Disgaea 6 – Spoiler Free Pre-Review Preview Views

Ed Notes: Few quick notes at the bottom, but here’s the TLDR:
We got a pre-release code for this game.
This article is spoiler free.
This article is NOT a Disgaea 6 deep dive.
Oh, and all of this is based on the Switch release.

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny comes out tomorrow (well the English release does), and I think it’s pretty fucking great.

From a purely abstract sense, it also has one of the most interesting twists on the series’ mechanics that I’ve seen before.

See, one thing I’ve heard said a lot about Disgaea is that “The Game Doesn’t Really Start Till You Reach Endgame.” But I’d disagree with that statement. I’d say it’s more that Disgaea games don’t usually give you access or incentivize using the series’ unique mechanics until endgame.

Elements like reincarnating characters to boost their base stats, entering the Item World to level up items, and abusing the cheat shop for grinding don’t usually come into play before you beat the story. This is a bit of a shame, since they’re some of the more unique and interesting systems in the series. Usually, you don’t need or want to do any of these to beat the game’s main story.

Disgaea 6 doesn’t do that, and instead opts to bring these systems in and make you want to use them far, far earlier than previously.

So, before I spend several paragraphs gushing over the rest of the game, I do want to quickly talk about the elephant (and some accompanying mice) in the room. The game’s performance isn’t great. Disgaea 6 was originally released for PS4, and it’s also the first game in the series with 3D graphics. The end result is, regardless of what I set the graphics quality to, it looked like garbage when using my Switch as a handheld. Strangely enough, the low quality is entirely constrained to the tactics map and overworld. Menus, combat animations, and cutscenes all run good.

If graphics are potentially a deal breaker for you, I heavily suggest you download the demo from the eShop, and give that a whirl. I’ve heard tell that there may be performance improvements, and I plan to reach out to NIS to ask, but I don’t expect an answer anytime soon. So yeah, consider playing the demo first. (Your save also transfers over to the full game, so no reason not to.)

Elephant gone, time to talk about mice. This is the first game in the series with 3D graphics for characters instead of sprites. They are fine. I would not say that I love them. The special attack combat animations are much shorter and less complex than in previous games. I liked how over the top they were in previous games, but that might have just been me. Whatever, mice dealt with.

Okay, so let’s go back to talking about why this game is great. Like I mentioned above, Disgaea 6 incentivizes using all of the game’s ridiculous systems.

Reincarnation, the process of resetting a character back to level 1, in exchange for making their base stats and stat growth higher is a central part of the game’s story, and you’re actively encouraged to use it from the moment you start.

Auto-battle and Demonic Intelligence turn grinding from a slog into a task to be automated and perfected, making early game grinding feasible.

The Item World loop has been updated so that once an instance of an item has been boosted, that boost applies to any versions of the item bought at the shop. Now, instead of leveling dozens of boots, you level one, then buy half a dozen copies, with the end result being it’s much easier to get cool equipment across all your characters.

The Story Is Good. Not gonna say anything else on that one just yet, but yeah. It’s fun. (Although I didn’t like the English voice acting personally)

There are a lot of interesting risks and design choices with Disgaea 6. I don’t necessarily love all of them, but the game does a lot to allow earlier access to many of its series-defining mechanics, and I think that’s to its credit.

Disgaea 6 comes out tomorrow, and if you like tactics games, I cannot recommend it enough. If you’re already a fan of the series, I’d say you should get a day one copy. If you’ve been interested in playing, but always thought it felt a little overwhelming, Disgaea 6 is the most new player friendly entry into the series.

See you in the Netherworld, dood!

Editor’s Notes Ultimate Plus Complete Edition

  1. We reached out to NIS America and requested a pre-release code for Disgaea 6, which we received. Was it because of our blatant pandering? No idea, honestly they sent us the code like immediately after we requested it, we hadn’t even really kicked our “Pretty Please NIS, let us play it” campaign into high gear.
  2. This article is spoiler free, for reasons. Please don’t assume that this policy will apply to things here in the future about Disgaea 6, but we’ll try to give it a month after release (so anytime after July, it’s open season) before we start discussing spoilery… stuff.
  3. This article is what it sounds like: It’s a general set of thoughts on the game, why you might want to pick it up when it comes out tomorrow, etc. It’s not an exhaustive deep dive on any level, to any system in the game.

Disgaea 5 Complete

I like Disgaea 5. While I didn’t enjoy the story as much as Disgaea 4, there are a variety of improved mechanics, UI, and massive quality of life features that make it a massive upgrade over its predecessor.

Also, just for clarity here, I’m mostly going to be discussing my experience with the game pre-endgame. I’ve played about 40-45 hours, and while I plan on playing more, that may not happen for a little bit for secret reasons.

So, let’s start with the story, and some of the related mechanics. Across the Netherworlds, now rendered as planets, Demon Emperor Void Dark is trying to take over everything. You’re introduced to some of the main characters, Seraphina, and Killia, both who have a bone to pick with Void Dark. In Killia’s case, he’s a brooding loner. In Seraphina’s case, it’s an arranged marriage to Void Dark that she has no interest in. She’s decided the best way to deal with the problem is to kill Void Dark so she doesn’t have to marry him.

Adventure intensifies, and as the duo go on their merry way, we meet an increasing cast of other indivuals, including Red Magnus, Christo, Zeroken, and Usalia, who all also have their reasons for wanting to see Void Dark six feet under.

There’s not too much else to say. Our band of misfits proceeds from Netherworld to Netherworld, trying to push back Void Dark’s advance while not getting slaughtered. Each of them gets a mini-arc/story around their background and flaws, usually followed by a redemption or adjustment.

While I appreciate that these moments existed, most of them feel standard anime trope-esque. There are a few that are more interesting, but most end up feeling predictable. This annoyed me because 4 did (at least by my standards) a much better job of handling these sorts of changes. Here’s an entire mini-writeup on what I mean, but be warned, here there be story spoilers!

Oh, yeah, this whole thing was supposed to be about new game mechanics, wasn’t it?

Well, one of those new game mechanics is Revenge. Each character has a Revenge Bar that fills as they or their allies take damage. Once a character’s bar is filled, they enter Revenge Mode, where all of their attacks are critical hits, and all of their spells and specials have their costs reduced down to 1.

In addition, characters that are Overlords of a Netherworld, like our MC’s mentioned above, also get access to their Overload. Some bosses get them as well!

Overloads are one-time use per battle skills that have a variety of effects, many of which either play with tactic game tropes, or just utterly break them, and all of which are fun. While some are simple (Deal damage to everyone on the map, stat boost, heal all friendlies) there are also a few really neat ones. My personal favorite would have to be Zeroken’s “Superluminal Wolf” which creates 4 temporary copies of the character. And when I say copies, I mean full copies. Each copy can take any action the original can, up to and including casting all of his specials, throwing units, and lifting enemies. Another character has an ability that allows them to temporarily take full control of a few enemy units.

Overloads can turn fights that are going badly, and at the same time add an interesting element to some of the boss fights. You know your enemy has an Overload, and you have to try to manage their access to it. You can do this by chipping them slowly, trying to take them out in one hit, or just finding ways to avoid the Overload’s effect. Dealing with bosses’ Overloads is a fun and interesting change from how static boss fights were previously.

Pretty much every side system has also been improved, but going into detail on each them would be both a waste of time, and not something I’d be capable of doing. So instead, let’s take one system as an example: innocents.

If you haven’t played a Disgaea game before, it might be easiest to think of innocents as a sort of sub-item that can be socketed into other items. They have a type, and a value. The type determines their behavior, and the value determines the impact. For example, socketing a Gladiator gives the item it’s located in additional ATK, and the Dietician gives additional HP.

These are both fairly straightforward examples, but there are also innocents that give extra EXP, extra Mana, innocents that change the damage type of basic attacks, and innocents that give you chance to steal items from defeated enemies. There’s a lot of variety.

Acquiring innocents is a little more complex, though. One of Disgaea’s primary features is the Item World, a series of semi-random procedurally generated levels that exist inside an item. And inside items is where you get innocents. When you get an item, it will usually have a few innocents inside of it, but they’ll be in the hostile state. When you go into that item’s Item World levels, those innocents can show up as enemies, and if you defeat them, they go to the subdued state.

So how do Disgaea 4 and 5 handle innocents differently?

In Disgaea 4, innocents couldn’t be moved until after they were subdued. This meant that collecting an innocent you wanted required going into an item, clearing levels until it appeared, defeating it, and then repeating this process for each new copy of the innocent. Because of how innocents level up, getting an innocent to its level cap could be even more painful, requiring gathering lots of copies of a single innocent, and fusing them into each other.

In Disgaea 5, non-subdued innocents can be moved between items. So instead of going into 5-10 different items you might not be interested in leveling up to get a bunch of innocents you want, you can now move the innocents you’re farming into a single item, and do one run to gather them in a single fell swoop.

But these changes on their own wouldn’t solve the problem of needing to grind a silly amount of innocents. And that’s where the Innocent Farm comes in.

The Innocent Farm is a daycare center zone where you can leave innocents, and they passively gain levels as you do other things. In addition, if you leave two or more innocents in the Innocent Farm, they can breed, giving you even more innocents.

And these sorts of improvements are present across the rest of the game’s systems as well. Better capture mechanics and prisoner management. The Chara World is now its own unique Mario Party style world… thing, instead of being a sort of rip-off of the Item World.

Okay, so looking back at this whole writeup, I think I might have rambled enough. Here’s the five second version of my thoughts:

Disgaea 5 is a mechanical improvement over 4, both for its subsystems (and tweaks to make them more friendly), and also its improvements to the combat structure. While the story didn’t grab me the same way 4’s story did, it’s still solid. It just doesn’t surpass the usual JRPG tropes the same way some of it’s predecessors do. The end result is an incredibly solid game that I’d probably recommend over earlier games in the series, because as much as I like the story, this isn’t a series that I personally play for the writing.

Disgaea 5 Complete is available for Switch, PC, and Playstation 4. I played on PC with a controller, because, well, mouse and keyboard just doesn’t cut it for grid based tactics games.

Disgaea 4 Complete+

God I love this game.

Ed Note: Images for this writeup are from a combo of the Disgaea 4 Complete press kit, and my own save file.

Disgaea 4 is, somewhat strangely enough, the first Disgaea game I played. Specifically, Disgaea 4 Complete+ for the Switch. As far as I can tell, the “Complete” part just means that they opted to include all of the additional DLC and scenarios that were added to the game after its initial release in… 2011.

10 years ago.

Okay, so we might be a teensy bit late on this one.

One of the best things about Disgaea is the ability to customize your hub world and move all the NPC’s you actually care about next to each other.

In any case, like the other games, Disgaea 4 primarily takes place in the Netherworld. The main focus of the story is Valvatorez, a previously incredibly powerful vampire and also arguably total idiot, who never breaks promises he makes. One of these promises involved an agreement to not consume human blood ever. Pretty much all the other side characters are great as well, including Fenrich, Valvatorez’s second in command, who feels like an inverse version of the traitorous vizier trope, and Fuka, a elementary school child who dies, goes to hell, and then proceeds to determinator her way through the Netherworld by refusing to accept her death.

Valvatorez, the vampire who doesn’t drink blood, and Fenrich, his loyal servant who would really like it if maybe he would again.

These games can be kinda weird.

The general arc of the game is Valvatorez’s staging of a coup against the current President of Hell, in an attempt to fix the problems the Netherworld is having, including lack of energy, an inability to handle the influx of guilty souls, and just general failure to… well, be hell.

Behold, the… grid that I don’t remember the name of.

Mechanically, this comes in with the Corrupternment and building placement map. As you advance through the game, you’ll unlock political titles, buildings, and other elements that give benefits to units placed within their area of effects on this grid. You can also pass bills and policies to boost yourself, your rate of EXP gain, unlock new units, make friends, and also just shake down senators for cash.

The general structure of the rest of the game is fairly straightforward, with both the Item World and Chara World in Disgaea 4 following a similar structure of being procedurally generated combat levels where you need to clear all enemies, with a few additional minor changes between them. The game also has Magichange, the ability to turn monster characters into weapons temporarily for your other characters to use (don’t worry, they get better), and monster fusion, which lets you fuse monsters into larger versions of themselves with better range and damage.

Is it really a Disgaea game if the stats aren’t measured in hundred thousands?

Overall, Disgaea 4 is currently my favorite of the games story-wise, if not mechanically. While the game’s art style and mechanics haven’t aged terribly, many of the UI elements and menus do feel a bit outdated at this point, and some of the connectivity features, like fights and pirate ship leaderboards, feel a bit dead. Despite all of this, though, the fights are still interesting, the grind is nice and grindy, and story and characters are still funny.

Okay, so maybe I’ve played a bit too much of this.

You can get Disgaea 4 Complete+ here for Switch, and here for PC if you’re interested.

No Delivery

No Delivery has flaws and problems, but there are some really interesting ideas played with here that I haven’t seen in an RPG before.

I like to open reviews with a discussion of whether or not you should play the game I’m reviewing. No Delivery makes my life hard, because that recommendation is conditional. I think if you’re someone who has an interest in game design and the extent to which you can design interesting systems within systems, No Delivery is worth looking at. If you just play games to… well, play games, it’s a little more complicated. I’ve created a simple test below.

  1. Do you like classic turn based RPG’s?
  2. Do you like body horror/squick?
  3. Did you feel that the ending to Lost and How I Met Your Mother were well done and satisfying?

If you answered yes to at least 2 out of 3 questions above, I think you might enjoy No Delivery. It’s $5.00 and you can buy it here. For everyone on the fence, or quite possibly attempting to get themselves off the fence, I’ve written the rest of this article.

Let’s start with the setting shall we?

Not pictured: dead guest in claw machine, creepy animatronics, cursed arcade machines, piles of trash and plates.

Theme-wise, the game is… fine. It’s okay. It takes place in a haunted/infested/might-actually-just-be-a-giant-perpetually-animated-building-that-breathes-life-into-inanimate-objects-within-it-because-of-a-satanic-ritual Chuckie Cheese inspired shithole.

ED NOTE: The autocorrect above just suggested that I correct shithole to shibboleth, which is… wow. Amazingly on theme, and also why is that in the dictionary?

It’s not that the theme is bad, it’s just that if I had to compare the general tone and aesthetic of the game, it would be the bastard child of Five Nights At Freddy’s and Binding of Issac. All of the attacks that give the “Nausea” status usually involve shitting on things. You kill a man by baking him in an industrial microwave oven. This is an accident, not deliberate. There are a fair amount of slashed up corpses and news articles about missing children and families. There are gift boxes that try to eat you, and you fight cursed/broken animatronics. The horror and humor is much less subtle, and much more Cronenberg then Stephen King.

I don’t love horror, I don’t love FNAF, and I played Binding of Issac in spite of the artistic theme. I’m not sure I’m the right person to be looking at No Delivery’s theme. So take this with a grain of salt: while the theme grabbed me, I never liked it or enjoyed it. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s surprisingly well polished for what it is, with death screens, dialogue, and sprites working together to bring that old-timey rotting corpse of a entertainment franchise atmosphere.

Now let’s talk mechanics. No Delivery is a fairly classic turned-based RPG, but with a few big twists. Your characters don’t level up, and you don’t construct a party. Instead, you are given a single random character, and each time you die (more on that in a bit), you get another random character from the pool of classes you’ve unlocked, and you continue on. In addition, there’s no mana or secondary resource. Almost all skills are powered by either health or items, and many of the items will give you other items when used. When you eat food, you’ll be given dishes and trash. Both can be sold for money, or used by attacks from some of the other classes (e.g., the waitress can throw dishes, and recycle trash). This can lead to some very neat resource engine moments, but often gets hamstrung by the way that the game’s dungeons, “Wrong Turns,” work. Outside of the leveling and items, it’s pretty classic “You take a turn, I take a turn” RPG stuff.

My biggest issue with the game’s combat mechanics is how party construction works, or to be more accurate, how it doesn’t. A large section of the game is spent running random dungeons, called Wrong Turns. You go from room to room, and some rooms have a chance to give you an extra Ally that you’ve unlocked, and add them to your party. While this would be fine, it’s entirely possible to go an entire Wrong Turn without getting one party member and the end result is a very screwed up action economy. I failed a boss fight several times before getting a party member with a stun, who I then used to stunlock and clear that boss without taking a point of damage on the next run. The biggest issue I have with the random party/lack of party is that it cripples the interesting engine mechanics I mentioned up above. Without a diverse enough party to use different items, many items you pick up will feel useless. (Looking at you Ammo, and by extension Batteries. I played 16 hours and rolled a Security Guard ONCE.)

The drowned waiter spends health for almost all their skills, but has no way of recovering it outside of items, or with any level of efficiency. The mascot though…
In theory, there’s some cool synergy between a class that can heal, and a class that must spend health as its primary resource, but because you never really know your party composition ahead of time, you don’t really so much get to “Build teams” as “Try to find some way to salvage your current situation before you’re eaten by a living trash compactor”.

The other thing to know is that once you clear a Wrong Turn, you lose the additional party members, and while there are a few other special party members you can get, they leave as soon as you’re no longer in the fights you’re expected to use them in. It’s kind of a bummer. The item transformation/resource mechanics are one of the coolest things about No Delivery, but they don’t get as much time to shine as they could.

There’s a lot of pixelated B-movie gore of this sort in the game.

So, if I don’t love the theme, and parts of the gameplay feel a bit hamstrung, why do I still think this game is very cool? Well, ultimately, it has to do with the engine the game is made in. Despite what it might be named, RPGMaker isn’t actually super easy to make interesting or good games in. Most of the time I’ve tried to make projects with it, I’ve either felt constrained by the engine, either mechanically or in terms of design space.

No Delivery utterly breaks that mold, though. Within what feels like almost entirely vanilla combat mechanics, it manages to build a really interesting item based resource system, even if it could be fleshed out a bit more. It manages to execute its “gross out” theme despite being built in a game engine that is made to create fantasy fluff. It even does some really neat things with enemy sprites, hiding information about them so that they appear as a single pair of eyes, but morph into a whole face when you select them as an attack target.

For me, this was the value of playing No Delivery: a reminder that really cool mechanics and systems can always be constructed, and that it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools. No Delivery is not the most polished or clean experience, but there are legitimately really interesting ideas and mechanics at play here. For an almost entirely one-person project, it’s impressive.

While I wouldn’t play through the whole game again, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how neat the item mechanics are, and wondering what else you could with them in if you expanded them.

No Delivery is $5.00 on itch.io, and if you purchased the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle a while back, you already own it. Do yourself a favor and play it.

Didn’t Make the Cut – itch.io Racial Justice Bundle

All filler, no killer.

Another week, another set of games from the itch.io racial justice bundle. These are primarily games that simply didn’t get their own full article about them, either because there wasn’t really a lot to say (LAZAKNITEZ), I couldn’t play them (Troika), because I refuse to do so out of spite and dislike for the game (Oikospiel). Having said that, let’s get to the games

LAZAKNITEZ – PC/Multiplayer/Singleplayer
LAZAKNITEZ almost works for starting a trend of games with names that are nonsense words, until you boot up the game and realize that it’s just a very 90’s spelling of Laser Knights. And that’s exactly what the game is. You slide around a 2D plain, jousting on the back of your laser horse, and firing from your laser lance. I played this one for a few rounds and then put it down. It’s not bad. Just very light on things to do/see. Once I’d played a bit, and felt like I had seen most of the powerups, I was done.

Oikospiel Book 1 – PC/Singleplayer
I don’t like Oikospiel. I think that it’s stupid. It plays and looks like a fever dream made by someone who just imported every 3D model they could get their hands on into Unity and it should also probably come with an epilepsy warning.

Oikospiel is what you would get if you took Timecube and made it into a video game instead of a website. I have some questions for whoever made this game, and primarily they’re things like: “Are you okay?” and “Do you need help?”

TroikaPen and Pencil RPG
Mechanically, I didn’t see much in Troika that impressed me, but I also didn’t actually run a game. The initiative system seems neat, in which you randomly draw tiles from a bag and then whoever’s tile you drew takes a turn.

The flavor though, is incredible, and I honestly wish there was more of it. It has a very old-timey science fiction sort of vibe, and the closest thing I can think to compare it to is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore, or perhaps the sorta of weird science-magic of The Wizard of Oz.

For example: the book has stats for a sort of snake that doesn’t sneak up on you, but instead offers reassurances and a well placed “It’s alright, I’m here now” in order to get you between its coils so that it might crush and eat you. The starter adventure in the book involves convincing a sentient gas in the elevator with you that you would really like it if it could take up a bit less of the elevator, on account of the fact that it’s drowning you. The stat block for a “Tea Set” gives you a bonus on etiquette checks as long as you have time to prepare tea for the person you’re trying to impress.

The reason that Troika doesn’t get a larger section to itself is primarily that since this is a website for reviewing games, and I haven’t run a game of it yet, I can’t review it. But definitely worth a read.

Wrap-Up

Nothing this week that really jumped out at me. I loathe Oikospiel, LAZAKNITEZ reminds me of the sorts of things I’d play for 20 minutes before switching to something else on sites like Newgrounds. Troika is a fun read, but I feel like it would be tricky to pull off without a party that was really willing to lean into the weird-wonderness. If playing these games is the art of separating wheat from chaff, this week was all chaff, no wheat. Take care, and I’ll put more stuff up as events warrant.

Siralim 3 – It Is Eh

After 8 hours, I don’t know the names of any of the monsters in a monster collecting game. I’d say that’s a bad sign.

I really want to like Siralim 3. But I don’t. I’m not sure why. Let’s talk about that.

Some of my most played games overall are Path of Exile, Pokemon, and Disgaea. On my Switch, Diablo clocks in at about 120 hours, and my Disgaea 4 save file has about 160 hours on it, and a few of the endings. We could talk about how much time I’ve got in PoE, but that would involve noting the questionable use of several thousand hours of my life. So let’s not instead, and say it’s my second most played game of all time.

So when I say Siralim sounds like the bastard child of those three genres, I feel like the end result should be, “Hey, I’m gonna play this forever.” And according to Steam, I have played about 8 hours.

I’m not sure why then that when asked how I feel about Sirilim, my answer is sorta just, “Yeah, it’s fine.” But the thing is, I’m not sure I’d actually recommend it.

Siralim 3 is a 6v6 RPG battler. You wander from randomly generated realm to realm, collecting monsters, leveling them up, and fighting forward. The game has extensive scripting and macro capabilities, letting you more or less just automate fights if you wish, and you can even make said scripts conditional. Of the monsters, I’ve seen about 30-40 of them, and they all seem to function pretty differently. Finally, the game has a weapon and spell gem system, and on top of that, you can craft and recraft those items with different modifiers.

So, we have a lot of systems with interesting tactical depth regarding equipment, (PoE/Disgaea), massive variety of characters (Disgaea/Pokemon), and a massive replayability and grind automation to just make the happy numbers go up (PoE/Diablo).

And yet the game still feels very meh. I think this is a two part problem, at least partly based on the artwork and the writing of the game. The artwork is… fine. But it’s not inspiring. I don’t really love any of the monsters in the game. None of the creatures feels like they’re part of “my team”. They all feel pretty interchangeable. In fact, I decided to see if I could name any of them, and uh, I can’t. Not off the top of my head. Despite playing for 8 hours.

The writing ranges from “Yes, this is writing” to “Bad”. It’s not gonna win any prizes, and I don’t think it’s trying to.

If I had to try to pinpoint why I don’t enjoy the game, it would come down to two main things: first of all, the general feel of the game itself is pretty bland. Despite being mathematically and mechanically interesting, it feels dull to look at. This makes it hard for me to ever really get invested, or push through the boring bits for the next cool thing. There’s nothing Siralim is going to show me that I’m excited to see, be it boss, dungeon, item, etc.

The second thing is that Siralim feels a bit overwhelming. I recognize that this might sound a bit rich from someone who claims to love PoE and Disgaea, but in both those games, I’m usually interested enough in continuing to play the game that I end up caring about whatever bullshit system they make me learn. I’m willing to learn how stacks, orbs, auras, etc. all function because I want to see more of the world and story. (Hello, all 10 other people who care about the lore in PoE, whats up?)

So, would I recommend Siralim? No. Would I buy it again? Also, probs no. I don’t think it’s bad. But the lack of compelling writing or interesting things to look at in terms of art means that I have zero desire to continue learning it’s system and mechanics. Siralim is clearly someone’s game, the newest version, Siralim Ultimate just raised $90,000 on Kickstarter. But it’s not my game.

Secrets Of Shirakawa Castle – Review Part 2

An RPG Module Review

Module NameThe Secrets of Shirakawa Castle

AuthorsRCG Harlow/Rosemary CG (Same person. First link goes to her stuff on DM’s Guild, second link goes to her twitter.)

System/Character Level – DND 5E for 4-6 Level 4 players

Price – $4 (We were given a review copy for free.)

Well, there was a three week gap between this and our part one review, which is… sub-optimal. But life happens, things go on, and most importantly, we did finish the adventure!

If you want to read the first part of the review, you can find it here.

If you want to read our DM’s thoughts on running the module, you can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Two brief notes before we really dive into this article.

This article will contain spoilers for the module. We’re reviewing it, and we can’t review it without talking about the content. Which means spoilers. You have been warned.

There’s also one part of the module that’s not quite fair for me to review. I’ll go into why later, but to put it simply things went a bit off the rails as the end. Who’d have thunk?

Overall, my opinion on Shirakawa remains more or less the same as it did part one: it’s a strong module where the NPC’s are written well, and it has a bunch of interesting monsters that are outside of the traditional fare of role-playing games.

The module’s primary weakness is that it gets a bit linear near the very end. It also feels like most of the combat gets a little less brutal as things go on.

I say ‘most of the combat,’ because my players didn’t actually do the final fight. They mostly just surrendered to become slaves/concubines of the big bad. So yeah, guys, I love you, but god damnit. I even made custom tokens for the fight and everything. And then you all just surrendered into slavery to quasi-immortal fox demon in the shape of a women.

Really?

Really guys?

Even after she told you that she EATS PEOPLE? And was going to eat the 13 year she had taken hostage?

This is why I don’t feel super confident assessing the combat: because it’s quite possible that if your players don’t fall head over heels for this fox lady, it’s going to end up being a brutal battle.

I wouldn’t know because mine offered to be her slaves and/or concubines. I think a lot of stories have a hero who falls to the dark side, but I don’t think many of them have heroes who just fall for the dark side.

In either case, everyone enjoyed playing the module. If you have a few bucks to spare, I’d highly suggest picking it up. The ending is well written, as long as your players at least like… try to defeat the final boss, but I wouldn’t know. It does set up another one shot, Return to Shirakawa Castle, where I’m gonna make them face off against their old PC’s.

Other then that, I don’t have too much else to say. I’m gonna close out this article with some uploaded images of the maps I made for some of the fights. Feel free to use them if you end up running the module on your own.

Central Castle Area
River running through small forest with bloody footprints
Large destroyed house in middle of grove, with dead trees above it, and alive trees and a path leading to the house below.

Running Secrets Of Shirakawa Castle – DM Thoughts Part 2

We finished Shirakawa Castle! Here’s where I screwed up running the game.

Whoof. Secrets of Shirakawa castle, finally finished. While the module is strong, there are a few places where I feel like I massively screwed up, or could have run things much better. Our actual review is up over here, but lets talk about running the module shall we?

This post will have specifics on running the module, and spoilers. While the other post talks about the module as a whole, this post is just talking about things that I wish I had done differently.

#1. Sei – The Friendly NPC
One of the things I feel like I really suck at the most is having NPC’s with the party, and Sei is a fantastic example of this. Sei’s role in the adventure is to be sorta guide/hint source to the players, while also providing flavor, a bit of lore, and in one situation, combat backup.

However, because I was afraid of using Sei too much, I didn’t actually use them in a single combat encounter, which meant there were multiple encounters where they were just sorta…. standing to the side, and then going “Oh yeah, that thing you just fought. It was a X/Y/Z.” I think that if I wanted Sei to be a more active part of the game, I needed to include them in combat, and to actually have them be a critical part of the team, so that their reveals of their backstory and other such things feel meaningful.

What would I do differently? I think I’d try to have Sei help the party more in certain situations, and decide how they’d react to various things in advance. The players need to care about Sei for some parts of the story to be meaningful, and that means including them in combat. It might even be possible to turn them into a semi-PC if I was to run the module again. I don’t know if this would solve the problem, but I think it might be better.

#2. Managing the NPC’s
Being a social deduction module, Secrets of Shirakawa Castle has quite a few NPC’s, and they’re written quite well, including a very strong list of relationships and such at the back of the module. Each of them has information, secrets, and other such knowledge….

So when I forgot about two of them that was a problem. A big problem, when they’re supposed to be used as a key part of revealing the last bit of the mystery.

Whoops.

What would I do differently?
There are a lot of NPC’s. If I was to run the module again, I’d would make sure to introduce all of them, and for the ones that the players don’t encounter, have them run into them either at the bath house, dinner, or some other point. The players need to meet them. And since there are only a total of seven NPC’s, it wouldn’t be that hard. I’d want to give the players more time to investigate, meet them, and actually get to know them. So when they die, it feels worse.

#3. Running the Module with a Three Week Break

This one wasn’t really my fault, but it was something I failed to consider, and led to some pretty…. rough parts near the end. The module is built on making you care about the NPC’s, and it uses the first half of the module to do this, building up them, their relationships, and their secrets. The last quarter or so is more combat, encounters, and fights, and the weight of those encounters relies on you caring about those who have been murdered.

What would I do differently?
This one is simple. Secrets should be run as either a 6-7 hour one-shot, or if split into parts, the DM needs to find a way to bring the players back, and make them care about the NPC’s again. This might mean improvising or filler, but not using the NPC’s is a big waste of potential of the module.

Final Thoughts – Running Shirakawa well requires the players to buy into the story and the world. As the DM, if you screw up the people, you screw up the module. If I were to run the module again, I would want to focus on the people, their stories, and make sure I don’t miss anyone. Running a game is always a learning experience, and I hope next time I do a better job.

Take care of yourself folks.

Running Secrets Of Shirakawa Castle – DM Thoughts

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish running the Secrets of Shirakawa Castle module this week, but instead I hope to have the second part of the review up next week. If you haven’t read the first part, the link to it is here.

This post isn’t a review, instead, it’s just a collection of quick thoughts on running the Secrets of Shirakawa Castle module before. The primary difference between this and review is that I view these more as areas where I screwed up running the module, and where doing things differently would have been more fun for the players. As such, this post is mostly intended for game masters intending to run the module. So without reading the actual module, this article may not be very useful for you.

The module itself can be bought here, on the DM’s guild.


1. Don’t be afraid to use Sei as part of the investigation.
-I’m always afraid of having NPC’s do too much in games. Its something I need to work on. With that said, the way I ran things, it was almost like he wasn’t there. If I were to do this again, I would try to make him a more active part of the game, especially if I was to run the module as few players as I did. Sei and their lore is a fairly key component to the module, and by downplaying them too much, I think I made things a lot more complex then they needed to be.


2. Actively monitor party resources.
Again, more on me then the module. I wasn’t paying a huge amount of attention to how much HP/Spells/etc my players had. The module isn’t a met grinder, but it is punishing, and with exhaustion and other mechanics in play, it can become very easy to accidentally overestimate how much more the party can take without a short rest.


3. Let the players know that they have options to really explore the castle.
This is honestly my biggest regret. I’m pretty sure it’s how I ran the module, but when collecting feedback at the end, many of my players said they felt railroaded. Here’s the thing: Secrets is very, very open ended. Every room in the castle has a description and something to find in it. There are servants to talk to, a bathhouse to visit, and a small garden and pond. Each of these also has clues and information about the cause of the Yokai infestation. Players really can just wander and explore. If I was to run the module again, I think I would do a short tour of the castle, then have the NPC’s tell the players they can inspect wherever they want, and leave them.

These were my big three take aways. I expect to finish running the module next weekend, and after that I’ll post my final review of it. Hopefully these notes help anyone who ends up deciding to send folks on an adventure of their own!

RPG Module Review – The Secrets of Shirakawa Castle

A fantastic adventure, that pulls from a set of folklore and stories that really don’t get much chance to shine in tabletop RPGs.

Module NameThe Secrets of Shirakawa Castle

AuthorsRCG Harlow/Rosemary CG (Same person. First link goes to her stuff on DM’s Guild, second link goes to her twitter.)

System/Character Level – DND 5E for 4-6 Level 4 players

Price – $4 – (We were given a review copy for free.)

This post will serve as part one of two of the Shirakawa Castle review. As such, its mostly spoiler free. While none of the plot beats are discussed, there may be some info about the types of Yokai encountered, the beings infesting said castle. Read at your own risk! So, lets get started shall we?

There are two big things about Shirakawa Castle that I think might turn people off, and that’s a real shame, because it’s a ton of fun. Graphically, the module doesn’t look amazing. There are no splash screens of amazing art, there are no bright colors. It looks like a word document. The second thing is the names. I’ll talk about this a bit more later, but I really wish a pronunciation guide/glossary was included. Tengu is easy enough to say. Osakabe-Hime, Yamatai, even the namesake of the castle, Shirakawa, not so much. One of the big pieces of feedback I during a post-game wrap up is that some of my players couldn’t remember who was who regarding the human family members.

So, now that we’ve gotten those small issues out of the way, how does the rest of the module play? Well, it’s a ton of fun! For starters, nothing in the module feels like a traditional monster. There’s no goblins or orcs. Instead, you get a menagerie of strange and bizarre creatures, including a giant foot that demands to be washed, a three tailed cat, kappas, and super small group of creatures called Yanari, tiny little men that like to cause havoc.

The module gives each of these their own statblock, attacks, descriptions, and even gives a bit of info about their behavior. To me, the Yokai are one of the strongest parts of the module, brimming with personality, and with interesting mechanics. The aforementioned Yanari for example, have the ability to swarm up a character and tie them to the ground. Each creature has something special about it, and also tends to have its own unique weakness, as you might expect from something of myth. In addition, most of the encounters can be handled non-violently, if you have players who would prefer to talk things out.

The module isn’t all combat encounters however. Players will most likely spend a decent portion of time exploring the titular castle, and interacting with it’s inhabitants. And this is where one of my second favorite things about this module comes in: The NPC Profiles.

Most of the time, when you get an NPC profile, you tend to get a few traits, or maybe a background. Shirakawa Castle does both of these, and then goes beyond, laying out for the DM the relationships each of the characters has with each other. Since a large portion of the module is investigation, this is a lifesaver when it comes to things like whose sleeping with who, or remembering grudges or problems. For me, this is one of the strongest parts of the module, since it prevents any sort of “Wait, but X said that Y is…” or stuff of that nature. For me, it made the NPC’s far more real then just being servants at the castle, or the lord, or the lady. And it made it much easier to roleplay them. It also prevents the problem of “Well, I thought they would encounter this NPC here, but instead X,Y,Z happened, what would they say?” Combined with the monsters, this is what really sells the module to me.

I’ll post part two of this review after we finish the module, but overall, my players had a ton of fun. While the module might look a little amateurish at a glance, the level of detail in the monsters and NPC’s mark it as anything but. It’s a fantastic adventure, that pulls from a set of folklore and stories that really don’t get much chance to shine in tabletop RPGs. That isn’t say it is perfect, but it’s weak points are only in presentation, and a few additional things that would be nice to have. If your players are board of facing the monsters of European myth, or you want a great mystery module with varied and interesting combat, I’d definitely recommend.

Afterword: I’d usually put my thoughts on running the module down here, with things I could have improved/changed, etc. But because this post is so long, and this review will be in two parts, with more specifics and spoilers in the second one, I’m gonna split those out into their own post. But yeah, players really liked it, I had a ton of fun running it.