We don't always like being nonplussed

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Demo Review: Carnage Heart EXA (PSP)

We've got another PSP demo this weekend! There's a variety of reasons I decided to go this route: one is that I want more current material on the site to complement our retro activities- there's actually less of a barrier to import gaming on consoles now than there has been since the days of the Super Famicom. (Meanwhile, Nintendo has region-locked their portables. Way to be behind the times, guys!) Another reason is that Japanese RPG Maker games are a bit harder to run successfully on a non-Japanese OS than I predicted them to be. Between that and my constant video errors on New Soundwave, I REALLY do not want to be developing a reputation of being bad with computers.

So I found a list of Japanese PSP demos somewhere, and looked to see if there was anything that...

...holy crap. Is that a new Carnage Heart? It IS!

As we've established here and elsewhere, I Dig Giant Robots. Carnage Heart is a mech game, but it's a mech game of a type that I don't think has ever been attempted elsewhere. You design a mech- here called an Overkill Engine or OKE, because This Is Japan, And A Robot Cannot Just Be A Robot. And then you program it using a series of chips describing various actions and conditions for performing them. So it's a robot strategy/puzzle game. And it's hard. This was a game that gave me a tough time in English, so this ought to be fun. I have a soft spot in my heart for developer Artdink -not because of  their goofy name, or any of their own games (though No One Can Stop Mr. Domino is bizarre fun, just like CH), but because they were the ones who ported Tactics Ogre and Ogre Battle to Playstation, without which TO would never have been released in the US, or if so not until this very year.

So let's see what we can do.

That sure is a title screen. First option's New Game, the second is Continue. There's one and only one option when  you select New, and that's "scenario game." The original game had a bit of a story to tie everything together, so...

...so of course, as a designer of weapons of death, I start the game talking to some girl. You know, as software engineers have a reputation for doing all the time. Or possibly I AM the girl. Or I'm just watching the story and I haven't met me yet. Either way she's arguing with a computer named Navi- Japan LOVES the name Navi for any kind of mechanical helper -and then runs off towards something that leaves her very surprised. Her name is Shu Chirin. I learn this when she begins a conversation with a girl we don't see...

...and is ushered into the presence of some dude in a wheelchair and the girl we didn't see, who we now do see. I'm assuming she's his assistant who secretly has a crush on him, because people in anime/manga/games/whatever who work together in pairs are never allowed to just be colleagues. Cutter John there finally introduces himself as Kairu Shigisawa, after a few screens of text of being gobsmacked by Shu's enchanting plainness.

...aren't there supposed to be robots in here somewhere...?

Ah, there we are: Kairu mentions programming, or "puroguramingu," if you like. I don't, so I'll go with programming. Shu and Kairu go through the terminally Japanese conversation of what to call each other. She doesn't like Chirin-sensei, and asks to just be called Chirin. He then decides that Shigisawa is too formal, and asks her to call him Kairu. Chirin responds by bidding two diamonds, and play proceeds clockwise around the table. (I've never played Bridge, so if that's wrong, recommend me a bridge/dating-sim PSP demo and I'll look into it.) Shu Chirin has possibly the most annoying laugh I've ever heard, but I think she's supposed to be nervous.

We're then interrupted by Nameless Girl, who if I'm following may be Kairu's robotic assistant. Yes, his robot assistant looks like a high school girl. Japan. There's nothing else to say about this: Japan. Chirin thinks/says something embarrassing, because this is what happens in this type of scene. Finally, we get to an actual menu! Where the only option is for Chirin to give a lecture on programming OKEs. I guess I'm Kairu? As long as I'm not his creepy helper-bot.

The lecture has helpful pictures. Watching the lecture unlocks a tutorial of the System menu, which is save/load/etc. Going to that unlocks a new lecture. Watching the lecture unlocks an incredibly short mission where I have direct control of an OKE, and bludgeon a couple turrets to death. Which unlocks new lectures. I am at least happy to see they included mechanisms for direct control this time, which was only available through cheats in the PSX game.

The new lecture is on programming. Oh boy, here we go. We get lectured on how the chips work, and place an attack chip, creating an extremely simple program:

20: GoTo 10!

And test it in battle. A battle where we've been placed directly in front of the drone we need to smash since we don't have any walky-chips to install yet. Which unlocks a lecture, which leads us to a much more complicated program which I don't remember enough BASIC to render for you, but it breaks down to this: If the circle button is pushed, lunge towards the enemy and attack.

After this exhausting lecture on extraordinarily simple concepts, we see Chirin in a car looking kind of sad or tired. I guess she's still feeling awkward about the creepy robot helper girl. I would be. After some soul searching she remembers something and runs off. Thus begins Chapter 2!

Kairu talks to his robot girl, whose name is reveal to be... Paltita? Partita? Probably Partita, as it's a musical term and it wouldn't be the first time I saw a musical theme in my video game names. Also, since it's a name for a series of compositions, which would be a reasonably poetic name for a collection of software, it fits the game. Sort of. If you squint. And on closer look, it's not a school uniform so much as a vaguely futuristic maid uniform.

That's so much better!

And now we're getting tutorialed by Creepy the Robot Maid Girl! That's tutorialed, not tutored, or even "tutored." Chirin sent an email about how to program an OKE to turn, so we get a lecture/program/battle session about turning to face the enemy and THEN killing it. This is important.

I do like that they've made manual control something you have to program, but this bit by bit tutorial is getting tedious as all hell. I'm going to leave Kairu alone with his robot maid girl for the night... and go sit somewhere wishing that I had never written or thought of that sentence. More tomorrow!

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