Even in the busiest of seasons, smaller games deserve some attention. In that spirit, welcome to Month of Coverage Club. Come back each day in November for a full-length impressions piece based on a hidden gem you've probably never heard of.
Hakoniwa Explorer Plus was a title that had an interesting visual style to me. I decided to play this game purely on the promise of cute monster girls and some kind of vaguely RPG-ish combat. Beyond that, I wasn't sure what to expect. I found plenty of surprises. This game is chock full of easter eggs, amusing writing, and - quite unfortunately - a number of questionable design decisions.
The game begins with asking you a few questions, ostensibly to calibrate the game's difficulty. You begin in the aptly-named hamlet of Firsttown. This little village has less than ten residents and a grand total of three buildings you can access. Your home is occupied by Sukumizu, a swimsuit-wearing girl who will teach you the game's mechanics, hold items, and kick your butt if you piss her off.
Right off the bat, a number of mechanics in Hakoniwa Explorer Plus were pretty frustrating to deal with. You talk with people by walking into them, something that I found to be an annoyance when I was trying to move through a town. If you approach someone from behind, a running gag implies that you've groped them. If you happen to do it too many times while you've loaded into a town, you might cheese people off and initiate a combat situation with the villagers. This is an unwise prospect considering that you depend on these people to supply you with critically-important items.
Your gear boils down to a paltry three items. These include a weapon, a piece of armor, and an equipped usable item like a potion or trap. Items are automatically picked up in the game once you're near them, and discarding them simply throws them back onto the ground. I spent a bit more time than I would have liked to managing my tiny inventory of 12 slots. Defeating an area boss will increase it by a little, but your stash remains at the same size of 16 spaces and quickly fills up.
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Hakoniwa Explorer Plus has a heavy reliance on status effects and elemental damage. Going into a snowy area? It might be best to bring a shield that prevents you from being frozen and a sword that does fire damage. Fighting a boss with stun? Wear the winged helmet or you'll have to be very careful in your positioning while in combat. Indeed, the second boss that I fought was a gigantic bunny girl who would stun lock me with lethal twerking. Yes, that really happened.
Another area that particularly annoyed me was the appearance of Evil Sukumizu. The Sukumizu you meet at the beginning of the game says something along the lines of "Don't hurt me, I'm not Evil Sukumizu". I have no idea when she exactly she appeared, but she ended up eating up half an hour's worth of my playing time.
Evil Sukumizu replaces her nicer counterpart and extorts money from you by trapping you in dialogue loops that you seemingly cannot escape. Each time you talk, she tells you to go ahead and grab her butt (playing on the long-running lewd joke) and charges you 1,000 Gold for doing so. Out of money? No big deal, she'll extend you a line of credit at only 10% interest. I racked up nearly 10,000 Gold in debt before I managed to get away from her. (PROTIP: You can escape her dialogue by hammering the heck out of the cancel button. Everything else is a trap.)
I ended up fighting Evil Sukumizu repeatedly, sold her item drops to the local merchant, and paid off the debt that I had incurred. It wouldn't have been that bad of an experience if it weren't for the fact that her replacing your most helpful ally essentially holds your item stash hostage. I had to prioritize dealing with this problem rather than exploring a world that I had otherwise been enjoying very much.
I've written a lot about the downsides and that's only because Hakoniwa Explorer Plus was a genuinely fun action RPG. There were far more great things than bad things in the game, but the bad things were annoying enough that it put a serious damper on the whole experience. The game is in a 4:3 aspect ratio, but the music is absolutely fantastic. Evil Sukumizu's extortion is incredibly annoying, but a lot of the game's writing and design genuinely amused me.
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Hakoniwa Explorer Plus plays particular homage to several tropes of the genre. A random house in one town had a message that you probably shouldn't enter a private person's home. Repeated attempts to do so will eventually get you labeled a stalker and attacked by the village. There's a ton of similar secrets and easter eggs for players to enjoy. For example, I noticed a chicken on one particular map. Upon attacking it, I was delighted to see a horde of them descend from the heavens and brutally murder me. At least I unlocked an achievement for my trouble.
Although Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is filled to the brim with lewd jokes, foul language, and occasionally questionable game mechanics, I found it a completely engaging and entertaining experience. I played for four hours in a single sitting with mostly-serviceable keyboard controls. After finishing up here, I'm likely to hop back in just to enjoy it some more. I'm looking forward to seeing what indie developer suxamethonium will come up with next.
Hakoniwa Explorer Plus was previewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
What do you think of Hakoniwa Explorer Plus? Does the game's aesthetic appeal to you or do you demand a more modern look for your Action RPGs? Let us know in the comments below!