The Rice Digital Friday Letters Page, August 6, 2021 – Off the beaten track

The Rice Digital Friday Letters Page

Hello again everyone! We’ve made it to another Friday! Hooray! I have a thoroughly pleasant weekend of absolutely no commitments whatsoever to look forward to, and it’s my sincere wish that all of you have a similarly quiet period to enjoy for at least part of the weekend. It’s good to have some time purely to yourself, regardless of what you choose to do with it.

But! The weekend, it is not here just yet, and that means that before I clock off for the evening I still have to trawl through the mailbag and come up with some thoughtful responses for your wonderful correspondence. It’s a lovely way to end the week and I’m always pleased to see the Rice Digital community coming up with some interesting things to talk about — so thank you for your continued contributions.

If you’d like to be part of the next Rice Digital Friday Letters Page, don’t hesitate to write — simply click the “Write to Rice!” widget that should be visible on every page of the site (click the little black arrow if it isn’t) and pen us something. It doesn’t have to be deep, it doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be clever — we just love to hear from you, whether you’ve got something interesting you feel like sharing or a question you’d like our thoughts on!

So without further ado, then, let’s dive into this week’s mailbag.

Letters Page
Art by Mukkun; original source here.

The road less travelled

Hi,

Recently I’ve been trying to walk off the beaten path and try games that were not made in Japan or USA and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by titles like Sword and Fairy 6 or Banner of the Maid. I’m wondering what other non-USA/non-Japanese games have you tried that you enjoyed?

Also, a bit unrelated, but any management/tycoon style game you’d recommend? I’ve been feeling a bit of a nostalgia for those.

I’ve been enjoying reading your publication recently, love the very relaxed style of relaying information. Keep up the good work!

Warm regards,
Shaddox


Ooh, now this is a great selection of questions — thanks for those, Shaddox, and welcome to the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page! I’ll take your questions in order.

So far as non-Japanese and non-US games go, a number spring to mind. There’s some astonishingly good stuff coming out of Indonesia right now in particular; Toge Productions are a company that you should be keeping an eye on, as they both develop and publish some really excellent stuff.

To date, my favourites from them have been the visual novel Coffee Talk, which you’ll enjoy if you liked the wonderful VA-11 HALL-A (which is also non-Japanese, non-US, being a Venezuelan production, as it happens!) and the action platformer roguelite thingy Rising Hell, which we covered a while back. They’ve also got a great new adventure game called A Space for the Unbound on the way; we had a look at the “prologue” chapter for that as part of one of Steam’s demo-centric game festivals a little while ago.

Letters Page: A Space for the Unbound
A Space for the Unbound

I’m very fond of European stuff, particularly the sims that come out of Germany and eastern Europe; currently (and after being inspired by some VTuber streams on the subject) I’m having a lot of fun with Stillalive and Astragon’s Bus Simulator 18 and SCS’ well-loved Euro Truck Simulator 2 — they’re the very peak of “comfy gaming”, for when you don’t want to think too hard but do still want to do something vaguely interactive.

As an old fart, I’m also very fond of retro games — and some of the most fascinating retro titles came out of France. During the 16-bit home computer era in particular, French developers were among the most creative and technically talented developers out there, producing games that were often regarded as “weird” but “cool”.

If you’ve never encountered them before and have some means of playing retro titles, I encourage you to explore games like Purple Saturn Day, Captain Blood and Zombi — and yes, the latter is genuinely the predecessor to ZombiU on Wii U, though the execution of the latter is very different!

So far as tycoon and management sims go, I assume this question is prompted by our recent review of Idol Manager — if not, check that out, as it’s really neat. Very true to the ’90s style, but with more modern conveniences and considerations. So far as older stuff goes, I was always very fond of Bullfrog’s titles like Theme Park and Theme Hospital; my wife enjoyed the more recent Two Point Hospital a lot, too, though I haven’t tried that one myself as yet. Music’s really catchy, though.

Letters Page: Idol Manager
Idol Manager

If you’re feeling brave, the recent(ish) A-Train: All Aboard! Tourism on Switch is suuuuper deep and complicated, plus it has art from the guy who did the Etrian Odyssey character designs. There’s a substantial demo available if you’re not sure how you might get on with it — I recommend giving that a try first if it’s at all of interest, because it’s definitely an acquired taste you’ll need to spend some time with. If you do end up liking it, Play-Asia have physical copies; the Japanese release has the option for English text.

Thanks for your kind words — we do our best, and we have a fine team of writers here bringing you fun things to read every day. It’s always nice to know that people are enjoying what we do!

Sexytimes

Dear Rice,

I like anime tiddies as much as the next person, but I feel like explicit hardcore sex in anime-style games and visual novels is just a bit too far for me. I’m worried that I might be missing out on some “classics”, though. Can you explain the appeal?

A. Non


Hello there A. Non, and welcome to the Rice Digital Letters Page. This is a good question, and like so many things, there’s no one “correct” answer — just like with any other form of media, you’re comfortable with what you’re comfortable with, and everybody’s personal boundaries are a bit different. If, after all is said and done, you still feel like you’re not on board with 18+ games, that’s cool — so long as you respect the fact that other people do enjoy them, which I’d unscientifically estimate a good 80-90% of people out there are probably fine with on a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of basis.

All I can really do is explain why I personally like this kind of thing and continue to engage with it, even though I’m a happily married man. I mention this because there was an interesting conversation on this very topic just this week in the Rice Digital Discord; one community member was especially interested in the appeal of dating sims and romantic/erotic visual novels beyond people who wanted to assuage their loneliness in some sort of way.

Letters Page: Casual Romance Club
Casual Romance Club

For me, the reason why games and visual novels with 18+ appeal is because they’re not afraid to hold back and show things how they really are. Sure, there are plenty of examples of nukige that exist almost entirely for titillation — but there’s also a host of eroge that feature sex and sexuality as an integral part of their narrative. It’s not always supposed to be “sexy”; sometimes it’s uncomfortable and raises some interesting narrative questions — and it’s always pleasing to me, as someone who has followed the development of gaming in general since its earliest days, to see the medium tackling genuinely adult matters.

Good examples of games that work in this regard include the classic horror visual novel Saya no Uta and Frontwing’s excellent Grisaia series. The latter in particular integrates sexuality into its narrative as a crucial means of depicting the deepening relationship between the protagonist and the heroines — and in some cases, of highlighting how the heroines’ various backgrounds have left them with some very difficult emotional baggage to deal with.

Even the Nekopara series can be argued to use sex effectively in this way, if you play its 18+ versions. Nekopara explores the idea of what life might be like if cats were actually people — and since the way that most cat owners in real life interact with their cats is quite physically intimate (though not sexual, I would hope!) I see it as perfectly reasonable to contemplate whether or not that physical intimacy might escalate further if the “cat” was actually a beautiful woman.

I think the important thing to remember is that although some visual novels and games with 18+ content are “porn”, not all of them are. Sometimes the sexual content is there to say something other than “look how hot this is” — and in many cases, those are some of the most interesting stories that the medium has to tell.

It’s not anything to be ashamed of to enjoy them for one reason or another; my wife enjoyed the dark humour of Rance, even with all its sexual content, and I had a thoroughly enjoyable day with her and her sister playing through School Days HQ a while back. In those cases, the sex was just part of how the whole thing was put together; at no point did it feel like we were “watching porn” together.

Letters Page: Love Cube

At the same time, I also firmly believe that people shouldn’t be ashamed of feeling a genuine, honest and primal reaction to erotic content. The excellent Love³ -Love Cube- from NEKO WORK H (featuring art by legendary erotic artist Ishikei) features some of the most pants-throbbingly hot scenes I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and I spent most of my playthrough feeling rather… uh… delicate, shall we say. The fact that game made me feel that way was very much part of its appeal — and a key reason as to why it was so good. Sure, that’s not something that everyone wants from their gaming time — but it’s great that we have the option.

I hope that answers your question at least partially. Remember, there’s no shame in not getting along with 18+ content if you really don’t feel like it’s for you — but I would encourage you to give it a chance if you have the opportunity to do so and have relied purely on assumptions up until now. You might just find yourself quite surprised!

Let’s play

Dear Rice,

Any plans for some sort of gaming with the community? I’d be happy to get my ass beaten in Strive by anyone who is better than me, which is probably most of the internet.

BringBackBridget


Hi BringBackBridget (yes, by the way, yes) and welcome to the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page!

Good question. Is this something that people might be up for? Probably something that is easier to discuss in our Discord — be sure to join through the link in the footer if you’re not already a member, as we have some lovely folks hanging out and chatting in there on the regular, and I’m sure at least some of them would be up for playing something.

If you’re a Final Fantasy XIV player, I’ve also set up a Rice Digital Fellowship on the Chaos data centre, so you can join that if you want to chat with other Rice folks in game; last time I checked, no-one had joined yet, but it should still be open to new members as I only set it up last week.

Letters Page: Final Fantasy XIV

The only trouble with a sort of “community games night”, as it were, is that everyone wants to play something different and you can’t necessarily guarantee that everyone has access to the same games on the same platforms. I guess it’s something we could look into alongside “free weekends” or Steam sales and the like — or perhaps even look at popular free-to-play games that can be played together.

Needless to say, we’re open to the idea — so if this is something you want to see happen, make yourself heard and let us know the best way to make this work!


And there you have it for another week. Have a thoroughly pleasant weekend, everyone, and happy gaming, as always!

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