Densetsu no Kusuriyasan trial version – Kinda pointless

I feel slightly bad calling someone’s hard work “kinda pointless” but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. And evidently the developers agreed because they never bothered to release an actual game. A trial version of Densetsu no Kusuriyasan is all that has existed for the past 12 years.

Densetsu no Kusuriyasan (でんせつのくすりやさん, lit. The Legendary Pharmacist) would have been an R18+ otome and crafting game hybrid that would have been released by Japanese indie developer Mix Factor in 2012 but never made it past the (thankfully) worksafe demo stage. Normally this would sadden me a little bit, seeing as I love crafting games and I (think) love otome games but the resulting game would have been too adult for me to play anyway. Also the demo sucked. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s take this in proper order.

Story

Mimosa is an apprentice pharmacist who chafes at the slow pace of her training and longs to apply her skills to the real world. She runs away from home and becomes the resident medicine woman in a small village. When our story begins, her grandmother has just tracked her down and is about to take her back. Luckily the village chief strikes a deal with granny allowing Mimosa to stay and work for just one more year. What’s more, if Mimosa can craft the highest level medicines in a book her grandma gives her within that year, she will become a full-fledged pharmacist and be free of her arduous training forever. With nothing to lose, Mimosa agrees to give it her best shot and so the game begins.

Gameplay

The game menu (and your depressingly dark studio):

Mimosa can take one action on weekdays and Saturdays and two actions on Sundays. Somehow she has to balance studying to learn new recipes with making medicines to raise her level with going out to forage for ingredients with visiting guys in their rooms, all within that extremely limited schedule.

The worst part is the medicine synthesis because every drug no matter how basic takes a full action to make. Way to take all the fun out of what should be the most enjoyable part of the game. Crafting is disappointing in other ways as well. For one, there are no icons or pictures of any of the ingredients or finished products, and yet all the flavor text is dry and pedestrian.

For another thing, there’s no in-story demand for any of the medicines you make. You only make them as a way to grind out your pharmacist level so you can unlock more recipes so you can grind your level even higher and round and round it goes. It’s possible that Mix Factor would have eventually added quests and story events that called for Mimosa’s medical skills instead of leaving crafting as “That thing you have to do if you want to finish the game.”

As Mimosa studies and forages and levels up, her stats rise and fall dramatically.

This is something that would have needed serious tweaking in the final game, because certain stat growths tend to cancel each other out. Study once and, for example, your intelligence goes up +6, physical strength goes down -3. Then you go foraging once and Strength up +6, intelligence -3. Not quite cancelled out… unless you choose to study or forage twice in a row, then you’re back to square one. Fine then, I’ll alternate studying and foraging every day, you say. But that’s useless because you don’t need to forage that much. Forcing yourself would just be pointless busywork to preserve your stats at the expense of a fun game experience. Oh and, btw, you’re never told what each stat actually does… Or if any stat actually does anything at all… Pointless, I tell you.

The other thing you can do with your time is visit one of the game’s four eligible bachelors. There’s Kai the chief’s son who likes to tease you but isn’t a bad sort. Then Rosmarinus or whatever his name is is a sickly noble who recently moved to the village. Arty is a lively adventurer who also just moved in and Lou is a live-in helper your grandmother assigned to do your housework.

Since Densetsu no Kusuriyasan was going to be an adult game, Mimosa probably would have gotten up to all kinds of ungentlemanly activities with these fine fellows. Since this is the clean demo, however, all you ever do is talk and drink tea together. It doesn’t even say what you talked about, just that you talked. You can also give them medicines you’ve made as presents. There’s no way of checking affection and repeated conversations produced diddly squat by way of special event. No events, no CGs, no dates, no nothing. …Pointless.

The demo ends after a month of play, by which point very little has happened. Mimosa will have raised her pointless stats a bit and increased her pointless level once or twice and made some pointless medicines and had pointless conversations with a few guys. And the gamer will heave a sigh of relief as she chucks the game into the Recycle Bin and wishes she had just played Solitaire instead.

Impressions

Densetsu no Kusuriyasan is a well-meaning game, I suppose. The more “cute girls doing alchemy” games we have, the better. The premise is serviceable too and I liked all the guys well enough. I could easily do all their routes in a better game. That’s the thing, though: there are better games out there. Otome games are a dime a dozen even on the indie circuit. And thanks to Gust and Cyberfront I have unreasonably high expectations of “cute girls crafting” games.

It’s not like Densetsu no Kusuriyasan couldn’t have been salvaged, but it would have required an extensive overhaul of everything from the graphics to the crafting system to the relationship and stat-raising systems. Most likely Mix Factor run a few numbers and realized that putting in so much effort for an R18 game was, yes you guessed it… pointless. They pulled the plug and nothing of any value was lost.

Moving on…

IIRC I have one or two more indie otome + alchemy games to try but that will have to come much later. Right now I’m knee-deep in 7th Dragon III: Code VFD. They’re doing that thing I hated about 7th Dragon 2020 where the navigator just wouldn’t shut up and every 5 minutes or so I’d be summoned back to headquarters for a useless meeting. I play videogames to get away from real life, thank you very much.

I’m also looking to start another otome game soon, either Angelique Etoile or one of the Harukanaru games. I haven’t played a good otome in ages. And I just rediscovered a note to myself where I meant to play Princess Maker 3 soon. Ehhhh… okay. Soon. That gives me a full plate in February going into March then I’ll make more plans if we’re all still alive.

Stella Glow review – What an annoying game (massive spoilers)

Finally finished the wretched game known as Stella Glow. I almost dropped it several times along the way, but the SRPG gameplay kept drawing me back. That’s the problem I have with Imageepoch games. With one or two exceptions they are all technically sound, so you end up playing more than you should even when the story makes you want to bash your brains out against the nearest sharp corner.

I’m so glad to be done with this game. I feel spent. It’s good to finally get it off my mind and off my playlist, but… I wish I’d never played it. It made me so angry. Why can’t I ever be indifferent to Imageepoch games? Why do they always get such a rise out of me? Why did you have to die, Imageepoch???? Who is going to piss me off now? ;_________;

Notes on Stella Glow‘s gameplay

Standard isometric SRPG game with all the standard SRPG features like back attacks giving extra damage and side attacks extra accuracy. No height effects as far as I can tell but some minor terrain differences. Nice compact maps so you don’t cross empty terrain just to reach one enemy. Lots of grinding opportunities but very little need to grind. Generous EXP from enemies + full HP/SP refills on leveling up. It’s a very player-friendly game.

As always with Imageepoch the characters were clearly differentiated. All the witches had highly distinct skillsets, personalities and abilities. Even characters that used the same weapon (like Popo and Keith or Nonoka and Rusty) had different speeds, ranges, skills and passive abilities. There was always a point to using someone in particular versus another character, but no one character was completely useless.

I also liked what they did with orbs giving extra, often random boosts. Stuff like pre-emptive attacks and critical hits and follow up attack that give you an extra turn when you kill an enemy are all very nice bonuses to have. With the right orb setup (e.g. Nonoka + Control Condition + Delay + Sickness orbs) you can make like considerably easier for yourself against tough bosses. But even before that it’s fun to see nice effects going off at random.  It reminded me a lot of the great passive-attack fests in Shining Hearts, Glory of Heracles and Exstetra, but on a much smaller scale.

They copied the ‘Brave’ system from Summon Night games where you get bonuses for achieving certain conditions. Most of these are very doable AND they give great rewards. At the same time missing them didn’t destroy your game completely. Same with the treasure chests dotting the map and the stealable items most bosses had. Apart from the Follow up Orb (which is a must-have IMO) everything is a nice bonus to have but you can still get by just fine with store-bought weapons and items if push comes to shove. It’s a very low-stress high-reward kind of game. At least as far as gameplay is concerned.

La la, the power of friendship will always overcome evil and dumb decisions, la la

Niggling nitpicks: Isometric SRPGs tend to be a bit slow, especially when they’re speed-based. Stella Glow is better than most, but it’s still boring to sit around waiting for your next turn to come. There’s always a little pause as each enemy decides what to do even when they end up doing nothing at all. Animations are also a pain to sit through so I turned them off after two chapters. The game also gets a bit too easy from midgame onwards once Delay, Follow up and Sickness orbs become a thing.

Furthermore, some of the victory/defeat conditions are annoying. A battle you lose if any enemies die? And the enemies have Self-Destruct and aren’t afraid to use it? RRGHHH. Or a battle where you have to protect a character who won’t stay put? Hmm, Sakuyaaaa? You will also be forced to use all characters at some point, which sucks if you benched characters like Archibald and Keith as soon as you got them. Those are the main things that bothered me, but hardly enough for me to quit over. No, what really stuck in my craw was the story.

Why the story pissed me off

Liar, liar, G-string on fire.

I’ve played too many JRPGs, that’s the problem. That’s why I could tell from the start that Hilda was actually trying to save the world instead of destroy it. And that the Anthem Program was a bad idea. And that Klaus was up to no good. BUT STILL! I was forced to sit through a whole load of nonsense and made to do a whole lot of dumb stuff when everything in me was screaming NOOOOO, THIS IS ALL WRONG! Hilda this, Hilda that, Anthem this, Anthem that. When they asked her a question she wouldn’t answer. When she tried to tell them something they wouldn’t listen. And round and round and round.

And back and forth and back and forth for the first 20 hours of the game while I was ripping my hair out, JUST TALK TO ONE ANOTHER, DAMMIT!!! Stupid Alto. It made me miss Arc Rise Fantasia, another flawed gem from the late, great, irritating Imageepoch. I think L’arc from that game is the only JRPG hero in existence who doesn’t automatically believe anything random strangers tell him but instead keeps asking questions. Which means Imepo could have done it right if they wanted to, they just didn’t want to because they hate me so much.

Who or what is Hilda? It’s only halfway through the game that we’re told she used to be the queen of some kingdom or another… why didn’t you ask for such basic information to begin with, Alto? What is she up to, why now and not 1000 years ago, what exactly is this Anthem program, how does it work, how do we know it works, what’s the point of uncrystallizing people if Hilda is only going to crystallize them again, what exactly is this Conductor power and why do I have it, and on and on and on?

Eventually they meet Dr. Veronica who knows like she can provide all kinds of info but they barely ask her any questions and she doesn’t volunteer any answers even when it turns out she could have prevented most of the latter half of the game just by TELLING them a few key facts. Grrr! I wanted a scene where Alto and co. were clearly told the truth and refused to believe it. Or a scene they ask honest questions and receive only lies in return. Nobody asks any questions whatsoever, nobody listens to any answers whatsoever. Then at the end “Aaah, you tricked me!” Of course I did, you’re a moron.

You can’t look like this in a harem RPG. You must die.

And after all the mental torture I went through, I got the “normal” ending instead of the true one. Because I didn’t raise Klaus’ affection high enough. Which I didn’t do because I had him pegged as trouble from very early on. Once he got that suave-looking CG in the cafe I knew he was a goner. A smart, competent, super good-looking guy… in an harem RPG? No man can be a better catch than the hero and live. Either he’s going to die to give everyone a cause to rally around or he’s going to turn evil. Either way there’s no point raising his affinity stat… is what I thought. And got punished for being smart. Damn you, Imageepoch.

Not that I want the best ending anyway. I kind of like the bittersweet nature of the normal end, especially Marie’s death. They shoved her down our throats all game long, trying to make her all cute and sweet and loveable. Blechhhh. Super blechhh. It’s like the second coming of Nanako from Persona 4 except Nanako was genuinely and unobtrusively cute. Marie is just artificial. How many times did she have to faint and pass out before she was satisfied? Good riddance. I was a little sad to see Best Girl Ana bite the big one, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles when you’re too dumb to live.

Every other JRPG has this as a theme. What’s your problem, Japan? Come on, you can tell me.

As for the “mankind needs to no gods” resolution, the less said about it the better. It’s probably faster to count the JRPGs that don’t have that conclusion than the ones that do. Even games like Nayuta no Kiseki that have no gods in them still force the protagonist to compare certain characters to gods just so he can declare his independence from them. When the game started “Long ago, god….” I said stop right there, Stella Glow, I know where this is going. And I was right. What IS it with Japan and God/god/gods? Goddesses are usually okay, the kinder and sexier the better. “Gods” (plural) can go either way. If they’re ancient nature spirits they’re usually okay, especially if you have to seek them out somehow. God/god is a goner from the start. I wonder why.

As a last note on Stella Glow’s abysmal story, it reminded me a lot of Entaku no Seito‘s. They really have a lot in common: the hero failed to beat the boss 100/1000 years ago, he’s been revived/reincarnated, he has to get a new team together, some of his party members are descendants of his old crew, the hero failed last time because his bonds with his team mates were too weak, he has to strengthen his affinity with everyone, his best friend turned traitor and is the last-but-one boss, etc.

I guess it’s not that unusual to have the bad guy merely sealed away in the past so you have to finish him once and for all in the present, but Entaku is the one I played most recently so that’s the first one that came to mind. I thought from the trailers that Stella Glow would be Luminous Arc meets Ar Tonelico, but it was more Luminous Arc + Ar Tonelico + a heavy dash of Entaku no Seito. Three games I enjoyed very much and yet Stella Glow? Not so much.

Conclusion

Very good game, very, very annoying story. If you like SRPGs, Stella Glow is a must-play for you. Apart from the slow pace of battle, the gameplay is great. At 35-40 hours per playthrough it’s a meaty, satisfying experience as well. It doesn’t have nearly as much fanservice as you would expect from a harem RPG (avoid Nonoka’s ending, srsly) and the music is pretty good. I enjoyed all the witches’ songs. Plus bright happy colors! But, and it’s a big but, you need to have a high tolerance for anime cliches and dumb heroes and being forced to do things no gamer in their right mind would do. Go for it if you’re a self-proclaimed masochist like Alto, avoid if you have high blood pressure or would like to keep your sanity.

Nayuta no Kiseki – I love happy endings

You’re welcome, please come again!

Finished after 30 hours. The main game takes 25 hours and then the epilogue/after story can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours depending on whether you want to grind and do side quests or not. The main last boss is around level 34 while the epilogue boss is level 50, but since you can level up by eating food, you don’t have to spend time in the bonus stages if you don’t want to. Come to think of it you could finish the whole game in about 5 hours if you’re willing to eat your way to higher levels instead of exploring stages and fighting enemies. Way to defeat the purpose of the whole game… Good for speed runs and low-level challenges though, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Anyways, all good things come to an end. I was worried that I might have praised Nayuta no Kiseki too highly last time and jinxed it, but it ended very satisfactorily so I’m very happy. This is probably the lightest, fluffiest, happiest RPG I’ve played since… hmm… probably Shining Ark in February 2015. They have a lot of similarities – idyllic island village, mysterious white-haired amnesiac girl with strange powers, lots of sidequests, lots of food to cook and sidequests to do, likeable characters, a fairly light story and a very happy ending. Needless to say I loved Shining Ark as well.

I would recommend Nayuta no Kiseki to anyone who likes action RPG and/or platform games. If you play it on Beginner it’s a good Baby’s First ARPG and if you like a challenge you can start with Hard mode right away. The main drawbacks that I didn’t mention last time are first the loading times, which are just a tad too long. Secondly it contains very little of the lore and world building Falcom’s Trails games are so well-known for. It has even less than most RPGs I’ve played in the past, very “empty” kind of world.

Thirdly, jumping is a little inaccurate. You’ll often end up a little to the left or right of where you intended to go. On narrow platforms you’ll end up falling off. Falcom’s solution to this was give you an accessory that eliminates damage from falling into pits. You should just fix the problem, Falcom. Well whatever, falling into a pit is much better than falling to a lower level and having to climb up again (which also happens pretty often) so I’ll give them a pass.

What a scary smile. She looks like she’s planning to eat me.

Apart from that, if you’re even slightly interested in trying Nayuta, I’d say go ahead and play it. It’s a lot of fun. Seriously. So much fun. Action RPGs are the best! Thanks to that I’ve gained a renewed interest in Falcom’s ARPGs. And just ARPGs in general. Now I’m really sad I couldn’t play Rune Factory 4. Maybe I should give Zwei!! a second chance. I remember it being very cute and funny, the little I played of it.

There’s one little problem, though: Going from an ARPG to an SRPG (Stella Glow) makes the latter feel extremely slow. I’m used to a pretty hectic pace of battle now. Sitting around waiting for monsters to move now it like rggrhhh… Just let me slash them all! I should have eased myself back into turn-based gameplay with something more active instead, like maybe 7th Dragon III. Too late, I’m already several hours into Stella Glow. Progress update on that next time. Until then, adios!

Nayuta no Kiseki – Coming up for air

Nayuta no Kiseki is an action RPG from Falcom, a developer I have a slightly-love/mostly-hate relationship with. It’s not that they make bad games – quite the opposite, really – but their stuff usually doesn’t sit right with me. Their turn-based RPGs like the Trails series are tiresome, long-winded affairs and just when they get interesting, whoops, end of game, be sure to buy the sequel okay? Meanwhile their action RPGs like Ys and Zwei!! are confusing and hard to play for ARPG newbies like myself.

That’s where the happy medium of Nayuta no Kiseki comes it. Since it is a complete standalone title, I don’t have to worry about some stupid cliffhanger non-ending. No matter how many pointless errands and quests the game forces on me, I know everything will be wrapped up in the end. And on the gameplay front it has a Beginner mode that makes it much harder for Nayuta to die. Not that he hasn’t tried repeatedly but I’ve been able to (barely) avoid a Game Over so far and I’m almost 20 hours in.

I would have posted earlier but I was having way too much fun to stop. Every time I freed up a block of time and thought about blogging, it occurred to me that the time could be much better spent playing Nayuta instead. Heck, I could have completed two or three stages in the time it took me to write all this. In fact I’m going to do something I almost never do and let some other site explain all the gameplay and story and other stuff: Hardcore Gaming’s article on Nayuta no Kiseki.

I haven’t read it myself in case of spoilers, but it looks quite thorough. I should do this more often :-ppp But I won’t. Because I have diarrhea of the fingers and just like to write. Before going back to the game, the main reasons why I’m enjoying this game oh so very much.

  • It’s an action RPG! I’ve played a few and find them a little hard to grasp, but when I get into one, I get into it in a major way. It’s all action and stuff so you run and jump and dodge and slash at this boss and jump on that pillar, it’s sooo much fun. Nothing against turn-based RPGs and SRPGs but there’s nothing quite like the rush you get from beating a tough ARPG boss.
  • It’s easy! I’m getting the same relaxing vibe from this as I did from Phantasy Star Portable. Sometimes you just want to check your brains out and slice and burn your way through a bunch of hapless monsters, no questions asked. Ahhh, bliss.
  • The stages are short and manageable. Most of them can be knocked out in 5-10 minutes, even by a klutz like me. Some stages even reward you for finishing in 3 minutes or less. That makes it very easy to fit the game into a busy weekday schedule. We can all find at least 5 minutes to spare every day.
  • It’s bright and colorful. Bright happy colors and all that. The setting is a sub-tropical island with sun and sea and sand as far as the eye can see. The town feels a bit small, but it’s very warm and cozy at the same time. The game is based on the summer vacation adventures of one Nayuta Herschel, and the laid-back vacation vibe really comes through. At least until the game takes a turn for the darker in chapter 5.
  • It’s not too “talky.” It’s mostly gameplay broken up by short skits and conversations, nothing too annoying. Not like some of the other games, especially Ao no Kiseki where everyone turned into a pontificating gasbag. Blech.
  • It’s a complete experience. As I said before, I don’t have to worry about any “To be continueds” or dangling plot threads once it’s over. At least I hope it won’t.

But it’s not a perfect game. In the name of fairness I will halfheartedly list a few of the things that bug me.

  • Some of the dungeon gimmicks are annoying. I’m looking at you, little green circles floating in the air!
  • I don’t really like platform games.
  • It’s maybe a little too easy? My fault for picking Beginner mode, which was fine at first but now that Nayuta & Noi have so many skills at their disposal I wish I’d chosen Normal.
  • A lot of time could have been saved if mascot character Noi had just told us everything she knew from the start. She’s always doing that “I know something I won’t tell, I won’t tell, I won’t tell” act I hate so much in videogames and anime. Even now she’s still holding out on me. But she’s super useful in battle so she’s partly forgiven.
  • The worlds feel kind of empty. Nayuta’s island only has a few people living on it and the alternate world is almost devoid of sentient life. Too many characters would be bad but I think a few more inhabitants on the other side would have made things more interesting.
  • It’s not long enough! After 20 hours I sense I’m approaching the final stages and I haven’t done nearly enough fighting and exploring yet! More! More!

Enough! Time’s a-wastin’. God willing I’ll be back in two or three days with a boastful report on how I creamed the final boss and he wasn’t a match for me, ho ho ho, bring on the big guns, etc etc. Or I’ll come and grumble about how it was too hard, this sucks, I quit, blah blah blah. Win, lose or draw, it should be over in a few more game-hours. After that I have both Stella Glow and 7th Dragon III locked and ready to go. Which one first? *tosses coin* 7th Dragon wins? Boo, that can’t be right. I’ll just flip the coin until Stella Glow wins… there we go. Stella Glow it is!

Why I’m not enjoying Summon Night 5

I’m not just “not enjoying” Summon Night 5, I’ve put it on hold. Not dropped it, just shelved for a bit while I try to sort out my feelings. I haven’t played that much more Summon Night 5 since my last post on it, just about three or four more chapters? I’m at Chapter 6 or 7 or wherever it is that Ruelly turns into a bunny girl for no good reason. I wouldn’t even have made it that far if Stella Glow hadn’t reminded me how much I love SRPGs. And then I went back to SN5 and it reminded me anew how much I don’t like SN5. Why not? Well I gave it some thought and came up with two possible reasons.

Reason one: It’s not the Summon Night I’m used to

I’ve played the first four games in the Summon Night series and they all share a common aesthetic and the same basic gameplay. If you go back and read my posts about them, they’re actually fairly critical. Those games aren’t paragons of virtue or anything close to masterpieces, but they’re fun and very playable. And over the course of playing them I’ve come to expect Summon Night games to look and feel a certain way. Using a larger number of units, using various summon units, weapons, equipment, shopping, discovering new summons, and on and on. So when you take an unrelated SRPG, put some summons into it and call it Summon Night out of nowhere, it’s like rghh nnnrgghh nooOOO. Worse than that, it’s downright creepy. It’s like some shambling monster slit Summon Night’s throat and is wearing its skin with a sinister grin. Who are you and what have you done with my Summon Night?!!!

Reason two: I don’t like Arca

Do I have a choice in the matter, Arca?

She’s too much of a bright-eyed know-it-all. Oh so clever, oh so popular, oh so earnest, oh so pretty, everybody likes her and the ones that don’t are flat out wrong and are going to learn to like her pronto. You hear that, Souken and Yeng hua? And of course she’s a starry-eyed idealist and her view is the right view and everyone else is wrong blah blah.

Again back to the shared features of Summon Night games, they usually have a well-meaning, rather clueless protagonist who learns a lot and develops a worldview and philosophy over the course of the game. Sometimes it’s an unconvincing philosophy (SN3), sometimes it’s downright regressive (SN4) and sometimes it’s the usual “I want to protect my friends” stuff every JRPG does. But even if you don’t agree with it, it’s still something you both came up with – you the gamer and the protagonist whose hands you held throughout the game. That makes it a lot easier to accept than Arca’s wholesale prefab do-gooder attitude. Just thinking of how hard I had to work to get my student and the guardians to accept me in SN3 makes me shake my head at Arca’s legions of adoring fans and buddies.

You could look on the bright side and see it as a fresh spin on the usual affair. And one can always hope that something would shake Arca free of her “Helping others is always the right thing to do regardless of the situation or your stated duty” belief. That would be nice. Really nice. Especially if someone gets killed because she was off being a Girl Scout somewhere. Doubly-especially if that someone is Arca and the game ends right there.

Any hope?

The gameplay thing is flexible. I’ve played and enjoyed SN spin-offs like Tears Crown and Swordcraft Story, so it’s not a complete dealbreaker. Realistically speaking, Flight-Plan is gone and never coming back so we have to make the most of what we have left. …Or not. I could just walk away and not look back. I’m leaning in that direction right now. I already started something new on the PSP (Nayuta no Kiseki, loving it the way I never thought I could love a Falcom game) and the SRPG hole in my heart will be filled by Stella Glow this weekend. But! As I’ve said before, it’s “complicated” between me and Summon Night games so don’t be surprised if I post a completion report someday soon.