Browsing back through the Rice Digital archives, I discovered this piece from our friend “I Love Japanese Games”, which delved into Metacritic’s “yellow zone” — the place where good games go to die — and returned with a selection of games that are well worth your time and hard-earned as evidence that Review Scores Are Stupid. Which they are.
Since that article was written in 2013 — nearly a decade ago! — I thought now might be a nice time to return to the concept and follow the same criteria.
As previously noted, ILJG focused specifically on the “yellow zone” of Metacritic games — those which scored an aggregated average of 50-75%. In theory, this indicates that they are “average”, but we all know how video game review scores are interpreted; to a lot of people, anything below 80% isn’t worth bothering with, and below 70%? Just forget about it.
Not only that, but, as ILJG pointed out in his piece, mediocre review scores are often slapped on games where a reviewer has some sort of axe to grind — or deliberately wants to hatebait people on Twitter so they can whine and complain about how the prospective players they inevitably insulted in the review are “harassing” them — or where they don’t really “get” what’s going on.
Of course, there absolutely are games that are thoroughly “meh”. But there are also games bobbing up and down in that piss-yellow reservoir of perceived mediocrity that really don’t deserve to be forgotten about. So let’s throw an arbitrarily chosen number of them a lifeline, shall we — focusing specifically on PS4 and Nintendo Switch titles to keep things relatively straightforward!
The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters
Taking on the role of student Mina Park, it’s up to you to solve the mysteries surrounding your school and the nearby areas. What is this strange parallel world you seem to have been trapped in? What is chasing you — and why? And will you be able to uncover the truth of what happened to your friend Youngho?
We say: With Spooky Season just around the corner, doubtless you’ll want some scary games to occupy your time — and this title from Korean developer Devespresso is a great one to settle down with for an evening or two. While it builds on the lore established in the first The Coma, it also stands on its own as a self-contained tale, and is a more well-crafted game in general. Definitely one for the horror fans to explore — and the Korean angle adds a distinctive twist as it blends elements of the region’s troubled history, folk tales and clashing religious beliefs.
Lapis x Labyrinth
Take command of a literal stack of adventurers as you delve into a series of side-scrolling dungeons, hacking and slashing your way through enemies, showering yourself in goodies and beefing yourself up to obscene power levels.
We say: The best B-tier Nippon Ichi game you never played. Lapis x Labyrinth combines elements of arcade platformers, shoot ’em ups, pachinko and classic action RPGs to produce something truly special. Ridiculously fun to play, gloriously colourful, delightfully happy and packed with enough things to do to keep you busy for a long time, this really is a game that all Nippon Ichi fans should check out — and if you’re not a Nippon Ichi fan, this is as good a place as any to start exploring.
Dead or School
Teenage girl Hisako, who has been trapped underground in a post-apocalyptic future for her whole life, hears stories of a magical place on the surface called “school” — and sees it as a symbol of hope. She resolves to fight back against the hordes of mutants and machines that forced humanity underground — and discover some truths about the whole situation in the process.
We say: When I first played this, I was glued to it for a whole week. It’s an immensely satisfying side-scrolling action RPG featuring tons of loot to acquire, interestingly designed levels and a variety of enemies that each need different tactics to take down. Couple that with a narrative that manages to be genuinely fascinating and thought-provoking despite its seemingly goofy premise, and you have an excellent game that didn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. Or indeed any attention at all, really.
After receiving a mysterious letter from an old pen-pal, you head to the place she supposedly lived, only to discover she’s supposedly been dead for a long time. By reconnecting with your old classmates, can you solve the mystery of Aya Fumino — and is there something more going on in the picturesque town of Matsue?
We say: A triumphant return for the Japanese-style adventure game on consoles, Root Letter combines visual novel-style storytelling with investigative gameplay and Ace Attorney-style interrogation sequences. It has several very different tales to tell depending on which route you take, a beautiful real-world setting of Japan’s Shimane Prefecture to explore — and, notably, a cast of characters who are all pushing 30, which makes for a markedly different experience from many other anime-style games out there.
Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire/I’m Being Harassed By Five Sisters and It Sucks
Seytan (sic) has invaded the land with his big, throbbing evilness, but a prophecy states that five sisters will come together, make use of their formidable magic powers and blast him out of existence once and for all. Only trouble is, they have a touch of sibling rivalry to deal with before there will be any prophecy-fulfilling; they all want to marry a guy called Yashin.
We say: Developed by Alfa System, creators of Elemental Gearbolt and Castle of Shikigami, Sisters Royale is designed as a spiritual successor to the latter, and is a highly enjoyable shoot ’em up as a result. Satisfying blasting action, five characters who all handle very differently from one another, an absolutely banging electro-swing soundtrack and some delightfully silly dialogue all combine to make a great game — and one that will challenge shoot ’em up veterans and newbies alike with its range of difficulty settings.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories
You’re on your way to a job interview in a big Japanese city when suddenly there’s a terrible earthquake. Quickly clambering to short-term safety, it’s clear that all is not well. You need to get out of here — but how? And will you take the time to help anyone along the way?
We say: One of the most emotionally engaging, fascinating, thought-provoking adventures in recent memory — blighted somewhat by one of the most inefficient, poorly optimised uses of Unreal Engine in history, which is probably what accounts for the majority of its low scores. If you can stomach its dodgy frame rate, this is an absolutely superb adventure game that allows you to truly “role-play” your character’s attitudes to the various situations in which they find themselves. Truly a game that keeps you constantly guessing as to what might be coming next, and one which really makes you feel for its characters.
What are some of your favourites from “the yellow zone”? Let us know down in the comments — or pen us a letter for the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page to tell us more!
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