The Denpa Men 3: The Rise of Digitoll - Review  

How to Lose a Man in Less than 10 Days
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Fun side activities
+ Plenty to explore
- Irritating character recruitment
- Inconsistent challenge level
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   Somehow The Denpa Men has turned into a trio of games for the 3DS, all built around lead characters that are reminiscent of the Teletubbies. The Denpa Men 3: The Rise of Digitoll is an interesting game to behold from a distance, and exhibits plenty of unique aspects. Underneath its veneer of cute and cuddly lies a game that expects plenty of micromanagement by the player, a lot of which is dependent upon how apt one is at tracking down unique wireless waves. The result is a strange blend that I didn't enjoy much except as a source of stories to tell people in years to come.

   A player-named Denpa Man has a friend named Crystal, and her kidnapping prompts a rescue quest. Eventually it emerges that gathering the six elemental stones is required to satisfy her kidnappers, and most of the game deals with the location and acquisition of these talismans. To the shock of perhaps three people in the world, these elemental stores of power seal away a forbidden realm of great danger. Story takes up very little of the time spent playing this game, which is for the best when the protagonist is so easily duped.

   Initially the battling party of Denpa Men is limited to four, but the game quickly provides items that allow eight fighters to take part in every skirmish. Combat follows the usual turn-based brawl pattern, though since ordering each fighter individually can be tiresome there are several programs for them to follow for a turn with a single button press. Relying on the Denpa Men AI is not wise in tight circumstances, but it suffices to bring most enemies down.

   The problems come from numerous peculiarities in combat, starting with how enemies are encountered. They pop up around the world or dungeon, often with almost no time to get out of the way if the player doesn't feel like a fight, and will doggedly pursue the Denpa Men if at a high enough level. Running away isn't always effective, and if the protagonist Denpa Man is killed on the world map, the group is kicked back to the beginning town. On the world map downed Denpa Men that aren't revived by the end of a fight vanish into the ether, though whatever they had equipped is given back to the player — in a dungeon they stick around for revival until the player exits so they can give up the ghost. They can be recovered, but paying the money to make it happen is often not the best use of funds when enemies are fairly stingy with giving them up.

Probably not, but you Probably not, but you'll do what I say regardless!

   The difficulty that could cause massive party wipeouts fluctuates wildly while playing, and the usual way to learn that a new area requires different tactics is to find out the hard way. That might not be a problem if equipping eight characters repeatedly was pleasant, but trusting the auto-equip function to do the best job isn't necessarily wise, so it falls to the player to manually do so. Sorting through the enormous menu isn't much fun either, making the player wish some kind of separate screen existed in which all the things that serve no purpose in battle could be kept. Part of the problem is that each Denpa Man has a color, and that color correlates with its elemental affinity, which means that efficiently navigating each new area requires going back to town and swapping an entirely different team into position.

   Switching Denpa Men out requires getting them in the first place, and here is where Denpa Men 3 does something unique. The only way to acquire new characters is to visit different locations in the real world in the hope of the 3DS picking up wi-fi signals it doesn't recognize, whereupon it will spawn plenty of characters. They must then be caught by spinning the 3DS around to use its gyroscope, usually while the player is in view of other people who may be nonplussed by this frantic activity. The selection of Denpa Men to be found is random, and if the player winds up without the right skill set to optimally proceed, that's just too bad. Each Denpa Man knows just one spell, and while healing can be accomplished via other means, never acquiring certain offensive techniques can dramatically inhibit progress.

   Despite its cute exterior, Denpa Men 3 can be quite nasty. While there is no such thing as a Game Over, many enemies get double actions with powers capable of killing a character each turn. Grinding is a fairly easy process when characters not even in the party gain experience too, but engaging enemies twenty levels under the party and barely surviving is not a way of gaining confidence in the fighting abilities of Denpa Men. Bosses are particularly insidious in their ability to take multiple actions at the beginning of a turn even if the player is a noticeably higher level, ensuring that the player will go back to town minus teammates many times. This isn't too troublesome when the game goes out of its way to supply warp spots into dungeons just before each boss, but the fights tend to feel more like the enemies are cheap than well-designed. Denpa Men 3 is also quite vague at points in directing the player where to go next, odd for a game that actually puts the current objective on the bottom screen to be seen at all times.

You stupid flying fish, why do you get to go twice a turn?  WHY? You stupid flying fish, why do you get to go twice a turn? WHY?

   The central storyline is a bust, but plenty of intriguing side activities exist to perk up interest at times. A surprisingly addictive fishing game is present, and aspiring interior decorators have a cornucopia of furnishings with which to spice up the otherwise-drab houses Denpa Men live in. Poking around the world of the game will reveal numerous side destinations, many of them interesting locations that can be explored at leisure. Finding everything takes a fair amount of work and feels somewhat rewarding, making it an entertaining task.

   The player-named Denpa Man and a few other plot characters are the only ones with voices. Their dialogue resembles a sped-up version of Ross Bagdasarian's Chipmunks, which is a good way to make the player grateful there aren't many lengthy cutscenes in this game. Most of the music is pleasant, and several tunes are quite catchy, but the regular battle theme sounds like something rejected by a merry-go-round. The visuals showcase a colorful and rather interesting world, even keeping palette-swapping of enemies fairly low.

   The Rise of Digitoll may look cute and accommodating at a glance, but don't believe it. It would be one thing if the game was trying to be a brutal dungeon crawl, but a massive revision to its mechanics would be necessary for that to work. I can appreciate certain ideas on display here, but most of the time I was either bored or angry with this game — not a recipe for recommending it to others.

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