And of course, saying I like it when I’ve only played 5 hours means I’ve probably jinxed the game. Just like I jinxed Tokyo Majin Gakuen, a game Tsukumonogatari bears more than a passing resemblance to. In fact I have created a “Majin-like” genre in my mind that encompasses games such as these.
To qualify as a Majin-like, a game must have a ratio of 90% visual novel : 10% gameplay, its story must have a heavy supernatural/occult component and majority of the cast must be high school students who spend their days engaging in typical ‘wacky anime high school hijinks.’ Btw, although Persona/Shin Megami Tensei may have inspired Tokyo Majin, it doesn’t qualify under this criteria because for all their other flaws the SMT/Persona games do have a lot of gameplay.
Have I really played enough Majin-likes to create a new category, you wonder? Actually I’ve only played three. Three too many, because the other thing they have in common is that they all start out strong and then fizzle out and drag on too long and get so boring and tiresome that by the end I’m just begging for the game to be over. I just don’t have much stamina for visual novels, I guess, and yet the promise of that sliver of gameplay just keeps drawing me in.
That said, Tsukumonogatari hasn’t reached the bad stage yet. There isn’t much of a story yet, though to be fair I’ve only been playing a few hours. The main character, Ishigami Yuuto, realizes he can see spirits (ayakashi) one day. His homeroom teacher then recruits him into a Spirit Busting Team she’s part of. Now he has to run around campus taking photos of spirit-possessed items so he can use them to fight the ayakashi. But most of the time he just goes around snarking at the other students and bickering with the mascot character Tsukabe.
Gameplay: Ishigami walks around buildings like so:
In battle he can summon the spirits possessing these items to fight for him. The catch is that each object can only be summoned once in the whole game, so you need to take at least one or two pictures per chapter so you’re not left hanging when it’s battle time. Spirits also have elements and there’s an element pentagon (Water > Fire > Wood, and I forget the rest) you have to take into account when summoning spirits.
The other thing Ishigami can do, this being a visual novel, is walk around talking to people. Through conversations he can pick up “power phrases” (usually idioms, common sayings and cliches) to equip on his summon spirits. For example if someone calls something a “one-hit wonder”, you can press R+O to pull out that phrase (it will be helpfully marked for you) and then use it later in battle to give the spirit a boost to critical. Or a phrase like “like water off a duck’s back” might give you a water element attack, that sort of thing.
I really like that part of the game, firstly because some attempt has been made to match the phrase to the resulting attack/effect and secondly because it makes going around talking to NPCs more interesting because you never know what you might pick up. Power phrases can only be used once, but if you can trigger the same conversation again (or another one where someone uses the same expression), you can get the phrase back and use it again. Good stuff.
You can also pick up rumors in conversation that you can give to the creepy sickbay teacher in exchange for useful power phrases and hints about where to find new possessed items.
As for the battle system itself, well… It’s a visual novel, it’s not supposed to be hard. There’s Attack phase (Attack/Special/Charge) and Defend phase (Defend/Evade/…something). Battles take an average of 8-12 turns (or much less if you can get a super-broken phrase from the teacher) every time. Not too bad. The only problem is that I haven’t received any rewards so far for taking out the bad spirits. Even a new cellphone skin would do. Or heck, just a “Well done, Ishigami.” It’s too weird to fight a boss battle and get diddly-squat for your efforts. I’m not really sure how to feel about this.
That aside, I’m quite enjoying Tsukumonogatari because I actually like ‘wacky anime hijinks’ – in moderation. The main problem is some very annoying characters, like the resident peeping tom, for one. Ishigami’s ‘sexy’ supervisor/teacher who keeps making suggestive comments, for another. The weird blond foreigner who speaks perfect Japanese for a third. And the game mascot Tsukabe is the most useless, annoying and perverted creature I’ve encountered since that teddy bear in Conception. The main character can’t even say hi to a girl without Tsukabe blurting out something dirty and ruining the mood. I feel a lot of sympathy for Ishigami as a victim trying to make the best of a bad situation. It helps me keep playing because I’m constantly rooting for him.
It also helps that the ‘novel’ part of the game is fairly well-written and Ishigami is a likeable kind of guy. It’s an interesting read even when nothing much is happening. Going around snapping photos is a bit frustrating but mostly fun, and the battles are… not really what I’m playing the game for, so that’s okay. Unless anything super unusual happens before I finish Tsukumonogatari, see you when it’s done.
Oh yeah, Merry Christmas!