Sometimes I just get that urge for a traditional RPG. Something that says “look—I know there’s been a lot of innovation in RPGs and video games in general, but I’m going to give you a screen with your characters, enemy characters, lots of life bars, and it’ll be turn based.” It can be a little difficult because, like that hypothetical game said, RPGs have changed. There are summons, things take place in semi-real-time, you can build relationships and marry and have kids… It’s refreshing in a way to see something like The Denpa Men 2: Beyond the Waves come along, something so traditional and back to the genre’s roots. But on the other hand, The Denpa Men 2 sacrifices some of that in ways that actually hurt the game, and there are some weird design decisions that kept me from really enjoying the beefy, 20 hour experience.
One of the first things that really disappointed me, especially having not played the original and since it’s one of the game’s big hooks, was the Denpa Men themselves. Ostensibly, every WiFi device has unique Denpa Men riding its waves, and while I can’t speak to how true that is, I can say it’s an interesting idea. You catch them using the AR camera (I know, someone remembers it exists!), tilting your body around to hit them with a net and ensuring that you’ll never play the game in public when you need to catch new characters.
Luckily, I didn’t really have to feel the shame of waving my 3DS like a maniac because I never really found a reason to go back and catch them. Yes, their suits give them different elemental attributes, and sure, each Denpa Man only has one spell and you have to catch more to sample them all, but I didn’t see a reason. I had a good range of spells that tended to do well with each element AND could heal, and you can just equip gear to change your character’s resistances. Your party holds 8, and I didn't catch many more after that before not seeing a reason to go back.
One of the reasons I love turn-based RPGs so much is that in their simplistic presentation, there’s actually a lot of depth, with buffs, magic usage, and combining attacks in just the right way to do excessive amounts of damage. Perhaps this is the worst part of The Denpa Men 2 then: that depth just isn’t there. Only one spell per man, or otherwise they can just attack, doesn’t leave much room for experimentation. Your biggest strategy comes in outfitting beforehand, and there are a lot of items to put on your Denpa Men, and in all kinds of styles, so you can coordinate them as you wish.
The battles are made even simpler because there’s a button labeled “Go For It!” that is the default button. If you enter a battle and hit “a,” it’s the first thing that will happen. It’s also probably the last thing- the battles are usually over pretty quickly, and this button actually strategizes better than you can. Take for example the fact that if one of your characters gets hurt, another will automatically heal him in that same turn, which you couldn’t have predicted, but Go For It does. Since it’s the best option, and since manually commanding everyone is so slow otherwise, what’s the point of pressing anything but that button? It then makes the game just a grind. You enter a place with enemies, just go for it until you’re at the right level, and then beat the boss and solve whatever gimmick that level has.
So this basically takes away the entire reason to play the game because you’re not really “playing” the game. But I didn’t write the game off for this because it was kind of compelling. You can completely skip the grind of the game because you can just hit a button and the battles go! While it would undoubtedly be better to actually have the developers balance the game properly so you didn’t have to grind, I was intrigued by this notion because it let me do so many other things as I played it. I read a book, watched TV, cooked, did homework, all sorts of nonsense!
Then I got to thinking that it just might not be great praise that one of the best things about the battles is that you can do other things while playing them because they’re boring otherwise. That, or infuriating, because there’s something weird with the balance in this game. Every area has at least one enemy that is way overpowered compared to the other enemies, and enemies can also get in very strong attacks that do a lot of damage to multiple men that most of your spells and attacks can’t do. I hate to use the word “unfair” against a game, but it’s a little weird that the best strategy is to just kill them before they can kill you because even when you’re very strong, you can still be taken out by some of the most basic enemies in an area.
You can always distract yourself from battle with some periphery stuff, though none of it is really exceptionally interesting. There’s a simple fishing minigame, where you watch a shadow nibble at your rod and press “a” to reel it in when the bobber goes down, and you can sell these for easy money. You can also garden, which is a little more interesting. Flowers can eventually be turned into color so you can change your outfit permanently, or you can grow fruit that changes your stats. This also doesn’t amount to much, though, but with all the gardens scattered around, it really seems like the developers expected you to be so riveted by the idea of flowers that you just wanted to plant all day, every day.
The game’s personality is alright, and I might say it’s one of the best parts. The dialogue is witty, with the exceptions of the dwarves, who speak in a weird, sometimes difficult to understand broken English. The bosses and designs of the enemies are also pretty good, even if they do quickly enter tried-and-true palette swap territory very quickly.
But now let me ask you some questions. Would you design a turn-based RPG with unskippable battle scenes that has a real-time clock counting down even INSIDE the battles for a quest you have to complete? Would you make a game with magic but then not say anywhere how much AP (the game’s mana) it takes to do a spell? Would you design a quest in which you have to valiantly comb one of the most difficult areas in the game to hit a set of coordinates, but then not explain what to do when you get there? Because this game does all of those things, and I can’t figure out for the life of me why. The last two are simple to integrate, too, but for some reason it just doesn’t have it, and there are weird, small little things like that everywhere that just chipped away at my ultimate enjoyment of the game.
Beyond just the fact that it’s a little boring to play, there are also the weird problems to deal with, and the game’s charm is nowhere near enough to make up for them. Even when you’re playing, it does so much of taking care of itself that I started to wonder why I’m even playing this when it can so easily play itself. When you can win a battle almost without fail without even having to do any prior planning in a game like this, well, why would you even play it? If you do get that strong RPG itch, The Denpa Men is there for you, and it’s a long game, but there are certainly better experiences on the 3DS eShop, with deeper mechanics and more satisfying gameplay.