I have very definite tastes when it comes to pop culture. I like or dislike something almost immediately, and it’s very rare when I change my mind. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing, but I know it’s part of my personality. In fact, if I have a predisposition not to like something (such as Pulp Fiction or Titanic), there’s no hope of changing my mind. I saw both of them knowing full well that I would hate them, and I did. Oh, how I hated them.
Anyhoo, when I play a game, I can usually tell within five minutes whether I’ll like it or not*. Sometimes, if I think I may be unnecessarily harsh, I’ll give it more time, but it’s very rare when I change my mind. As a related side note, I like my beverages either burning hot or ice cold. I like to literally burn my tongue when I drink tea, for example. I don’t know why, but I do. It’s the same way with popular culture. When I consume a piece of it, I either love it or hate it. It’s very rare when I finish, say a novel and am meh about it. With video games, I will play up to an hour and then quit if it doesn’t grab me. Or, I won’t even start one that I know I will hate such as Collar Duty.**
This year, there are two games I played that while I wasn’t grabbed by them or thought they were the most amazing games I’d ever played, they had something there that made me like them more than not, but for very different reasons. I can’t say they were among the top games I played in the past year, but they are definitely worth a mention.
The game that should be grateful that they were not sued by Iron Chef
Battle Chef Brigade
I was drawn to this game, developed by Trinket Studios and published by Adult Swim Games, for a very silly reason–the protagonist was an Asian woman named Mina Han. I mean, how could I not want to play her given that she was me in cartoon form! Not really as she’s in her early twenties, slim, with short hair, and loves to sleep, but the name, gender, and Asian part were enough for me to buy it. It didn’t hurt that it was a mashup of a monster hunting game (lite)/fighting game (lite) and a cooking sim/Match-3 and more.
The graphics are a mixed bag. The characters look hand-drawn, and the game is bright and colorful, but some of the environments and monsters are not as pleasing to the eye. Each character is distinct, and the story is fun if not silly. The basic gist is that Mina is a simple country girl who works for the family restaurant. Part of that is killing monsters in the backyard for their parts as ingredients in the family recipes. There is a something called the Battle Chef Brigade competition in which all the best fighting chefs in the world gather to compete against each other. Through some trickery, Mina makes it into the competition.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this game up until the point where you start having to do different dishes for different judges. All of the gameplay is frenetic which is in sharp contrast to the leisurely pace of the rest of the game. The ramp up is too much for me and my aged reflexes, however, and I had to give up the game before I finished it. I will add that the turn towards the paranormal didn’t jibe with the rest of the game, either. I would have been fine with the game sticking to the competition and not throwing in that vampires (or vampire-like creatures, can’t quite remember) were infecting the monsters.
Additionally, I have a hard time believing that they didn’t get sued by Iron Chef. It’s not just the idea of a battle in the kitchen because that’s been done often enough, but it’s that they follow the format of the Iron Chef pretty closely. There’s the emcee who’s wacky and over the top, and they have a catch phrase that is in French. It’s not as catchy as the Iron Chef one, but it’s similar. In addition, in the trailer itself which you can see above, the narrator says, “Whose food will reign supreme?” Iron Chef: “Whose cuisine reigns supreme?” That’s plagarism, no matter that they changed a couple words.
Still. All in all, it’s an addictive game that I would have kept playing if it didn’t rocket beyond my ken. It has a lot of heart, and I was rooting for Mina all the way. I definitely can recommend it if you like monster hunting games/fighting games/Match-3 games/cooking sims all rolled up into one.
A great idea that lost something in execution
Doki Doki Literature Club
Ed Note: This is a game that is better played without knowing anything about it. I will say it’s a dark commentary on Japanese dating sims. If that sounds like it might be up your alley, stop reading right now.
As I mentioned in my last game awards post, I do not like dating sims. I especially do not like Japanese dating sims because of how virulently sexist they are. You’re a dude who is trying to date several different girls (and I use ‘girls’ deliberately because they look like they’re twelve, but with boobs, ass, etc. It’s a creepy mix of cute and sexy, and it sexualizes young girs), and you do it by trying to answer the questions in the ways best suited to each individual girl. It’s very transactional, and it’s creepy as fuck. Add to that the whole waifu bullshit, and yeah, it’s a genre I avoid like the plague.
However, I heard tell of this game and the claim that it was not like other Japanese dating sims. Most of the reviewers were coy in talking about it, insisting that you had to experience it for yourself. They said it was really powerful and made them think in a way other games had not. Plus, it was free, so I decided to give it a whirl. I was between games (again), and it wasn’t a time-consuming game. Might as well.
Ed. Note: Massive spoilers ahead. I mean MASSIVE.
It starts with a disclaimer that you have to sign saying it deals with serious issues. That was intriguing and enough to make me put my doubts on the back-burner. I have to say, though, the first hour is pure torture because it mimics other Japanese dating sims. It starts with the main character talking to his neighbor, Sayori. The game is heavy on dialogue, and much of it is just boring exposition. I did get hints that Sayori was depressed by what she said, which was the first deviation from other Japanese dating sims, but it wasn’t enough to make the beginning of the game interesting.
The gist of the story is that Sayori tricks me into joining the Literature Club in which the other three members are cute girls with distinctive personalities. Of course I’m going to join (main character is a boy. Took me a long time to figure that out. It doesn’t matter, but it’s just interesting how I assumed it was a girl) because my character want to make it with the girls. This is followed by an hour of button-mashing dialogue and so much tediousness, it was off-putting. I had to grit my teeth to get through it, and if I hadn’t known it would change at some point, I would have stopped playing after fifteen minutes.
I wanted to get with Yuri because she was the most like me in real life. I tried to pick the words for my poem in a way to be matched with her, and apparently, I succeeded. During the second hour, the sweet veneer starts to crack. One girl is a cutter because she finds it erotic. Another kills herself, and you find her body. My character had just rejected her, saying I preferred Yuri to her (I do wonder what happens if you choose the other character instead), and then I become uneasy after a few conversations with her (the girl who killed herself) and rushed over to her house.
The game abruptly stops after this event, and the file erases itself. I could not go back and replay the game as I wanted, and all I could do was start a new game. I did, and I noticed that the girl who had killed herself was missing from the picture at the beginning of the game. This time, there is no mention of her, and the game glitches out, depicting the darker thoughts of the remaining girls.
One of the remaining girls is obsessed with you. I did not like her from the first time I met her, and I rejected her this time around. That made the game end even more disturbingly and abruptly, and code is erased. Then, one of the girls shows up and starts addressing me personally by my name, not my game name or the name I had said was my user name, saying how she had written the description of the game on the Steam page and how she bet I had never read it. I hadn’t, and I went back to read it, and, yeah, her twisted mind was on display in the description.
The game was strong from the second half of the first playthrough right up to the point where the obsessed girl directly addressed me. At that point, I lost all interest and felt as if I was being condescended to. I got the message through the rest of the play, and to have her hammer it into my head, well, that was irritating.
Still. It was thought-provoking and disturbing in a good way, and I’m glad I played it. I did not do a second playthrough as I intended because I really couldn’t go through the first hour again, but I think it’s at least worth playing for the commentary it has on the genre in general. I hope that if Team Salvato does another game of this ilk, they will trust the players to draw their own conclusions.
*Dark Souls is the excpetion for reasons I don’t feel like exploring at this moment. If you read my archives, you can find plenty of musings on the topic.
**Call of Duty. For whatever reason, I started calling it Collar Duty, and now I can’t stop.