Creator: Easy Game Station
Genre: Action RPG
One nice thing about the doujin soft community is that sometimes they spot a particular game that was really good, created by a large commercial game developer, but unfortunately the game never got a sequel to carry on the spiffiness of the original title. Seeing this lack of a sequel, doujin game makers will sometimes take it upon themselves to create one. A fine example of this is Easy Game Station's Duo Princess.
As a follow up to Square-Enix's relatively obscure PSOne action RPG Threads of Fate, Duo Princess recasts that game's spunky main character, Mint, with her sister Maya as the pair go off on a new set of adventures. While the original game was more akin to classics like Illusion of Gaia, Duo Princess takes a slightly different approach to action RPGs, favoring gameplay mechanics like that found in games like Ys: The Ark of Napishtim.
The game looks pretty decent with graphics comparable to somewhat hi-def PSOne games, with some nice boss encounters and the like peppered throughout it. All the while, players get two choices in how they can go about clobbering monsters. Either they can get up close and personal with some melee fighting via Mint, or they can go the ranged, magical approach with Maya.
At the end of the day, Duo Princess is a very straightforward, very traditional action RPG, but it's nice that it tries to bring back a little remembered classic from the PSOne in the process.
Creator: Easy Game Station
Creator: Fly System / Area Zero
Anime is a very popular source from which doujin circles will draw their inspiration. Sometimes it may be one specific series, and in other cases it will be several. Magical Battle Arena is one such example of the latter, as it includes characters from Nanoha, Card Captor Sakura, and Slayers.
The game's story revolves around a group of female magicians being summoned from their respective dimensions against their will, and being forced to fight in a tournament, where the winner will be allowed to go home, and is granted one wish. However, as the story unfolds, it turns out that there is a lot more to these battles than was originally let on.
Magical Battle Arena is a 3D fighting game with very large battlefields. I would compare it to some of the Dragonball games that have come out over the years, and let players either fight up close in a melee situation, or from miles away, blasting each other with magic. Personally, I like the magic since it's a little bit more grandiose, and focuses on their characters magical strong points, but to each their own.
The game is quite well done, with high production values, and a solid fighting system. Definitely recommended for fans of the anime series represented within it.
Creator: Twilight Frontier
Genre: Action / Fighting
A little while back, I discussed Melty Blood, and how it was an early example of doujin circles working together (in this case software creator French Bread, and manga circle Type-Moon) to create a game that was not only popular with doujin fans, but also found a wider level of appeal among the general public. Today I want to discuss another game to do this: Higurashi Daybreak. The game was a runaway hit in Japan as more and more people discovered it, leading to major magazines and web sites starting to discuss it. Higarashi Daybreak was a result of a collaborative effort between Twilight Frontier, and 07th Expansion, the creators of the visual soft manga on which this game is based. Moreover, the game proved popular enough for Alchemist to eventually come along and port the game to the PSP, PS2, and DS.
Based on the soft sound novel Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, the game's story revolves around one of the series main characters (Rika Furude) stumbling across a pair of magatama (a type of bead originally from Japan's ancient past). This pair in particular possesses magical properties. One is red, and the other is white, and if two people possess them, they'll fall hopelessly in love. As such, a competition erupts in Higurashi as to who will get to have them.
Action plays out in a bit of a hybridized action / fighting game fashion where players can either fight up close, and personal for some melee combat, or fight from a distance with ranged weapons. I actually like the ranged battles more for no other reason than to watch the cute characters blasting each other with what are sometimes some rather oversized weaponry, all the while thinking what sensationalist news media types would say if they saw such a game released over here. It's a fun, fluid fighting system made all the more exciting by the fact that it is all done in a 2 vs 2 style that you can play with friends, or with computer controlled players. There are about a dozen characters to choose from in Higurashi Daybreak, and then it's up to players how they want to combine them for fights.
Visually the game goes for a cel shaded look, and it's actually the first time 07th Expansion took a stab at making a 3D game...and a very good first attempt it is. The settings are reasonably simple, with straightforward anime-inspired character designs, but it works.
Ultimately, though, it's the action that makes Higurashi Daybreak work, and it's made all the better by its multiplayer options. It's just an all-around fun game.
Creator: Reddish Region
Today's game that we're taking a look at is Reddish Region's (aka Akaishi Ryuuka) Hinokakera: The Fragments of Innocent Sinner, a 2.5D fighting game. It's an interesting potpourri of fighting game conventions all squished under one roof that actually work surprisingly well together. Taking place in a post-apocolyptic world, players will have eight characters to choose from (with a few more added in thanks to content updates that have trickled out since the game's initial release).
If you like fighting games with all sorts of gauges in it, then you'll probably love Hinokakera. The game has three of them: a guard gauge, break gauge, and an energy gauge. As you might expect, the guard gauge is for defense, and is depleted as a character is attacked while defending themselves. Once the gauge is completely used up, players can unload a guard crush on that character. The break gauge fills up over time, and is what you'll need topped up in order to use the most powerful attacks. Finally there is the energy gauge, which is more of a tug-of-war meter between the two characters fighting. As they inflict damage, and other special attacks they get more energy in their favor.
There is plenty of opportunity for massive combos and juggling in the game the way Hinokakera has its moves set up. Just about every character's move list practically invites players to try and pummel their opponents with one hit after the next. To counteract this, there are some interesting defensive measures in the game including the ability to sidestep attacks, and three different blocking methods.
Hinokakera is a fun little fighter that has been getting some nice, steady support since it first came out. Personally, I like the frenetic approach to the fighting in the game, and the aesthetic is quite nice as well. It's certainly an above average entry into the genre.
Usually when someone makes a shoot 'em up one of the first things that they decide is whether they want it to be a horizontal or vertical scrolling one. In the case of Edelweiss' Ether Vapor, it seems that not only could they not make up their mind on this, but they even made a camera system that swoops between these and any other angle that they thought might be cool on the fly while progressing through a level.
This is by far the big standout feature in Ether Vapor. One minute the action will be as a vertical shooter, then suddenly it's a side-scroller, and then the camera may swing behind your ship for an over-the-shoulder perspective. It's a very cool function that makes for some really epic battles, especially during boss fights. On top of this, there are various weapon systems to lay around with, cool looking enemies, and gigantic bosses.
The game looks great, too. Besides the aforementioned awesome bosses and enemies, the environments are beautiful, and if you're even remotely interested in grandiose anime-inspired battles, Ether Vapor emulates them to a tee with massive laser blasts, launching huge swarms of missiles, and other equally over-the-top onslaughts of weaponry.
If you want to take a break from the more traditional bullet hell approach to shooters that has become so popular in recent years, this is definitely a game to check out if for no other reason than it's crazy camera system. It's certainly no gimmick, as the rest of what Ether Vapor has to offer is equally amazing. You can download the trial over here.
Just noticed that Rockin' Android has the schmup SUGURI Perfect Edition on sale at the moment for $13.99US (usually goes for $19.99US). Not a bad deal. If you're interested in picking this one up on the cheap, now's the time as the sale is only until December 11th. Here's a link to the game's page on their site:
Creator: Watanabe Seisakujo (French Bread)
Before the popular doujin circle French Bread was known by this name, they called themselves Watanabe Seisakujo. Even back then, it looks like the group had a love for 2D gaming, as this fun little side-scrolling action game suggests. Players here are trying to save their friend who has been kidnapped by a little angel-like being. It's a cute, lighthearted romp with very good, fluid controls, all with an old school flair.
Seeing as the game was made almost a decade ago, it has a much more retro look to its sprite-based graphics more reminiscent to what one might find back in the 16-bit era. Nonetheless, it still looks very good, with nice use of bright colors, and some very cute character designs. The enemies that players face off againsts are all rather cute, with little angels, gun-toting frogs, and chubby, balloon-like cats being among them.
Controls are very simple, with the arrows providing movement, and the z and x providing attack and jump. Players also have special weapons that they can use on a limited bases by pressing up and attack at the same time. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be and gamepad support for Demon Hunter Mai, and be careful about hitting escape, as that quits the game instantly. Nonetheless, controls are very responsive, which is certainly more than I can say about a lot of the professionally made 2D games coming out during this time.
From a historical perspective, it's interesting to take a look at a game like Demon Hunter Mai, as it shows some of the early work of French Bread. Keeping the good fight going for a decade for 2D gaming is certainly commendable.
Today we're going to look at a slightly different game from the fighters and shooters we've talked about so far, in this case Shinkenden's Qualia2 ~ Evolve. I'm categorizing it more under "other" than anything else, because it's not quite an action game, and not quite a shooter. The game has a slightly more unique feel to it than that.
Basically, players control a little creature on the screen that has to fight other little creatures by dropping bombs, and luring the enemy toward them so that they get hit by the explosions when the bombs go off. Every so often one will also face off against a boss. In this situation, luring them to the bombs usually isn't an option. Here players must try to slip through the boss' defenses and place the bombs near its vulnerable points so that they will inflict some damage when they go off.
As players progress through the levels, little green and red dots will somethings appear and float around the screen. Coming into contact with these will cause the player's on-screen character to evolve into a more power powerful creature. Depending on which order one takes these dots will impact the direction in which that creature will evolve. Everyone starts off as a flea, and it branches off from there. For example, a person could follow one evolutionary path and become a starfish, a creature that isn't terribly maneuverable, but can launch three bombs at once for massive damage. On the other hand, one could become a dragon, a far longer, more slender creature that can drop one bomb at a time, but is much faster and more maneuverable than the starfish. Half the fun is discovering what you can turn into. One other thing that I should note quickly in terms of gameplay is the physics, as the whole game feels like you're flowing through water, almost like your character is in the primordial ooze. It works quite well, and is a nice tough.
Qualia2's visuals go for a more abstract approach. Your character and the enemies are all wire-like outlines flowing around on a hex grid background that morphs as bombs go off around it. All the while some nice jazzy electronic music (that reminds me a bit of Ridge Racer 4) is playing in the background. It's simple and relaxing.
If you want to see the game in action, take a peak at the video below. Shinkenden has a demo for the game available for download from their site. Just follow the link I've provided at the top of this post to head there and check it out.
Creator: Team Shanghai Alice
It's unrelenting shoot 'em up time, as we take a quick look at The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, the first game released by the popular doujin game maker Team Shanghai Alice. This is actually the sixth in a series of shooters, but we saw marked changes with this installment. Firstly, the series switched from being developed under the Touhou Project banner to the Team Shanghai Alice label. Essentially they're still all done by the same person, known as Zun, it's just a change in development names. Also, Scarlet Devil saw the series shift firmly to a Windows platform, whereas all of the previous games in Touhou Project were made for the PC-98.
In the game, a red mist has spread over the region, and two heroines (the playable characters in the game) set out to see why this is and do something about it, each for their own reasons. One is the shrine maiden Reimu Hakurei who feels it's her duty to get to the bottom of this, and the other is a magician named Marisa Kirisama, who wonders if whoever did this may have some interesting magical goodies she can use. In the end it turns out that it was a vampire who did it in order to block the sun so that she could walk the earth in the daytime.
Scarlet Devil's action is intense bullet-saturation, with players dodging unyielding onslaughts of incoming fire. Depending on whether on chooses to play as Reimu or Marisa, their attack styles will be quite different. Reimu has a wide shot, allowing her to take out the cannon fodder a little more quickly, while Marisa is swifter, and more powerful, but doesn't have a wide shot. There are also a number of different features associated with bomb usage in the game. Firstly each heroine has their own unique bomb attack, as well these bombs can cancel out certain enemy attacks if timed correctly. One other interesting feature in the game is that players get special bonuses for not dying or using bombs during certain phases of enemy attacks.
Zun has created a mountain of amazing shooters over the years both under Touhou Project and Team Shanghai Alice, and The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil is no exception. If you want to try this game out, you can find it on his download page (as well as a a number of his other games).
Creators: French Bread & Type-Moon
I'm on a bit of a fighting game kick as of late, so I thought I'd revisit the genre again today, this time with the doujin classic Melty Blood. This game is of particular note because it is easily one of the best examples ever of both doujin soft and manga achieving a large level of success not only in Japan, but internationally. The game itself was developed by the popular circle French Bread, and was based on a visual novel by a manga-based doujin circle called Type Moon, both of which turned professional as their creations became more and more popular.
By and large, Melty Blood is a fairly traditional fighting game with the usual mix of chain combos, cancels, and a powerbar that can be filled for unloading super powerful attacks. There are also abilities such as mid-air recoveries, something called Magic Circuit that is required for a number of special attacks and can help regenerate health, and clashing (two attacks strike each other cancelling both out). The most important feature that the game brought to the table, though, was shielding. It would block an opponent's attack and leave them open to a vicious reversal afterward. However, attempting a thing was always risky, because if the timing was off it would leave the player open to attack instead.
Seeing as Melty Blood was originally a visual novel, the game had a very extensive story mode that changed depending on how players did in battle. It was an interesting approach compared to a lot of other fighting games that had a far more static, rigid approach to storytelling. The game had six characters to choose from at the beginning with more being unlockable as players progressed. Over time more were added to the series as patches were released for the game. Initially Melty Blood was introduced back in 2002 during that year's Comiket. Since that time the game has made its way both to the arcades as well as the PS2.
There aren't many doujin softs that have reached the level of commercial success achieved by Melty Blood, but it shouldn't come as a surprise given the quality of the game. It's an excellent fighter, has very nice sprite based 2D graphics, and has received constant support from its creators over the years. The series is well worth tracking down, with most import shops having at least the PS2 iterations in their inventory.
Crucis Fatal + Fake is the sequel to the Light's earlier doujin fighter, Fatal + Fake, all of which are based on the Fate/Stay Night franchise. As one might expect from a sequel, there are a lot of improvements in this new fighting game.
What's interesting about the setup for combat in Crucis is that players control a pair of characters where one is the master, and the other a servant. Normally players will just control the servant for the fights, where things take place in a typical manner for the genre, swinging away at their enemies, trying to pull off impressive combos and what not. As you might suspect, the masters are much more powerful characters that can do healing, and unload far greater damage, as well as taking the field should their servant be defeated. The twist here, though is that should a master be defeated at anytime it's a loss for that round no matter what. A big part of the fun is deciding how to pair servants and masters in the game as well as to find a combo that you're happy with, and there's quite a few of both to choose from.
Visually, the game looks great, just like the first game, with a nice cel shaded motif. The action is fast, and the graphics are able to keep up with it no problem. Like so many other games, this too has a demo available for download at the developer's site. You can snap it up over here if you like.
Creator: Kenta Cho
We can't really have much of a discussion about doujin soft without the name Kenta Cho coming up from time to time. He's one of the first game makers to really rise to prominence in the field over the last decade, putting out a number of interesting games at a steady pace. One of his early efforts was the side-scrolling shooter Tumiki Fighters (2004).
"Tumiki" is a variation on the word "tsumiki", which means building blocks. In the game the player takes control of an airplane made of these blocks, and blasts up wave after wave of enemy ships also made of blocks, with a nice boss fight at the end of each level. Unlike his other games, Tumiki FIghters does not use random enemy or level generation. It's a far more structured experience with a defined ending.
Like Kenta Cho's other games, Tumiki is a very solid experience. The controls are bang on, the visuals have a more abstract look to them, and the music is appropriately peppy electronic fair in this instance. The game provides a very respectable challenge with a lot of incoming enemy fire both during the stage and the boss fight at its end.
If you're unfamiliar with his work, Tumiki Fighter is as good a game as any to see what Kenta Cho is capable of, and there is the added advantage that this game is available not only on Windows, but also for the Mac and Linux (the game even got a commercial release on the Wii last year via Majesco). Check the links below for download files for your respective OS if you feel like giving this game a shot.
Tumiki Fighters Windows
Tumiki Fighters Mac
Tumiki Fighters Linux
Watched Paprika for the first time in a while today. I've always been a sucker for Satoshi Kon's work, but this film in particular is a favorite of mine. The existential themes discussed in it are quite interesting, and the way the imagery walks a very fine line between the dream world in which much of the movie takes place, and utter madness is brilliant. The only real downside is that after watching it, I've got the parade song stuck in my head now. It's a good track, but after it's been repeating in my mind for a few hours it gets a little annoying. ^_^;
Creators: Team Gris Gris
Genre: Action Adventure
What a pretty game we have here. In the tradition of side-scrolling action adventure games like The Adventure of Link Team Gris Gris bring us Tetrabash. A fun little romp that has players hacking up monsters while hunting treasure and other assorted goodies.
Sporting very high production values that utilize cel shading the game has a nice, cartoony feel to it, and a somewhat cute vibe thanks to the use of bright colors, and very anime-inspired character design. At the same time, Tetrabash also sounds great with solid sound effects, and a nice, orchestral soundtrack that reminds me of some of Sqaure-Enix's action adventure outings like Brave Fencer Musashi and Threads of Fate (I was actually a bit surprised to see that Squeenix still has an official site up in English for Threads of Fate despite the game having been released almost a decade ago).
The action is all straightforward enough. Players control Tetrabash's protagonist, Radish Mercury, having him hack up various badguys while platforming around levels in search of treasure, and the occasion item that will either make him stronger, or unlock the areas to come. All the while he gains experience for defeating his foes, thus gaining levels, and getting a little stronger as he goes. The controls are very responsive, and Radish behaves quite well on-screen. About the only thing players will need to get used to is that whenever he swings his sword, Radish shuffles forward a tiny bit. So, if players aren't careful they may find themselves accidentally bumping into enemies and taking damage as they are fighting.
The story telling elements of the game are quite kanji-heavy, so a lot of people will have difficulty keeping up with the narrative in the game, but the action itself is easy enough to follow. If you want to give Tetrabash a try, Team Gris Gris has a short demo available for download on the game's official site. Grab it here and give it a shot.
Genre: Shoot 'Em Up
Schmups are usually known for their fast pace, as players weave through constant barrages of enemy fire, while players still have to blast up wave after wave of incoming bad guys. It's a very visceral experience. PlaDzmA certainly has all this, but it tackles the whole power-up thing a little bit differently. Instead of collecting them as one goes through the level, players acquire credits in each level that can be spent at a shop between stages. Here one can snap up new primary and secondary weapons, and even new ships, among other goodies. It's a bit reminiscent of Area 88 / UN Squadron on the SNES in that regards. Thankfully, much of the writing in the shop is in katakana, so if you can read that, there shouldn't be much difficulty in discerning what weapon does what before purchasing.
PlaDzmA isn't terribly long, with only a handful of levels, but they are fun and stretch out for quite some way before reaching a boss. The combat also scales quite well as you progress through a stage. It starts off slow, and gradually builds up as you progress. By the end, players will find themselves weaving all sorts of incoming fire while trying to get in some shots on their enemies. As all of this is going on, there are two bars on the right hand side of the screen that gradually fill up as players blow up more and more baddies. As the bars fill up, they can help you get extra ships, as well as replenish your special attack. I thought this was a pretty neat way of getting extra lives, and bombs, as opposed to chasing down icons zigzagging across the screen.
It's definitely worth spending some time with this schmup. It's well laid out, looks and sounds very good, and makes for a nice way to kill an hour or so when you have some free time to relax. Rezetia has a link for downloading a demo of the game on their site (linked above) if you feel like giving the game a whirl.
I've been interested in the homebrew scene out of Japan for quite some time, but always found it difficult to track down information about these games in English when trawling the internet. A few of the big hits like Milky Blood, or the latest Kenta Cho creation get some mentions in the mainstream gaming press, but consistent, in-depth coverage is pretty rare. I'm hoping this blog will help to change that to some degree.
Doujin Gamer is aimed at getting the word out about these great games, and exposing Western audiences to them in greater number. This is more of a fan site than a news site, so posts will be lengthy discussions of specific titles more than anything else, but if I come across some interesting tidbits of news I'll try and mention it here as well.
For those who only have a very basic idea of what doujin is, a quick overview is probably in order. Basically, doujin is fan made content in a specific field in Japan, where the two most popular mediums to come about have been in manga and games. In so far as games are concerned, groups of like-minded programmers, artists, musicians, scriptwriters, and so forth join into groups (usually referred to as circles) to develop a game, or on occasion people go it alone in creating one.
Most of the popular genres that we see everyday on the various consoles are covered by the makers of doujin soft, but schmups, fighters, and RPGs do tend to be made more than other genres. One interesting thing you'll notice is that these homebrews help keep some genres alive that might otherwise have died as commercial developers abandon them for more profitable pastures. Thankfully doujin soft circles do what they do because it's a very special hobby to them, and not because they're in it for the money. As such, it's become a good place to look to for schmup fans, and other genres that don't get a lot of play in mainstream gaming these days.
Anyway, I'm going to leave it at that for now. I hope you find this site useful, and a lot of fun too.