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First Impressions: AI – The Somnium Files (Switch) ~ Kotaro Uchikoshi Is At It Again.

Official website

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One of my favorite horror series is the Zero Escape series. I have reviewed every game here on my blog. I have played through all of these games again this year since I introduced the series to my girlfriend. When I’m reviewing adventure games or visual novels, I often find myself referencing 999, Virtue’s Last Reward or Zero Time Dilemma. Now, sadly enough this trilogy of games has ended with Zero Time Dilemma. Now, last month I learned that the director and main writer of the series were finishing development on a new game. Ai: The Somnium Files. When I saw Kotaro Uchikoshi’s name in the promotion material, I got extremely hyped. I honestly pre-ordered the game right away. Now, do I regret that pre-order or was it worth it? I’m going to give you an answer to that question in the form of this first impression review of the game. And before I start, I always say: feel free to leave a comment with your opinion in the comment section down below about the content of this article and/or the game itself.

Date and Aiba

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In this game, you play as special agent Date who is investigating a gruesome murder. Now, this is unlike any detective game because Date has a special ability. His left eye is quite special. In this left eye, an AI lives. This AI is called Aiba and helps Date to make phone calls, access databases, x-ray vision, zooming and so much more. On top of that, Date can explore people’s somnium, which is created by their dreams. These dreams can help in the investigation whenever you need to get information out of a witness that refuses to give testimony.

The story is quite complex and takes a lot of twists and turns. Like the previous games that Uchikoshi worked on, this game has branching paths as well. Depending on certain actions you take during the somnium exploration, the story can go in very different directions. Now, I have already seen one ending of the game and it even got me a bit emotional while playing it. The writing and pacing of this game are wonderful. While there is some dry and lame humor in this game, the actual jokes work quite well and made me and my girlfriend laugh out loud more than once.

I’m leaving quite a lot of details on the story out on purpose since this game is better experienced without a lot of knowledge of the story. Go in this game as blind as possible. Since the twists are better without knowing them in advance. Which honestly, speaks for itself don’t you think? Now, something that I quite liked is the various nods to the Zero Escape series. Certain sound effects and visual cues come from or are heavily inspired by the Zero Escape series.

Now, before I talk more about that comparison, I want to talk about the voice acting. While you can play through this game with the original Japanese cast, I’m playing through this game with the English voice actors and I have to say that the dub of this game is amazing. The cast has been cast quite well. Maybe I might be a bit biased since I’m heavily invested in the story and now I’m quite used to the voice work of the voice actors.

He is at it again

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The gameplay in this visual novel is quite varied. This isn’t a visual novel where just choosing between a few options makes the difference. In this visual novel, there are various puzzles to solve and dialogue trees to explore. The first gameplay type is simply one where you explore a location. This can be a crime scene or the house of a suspect. In these scenes, the Date doesn’t move around. You explore your surroundings to find various clues and leads. To make sure you didn’t miss anything, whenever the text turns green whenever you move over the cursor over something, that means that there is still some interaction to be done. If the text turns gray, you have done every possible interaction.

So you go through various dialogue trees where you get new information. Whenever you missed something, you can quickly bring up the log and replay the voice clips. Something that I found a bit missing, is a sort of summary of the events that happened. Since very different things happen in the story depending on the path you take. So, a quick summary of past events might be helpful. Especially since there are character bios and a word list where various terms are explained.

Speaking of these character bios and terms, these are handled amazingly. The various hidden jokes and references add so much to the atmosphere of the game. Especially the way how some explanations are written, it’s almost like writers are talking to the player directly. Sometimes even saying that if you want more information that you “have to look it up on the internet.” And as an IT guy, I found the binary joke in one of the character profiles an extremely nice touch.

Now, the exploration in this game is quite limited and somewhat linear. While you can choose which location you visit first, it doesn’t make a difference in the story if you go in order or out of order. So, this is quite linear. Now, the dream sequences are something completely different. Now, if you played any game in the Zero Escape series, you will quickly get used to these sections. These dream puzzles are the escape rooms of this game, but the big difference is that you can move in the whole area.

If you compare the gameplay of this game with any game in the Zero Escape series, I have to compliment this game for improving the dialogue sections of the game. The dialogue and story sections are more involved now and you can choose in which order you experience it. This makes the game more accessible and doesn’t dump a lot of text and story on you all at once.

That said, now the dream sequences and puzzles are a blast to play through. Some of them are a tad bit too easily to my liking, but the later puzzles more than makeup for it. For one puzzle, I even considered using a walkthrough but after a lot of trial and error, I figured it out and it gave me such an amazing feeling.

In each puzzle, you have to unlock various mental locks. You can do this by exploring and interacting with the dream. Because you are exploring a dream, extremely strange things can happen. So, you have to make sure you understand why and what is going wrong. There is a catch, you have 6 minutes to solve the whole puzzle. If you don’t, you get a game over. You can use 3 tokens to go back to a previous checkpoint. If you go back one checkpoint, you use one token. If you go back two checkpoints, you use 2 tokens.

Now, you have to plan your actions right since each action uses a certain amount of time. With some actions, you earn special bonuses that can increase or decrease the used time in the game. It’s very important that you plan ahead and that you are sure of the option you pick. Now, whenever you are standing still, your clock ticks down slower than when you are moving. Take this time to plan out your moves and make sure you aren’t losing time by walking in the wrong direction.

This whole mechanic gives the game a very tense atmosphere. Am I going to have enough time to crack the other mental locks or have I lost too much time in the previous sections? Sometimes it’s better to restart the whole puzzle instead of using your tokens to go back to a previous checkpoint. Now, you can also use these tokens during gameplay. The time you had on the clock is the time you have when you return to that checkpoint. You get 3 tokens for each puzzle and they reset whenever you restart the whole puzzle.

I was pretty interested in the game whenever I saw the teaser trailer, but the gameplay is not disappointing me at all. It’s one of the best games I have played this year. And to be honest, if the quality of the game keeps up during the rest of the game, I think there are big chances that this game might be my Game Of The Year. And yes, maybe my bias towards the author and director of this game might have some to do with it, but you still have to deliver a great product and gameplay and story-wise, I think they more than succeed here.

Pretty and funny

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Visually, this game looks amazing. The detail in the character models and the environment are just amazing. Compared to Zero Time Dilemma, the animation work got a huge overhaul. The character portraits are no longer static, they have the same animation as the actual characters on screen. That way you can still see their animations whenever you missed their animations because you were looking around.

The little details in the animations are mindblowing. For example, there was a scene where a teacher was talking about a student and when she was talking about the student, her head actually moved towards the student itself and the student broke her idle animation and looked at her teacher. These things might be small moments but are moments that give just that bit of extra flavor and atmosphere to the game.

On top of that, the audiovisual presentation of this game is equally as good as the animation. Some parts of the soundtrack reminded me of a lot of the music that’s used in the Zero Escape series. Now, there are some sound effects that are exactly the same from the Zero Escape series like the save sound and some other sound effects. If it’s intentional, I found it a great easter egg for people who played the previous games. Now, it’s also quite possible that they used the same sound library to save some development money and even if that’s the case, I wouldn’t mind at all.

Surprisingly, the composer of this game also wrote the music for BloodStained and the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games on (3)DS. The Zero Escape series’ soundtracks were composed by Shinji Hosoe who wrote music for Fate/Extra and Tekken 6. The composer of this game is Keisuke Ito and he did an amazing job with his team to create this soundtrack.

One of the biggest shames of this game is the fact that sometimes those games have some stuttering or some major slowdowns during gameplay. Thankfully these don’t have that often and it only affects the Visuals and not music nor the voice acting. Most of these slowdowns happen during dialogues or when a lot of animation is playing. On these moments, the fan of my Switch didn’t blast me away like in Dragon Quest Builders 2.

If I’m allowed to nitpick just a minor bit, I can’t remember exactly where but there are just 1 or 2 lines that aren’t voice acted. These are very short lines and if you are just following the story, you might not even notice them. I clearly remember that one of these lines was said by Date somewhere in the first few sections of the story. I think it was in a conversation between Boss, Aiba, and Date. But given the whole script of this game, just one or two missed lines is something that isn’t THAT bad and can be easily looked over.

This game has only one difficulty level. The overall difficulty of this game is quite well done, the difficulty scaling is very well done. Some puzzles require some trial and error but once it clicks, the whole thing makes sense. The biggest challenge is in the exploration of the dreams since you need to think fast and think about the time limit.

The controls of this game are almost perfect. The only thing that’s missing is touchscreen controls. But hey, that’s huge nitpick since the controls are quite responsive and easily mastered. Thanks to the amazing UI, I can find any negatives about the controls and UI. Apart from maybe one minor thing. I find the text in the word list and character bios a little bit too small to read when I’m playing in docked mode and when I’m sitting a bit too far away from the screen. All the other text can be read just fine, apart from that part.

I’m also forgetting to talk about something quite important and that’s the save system. While there is an autosave system present in the game, you also have three save slots you can use. Thanks to these three save slots, I’m able to continue to play the game by myself but also save at the point me and my girlfriend left off so we can pick up the game right where we left off when we play it the next time.

Now there is some minor replay value when you want to unlock everything. During each Somnium, there is an eye hidden that when collected and finished the Somnium without failing; you unlock additional concept art. These are quite fun to watch and a great reward for people who explore the game to the smallest detail.

Now, this review is already getting extremely long for a first impression. It’s quite clear what I’m thinking of this game. I think it’s high time to wrap this first impression up. This game comes highly recommend to everybody who enjoys adventure games, puzzle games, mystery games, visual novel games and games like the Zero Escape series. This game is one of the best games I have played in 2019 and I can’t wait to see how this game ends. Apart from some minor flaws like the slowdowns, this game is in my eyes as good as perfect. It’s such a shame that this game doesn’t get the publicity that it deserves. I hope that with this article more people give this game a try and give it the audience it deserves. With that said, I want to thank you for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

One minor side note, this game is also on PS4 and PC.

My top 25 DS games of all time. (Part 3/3)

25 – 2019 – 10

Welcome to part 3!

#9:  Monster Tale

Monster_Tale_CoverartI didn’t know what this game was going to be about. I just bought it blindly. The cover was interesting enough to me to actually buy it. But was I taken by surprise. This game is all levels of awesome.

This game is a more kid-friendly version of the Castlevania series. The gameplay is nearly exactly the same. The only difference is that you have a pet monster that follows you. That monster, well, you need it to solve the various puzzles.

Something I’m really thankful for is that in this game you have an pointer to where you should go. But the game won’t punish you for trying to explore beyond the path you are supposed to go. Since you can find toys to train your monster.

There are various different forms of the monster which makes it pretty replayable. Now that I’m writing about this game, I feel like replaying it really soon. The memories are pretty great.

And also, the soundtrack is so good that it’s even on my SD for my mobile phone. I really enjoy listing to it. But a more in-depth look shall be for another time. In conclusion: this game comes highly recommend.

#8: Layton series – Favorite: Unwound Future

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I simply can’t believe what LEVEL-5 has done with this series. They combined two of my favorite genres and made an awesome game series out of it. Professor Layton is an amazing series of puzzle and visual novel adventure games.

I love how there is always a debate on forums between fans of the Ace Attorney series and the Layton fans, since they are kind of similar. You play a detective by solving puzzles.

There are 6 games now in the series, 4 on the Nintendo DS. Out of them, my favorite is Unwound Future. The story is just the best out of the series. I think it’s one of the best. It’s the one I remember the most.

You can really see the evolution the series goes through. That’s why I advice people who want to play through this series to start with the first game. Because if you play the newer games first, you will get annoyed by some missing features like a notepad.

I still have to beat the last 3DS entry in the series, so I’m pretty curious how the series ends. But secretly I’m hoping that they continue the series with a new trilogy. Come on LEVEL-5, go for it!

#7: Castlevania series (Best: Portrait Of Ruin)

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It will be a sin talking about Castlevania earlier in this list and not giving the series a well deserved spot in my top 25 list. Because these games have a lot of memories to me.

I started playing Portrait Of Ruin before I discovered Monster Tale. I was hooked in a matter of minutes. I loved the Metroidvania gameplay. Exploring a vast “open” world in a setting where mythological creatures are your enemies…

These games use enemies from mythologies and myths. Long time readers know this about me, I didn’t start as a game reviewer, I started as a hobby writer. Seeing stories used so powerful always puts a smile on my face. This is the best game when it comes to vampires.

I do warn you guys, this game can be quite hard. But the people who love to grind, this game won’t be a big letdown, because with a lot of grinding you will be able to finish these games without a lot of problems. But I’m not somebody who likes to grind. So, the challenge in this game is quite high for me. Even more enjoyable. Since the game’s controls are near pitch perfect!

#6: Pokémon series (Best: Pokémon Mystery Dungeon – Explorers of the Sky)

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This game got me to cry. Yes, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon hits my emotional spot each and every time. They are even continuing it on the 3DS. With some cuts and adds though.

The Pokémon series are one of the earliest gaming memories I have. Looking back, my mind is blown, how that as a young child, I was able to understand and (almost) beat a RPG. One with some depth.

On the surface, Pokémon looks to be made for children, but in reality, it can be quite deep and enjoyable to play.  I’m still working on beating the Black & White games, I’m currently about midway in Pokémon Black 2. But I think I might restart with the white version. Or delete my save file. The reason why, well, I lost my notes and I wanted to write an article about it.

Or I might not delete my save file and enjoy the game. Since it was also one of the first games I played on my Nintendo DS. Yeah. Memories.

#5:  Okamiden

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So, I have written a first impression of the Wii game in the series, Okami. Wouldn’t it be a shame if one then didn’t like the DS version?

The DS version blew me off my socks in how it was able to port parts of a Wii game to the portable market. (No need for a new 3DS, more ranting on that … later this month)

This game takes place a few years after Okami ended. Now you play the son of the great Japanase sun god. The humor in this game is just excellent.

Best of all, you have more then one partner! Each partner has their own personality and character trades, which makes the game diverse and fun to play.

It was even able to touch me on an emotional level with it’s ending. Not all games can achieve that.

#4: Suikoden Tierkreis

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First Impression

If you are able to ignore the sometimes bad voice acting of this game, you get an amazing deep story of a group of teenagers fighting against a civilization that believes that the future is already known.

This RPG, I played it more then once. It might be a bit outdated by today’s standards, but it’s still amazingly fun. It even got me into the Suikoden series. I must play Suikoden II. I have heard so much about it.

A little fun fact, I nearly write the title wrong every time. I switch the “k” and the “d” so often. Before I published this article, I double checked if I didn’t make that mistake.

So, read my first impression if you want to know what I recommend this game. That will avoid me having to write an extremely long explanation in this article. Check it out, but forgive the voice acting. It isn’t all that good. It truly brings the game down.

#3: Ace Attorney series

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney review – First Impression: Ace Attorney – Miles Edgeworth – Investigations 2 (Fan Translation)

What can I say about this series? It moved me various times and I’m one big Ace Attorney fan. I even took a look to two 3DS titles. If it wasn’t clear already, look at how high on the list I place this series.

This game made me love visual novels. It was one of my first visual novels I ever played. As you might know, I started as a story writer. Seeing how strong stories can be in games, well… yeah… I have a hard time explaining this but I could feel the passion the writers have put into this series. You can feel those kind of things as a writer.

For every announcement of a new Ace Attorney game, I get quite hyped. I’m even going so far as playing a fan translation of a game that isn’t released in the west. Maybe I should write articles about the other games in the series in the future, maybe that might show my love more clear.

#2: 999: 9 Persons 9 Hours 9 Doors

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So, why is this game so high on my list? If you read my review and saw the score I gave to it, I don’t have to explain myself any further.

In the previous entry I explained how Ace Attorney pulled me into the visual novel adventure genre. Everything that Ace Attorney did right and presented with a more humorous tone, 999 did with it’s grim yet enjoyable tone.

This game isn’t for the faint of hart. And I really mean what I say here. If you have a vivid imagination, this game might even scare you. It’s that well written.

I totally disagree with some complaints, that this game is too repetitive. To me, it’s not. But I can see where they are coming from.

I enjoyed this game so much, I even bought it on a trip to the USA. It never came to Europe. Yeah.

Honorable mentions

Before we take a look to number one, I must have my honorable mentions. A few slipped already into the article but I want to list the other games that didn’t make the list but where great to play through as well. Maybe in the future or if I ever do a (3)DS month again, you might see these games in articles. And various games, well, it was hard to leave them out. But I had to drop games.

Kirby games, Soul Bubbles, Bookworm, Giana Sisters, Lost In Blue series, Henry Hatsworth and the puzzling adventure, Dragon Quest 9, Super Monkey Ball, The Settlers, Age Of Mythology DS, Make 10, Lego Battles, Magical StarSign, Elebits, Dream Chronicles DS (PC version let’s play) and Contact.

It was pretty though ordering the top ten. But I think it’s quite clear which game series is going to be number one. So, yeah. Here we go I guess.

#1: Zelda series (Favorite: Phantom Hourglass)

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The Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks review

So, who hasn’t seen this one…. miles coming? Yeah! The first game I played on the DS when I got it… It just stuck with me the most. If you don’t know exactly what I’m talking about, read my article about gaming nostalgia: my history of the DS and 3DS handhelds.

Oh, for this entry I also count the fun spin-off: Tingle – Rosy Rupeeland. That game is quite interesting. It’s like trying to play as Tingle.

But back to the subject, I was already a big Zelda fan before I bought the DS. My love only grew thanks to these games. It’s a shame that I haven’t written an article about Phantom Hourglass, but don’t you worry, it will be written eventually. Be warned, it will be filled with nostalgia.

I would like to know what your favorite Zelda game on the DS is. Since I’m sure that there will be debate over which game is the better game. Phantom Hourglass or Spirit Tracks. I’m really curious what you guys have to say. (Or girls for that matter)

Closing words

I hope that you guys enjoyed these 3 articles. I think it was an awesome way to close this month’s theme. So, if you aren’t following me on other social media, let me tell you here. I posted a whole list of articles I plan to do. I basically posted the possible scheduling for this year.

Anyways, enough about that. I’m not going to write a whole emotional part about how much I love the Nintendo DS. I think that’s clear enough. It’s my favorite handheld. Period. If you are able to look past the shovelware that some studios released, I think you can find a gem of a handheld.

But to further prove my point, read Lpgardian’s article why he thinks that the Nintendo DS is the best handheld. So, yeah. Feel free to leave a comment on this article what your best DS games are. And hopefully you guys can forgive me that I didn’t put big named games on this list.

So, I hope to see you soon. When my next article releases. Until then, take care!

Review #032: 999: 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors (DS) ~ Zero Escape

999Wikipedia entry

How can I forget to write a review about this game? I have reviewed the sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward quite some time ago. I might have talked about this game here and there, and I might even have selected a track or two for my favorite music tracks ever in games. But, I never wrote a full review on it. Let me fix that. The reason why the title says “Zero Escape” is because this game is the first game in the Zero Escape series. I’m truly crossing my fingers that there will be a third entry into it. I remember that they are actually working on it. So, to support this series and to celebrate this month’s theme: (3)DS games, let’s take a look at the game that started this series. And feel free to leave a comment with your opinion on this article and or your opinion on this game. Warning, this game is a visual novel puzzle-adventure game. Because of the game being very plot-driven, I have posted screenshots and wrote this article with avoiding spoilers as much as I could. 

Numbers

gfs_174053_2_60The story in this game is simply the best part in this game. I already said in the introduction, that this game is very story driven. So, I will only give you a brief introduction. You play as Junpei, who is kidnapped and trapped in a room. As soon as you wake up, you have to solve a puzzle to escape your room. When you run into the main hall, you discover that you are trapped with 8 other people. You are able to be part of the Nonary game. And if you break the rules of this game, you will die or rather, explode. Oh, and don’t forget, the actual mastermind behind all of this is one of the group.

If you read the intro, you might have a lot of questions. But do yourself a favor and don’t look up more of the story then what I just told you. The story is really tense, memorable and a blast to read through. The best part is that this game is replayable. Since you will need to make crucial decisions that will change the ending of the game.

When you have a certain ending, it’s quite possible that you get some sort of cryptic bonus video. But, here is a small tip. That video is more then just a bonus video. Analyse it well, and you will understand what I mean.

What can I say about the story without spoiling it? I already said that it was very thrilling and a blast to read through. The characters are really memorable and there will be some you will start to love and others you will start to hate. The most fun thing in this game is trying to discover who Zero is. Since you have to play through this game multiple times, you will have more information then Junpei, but I have to admit, that I was off when the actual conclusion came around.

The game in a game.

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So, the gameplay. This is how escape games on Android should be. In each room, you will be presented with a puzzle. In this puzzle, you will be challenged to escape the room. Even when you played through this game several times, it’s quite possible that you can get stuck on a puzzle you solved earlier. Because there might always be that one item you look over each and every time.

I had a lot of fun playing through this game when it was released and I had a lot of fun playing through this game when I was replaying it for you guys. The puzzles keep being challenging. They are one of the best puzzles I have seen in a visual novel game in quite a while.

The major issue, that was thankfully fixed in the sequel, is that when you want to try and go for another ending. Then you have to replay the whole game. The story tree of the sequel is an amazing help. Since it’s a bit confusing because some routes end up at the same ending.

I do recommend playing through this game to unlock all endings. Even when you have seen the true ending. I have heard people reaching the true ending on their 2nd or 3rd try. I have my doubts that’s possible, but I think I’m wrong on that. Thankfully, there is a handy way to keep track of which endings you have already seen in the game on your save file. That’s a handy feature.

Perfect?

999_screenshotYes, this game comes so close to be a perfect game on DS. I already talked about how the game has some issues when playing through for each playthrough beyond the 2nd.

The final puzzle of the true ending is very anti-climatic. I won’t spoil what it is, but the build up of this puzzle is just lame. If you see it, you will totally get what I mean. I actually face palmed when I saw it.

What shows that this game is nearly perfect is the music. I totally love the soundtrack of this game. It’s really tense and it builds the right atmosphere. When I hear it today, I get the chills. The memories of what happened in the game. Man, it’s nice. If the music of a game can be that strong.

The game can be a chore for people who don’t like to read long dialogue parts. If you are somebody who skips cutscenes or goes to the bathroom while a dialogue happens, this game might not be for you.

Also, when maths isn’t your strong point, you might want to use the calculator that’s build into the game often. Since various puzzles require solving a math problem.

Anyways, I have said everything I wanted about this game. Let’s get on with the conclusion.

Conclusion

The bad:

– Replaying through the whole game just to get the other endings.

– The final puzzle is very anti-climatic.

(- The voice acting in the sequel just builds the atmosphere that much more.)

The good:

+ Memorable soundtrack.

+ Epic story.

+ Fun gameplay.

+ They made a visual novel replayable!

+ Memorable characters.

+ ….

Final thoughts:

Since I listen often to the soundtrack of this game and I look forward for more news on the Zero Escape series, I think it’s well deserved that this game gets the highest score. Since all the flaws are crushed by the positives elements of this game! You owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this game and give it a try. Any good gameshop now-a-days has warranty on their products so if you don’t like it, you can give it back.

The story, the music, the setting, the puzzles and the design. These things just all fit together to make an excellent visual novel experience worth every penny.

I can understand that people find the game repetitive in some areas or that the game is too full of talking, but I honestly think that the game is one of the best games ever made on the Nintendo DS.

Score: 100/100