, got that shiny platinum trophy, etc. I thought that to celebrate, I should write about it.

I know that this is probably off-brand for this blog and is probably the most mainstream thing I’ve written about on here. However, with the absurd amount of time I’ve spent on it, I feel that it’s something I should blog about and, sometimes, just hollering on Twitter isn’t enough.

This is pretty much a spoiler article. If you’re concerned about spoilers, please head on and do something else with your time. Maybe finish Persona 5 yourself and form your own thoughts on it.

All pictures in this article are assorted camera photos I took while playing the game. Pretty cool that Atlus still isn’t letting anyone take direct PS4 screenshots even though this game’s been out for a year.

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Yume Nikki 3D

Yume Nikki – Dream Diary- was announced, rebooting the cult classic into a 3D horror game set to come out in February. Yume Nikki‘s something that’s important to me, which you can see given how often I mention the game on here. It’s been with me since middle school and it was one of the first indie games I’ve ever played, along with Cave Story, and they were a gateway for me into this whole scene. As somebody invested in Yume Nikki and its community, I’m excited to see Yume Nikki coming out for a bigger audience in a new way.

Now, the upcoming game isn’t the first time its main character Madotsuki ran around on a 3D plane. Within Yume Nikki’s vibrant fangame community, there was an attempt to make a 3D fangame.

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Yume Nikki 3D is by Zykoveddy, who published the game sometime in 2014. Like the game it’s based off of, you explore Madotsuki’s dreams – but now in 3D! Along with recreations of areas from the original game, there’s a whole bunch of new areas. To beat the game, you’d have to seek out Madotsuki’s effects (items that let her change appearance and sometimes gives abilities) along with keys that were added to the game.

3D really adds to Yume Nikki‘s original exploration. There’s this greater sense of scale that 3D can grant that 2D space cannot, Madotsuki a tiny entity in her strange dream worlds. I think this sense of scale is best appreciated in the game’s original tower area. As you walk on the tower’s walkways, you can look up and down and you can see the tower stretch on into forever, its expressed scale making the area feel more of a labyrinth than it already is.

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Being a 3D game, draw distance also becomes a factor that the creator plays with as an aesthetic. You can see everything in some areas plain as day, while others don’t have objects come into view until you get close enough, usually in areas that’s meant to be more unnerving. It’s sort of how like Silent Hill’s fog was there to limit draw distance and wound up being part of the game’s horror atmosphere.

The areas that are recreations are pretty faithful while the game’s original areas are generally good. Some of these areas have different moods than what Yume Nikki tries to convey, like the black-and-white area feeling playful compared to the usual loneliness and unease. However, I think variety is good. It’s a dream world and dreams aren’t 100% nightmares, which I feel is something that a lot of Yume Nikki fangames don’t get.

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Now, an addition to the game that I kinda don’t like are the platforming aspects. Yume Nikki 3D grants Madotsuki the ability to jump and adds a few platforming segments to her dreamscape. My thing with that though is that they feel out of place for the game. I wouldn’t mind platforming as a thing to facilitate exploration, but when you do actually have to platform, it’s just a sudden obstacle course that doesn’t go with the game’s flow. It felt like the creator felt obligated to put these sections and I felt that they were sort of unnecessary. Doesn’t help that you can’t jump while you’re using the bicycle effect, and since that speeds up your walking speed, why wouldn’t you be using it?

Speaking of unnecessary, the keys. You have to get all three keys to gain access to a doorway. What’s past the door? Why, another locked door. To get past this one, you need to have all the effects. But if that’s the case… why even have the keys in the game to begin with? You collect them the same way as the effects, so why not simplify things and just have the effects or make the keys into more additional cosmetic effects? Like the platforming elements, it’s not bad, but unnecessary.

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A later update to Yume Nikki 3D introduced the “Isolated” DLC. Taking place after that game, Isolated is a short linear romp in… wherever the hell Madotsuki ended up in.

Gotta be honest, it’s not as enjoyable as the main attraction, considering that you’re going from an exploration game to something where you’re railroaded. The original areas crafted for this DLC also doesn’t feel as strong or captivating as the stuff in the main game. The Isolated DLC sort of looks like the creator adding his own canon to the fangame and while I appreciate the ideas, the execution felt lackluster.

So, Yume Nikki 3D‘s an interesting take on Yume Nikki. It’s certainly got original ideas mixed in, and while I think a lot of it’s good, there’s some ideas that are extraneous that sorta drags the experience down a bit, on top of having a weak follow up. You know how in Cutthroat Kitchen where the chef nails the main dish perfectly but adds something extra for no good reason and gets kicked because of it? That’s what I feel about extraneous stuff.

Still though, it’s an interesting fangame and it takes around half an hour to play through. If you’re a Yume Nikki fan waiting around for that fancy new game to show up, maybe check this out while you wait.