This Week’s Topics:
- The OG Queen of F2M TSF Manga
- Gushing about fetish analysis
- Musings about digital public libraries
- A reminder that AAA games are not the real video games
- Nina Tendo’s biannual digest
- Stanning the number one coke whore
Rundown Preamble Ramble:
Rintarou Panic! is DOPE!
This past week, I was given a positively delightful gift from long-time Natalie.TF reader Chari, who has graced the world with an English translation of what very well might be the first female-to-male TSF manga. A manga by the name of Rintarou Panic! Which she has not shared publicly yet, making this a Natalie.TF Launch Exclusive TSF Manga Drop that you can download here!
The comic follows Hinako, a young grade school girl who happens across a pin that transforms her into a boy… and also allows her to talk to her pet dog, Rintarou. With this power, Hinako starts assuming a second identity as Nova, a superstar football player and unintentional ‘chick magnet,’ and gets into an assortment of largely familiar scrambles. Hinako and Nova are invited to the same party, forcing Hinako to swap back and forth. The transformation pin gets lost or damaged or stolen. Hinako is just tired of girl stuff and wants to play with the boys. Or she stumbles into various forms of ‘boy trouble.’
The format’s largely episodic, chapters range from four to twenty pages long, and there is not much that I would consider to be wholly unique about the comic. …None of which is surprising considering this is a 30-year-old comedy series made for children. But that does not matter because Rintarou Panic! is executed with the finesse of a master of their craft. Which, considering this is a project from the legendary Keiko Takemiya, shouldn’t surprise me.
What do I mean by ‘a master of their craft?’ Well, let’s talk about the ‘energy’ of this story.
With such a short page count per chapter, there is only so much that can be accomplished with each chapter, but rather than viewing this as a limitation, Takemiya viewed this as a challenge. Reading through the comic at first, I was surprised that it was only 240 pages, as it felt longer than that. And flipping back through it, I am utterly amazed at how much information is conveyed in only a single page. Never does the comic ever feel rushed or too short. Instead, it is just as long as it needs to be.
There is a creative energy and enthusiasm that fills every panel. The comic is positively flushed with little details and sparks of passion. And, as a whole, it made for one of the most pleasant comic reading experiences I’ve had in a good while. Which is saying something as I typically go through a couple hundred pages of comics a week.
And then there are the characters. You of course have Hinako. She’s crafty, she has enthusiasm for days, and while she makes mistakes, they are almost a highlight thanks to her childlike exaggerations. When bad things happen, it is the worst thing ever, but when everything is all well and good, she’s happy as a peach!
Rintarou is often smarter and more cautious than his owner— as most talking dogs are— and he most often serves as Hinako’s confidant. The friend she can talk to, who can bail her out of sticky situations, and serves as her second set of eyes. Just like a superhero sidekick! Also, he’s a freaking dog, and the story knows when to use this to good effect. Like preventing him from helping Hinako when she’s in humans-only places, giving him his own doggy love interest, or having him run around when the story doesn’t need him. Just like a real dog!
But then you have the antagonist! Computer Granny! Or rather just Granny. She’s the only one other than Rintarou who knows about Hinako’s magic pin, and every few chapters, she hatches some harebrained scheme to steal it or use it to play a prank on her granddaughter. Or in other words, she’s basically the Team Rocket of this story, and she is the best character.
I adore her exaggerated demon-like grin, accentuated by wrinkles that one could only develop from a lifetime of profound tomfoolery. How she still ultimately loves Hinako and never tries to hurt her, but instead treats her… almost like more of a younger sibling than a granddaughter. But the biggest thing I love about her is what she represents on a meta-textual level.
The story is set in the early 90s, and Granny is clearly in her 60s, meaning… she’s seen a lot of stuff. She would have seen Japan embrace wartime fascism. Saw her home country get obliterated by the United States military. Entered into adulthood during the post-war reconstruction. And see her country enter a new golden age as it became a global economic powerhouse. After going through all that, working, raising a family, and living a full life, what does she do? Use her pension and savings to buy a bunch of computers, get super good at video games despite having old person hands, dye her hair blonde, and dress in the most casual youth fashions she can.
Rather than drift away from technology as she gets older, she embraces it. Despite seeing all sorts of nasty stuff, she still has the heart of a child. And why does she want the pin, anyway? Does she want to see if being a dude suits her better or something? Nah. She wants to become Godzilla and destroy Tokyo!
I wish she was real, I wish she was my grandma, and when I grow up, in a trim 35 years, I wanna be just like her!
…But wait! There is another antagonist, and I love her almost as much! Introduced halfway through the series’ run is Ruby, a wealthy transfer student from Hawaii who likes the same boy as Hinako. She has the dual purpose of acting as the only truly defined other child character in the story, and as a contrasting spoiled brat rival to the levelheaded and humble Hinako.
While Hinako is smart and liked, Ruby wants everyone to know she’s the best. While Hinako dresses in highly fashionable streetwear, Ruby looks like she has a stylist at home to make sure she’s ready to walk out onto the little tykes runway. Ruby freaks out a bunch and never likes to show weakness, while Hinako actually accepts that she’s just a kid.
Though, I think what I like most about Ruby is that, despite being a girly girl on the surface, she’s actually quite athletic. She’s able to outplay most of the boys at football, has very outdoorsy hobbies, and that’s a central part of most of her chapters. She is active, has a lot of enthusiasm, and is a more well-rounded human than most people with their own helicopter on call. Sadly, she does not get quite as much room to shine as I would like, and the comic feels like it stops a bit before she reaches the peak of her rivalry with Hinako.
Side note, but I’m pretty sure that Ruby is supposed to be Black, or perhaps a Pacific Islander. Why do I say that? Well, the artwork never fails to highlight her gorgeous curls, in the black and white latter chapters, she is drawn as a shade darker than every other character, and she also has… pronounced lips. …This might just be to show that she is wearing lipstick, but this was the 90s, so you never know…
Okay, that’s the characters, that’s the tone, but you know what smacked me in the face when I first started reading this comic? The art! Rintarou Panic! is clearly drawn by someone from a generation predating the more homogenized modern anime aesthetic, but it is utterly gorgeous all the same. There is a lot that I could talk about if I knew more about the evolution of the manga/anime aesthetic, but there are two things that I really want to talk about. The colors and the drip.
For as much as I believe the move to digital has been an excellent boon to artists in general, there is something that I dearly love about the aesthetic of an image colored by pencils. They assign a specific texture and shading that I seldom ever see attempted, let alone replicated, in a digital environment, and it gives Rintarou Panic! a distinct look. A soft, welcoming, and distinctly childish look, while routinely impressing me with the skill and detail that go into the illustration of each character. The way hair is given additional detail or waves, the texture and life given to background objects spanning trees to dirt to blank walls, and how white space is used to make sure the colors pop.
It is a shame that only about half of the comic is presented like that, but even when the comic is in black and white, it still looks great. The paneling, effects, expressions, and general design of the characters are all impressive… but what my eye drifted to, immediately, with every chapter, was the clothes the characters were wearing.
While I am by no means into fashion, or am even remotely fashionable, I have a love of seeing characters wear striking and possibly unconventional outfits. Outfits that serve as extensions of their personality, and are changed regularly as they experiment with what look works best for them. There is a good reason why a lot of media do not do this. Character designs are more marketable when they are static, and it is easier to draw a character repeatedly if they have a fixed look with simpler clothing. But that just makes me admire this extra detail all the more.
The clothing featured in Rintarou Panic! is amazing and also so gosh darn varied that the comic practically doubles as an early 90s Japanese fashion catalog. You have Hinako’s cute and girly outfits, mostly dresses, with a lot of bright red and yellows that really make her look like a bold and outgoing girl, without being a show-off. Well, unless she is in a kimono/yukata, which are pretty much for showing off.
On the other end, Hinako’s outfit gets boy-ified with every transformation, and… it really shows how much boy’s clothes SUCK next to girl’s clothes, but they still look fly as heck. Most of the drip consists of shorts with a graphic tee, sweater, or hoodie on top. But despite this, Nova almost always looks utterly precious. My favorite has to be the outfit from “The Most Popular!” where they’re wearing a backwards denim cap, a black and green sweater with “Rintarou Panic” written on it, and two layers of black and green shorts. Nova looks like a kid who gets dressed by a mom with a ‘dated’ sense of fashion, and that means he always looks fly as heck.
Something that I love about old women’s fashion is how you can pretty much wear whatever the hell you want, and can prioritize comfy before looking good. Which is exactly Granny’s MO. She always looks like she could nap in whatever she is wearing, whether it be a branded jumper, a baggy summer shirt, or even the occasional dress. She doesn’t need to impress anyone anymore… but she still likes to experiment, because dressing up is cool! And I think the best example of this is the wild multi-colored puzzle piece jacket from “I Can’t Transform?! Part 2.” She is a woman with the freedom to dress however she wants, whenever she wants, and she never dresses in a truly boring way..
Oh, and then there is Ruby! The fashionista! Most of her outfits are uncolored, which is a shame, but their designs are a thing of beauty. It’s all dresses, all elaborate and rarely all that practical, with big eye-catching designs no matter the occasion, even when she’s at the flea market!
While her hair is always up, with little stylish strands over her forehead she regularly switches up her accessories. She’s got themed earrings, a buncha scrunchies she changes up, and even sometimes throws flowers into her hair, because she knows it makes her look cute! Normally, I get a bit weirded out when I see little girls dressing up this much, but everything about Ruby makes her seem like she wants this.
This comic makes me wish I lived in an era where character designs were this fluid and could vary this much. In fact, I love the threads of this comic so darn much that I am going to STEAL these outfits and put them in Verde’s Doohickey 2.0! Because this drip is too good to waste!
All of this, all of this and more, are what make Rintarou Panic! one of my favorite TSF comics I have read this past year. As such, I URGE everyone reading this to check out, even if it is just to soak up more of Keiko Yamashita’s fantastic artwork.
Next! Let’s Talk About SEX!
(Natalie Talks About an Essay About Body Swap Fetishes)
Seeing as how I just talked about a children’s comic, let’s talk about… an article about SEX and FETISHES. This is another gift from Chari, as she directed me to this obscure article, which I want to highlight because it is something that I rarely ever see. A 1,000+ word essay by someone explaining their personal fascination with body swapping, and why it is their personal fetish. I did something (vaguely) like this with Natalie Rambles About TSF last year, but I always love hearing why other people like this malarkey.
The article, About Sex: Understanding the Body Swap and The Transformation Fetishes by Sr. Estranho, is not really an in-depth breakdown. Rather a primer on the topic and summary of why the writer finds body swapping so enticing, or rather, erotic, and I think they raise a few interesting points.
Their fascination with body swapping is geared around “being forced to be, to become, what you are not.” Not necessarily on the sensation of being in another body, but rather the more social ramifications. Ones where people need to undergo ‘opposite’ gender roles and are robbed of what they took for granted, while inheriting the problems of someone else.
As for why they are into body swapping as a fetish, Estranho takes more of a ‘sex researcher’ perspective and identifies it as fulfilling two kinks. The first being that of humiliation.
While women are allowed to be masculine to an extent, to wear what are extensively male clothes, the same is not true for men. Men are taught that it is humiliating to display signs of femininity, to dress like a woman, or do stereotypically feminine activities. This is, to Estranho, what makes male-to-female swaps so compelling, but they also highlight female-to-female swaps as having their own potential for humiliation. As becoming fatter, uglier, or less stylish is seen as more shameful than it is in men, who have less pressure to be thin, handsome, or good at dressing themselves.
The second kink involves authority and submission, with most of their examples centering around the power play with family members. With adults being forced to act as children, being denied the things they took for granted, and becoming submissive. While, simultaneously, the children gain the authority and power of a parent. Which, for anybody into more kinky stuff, is a pretty common idea. The dom becoming the sub and their relationship inverting.
Now, I think Estranho provides a valuable perspective, but despite their article’s title implying that it provides a more detailed exploration, it is a bit… narrow in my opinion. Estranho does not really acknowledge other sources of appeal. Or, in the case of FtM swaps, not acknowledge it in any of the examples. So let me try to expand upon their foundation.
The way I see it, humiliation is just one part of a male-to-female body swap’s appeal. It can be seen as emasculating, but at the same time, it can be seen as just the opposite. An M2F body swap gives a man the freedom of being able to act like a girl and engage with femininity in a way that was previously culturally prohibited from them. Some people find the loss of power to be arousing, others find its denial to be arousing, and both are equally possible under the genre of a body swap. Hell, a lot of the time all it takes is for the context to be different. To have the protagonist steal a body, or be forced into one.
The analysis of F2F swaps also only covers a few factors, such as weight, beauty, or style. Things that people immediately perceive when looking at someone, but there are so many other factors that go into defining a body or the life of someone else. Body type, weight, height, age, status, race, ability, and so forth. People come in all shapes and sizes, and I think to ignore this is a lack of curiosity in what it is like to be someone else.
It actually reminds me of this image I threw into my collection a little while back. I think it came from Blogilates, but SauceNao and Google Images failed to give me a clear source.
If y’all can’t see how some would find this to be hot as hell to someone, then you ain’t got no place talkin’ bout fetishes…
Estranho’s article also weirdly mirrors how disinterested a lot of body swap enthusiasts are into F2M and M2M swaps. Going so far as to dismiss M2M swaps as having limited potential by highlighting how “men can’t have a look so different.” Which… is not how men work. If you can’t tell the difference between two dudes with 30 centimeters, 30 kilograms, and a beard of difference between them, I dunno what to tell you.
Though, I don’t really blame Estranho for thinking there is not much to explore. F2M and M2M are mostly explored within a dedicated niche of this niche, and are seen as just less interesting by a lot of body swap enthusiasts. I would ask why, but I know the answer is that most body swap fans tend to prefer girls and have a stronger reaction when the protagonist ends up a girl. Which is a shame, as I know that these are fantasies that some people have, and there is as much room for exploration here as there is with M2F and F2F.
Body swaps are fascinating to me because they are an exchange of so many things between two people. Their looks, their age, their sex, their status, their power, and their lives. Humans only ever get to experience life as themselves, and body swapping is a tool to explore a world where that is not the case. Where people can experience everything that comes with being someone else, someone far different than them, and change their worldview accordingly. From seeing what it is like to be a child while having the mind as an adult, having one’s privileges stripped away from them, or being seen as part of a community that once seemed so foreign.
It is a bottomless idea bucket, but it is also easy to get lost into thinking that people are here for a specific thing, when people are fascinated by body swapping for all sorts of reasons. For me, it is a fascination with the idea of people being able to change who they are and all that comes with it. While others enjoy the idea of people becoming someone they aren’t supposed to be. And I think that’s cool!
Libraries and Media as a Public Good
(Natalie Rambles About Digital Public Libraries)
Something that I wish I took advantage of more as a child was my public library. Specifically, the Skokie Public Library— which is an absolutely amazing library. It’s spacious, it’s aesthetically pleasant, sound does not travel far, there are a bunch of great amenities including several computer labs, and its collection of stuff is mind-boggling. It was a place where, as a child, I could get books, music, movies, and even comics, and I visited it at least once a month.
However, around 2010, when I was 15, something strange happened. My library started carrying video games. Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3 titles. No handhelds, only consoles, but genuine video games. As a video game dork, this seemed like a dream come true to me, as it meant that I, theoretically, no longer needed to buy games. I could just pick one up, check it out, and play it for a week, and renew it once (or twice, I forget) unless someone else reserved it. And seeing as how my library allows people to request new items, I was able to ask them to buy any game I was interested in, and it would show up a short while later.
I knew this, even as a teenager… but I still rarely ever made use of this feature of the library. Why? Well, it’s because I didn’t just want to play games. I was into the idea of having a gaming collection. A series of over 100 boxes that I could line up on my shelf, showing how dedicated I was to my hobby. I wanted to have physical representations of how much I adored something, and the freedom to play these games whenever I want, without waiting for any holds or anything.
Now, this system of holds and inventory was due to the physical limitations of libraries, as they can only stock so many products and rarely ever buy more than a few copies. However, in this modern era, many libraries also have digital rental services provided by the likes of Hoopla and OverDrive, both of which I have access to through my library. These free ‘public good’ services give people access to millions of ebooks, albums, movies, and so forth, far more than most libraries could ever hope to stock or distribute.
Despite that sounding like a lot, the truth is that the libraries of these services are actually pretty limited, and there does not appear to be any way to request unique titles. But more importantly, the glorified DRM makes it difficult to copy these titles, which is something that libraries were historically great for. Seriously, my father has a music collection of hundreds of CD’s he burned by borrowing albums from the library and making copies for personal use. Which, for the record, is legal. You can copy stuff you borrow for personal use. And even if media companies lobbied to make it illegal, it sure as hell isn’t stealing.
The only reason this DRM exists is because it NEEDS to exist in order for the service to work. Otherwise, it would be a way for people to obtain these works, digitally, freely, and perpetually once they are available at a library.
That sounds outlandish but, and stick with me here, isn’t being able to access knowledge and art, for free, kind of the point of a library? The only reason why hold limits exist and people can only check out X number of books is because libraries were originally only able to stock physical goods. With a digital good, there is no inherent reason why it should have DRM, be locked to a platform, and not made available in its most accessible format. (EPUB, MP3, MP4, etc.)
The only reason why people need to deal with this inconvenience is an economical one. Because, under capitalism, creative and intellectual works need to be sold. They need to produce capital for the creators or, as is most often the case, rights holders. This is ‘just the way the world works’ and something people are supposed to just accept. But as I have continued to age, I cannot help but feel as if this model is… outdated.
This model is based around art being a product and a commodity, which was a necessity to fund its creation and the production of materials for distribution. But now in this new digital age, there basically are no more distribution costs. The art just needs to be uploaded to a server, be made publicly available for download and… that’s pretty much it. It’s infinitely faster than a physical distribution, with virtually no costs. As such, from a distribution standpoint, there’s no good reason why digital goods should cost anything.
This is not me going against creative works, saying that artists should be starving and unable to profit off of their work. Far from it. I think that creators should still be able to profit from their works. What I actually want is a unified government-run digital library system with the goal of distributing as much material as possible. I want a system where the government buys a perpetual license to most major books, music, film, shows, and so forth. A license that would include a flat fee, and also pay residuals based on how many people engage with a work, based on engagement time, reception, and ‘circulations.’
Now, the actual details of this model would be far more complex and require continuous fine-tuning, but I think that with enough asterisks, this model could work. Works would need to be reviewed to avoid platforming things with negative social value, so the government does not wind up promoting hate speech. While creators would still be granted the full rights to create physical versions of their artwork. This would include physical books, Blu-rays, CDs, screenings, concerts, related merch, and so forth, to make additional income.
I also would not want this model to be truly competitive. For the residuals and fees to be so good that every major company would want to rely on this digital library system to make money. So, how would the government be able to do this? Well, they could just take the money from the wealthiest people in the country. I think that most people would be okay with the government taking billions away from billionaires if it means they get millions of free books, albums, movies, and so forth.
Circling back to the whole video game hook I began this segment with, it could work just the same. And I don’t even need to say much more other than this: ‘Imagine if the government had its own version of Xbox Game Pass, let people submit games to it, and not only paid an upfront fee, but offered residuals as people played these games. Also, it is free to all persons/citizens.’
Something like this is definitely possible, and it would be an incredible boon for pretty much everyone. It would remove a lot of risk associated with launching projects, because the government could pay back the bulk or entirety of the budget… so long as it is approved. And it would make books, music, film, TV shows, and games into public goods, making entertainment… free to most people.
Unfortunately, this concept is little more than a sheer fantasy due to the current state of the government of the United States. Which is currently dealing with a rising tide of fascism, human rights issues, crumbling infrastructure, and gross wealth disparity. All of which have pretty clear-cut solutions to them, but this is a nation operated by two parties. One wants to turn the country into a class-based dystopia. While the other one would be a conservative party in any government that actually represented the ideals of the majority of the population.
Oh well. I guess I’ll just pocket this idea and use it for the alternate history 2025 of Psycho Shatter VN: Vice Novus. A project featuring a pedophile, cannibal, mass-murdering, non-binary, time traveling God who took control of 69% of the world’s governments, and wound up creating a quasi-ideal socialist society. Where housing, food, and utilities are effectively free, universal basic income is the norm, and human rights are respected by every major world government.
Out With The AAA; In With The Old
(Natalie Rambles About The State of AAA & Retro Gaming)
If the AAA games industry had approval rates, they would probably be down pretty low after this past month. A bunch of live service shutdowns were announced or are just around the corner, showing how fickle and unprofitable the idea of always online gaming is. Layoffs have hurt several developers, if only because cutting operating expenses technically boosts profits. Several major AAA titles over the past few months have had mixed critical reception. And YouTube’s algorithm has been sending me loads of videos about how ‘AAA gaming is dying,’ and games are worse now than ever before. All because of… a few cherry picked examples.
All of this makes me think about the state of the industry, where it can go from here, and what will happen over the next few years… But I know the answer. The AAA industry is going to rearrange itself slightly before continuing to pursue the avenue that makes them the most money. Money will be wasted, studios will shutter, but gaming is pretty much too big to fail. Gaming is bigger than film, music, and even books, and that’s not gonna change anytime soon. The only thing that will change is that gaming will become bigger than film, music, and books combined! …Probably.
However, this discourse about ‘modern gaming’ poked away at an old gripe of mind. And it is this industry and related enthusiasts’ obsession with the new.
As a medium, gaming is constantly at war with its own history. Part of this is due to the fixation and reliance on console gaming, dedicated hardware, and support for operating systems without the best backwards compatibility. Games are designed for specific systems, and as those systems get older, or as operating systems evolve, then those games become harder to play and access. If you only own a modern gaming system today, then you are largely locked off from playing anything from the 20th century unless it has been ported or remastered for modern hardware.
This is utterly pathetic from a preservation standpoint, and I hate the fact that the games industry has regressed so much with their official preservation efforts. The Virtual Console and PSOne Classics were not perfect, but they were a lot better than the modern incarnation, where fewer titles are available, and only through subscription services. Without the ability to access older titles on modern consoles, it becomes so much harder to really view gaming as an expansive medium spanning decades.
This is a critique I have made or seen in the past, and it usually warrants one of three responses.
The first is to highlight how ‘games are not like other mediums.’ This argument often highlights how newer games are ‘better’ and have superior quality of life features than older ones. In addition to how, unless someone is nostalgic for their youth, people just do not go back and play older games like they may watch a film or read a book that’s several decades old.
While there is some truth about how it is harder for some people to enjoy a game if it seems more ‘primitive’ than what they are used to… you could say the same thing about every other medium. Whether it be not liking black and white movies, not enjoying anything in a 4:3 aspect ratio, having no interest in music before the 80s, or lacking the patience for anything written 100+ years ago. Most people have cut-off points for media, but why should platforms be able to decide what that cutoff point is for them?
Plus, quality of life is not everything. It is good and should be celebrated, but every era of gaming has its own pros and cons, and some people mesh with other eras better than others. Whether it be design philosophies, aesthetics, or a general vibe that cannot be found anywhere else. People are not machines who will swallow any game for being ‘good enough’ or ‘close enough’ to their preferences.
As for how people ‘do not go back’ to older games, I would say that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The gaming marketing machine has taught people to become obsessed with performance, graphics, and general fidelity, to view better fidelity as indicating a better game. This, combined with the fact that most older games are not made available through ‘authorized’ means that they are not seen as ‘playable.’ If something is not on the PlayStation store or Switch eShop, it may as well not exist to a lot of people. Not because they are ‘dumb,’ but because they are too damn sensible. They bought a system that can play games… so it should be able to play any game it could reasonably run, right? And if a game is not on a game system, it does not really exist to them.
Also, making older games available on modern systems is what got a lot of people into older games in the first place. Do you know how many Sonic fans got into the Genesis Sonic games because of re-releases? Most of them! Sadly, aside from a few collections and services, if people want to play games before 2000, or 2013 in some cases, they need to go elsewhere to get their fix.
Response number two is that if people want to play older games… there is always emulation. I have been a champion of emulation as a means of preservation for a long time now, and every time I talk about it, I feel myself growing ever more liberal about the concept. Emulation makes older games widely accessible, is filled with options to enhance the experience with hacks and emulator settings, and they’re pretty easy to run nowadays. Emulation is the people, the masses, the proletariat, taking gaming back from the corporate overlords who rule this industry and transform it into a public good. One that anyone can enjoy so long as they are willing to download some sorta sketchy ROM or ISO files and load up an emulator.
With continued development of emulators and front ends like RetoArch and LaunchBox, the emulation scene is arguably more friendly and welcoming than modern gaming. And when combined with the recent influx of decompilation and reverse engineering, I would argue that it provides a better experience than any publisher could offer. Which is why I think it is such a shame that so many people prefer the ‘official’ release when it is, so often, worse. I am still amazed at the sorry state of Nintendo Switch Online’s back catalog…
Response number three is that if people want to play games, there is always the retro gaming scene. …Which I strongly dislike on principle. Now, I got into ‘gaming culture’ around the height of the first major ‘retro boom.’ So I have a certain fondness for iconography of gaming systems older than I am, and I remember being greatly impressed by a number of gaming collections throughout my youth. However, as I grow older and more jaded, I cannot help but view the entire scene in a negative light.
Why is that? Well, retro gaming has become two things. A status symbol and a form of investment. Instead of being a way for people to access the games they like, the idea of having a gaming collection, as a collection, has become a sort of way to flaunt oneself. To express their dedication in the form of physical objects… and to convey their wealth.
Retro games cost a lot of money, so anybody with shelves full of 20 to 40-year-old games is probably sitting on a few thousand dollars. Some people have realized this, and chosen to game the retro gaming market. Because of them, the market is now full of scammers and grifters who buy up inventory and then trickle it in, controlling the price and steadily raising the price of these limited and sought after assets.
It is artificial scarcity and artificial demand, so that those who invested in retro gaming can profit. And even if people weren’t actively doing this… the market kind of naturally shifts in that direction over time. The inventory for retro games and hardware will only ever decrease, as games get lost or damaged, discs rot, and old hardware just stops working. It is a market that will only get more expensive as more people decide to amass more collections. Collections that could be interjected into the market during times of financial hardship, or as part of estate liquidation, but generally won’t be.
Retro gaming is a special sort of privilege that only a few people get to really engage with, and I think that is something of a shame. Before the boom, retro gaming stuff was pretty much relegated to clearance bins, charity shops, and whoever bought new old stock from FuncoLand back in 1998. It was something enjoyed by people who didn’t have enough money for a PlayStation but could buy an NES for $20 and games for $5 a piece. It was a fascination for old tech enthusiasts who admired gaming systems and the like as bits of technology. …But then retro gaming became a signifier of identity, and everything went to crap.
This is probably a really shitty analogy, but if emulation is a socialization of gaming, then retro gaming is a capitalization of gaming.
…What was I talking about again? Oh, right. Modern gaming is full of problems, but aside from live services or titles with bullcrap DRM, games do not really go away. Decades of games are available to be played, even if they are not always given the spotlight they should. And when you combine these games with the thriving AA and independent scenes of the modern era… I truly do think gaming is in a good space. You just need to ignore the biggest and noisiest names. Which is something that I have been doing for… 4 years.
Yeah, I gave up on the AAA games industry after Mass Effect Andromeda, and that is a very good game to end that relationship on. …By which I mean the game sucks and suffers from many problems endemic to the modern AAA games.
Are First-Party Nintendo Games AAA Titles?
(A Bridge Between Two Segments)
…Now, I say that I am not interested in the AAA industry any longer, but I still play several marquee Nintendo games, and just played Pokémon Violet last month. Am I saying that Nintendo games are not AAA despite their high production values, polish, and high sales figures?
Yes, yes I am.
The concept of a AAA game was a marketing ploy that became popular in the mid-2000s, when game budgets were getting bigger, production values were getting higher, and games became bigger financial risks. It was quickly picked up by the online gaming community, where it became shorthand for blockbuster or big budget games. However, there exists no formal definition, and what is and is not a AAA game will vary depending on who you ask.
That being said, when I see people discuss ‘AAA games,’ they almost always use it as a shorthand for big budget western developed titles. Ones with large detailed worlds, elaborate set pieces, and ‘mature’ features of some variety. Rarely do I see Japanese games referenced as AAA unless they have a distinctly ‘western’ aesthetic, and when people refer to Nintendo published titles. They just call them Nintendo games and use them as a way to contrast the AAA games industry.
Why is that? Well, because Nintendo’s games are typically designed differently, look different, generally feel different, and appeal to different people than the typical AAA game. They are also enjoyed by different venn diagrams of people. Nintendo fans have their own communities, dedicated websites, and people who regularly talk about Nintendo tend to primarily talk about Nintendo, or Nintendo flavored games. …Which mostly means stuff like mascot platformers.
Meanwhile, the broader AAA games industry largely passed on Nintendo consoles for a solid decade, from 2006 to 2016. While some AAA games technically made it on these systems, their production values were often worse, or they were year-old ports. This created a cultural divide where Nintnedo was seen as its own entity, separate from the broader AAA-focused console gaming industry, and that still holds true to this day. As such, I think it is a meaningful distinction to make between Nintendo games and AAA games.
You are free to disagree with me on this front. There is no formal definition of this, and any ‘debate’ about this term would… just devolve into people arguing about what they want a word to mean.
Nintendo Direct 2023 – 1 of 2
(Rundown of the February 8, 2023 Nintendo Direct)
…On that note, it’s time for a Nintendo Direct roundup! Once again, I have to say that the zeal and vigor that surrounds these things has stopped being cute and has blossomed into a vile spore of madness. Why is that? Honestly, I blame YouTubers for getting Nintendorks hyped up and training them to become vicious little monsters of positivity and optimism.
Don’t get me wrong, I generally like Nintendorks, but I think the Wii U generation kind of broke them. They want Nintendo to be the best and biggest game company, for all their desires to be manifested into reality, and for everything Nintendo produces to be the best version it possibly could. I find their hope admirable… but I also find it a bit scary how they treat Nintendo Directs almost like a blessing from their god.
Pikmin 4 is Real-er!
(Pikmin 4 Gameplay Reveal)
Pikmin is a weird series, as people at Nintendo clearly care about it, and the games have consistently sold well enough. But it has never really broken into the upper echelon of their IPs, and it is currently sporting a ‘once a decade’ release strategy. …Which has felt longer than normal, as people have been expecting a Pikmin 4 since 2015 or so. This is why so many people found it so cathartic when the game was finally announced in the previous Nintendo Direct. This one began with a gameplay debut of this title… and based on its first gameplay trailer… It sure looks like a Pikmin game.
It is still a game about exploring a small world from a tiny perspective, growing a variety of Pikmin to help build, bash, and haul things, and finding treasure as part of the protagonist’s mission. However, there are an expected assortment of innovations thrown in here.
Ice Pikmin to freeze enemies and ponds. A dog helper named Oatchi who is good at finding treasure, carrying stuff back to base, and swimming across large bodies of water. Caves are back after their debut in Pikmin 2, which is a curious decision considering how… contentious they were among Pikmin fans. And rather than never depicting the world at night, Pikmin 4 will have some variety of the ‘enemies get stronger and more vicious at night’ thing.
However, the biggest and more obvious change over prior games is the camera. While previous games were styled almost like an RTS, the camera here is a lot more typical of third person action games. Which I find an interesting approach, given how a key feature of Pikmin 3 was the sheer quantity of Pikmin the player controlled, and ability to shift between three commanders. Here, it looks like a ‘back to basics’ affair with one player controlled characters and a more intimate view on the world. It is a curious decision that could change the feel of the game considerably, but might also make the game more approachable to newcomers.
Also, I have to point out that I do not understand how art designers think excessively blurred backgrounds like this look good. I get that this is just distance blur meant to simulate how a camera loses focus, but there are no cameras here. This is a video game, not a movie, and video games should not limit how they look to be more ‘filmic.’
Pikmin 4 will be released on July 21st, 2023.
From Latin With Love 2 – 23 Years Later
(Samba de Amigo is BACK!!!)
Sega is often shunned for not taking advantage of their ample back catalog of IP, and one of their… semi-forgotten games is Samba de Amigo. A Dreamcast and arcade rhythm game by Sonic Team that is really only remembered by diehard Sega fans and mascot character enthusiasts. There was admittedly a port for Wii in 2008, but developer Gearbox did not do a super great job at making the transition from maraca peripherals to a WiiMote.
While titular protagonist Amigo was featured in various Sega games as a cameo, a sequel was seemingly never in consideration. It was a one in done, a product of its time, and that was… completely fine. …So imagine my surprise when I saw Samba de Amigo: Party Central. A fully fledged and modernized sequel, releasing 23 goldarn years after the original!
Now, I don’t have much to say about the game itself, as it looks to be a pretty faithful modernization of the original title. Which is to say it is still a very boisterous and arcade-y style rhythm game, but with character customization, a more modernized look, with no sombrero, and an online battle mode. It strikes me as a smaller scale and delightfully quirky game, and the sort of thing that the Sega of another era was known for.
Samba de Amigo: Party Central will launch as a Switch exclusive sometime this summer.
Two Dope Looking Remasters Announced After Being Leaked!
(Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective and We Love Katamari Reroll+ Royal Reverie Announced)
As the title of this section says, this Nintendo Direct saw the announcement of two multiplatform remasters that I have already talked about after they were originally leaked.
The first title is Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, a brilliant puzzle adventure game that stands as one of my favorite Nintendo DS titles, and an underappreciated gem that suffered from releasing late in the system’s life. I previously talked about the Ghost Trick remaster back in October, hypothesizing what a remaster would look like and… it seems like a port of the iOS version with extras and a revised UI.
This means the action still takes place in a 4:3 window, with tasteful borders along the side. There is a new illustration gallery, sound test mode, and a few bonus sliding puzzles, but it does not appear that anything substantial about the game has changed. Which… is perfectly fine with me. I cannot recall a single bad thing about the original game, so a straight port is more than enough to make me happy as a peach!
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective will come out for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam this summer.
Next, and revealed via a December trademark filing, is We Love Katamari Reroll+ Royal Reverie. A remake of the second, and possibly best, Katamari game, that looks to be another straightforward remaster of a PS2 classic, but with a few extras. A new mini campaign, Royal Reverie, which features the King of All Cosmos undergoing harsh challenges from his abusive father. A selfie mode, because it is a modern video game. The ability to set up playlists, which seems kind of unnecessary, since ALL the music in the game is fantastic. Improved navigation for stages that require the player to find certain objects. And an eternal mode, which is something I specifically requested in my 2020 review of Katamari Damacy REROLL.
We Love Katamari Reroll+ Royal Reverie will be released for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch, and Steam on June 2, 2023.
Yggdrasil Odyssey – OG Remaster!
(Etrian Odyssey I, II, and III are Getting Remastered)
The Etrian Odyssey series is something that I tried to get into over a decade ago, but diehard dungeon crawlers really aren’t my thing. They are, to me, just the dungeon parts of a JRPG without the story. However, I get why people like them. The grid-based dungeons feel imposing and vast thanks to the first-person navigation and manual mapping. The difficulty is ideally high enough that players need to stay on their toes, without ever feeling brutal. And the games ultimately give the player something to master, to tame, and to conquer.
I only ever played 2007’s Etrian Odyssey, but I know that the series saw many innovations over the years and after it moved to the 3DS. Where it saw a staggering 5 entries. Two numbered entries, two remakes, and a crossover title. With 8 main titles, it would make some sense for its next debut to be some sort of remaster, and that is precisely what the folks at Atlus did.
Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection is a series of three HD remasters of the first three DS titles. Etrian Odyssey, Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard, and Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City. This makes some sense… except the first two games were already remade for the 3DS and, from what I could tell, are widely considered to be better games. …I am just going to chalk this up to Atlus being an insane company run by people who do not understand how things work. …Or maybe they want to remake the entire octology? Who knows!
Visually, the remakes look pretty good, all things considered. The 3D dungeon environments have been touched up and look pleasantly vibrant. All 2D art assets look sharp and clean, presumably because somebody saved the source files. The menus have been redone, and while some of the fonts are a bit iffy to me, it looks very clean and readable.
Then there is the map management, a feature that was designed around the dual-screen nature of the DS, and… I just don’t think it will work with a controller. Fortunately, the Switch is a tablet, and players will be able to play the game with half the screen dedicated to the map, with the other half dedicated to dungeon exploration. I actually kind of dig the divided screen that they use here. It reminds me of the Windows 11 snap layouts, which have been a productivity godsend for me.
All in all, these look like direct HD remasters of the original… but I need to ask if these remasters will feature any quality of life features. Will these remasters feature improvements introduced in later games in the series? Will the mechanics and interface be updated to that of the third game? I don’t know! Atlus didn’t update the Persona fusion system for Persona 3 Portable’s remaster earlier this year, so probably not!
Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection will be released for Switch and Steam on June 1, 2023, and players will be able to purchase Etrian Odyssey I HD, Etrian Odyssey II HD, Etrian Odyssey III HD as separate titles.
This seems like a… fine approach, but as I looked up the Steam page for these titles, I noticed that the collection costs $80 while each individual game costs $40. …Atlus just released Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden for $20 each, but they think these cheap-looking dungeon crawlers are worth $40 a pop?
I swear, every time I talk about Atlus, I find another reason to wish that Atlus’s management was replaced by a bunch of hornets!
Nintendo Switch Online Still Sucks, But It Has More Stuff Now
(GameBoy, GameBoy Color, and GameBoy Advance Titles Added to NSO)
Nintendo Switch Online is a service designed to be bad so that any addition to the service feels meaningful or significant. It is designed to trickle out legacy content to appease subscribers, when there is nothing preventing Nintendo from releasing their entire catalog at once. As such, when they finally decided to announce that they were bringing GameBoy, GameBoy Color, and GameBoy Advance games to the service, I could not help but groan. Not because the game selection was bad, far from it, but because of how few games were actually announced.
GameBoy and GameBoy Color games are lumped together here and the illustrious list includes the following:
- Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare
- Game & Watch Gallery 3
- Gargoyle’s Quest
- Kirby’s Dream Land
- Metroid 2: Return of Samus
- Super Mario Land 2 – 6 Golden Coins
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX
- Wario Land 3
There are some genuinely great titles there— including the only 2D Mario game I particularly like— but there are at least 50 more games that could be added to this list.
As for GameBoy Advance games, those are only available under the second tier pricing for Nintendo Switch Online, the $50 a year tier. And for this, players get a whopping… 6 GBA games!
- Kuru Kuru Kururin
- Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
- Mario Kart: Super Circuit
- Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3
- The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
- WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!
…I get that the GBA library is fairly small on account of how it was only relevant for maybe four years, but this is just kind of sad. They could have made it seem like a big value offer and thrown in 20 of the 50 or so first party titles they can release with zero issue. But no, instead they are going to trickle things out.
…Also, it just occurred to me that they might use this service as a way to re-release the 3DS releases of the GameBoy and GameBoy Color Pokémon games. If they did that, and announced it at the Pokémon Presents showcase that will, assuredly, happen later this month, that would be smart. And if they bring back the Generation 3 titles, their subscriber numbers will go up BIG TIME!
Metroid Prime is BACK!
(Metroid Prime Remastered FINALLY Releases for Switch)
After YEARS of expecting a Metroid Prime Trilogy to be released for Switch, Nintendo has instead opted to do an HD remaster of the first game. The seminal GameCube classic, the so-called Citizen Kane of Video Games, and one of my personal top twenty favorite games of all time. 2002’s Metroid Prime!
…But did the developers of this remaster make a good remaster that respected the original game’s superb art direction? Or did they muck it up like so many remasters tend to do? I hate that I need to adopt this pessimistic attitude, but even basic changes in lighting and coloring can dramatically alter the feel and atmosphere of a game. And Metroid Prime relies heavily on its atmosphere.
Well, like many modern games, Metroid Prime Remaster made heavy use of outsourcing, as it is cheaper to pay an artist more for a gig than to keep them on payroll. Meaning that while the brunt of the work was done at Retro (which is a very different studio than it was in 2002), there were a lot of support studios. This includes: Iron Galaxy Studios, Airship Images Limited, Atomhawk Design, CGBot, Gamesim Inc, Liquid Development, Original Force LTD, Shanghai Mineloader Digital Technology, and Zombot Studio.
This is also why many bigger games tend to feature plain, realistic, or uneven asset quality. Because so many different people are making so many different art assets that it is hard to keep everything looking consistent. It’s not a problem of skill, or because the outsourced artists are bad at their job. It’s a problem of communication, hiring practices, and capitalism.
…Tangent aside, does Metroid Prime Remastered look good? In general, yes. The game is clearly trying to be faithful to the original , while also modernizing it and taking certain artistic liberties. The lighting in the original Metroid Prime was fairly flat, due to the technology available at the time, and the remaster tries to push it into more extremes.
The derelict spaceship is better lit on the outside, but darker on the inside. Doors in general are brighter and more eye-catching, which strikes me as more of a navigational aid, and not a strictly bad change. While creatures were, in many cases, given notable redesigns, adding more details not previously possible, and generally making them less dark and more saturated. More… in line with the aesthetic of Metroid Dread.
However, whenever I see a more minor yet important aesthetic change, I need to ask why. For example, why is it only drizzling when Samus first lands on Talon IV, instead of being a downpour? That dramatically the first impression of this world, as hostile and harsh weather makes a world seem more hostile and harsh. Also, they changed the font, and… I don’t like that! I don’t like it one bit!
However, these changes are not really meant to be compared like this. The game is trying to take creative liberties here and change things up. They did not make the lava brighter because it would look better in a comparison, they did it because they think it made the environment itself look better. And for every change I dislike, there are probably two things that are better. Like how all the textures are FAR more detailed.
As for other changes, it appears that this remaster is a strictly visual one, and the game itself is untouched, which I am of two minds about. On one hand, I would rather they use the original foundation than waste resources on remaking what worked so well back in 2002. On the other, I am sure there are minor gripes that could have been addressed or issues that could have been fixed. For example, I remember it being really hard to find missing items in the GameCube version, and I don’t think an optional upgrade list would hurt the game. Or, perhaps, add an auto-save feature?
Metroid Prime Remastered dropped onto the Switch eShop shortly after its announcement, and physical copies will be available on February 22. I already pre-ordered a physical copy, but I will not allow myself to play this game until August at the earliest. Because I have a novel to write and tests to take!
As Requested By 500 People, Here’s A Baten Kaitos Remaster!
(Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster Announced)
The Baten Kaitos duology is something that I have heard people talk about as a series, but never as actual games. This largely has to do with how Monolith Soft— the Disaster: Day of Crisis guys, not the Shogo: Mobile Armor Division guys— developed these games as GameCube exclusives. They did not sell super well, their critical reception was solid, but not too much better than any number of JRPGs from that generation, and I never really learned anything about this series until now. Frankly, I blame the Nintendorks.
From skimming through longplays, my first impression is that, despite being a pair of GameCube games, the titles are more… PSOne style JRPGs. Games with pre-rendered backgrounds outside of battles, 3D character models, battles that take place in 3D environments, and encounters filled with long flashy animations that cause even routine encounters to last about three minutes. Which is a bit strange to me, as the Xenosaga games, also developed by Monolith around the same time, almost look like they are from a different generation.
My second impression is that these are deckbuilder JRPGs, which is a niche that I never really understood. On one hand, it encourages planning, strategizing, and changing what cards are in one’s deck. On the other hand, it just seems easier and more convenient to have a list of commands that the player can use whenever they want.
My… clear disinterest and ‘not-getting-it-ness’ aside, the title looks to be a pretty solid remaster. One with touched up art, some UI tweaks, improved textures for character and monster models, high resolution pre-rendered backgrounds, and HD CG cutscenes. Plus, I always like to see a title saved from the thralls of obscurity and put on a platform where it can exist in perpetuity.
Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster will be released exclusively for the Nintendo Switch this summer.
LEVEL-5 IS BACK BAY-BEE!!!
(Developer Level-5 Announces 3 New Titles)
LEVEL-5 IS BACK BAY-BEE!!! This was the biggest takeaway from this Direct for me, as I have more or less accepted that Level-5 was on the road to the grave… or an acquisition.
- Ni No Kuni Cross Worlds went from a promising free-to-play title that made crazy money in Japan, to a pay-to-earn crypto game that I talked about pretty thoroughly last June.
- Yo-Kai Watch 4 failed to meet the sales figures of prior games in the series— I think it only sold something like 350,000 copies in its debut year. Which includes the enhanced re-release that came out 6 months after launch.
- Yo-kai Watch Jam, a weird action spin-off that came out in 2020, sold less than 50,000 units for Switch during its time on the Famitsu charts.
- The Yo-kai Watch series continuously failed to succeed in North America, due largely to how it took 2 to 3 years for new games to come out.
- The Megaton Musashi project was pretty much a flop, with the game selling under 12,000 units during its first week.
They simply were not meeting the figures they needed to with their projects, and things got so bad that they actually shut down their North American branch back in 2020.
With that, I became doubtful that any of their future console games would ever be localized. It was sad news because they were and are a company filled with skilled and brilliant people capable of making high quality games. It’s just that they put too much emphasis on cross-media projects, mobile ventures, and making all the money, not just some of the money. …But they finally saw the light, and went back to making real video games for the international market— the real market!
Fantasy Life III, but with Only One I
(Fantasy Life i: The Girl Who Steals Time Announced)
My personal favorite Level-5 game is easily Dragon Quest IX, and I think that is a pretty common answer… if you remember that Japanese people exist. It had an excellent sense of adventure, a plethoric excess of stuff to do thanks to free DLC updates, and for a DS game, the thing was just gorgeous. As such, I was always eager to check out their 3DS title, Fantasy Life, which looked to be a spiritual successor to the title. The job leveling, cheery world, and general vibes kept this game on my radar for years… but I never got around to it because it was a massive time sink, and I stuff to do. Like writing Verde’s Doohickey.
On that note, Fantasy Life i: The Girl Who Steals Time is the second ‘package game’ entry in the Fantasy Life series. That is great, but the game almost immediately gave me a different vibe than the original. Rather than feeling comfortably based in the fantasy trappings of Dragon Quest, the title is positioned as more of a town builder, life sim, and… Wait! This is an Animal Crossing!
The general design of the characters and world, the way that trees are chopped down and the environment can be terraformed, and even the island setting. Hell, the general development timeline matches with this being a response to Animal Crossing: New Horizons. A few months for pre-production, over 2 years for development, and then we have this! …At least, this looks simple enough that it could be made in two years.
Similarities aside, I do think there is a very real room in the market for more Animal Crossing like games. Titles where people can unwind, veg out, and do stuff in a cute and cuddly world as society burns around them. It is not what I want, but I think that there is a crowd who could really gel with a game like this.
Fantasy Life i: The Girl Who Steals Time will release exclusively for the Nintendo Switch sometime in 2023.
We Ain’t Deca Sports, We Deca COPS!
Man, fuck the police! They reinforce systematic oppression, discourage and prohibit protests, and their first answer to any problem is to murder it. Especially if it’s darker than them! But you know what the cherry on top of this poo-poo sundae is? The fact that because all cops are tools of a corrupt and broken system— in addition to being motherfuckers— it’s hard to enjoy any media that depicts cops as heroes.
Akumako: “What about AI: The Somnium Files?”
You shut your whore mouth, Akumako! Those are special agents! Special agents are cool, because they are government employees who solve mysteries and write history!
Akumako: “Whoo-hoo! ♫”
…How did I NOT include you in TSF Series #016: Darling Lust?
Akumako: “Because you included our daughter, Nuttz, instead.”
Um, anyway, the next game announced by Level-5 was—
Akumako: “You’re seriously just going to ignore me like that?”
Yes. Shut up, go back to Hell, and suck Jerimiah’s horse dick!
Akumako: “With pleasure~!”
…DECAPOLICE!!! DecaPolice is an “crime suspense RPG” set in a futuristic metropolis, where a gang of detectives solve crimes by accessing a virtual reality replica of the real world via investigation and puzzle sections. Once enough clues are found and analysis is done, the game shifts to that of a flashy turn-based JRPG boss battle against the criminal of the state. …That is pretty much all that I could really gather about the game’s structure based on the brief 90 second trailer.
I might not be 100% sure on what the game will play like most of the time but, cop stuff aside, DecaPolice oozes style and cool! The vibrant and detailed cityscape, the smooth animations, the slick UI, the flourish seen in the combat sections, and the banger character designs. Just watching a few snippets of the world traversal makes me want to play this game, see what the developers hid in this virtual city, and meet new characters with cool designs and fly drip.
DecaPolice is set to release sometime in 2023 for PS4, PS5, and Switch.
Layton’s Back, BAY-BEE!!!
(Professor Layton and The New World of Steam Announced)
The Professor Layton series of puzzle adventure games earned itself a firm following on the Nintendo DS and 3DS, selling over 15 million units, and becoming an informal ‘Nintendo series.’ However, after the 2014 North American release of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, it just kind of… stopped. At least that’s how it felt as a non-fan who only played the first game. In actuality, things were a bit more complicated than that.
After the seven game run, Level-5 decided to shake things up with a reboot to the series. One that would follow Professor Layton’s daughter, Katrielle Layton. This resulted in Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy. A title that came out for 3DS and mobile in 2017, where it generated little buzz, and was met with a more mixed reception.
Why? Well, it seems that some people did not like how episodic the story was, and some were not happy with the way the puzzles were designed. However, it was a respectable decision to move forward with a new protagonist, and it seemed like another Layton’s Mystery Journey was an inevitability… but that didn’t happen.
I’m not sure if it just did not sell as well as the original series, but no sequels or further projects ever happened. Layton’s Mystery Journey did get a Switch port in November 2019, and the first 3 titles got mobile ports, but there has been little talk about a new game.
As such, I was both surprised and confused when I saw the teaser trailer for Professor Layton and The New World of Steam. A mostly nothing trailer that featured the iconic professor in a city of stone, steel, and steam. The decision to announce the game like this, as the return of Professor Layton, and to include ‘New’ in the title, makes this feel like a sort of… de-boot. Kind of like how the Devil May Cry series got that Ninja Theory reboot in 2013, before returning to the series’ roots with 2019’s Devil May Cry V.
No release window was given, and I am assuming that development is still super early based on this trailer. However, regardless of the form, it’s good to see the Layton series back again, and to see people excited about it.
Paranormal Sights and Big Confusion
(Square Enix Announces Horror Adventure Game Coming Out Next Month)
That covers the North American announcements, but there were three Japanese Nintendo Direct exclusives. The first of which was ParanormaSight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo. A horror mystery adventure game with a striking aesthetic and good use of unsettling effects. Games like this typically do not make for good tailers, but it seemed like an odd duck, especially coming from Square Enix, so I did some additional digging.
…Meaning I followed the links shared by Bowl of Lentils. This title appears to be developed by And Joy, who worked on a series of cell phone mystery adventure games. The Detective Ryosuke Akikawa or 探偵・癸生川凌介事件譚 series. Which have been making their way to the Japanese Switch eShop under the G-Mode archive label. With G-Mode being an old platform for Japanese cell phone games. So, I guess this is something of a spiritual successor to a series that has next to no penetration even in niche circles.
…Okay, that did not help… at all. But looking at the official screenshots, the game looks to be a quality mystery adventure title with some good scares, and a cheap $20 price tag. As such, I will keep an eye on it, and hope it manages to find an audience of some sort.
ParanormaSight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo is coming out for Steam on March 8th, Switch on March 9th, and also iOS and Android at some unspecified date.
Boku no Natsuyasumi VII, BAY-BEE!!!
Natsu-Mon! 20th Century Summer Vacation Announced
As someone who watched Tim Rogers’s exhaustive review of 2000’s Boku no Natsuyasumi exactly twice, I can safely say that I lack the fortitude to enjoy the genre of ‘vacation game.’ However, as someone who watched Tim Rogers’s exhaustive review of 2000’s Boku no Natsuyasumi exactly twice, I can safely say that I respect the HECK out of the Boku no Natsuyasumi series.
As such, you can imagine how shocked and delighted I was when I saw Natsu-Mon! 20th Century Summer Vacation pop up as an announcement exclusive to the Japanese Nintendo Direct. A title that has the look and style of the Boku no Natsuyasumi series, but with a different and less iconic art style, and a fully 3D yet more simplistic looking world. However, it still keeps the 20th century— meaning 70s or 80s— rural Japan setting, and all of the vibes that come with this often idealized time and place.
Admittedly, I thought it was a lower budget facsimile of the series due to the seeming drop in production values over the Shin-chan spin-off that came out in the west last year. While 2D backgrounds are technically a lot cheaper and easier to work with than 3D, there is something that I find ever so classy about gorgeously detailed backdrops. That is not to say Natsu-Mon looks bad, it just has a different visual energy.
It is a simplistic looking cel-shaded fully 3D game that relies less on rigorous detail placed into its world, and more on the bigger picture, which is just a different style. I am sure that they could have used pre-rendered backdrops if they wanted to, but they made the artistic decision to do something different, and I respect that.
…Okay, so why is this a thing? Well, the reason the Boku no Natsuyasumi series stopped is because Sony stopped funding it. Probably because it was seen as too Japanese by a western-led Sony. By some miracle of fate, series director, Kaz Ayabe, was contracted to work on 2021’s Shin-chan: Me and the Professor on Summer Vacation. A spiritual successor to Boku no Natsuyasumi, but with a Shin-chan flavor, and the honorary sixth game in the series. …The fifth was Attack of the Friday Monsters For 3DS.
After this, I’m guessing that Spike Chunsoft, Natsu-Mon’s publisher, asked Ayabe if he wanted to make an even more spiritual successor, and he also said yes. Which results in this! …Why was this not in the North American Direct though? Probably because the folks at Nintendo of America did not think the game looked good, when it should get just as big of a reaction as Professor Layton.
Natsu-Mon! 20th Century Summer Vacation has not been confirmed for a western release, but seeing as Spike Chunsoft has a western localization branch, I’m sure it will come out. Hopefully close to the Japanese release this summer, because these games are made for summer.
Atelier Remake Saga Begins!
(Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg Announced)
The Atelier series is a niche rabbit hole that I have never ventured into, despite having bought some of the games with the intention of playing them. They always strike me as a bold commitment, as the games are long, have a lot of slow-paced farming and grinding, and crafting systems are always intimidating to me. However, the series has been undergoing a new wave of popularity as of late, thanks largely to the Ryza subseries, and developers Gust have decided to capitalize on this with a remake. Specifically, a remake of the first Atelier title, Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg.
However, rather than remake the game to the standards of the series now, the developers at Gust have chosen a more… budget conscious approach that is sort of more representative of the original. By which I mean the game uses chibi 3D character models, as those are easier to make and animate, Live2D-style art for conversation scenes, and an aesthetic so different, it could be its own series entirely. I would call this a step back, but the original game used chibi sprites for all of its characters, so you cannot say the game is not trying to be faithful to the original.
Chibi confusion aside, I think the game looks pretty good, at least visually. Character models are cute, environments are flushed with fauna, and the chibi aesthetic gives a distinct toyetic charm to everything. Though, I do need to harp on the distance blurring, which covers about HALF of the screen. I thought the Link’s Awakening remake was bad, but this is just ridiculous.
Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg will launch this summer worldwide for PS4, PS5, Switch, and Steam.
Nintendo Direct 2023 – 1 of 2 – Das Ende
(Other Announcements From the February 8, 2023 Nintendo Direct)
That sure was 5,000 words of stuff I had to say, but there are two more minor announcements I want to highlight.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is finally coming out on April 21, 2023. This is after the game was delayed following the start of the current conflict in Ukraine, and… I guess enough time has passed for the game to not seem tasteless. No in-game footage was shown, but I have to wonder if they changed anything in the game, such as the designs of the Russian-inspired Blue Moon army. If I were to guess though, I would say it is the same game. It has been done for about a year at this point, and was so complete that one person, somehow, was able to play it… before it was removed from their account.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is getting a bonus side campaign where the player plays as a depowered Magalor, the game’s main antagonist. The campaign’s structure will have the player gradually amass magic points, used to unlock and enhance various abilities, while taking on increasingly imposing challenges. It is actually a pretty nifty idea, and there is something about a Kirby game where the player does not play as Kirby that I find delightfully appealing. It’s part of the reason why Meta Knightmare Ultra is the best campaign of any Kirby game.
And… Yeah, I think that’s it. No big showstopper or anything with this Direct, and certainly no big May releases I’m not talking about because I have nothing to say about them. That would be it for this week— this obscenely THICC 13,000 word Rundown… but I have one more rant I wanna go on!
Ayesha Erotica And The Quest For Moral Purity
(Natalie Rambles About Shunning And Moral Perfectionism)
…I am really bad at talking about the music I like here on Natalie.TF. Mostly because I lack the analysis and language needed to articulate why I enjoy something in the medium of sound-stuffs. Which sucks because I enjoy a lotta sound-stuffs, and one of these sound-stuffs is Ayesha Erotica. A musical artist who… how to describe her and her music in a succinct way.
Ayesha Erotica is a trans woman who decided that she wanted to make hyper-sexualized hyperpop music where she pretends to be the greatest slut who ever was. Her work is energetic, optimistic, and delightfully celebratory of all things sexual and excessive. She is a trans icon as far as I am concerned, and I have been musing about how to include a character like her into a project for months now.
Ayesha Erotica was active from 2015 to 2018, but experienced a surge of popularity throughout 2021 and 2022, mostly due to people on TikTok using her music to accentuate their own ‘bimbo aesthetic.’ Which is how I discovered her. Not on TikTok— I have never used that platform— but from this playlist that I clicked on because its thumbnail had a ganguro girl giving the peace symbol. And that shit is cool!
However, Ayesha Erotica is also somewhat of a controversial figure, and for reasons that are not super well documented. When I first looked into her, I found accusations of blackface and racist lyrics in her songs, but I did not see any actual evidence to back up these claims. Nor did I hear anything in her music that I could pin as racist. But two weeks ago, I decided to search for more details, and found this video by bluechew that explains the stigma around Ayesha Erotica and why some people think she is a bad person.
I would recommend watching the full video, but the short version is that Aeysha Erotica was targeted by people who wanted to destroy her by doxxing her. Eventually, they succeeded, and amongst her personal information, they released several demos. Demos where Aeysha said a lot of slurs.
Now, these demos were never meant to be released to the public, and were instead made for another artist by the name of Miss Prada, who wrote the lyrics. Also, for additional context, these demos were made in 2016, when Ayesha was just a 19 or 20-year-old kid. AKA pretty much the age where you can get away with saying stupid crap.
In other words, Ayesha produced something for a fellow artist that was problematic and was never meant to be released to the public. It was released without context or consent by people with a personal grudge against her. Using this stolen material, they twisted the narrative, stirred a lot of negative attention, and led Ayesha to retire, because she never wanted to deal with this kind of backlash or controversy. And… I respect her for that.
Honestly, I consider backlashes like this to be part of a bigger cultural problem. One that is common across the entire political spectrum, but it is becoming a contentious issue among most left-leaning communities. A desire to maintain and maximize one’s morality, their purity, and to shun everything that is deemed immoral or impure.
I would argue that the majority of people in the western world know that things are not going well, that they are not sustainable, and major shifts need to happen in society sooner or later. People want to change society… but they can’t. Society is too big, too vast, for them to understand and take the reins of. So, instead, they try to control what they can. They try to control communities, to police them, and to shun away anyone who runs afoul.
Shunning or ‘canceling’ someone is pitifully easy compared to enacting any systemic change. All it takes is a small group of angry terminally online folks to tank a person’s reputation and paint them as a public enemy. As a traitor to a cause. All because this group wants to change something, because they want to defeat something, because they want to feel like they have some modicum of power.
And this is the unfortunate thing about ‘regular people’ and those they view as being above them, those they view as having some perceived level of power. They want to tear them down, to destroy them, and to control their own little bubble to make it seem like it is better. Like it is just. When… It is not just. It is not right to shun someone for any perceived slight. Doing so breeds a culture of hostility. It discourages understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. It makes your world narrower and narrower until everything outside of it looks diseased, corrupted, and tainted.
It is important to give those you admire the benefit of the doubt, to react to hate mobs with skepticism, and to not let oneself be pulled in by the evocative allure of manufactured drama. Because all you’re doing is hurting someone who just wanted to… make things for people to enjoy.
If you really want to make the world a better place… attend protests, do volunteer work, join a political activist group, or eat a politician you dislike. …But if you do the last one, do not do any of the first three.
This Post Has 2 Comments
Thank you for this really varied post, Natalie !
Really happy to read you enjoyed Rintarou Panic!. I take it has your seal of approval ^^.
Having a TSF manga meant for young children and exploring the meaning of gender at that age, is something I feel don’t see all too often.
And thanks for the roundup on the Nintendo direct. I remember playing Baten Kaitos and feeling a little overwhelmed by all of its mechanics. IIRC some cards/items evolve over time in your deck. A grape card eventually becomes a wine card and then a vinegar card, each with different effects. The game is packed with pretty creative ideas, albeit it’s quite daunting for JRPG novices.
Rintarou Panic! absolutely has my seal of approval! ^^
It is true that TSF can teach children about the meaning of gender, but I’m guessing the reason why it is not used too often is because it is a fantastical concept that could confuse children as they are developing an understanding of what is and is not real. It also could get them curious about gender transition at a young age, but that would probably wind up angering conservative parents, who would lambast the work as being ‘propaganda’ of some variety.
That Nintendo Direct roundup took about a day to write, because of all the additional research I had to do for it. Watching footage of related games, digging up development history info, and so forth. I know a lot of stuff off the top of my head, but there are always blind spots or areas where I need to freshen up the details. But I do it because I love it. ^^
As I discussed, Baten Kaitos is a big unknown for me, but I am sure it has a lot of cool ideas or concepts– it is a cult classic for a reason– and it is great to see it being spruced up like this and given a full re-release. Though, I do find it odd that Baten Kaitos warranted a re-release and not Xenosaga, where a remaster was discussed, but shut down due to “profitable market analysis.” I would ask why, but it actually makes more sense the more I think about it. Xenosaga was kind of a mess with its shifting/evolving aesthetic, and enhancing the look and mechanics of all three games would be far more costly than remastering two games that mostly used pre-rendered 2D backdrops and far fewer cutscenes.