Love Live! School Idol Festival! All Stars!

I have a long, storied history with the Love Live! franchise, and it all started with School Idol Festival- a mobile rhythm game crossed with a visual novel chronicling the exploits of idol group Mu’s, and later, Aqours. The progression from one group to the next (and then third group Nijigasaki) is messy and involves a lot of discussion not really within the scope of this blog; it’s sufficient to know that All Stars takes place in an alternate canon where all three groups are active concurrently and interact with each other.

For the record- I absolutely adore Mu’s. All nine of those girls are incredibly special to me. I ran a moderately successful Ask Blog featuring them (something I’m strongly considering returning to now SIFAS exists). When it was announced they were getting back together for SIFAS, I wept. So, for that reason, you can readily expect my opinion of the game to be heavily biased- I’m not going to even attempt to be neutral on this one, even less so than I usually do.

SIFAS was designed to exist alongside SIF, rather than replacing or sequelising it, so the gameplay is a lot different. The rhythm-game segment is significantly toned down in favour of an almost management sim-esque core gameplay. In SIF, whether you raised your team or not, you could still complete Expert-level songs if you were good enough at rhythm games to compensate. In SIFAS, the actual strength of your team is far more important, failing out of songs they aren’t strong enough to handle regardless of your ability to tap circles at the correct time.

Still in place, and for my money still the best part of the game, is the visual novel aspect. Progression through the songs unlocks story chapters, and increasing your bond with a particular character unlocks a short (and usually very cute) conversation with her. The story itself is moderately low-stakes, as it always has been, but Love Live shines brightest in its character interactions. For the first time, the three groups are interacting with each other, having previously been restricted only to fellow group members. I haven’t reached any of these cross-group story chapters yet, but I’m excited to see what happens when similar personalities collide. Is the world ready for a Nozomi/Mari collaboration? I think not.

Fin or Bin:

Also included if you have a fairly powerful phone is the ability to watch virtual concerts, complete with dance routines. That’s pretty neat, but my phone is barely powerful enough to even run the menus (I literally get slowdown and frameskip on the loading screens. It’s bad.) But much like SIF, it’s a perfect little ‘I have five minutes to kill before my next appointment’ type of game, and the allure of more Mu’s content is impossible to resist. I’m not Finished with SIFAS yet.

Seiken Densetsu 3 (Trials Of Mana)

Phew. Alright.

It’s taken me several attempts to start writing this. I’ve mentioned before that SD3 has some significant emotional attachment for me; forgive me, but I can’t talk about one without talking about the other. Suffice it to say, a game that can root itself so firmly into ones memories is something special.

I first played SD3 15 years ago, which was also my age at the time (and that, in itself, is hard to think about). I remember being utterly mesmerised by… well, everything; in every aspect, it was a shining gem in SNES’ crown, especially for the RPG-obsessed proto-punk young BB was.

I had a best friend at the time, who was perhaps even more into RPGs than I was, but lacked the means to play SNES games, and so my role in his life was to provide the real goods. Chrono Trigger was first, obviously, but not long afterwards I had to introduce him to this obscure diamond. It was the summer holidays preceeding my impending move away and out of his life, and so every day without fail he walked two miles to my house to play games and drink all of our Dr Pepper.

And then… I moved away, and life happened- a whole lot of it. We drifted apart, of course. Somehow, I never found my way back to SD3 after that, despite being a nostalgic sort and a retro-head. I wasn’t avoiding doing so, it just never happened. Even when going through the enitre SNES library to add music to my playlist, I somehow skipped SD3.

In recent times, said friend decided to entirely cut me from his life. Not sure what triggered it- we hadn’t really spoken for a long while but maintained that surface-level contact through social medias and the like, and then one day he was gone from all of them. Just a few weeks later, entirely unrelated, I got a whim to listen to the SD3 OST again, having not listened to any of it since I played it… and somehow could remember every track, each one hitting me with another wave of melancholy nostalgia.

And then 3 days later they announced a remake and a re-release at E3, and I was super weirded out.

It’s finally come time to confront all of the above- the dice have decided. So let’s talk about the game itself for a moment, and allow it its new name Trials Of Mana to represent this new start.

It’s the sequel to Secret Of Mana which I covered previously, and ultimately couldn’t stomach. It’s a very janky game, with echoes of Trials present but none of them refined into anything playable. I was immediately very nervous that I was misremembering how good Trials was, but thankfully most of the wonkiness was fixed for the sequel. Most notably, combat makes a great deal more sense now, although there are still times my character will just steadfastly refuse to do anything while enemies wail on her and more than once it’s taken a few seconds for an enemy to realise I just killed it. It’s much smoother than Secret was, and my companion’s AIs are a lot stronger too.

Visually the game is an absolute tour-de-force- some of the most beautiful landscapes SNES has to offer- and the story is fairly ambitious with six different plotlines threading together and ending in different places depending on which character you choose at the start.

Finally, and most criminally overlooked- the music in this game is fricken incredible.

Fin Or Bin:

For some reason they made Charlotte (or Carlie as I knew her) tawk wike dis, which is going to be super obnoxious in the remake when every line is voice-acted. But for this play-through, I’m gonna go put Boulevard Of Broken Dreams on repeat, re-read all six Harry Potter books, and make some new memories as I Finish Trials.

Starlink: Battle For Atlas

I’ve talked at considerable length before about how I was a Starfox kid, so I’ll be totally honest here- I bought an Arwing figure, and I got a free game with it. I’m certain I’m far from the only one, and that’s kind of a shame; news that it bombed quite spectacularly was sadly unsurprising, and I have a lot of thoughts about why.

Most obvious issue is that few people have the storage space or disposable income to support a fleet of ships plus their arsenal of weapons. I think the weapons in particular were a bridge too far; the ships alone look pretty cool and make for nice display pieces, but with the weapons attached they look a bit silly- meaning those’re destined to live in a drawer forever once the game is done with, or just not bought at all.

But lets address the Landmaster in the room- the inclusion of the Starfox team in what was a multiplatform game.

Their inclusion is- seamless, almost. There are segments of the storyline cutscenes where Fox and co are noticeably absent, although even this is handled very well, with them walking off screen for actual reasons before what I assume is the original cutscene continues. In-game though, Fox and friends banter with the other characters perfectly, interjecting in ways that don’t at all feel “ALSO STARFOX IS HERE!”- it feels organic and like it could have been a Starfox game.

And that is what I think the real kicker is- it’s not a Starfox game, even though it could have been. People on other platforms are very clearly missing out on a lot of content so why would they bother?

Flip the balance a little, have the other characters star in the game as secondary to Starfox, make it an expanded Starfox Universe, and keep it Switch-exclusive, and I think they would have had a winner.

Maybe it’s useless to theorycraft this sort of thing, but just being a game by itself doesn’t feel like enough. If it wasn’t going to wholeheartedly be a new Starfox, it needed a different hook. A cartoon series, just like the 80s and 90s, could have been the deciding factor. I know kid!Beebs would have absolutely gone nuts over a game like this- a toy spaceship that lights up and you can put your actual ship into the game and play with it there too? That’s the coolest shit. Even as an adult I really like this sort of thing, though it comes with the sad ability to recognise why few developers ever take such risks.

To speak briefly on the build quality of the Arwing itself- really flippin’ good. Solid chunk of plastic, paint and decals are perfect, and you can even switch it from regular to All-Range mode. Very impressive, worth the cost of entry alone. You can arrange the wings and weapons in any manner you like, forwards or backwards, inverted left to right, and even stack both wings on top of each other, and the game recognises your configuration and will play accordingly. Magic!

Fin or Bin:

I’ve talked a lot about the game without talking about the game. It reminds me a lot of a Bethesda RPG, but in space. Object markers over a free-roam map, a quest indicator you’re going to completely ignore because there’s a million other things to do, even some statsy min-maxing to do. I’m having fun with it, and pretty much treating it as a Starfox And Friends title. Would’ve loved to watch the cartoon series based on Atlas if it existed, but I’ll settle for Finishing the game.