Reviews of Games Old & New, Japanese Game Shop Visits, Plus Much More!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dokuro Review (PlayStation Vita)


Game: Dokuro
Developer: Game Arts 
Publisher: Gungho Online Entertainment
Release Date: July 5, 2012 (Japan), North American PSN release TBA. 
Genre: Platformer/Puzzle
System: Sony Playstation Vita 

Dokuro (which means "skull" in Japanese) is a cute fantasy puzzle platformer game for the Playstation Vita. Developed by the same house which gave us the Lunar series, the Grandia series, Ragnarok Odyssey, among many others, Dokuro is a departure from Game Arts' usual offerings. This review is for the Japanese physical release. Dokuro is planned to be released in other regions as well, but only in digital form via the PlayStation Network Store.  

The game starts off by introducing Dokuro as a very lowly servant to a demon-type character who is called the Dark Lord. The Dark Lord has captured a princess and imprisoned her (with plans for marriage) in a holding cell located high in the Dark Castle. Dokuro, who seems to be in charge of guarding the princess, falls in love with her at first sight . Little Dokuro has a slight dilemma: free the beautiful princess, or be loyal to the Dark Lord. Like any man would, he chooses the princess and frees her from her cell. Upon being freed, the princess does not thank Dokuro or even acknowledge his kindness. He should have thrown her back in her cell...I would have! Anyway, the path out of the dark castle is riddled with traps, puzzles, obstacles, among other things, and the princess is completely helpless. Lucky for her Dokuro is a sucker for a beauty in need, unlucky for Dokuro she will never appreciate his efforts in assisting her with her escape. You can't help but feel sorry for poor little Dokuro who tries his best to help the princess. Any skeleton with a backbone would have left this cold, shallow, ungrateful princess where he found her, but little Dokuro tries his best to please a woman who may never notice or care about him. 

Dokuro has basic controls. Jump, attack, and an 'action' button which pushes and pulls objects. In the first cutscene we are shown a special potion which turns whoever drinks it into a warrior. Dokuro gets a hold of this potion early on in the game and with it he can transform into a handsome prince with a sword which the princess does notice. Players are to use Dokuro's true form to jump to hard-to-reach places as he can jump higher and is more nimble. Dokuro's prince form is strong so it is best used for attacking enemies and carrying the princess over obstacles. Unfortunately for Dokuro he can only remain in prince form for about 20 seconds at a time. When he transforms back into the lowly skeleton the princess pays less attention to him. With the default control settings you must use the front touchscreen and rear touchpanel to change shape, which can be bothersome for those, like myself, who don't like touch controls. 

Touch controls cannot be completely avoided. During the course of the game, you obtain different colored pieces of chalk each serving a specific purpose. The white chalk acts as a rope, the red chalk acts as a dynamite fuse, and the blue chalk creates pools of water. Your fingers acts as the chalk as you draw your way out of certain obstacles. I don't think it's too intrusive to the gameplay and although I don't really like taking my hands off of the controls, the chalk aspect of the game fits nicely. 

The game's 16 stages are comprised of different areas of the entire castle. Each area has a theme; from a banquet hall to a garden, from a kitchen to an elevator shaft. Each stage is broken up into 10 different puzzles, or 9 puzzles with a boss fight. Each puzzle is timed so that players can measure their performance and improve upon it accordingly. There is no time limit, so you can take as long as you like, but one of the challenges of the game is to finish as quickly as possible. Other than solving the puzzle of each section, there are also platforming elements such as pitfalls and enemies which must be defeated in order to complete the puzzle. Each section contains a gold coin which seems thrown in just to give Dokuro an additional objective aside from assisting the princess. In the overworld map you can choose to retry older stages if you want to better your time or collect a gold coin you may have missed. The end of each section is marked by a radiant flower which the princess is highly fond of. Dokuro has just risked life and limb to protect her and all she cares for is a flower. Every other stage or so does have a boss fight and this is another area where the game shines. The boss fights are fun and are challenging, but not to a point where the fight becomes a chore. For the veteran gamers, they may seem a bit easy. I thought they were just right. Classic game strategy, memorize their patterns then attack accordingly. 

The game's art direction is something out of a Tim Burton film. Everything looks so crisp and beautiful on the Vita's OLED screen. The music blends well with the atmosphere which, but some may not like the music's 'French' sound. The game does not have many vibrant colors as mostly everything is dark and monochrome with some color here and there. When Dokuro transforms into the hero, the backgrounds light up with color and so does Dokuro himself. I think this is a great effect. Dokuro is only noticeable when he is attractive. Art imitating life! 


The game is very well-designed and quite lengthy so it will keep you busy for hours. I think 10 to 12 stages would have been enough, but at 16 stages you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. Some stages will frustrate you, others will be a breeze. They're all mixed up so you never know what you're getting next.  Also, the game is very accessible. People who like to play games imported from Japan are often faced with the same dilemma: not understanding Japanese. Fret not, this game can be played in English. It doesn't stop there. The language options, other than Japanese and English, include French, German, Italian, Korean, and Spanish. The boss fights are very fun and creatively designed.  The game is beautiful to look at and fun to play. Nothing I can really say here that I haven't mentioned already. This is a fun game and perfect for a portable system as it is fully enjoyable even in short bursts. 

The touch control motion needed to transform was a clumsy add-on. As mentioned previously, it can be redirected to the "R" button which is where it should have been in the first place. The game could have used more audio tracks as the music is recycled throughout the game. The music isn't annoying, but I think given the length of the game, the developers could have taken the opportunity to create some really great atmospheric music to go with Dokuro's gothic/whimsical theme. 

The Verdict:
Some might say this game is just a two-dimensional ICO. While that does hold some truth to it, it is barely a rip-off. It is unique in its own right. This game is profound, funny, cute, challenging, and addictive. Trying to best your own clear times creates great replay value. I highly recommend it to any fan of the platforming and puzzle genres.  Dokuro is a whimsical, tragic story about a boy stuck in the bowels of unrequited love who would do anything to win over the woman who would never give him the time of day. Maybe. 


If you like the art and music, here are free downloads from the publisher.

No backups, pirates, or emulation. Reviewed copy:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Game Shops of Tohoku

Hello! I know I haven't posted in a while, but now I'll slowly get back into this blog. A couple months ago I posted a 2-and-a-half hour video on YouTube of myself driving around northeastern Japan looking for games at many different game shops and recycle stores. I hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Doremi Fantasy Review (Super Famicom)


Game: Doremi Fantasy: Miron no Dokidoki Daibouken (ドレミファンタジー: ミロンのドキドキ大冒険)
Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Release Date: March 22, 1996
Genre: Platformer
System: Nintendo Super Famicom

Doremi Fantasy is the sequel to the NES game 'Milon's Secret Castle'. Don't be fooled, though. Doremi Fantasy isn't even close to resembling its predecessor. It's a straightforward platformer with very mild puzzle elements and it's a whole lot of fun. Upon starting the game you are met with a cutscene in which Milon and a companion are walking in the woods together when suddenly a demon appears in the sky. This demon, Amon, kidnaps a fairy named Elise. To combat the evil Amon you must collect 5 legendary musical instruments from across the land. Once you acquire these instruments you are ready to face the evil Amon and rescue Elise. Along the way you meet people who imbue magical powers into each instrument that you collect.

Similar to platformers like Super Mario World, Doremi Fantasy consists of a variety of overworld maps which consist of a number of levels. The themes of these overworld maps come in a wide variety. There are the requisite ice, forest, and fire worlds long with unique worlds like the snack world, and the toy world. After you complete the regular levels there are 'castle' stage and a boss stages. Before moving onto the the boss you must collect 5 special stars hidden in the preceding levels which are needed to enhance the magical properties of the music instruments. You can revisit cleared stages to power up or acquire items that were unreachable during the original run.


Your only weapon, like in the original Milon game, are bubbles. Reminiscent of Bubble Bobble, your enemies are encased in your bubbly restraints until you tag them and subsequently they float off to somewhere in the sky. You can stomp enemies, but this only stuns them and does not kill them. Your bubble bullets can be powered up but to a very short extent. It would have been nice if Hudson Soft put a little more effort into this since blowing bubbles does get a bit boring. A variety of weapons would have made this a lot better.

Items and power-ups are available throughout the game as well as a plethora of 1ups. Items range from bubble gum which prevents you from dying in and endless pit to winged shoes which help you glide through the air. As you progress further into the game you realize that these conveniences become more scarce. Musical notes which are like Mario's coins or Sonic's rings can be collected for 1ups. Even these become more rare as you get closer and closer to the final battle with Amon.


The colorful graphics and great attention to detail is really amazing. The cute little animations Milon and his enemies have are nice little touches which add to the game's charm. I've never seen one individual character in the 16-bit era have so many animations and expressions. Some of which are only unique to being harmed by a specific single enemy. There is a wide variety of cute enemies and bosses each seemingly distinct personalities. From the baddest boss to the most insignificant grunt of an enemy, they all have character which is more than I can say for a Goomba or a Koopa Troopa. You can easily tell a lot of devotion went into developing the presentation of the game. As if the gameplay and graphics weren't good enough, the music and sound effects of Doremi Fantasy are top notch. Everything sounds beautiful and Hudson Soft really got the most out of the Super Famicom's sound capabilities.

In addition to an already rich game there are mini games hidden throughout the levels. There are three different mini games in which you can earn suits or 1ups depending on how many points earn. One thing I must mention is that the instructions of the mini games are in Japanese so if you aren't familiar with the language the mini games make require trial and error to figure out. While there is an English patch available for the ROM, I am not big on emulation so I don't endorse it.

The game forgoes battery backup with a password system. Once you reach the 'game over' screen you'll be given a password if you don't want to continue right away. Hudson Soft did keep it simple by having only 4-digit passwords, but you cannot resume exactly where you left off the last time you played. So, for example, you lose all of your lives at the last level of a given world you must restart the entire world if you decide to quit. Perhaps this was added for a challenge. The only way to resume where you left off is to instantly continue once the game is over. Also, you must deplete all lives before getting a password. It would be more convenient if it was possible to retrieve a password at any time. You have to wait for a 'game over' screen. There were times I wanted to quit for the night but had to waste all of my lives just to get a password.


Doremi Fantasy is not a very difficult game. I suppose Hudson Soft wanted to make the game accessible to gamers of all ages and levels, so if you're a seasoned gamer Doremi Fantasy might be a bit on the easy and short side. There are 7 worlds, but the levels are fairly short which is a shame because they are so much fun. There is one major area where Hudson Soft completely dropped the ball, but I can't really mention it without spoiling the game. I'll just assume that they must have spent so much time on the presentation that they totally forgot or didn't care about one major detail of the game...or it was just rushed towards the end of production.


Don't let that deter you. Doremi Fantasy is a must-play. From the rich, colorful graphics to the beautiful sounds, and a surprise cameo by Bomberman this game cannot be missed. While the Super Famicom version might be a bit hard to come by, it is available on the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console as an import. While it is no Super Mario World, it does succeed in being a very fun game that shouldn't be missed. Get a copy or download it from Virtual Console. You just might find yourself thinking this is one of the Super Famicom's best platformers.

No backups, pirates, or emulation. My copy: