System: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: May 30th, 2013
Developer: Genius Sonority
Publisher: Genius Sonority
When The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave was released this past year, 3DS gamers all ‘round the world were treated to not only one of the greatest advertising campaigns in videogame history, but an excellent, simple-yet-effective pure dungeon crawler that oozed accessibility and charm. This time around, developer and publisher Genius Sonority– a group comprised of fragments of Enix (of the Dragon Quest series) and Creatures Inc. (of the Earthbound series)– decided to further fill the Denpa Men mythos by expanding the first, quaint excursion into a full-blown adventure.
In actuality, while expanding upon its predecessor with a host of both vintage and modern RPG amenities, The Denpa Men 2: Beyond the Waves still manages to maintain the series’ brevitous, pick-up-and-play style and become not only a pillar of the 3DS eShop library, but truly one of the finest handheld RPG experiences to date on any system.
To summarize, The Denpa Men 2 utilizes a traditional, turn-based JRPG battling system with a customizable team comprised of insanely cute (and potentially brandable; mass-producable) Pikmin-esque beings. While you never get to know them past a Western first name (Bill, Anderson, etc) and short introductory snippet after capturing them in the really-fun augmented reality-gameplay-based “Antenna Tower”, you really do bond with them. Skin tone indicates which type of elemental attack each Denpa Man is resistant to, while head-topping antennae indicate which magic ability (in this case, to go with the radio theme, “Antenna Power”) can be used; ones without antennae have no “AP” capabilities, but have higher base attack and defense stats. AP abilities range from elemental attacks, to healing and revival moves, to status (such as speed, defense, etc.) boosters or inhibitors. All standard fare for JRPGs.
Back is the Persona-esque quick-battle option that enables one button to command an entire round of combat. “All-out Attack” and “Auto” make a return in the quick-battle menu in addition to a new option, “Heal”, that will have Denpa Men prioritize using healing skills and items over attacking. This is the bread and butter of the game; by having the game rely on a sped-up reference to normal RPG combat, some depth to gameplay is lost, but fret not, for combat is not completely depthless.
An interesting feature of the series that is also present in the second iteration is the re-summoning of lost Denpa Men via the first area’s “Spirit Shrine”— if a Denpa Man faints and isn’t brought back before the end of combat outside of a dungeon, he or she will be permanently gone unless you pay a slight fee at the Shrine to bring them back.
The most visually apparent change returning Denpa Men players will see upon starting up The Denpa Men 2 is the overworld interface. The concise, menu-to-menu locale changer on the touch screen that made the first so easy to pick up and play while riding the bus or train or driving the car has been supplanted with– you guessed it– an actual overworld. Reminiscent of an SNES-era Final Fantasy game, upon leaving shop and inn-filled towns, you’ll traverse a 2D landmass full of wandering monsters. It’s not all old-school, though; a Jump feature allows you to warp to almost any area you’d like whenever or not in a dungeon. In a slightly odd move, though, some areas simply do not have this feature; it would have been nice to have been able to warp anywhere, or, at the very least, have a few selectable, savable slots to keep (such as main cities, specific dungeons, etc.), but alas, a very minor imperfection it is to be.
In addition to the aforementioned stark visual change that the use of an actual overworld device brings to The Denpa Men 2, this addendum also changes the dynamics of the level design immensely; the game relies far less upon dungeon crawler-ing (I tried telling Austin that that wasn’t a real word, but he wouldn’t let me submit the review unless it was all grammatically correct), and far more upon a traditional JRPG spread. Were it crafted by any other company. The Denpa Men 2 might have fallen by the wayside as just another replacement-level RPG, but Genius Sonority continued to discontinue a hallmark of the genre— deep characterization and plot/story— thereby extending its instant-gratification style into the sequel. The Denpa Men 2 really does a masterful job, as did the original, at bringing the “instantly-satisfying” RPG elements, such as leveling, equipping and optimizing Denpas, opening treasure chests, etc. to the forefront while simultaneously letting things that normally bog down the pace fall to the background.
While the lack of a subplot to pique your interest, a character to get attached to, or a Wrestlemania-like buildup to the vanquishing of of an all-powerful super-villain may deter some, it’s a truly great paradigm for the platform it’s on, while certainly not shallow enough to be considered a meretricious iPan game.
When you’re not adventuring from locale to locale, The Denpa Men 2 offers some pretty whimsical side-excursions to change up the pace should need be. After defeating most enemies, you acquire seeds that can be planted and watered in front of the Denpa Men house, a shop, or any place you see fit that may need a bit of sprucing up– it’s a very similar mechanic to planting flowers in Animal Crossing. Upon reaching the second continent, a new fishing side-distraction also opens up, along with a quest to catch the Master fish using the mystical, hard-to-find “Master Bait” (yes, we get it Genius Sonority, and it’s not funny); it’s a very similar exercise to catching fish in Animal Crossing.
The most exciting new feature is the Coliseum mode that allows you to, in a Pokemon-esque manner, face off against other Denpa teams from around the world. It’s perfect in that it allows depthful thinking with regards to gameplay (ie “which resistance shall my Denpa Man that knows Tiny Heal use?”) without bleeding into the accessibility the main game has to offer. While I don’t know the full length of the game (if I had to take a complete shot in the dark, I’d guess the main game takes eight to twelve hours to complete), Coliseum mode is sure to ramp up the replayability of Beyond the Waves geometrically. Going with the connectivity theme, The Denpa Men 2 also allows you to import (at level one) the Denpa Men from your previous game should you miss them.
Bright, colorful, and poppy, the aesthetic choices Genius Sonority chose for the Denpa Men series are, in addition to the D. Men, themselves alone worthy of a Saturday morning cartoon. The randomly-chosen main Denpa you receive at the beginning of the game (another departure from the first, where all Denpa Men were caught as opposed to received) was given an aural voice pretty much akin to the Worms of the Worms World Party series, adding some ongoing amusement to the game. While the music isn’t instantly memorable like the likes of other classical RPGs, it’s still major league, top notch, and serves as a great background to the game.
Buy this game if…
… you are organically pleased by the gameplay motifs that RPGs, particularly handheld ones, possess.
Don’t but this game if…
… you want emotional attachment from an RPG, or hate big purple Pikmin.
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