A Few Indie Games from LVL UP Expo

Hey folks, it’s been a while, huh? I’ve actually spent the fast few weeks preparing for a move and after a period of not having wifi, we’ve finally settled down. During that few week period, I got to attend LVL UP Expo, a local convention in town, because even though we were busy with moving, my sister got us tickets for Christmas so you can’t exactly let that go to waste.

There was a lot going on there. I spent an embarrassing amount of money. I have a new love for professional wrestling. And there was a small alley of local indie developers showing off their games. In accordance with the ideals of this blog, and because this place needs Content(TM), I decided to check some out.

Blood Moon University

Blood Moon University is a visual novel dating simulator made by Cosmic Squirrel, a small local developer. The set-up for the stand is pretty humble, with the demos being run on simple laptops and headphones. I also found the developer to be as humble as her stand and man, I just want to cheer her on.

The conceit of the game is that it’s a monster dating simulator, which I’m sure that a fair amount of you would be into. You play as a human (or humanoid creature) enrolling into a magical academy full of monsters. You can pick a man or woman character, though as far as I know, your choice does not affect who you can date. I played twice, mainly because the first time I met a woman character that had the same name as my sister which felt incredibly weird.

I think that the characters have a cute art style and I admire the unashamed usage of placeholder backgrounds, because that’s solidarity. However, I feel that the writing can lean more into magical weirdness. Like toward the end of the demo, you’re running from some hostile monster only to get bailed out by a skeleton named Billy, who’s just like, “yeah, it be like that.” That’s the kinda weirdness I like, I want Blood Moon University to lean into that. A lot of the other stuff feels more like “hey here’s standard dating visual novel stuff but the date is a weird creature.”

FX Unit Yuki: The Henshin Engine

FX Unit Yuki: The Henshin Engine is a game developed by Rover, Sarumaru, Simon Johansson and Justin Cheer. This is actually a continuation of a short webcomic Sarumaru did, and hey, a game spin-off to a webcomic is definitely a dream a lot of webcomics have/had.

The game is unusual in that it’s currently only available on two systems: the Turbografx/PC Engine and the Dreamcast, with the latter being up for exhibition. Physical copies of the game was being sold for $40, which seems a bit high. But then I went on the FAQ and it pointed out that games back then were roughly around $40 with regards to inflation and this is essentially a new game for that era. And you know what? I get that, I respect it. Besides, compared to the wiseass retro game stand trying to sell fucking Drakengard for $100, it’s pretty fair.

The game started out pretty rough, in that my character just dies in one hit, in spite of having a health bar. My sister and I took turns with it, got frustrated, and told the developer (not sure who it was, sorry, didn’t ask 😦 ) about it. As it turns out, somebody set the game’s difficulty to “impossible” as a prank. And honestly? Owned, it was a pretty good prank.

As an action platformer, it’s just kinda okay? There are two playable characters. The first character’s basic attack is a slash and a charged attack that’s a projectile. The second one reverses that, and gotta say, having a really basic sword slash as a charged attack feels really off.

The game plays smoothly, though compared to a lot of platformers I’ve played/seen, the tilesets could be better I say as I take sprite shortcuts in my own game. But overall, it’s just kinda okay. The developer on the scene actually told me that the game would come to Steam soon at a cheaper price, and honestly, yeah I’d be fine with putting money down on that. A Steam release would definitely make it more accessible to people that aren’t PC Engine enthusiasts.

Roji’s Room

Roji’s Room is a game made in RPG Maker MV by Spicy Roll Studios, where you play as a guy that lucid dreams himself into worlds where he fights or befriends creatures. It’s openly inspired by Undertale, though as the developer told me, he plans on differentiating the game with a thematic focus on “diving into the conscious mind, self love and self discovery.”

The demo has the titular character watching a tv show when he falls asleep in the middle of it, dreaming himself into the role of one of the characters. They’re out here investigating these bandits and your partner’s encouraging them to fight – but surely, there has to be another way.

You’re thrown into battle with skills accessible through “Lucid”, with Focus acting as a defend that also generates IMG for Lucid skills. For the game’s peaceful route, you’ll be constantly defending until you get access to Lucid skills that will soon let you create a connection with an enemy to end things peacefully. Enemies still fight while you do so, though unlike Undertale’s shmup styled dodging mechanics, you simply have to mash a series of buttons in a small period of time.

A kinda fear I had playing the demo is whether or not the gameplay would get stale. I reached out to the developer over Twitter about this and while he was not willing to say what the late game would be like, he intends to really flesh out the connecting/peaceful route for the sake of the game’s focus on mental health.

The overall presentation of Roji’s Room is pretty good! I really liked the art style, and though my picture doesn’t cover it, the enemies have these flourishes of simple bouncing animations and changing expressions that makes battle feel more lively. And as expected with something inspired by Undertale (or hope for Undertale inspired games), I found the writing to be goofy and endearing.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the rest of the games. We had time constraints, and well, if I was by myself, I would have focused more on looking at the games. My sister and I actually really wanted to check out Beyond the Black Door, which is your local taste of surreal horror, but it seemed to be the most popular game because there were always people hanging around. So, here’s a list of the other games and studios at this part of the expo if you’re looking for some more local and humble games:

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