REVIEW: Always Sometimes Monsters

ASM logoI had Always Sometimes Monsters in my Steam wishlist for sometime now. Of course, as with ever other game I review, the premise caught my eye: your boyfriend/girlfriend left you and the game explores just how far you’re willing to go to get them back. Vagabond Dog brought a great adventure RPG to the table, one that I had somehow overlooked the past few months (ASM came out in May 2014). It was done in RPGmaker, an indie engine that allows you to make that JRPG you’ve always dreamed of. Except in this case, Always Sometimes Monsters has you play an average Joe. No money, no job, no significant other. You get an invitation to your ex’s wedding, to which you immediately set off on a cross-country journey. The game offers choices that drive the story (as with Telltale Games‘ titles and the previous game I reviewed, Psy High) but it seems that the choices are sometimes veiled to converge on one of only two outcomes.In my playthrough, I made choices based on how I would make them. Unfortunately, my college roommate and best friend married my ex and I went off a sad, pathetic loser. However, I questioned the game’s lack of choice in spilling everything that happened right when you’re able to object. I surrendered my one chance at picking my life back up in order to bail my friend out of a casino debt, to which I wish there was a choice for you to tell your ex that at the wedding. Instead, the only choices you’re given are to either shut up and let him/her get married, or object and make an ass out of yourself.

The first time I ran through it, she completely blew me off and got married anyway. The choices you make are far and wide, but I wish it was more diverse than making forced decisions. If the game was trying to reflect how the real world operates, then it does an okay job, at best. The world isn’t nearly as linear as Always Sometimes Monsters portrays, but that’s evidently the feeling you’re left with after just the first playthrough. On top of that, usually JRPGs have a pause before making a major decision; not the case here. While skipping text, I found myself making decisions without showing me all the options because the choice box pops up immediately when a decision question is asked. I wish the developers paid a little more attention to other JRPGs that do this so that the frustration level would be kept to a minimum.

The game does offer LGBT relationships, and this is how they work. In the beginning, you play as the host of a party. His wife tells him he’s allowed only one drink for the night, and that drink you share with almost any one of the guests inside will determine who you play as in the game. I ended up picking the Asian-looking dude who had a bottle of bourbon (I think, if I remember correctly). You then switch characters to the eventual protagonist and head out back to the patio to select your significant other, whether girl or guy. I picked a girl with sunglasses and long brown hair because she reminded me of someone I know in real life. The two of you sign a card, which determines your names for the game, and proceed inside to begin the story. I’ll keep this brief and say that Always Sometimes Monsters was an alright adventure game, but the lack of choices made the game feel heavily forced in a lot of situations when the world is so nonlinear in that sense. It’s great for a few playthroughs, but otherwise not really that much of a stand-out game. Try it for only $9.99 on Steam.

Verdict: 7/10 (Bite It and Leave It)

+ Models real life || + Choices drive the story of the game

= LGBT relationships are an option

Some choices offered were very narrow in diversity and felt forced || – Game had only two choices for final outcome || – Real world not as linear as the game tries to present

REVIEW: Psy High

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Once again, I picked up a new text-based adventure-RPG (ish) game from Choice of Games. A long time ago, I bought the entire trilogy of their superhero-themed Heroes Rise, which I liked. This new one, Psy High, tells your story about being a high school junior who returns to school with a magic power (once again, being able to choose whether you’re a dude or chick, and whether you’re straight, gay, or bi).

The game takes place in Kingsport, Massachusetts, which is also the name of the fictional town from H.P. Lovecraft. Kingsport is based on the real town of Marblehead, MA, located east of Salem. At Kingsport High, you kick off the story with your hobby-job of being the school’s private investigator, in search of a girl’s stolen iPhone. It’s revealed in the beginning that you, along with about a quarter of the student body, developed certain abilities during that previous summer, yours being clairvoyance. Should you choose to exercise your power, you also develop telepathy in a limited form, as you’re unable to read another person’s mind if they’re also being affected by magic (whether by an outside influence or their own powers, in the case of magic-users). You soon discover that something’s off at the school. The teacher that everyone scared of is also in charge of the detention room, which holds a deeper mystery.

You can also have several different romances. You start with your crush (Tyler if it’s a guy, Taylor if it’s a girl), but your best friend, named Alison, confesses that she’s in love with you later on. As the game allows choice of orientation, if you play as a girl, you can either start dating Alison when she confesses her love to you or go out with Taylor from the get-go. As always with RPGs that I play, I always put myself in the game as if I was there, and I make my choices accordingly. I will say that even though I’m not too keen on homosexuality to begin with, I still ended up accepting Alison as my girlfriend despite the fact that she has two moms. I mean, come on, if my closest and best friend had two moms and said that she was in love with me, I would go out with her.

No matter what your personal opinions are, the whole point of Choice of Games’ stories are all about that: choice. Your decisions, like Telltale Games‘ Telltale Tool engine, influence the direction of the story (although the Telltale Tool is much more in-depth, but I digress). As with Telltale’s games, though, the stories aren’t without fault. I did see some proofreading issues in some spots (especially with the sponsored games, which are apart from the in-house games) and also felt like some decisions were forced. However, I think this was a minor issue, as Telltale’s games also do that to tell a specific story.

So, overall, I liked Psy High, although it wasn’t as in-depth as Heroes Rise was, partially due to the fact that HR spanned three games to PH’s one. You can find Psy High on Steam or on Choice of Games’ website for $2.99.

Verdict: 8/10 (Sink Your Fangs)

+ Your decisions drive the game || + Good writing

= The game allows LGBT romances, but entirely left to the player to either explore or ignore

Lack of visuals may be a turn-off for some || – Some decisions feel forced to drive story

REVIEW: The Novelist

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When I looked at the synopsis for The Novelist, I gotta admit, I was hooked by the question it posed: can you achieve your dreams without pushing away the people you love? From my viewpoint, I give what I consider the right answer: no, you can’t.

Kent Hudson, the brains behind the game, has you play as a ghost of sorts that inhabits a woodland cabin where the Kaplan family spends the summer.  There are two way to play the game, essentially marking them as the game’s difficulty system. “Stealth” mode is the default setting of the game, where you have to hide and possess the light fixtures around the house as long as they remain powered (as you play, the Kaplans will start to turn off some lights, eliminating possible jump points). “Story” mode eliminates the difficulty of trying to hide, as it makes you permanently invisible to the Kaplans (think of it as “easy mode”). Between these two difficulties, they don’t really impact gameplay a whole lot, as it all depends on whether you want to have that risk of being seen or not.

As a ghost (of sorts), you also have the ability to enter the memories of the Kaplans (who consist of titular character Dan, the novelist father trying to work on his latest book; Linda, the wife who reveals in writing that their marriage is very unstable; and Tommy, the young son who struggles with reading at school). Inside each member’s memories, you have to uncover clues about each of their lives and to help them to the best of your abilities. If you’ve enabled stealth, you can’t allow yourself to be seen by any of the Kaplans. I found out how that works when Tommy spotted me in the conservatory and tried to follow me as I made my getaway out the door, around the corner, and possessing a lamp. If you allow yourself to be seen for too long, you spook that person that spotted you and you lose the option of compromising with that family member as a result. Luckily for me, that never happened.

What makes this game connect to the players is that it reflects the nature of real life. There isn’t enough time to do what everyone wants and to make them happy about it. I won’t reveal any major points, but I will say that in my playthrough, I realized that making those sorts of decisions was incredibly hard. I felt bad at some points because of how upset and lonely Tommy felt, but I tried to juggle all three Kaplans’ needs. In the end, I did what I felt was right and inspired Dan to do the best he could with his book. However, I had him pay the ultimate cost: making his book succeed is never worth destroying his family over. I won’t play through the game again to see all the outcomes so as to not ruin the great feeling of satisfaction I got through my one and only trip, but I will say that The Novelist created a great atmosphere and had excellent character development. Although the graphics aren’t the best, I think they don’t have to be utterly spectacular to tell a good story. The game was on the short side, as you can play through the whole game within about two hours (more if you’re a completionist and explore every last combination and outcome).

Overall, The Novelist is a good adventure game that connects to its audience in some way or another with its story on conflicting interests between family and career. Give this game a look! It’s $15 on Steam.

Verdict: 8/10 (Sink Your Fangs)

+ Great story with wide variety of choices and outcomes || + Simple mechanics

= Little variation in difficulty; depends on whether you want to risk being seen or not

The game is short, even for playing through all combinations and endings || – Relatively simple graphics