Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kotaro Yoshida Games

Kotaro Yoshida, best known for his work on Half Minute Hero, is one of my favorite game designers.  His games are japanese-quirky, easy to pick up and play, encourage exploration and experimentation, and have JRPG elements (leveling up, equipment, party members, and killing monsters for gold).  I also like the faux-retro sprite style his games use and although his characters are pretty one dimensional, I think they're fun and I enjoy their banter.  But best of all, every game focuses on a new gameplay mechanic.  He doesn't refine existing ideas, he tries new mechanics (albeit to varying degrees of success.)  The games are simple, but still require some thought; they almost always have a sense of "puzzle" to them.

Anyway, for fans of his, I decided to list out the games he's been heavily involved with.  Since each game is pretty fresh, they're all worth trying for a bit.  He's been doing a lot of mobile games recently that really fit his style, but have no kind of media attention.  They're all really easy to play, even with the occasional language barrier, but maybe I'll do 'Let's Plays' on some of them someday. If I make any links to Japanese pages and you don't understand Japanese, Google Translate is your friend.

Half Minute Hero [Marvelous] - PSP / XBOX Live / PC


This one is in English (among others) and available on many different platforms.

Likely his most well-known game, it's usually described as a JRPG parody.  I'd say its genre was RPG-Puzzle.  You have "30 seconds" (although you can reset the timer) to defeat an Evil Lord in a minuature JRPG.  Each stage features towns, monsters, leveling up, equipment, sidequests, and a boss to defeat.  The story is fun and touches lots of JRPG cliches.  In addition to the RPG mode, there's 30 second shooter, RTS, and action modes.

There are a lot of reviews of this game out there for you (including my own...), so I won't go into anymore depth.  It's unlikely you've found your way to this page without knowing what Half Minute Hero is.  The definitive version of the game is the recent PC Steam release.  You can often get it on sale for 75% off.

Steam Link:

Half Minute Hero 2 [Marvelous] - PSP / PC

This one is Japanese only on PSP, but in English and Japanese on PC via Steam.

It's the sequel to Half Minute Hero and features only the Hero 30 (JRPG) gameplay, although the mode has much more depth this time around.  Where the first felt like a take on 8 Bit Era RPGs, the second feels like a take on 16 Bit Era RPGs.  There's an overworld, global leveling, and a much more involved story.  I did a detailed review of it here.

Steam Link:

Battrix [Opus Studios] - iOS


This one is in English and is free to play, but you almost have to spend $1.99 on it if you want to get to the end.

Based off of one of his PC Game experiments, Battrix is a pure RPG-Puzzle game.  Each tile in the world has either a battle or a town on it.  By winning a battle, in addition to standard JRPG rewards, the adjacent world tiles appear.  So instead of wandering the world, you liberate it into existence.

The battles play on a grid with a particular enemy distribution.  Each enemy attacks after a certain number of turns.  Your weapons can only hit a certain pattern of tiles and use up a certain number of turns per attack.  The goal is to kill all the enemies before you are killed.  You bring 3 weapons into each battle, which you can level up and synthesize into better weapons.

You're guided by a fairy and fighting against an Evil Lord who has stolen all the land in the world. There are towns to discover and tons of secret areas, plus a competetive arena.  You can bring your friends into battle to help you.  It's a fun, unique iOS game, although it can get grindy.  I really recommend this game.

US iTunes Link:
There's a good wiki for this game here:

Run Run Hero [Line/MAQL/Opus] - iOS / Android


This one is in English (among others) and uses a free to play model.

It's an endless runner: You automatically run (left to right), swiping to avoid obstacles, fight monsters, or collect money, until you run out of life.  It's flavored to evoke Half Minute Hero, but it has none of the story elements.  The story is simply that an Evil Lord captured a princess and you have to run through various stages to rescue her. I don't think Yoshida had that much to do with this game (he's listed far down on the credits), but it uses a lot of his concepts.

The features of this game are the Kotaro Yoshida sprites, 5 lanes, fever mode (kill enough enemies and you're invincible for a few seconds), the RPG elements (equipment, leveling, and party members), and the bosses.  The bosses are fun, you need to avoid their attacks and they can only be damaged in a certain lane.

As far as social aspects go, you can compete against your friends and use their avatars in your own runs.  You can also send each other items.

As I write this, the game is six months old.  There has already been one huge update that broke the one endless running stage into several stages.  This helped the game a lot, but the stages still aren't very exciting.  Hopefully we'll see more updates.

But for now, there are issues with the game. The first impression is bad, I didn't start enjoying the game until I got used to playing it with my left hand as playing with the right hand blocks upcoming obstacles. The controls are not nearly as friendly as something like Jetpack Joyride. Also, the game starts to get grindy fast. Once your in-game stamina is high enough, the game does a good job of feeling skill based... it's kind of like playing an old NES game.

My main complaint about the game is that the charm and soul aren't there. There aren't any events, characters, or dialogue... which greatly lower my desire to make it to the end. Maybe it won't bother you, but I would have liked the game a lot more with little story segments the first time you make it to a new stage. On a similar note, unlike most of the other Yoshida involved games, this doesn't feel very unique compared to other games in the same genre. Endless Runner with RPG Elements is a very accurate description of the game.  Maybe I'm just not a big enough Endless Runner fan.

Anyway, please post your LINE ids in the comments so we can help each other out!

Strategy: Sending invites to Line friends gets you useful items, mates, and a ton of money. So add a bunch of "friends" to Line (this is a good list of accounts made just for game invites) to bypass a lot of grinding. Also, don't use gems for money, as this trick makes money pretty easy to get.  Add jediscar on LINE for a strong partner.

US iTunes Link:
US Android Link:

100 Man Hero (Hyaku Nin Hero) - iOS / PC


This one is Japanese language only.  The PC version is free, but the iOS version costs money.

In this game, you play a king trying to defend his castle against an Evil Lord and his cronies.  Instead of running out and fighting, you hire soldiers to do the dirty work for you.  You send them out, they fight monsters, they collect money for the kingdom, they level up, and then they eventually get defeated and return to the castle to be dispatched again.  You can buy items and reequip your heroes before sending them out again.

This app is not free on iOS. IMHO, you're better off just playing the PC version. The iOS version has different difficulties and an infinite mode, but it's not really all that different than the PC version. There is an extra surprise if you beat all the difficulties on iOS, but it's still not worth the effort.  Also, the iOS version has no music at all, which is weird and disappointing.

Strategy: The trick to the later difficulties is that you usually want most of your soldiers the same level. That means frequently shuffling equipment around.

US iTunes Link:
PC Link:

Gun Spirits (GUN SPIRITS) - iOS


This one is Japanese language only and probably the least experimental of all his games so far.  It's not free and it also features in-app purchases (although they're totally not necessary.)

It's a bullet hell shooter consisting of 73+ stages.  You only have 60 seconds to beat each stage.  Every time you beat a stage, you either collect a new weapon, new wings (for defense and movement), or gold.  The gold is used to level up your equipment.  There's a large variety of weapons and some weapons are much better suited to certain levels than others.  Weapons have very different shot patterns.

The levels get a lot harder as you progress.  After about level 65 you'll likely need to grind (or partake in microtransactions) to continue.

In addition to the story mode, there's a Challenge mode where you play through all the stages as one huge stage: No continues, no chances to re-equip, and no health ups.

This game isn't free, but it's quite fun. As a bullet hell game, the CAVE offerings are probably better. But you'll get very good value for your dollar here and it's much better than CAVE games for short bursts of play.

There's a pretty good wiki page for this game here:

US iTunes Link:

Piyo Piyo Quest [ritterz] - iOS


This one is Japanese language only and is an RPG-puzzle game.

The puzzle portion is like collapse, where there is a grid of blocks and touching a block removes it and all neighboring identical blocks.  In this game, destroying blocks causes the hero to do a particular action (attack, use magic, heal, get money, strengthen monsters, or collect a chick).  The monsters attack the hero after a set number of your actions.  Your goal is to collect chicks, which you can then take out on your quests for stat bonuses.

It's a pretty fun game and really easy to play.  It could have benefited with a bit more depth and content.  As it is, there's a fair amount of luck involved.  The game is free, but it has microtransactions that don't actually provide you with much benefit.

There's an interview with Kotaro Yoshida that lists out all the chicks: Page 1, Page 2

Strategy: Take the opportunity to clear out your useless blocks if you know you can survive the next turn.

US iTunes Link:

100 Turn Hero [ritterz] - iOS

This one is Japanese language only.  Although it's playable without knowing Japanese, it requires a lot more patience than his other games, plus there's a fair amount of dialogue you'll be missing out on.  But even without knowing Japanese, it's pretty fun.  It's not free (about a dollar) and it also features in-app purchases (although they're totally not necessary.)  The in-app purchase are for jewels to level up your weapons, but you can quickly get the same amount of jewels through playing stages.

You play as Hero Fundel, who is on a quest to save the world with the ninja Shadow Maru.  You're on a different island full of visible monsters each stage and need to kill the highlighted boss to win.  You have free movement, you level up by killing monsters, and the monsters don't move or attack... but you can only attack a maximum of 100 times before the stage ends.  You bring three weapons with you and switch between them at will.  You'll want to use multiple weapons not only because of their different skills (ex. strong against water monsters or strong against land monsters), but because the weapons hit a different pattern around you.  When you beat a stage, you get jewels and, depending on the number of turns it took you to beat the stage, another weapon.  You can use jewels to upgrade your weapon.  Choosing an efficient path through the stage is important, this game gives you plenty of aha moments that let you shave a lot of turns.

Honestly, I was hoping for more out of this game.  The concept is interesting, but the game doesn't really do as much with it as I had hoped.  The strategy of the game is 10% figuring the right order to kill monsters in and 90% about bringing the right weapons.  Bringing the right weapons requires a fair amount of grinding, which I dislike.  I think the main reason for my disappointment was that I was hoping the game would be more like Half Minute Hero, which attempted to be a JRPG.  I had hoped there'd be more to a stage than just killing monsters.  The stages in 100 Turn Hero could have had multiple paths through it... quests to complete that give you shortcuts to the boss, searching for secrets in a stage, or party members to recruit.  I think it would have be a perfect touch screen based Half Minute Hero, but instead it's much smaller in ambition.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the game and it's definitely worth a dollar.  I hope ritterz decides to localize this game.  But I would have rather paid for a five dollar game with more charm and surprises.

I wrote a mini guide for this game:

US iTunes Link:

Game Experiments

All of these are found on:

    100 Nin Yuusha Touch - PC
    Battrix Touch - PC
    Battrix - PC
    100 Nin Yuusha - PC
    30 Nin Yuusha - PC
    Lionyx (side scroller) - PC


Kotaro Yoshida's Twitter:

His current studio is ritterz:

Lastly, the artist Ayako Suda often collaborates with Yoshida on his games.  Ayako's homepage, with a bunch of art, is here:

Anyway, I hope you guys enjoy and that I didn't write this long article for nothing.

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