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I have high hopes for Fatal Frame 5: Fourth Drop Gameplay. Last drop we were with Ren and Rui, who went back to the inn to find a memorial photo album. But this drop, I suspect, will be a lot more intense.

Character Cheat Sheet

  • Yuri Kozukata – An orphan rescued from suicide by Hisoka, who can see “spirit traces”, like Hisoka. She’s in possession of the Camera Obscura, the camera that can combat ghosts. She can see shadow traces of people and items, and is using that to try and find the missing Haruka.
  • Hisoka Kurosawa – Yuri’s mentor who runs an antique shop. She also reads fortunes and finds missing items and people by following their traces… but went missing on Mt. Hikami while looking for Haruka.
  • Fuyuhi Himino – Employed Hisoka and Yuri to help her find her friend, Haruka. But while on Mt. Hikami was put into a trance and forced to commit suicide. Her spirit is now bound to Mt. Hikami.
  • Haruka Momose – Fuyuhi’s missing friend. We suspect that she might be in the Shrine of Dolls but it’s unknown if she’s alive or dead.
  • Ren Hojo – Ren is an author who lives with his assistant, Rui, at the base of Mt. Hikami. He often calls Hisoka Kurosawa to find things with her Shadow Reading.
  • Rui Kagamiya – is the assistant to Ren Hojo.

Just to catch you up

We shift back to Yuri. Previously, Yuri went up Mt. Hikami to help Fuyuhi, who came in search of her missing friend Haruka. Unfortunately, before we could find Haruka Mt. Hikami and the Blackwater Maidens who haunt it claimed Fuyuhi. But we found clues that indicated Hisoka, Yuri’s teacher and guardian, is also on the mountain. And that Haruka might still be alive, somewhere in the Shrine of Dolls nestled in the mountain.

Determined to bring Haruka home alive, Yuri returns to the Shrine of Dolls…

Heading back up the mountain trail, Yuri catches a Shadow Trace of Haruka and snaps a picture. Doing so makes the afterimage of Haruka vanish, but a note appears where Haruka was standing.

In it, Haruka writes:

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“I awoke to the sound of water.”

“I awoke to the sound of water. Should I press on, or go back? This is the point of no return. If I want to see Fuyuhi again…”

Does this trace know… that Fuyuhi is dead? Or did Haruka believe that Fuyuhi was on Mount Hikami, and that’s why she came?

Returning to Mount Hikami

Yuri continues her climb upward, reaching the Purification Pool. There, in its waters, a Maiden in white appears deep in contemplation. Yuri catches a photo of her, and learns that she’s a Wistful Shrine Maiden. Yuri’s quick hands are rewarded with Haruka’s second note.

“I came here because of the sunset.”

“I came here because of the sunset. It was so beautiful, it made me want to cry. It was the same sunset I saw when I survived. The sun seemed to sink into the mountain. I had to come and see it. Melting away into the waters of the mountain seems natural… It seems right. I feel like the others are telling me to. The ones who didn’t survive. The sunset is drawing closer. Or maybe I’m drawn to it.”

It seems that those who are close to death, who are suicidal or who have survived a near death experience in the past, are drawn to Mt. Hikami as if it exudes a siren song.

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But once Yuri puts down the note, she’s immediately assaulted by several bloody-eyed Maidens. With Yuri’s newly updated camera, it’s an easy fight. And with them defeated, she touches them for a Fatal Glance and sees the Maidens last moment. Their brutal murder at the hands of a man who hated their all-seeing eyes.

We head up the path towards the Unfathomable Forest. Just down the path is the bridge to the Doll Shrine. And across it we see an image of Haruka.

Fatal Frame 5: Fourth Drop Gameplay, haruka waits for us across the bridge
It’d be great if you could just stand there and wait for us.

Snapping it, Yuri see her standing, waiting. Unfortunately, the bridge is still out. But going to its edge, she see the corpse of a slaughtered maiden floating down stream. Taking a picture causes her to shimmer and fade into the water.

Unfortunately, there’s no choice but to delve back into the wild labyrinth of the Unfathomable Forest. And at the first junction, Yuri finds a strange leather mask. Touching it, Yuri sees the memory of a man with a camera, maybe ghost hunting.

He sees a noose. But before he can be lured into suicide like Fuyuhi, he sees the man who massacred the Blackwater Maidens plunging through the woods towards him. Moments later, the mask owner is slaughtered too.

I can’t help but to shiver at this. I once got lost in Aokigahara forest in the winter, which inspired this forest. And while I never saw a noose, the forest absolutely gave me the creeps.

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Yuri drops the mask but it’s too late. A howl pierces through the woods and the man who slaughtered the maidens is headed right towards her, wielding his bloodied blade.

Fatal Frame 5: Fourth Drop Gameplay, tattooed man wants us dead

This is the first time we’ve gotten such a good look at him. And god, does he look insane. Tattoos cover his face, and his hair is a wild shock of white. But what’s important here is that he wants to kill Yuri, and he comes in swinging.

He’s far tankier and deadlier than anything we’ve fought so far. When he extinguishes his torch he turns invisible, and as he reaches the end of his health he bursts into a pyre of flames, still hellbent on killing the camera wielding girl.

But he goes down, and Yuri’s finally able to touch his ghostly essence.

In his last moments, he, like many others, came to Mt. Hikami to commit suicide and was tended to by one of the Blackwater Maidens. But once she glanced at his face and saw everything—his mind and the secrets within—he went mad. He slaughtered her and the rest of the maidens to ensure that no one would know his secrets.

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With ever maiden dead, he returned to the body-filled pool of purification where he set himself on fire and cut his own throat.

I can’t really say I sympathize. What sort of terrible secrets wash he hiding that warranted such a slaughter?

Yuri continues onward, scrounging through the undergrowth for items. There’s film and herbal medicine galore. Drawing closer back to the main path, three wandering shrine maidens walk in single file, incandescent and lovely.

Fatal Frame 5: Fourth Drop Gameplay, the maidens take their last stroll
How many times have we seen them take this walk?

They vanish, and following them down the path Yuri sees that they’re now lying across the ground. The tattooed man gouging out their eyes.

Creeping closer, the images of the maidens and their murderer dissipates. But just a few feet away is another of Haruka’s notes.

It reads:

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“Fuyuhi didn’t see the sunset.”

“Fuyuhi didn’t see the sunset. Only I could see it. That’s why I had to go alone. The light of the setting sun lives on in the mountain. I wish Fuyuhi could’ve seen it.”

How sad. Even though it led to their deaths, I think Fuyuhi would have liked to have seen the sunset with Haruka, too.

Reaching the entrance of the Shrine of Dolls, a trace of Haruka wanders towards its side, away from the main doors. She sings the Song of Memories, which Fuyuhi held so dear.

She might still be alive. But no part of me wants to go into this shrine.

Entering the Shrine of Dolls

Yuri slides open the side door and a child-sized doll greets her from the corner, staring down at a doll on the floor. They seem too lifelike.

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I hate this shrine already.

Edging forward, more dolls stand in the hallway. Yuri presses on and one collapses to its knees. In the next room, there’s a doll discarded on the stairs. Ignoring the basement for now, Yuri heads into the next room, which is full of dolls and items.

nope nope nope nope

Amongst the items is a lens and another note from Haruka.

The note reads:  

“Ever since we survived, I’ve felt like every day could be my last.”

“Ever since we survived I’ve felt like every day could be my last. I feel closer to Fuyuhi than ever. It’s nice sharing secrets with her… Sharing my guilt. We often talk about the past. I remember a lot of things from back then…

Like how her face was the first picture I drew in kindergarten. We split the sheet of paper and drew each other. I remember growing taller than her, and how she stayed at my house while hers was being renovated. We often talk about that kind of stuff.

Most of all, I remember singing the Song of Memories at kindergarten graduation. I looked over at Fuyuhi and she was already looking at me, waving.

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Whenever I hear that song, it makes me want to go back there… to that time.

My whole life has been flashing before my eyes. Of all the moments, that’s the one I want to keep on living over and over, forever.”

The notes continue to be some of my favorite moments in the Fatal Frame series. It makes the shadow of Haruka worth chasing. Yuri turns and sees a trace of Haruka, crouching down behind the dolls, near an altar.

Yuri crouches down to investigate and finds a wooden grate beneath it. It’s locked, but there’s no doubt that that’s where Haruka went. Yuri just needs to find a way to open it.

But as she stands up to leave, she realizes there’s someone else in the room with her.

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A little girl with white hair.

We’ve seen here before, haven’t we? She was the girl sacrificed in Ren’s dream. But she’s here now and she’s giving off nothing but bad vibes.

Little white-haired girl challenges us to a game.
She’s going to try to kill us. Guaranteed.

“I know you want to die. Before you do, how about a game?”

This white hair girl challenges her to a game of hide and seek. Yuri must find a hidden effigy of herself. If she doesn’t, well… we’re not told what happens, but I suspect it’s nothing good.

The ghostly children we saw when we first came to Mt. Hikami briefly surround her before running off, and the white haired girl disappears. Where could it be hidden?

Heading downstairs into the waterlogged basement, Yuri finds shelf after shelf filled with dolls. Amongst them is a maiden like the one we encountered in the tutorial. She’s unmistakable because her top is open and her breasts are bigger than her head.

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We make it to the other side unscathed, and find a book called The Doll Memorial. The book states that the shrine was built on top of the river. Dolls depicting those who passed would be placed in the river to be washed away, serving as a memorial.

No wonder the lower level is flooded. Heading into the main shrine room, there’s a man hunched over, his face masked, a black box on his back. The watchful eyes of three large dolls, obscured by thin bamboo blinds, stare down at him like little gods.

Fatal Frame 5: Fourth Drop Gameplay, three enshrined dolls
I hate this place.

Moving into the side room, Yuri’s attacked by a doll for the first time, and I hate it. But this attack is just the first of many. Fortunately, these dolls go down with a single shot.  

Through this room Yuri’s finally able to go outside, and if you asked me to draw a map of the shrine under the threat of death, you’d have to kill me. That place is a maze.

But outside, things have changed. The trees are filled with dolls, hanging from nooses.

Fatal Frame 5: Fourth Drop Gameplay dolls hanging from nooses
these kids are twisted.

It’s a disorienting, terrifying sight. One of the creepiest of the game. But once we take a picture of the right hanging doll our effigy is revealed.

The ghost children who accompanied the white-haired girl attack Yuri in a repeat of Drop Two. But they mostly circle around her, and the most efficient way to time it is to wait so they’re all in the same shot together. Sometimes they’ll even stand in a group for you.

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Returning to the Shrine of Dolls

With effigy in hand, Yuri returns to the shrine, entering through a door that used to be locked. Inside is a doll crafting room, filled with pieces of dolls that looks too much like a serial killer’s slaughter house. Here we find another book titled Shrine of Dolls.

In it, the book states that the old dolls that fille the shrine contain tiny teeth, bones, and small bundles of hair tucked away inside.

Oh. Okay. So it kind of is a slaughterhouse. But you’re ramming the body parts inside of dolls. Okay.

Anyway.

These dolls are believed to contain the souls of deceased children who were offered to the shrine in a ritual. The cave below the shrine, known as Womb Cavern, also houses several human remains. This cavern, the writer believes, is where the bodies were disposed of.

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But now that cavern has been renovated into a storage place for the old dolls.

So… that’s the water-logged area Yuri has been slogging through. The storage room for all these ritually killed children. Things are just getting worse and worse.

Another book nearby details the writer’s dreams with a group of children. In that dream, they’ll play Spirited Away, where they must seek out hidden effigies of themselves. If you’re the last to find your effigy, you’ll be spirited away.

The second game is called “Ghost Marriage”. In this case, everyone hides their dolls, except one person called the “Outsider”. That person then chooses a partner of the opposite sex and searches for their doll.

The owner of a doll that is found is “bound”, or married, to the Outsider. But if the Outsider finds the wrong doll, then the owner of that doll becomes the Outsider instead.

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Well, we now know what sort of game the white-haired girl was playing with us. Hopefully Yuri found hers in time.

Returning downstairs into the doll storage area, Yuri finds a man standing in the water. I don’t know who he is or why he’s down here. It’s a difficult fight but we’re able to press on… until we meet the tutorial maiden again. And this time she isn’t passively waiting to dissolve into the water.

Blackwater Shrine Maiden wants to fight.
I remember those!

She attacks, but she’s easier than the man we dealt with a few moments before. And as we touch her ghostly essence, we see an image of her and four other maidens, standing hand in hand, facing a great tidal wave of black. She and the others succumb to it, sinking into the black waters.

Finally through the storage room, Yuri heads back into the doll room where she was first challenged to the game. Yuri sets her doll on the shrine, and the white girl appears again.

But it doesn’t seem like she wants to play fair, because she immediately attacks us. And she’s so much more annoying than the children we fought outside. But she goes down, and something clicks beneath the doll display. The wooden grate that prevented Yuri from following Haruka is finally open.

Descending into Womb Cavern

She slides down it, into the dark, and lands in a cave.

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It seems not all of Womb Cavern has been converted into a storage room. This place is still its original stone, with water reaching up to Yuri’s thighs.

The tunnel splits into two and we see a man carrying a reliquary on his back. He warns someone, Yuri? Himself?, not to succumb to the black waters.

He vanishes but his voice echoes on. “It springs forth from the Netherworld. It is the Netherworld itself.”

“It springs forth from the Netherworld. It is the Netherworld itself.”

Or was it the black hair of the women who drowned in these waters that turned the water obsidian?

Looking down the path he took, the tunnel is well-lit with electric lights. Some semblances of modern civilization. We go down the left instead and see a trace of Haruka.

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We can hear her saying:

“I need to take my heart… into the water… to the depths… Deeper, and deeper, and deeper…”

We step further into the room to see a pool filled with black boxes. They’re ornately decorated, their lids shut. Except for one, which has an arm protruding through its cracked door. Yuri opens it, to see who’s arm it might belong to.

It’s Haruka.

Haruka, unconscious in the black box.
I can’t believe she’s alive!

Yuri touches her, and sees Haruka, overcome with visions of a sunset. She’d been following the sunset this entire time, blind to her path through the woods, the Shrine of Dolls, and eventually here, into the Womb Cavern.

Lured as if by a trance to the black box, where a Blackwater Maiden forced her inside, filling the box with water. But she’s alive.

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“Fuyuhi?” Haruka asks, as she stares disoriented up at Yuri. “I’m melting.” She collapses into Yuri, who falls back into the water, unable to hold her weight.

But Haruka’s escape from her almost coffin triggered something terrible. The nearby black box springs open and a woman slides out in a gush of water, screaming, like a terrible birth.

a woman coming out of the black box
i screamed when she popped out

The battle is fast and violent. Once she’s down, Yuri touches the woman’s essence and sees an image of the masked men carrying holy relics on their back. They’re forcing a woman inside the box, who screams and begs for them to let her go. The box is thrown into the dark water and opens, her crushed body floating upward. The box was too small to contain her body, and so her bones were broken to fit.

Did she escape now and attack Yuri and Haruka because she was angry that she was never rescued? We’ll likely never know. But now her box is filled with dark water, with something like hair floating on its surface.

Yuri introduces herself and promises to get Haruka out of this cave and back to safety.

Back in the doll shrine, Haruka follows us through its labyrinth of doors and halls. She murmurs to herself about how she needs to apologize to Fuyuhi, repeating over and over that she’s sorry. If you played other Fatal Frame games, you know this isn’t a good sign. It’s possible she’s still possessed.

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Outside the Shrine of Dolls

Outside the shrine, we can hear the Song of Memories. Is it Fuyuhi singing? Haruka runs off, following it. Yuri must follow Haruka’s trace again before it’s too late.

In the distance, Haruka calls for Fuyuhi and then speaks to her.

But if she’s found Fuyuhi, does that mean she’ll see Fuyuhi kill herself? If she does, will she be compelled to commit suicide too?

But as Yuri gets close, she finds that it’s not Fuyuhi. It’s the ghost that tricked Fuyuhi into committing suicide. Yuri takes them down, and finally, we’re able to leave for the mountain with Haruka in tow.

Back at the antique shop

And with Hisoka gone, Yuri calls for Ren and Rui instead, while Haruka rests in one of the spare bedrooms.

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They ask Haruka why she was there, on the mountain, in the womb cavern. All Haruka can say was that she saw the setting sun, and it drew her in. She became a part of it, as if she was melting.

She demands to see Fuyuhi, saying she can hear their song. The Song of Memories. No one responds. No one has the heart to tell her what happened to Fuyuhi.

Rui promises that she and Ren will be over at the antique shop as often as possible to support Yuri until Hisoka comes back.

Yuri finds Ren in Hisoka’s office, asleep. But he’s caught in a nightmare.

Yuri touches him and sees his dream. In it, Ren is a child, holding a knife against the back of the white-haired girl. Did he kill her?

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He wakes up and he and Rui leave.

Now it’s just Yuri and Haruka alone in the antique shop. But as Yuri has her bath, she leans back into the water and is surrounded by black hair. It pulls her under, submerging her, and when she rises again she’s on the inside of one of the black boxes in the Womb Cavern.

She bangs her fists desperately against the lid, only for a face to rise out of the waters in front of her.

Fatal Frame 5: Fourth Drop Gameplay, terrifying face staring at Haruka from within the box
T_______________T

But it was just a dream. She wakes with a start on her bed in the antique shop, fully clothed but soaking wet. She’s certain that her dream was similar to what Haruka experienced.

Wanting to know more she goes to Haruka’s bedroom. But Haruka isn’t there. Yuri checks the security cameras and sees Haruka leaving, followed by Fuyuhi’s ghost, that is luring her back to the mountain.

FINAL VERDICT

Whoo! Okay, now we’re finally playing a Fatal Frame game. Fatal Frame 5: Fourth Drop Gameplay is my favorite, by far. I was so tired of the dumb inn, of the tutorial, of all that. But the Shrine of Dolls was exactly what this game needed to bring the claustrophobic atmosphere that Fatal Frame games are known for.

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I will say, some of the fear was reduced by having the children-sized dolls have their kimonos open so you could see their chest. Like, why? If you want to mingle horny and horror, do it in a cool way. Like, Silent Hill-ish. Look at Asphyixia!

Anyway, that’s my pet peeve.  

Otherwise, the battles are more challenging. The aesthetic is on point. The lore, as always, is immaculate. Like, gorgeous, love it. Love the obscene child-killing rituals, the forcing people into boxes. Don’t know what’s happening, don’t care. It’s really cool. It was also a huge mistake to play this game past midnight, I don’t know what I was thinking.

5 out of 5 Cthulhu heads.

5 out of 5 Cthulhu heads. First one in the series!

Time: Approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.  

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Quest Master @ PAX: A Dungeon-Builder First Look

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Next in my journey of all the cool games I saw at PAX, Quest Master! Quest Master is a love letter to retro dungeon crawlers and level designers. Taking inspiration from both Mario Maker and the Legend of Zelda franchise, Quest Master promises the ability to play and design dungeons with a variety of enemies, traps, and puzzles. 

Check out the Quest Master game announcement here:

I was given a private 30-minute demo, where I got to try out some of the core features in a pre-beta version of Quest Master. This demo was led by one of the developers, Julian Creutz who shared some insight into the game design and user experience. My interview with Julian about Quest Master can be found here.

Quest Master has two main modes, playing dungeons and building them. I got to try out both, though I had a more comprehensive experience playing dungeons. While playing dungeons, the game mechanics were intuitive and simple. However, I was continuously surprised by the complexities offered by the puzzle and logic systems. For example, you can collect a boomerang which is incredibly easy to use. To solve one of the puzzles, I had to throw the boomerang through a torch (which I thought was just decorative) to catch the boomerang on fire and enable it to activate a gem. While the individual mechanics were basic, they combined into a sophisticated puzzle-solving experience.

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Immediately, I was eager to look under the hood and see how the dungeon building mode enables the puzzle solving as previously described. Once again, I was impressed with the sophistication of a system with such simple mechanics. The controls for building weren’t intuitive for me, though I also don’t use a controller for much of my gaming (like I was during the demo). Additionally, I could see how it would be really easy to get accustomed to as you build.

As it was a short demo, I wasn’t able to try any of the multiplayer features (i.e. co-op, online map sharing) so I can’t speak to the success of their implementation. As this is supposed to be a large part of the game, I’m wary of wholeheartedly suggesting Quest Master for those interested in the multiplayer experience. However, I was impressed with Quest Master’s modern take on retro dungeon crawlers like the Legend of Zelda games. The graphics and controls feel like much needed quality of life updates for a system taking inspiration from older classics. 

I recommend wishlisting Quest Master if you are a fan of old Legend of Zelda games or are looking for a fresh take on the dungeon builder genre. If Quest Master interests you, don’t forget to check out my conversation with Julian too!

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


Check out my other PAX posts here!

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Interview with Game Dev Julian Creutz: Quest Master @ PAX

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As mentioned in previous posts, I had the opportunity to demo a pre-early access version of the game Quest Master alongside the Lead Developer, Julian Creutz. Quest Master is a Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Maker inspired dungeon crawling and building video game. While the other post covers the game itself, this one covers the inspiration and vision for the game as told by Julian.


How did you become involved in video game development?

I’ve been a huge gamer, and especially a Zelda fan, ever since I was a little child when my dad put a GameBoy Advance with “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” into my hands. Sometime during elementary school I started dabbling with game development using visual tools like Scratch and GameMaker. I quickly got into making Zelda fan games and had dreamt of the day when I would make my own Zelda game one day. Over the years I’ve honed my game development and programming skills, resulting in where I am today.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the development process?

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Developing Quest Master is essentially like making two games at once – the making and the playing part. Both of these game elements have to be equally as polished to form a cohesive one.

The most difficult thing by far about the game’s development has been to make the maker mode experience intuitive for first-time users and people who know nothing about Zelda-like games, but at the same time powerful and complex enough to allow creating anything you could dream of.

One good example is the gameplay feature to link certain parts to others, like linking a pressure plate to opening a door. We’ve been through countless iterations affecting both the visual, gameplay and user experience aspects of it – I hope that the one we are using right now is the final one!

Quest Master takes a lot of inspiration from classic dungeon-crawlers like the Legend of Zelda franchise. What about these games was so enchanting to you and how does Quest Master try to capture that enchantment?

As described earlier, I’m like the biggest Zelda fan, which I’m sure shows. My gripe with many Zelda-likes on the market is that none perfectly capture the feel of the classic entries… there’s always something missing.

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I confidently believe that Quest Master differs from that greatly. We are trying to make Quest Master feel like an in-house 2D Zelda like Nintendo used to make, just from an indie team like ours. Many people crave the classic 2D entries, just like I do.

What emotions do you hope the player will experience while playing Quest Master? What design choices were made to assist in that desired atmosphere?

A big aspect of Quest Master is its local multiplayer. The game is deliberately designed to work flawlessly with that, and makers can create specialized puzzles in the game that require all players to work together for example. The result is both rewarding, funny, and sometimes infuriating altogether, for example when one of your buddies throws you into a hole.

As a community dungeon maker, what features are you most excited to see implemented in player-made dungeon crawls?

I’ve already been hugely amazed by the creations of the existing Quest Master demo. With all the new features the game will launch into Early Access with, I bet this will be tenfold. I myself always enjoy the brain busting puzzles people come up with. Other things I also like a lot are the unintended mechanics the players find, which dynamically emerge from the many, many gameplay systems working together.

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What’s it been like working with Apogee, an indie publisher who goes back to the early 1990’s and has a long legacy of terrific game releases?

I’ve only had very few interactions with game publishers in the past, and Quest Master is my first large scale commercial game project. There’s preconceived notions floating around everywhere on the internet about how evil game publishers are and how much better you would be off self-publishing your game. Contrary to that, working with Apogee has been nothing short of supportive and family-like. They are very invested in the project, and they have many Zelda fans on the team also helps a lot. They are supercharging the potential of Quest Master and without them the game would not be where it is today.

Is there anything else you would like to plug or that you think is important for people to know about Quest Master or other upcoming projects?

Early Access is just the beginning! Quest Master will be hugely expanded upon during its Early Access phase, with many more themes, dungeon parts and entire new gameplay features coming in short intervals and a rapid update schedule. There are always new things around the corner. For example, things like the singleplayer story campaign and the overworld maker will be most likely not be part of the initial Early Access release, but we will make sure to build anticipation by introducing bits and pieces into the world of Quest Master to build up to that.

I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am!

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LONESTAR @ PAX: Spaceships and Bounty Hunting

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This past week I had the opportunity to go to my very first PAX East convention! For those who are unfamiliar, PAX East is a large gaming convention in Boston. This year marked its 20th anniversary, which meant an extra layer of celebration and festivities! Courtesy of a HauntedMTL Media Badge, I got to play tons of new games and meet even more interesting people. One of the games I was able to demo was LONESTAR by developer Math Tide. 

LONESTAR is a roguelike spaceship building game reminiscent of FTL and Dicey Dungeons. It was released for early access on Steam in January and has gotten largely positive feedback. In the game, you play as a bounty hunter traveling through various sectors to defeat your bounties. Along the way you can visit a shop, take a breather, or experience other various events. 

I was able to play the early access build for thirty minutes on the showroom floor, and I was pretty instantly hooked. I love roguelike deckbuilders, with Slay the Spire (especially the Downfall fan expansion) being a strong favorite. LONESTAR nails what I love from the genre, with an aesthetic smoothly integrated in its form and function and novel gameplay mechanics.

A screenshot from the LONESTAR Steam Page of game play.

LONESTAR’s ‘deckbuilding’ element takes the form of ship systems. You can collect, buy, and upgrade them as you progress through a run. However, your ship only has so much space on board. As a player, you have to prioritize weapons and utility systems while also ensuring you diversify your damage output/defense across all three sections of your ship. At the beginning of each round, you are randomly given number values that can be input into your ship systems to achieve varied effects. The enemy responds in kind, meaning whoever can get the highest damage output is who overwhelms the other in the round.

I loved the possibilities for synergy and strategy as your pilot explored more dangerous sectors. It was incredibly rewarding to turn a couple of crap numbers into a super powerful attack. I also enjoyed the various options for “vacation” time in between battles, which kept everything feeling fresh. Of note, I only played for thirty minutes. While they were a rewarding thirty minutes, the game was not incredibly difficult. I cannot speak on the general replayability, though I would have been happy to continue playing for at least another hour. My only critique from the whole experience was that some of the vocabulary was unclear. However, that could have been due to starting mid-run during my demo. 

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If you enjoy deckbuilders and are interested in a spaceship game a bit easier than FTL, I think LONESTAR is a great choice. It is still in early access, however, I feel confident that the game is plenty of fun already. It is also only $10, so definitely worth taking a chance on. I’ll continue to watch the development of LONESTAR with great excitement! 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)

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