Noita – A Pixel-Based Magical Physics Simulator Roguelike

AlbinoVEVO’s game review of Noita (Warning: Contains expletives and mature content)

What is Noita?

“It’s a roguelike where your only permanent upgrade is how much you learn about the game. And you gain that through experiment, asking yourself questions like ‘What would happen if I make my wand shoot a giant sawblade every frame? What if I break that giant crystal? What if I drink a potion of lava? And they all have the same answer: You die.'” – AlbinoVEVO in his Noita game review

Noita is a rather unique roguelike game with many special mechanics of its own. Developed by a Finnish indie game company, whose developers also created another popular award-winning pixel-graphics game Baba is You, Noita’s graphics are also completed pixel-based, but to great effect. Despite being a roguelike, it has a special emphasis on physics, exploration, and a hands-off approach while being horrifyingly unforgiving.

Story

Noita is a game that does not explain much, and it uses it to its advantage. As a roguelike, it has a strong emphasis on getting the player to explore on their own. The game is set in a magical world, but has the player explore a predominantly underground world, filled with different biomes, from fungal biomes to mysterious underground pyramids, filled with Finnish mythological creatures and monsters.

The main “goal” of the game, has the player explore this world as a sorcerer, and seek something out at the bottom of the world (and possibly defeating a final boss). And yet, this “goal” is barely emphasized in hopes that the player understand the importance of exploration in truly completing this game.

Mechanics

There are many mechanics in the game. Firstly, the mechanics available to the player for direct use, are the use of wands, potions and various artifacts they may find. Wands come with various spells that may be mix-and-matched later on and potions may be filled with any liquids the player comes across. The player is given a fixed inventory with 4 slots for wands and potions each, and 16 slots for spells (not limited to projectiles, projectile-altering effects, summons and more explosive/destructive abilities). The player may also levitate to move around the 2D platforms.

Secondly, the game simulates physics in a fairly realistic manner, which may work for or against the player. Oil burns, acid corrodes, water can freeze, steel pillars conduct electricity, and teleportation-liquids… teleport players and enemies away. Status-effects related to interaction with the environment plays a very important part in this game as well. Eating mud can cause the player to vomit, eating grass can cause the player to burp flammable gas, and of course, you can drink healing potions (Not that I have found any after 20 runs through the game).

Thirdly, the emphasis on exploration means that players are rewarded extravagantly for exploring more of the world, but more on that later on. All of these allow the player to build up some way of surviving difficult encounters.

Aesthetics

In terms of aesthetics, while the game is pixel-based, the lighting effects are beautiful, and the otherwise dull environment (since it is underground) also reinforce the theme of the game, with a sense of impending doom at every turn, having fog of war for parts of the world without line-of-sight. The fact that everything is a pixel, also meant that the difference between a liquid and a solid, is completely based on its physics. Regardless, it is done with great finesse. Creatures are designed to look like a kind of cross between the undead and mythical creatures out to kill the player. The only cute creature I have personally recognized thus far, is the sheep form that the player may get turned into (which, by the way, is VERY BAD).

Technology

A great amount of effort has been put into the physics engine of the game. From simulating the flow/viscosity of different liquid (pixels), to the momentum of objects blown away by the force of explosions and other spells, as well as the speed at which fire and electricity spreads through different mediums. Procedural generation of the world, on the other hand, is not Noita’s strong point. The world is made of biomes in a fixed layout, but the fact that it is not fully procedural in no way is a detriment to the game. Each biome is still pseudorandomly generated using Herringbone Wang Tiles and pixel scenes, with random drops and buffs to be found. For the amount of content in the game, the fixed biome layout can even enhance the playthrough of the game.

Lens of Curiosity

The game has a heavy emphasis on having the player figure things out on their own. The game introduces many different materials in the game and many spells, different biomes and enemies. The only tutorial in the game, is summarized by the two screenshots below. All interactions in the game, are left the player to ponder. Some interactions are more intuitive (coal is flammable, water has bonus damage against fire-elementals), whereas some require a more experimental approach to figure out (pouring water into toxic sludge turns it into water). These unexpected interactions keep the player on their toe and looking out for things that they might have missed. Lore is sparsely distributed throughout the map as well, in the form of green-coloured tablets with some text that appears from it. Surprisingly, these tablets are items that deal a relatively high amount of damage and bonus coin when thrown at enemies too.

Lens of Surprise

As a game that places much emphasis on the exploration and getting players curious about the world, it introduces a ton of surprises in various places that one may not expect. So much so, that it may even become a gamble at some points. While some surprises may seem unnecessarily punishing to some players, it is undeniably a unique addition to the experience that Noita offers. Aside from environmental interactions that may be special as mentioned earlier, spells have minimal description, often being a one-liner. Whether a spell can damage the player or not may be up to interpretation based on just the description. One rare spell is simply described as “Alea iacta est” or “The die is cast”, and one may only hope for the best when using it for the first time. Each enemy has a unique attack pattern and skills, and encountering a new one may always be an extraordinary danger, with more than a hundred unique foes. Every aspect of Noita is truly left up to the player to trial by fire.

Lens of Challenge

The game is difficult. It is extremely difficult. As a roguelite (As some may say, as opposed to a “roguelike”), the game has some progress across different runs, but the only progress is in the form of knowledge gained, and a few rare spells and secrets that are hard to unravel. The game effectively has permadeath in its purest form. “Friendly fire” is one of the main causes of death, as with great power, comes great explosions that may insta-kill the player as well. And yet, these are necessary to clear some of the more difficult portions of the game. Learning what spell combination works and what does not is part of the challenge. The player may make wands for different situations such as close and far range engagements or for terrain destruction to reach loot or new areas. With stronger spells, risks are involved as well (See: Black holes).

Lens of Expected Value

Building upon the challenge, there is a lot for the player to consider and weight in terms of risks and expected value of the actions they may take. Exploration is encouraged in order to find more wands and spells in the current playthrough, but with limited health and many hazards and enemies along the way, the player must weigh if it is worth further exploration, before moving on to the next checkpoint along the main path (where they are guaranteed a health refill) and entering a more difficult area. Some new wands can be completely useless to the player at that point in time, the player may come across more dangerous enemies which can give more coin to purchase wands and spells at the checkpoints, but also deplete the player’s limited health. In customizing the various wands with spells that the player has on-hand as well, there is significant consideration to be done. The player determines the odds of their spells working out with the resources they have found. For example, a wand may be set to spawn a fireball, a dynamite, or a bomb. Each has a different explosive radius, and a wand can have a slow or fast spell cast rate (but only cast one at a time), cast spells in a specific order or at random, and some spells (like the 3 mentioned) have limited charges. It is then up to the player to decide if they should leave all 3 spells on the same wand, or split them with another wand with different properties, and this with the consideration that there’s only 4 wands maximum and the only way to get new spells when exploring is to swap out existing wands for new ones. The player must thus also consider when building a wand, “should I build this as an expendable wand? Do I expect any new wand to be a suitable trade for any of the wands I have customized?”. This adds on a whole layer of considerations for the player to consider and strategize.

Conclusion

While a very difficult game, it is one that is certainly built upon a great concern to detail, with exploration to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the game, despite being a roguelike. On one hand, it allows the player to express their creativity and forge the most overpowered wand. On the other hand, it does so in the most punishing way, where the player may be one of the most dangerous foes they will continually face. For a roguelike, it can be said to be very novel for its genre with a much greater emphasis on exploration in a large world. But as a roguelike, it is still very much enjoyable and a great addition to the genre.

Check out Noita on Steam

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Gameplay Demo

Screenshot of battle scene in Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Source: Nintendo Everything

Set in the fantasy region of Fódlan, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a tactical-RPG developed by Intelligent Systems where the player takes on the role of a professor at a prestigious military academy. As both their teacher and tactician, you must make strategic decisions both in the classroom and on the battlefield to determine the fate of your students and allies in this story of war, bonds, and mysteries. 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses has won multiple awards since its release in 2019, including Best Strategy Game in 2019 and Strategy/Simulation Game of the Year in 2020. Here are a few lenses in which Three Houses excels at, and which I believe have contributed to the game’s success.

The Lens of The Elemental Triad

The game’s mechanics, story, aesthetic, and technology complement each other to help make the world of Fódlan feel alive, enhancing the main themes of the game such as grief and the inherent morally gray nature of war. Let’s take a closer look at each element to see how they are able to accomplish this.

Mechanics

The core gameplay loop switches between “Academy Days” and “Battle Days”. In the academy, you can interact with your students in many ways such as tutoring them or having lunch together to deepen your bonds, which makes it all the more painful when you lose a student, or when you’re once again reunited, but on the opposite sides of war. During battles, the use of a rock-paper-scissors style weapon triangle combined with how different elements such as positioning and terrain affect each fight create dynamic and varied gameplay, and the use of permadeath adds a sense of stakes to the player’s decisions.

Story

There are 4 branching paths in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, each telling a different side of the war. The player chooses which house (i.e. class) to align themselves with early, within the first hour of the game. However, throughout the game you will continue interacting with students from other houses, building relationships with them and getting to know what their motivations and aspirations are. The game leverages the player’s attachment to these characters to make their high-impact moments hit even harder (as will be discussed below).

Aesthetic

The game’s main aesthetic is medieval fantasy. Surrounding the player are knights and mages, archbishops and demonic beasts. The use of 3D graphics as well as high-quality voice acting for every line of every character further enhances the player’s immersion in the setting of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Its impressive sound design also works well to emphasize the emotional impact of any given scene.

Technology

Though there were no notable breakthroughs, the game runs smoothly throughout, and was praised by fans for their extensive voice library even though the developers had to work within the Nintendo Switch’s limited capabilities as a handheld home console.

Now, let’s look at some other lenses.

The Lens of The Character Web

There are 33 total playable characters in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and one thing this game excels at above all else is the depth and characterization of each of these characters. By having two characters interact with each other either in battle or at the academy, players are able to view conversations between those two characters, giving them insight into what everyone thinks of everyone else. There are childhood friends, estranged family members, budding friendships. We, the player, get to know these characters not only through our own eyes, but through the eyes of their fellow peers as well.

The Lens of Moments

There were several key moments that stuck out to me. The shock I felt when the player’s father figure died (twice!), the betrayal that coursed through me when it was revealed one of the students was the main antagonist and started a war, the relief and pride swelling in my heart when I was reunited with my students after a 5-year time skip. The game was designed so that the player could easily fall in love with its characters, and I felt that these moments, as well as so many more I do not have the time to mention, had such a great impact due to the closeness and camaraderie I felt towards these characters.

The Lens of Challenge

The Fire Emblem series is notorious for its unforgiving difficulty settings, and this entry is no different. Players can choose between “Normal”, “Hard”, and “Maddening” difficulty, and veteran players know just how dangerous it is to choose the hardest game mode in a Fire Emblem game. Although it never gets to the point of being unfair, players can choose to breeze through the battles to experience the story, or strategically plan their every move where one oversight can mean losing one of your students forever. For additional padding, the game also allows players to turn off permadeath, and gives the player the (canon) ability to rewind time.

The Lens of Curiosity

The very first cutscene depicts an ancient war, won by a woman who looks eerily similar to the archbishop/headmistress of the academy. Already, players are asking questions about who this woman is and what mysterious past could she be hiding. Even more than that, players are curious about the main playable character as well, what powers lie dormant within their body, and why do they not remember anything about themselves either. Mysteries like these, about characters or about the world, continue to appear and unravel themselves throughout the story, leaving players wanting to know more and more, not willing to put the game down until they find their answers.

Overall, Fire Emblem: Three Houses demonstrates a strong understanding of game design principles and effectively utilizes them to create a compelling and engaging gameplay experience. To anyone who has yet to pick up this masterpiece, I hope I’ve made a compelling case for why you should.

Boomerang Fu

What is Boomerang Fu: A small and fun local multiplayer game with various foods (like pink-frosted sprinkled donuts) fighting each other to the death with a one-hit-kill boomerang. It is something to play with buddies to have a good time.

Elemental tetrad

Mechanics: The game has rounds where in each round every player fights to the death. In each round, the players are placed on a small map that spans the entire screen. This game has very simple controls, only three buttons. You can dash, melee, and throw your boomerang. Additionally, thrown boomerangs will eventually fly back into your hands. Anything the boomerang touches is immediately killed.

Story: There is no story in this game at all, the gameplay is what drives interest.  

Gameplay: While the controls/rules of the game are very simple. The design of each possible action creates a lot of interesting dynamics and depth. For example, throwing the boomerang leaves you weaponless. So while it may seem like a good idea to go for easy kills, the defenseless you could be very killed quickly. The game constantly places you in situations where you must make split-second decisions on when is a good time to go for kills. Another mechanic is that boomerangs also ricochet off walls, so you can Physics your way to victory and feel very 300IQ.

Additionally, there a numerous powerups (which are definitely not balanced) that add to the core gameplay: For example, the teleport powerup allows you to teleport to your boomerang on command. You could leave your boomerang on the floor amidst the chaos and teleport to kill inattentive friends.

Aesthetics: Overall I like it. It is adorable, simple cartoonish 3D, and communicates what the game is about. Fun! While initially, I thought that it had the slight commercial cash grabby render quality that really unique, overall it is not that important.  

The sound fits the gameplay well, the BGMs make you feel laid back but slightly energetic. This mood fits the party game vibes. In addition, the slash and parrying sounds are quite satisfying to hear.

Technology: I feel it’s best played with a controller on the couch watching tv instead of using a mouse and keyboard. Runs even on potato PCs.

The Five lenses

THE LENS OF FUN (#5)

This is one of the games that I feel is built from a prototype with one central mechanic, the boomerang. Everything else in the game feels in service of this one mechanic. Boomerang Fu does this well because there is a lot of depth in the boomerang. For example, you could parry boomerangs midair or move your character in a way that would slice the enemies as the boomerang returns midair. It feels like a fun toy to play with.

THE LENS OF SKILL (#34)

In this game, the most skilled player will likely win overall unless everyone else decides to gang up on him. Generally, experts will destroy novices in this game. One of the reasons is that our only weapon in the game (the boomerang ), demands precise aim, timing, and control. Another reason is that strong game sense is required to be aware of the limits of each interaction between the different powerups.

The game however does try to help you. It nudges your shots closer to the enemy subtly. But not too much, so most kills still feel intentional. This makes you feel skilled when you make plays. In addition, the game gives shields to underdogs which prevents one-hit KOs. Still, you feel like most deaths are avoidable, this makes the game feel fair and rewarding. You can see a pathway to getting better.

One of the important design decisions in the game was to make sure everyone had different power-ups. It is very unlikely that two people will have the same set. Additionally, powerups can combine together. For example, if you got the exploding boomerangs and the multi boomerangs power up. You essentially become an AOE nuke that covers 20% of the maps in one throw. This introduced the biggest luck factor which is who was getting overpowered power-ups first. But as a casual game, I believe this was not a bad decision because it is more fun and creates “how is this allowed” moments. For more serious people the gameplay is customizable in the settings, you can ban some power-ups.

The lens of time(27) The total game lasts 10-15 minutes with each round lasting under a minute. Because of the short rounds, there is no real commitment to completing the game. We can leave halfway and not care who the overall winner is. I think this is suitable for a party game. Sometimes a power box could cause a kill zone to close in like in Fortnite. However, I felt this mechanic should be something that automatically happens if a round was lasting for too long.

The lens of Moments(68)

The game is most intense when there are only two people left and everyone else is watching to see who would win. The game tries to amplify this moment by adding a slow-mo to the final kill and then replaying it as the next round loads. I would have liked more late-game options other than the zone closing in. Maybe it could have moving zones and longer maps like in Fortnite?

Conclusion: Try it out!

Hollow Knight

The almighty title screen

Link to Game: https://www.hollowknight.com/

Description

Hollow Knight is a game made by Team Cherry where players play as the “Hollow Knight”: a being born from void. It plays as a metroidvania where combat combines with open world exploration. The main draw of the game is how atmospheric the game feels tied along with tight controls and engaging combat.

Mechanics

The mechanics of Hollow Knight can be broken up into 3 main parts:

  • Platforming
Double Jump in Hollow Knight

The player first is introduced to the control scheme of jumping and moving at the first part of the game. As the game goes on, the player gets different ‘power-ups’ that allow them to increase the range of movement (e.g. Wall Jumping, Diving and Double Jumping)

  • Exploration
Fog Canyon

Exploration makes up the bulk of the gameplay in Hollow Knight which takes the player through Hallownest, the world where the game is situated in. Each area in Hallownest has its own unique flair and design.

  • Combat
Hollow Knight game screenshot #2
Using the Vengeful Spirit Spell

Hollow Knight has a very fluid combat system with tight controls which allows for an experience where you only have yourself to blame if you get defeated in the game. There are melee attacks which you use your nail to perform as well as spells.

Aesthetics

Queen's Gardens | Hollow Knight Wiki | Fandom
Queen’s Gardens

The aesthetics of the Hollow Knight follows a very grim theme. This emphasises the harshness of the world and also instils a sense of wonder as it encourages the player to push onwards in order to make sense of their environment. There are close references to real world in terms of nature where they took the physical look of insects and add their own dark spin to it.

Story

1536x2048px | free download | HD wallpaper: Hollow Knight, Zote The Mighty  (Character) | Wallpaper Flare
Dialogue with Zote the Mighty, an NPC in Hollow Knight

The story of Hollow Knight is played through the interactions with the many NPCs and environment. The main character which you play does not talk himself and the game mainly focuses on how the world changes by the many actions you make. There are also 3 different endings depending on the actions you take during the game. This adds an additional level of complexity for the game for the player to explore if they so choose to.

Technology

Hollow Knight: Complete Charm Location Guide - VGKAMI
Charm System

Hollow Knight’s technical aspects include the implementation of a power-up system, the custom physics that the character uses to move as well as the little nuances that allows the game to have a high skill ceiling when speed running it, such as mastering the timing to hit an explosion in order to propel the character upwards to skip certain obstacles.

The Lens of Motivation

Hollow Knight: Lost Kin Battle - YouTube
Lost Kin Boss Fight

Hollow Knight caters to the player’s sense of exploration and discovery, where the game’s vast interconnected world, filled with hidden paths and secrets, encourages them to keep searching and uncover new areas and abilities.

This pushes the player to keep engaged throughout the playthrough of the game and keeps them returning even when they have completed the game to search for any missing secrets they may have missed out on.

Lens of Secrets

Gorgeous Husk Location | Hollow Knight | Para Wikia - YouTube
Secret Room of the Gorgeous Husk which drops a high amount of in-game currency

Hollow Knight has a surprising amount of content, which allows for high replay value. This also allows for the emergence to optimal paths to take when speed running the game. There also may be multiple different events or encounters the player may have missed out during the playthrough of Hollow Knight. They can also experience and go down different paths in each new playthrough, which adds to the value of replayability.

Lens of Goals

Hollow Knight: The Radiance Boss Guide
Radiance Boss Fight: The last and final boss in the game

Hollow Knight has a clear goal as shown by a completion level per save file as well as defined by beating the final boss in the game. There is also an achievement system where players can earn achievements by completing certain objectives, like discovering all the charms or defeating all the bosses. This displays a sense of progression, as players become more powerful and skilled, they can tackle more challenging goals, making the game even more engaging and rewarding.

Lens of Skill

Explosion pogo | Hollow Knight Speedrunning Wiki | Fandom
Using an explosion that usually damages you to get access to a new area without the use of wall jumping

Hollow Knight is generally considered to be somewhat challenging in trying to complete the game. Over the course of playing the game along with many deaths and failed attempts, the player will see themselves becoming better at the game through developing the skills of knowing the precise timing and positioning to defeat enemies. Players must also master the game’s various movement and traversal mechanics, such as wall-jumping and dash-slashing in order to progress.

Taiko no Tatsujin

Introduction

Taiko no Tatsujin (太鼓の達人 in Japanese; literally, master of the drums) is an arcade rhythm game released by Namco in 2001. The objective of the game is to hit the taiko (Japanese drum) in rhythm with the beat of a music chosen by the player. On the screen, notes will scroll from right to left, and will reach a transparent round objective: it is at that instant that players have to hit the drum!

A screenshot of a gameplay of the song Butter-Fly in hard difficulty

By having children-friendly easy songs but also very challenging difficult songs, Taiko no Tatsujin maintained its popularity to a large audience throughout the years, and is still one of the most popular arcade game in Japan, and worldwide (Taiko no Tatsujin can even be played in Singapore). The game is also available on numerous platforms such as Nintendo Switch, PS4, and even laptops and smartphones!

A gameplay of a perfect score on the recent most difficult song (the player isn’t me)
On console, button presses replace drum hits. (Gameplay by me, on my Nintendo DS back in 2009)

The Element Tetrad

Mechanics

In more than 20 years of history, the mechanics of Taiko no Tatsujin have never changed. The rules and the goal have always been the same: the player has to hit the middle of the drum when a red note is on the objective, and on the rid of the drum when the note is blue. These simple and unique game mechanics makes it easy for new players to tryout the game, and is one of the principal reasons explaining its popularity.

Dynamics

Simple mechanics does not mean simple dynamics at all. In Taiko no Tatsujin, the difficulty of songs have increased like economic inflation these days. To counter more and more difficult songs, experienced players have developed more and more advanced techniques of using drumsticks. There is a constant “battle” between the game development team making new song charts which look impossible, and players who somehow always manage to get perfect scores with some training. This dynamic enables to keep a stable amount of players.

Story

It is the basic element of a game Taiko no Tatsujin have almost forgotten about. Except in some console games, it never had a proper story plot with progression. However, it was not necessary at all for Taiko no Tatsujin to have a story to be a successful game. It makes sense, as it is not what rhythm game players are seeking for.

Aesthetics and Technology

A gameplay of an old version (2001) of Taiko no Tatsujin

Aesthetics and Technology are 2 very important aspects which are interleaved in arcade rhythm games. Taiko no Tatsujin, being a very old game, had to improve throughout the years in order to remain alive on the harsh market of arcade rhythm games in Japan. Every 6 years (approx.), Taiko no Tatsujin arcade machines have a major upgrade. Since 2011, players can have an account registered on a card to save their data. That was very new for arcade games back at the time. Another example of notable upgrade happened in 2020, when all machines in Japan became equipped with a 120 fps monitor and better speakers, and had their UI redesigned for a smoother and more comfortable experience for the player.

A photo of a real taiko drum

Around the birth of Taiko no Tatsujin, the drum attached to the arcade machine was a very new, innovative way of simulating a real Taiko drum. It is equipped with sensors, often criticised in the past for not reacting to the player’s drumstick hits sometimes. However, this is a problem which has been solved in the recent years, which is a great factor reducing player’s anxiety when playing. Improving this technology created more player dynamics; more techniques to hit the beat of the music!

Lenses

The Lens of Challenge (#38)

As every successful rhythm game, Taiko no Tatsujin welcomes a wide range of players with different skill levels. It can even arguably be the rhythm game with the widest palette of player because there is a challenge which will fit any player. Over the years, the arcade version of the game accumulated in-game songs. Recently, it even reached over 1000 songs! Taking into account that each song has at least 4 difficulties (easy/normal/hard/master), we can clearly say that the humongous variety of available challenge is a huge strength of Taiko no Tatsujin. For the most skilled players, there is even a mode where the challenge is to complete a pre-determined set of 3 difficult songs with very harsh conditions such as “Miss less than 3 times (over the 3 songs)”. For example, there was a challenge between 2015 and 2016 where only 1 player in the world managed to complete it perfectly!

The gameplay of the only perfect score on the “most difficult challenge of Taiko no Tatsujin”

The Lens of Visible Progress (#55)

As any activity in life, it feels satisfying to see and feel the progress we make. In Taiko no Tatsujin, players progress very fast as they get used to the mechanics of the game easily. Their arms start to manage the drum hitting movement well. Then, they can try harder songs as (almost) everything is unlocked from the beginning. Players progress at a pace they decide by challenging themselves in the way they desire. Every good enough scores gives a crown, which are then collected by players for completing many songs. Moreover, every performance on a song gives a grade depending on the score. It is easy for players to realise their improvement when they manage to complete a song with a difficulty they never tried before, or they replay a song after a while and make an improvement on their score. This visible progress in Taiko no Tatsujin is very satisfying and motivating, and is what keeps a large playerbase.

The Lens of Time (#27)

What determines the length of one gameplay in Taiko no Tatsujin is only you, which is another big strength of the video game. There is no too short or too long playing session as long as the player can control themselves well. As one song is 2 minutes in average, and 1 credit in the arcade machine (most often) gives players 3 songs to play, Taiko no Tatsujin sessions can be very short… or very long, if you keep inserting coins and playing like me. For the numerous qualities enumerated previously, players can even lose the sensation of time and keep playing for a few hours without even realising it!

The Lens of Spectation (#95)

A Japanese idol playing with the screen hidden for her on a famous Japanese TV show

As you, the reader, might have noticed by watching the YouTube videos embedded in the blog, good Taiko no Tatsujin gameplays are really impressive, and catch the attention of the viewers. In real life, children and adults who are not used to the game often gather in circle behind the player doing some crazy gameplay. Even on the Internet, Taiko no Tatsujin gameplay videos have a lot of views, and is definitely one of the rhythm game which makes the most views on YouTube. As an example, the gameplay video of Gurenge in master difficulty, the opening song of the famous anime Demon Slayer, has over 10 million views from an international community. What really makes Taiko no Tatsujin different from other games and really proves it is spectacular is that it even often appears on the Japanese television, where other funky impressive plays are performed (such as the gameplay with the screen hidden for the player as shown above), often with a cash prize in case of success.

Conclusion

Taiko no Tatsujin is a rhythm game which knows well its playerbase. It kept improving where it needed (aesthetics, technology, new challenges…) while never really put strength on what players are not looking for (a story mode, new mechanics…). This is why it is one of the most successful arcade rhythm game in existence.

Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn

Introduction

Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn is a tactical role playing game developed by Intelligent Systems, released on the Wii in 2007. It is a direct sequel to the events of the previous entry in the Fire Emblem series.

Playthrough on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JULnq5GVExc&ab_channel=ShionneImeris

The Elemental Tetrad

Story:

The story of Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn follows the structure and stylings of a medieval fantasy epic, letting the player experience the events of the game from three different perspectives, Micaiah, the leader of a band of resistance fighters, Elincia, a princess of the nation Crimea and Ike, the leader of a band of mercenaries.

What sets this game apart from other role playing games is the level of time and effort spent in establishing the world that the story is set in, which gives players a reason to invest in the characters and the plot emotionally. The game stars a roster of 70+ playable characters, all from distinct personalities and backgrounds that make the world feel fleshed out and lived in, with differing cultures and perspectives on the plot that generate believable tension and conflict that drives the plot forward. The large roster of characters also provides enough diversity of characters to ensure that there would be at least a few characters that the player would gravitate towards.

Furthermore, distinct from other tactical role playing games is the concept of permadeath, where characters that fall on the battlefield are considered “dead” in the story and can never be used again. Paired alongside good writing and heavy investment in the character stories create ludonarrative cohesion between the player’s attachment to these characters and the mechanical tension in keeping everyone alive in combat to witness those characters’ stories progress.

Aesthetics:

Character illustrations are done by artist Senri Kita, whose vibrant yet mature style and earthly tones makes the game beautiful to look at while maintaining the “serious” tone of a fantasy epic. This is contrasted with other JRPGs such as Final Fantasy or Xenoblade whose character design relies on a more heightened fantastical aesthetic to reflect its less “serious” and more whimsical tone.

Mechanics:

The main gameplay loop of Radiant Dawn involves progressing through a series of grid-based maps in which your army and the enemy armies do combat on. Combat is turn based where the player and the AI move their armies separately and one at a time.

There is a layer of strategy introduced by the weapon triangle, which is a rock-paper-scissors system that gives combat advantages/disadvantages based on the type of weapons they wield. This poses a teambuilding challenge for the player where they need to consider the characters in their army and deploy the most advantageous lineup to do well on that particular map.

Furthermore, maps offer different victory objectives as well. The most common objective is to rout all enemies, but variety in gameplay experience is offered in different objective such as defending the objective for X turns, escaping a map with all units, etc. Those different objectives also adds to the ludonarrative cohesion, when the game wants the player to feel in control, the maps are generally rout maps, when the game wants the player be on the backfoot, the maps generally change to escape/defend maps to enhance player feelings of helplessness/vulnerability.

An example of a map where the defence objective and the overwhelming number of enemies are used to heighten the player’s vulnerability.

Technology:

Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn was released on the Nintendo Wii unlike its GameCube predecessor as its release schedule aligned with the release of the Wii. However, this is one of the aspects in which this game suffers as the Wii was most famous for its motion controls, which this game utilised none of, leading to a somewhat awkward and clunky interaction between player and console, as there would have been some expectation of interacting and manipulating the characters with motion controls.

Lenses

The Lens of Problem Solving (#8):

The main gameplay loop of the game presents the players with a series of maps that can be “solved” or beaten in different ways depending on the player’s problem solving skills and preferences, such as the way they build their army, the characters they choose to deploy and the types of playstyles they employ (fast or turtling).

Certain maps have additional objectives that pose an additional layer of challenge on top of the main objective, for example clearing the map’s boss without killing too many of their soldiers who were innocent soldiers forced to comply. This forces players to constantly rethink their strategies, strategies that may have worked in the previous maps may not apply to the current one.

The Lens of Skill (#34):

Since Fire Emblem is a tactical RPG, skill is an important aspect that the game incorporates. As mentioned previously, the game requires players to have good “map awareness”, team building, positioning, and occasionally mathematics to calculate damage. Since the game is turn based instead of action based, outcomes of individual combat encounters are determined. in other words, there’s no amount of player reflexes or instinct that can influence the outcome of a battle like in games such as Dark Souls. This incentivises the player to act deliberately instead of instinctively, which adds to the experience of being a “tactician”, rather than a soldier in the midst of the battle itself, which coheres with the narrative of the 3 protagonists being the respective leaders and tacticians of their armies.

The Lens of Chance (#36):

However, the game adds variety to its gameplay experience by incorporating controlled randomness into its encounters. Attacks have a chance to miss, or to critical hit depending on certain stats of characters. While this could make certain characters more or less consistent, these controlled bouts of randomness can give rise to positive gameplay experiences, such as characters getting a clutch critical hit on a certain boss or important characters dodging an otherwise lethal blow.

There is an interesting interplay between skill and chance in this game, as players do require skills to strategise how to complete each map, but those strategies are necessarily peppered with bouts of randomness that might throw a wrench in the player’s plans, in which they would need to restrategise and the loop continues. This gives the player a certain level of control while adding enough randomness to not make the game feel like a “solved” game. Hence, there are no walkthroughs online that can tell a player what are the exact steps to take to finish a map.

The Lens of Story (#78):

Lastly, the lens of story is arguably the most important aspect of this game as compelling writing and strong characterisation forms the backbone of player experience, what drives them to succeed mechanically is motivated by the player’s investment in seeing the plot and the characters move forward.

One interesting way the story is supported by gameplay is that the three armies eventually come into conflict at one point in the story. This creates an interesting dynamic where the player’s time and investment in training up one army would later pose as a problem to the same player as they would have to fight their trained characters as another army. Furthermore, certain characters on opposite sides of the war can defect to another army which also gives players an interesting choice of sending a good unit to a weaker army at the cost of story interactions.

Conclusion

Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn is one of my favourite games of all time and I believe it primarily stems from its unique way of incorporating story and gameplay, giving rise to certain gameplay experiences that the developers may not have necessarily intended. If you like story driven games with fun and challenging mechanics, I recommend you to give this game a try on an emulator if possible.

Sources

  • https://fireemblem.fandom.com/wiki/Fire_Emblem:_Radiant_Dawn
  • https://kantopia.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/fe-rd-senri-kita-comments-book-cover-illustrations-248-249-translations/
  • https://yourfellowgeek.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/fire-emblem-radiant-dawn-playthrough-05/
  • https://web.archive.org/web/20080829204949/http://uk.gamespot.com/wii/rpg/fireemblem/review.html

Muse Dash

Rhythm Games Don’t Get Much Simpler And Sweeter Than Muse Dash

Kotaku

Introduction

First released in June 2018, Muse Dash is a famous rhythm game developed by PeroPeroGames. With the combined aspects of both action games and music games, as well as its anime art style in the form of a 2D side-scrolling game, Muse Dash has been at the top of the TapTap, App Store, and Steam rankings for a long time.

Check out more information from its homepage on Steam: Muse Dash on Steam

View a short gameplay demo from a well-known Youtuber below:

The Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics

Muse Dash has taken a number of mechanics from both action and rhythm games, and I’d like to list them below:

Main Gameplay System

In Muse Dash, players defeat enemies and avoid obstacles originating from the right side of the screen by pressing buttons or tapping the screen in accordance with the beat of the background song. The game has only two buttons, making it easily accessible. Difficulty settings exist for most songs, allowing the game to cater to multiple skill levels.

Character and Elfin System

The playable characters in Muse Dash are called Muses. Each Muse has her own maximum health and passive skill, depending on the selected costume. Players can also equip Elfins, companions to a Muse which give them additional abilities.

Collection and Achievement System

In Muse Dash, players earn experience points for each song they complete. The higher the level, the more songs and characters players can unlock. Players will also receive certain collections as they unlock different achievements. The collections mainly consist of special paintings and memes.

Aesthetic

Muse Dash has a really bright and light art style that caught my attention from the very beginning of the game. Its graphics and sounds are more like a mixture of both Japanese and American anime. This unique art style will really appeal to anime fans. Even if they are new to rhythm games, they are willing to give the game a try.

Even within the actual gameplay, the art remains at a high level. With a variety of backgrounds and monsters to match the different styles of the songs, Muse Dash helps the player to immerse themselves in the game as quickly as possible. Compared to the plain coloured backgrounds and monotonous falling notes in most hardcore rhythm games, Muse Dash‘s colourful and varied artwork has made the game a real success.

Story

Although story isn’t a major part of rhythm games, Muse Dash do have short background stories for each character and elfin. As well as a short in-game introduction, the developer has also created an Official Muse Dash Wiki with much more detailed information about the game‘s background stroy.

Technology

Muse Dash is a cross-platform game, meaning it can be played on Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and even Nintendo Switch. So you can play the game anywhere, anytime, without worrying about the device or platform.

The Five Lenses

The Lense of Flow (#21)

In Muse Dash, like any other rhythm game, the goal is simple and clear – to achieve 100% accuracy, which means the player hits every note perfectly. To achieve this goal, players must practice the same song over and over again to memorise the notes correctly. In addition, since some of the notes are random in each run, the game also requires a bit of luck and quick reaction.

The Lense of Time (#27)

Players often get frustrated when games end too soon, or get bored when games end too early. But this won’t be a problem in Muse Dash because the length of the game is basically the same as the length of a song. So if you need some time to relax, rather than just listening to your favourite music, why not play the song at the same time?

The Lense of Competition (#43)

One of the things that makes people want to compete in Muse Dash is the ranking system. I mean, if you are playing a rhythm game, no one is unwilling to have their name on the leaderboard in order to give their friends a boost. That’s a big part of having fun and transcending yourself.

The Lense of Reward (#46)

In most rhythm games, the reward is often the sense of accomplishment of reaching the top of the leaderboard. In Muse Dash, however, there are rewards for beginners, namely the collection systems mentioned before. After completing a number of songs, players are rewarded with a number of well-painted wallpapers, such as the one below. For anime lovers, this could be the best gift of all.

The Lense of Beauty (#71)

In Muse Dash, beauty comes from both sight and sound. It is a feast for the eyes and ears when you listen to pop music and slay monsters at the same time. Just take a look at the screenshot below. The beautiful background photo, combined with the cute character and the elfin, already make the game worth playing.

Conclusion

There has been some criticism of Muse Dash from hardcore rhythm game fans, who feel that Muse Dash attracts anime game fans rather than rhythm game fans. It’s true that the influx of new players can bring a certain amount of chaos, but there’s no denying that the new players bring more energy and vitality. In this way, Muse Dash certainly opens a door for people to know and understand rhythm games and their charms. Furthermore, I hope that your guys who are currently reading my article would like to have a bite of this unique game.