Survival of the Fittest
Kickstarter campaigns would become commonplace during the 2010s, where everyday people fund campaigns to raise money to develop videogames, with many independent developers relying upon this fundraising method to produce games that they feel mainstream companies haven’t been making. In my continued quest to conquer the Japanese language so I could comprehend titles that likely won’t see English versions in the near future, I came across a series of Steam RPGs that said method had funded to teach Japanese hiragana, katakana, and kanji in a trilogy, the second of which is Learn Japanese to Survive! Katakana War
, which is a competent sequel.
The first successor in the franchise opens in Japan, which enemies based on Japanese katakana characters terrorize, and it’s up to the protagonist and his/her companions to put a stop to them by reciting their readings or, in the case of the parallel world sometimes encountered, their respective symbols. The narrative doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of connections to the first game, although the more the player uses characters in battle, the higher their affection levels become, which can unlock developing cutscenes. There are occasional errors in the text, although the direction tends to be clear, and the plot definitely has its positive moments.
Unlike the random encounters in the first game, the sequel switches to visible monsters in dungeons, which aren’t terribly difficult to avoid, but the player may wish to fight them in order to keep pace with their gradually-growing levels. Fights are turn-based like in the prequel, although Katakana War
adopts a structure more similar to Final Fantasy X
where a gauge shows which character or enemy takes their turn when, with abilities executing immediately upon input, so little to no foresight is necessary for battles. Standard attacks consist as in its predecessor of answering the correct reading or symbol for characters or syllables, with incorrect guesses resulting in zero damage.
Characters also have MP-consuming magic, with the twist that offensive spells can’t actually kill enemies, who must die from standard attacks, although those that attack all foes tend to be somewhat useful, as do healing abilities. Winning battles nets all four participating characters experience for occasional level-ups, with the sequel having more allies than the limit that the player can adjust in Osaka. There are also a number of sidequests typically involving Japanese language aspects that net rewards such as new vocabulary and bonus points that the player can use at the crystal in Osaka for bonus level-ups.
Players may also come across shards that they can exchange at said crystal for stat-increasing items, which can be somewhat handy. The battle system generally works well, more so than in the first game, with a fluid pace to combat, and fights generally not forced down the player’s throat most of the time, along with a generous difficulty curve. There are negligible flaws such as how the player’s allegedly-elemental spells actually don’t make difference at all in how much damage they deal enemies, but aside from this, the sequel definitely improves upon the first game’s mechanics and are solid overall.
Control is just as solid, with great direction on how to advance the central storyline, an always-useful save-anywhere feature, the generous view of towns and dungeons nullifying the need for in-game maps, in-game tracking of playtime, the ability to see how equipment affects stats before purchasing it, and so forth. There are issues regarding things such as the need to talk to allies in Osaka in order to change party setup, along with occasional glitches such as one encountered when viewing the final affection scene with characters. Otherwise, the sequel interacts well with players.
The soundtrack, as in the first game, is surprisingly good for a Western RPG, with a number of solid tracks such as the peaceful town and overworld themes, the energetic battle themes, vocal version of some of the central themes, and the like. Voices for the pronunciation and some cutscenes also abound, with the former having more diversity this time around, and generally being solid. A few issues are present such as alleged ethnic characters having no accents, along with the music frequently audibly looping, but otherwise, the sequel is an aural delight.
The game is a delight visually, albeit to a lesser extent, with vibrant colors, great anime-inspired art direction with character designs aplenty, great environments, and so forth, but the chibi sprites won’t appeal to all, and battles contain the typical Japanese RPG trope of characters telekinetically attacking enemies, which also have a number of palette swaps. Regardless, the graphics are hardly a dealbreaker.
Finally, the sequel is short like its predecessor, around eight to twelve hours long, with sidequests boosting playtime along with achievement and postgame play, although the player can get all things accomplished in one playthrough and there aren’t any narrative variations.
Overall, Katakana War
is for the most part a solid sequel that hits most of the right notes regarding things such as its educational battle system, great control, well-developed characters, and strong aural and visual presentation. It does have occasional hiccups such as occasional glitches and unskippable sequences, not to mention weak spots in its visuals and a general lack of lasting appeal, although those who enjoyed the first game will likely appreciate the second, with the sequel appealing to RPG enthusiasts not to mention Japanese language-learners, and I definitely look forward to playing the third game in the franchise.The Good:
+Refined educational game mechanics.
+Good art direction.The Bad:
-Frequent audible loops in music.
-Art won’t appeal to all.
-Little lasting appeal.The Bottom Line:
A refined sequel.Score Breakdown:
Platform: PC (Steam)
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 4.0/10
Playing Time: 8-12 HoursOverall: 7.5/10