Arc System Works, the Japanese face-punchers behind the BlazBlue games and the surprisingly rad-looking Dragon Ball FighterZ, are bringing yet another of their fighting games our way. They’ve confirmed a PC release for BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, a tag-team fighting game which throws together characters from BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena (Arc’s fighting game based on Atlus’s magic teen RPG), French-Bread’s Under Night In-Birth (which Arc publish on PC), and… Rooster Teeth’s web cartoon Rwby? How curious! I’m still left wishing Persona 4 would come to PC but hey, at least we finally have The Man’s approval to make Chie kick faces on PC in some form.
Cross Tag Battle will bring these four worlds together to kick the dickens out of each other. They’re tag-team battles, so pugilists will be able to swap in and out mid-fight and team up for mega-attacks. I have high hopes for big fancy combos. I’m awful at fighting games but I do like Arc’s style of face-puncher and people who know far better than me do tell me they are solid.
BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is coming to PC via Steam on June 5th. Arc spent a few years catching up on PC, bringing old games over late, but this is due on the same day as consoles.
“That’s all good and well,” you may ask, “but can I buy DLC?” Oh buddy, you can DLC your face off. The game will launch with twenty characters then Arc plan to release another twenty as DLC. Good grief.
As gaming headsets go, the Roccat Khan Pro is delightfully diddly. Normally when I put on a headset, it feels like I’m encasing my head in something akin to a bike helmet, so large and cumbersome are their various ear cups that they’d probably provide adequate protection in the event of a roadside collision.
That might be because of my apparently pea-sized head, judging by the number of adjustments I always have to make to get a good fit, but it’s a rare thing indeed when I find a headset that could almost pass for a regular pair of over-ear headphones. You know, if it didn’t have a mic poking out the side or gigantic logos emblazoned on the ear cups.
In truth, I still had to put the Khan Pro on the tightest headband setting to make it comfortable, but the actual overall footprint of the headset is blissfully small compared to something like the monstrously over-sized Corsair Void Pro RGB, meaning it takes up less room on your desk and is easier to chuck in a bag. It’s light, too, weighing just 230g.
That’s partly because it’s largely constructed from great swathes of plastic, but the good news is that said plastic feels pretty robust. Even its spindly microphone feels like it would survive an accidental sitting on, making you only half grimace when you find out it costs £70/$100.
Alas, despite the Khan Pro’s petite dimensions, my old pal Aching Headband reared its ugly mug once more after about 30 minutes of wear time. The faux leather ear cups were perfectly comfy both with and without my glasses on, but the rather sparse amount of padding up top meant I had to keep shifting it around to alleviate the discomfort.
I also frequently couldn’t find the small volume knob on the very back of the left ear cup. I have long hair, and I usually tuck it behind my ears when wearing headphones so it doesn’t irritate me. Of course, this means it falls just in front of the volume knob to form an almost perfect curtain around it. It got easier with time, but the knob itself isn’t very big either, making it easy to miss when you’re blindly fumbling around for it.
I’m sure most of you won’t have this problem, of course, but I’m equally certain that you’d also prefer to have a decent-sized volume knob over the giant ROCCAT KHAN logo hogging the rest of the ear cup.
Fortunately, the fold-down, bendable microphone on that very same ear cup is one of the Khan Pro’s strongest features. Audio was clear and pop-free when I took it for a test-run in Audacity and I didn’t hear any signs of distortion despite many deliberate attempts to try and perforate my ear drums.
Alas, the quality of the Khan Pro’s actual audio is somewhat less impressive. Now, Roccat’s marketing the Khan Pro as a headset for them there esporters, so it may be that the drivers have been tuned to function best in rip-roaring, crowd-cheering stadiums rather than the altogether more quiet, solitary spaces of your own home. Unfortunately, the Khan Pro doesn’t support Roccat’s Swarm software, so there’s no way to tweak any kind of equaliser settings to suit your personal tastes, so you’re stuck with what you get straight out of the box.
Either way, the Khan Pro left me underwhelmed. Game audio was… fine and didn’t disrupt other members of my household, but it wasn’t hugely atmospheric either. In Hellblade, for instance, Senua’s inner voices certainly felt like they were whispering in my ear, but their flat delivery just didn’t produce the same kind of creeping spine-tingling sensation I felt with the Void Pro. Instead, everything just felt a little flat and uninspiring.
The same thing happened when I tried the Khan Pro with The Evil Within. Sloshing through the fifth chapter’s dingy sewers produced plenty of crisp, tinkling water detail, but the screams and moans of its monsters lacked the kind of haunting depth I’d expect from having their death-rattles plunge straight down my ear canals.
The Khan Pro has two separate 3.5mm connections, but comes with an adaptor in case you want to plug it into a laptop or monitor with a single headphone jack
Doom, meanwhile, felt almost a little overwhelming for the Khan Pro, its industrial backing music drowning in a general moosh of thumping noise. Incoming fireball arcs and plasma shots also didn’t seem to transition smoothly from one ear cup to the other as I moved around, and instead popped between them like some sort of demonic tennis ball, making me feel like I was constantly going deaf in one ear.
Listening to more general music was a bit of a letdown as well, with the bass in Final Fantasy XV’s battle soundtracks turning into a bland, muddy mess that all but drowned out the high piano notes on top. Drum beats in rock tracks also sounded quite dull and flat, while vocals frequently struggled to be heard above their backing instruments.
If the Khan Pro was a fraction cheaper, I probably wouldn’t mind so much. At somewhere in the region of £30/$40, it would be a decent pair of stereo headphones with a good mic. But when it actually costs more than twice that amount, it comes dangerously close to Corsair’s Void Pro, which produces a much better sound and goes for just £10 more in the UK and actually $20 less for those in the US. The Khan Pro may have size on its side, but the shadow of Corsair’s jumbo headset is a tough one to escape.
Sci-fi colony catastrophe sim RimWorld is finally almost ready to leave early access and launch in full with a shiny version 1.0, creator Tynan Sylvester has said. It’s a game that one could keep adding to forever, he says, but after five years of development he’s ready to draw a line in the sand and call it ready. Sounds fair, really. He still plans to work on it, mind, but it will officially be finished. Additions and tweaks coming with v1.0 include reworking caravans, a water-driven power generator to make rivers useful, and improved loading times for mods.
Sylvester posted in a Reddit thread today, talking about facing endless feature suggestions and demands from a wide spectrum of players.
“My job is to serve RimWorld players as a whole. That includes super hardcore players with 200 mods, who know every detail of the UI and want more ultra-power user options to make everything more automated, faster, fewer clicks, more fluent. It also includes the 76-year old grandmas and 10-year-old kids who email me to thank me for making a game they can actually play. It includes the people who talk on forums, and the great silent majority who never say anything online at all.”
So balancing everything has been quite the task – and one that would not ever be finished. As he said in a follow-up post, RimWorld could be mahoosive but it’s almost done-enough.
“This game can expand endlessly. That’s it’s nature. It’s not a closed story like Portal 2. It’s an open system endlessly moddable, expandable. You can always play longer, more colonists, more wealth, more colonies, more mods, again and again and again. There’s always more to want.
“So faced with an endless treadmill of requests, I must draw the line somewhere. But where?
“Five years. I figure five years is a decent enough place. Five years are enough for $30. Five years are enough to call a game finished.
“(Of course, it’s great to suggest new things beyond that, but to demand a developer work more than five years on one game for one sale is not, in my opinion, reasonable. In truth I think any dev who does two years has earned his keep; five years is getting into ridiculous territory. Not that I’m complaining of course; I’ve always liked working on RimWorld.)
“It won’t be perfect, of course. Nothing ever is. And I won’t even be finished with it. But – it’ll be finished.”
Fair does. RimWorld may be heavily inspired by Dwarf Fortress but I can certainly understand not wanting to follow in the footsteps of Dwarf devs Bay 12 and work on the same game forever – DF is at 16 years and counting.
That second posts also goes into more details on things to expect in version 1.0, so do go read if you’re curious. When will v1.0 arrive? We’ll have to wait to hear that.
To see Yume Nikki appear on Steam feels like the closing of an era. This surreal game is a relic from a bygone age, when the concept of “indie” was still strange and the World Wide Web felt smaller, darker and more mysterious. It’s the stuff dreams are made of, which is fitting, since it revolves entirely around sleeping.
Released in 2004 by Japanese game developer Kikiyama, Yume Nikki (“Dream Diary”) is about a girl exploring bizarre and horrific landscapes every time she falls asleep. Despite being made with the RPG Maker engine it’s not an RPG, but a proto-walking simulator entirely focused on exploration and atmosphere. It was never meant for a Western audience, but someone liked it enough to translate it into English. It became a cult game.
There are many reasons for its popularity; here are a few of them. It features a cute Japanese girl as protagonist, runs on almost any machine and is easy to play. Its dreamy imagery encourages discussion and dissection. This led to the birth of many theories about its story and inspired enthusiastic fans to create similar games.
But most importantly, Yume Nikki had the memetic quality of a creepypasta and it spread much in the same manner, through word of mouth and via imageboards. While not truly a horror game, it does make you feel like the protagonist of a horror story, peeking under the many layers of the game to uncover mysteries you weren’t really supposed to see. Playing it was like listening to that kid in the schoolyard who would tell you about some convoluted procedure to catch Mew in your Pokemon game, totally for real, believe me. Only this time, there really is something underneath that truck.
The best way to approach it for the first time is with your eyes blinkered. Don’t read guides and don’t watch Let’s Plays, lest the assorted secrets of the game become just a bucket list for you to tick off. The game may be old, but it’s still a fascinating experience, albeit a bit rough around the edges.
The first hours are, sadly, the most frustrating, and that can push people away before they fall under the game’s spell. The first worlds you can visit are looping, desolate and huge, and it’s easy to run in circles and get lost (a small hint: there’s a bicycle in one of the starting areas that will speed up your movement). It takes a while to become familiar with the landmarks, and to find the doors that will lead you into deeper, more secluded areas. As you keep exploring, you start collecting “effects”, like the aforementioned bicycle. Some allow you to explore new zones, most are just aesthetic. All are needed to unlock the ending, but there’s no pressure to reach it: the dream ends only when you want it to.
And you might not. There’s a pleasure in getting lost while exploring weirder and weirder places, but also in learning how to retrace your steps so that you can explore even deeper dreams the next night. You’re a lost child, and yet you’re always somewhat in control, free to wake up every time the dream takes a turn you don’t like. Free to wander and look for new landscapes, strange creatures and cryptic imagery.
Yume Nikki doesn’t stand out as much as it once did. That’s not just because RPG Maker games have become a more common sight on storefronts like Steam, but also because when it was first released 14 years ago the idea of an intentionally obscure and surrealist top-down game, with no combat and no real conflict, was much stranger than it is in 2018. Yume Nikki was a forerunner of the walking simulator in its purest form, before games like Proteus popularized the concept. It showed people that RPG Maker could be used to create games of completely different genres, spawning an entire movement of RPG Maker experiments which gave birth to the likes of OFF, Space Funeral, Gingiva and Lisa the Painful. It reminded people who played modern Resident Evil games that you don’t need polygons and hi-res graphics to get scared, inspiring a renaissance of pixel art horror games like Ao Oni and Ib. Without Yume Nikki, the whole indie scene would probably be a bit less weird.
Over the years, it inspired countless fan games, art, animations, an officially licensed manga and a light novel – both made with Kikiyama’s approval, but without their direct involvement. The mysterious countdown on the Yume Nikki website indicates a sequel could possibly be in the works, but it’s too early to know who would develop it. Kikiyama, the the creator of the original, has been difficult to contact, which only adds mystique to the legend.
In a sense, Yume Nikki can be considered the House of Leaves of the videogame world. It’s a story about dark places, both in the physical and in the mental sense, and the discourse surrounding it has become inextricable from the oeuvre itself.
Perhaps Kikiyama may never give us a proper sequel, but the legacy lives on in a fragmented and vaporous form, its seminal influence still visible in modern works like Undertale.
A large dog-like creature had been sniffing around our camp while we slept. The road hadn’t been kind to us and our food supplies were running low. Truth be told, my own altruistic streak was responsible for most of our problems; we’d picked up stragglers and waifs wherever we found them, and had far too many mouths to feed.
But this dog-thing was not joining us, it was trying to steal from us. One of my medics reckoned he knew how to deal with it, no confrontation necessary. To my surprise, he got a group together and simply dragged its bulk away from the camp, and then tipped it into a ravine.
As far as I can tell, it remained passive right up until the moment it hit the floor. Nowhere Prophet is a beautiful game set in a strange and ugly world.
It’s not our world, though much of it is recognisable. Your convoy is made up of people who look human, and their job titles might be familiar. Over there is a scout, that lady is a warrior monk and here are a couple of raiders and hermits. Oh, and that guy with the mask and the gold hanging from his ears? He’s a Shifty Opportunist.
Not a conventional job title, Shifty Opportunist, I’ll grant you that but it takes all sorts in this world gone bad. He’s a useful chap to have around. In combat, he’ll benefit from the misfortune of his allies, boosting his own stats every time one of his companions falls. I assume he’s scavenging armour and weapons from them as they bleed out and, yeah, maybe that’s not very noble, but it makes him pretty formidable when our backs are against the wall.
Forget the opportunist for now though. Ignore his shifty ways. Nowhere Prophet is not, on the whole, a game about taking advantage of others. It’s a game about protecting your people as you try to lead them to safety.
In that sense, it reminds me of The Banner Saga, although it has card battles instead of isometric tactical encounters. But the distinction isn’t that simple because Nowhere Prophet’s cards are people. Or at least some of them are.
Every person in your convoy has a card associated with them. They’re not just a name, an icon on the screen and a mouth to feed, they’re also the forces you draw from your deck and play from your hand during combat. That Shifty Opportunist? He joined us after a random encounter in which I saved his skin.
There are other cards as well, attached to your own player character, the leader of the convoy. Broadly speaking, these are divided into equipment and orders. You might be able to snipe at an enemy card, doing a set amount of damage that either takes it out of the fight for good, or wounds it allowing your own squad to take it out. And all of this is happening on an actual map of sorts.
In truth, those maps are just a couple of columns where you can place cards, but there are obstacles scattered around that your units can use for cover, and it’s a much more vivid depiction of small-scale skirmishing than I expect from a card game. The interface is clean and efficient, and there’s a tactile pleasure in unleashing attacks and dropping cards into combat.
One of the strengths of Nowhere Prophet, informing the combat as well as the rest, is the writing. There’s so much flavour it could be your new favourite cuisine.
What could have been a standard post-disaster blend of Mad Max, Fallout and more Mad Max turns out to be a weird blend of spiritual crises and technology infused with a madness that might be divine or might be infernal. It’s strange and the strangeness is attractive, informing the gorgeous art as well as the words.
The overworld reminds me of FTL. It’s a randomised path of nodes, each representing an encounter and sometimes with clues as to what that encounter might involve. Paths branch and criss-cross, and the further you move from the central route, the more likely you are to stumble across rewarding but difficult encounters. Many of these are mini text adventures with just two or three choices that can lead to rewards, punishments or combat scenarios. Others are settlements with markets, or meetings with teachers, trainers and sages.
As you travel, you need to manage a few resources. Batteries are your currency, food is the fuel that keeps your people moving, and then there are traits such as altruism, measured in numbers.
I think a lot about my altruism rating.
Remember when I said that Nowhere Prophet isn’t a game about taking advantage of others? There’s a possibility I’ve been playing it all wrong.
It’s certainly reasonable to play as a benevolent leader, avoiding conflict where possible but throwing down the gauntlet whenever you encounter raiders or beasts taking advantage of those weaker than themselves. That’s how I play and it feels right. But it isn’t. Not really, because all of my people die before I can get them to safety. I fail them by trying to help everybody else.
Perhaps I need to start thinking more like the Shifty Opportunist, increasing the long-term chances of survival by capitalising on the failures of others. That’s a possibility too.
It’s still in early access, sold through itch.io and coming to Steam later this year, but even though I’ve played for many hours, I’ve only scratched the surface. There are more than a hundred cards still to discover and I’ve not even started to dig through some of the more wicked options.
I was sure Slay The Spire would be my favourite card game of 2018 but Nowhere Prophet is a definite contender. The great thing is, they’re both taking some of the repetition and randomisation of roguelikes, and combining that with deck-building and roleplaying in completely different ways. There’s not just room for both; they both feel essential already.
You can find out more on the official site, or buy into early access through itch.io.