Gaming in Taiwan – Ring Fit Adventure Woes

I think it’s important to tell stories like this every so often so that gamers and people in general can have a better understanding of how the world works differently for different people in different places. If you follow my content regularly then you probably know that I’m an American living in Taiwan. This is my firsthand account of the struggle of trying to buy the recently released Ring Fit Adventure for Nintendo Switch.

One of the most important reasons these stories/posts are important is that they help people have a better understanding of how value/pricing should work vs how it actually works. “Value is subjective” is the go to bootlicker answer that most people give when confronted by complaints about overpriced entertainment media such as games. But most of the people who tow this corporate shill line are speaking from a place of privilege in a country with a much higher standard of living and a much lower ability to stretch currency because of how much things cost. So I want you to read this post with the context of money relative to Taiwan rather than relative to your own country and standard of living.

TaiwanTaiwan is a modern country. It has democracy, running water, modern technology, Netflix, and so on. The government is not a fascist dictatorship. The police cannot just arrest and detain citizens indiscriminately with no cause for undefined periods of time. It’s by no means a third world country. But the cost of living is relatively low compared to the US, most of Western Europe, and expensive parts of Asia like Japan and Hong Kong. So for context, allow me to explain to you with a few examples how money works here.

As I write this, $1 USD  = 30.42 NTD. You can buy dinner in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, for 50 NTD ($1.64). This is not what everyone pays for dinner in every part of the city at all times mind you. But this is the price that I have paid for dinner literally hundreds of times. And by dinner I mean something at the caliber and amount of food as a Panda Express 2 item plate including a drink. The subway charges you relative to the distance you are traveling but the minimum cost is 16 NTD ($0.53). Taipei has a pay as you go bike share program that costs literally nothing for the first 30 minutes you ride. I commute to work every day with this bike share program in under 30 minutes, meaning my cost to commute is absolutely nothing. The first hour (up to 30 minutes after the first 30 free minutes) on the bike share program costs 10 NTD ($0.33). Rent is very low here, but owning property is not. Most people rent apartments, while few people own them. I spent the last four years until I just recently moved paying 15,000 NT ($493.02) for a three bedroom apartment, which I lived in alone. A standard AAA video game usually launches for 1790 NTD ($58.83). For the rest of this post I will mostly write prices in NTD for the purposes of relevance and time.

taipei-game-show-2018Taiwan has a huge gaming community and culture. Many gaming events such as Taipei Game Show are hosted here. Game launch promotional events are quite common and often involve giveaways and huge displays. The most recent one I personally attended was for Pokemon Let’s GO. Death Stranding Tour will stop in Taiwan as another more recent example. While gaming is big in Taiwan, there is no regulated gaming market and there are no giant corporate gaming entities such as GameStop to help regulate game pricing. There is a store akin to Walmart called Carrefour that sells some games, but their prices are always marked up for reasons I have never understood and they don’t carry everything. Every game focused store runs independently as a mom and pop style game seller. This is a bitter sweet situation.

On one hand, consumers are not beholden to one evil corporation monopolizing the games market. Game stores all run however they want to and even carry items that are hard to get in other places. When Fallout 4 launched, the Pip Boy Edition was super hard to find in the US. Even preorders were selling out in many places. In Taiwan they were easy to find. You couldn’t walk into any store and be guaranteed to find one, because that edition didn’t actually get distributed here, but many shop owners imported them. I didn’t buy one, because I don’t play Fallout, but I could have easily bought more than one of them if I had wanted to. Another example of this freedom of operation was God of War: Ascension’s collector’s edition. I bought the collector’s edition in the US. This version came with a steelbook and a Kratos statue. The collector’s edition in Taiwan didn’t come with a statue. It came with a Kratos themed PS3 controller. This controller wasn’t distributed to the US so you couldn’t get it there unless you imported it. I really wanted the controller but I wasn’t going to repurchase the game. I was able to go to a game store and tell them that I just wanted to buy the controller because I already had the game. They took the controller out of the collector’s edition and sold it to me at fair market controller price with no markup. I assume they later sold the steelbook edition of the game without the controller. This sort of thing could never happen at a legitimate game store in the US.

No rulesThe reason these sorts of things can happen in Taiwan is because of the lack of regulation. Game stores are not distributing games on credit from publishers and beholden to their rules. Instead they’re purchasing stock in advance and then selling it to the public at whatever markup they decide. This allows them the freedom to do whatever they want. Sometimes this can work in the consumer’s favor, such as when I wanted to buy the Kratos themed PS3 controller. Another example is that I was able to preorder the Pokemon Sword and Shield double pack for 3040 NTD ($100 USD). That’s $20 cheaper than a preorder in the US. The reason they were able to sell it to me at that much lower price is because they were able to purchase it at a wholesale price and distribute it at below standard global market value. In the US, GameStop would never sell you a new Nintendo game at a 17% mark down because Nintendo wouldn’t let them. In Taiwan, the only thing stopping a game store from doing so is how much profit they want to make. That’s the sweet side of an unregulated games market. Now let’s talk about the bitter side.

kratos controllerThe problem with a completely unregulated games market is that there are no price protections for consumers. When a game launches, stores can charge whatever they want for it, and they often charge too much for certain games. While this doesn’t usually affect the pricing of AAA games, it absolutely affects indie titles. Indies almost always get sold at a high markup in Taiwan. Because they don’t have a standardized breakdown of indie vs AAA market pricing. Instead they’re all just games. So you often see indie titles and titles that aren’t supposed to launch at full AAA price being sold for more than they should be because the store(s) have decided that’s what they think they can get for it. To be fair though, this can go the other way as well such as with my Pokemon Sword and Shield preorder example. Along with this is the fact that the standard price degradation over time system pretty much doesn’t apply here. In the US, you can all but guarantee a non-Nintendo Switch game will drop in price at an almost systemic rate. Not to mention peak discount holidays like Black Friday. None of that applies in Taiwan. Games often go down in price over time, but there are no guarantees it will happen and it can take literal years. And the platform doesn’t matter. Nintendo games almost never drop in price in the US. In Taiwan, that same slow rate of price decline can be applied to PS4 and XB1 as well.

no dealAnother problem is that there are no guarantees about stock. In the US, if a game is getting distributed to physical stores you can pretty much guarantee that the game will be available somewhere. You might have to look around, because the game might sell out in some places, but you can pretty much know for sure that if it’s legitimately being distributed to the US then you can find it at GameStop, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, and a number of other stores. In Taiwan, you have no guarantees that a game will be available in store unless you’ve personally gone to a store and asked about it. Basically, the Taiwan games distribution industry operates almost exactly like a black market but without the criminal element. This is the backdrop with which I tried to purchase Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch on launch day/weekend.

Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch is a special game because it can only be sold as a physical release, due to the required ring accessory, and, also because of the ring accessory, the packaging is large and the cost is in no way standardized. Especially in a place like Taiwan. The game was first announced during a Nintendo Direct in September 2019. I was sold by the end of the trailer. I immediately decided that I would purchase it on launch day for the full price. A very rare decision for me. Since launch was only about 2 months away from announcement, I immediately went to game stores and started inquiring about the price and preordering it. No stores could give me a definite answer about whether or not it was going to be released in Taiwan, when it would be available, or how much it would cost. Sadly this is a common occurrence in Taiwan for non-standard games. So I kept checking back periodically.

Ring-Fit-AdventureLike I said before, there is no regulation and no larger games distribution franchise that you can easily access online and check for standard prices. This means you have to physically enter stores to make these sorts of enquiries. Admittedly you could call stores, but as a person who doesn’t speak Mandarin, the local language, fluently this is much more difficult than actually walking into stores and asking in person. I also have to say that a large number of game store employees in Taiwan aren’t true believers. They aren’t knowledgeable about a lot of details concerning upcoming games, hardware, and services and often need to have things explained to them, which I find really irritating, if I can be honest. And it’s not just with games. Tech store employees in general often disappoint me with their lack of knowledge even though the bulk of computer products are being developed and often manufactured in their back yards. But I digress.

I kept checking back periodically and finally got an answer that Ring Fit Adventure would release in Taiwan on 10/31. I found this odd since it was officially announced to be releasing on 10/18 but this has happened in Taiwan before so I didn’t think twice about it. I asked what the price would be and stores were still not giving me a clear answer. At this point, no store would offer me a preorder, since they couldn’t give me a price quote. Based on the general lack of knowledge, the lack of physical ads showing up in stores for the game, and the lack of a price, I assumed the game was not in high demand here.

Game store taiwanFor me personally, there are a great many game stores I visit in four general locations. One store by my apartment, three by my office, eight to ten at one shopping district, and another eight to ten at a second shopping district within walking distance of the first. I say eight to ten because some smaller stores open and close frequently, don’t consistently carry all products, and often mark up prices a great deal to the point of them not being worth wasting my time at unless I’m desperate for information as opposed to making an actual purchase. This means I literally take the time to visit 15 or more stores when I’m trying to buy a game. And I always go for the best price I can possibly find on principle. Like I said, the cost of travel is often free here so it’s just a matter of finding the time to visit all the stores.

Right before Ring Fit Adventure released, I was finally able to get a store to tell me the price would be 2500 NTD. Based on my own estimates due to experience in this market, this was exactly the price I assumed it would be. Still I was unable to get any store to give me a preorder, for reasons I still am unsure about because I’ve preordered multiple games here in the past. I even had some stores tell me that they wouldn’t be getting the game outright. But at least I had a release date, which I found odd considering it was the same release date as Luigi’s Mansion 3, a price, and the time to go buy the game from one of the four closest game stores on launch day, which was a Thursday. I had the money, the time, and the access. I was as prepared as I could possibly be to buy this game at launch.

luigis_mansion_3As soon as I got off work, I rushed to the first of four game stores. They were sold out. They said they only had enough units to fill preorders. This was odd to me for two reasons. The first was that the store hadn’t offered me a preorder when I had enquired multiple times over the past two months. The second was that it’s extremely bad practice for a game store to only carry enough units to fill preorders. It’s also unheard of in Taiwan for anything other than super limited collector’s edition stuff. Even Nintendo Labo sets were and still are super easy to find all over Taipei. But I didn’t have time to discuss it so I rushed off to the next store. Sadly and surprisingly, I got exactly the same answer. Then again at the third store. The fourth store had told me that they weren’t getting the game, but I went there to check anyway. They now had a physical ad for the game, brochures, and some units sitting behind the counter. But they too wouldn’t sell me a copy because they had already been preordered.

At this point I was both in shock and angry. This had literally not happened to me since I was a kid living in LA trying to get a new copy of Mirror’s Edge (2008) for XBOX 360 a week or two after release. I went to multiple stores only to be told it was sold out and then finally gave in and paid a GameStop $55 for a used copy. That was literally the last used game I purchased, because I don’t buy used games as a general rule. Over the course of that evening of failure it started raining so I had to take a bus (15 NTD) once and also went over the 30 minute free limit on the bike share costing me another 10 NTD. That’s 25 NTD, or half a dinner, wasted on failing to get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure on launch day. But these were all smaller local stores so while I was angry and surprised by what had transpired, I was confident that I could get a copy on the following Saturday, since I didn’t have time on Friday to go to the shopping districts.

super monkey ballThe following Saturday I went to the shopping districts and I fared no better. Stores kept telling me the same thing I had heard two days ago, with one exception. Some stores did have one or two spare units but their prices were extremely inflated. I learned that the standard price for Taiwan had actually been set at 2550 NTD, or one dinner higher than originally quoted. While I found this annoying, I deemed it a manageable price increase. If I was purchasing the game in my native California, I’d most likely pay more than that with tax. But the prices these stores were offering me were way above that standard price. 2700 NTD, 2990 NTD, and so on. I even had one store offer it to me at a whopping 3450 NTD. That’s a markup of 900 NTD ($29.58). For reference, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD Remake on the Switch released here just a few days prior to Ring Fit Adventure for 790 NTD. Meaning this store wanted more than the price of a new game in addition to the standard price of the game I was trying to buy.

At this point I was confused, shocked, and angry. Why was it so difficult to get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure? For all the problems I’d had in the past with games pricing in Taiwan, rarity had pretty much never been an issue for things I wanted that could be gotten in Taiwan. And honestly I can count all the things I really wanted in Taiwan and just absolutely couldn’t get without importing it myself. The most recent example I can think of is the collector’s edition of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for PS4. They got the game here with a steelbook but not the edition with the statue. So why was Ring Fit Adventure so hard to get for a fair price? Eventually one clerk who understood English and saw my frustration with the ridiculous price he offered told me that all the units in Taiwan were not legitimately distributed there but instead had been imported from Hong Kong or directly from Japan. This was why the markup was so prolific and ridiculous throughout all these stores. While he didn’t give me a reason why this was the case, he did help me understand what was going on.

sekiroFinally I made my way to the store I should have started with, but didn’t because it’s the most out of the way so I usually end there. There’s a game store in the middle of Taipei that has a clerk that is both knowledgeable about games and fluent in English. He’s the only clerk in this country that I consider a friend. He knows me, greets me personally every time I enter the store, and always fills me in on what’s going on. The reason I don’t start there every time I want something is because his store never has the best price. They always have the standard base price. If I was willing to pay the standard market price for games, I’d always just go there. But I always hunt for the best price so I never start there because that’s the last resort shop. If I absolutely can’t get a good price then I go to his store and pay the base price, because their prices are absolutely fair. They’re just not a deal. It’s like buying from Target instead of Best Buy because Target is selling the new game for $57.99 while Best Buy is selling it for $59.99. His store is Best Buy. That’s actually the store I bought my Switch at as an interesting side note.

It’s important to note that he doesn’t own the store. He’s just a part time employee there. That means I have to catch him at work. I actually visited the store multiple times in the two months leading up to the release of Ring Fit Adventure but he just happened to not be on shift when I walked in. If he had of been then I would absolutely have been able to get Ring Fit Adventure for a fair price of 2550 NTD on launch day (10/31 for Taiwan). When I walked into the store on the Saturday he was there, thankfully. I asked him about the game and he told me the same thing every other store that didn’t have spare copies to markup told me. They were sold out and only had enough to fill preorders. The difference was that because he both speaks English and is knowledgeable about games, from both the consumer and business side, he could tell what the hell was actually going on with this game.

contrabandAs it turns out, I had been completely misled, or more accurately misinformed, about Ring Fit Adventure’s distribution in Taiwan. Every store told me that the game would be available in Taiwan on 10/31. I took this to mean that the game was being legitimately distributed by Nintendo to Taiwan, like any other Switch game such as Luigi’s Mansion 3 which was and still is widely available here, on 10/31. This was not actually the case. The truth is that the game was not legitimately distributed to Taiwan at all. Apparently the Taiwanese government agency that is in charge of approving products for sale in Taiwan didn’t approve of the ring accessory for Ring Fit Adventure. I still don’t know why this is the case. But like I said, the games market here operates like a black market. So rather than not sell the game since it couldn’t be acquired through legitimate publisher/distributor channels, all the stores imported the game manually via connections in nearby countries, specifically Hong Kong and Japan. This means that 100% of Ring Fit Adventure copies sold in Taiwan currently were/are contraband. This is why the prices were so marked up and the game was/is so hard to find.

Now I don’t personally care about the legality of owning a game that isn’t supposed to be sold in Taiwan. No one does. The government isn’t going to knock on anyone’s door looking for Switch games. And even if they were, everything is paid for in cash in Taiwan and no records are kept for game sales, so they wouldn’t know whose door to knock on anyway. I just want a copy of the game at a fair price. I’m less angry now that I understand the situation, but I’m still really pissed that I wasn’t offered a preorder. All these stores told me I couldn’t preorder the game and then apparently sold preorders to everyone else. I assume it was because of the language barrier and that most people just couldn’t explain the situation to me clearly. I will give them that benefit of the doubt, because racism against Westerners isn’t really a thing here so I don’t assume it was anything like that. But if I had known about this contraband situation I would have dragged my wife to a game store and had her demand a preorder for me. Or I would have preordered it from my friend clerk if he had been at work when I went to his store prior to launch, because he would have informed me about the situation.

try fail succeedUltimately I did not acquire a copy of Ring Fit Adventure during the opening week. As I write this I still don’t have a copy now. But my friend allowed me a special order and said they will put one aside for me in their next shipment at a price of 2550 NTD. He couldn’t tell me when it would be available but the store will call me when it is. So I ended up spending a bunch of time and 56 NTD (just over one dinner) in travel costs to not get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure plus I have to spend another 30 NTD to go back to the store when they do finally get my copy in stock. Hopefully it becomes available the week of November 15th week so I can pick it up at the same time I pick up Pokémon Sword and Shield.

If not for the wasted travel money, I wouldn’t be super angry about not being able to get the game during launch week. While it’s a game I’m really looking forward to, I’m extremely backlogged and have other fitness games I can play like Just Dance anyway. What I’m really unhappy about is the rampant overpricing that many stores sold the game at to parents and kids without the patience and knowledge required to make an informed purchasing decision about Ring Fit Adventure’s odd product status in Taiwan. This sort of information, though kind of risky because of the illegality of it all, should have been more widely distributed. As I went to store after store looking for the game that Saturday, I realized that I was not the only one desperately trying to get a copy. Originally I thought there was no demand because all the stores seemed so out of the loop when I inquired about it over the two months leading up to release. It turns out that I was extremely wrong. Lots of people preordered the game and lots of people who didn’t preorder the game were hunting in stores just like I was. I saw many a parent and their pleading child in game stores asking about it. And I know those marked up units were ultimately sold to parents with spoiled children as well as to parents who just aren’t knowledgeable about such things and thought the prices being quoted were just the normal price for the game. It’s a really despicable scenario that should not have occurred in the way it did. But that’s what happens when you have a completely unregulated games market. Free market capitalism is never for the benefit of the consumer. Especially when it comes to entertainment.

ring fit adventure battleI hope that eventually Ring Fit Adventure does get legitimately distributed to Taiwan and is sold at a fair price to gamers of all types and ages. I also hope that I get my copy soon.

Some people are probably wondering about the online aspect of buying physical games in Taiwan, since I didn’t really address it here. The reason I didn’t is that it’s not super simple, it doesn’t work in cash like the brick and mortar market does, and the prices are often marked up at a default. There is no Amazon type entity here. Nor are there brick and mortar stores with an online component like a Best Buy or Walmart. The best you can hope for is something akin to Newegg, where there’s a well-known online store that you can trust, but the prices aren’t usually better for games. There are a few of these such as PlayAsia, which usually has marked up prices, sometimes ridiculously so, and a site called PCHome. You also often have to pay shipping on these online purchases. So to answer the unasked question, yes there is online game purchasing here but it isn’t the most convenient or affordable way to buy games here. In the five years that I’ve lived in Taiwan, I’ve never purchased a single physical game online. You also need to be able to read Chinese for many online stores in Taiwan. For reference though, PCHome sold Ring Fit Adventure on opening day for 2550 NTD. I’m not sure what the cost of shipping would be, but they are currently sold out as I write this and were sold out opening weekend. PlayAsia has multiple versions of the game from different regions with prices ranging from 2457 NTD all the way up to 2872 NTD. This does not include shipping cost.

*This post was originally written on November 4th. Due to my busy blog schedule I was not able to publish for some time. I ultimately was able to claim my copy of Ring Fit Adventure on November 12th. Same week but not the same day as Pokemon Sword & Shield.

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Devotion Review – 6.9/10 (But definitely worth playing.)

Red Candle Games is a small Taiwanese studio that focuses specifically on producing games that present realistic depictions of Taiwanese culture and beliefs in a narrative focused structure while applying elements of horror. What is so interesting about their games though is that the horror aspects, like everything else in them, are not original concepts. They are realistic depictions of actual Taiwanese beliefs. That’s one of the main reasons their games are so interesting to play and why they appeal to such a diverse audience within Taiwan. Their first game, Detention, appealed to people of all walks of life and ages in Taiwan. It was an excellent 2D point and click that also managed to be quite scary. Now they’ve released their second game, Devotion, and it’s being met with similar appeal. Already there are reviews and videos of the game all over the Taiwanese internet not just from gamers but from a completely random assortment of Taiwanese citizens. This is because once again they have managed to capture an eerily realistic snapshot of Taiwanese life and culture. Even as an African American living in Taiwan and ultimately experiencing the culture as an outsider, I was extremely impressed with how well the game depicts Taiwan. So before getting into the real meat and potatoes of the game review, know that as cultural snapshots of Taiwan both Detention and Devotion are top notch experiences that are informative, entertaining (for horror fans), and highly accurate.

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Gameplay (Left) – My actual tile (Right)

Devotion is a first person walking simulator style game that takes place in a single apartment building located in, I believe, Taipei. The bulk of the game takes place in a single two bedroom apartment but there are a few sequences that have the player explore other parts of the building as well as fantasy locales for sequences taking place in the spirit realm. The graphics are an incredible step up from their previous game. This is a highly detailed 3D environment that takes place across multiple time periods and realms of reality. While it is still an indie game, the visual quality rivals that of some low to mid-tier AAA titles. The atmosphere is a mixture of vibrant hues and gloomy shadows. As the story takes place across several years of a family’s life, there are many ups and downs depicted in the same 3D space. Some moments are happy and inviting while others are scary and induce paranoia within the player. What’s truly impressive about the graphics is just how realistic they are.

Doorbell
Gameplay (Left) – My actual door (Right)

As someone who actually lives in an apartment in Taiwan, playing Devotion is a very unique experience. I wasn’t aware of just how similar most apartments are in Taiwan before I played this game, but apparently they’re all pretty much the same, otherwise Red Candle Games must have snuck into my apartment for inspiration. So many small details about the game’s setting are pulled right out of my apartment. The entire time I was playing the game, my girlfriend kept commenting on all the objects that look exactly the same. From the floor tiles, to the doorbell, to the doors, to the kitchen, it’s all a bit too real. This is especially stressful when playing a horror game because it’s just too easy to place yourself within the game when it looks almost exactly like the place you actually live in. I think this is one of the main reasons so many people in Taiwan are taken with the game. It would probably be too uncomfortable of an experience to play this game in VR for me because I might end up trapped in an Inception like state of confusion about reality.

Gameplay wise, it’s a slow paced walking simulator that focuses on developing the story and atmosphere rather than on exciting gameplay mechanics. You move, look around, and click on things to interact with them. Occasionally you are required to use a few other buttons to do specific things like pull up your item menu or complete a specific active task for effect, but mostly it’s just looking around and discovering things. There is a single chase sequence that requires you to quickly run through a maze of hallways. This is the only part of the game where you can die, which I did several times. The game quickly reloads to the start of that sequence and has you try again until you’ve finally succeeded. Though this one sequence is different from the entire rest of the game’s gameplay it works just fine and requires little to no adjustment from normal play. Honestly I could have used a few more sequences of this nature to make the overall experience more exciting and increase the fear factor.

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A large part of the gameplay involves reading. There are 33 different documents to find, many of which contain clues that help you figure out how to progress forward. I don’t believe you need to find all of them to complete the game, because there is a trophy/achievement for doing so and not all of them reference specific actions you need to complete. The bulk of them provide you with background information about the narrative as well as culturally specific traditions and legends. As this is a point and click, reading and interpreting clues is paramount to reaching the end. Chances are you will get stuck and have to look over things more than one time before you realize what the game expects you to do. I ran into this situation about midway through the game. This was not an issue of language limitations, as all the text is in English and the dialog, though in Chinese, is all subtitled in English. The roadblock I ran into was cultural. You had to complete a ritual that was probably fairly obvious to most traditional Taiwanese citizens, but as an African American I knew nothing about it. It was only after reading through all the documents I collected along the way that I found the clue I needed to solve the puzzle. Though it can be frustrating while playing, I really like this type of system because it really forces you to use your skills of observation and interpretation to solve puzzles rather than just handing you the answers to move forward. Chances are you will end returning to each of the available time periods more than once before you find and figure out everything you need to finish the game.

While the gameplay is fairly basic at a mechanical level, I highly recommend that you use a keyboard and mouse if playing on PC, which I was. The game supports multiple controller types but the amount of lag when using a controller with the default settings is unbearable. I tried both a Dualshock 4 and a Wii U Pro Controller and both performed unacceptably. The walking movement is laggy and looking around is extremely inconsistent as well. But as soon as I switched to a keyboard and mouse the controls were flawless. Movement is smooth and quick to respond. Commands are highly responsive with pretty much no input lag. You do have the ability to try to change the sensitivity of the controller to make it run better, but not to the standard that it should be running at. I was able to clean up the movement considerably but there was still quite a bit of lag and the movement kept stopping abruptly after raising the sensitivity to account for the lag. You just need to use a keyboard and mouse to play this on PC. At least until some patches are added. Really the only performance problem I had once I gave up on using a controller was that the game crashed once near the end. A simple restart of the application solved the problem and no other ones ever occurred. And with the game’s auto-saving function I lost a maximum of maybe 2 minutes of progress with the restart. The game is also broken up into chapters so you can easily backtrack without having to lose too much progress. You can also use this function post-game to replay specific sequences.

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There are only a few sequences where the gameplay is slightly different from the general experience. The chase scene that I mentioned previously, a few mini-game style moments involving some puzzles, and a storybook fantasy sequence that plays like a platformer. All in all, the gameplay was exactly what it needed to be, but I do feel like there could have been more sequences outside of the traditional point and click mechanics of the normal gameplay.

As with Detention, the writing in Devotion is very personal and culturally specific. The game follows a family, mostly through the eyes of the father but sometimes from the daughter’s perspective as well. The story mixes elements of horror, mystery, and drama to touch on serious themes including parenting, religion, financial insecurity, marriage, and ultimately guilt. Much of the plot is steeped in metaphors and cultural references that don’t all necessarily translate to the larger world. I was lucky enough to be able to play through the whole game alongside a Taiwanese person to explain things to me. While this lack of cultural understanding will absolutely not hinder your ability to complete the game, there are definitely some parts of the narrative that you most likely won’t understand or be able to relate to directly depending on your cultural and religious background. The ending is a good example of this. It’s sort of abrupt and not clear what actually happened. But my girlfriend explained to me that if you read the Chinese text of the game that it’s much more obvious what actually occurred. I won’t spoil that here though. In a way it’s not necessarily a problem for the ending to be vague as the game touches on supernatural themes anyway that can be left up to interpretation by each individual player.

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I was happy with the way the story was presented, but ultimately it was a hollow overall experience for me compared to Detention. The buildup is really good and the atmosphere is very scary. Within the first 10 minutes of the game my girlfriend and I literally jumped out of our seats and yelled because of a specific occurrence. This, along with much of the marketing materials pre-release, led me to believe that this was going to be a true horror game. Sadly it wasn’t. There are a few horror sequences, and they are done fairly well, but the bulk of the game is not scary. Instead the atmosphere is used to make the player expect something scary to happen but that rarely happens throughout the course of the game. The rest of the game is more sad and introspective than terrifying. And that’s not a problem, or at least it wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t been misled into believing I was about to play a horror game. So while the writing was in no way bad, it also lacked the impact I wanted it to have. It was very similar to playing Gone Home (2013), where the game comes off like a haunted house horror game but is really just an emotional journey about the main character’s family problems and learning to accept reality. I would love to see these same visual assets reused to make a proper horror game.

Because I was much more focused on reading subtitles and documents as well as searching for clues, I feel like the sound didn’t have the impact on me it probably could have had while I was playing. There are some great sound effects at times such as the use of knocking on doors to clue you in on where you should be going next. The sound quality of the voice acting was quite good, even if I couldn’t understand it directly. The music, though few and far between, was effective and really helped bring the daughter character to life.  Overall, the sound quality was quite good, but my need to focus on reading detracted from my ability to focus on and ultimately appreciate it. It’s important to note that you could technically play through the whole game with the sound off but you would lose out on the full impact of the voice acting, the music used as part of the narrative, and some of the of the better sound effects.

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I can’t really say that there’s any reason to replay Devotion more than once. You can easily get 100% completion in the first playthrough and if you miss anything it’s easy to load one of the chapters and backtrack to the achievement(s) you missed. This is ultimately how I got the only achievement I missed during my first playthrough. And the chapter load took me right to where I needed to get to complete that achievement. So while the first playthrough is quite good, I really can’t say that there is any real replay value in this game. I have already heard rumors that extra content will be added though. The whole game can be beaten in under 4 hours so I gotta say that the $17 price tag is a bit too steep. It’s definitely worth playing and can be beaten to a 100% completion in one sitting, which I did. But my advice is to wait for a price drop.

While I liked Detention more overall, Devotion was a great step up quality wise for Red Candle Games. The jump in graphics between the two games was mind blowing. The writing, though not as scary, was just as culturally significant and impactful while remaining a personal narrative about specific characters in the world. And the narrative is totally believable. The supernatural stuff is of course open for interpretation but the real life events could be about pretty much any Taiwanese family. The gameplay works, but they really need get the controller performance up to snuff. I’m kind of curious to see how the game will perform on other platforms when it’s inevitably ported like Detention was. While I gave it a 6.9, let me be clear in saying that this score is not because the game isn’t good. It’s because it has issues with controller play, no replay value, and a fairly high opening price point for the amount of actual gameplay. The score is in no way meant to present the game as a bad gameplay experience. I simply can’t in good conscience score it higher with those issues. If the game was at say $5, had more achievements, and no controller issues, we’re looking at something around an 8/10 rating. At the end of the day, I encourage you to try Devotion. It’s an interesting experience that’s much different from the walking simulators and point and clicks you see from Western developers. It’s a solid second installment for the company and certainly worth your time.

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Pokémon GO in Taiwan – Catching Mewtwo

I’m a serious Pokémon GO player. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know this. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably think it’s all I play because I rarely post pictures of anything else. To be fair, that’s only because you can only post pictures to Instagram from mobile so posting console screenshots takes more effort than it’s worth. I consider myself a hardcore player . . . for an American. I’m a level 36. I’ve walked 2,121 km. I’ve caught 18,704 Pokémon.  My Pokédex is at 342 (149 Kanto/96 Johto/97Hoenn) of 384 currently available spots. Though I wouldn’t give a single red cent to a company as shady and predatory as Niantic, I have definitely spent money to play this game. I’ve purchased multiple phone holders to play while biking. It took three tries before I finally found one that was perfect for playing while riding. I’m on my second charge bank because my first one died. I’ve purchased data in multiple countries so I could play while on vacation. Literally this week I spent $60 for a roundtrip train ticket so I could participate in the Chiayi Lantern Festival Safari Zone event just so I can finally catch a Mr. Mime. I am a serious Pokémon GO player . . . for an American. But I don’t live in America. I live in Taiwan.

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Taiwan is like the eSports league of Pokémon GO. And that’s speaking as someone who has played in multiple countries such as the United States, Hong Kong, and Thailand. I have witnessed things in this country pertaining to GO that most people will not believe because the stories sound too ridiculous to be true. If you’ve ever seen one of those ridiculous anime about a sport or game like Prince of Tennis or Hikaru no Go where everyone in the show seems to take something way unimportant way too seriously, that’s Pokémon GO in Taiwan. I genuinely believe the rules of the current game are not suitable or fair for play in Taiwan and that Niantic should change the way the game works in this country just to make it fair for the majority of players. I have played every single day without fail since the day the game became available in Taiwan. Since they changed the gym system I have amassed a measly 500 coins. This is unfair. It should not be this hard for someone who plays as much as I do with Pokémon as strong as I have to get coins. But it is because the level of play here is so competitive that unless you live on a gym, it’s nearly impossible to amass coins at a practical rate of return. I wish we could go back to the days of getting 10 coins a day for getting onto a gym. That’s hard enough in this country. To have to hold it for several hours to get a decent amount of coins is ridiculously hard. Not impossible, but way too hard for every free player to get a fair amount of coins. And the cash players are definitely holding gyms much of the time.

The things I have seen are preposterous. I’ve seen a literal syndicate of players controlling a mile long stretch of gyms that isn’t in a residential area at past 1 AM. I’ve seen a biker gang of players roving the streets looking for new catches. I’ve seen elderly couples raid like it’s their job. It is normal behavior here to have multiple accounts and multiple phones to play them on. And it’s no particular age group in Taiwan. Players come in all ages in both genders and play all hours of the day. I once snuck into a school yard at 11 PM to catch a Gen 3 basic only to find 20 other people already inside the school yard to catch the same thing. I’ve seen traffic stopped because a Lapras appeared. I’ve seen a crowd of over 100 people stampede for a single Dratini. There have even been stories on the news in the US about people playing GO in Taiwan because the player base is that hardcore here that it’s newsworthy. Playing seriously in Taiwan is like constantly playing Smash Bros. at EVO level. So let me tell about my most recent crazy Pokémon GO experience.

 

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Pokemon GO mob I witnessed first hand.

Mewtwo is currently the hardest Pokémon in the game to acquire. I won’t say he’s one of the hardest to catch, because he actually has a very fair throw distance, a very readable attack animation, and he’s not too much harder than any other Legendary raid Pokémon to battle. I do think he’s a little harder battle wise, but he can be brought down with a party of 10. The reason he’s so hard to acquire is that you can only get him from an EX Raid. An EX Raid is like any other raid except you need a special EX Raid Pass to participate. This pass is given several days in advance at “random” and requires you to attend a specific raid at a specific gym at a specific time. This is non-negotiable. Meaning in my case that I had to take time off work to attend this EX Raid because for some reason Niantic decided that it’s ok to do that at 11 AM on a Monday morning. This was my first EX Pass. I honestly didn’t even think they had them in Taiwan because I’d never seen one and I’d never seen a Mewtwo raid before. Niantic has shown regional biases time and time again, so it made perfect sense to me to assume there were no EX Raids in Taiwan. I was proven wrong in this belief when I finally did attend this first EX Raid because multiple people there already had multiple Mewtwos, which I consider highly unfair considering how hard it is to get an EX Pass and how many people actually do play the game seriously here that may never get one. But in any case, I finally had an EX Pass and I was determined to finally catch a Mewtwo.

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My first, but hopefully not last, EX Pass.

I showed up at the gym an hour early hoping to take the gym for my team (GO Team Mystic!) so that I could get extra balls to capture Mewtwo with. I was not the only one who had this idea, but not enough of us were present this early to be able to take this gym from what I can only assume were some very dedicated cash players because we couldn’t knock off a single Pokémon. We spent 30 straight minutes and they just kept healing everything on the gym with gold berries. I had believed there was a finite number of berries a Pokémon could be given based on my own past experiences but if this is true it didn’t apply here because they healed their first defender well over 10 times before I finally gave up. And other people kept playing for the rest of the hour unable to make a dent.

By the 30 minute mark, there were at least 40 people there waiting for that Mewtwo raid. By the time it started, there were easily more than 50. Again, this was a Monday morning at 11 AM. Just about everyone there was a middle aged working class person. This raid was in my neighborhood, which is almost entirely low or working middle class. But we do have homeless people as well and yes a number of them also play Pokémon GO. Once this crowd arrived, they began coordinating like I’ve only ever dreamed. They weren’t there to compete. They were there to catch Mewtwo and ideally everyone present was going to catch a Mewtwo. They were splitting up into color based teams and taking counts to make sure every group had enough to beat the raid. It was immaculate. It was what I’ve always dreamed of not just in Pokémon GO but in gaming in general. Whether mobile, console, or PC I have never seen this level of fast paced coordination for a game between complete strangers before. And that’s the important part. These were all random people who didn’t really know each other save for the fact that they all live and catch Pokémon in this same neighborhood. I’ve played The Division, Destiny, Assassin’s Creed multiplayer, Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda, and many other online multiplayer titles. I run a league in Injustice 2 Mobile. I have never seen a group of completely random players in any game on any platform coordinate this seriously, this successfully, and this well so quickly ever before in my more than 20 years of gaming. The only other time I can remember a group getting close was in Ayakashi Ghost Guild, an older mobile game, when I was running a guild and this was not random. It took several weeks to get this group of 20 people playing well together and in time with each other.

Ayakashi-Ghost-Guild-810x456Now all of this was taking place in Mandarin, because I’m in Taiwan. I don’t speak Mandarin. So I wasn’t part of this whole team up scenario. I was just going to join a random group and hope for the best. A random person walked up to me, speaking almost no English, but was able to ask me what color my team was. Upon hearing that I didn’t have a team, without being asked he took it upon himself to find me a “blue” team. I was placed with nine other players who were all Team Mystic. A few of them spoke some English. The first question they asked me was how many accounts I had and upon hearing only one were almost shocked.

Now I’m an American. That means I’m very selfish and even more impatient. This group of 10, including myself, coordinated a private lobby once the raid started. The problem was one of the players got an error but for some reason seemed to either not know that when you error out of a raid you can rejoin the same group even if the battle has already started. He was acting as the leader so he made us all leave the raid and make a new lobby. This irritated me, but I did it. Then it happened two more times and I started to get really frustrated because this was my first and possibly only chance ever to get a Mewtwo. EX Raids only last about 45 minutes and as people complete them you lose potential help. So it’s imperative that you finish the battle as soon as possible. By the third time this happened, I voiced my concern that nine of us were losing out on our chance to catch Mewtwo because this one guy’s phone wasn’t working. I even tried to explain that he could just rejoin the battle without us ending the fight and starting over (also wasting more healing items) but he claimed this wasn’t the case. I reluctantly exited the battle again. Then my phone errored out and everyone quit again, which I was thankful for but as an American still found completely ridiculous. Now it’s one thing if you already have a Mewtwo because if things don’t work out you’re not affected that badly by it. But if you don’t have one, the prospect of not getting one because you couldn’t even get through the battle because of other people sounds insane, because it is. But finally we all got into the fight, no one errored, and we beat Mewtwo. By this time basically everyone not on our team was already gone, probably to work.

 

Mewtwo battle

I had looked up videos for catching Mewtwo online, but you never really know what to expect till you’ve experienced it firsthand. We got 10 premier balls, which I consider the shitty jungle balls of Pokémon GO, to catch Mewtwo. I had plenty of gold berries so that wasn’t an issue. I threw six beautiful throws and landed all of them with a good or better. No catches. With only four throws left and many past experiences of raids screwing me over unrightfully, I was really stressed out about not catching Mewtwo. My hands were literally shaking. This guy, who was on the team, walked up to me and asked if I had caught it yet. I told him no. Upon seeing I had four throws left, he asked if he could give it a throw. Since he had literally just caught two Mewtwos with his accounts, I said sure take a throw. He waited about two minutes and then with his thumb, which I find crazy, he did a perfect curve ball in the dead center of Mewtwo’s catch window while it was at its literal smallest point and caught the Mewtwo first try. And he didn’t have to look. As soon as the ball landed on Mewtwo he handed me my phone and said there you go congrats on your first Mewtwo. It was the most epic, surreal mobile gaming experience I’ve ever had.

My 1st Mewtwo
My first Mewtwo!

Every one checked to make sure everyone else had caught Mewtwo, compared CP levels, thanked each other, and went on their way. This was not competition. It was collectivism. It was not a group of selfish individuals taking advantage of each other for the same goal. It was a team working together for a common goal. Everyone wins or nobody does. It was serious. It was noble. It was impressive. It was professional caliber play. It was Pokemon GO in Taiwan.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Tapei Gameshow 2018

Every year, for the last three years, I have attended Taipei Game Show. And every year I take the time to recount/review my experience. This year will be no different. For those of you who aren’t aware, Taipei Game Show (TGS) is an annual video games event held in Taiwan. It’s more like PAX than E3. It’s open to the public, there are no press conference style presentations, and usually they demo unreleased games to the public, but rarely if ever announce new titles. Or at least no new titles that will be important in the Western markets.

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Certain companies take TGS very seriously and make an appearance every year. This includes big names from multiple industries such as PlayStation, Ubisoft, Bandai Namco, HyperX, Twitch, and many more. There are also a ton of smaller names, mostly developers, and tons of indie projects from the known like Aragami, to the completely obscure. One thing I always find very interesting is the focus on mobile gaming. Mobile games, as in Android and iOS, are huge in Asia. Much bigger than in the West. They even have mobile eSports and take it seriously. As much if not more space is taken up at TGS by mobile gaming than PC gaming. But console is always king simply because PlayStation, Bandai Namco, and Ubisoft always show up in grandiose style. And yet, Square Enix had their own booth where all they showed was a single mobile Kingdom Hearts game that is only available in Asia, just to exemplify how important mobile is in this event and in the Asia market in general.

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What I find interesting is that XBOX has no real presence at TGS. Microsoft doesn’t even try to show up. There are plenty of XBOX ONE controllers used at booths for PC gaming, but XBOX makes no real appearance other than in the store where they sell every type of current gen gaming product you could want. This makes sense because XBOX has almost no market share in Asia. It’s not the platform people game on here. But I find it odd that Microsoft doesn’t at least show up for the PC gaming aspect of the event. But in a way I guess it’s not really necessary because no one in Asia legitimately tries to game on Apple and Linux isn’t a huge thing here for gamers like it is in the US. What I find very disappointing though is that year after year Nintendo makes no appearance. This is Asia. It’s an even stronger, more loyal market for Nintendo than the US. The Switch is big here, especially in Taiwan and Japan. Even higher ups in my company own Switches because Nintendo is a favorite in this region and it happens to be an amazing console. I was happy to see that the Switch had a big presence in the Ubisoft booth this year though.

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The free swag was good this year, but it’s not the best I’ve seen it. Ubisoft swag was amazing this year. They went above and beyond everyone else at the event. But the other booths were pretty underwhelming for the most part, save for a few exceptions. Even PlayStation was pretty weak on swag this year, offering only a sticky note pad. Of course the memorabilia available for purchase from PlayStation, and other companies, was quite nice.

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As far as the games shown, talking only mainstream AAA titles right now, I was underwhelmed. Usually they present demos and/or videos of unreleased stuff that you may have heard of but haven’t yet had enough time to really make a decision about because not enough had been shown to the public at that point. This year it was mostly stuff that you already knew about, and quite possibly played. A lot of it had already been released or at least had an open beta take place. Some examples of this that were on display to try were Assassin’s Creed Origins, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, Monster Hunter World, and Metal Gear Survive. I’ve played every game on that list in my apartment, with the exception of Assassin’s Creed Origins, at least one time. And AC Origins was released months ago. These sorts of titles should not be shown at an event like this, with the exception of maybe Dissidia Final Fantasy NT and Metal Gear Survive because those games aren’t actually on the market yet. But they both had open betas before this event so there was really no reason to display them here. I was also shocked to find that other than in the PlayStation brochure, there was absolutely no trace of God of War at TGS this year. I don’t know how that’s possible. The game is being released in less than three months. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to show a playable demo. In past years at TGS I’ve gotten to try pre-release games that went on to be huge including Horizon Zero Dawn, For Honor, Attack on Titan and The Division. So it seemed very odd to me that God of War wasn’t featured with such a nearby release.

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That’s not to say that there were no new games that hadn’t been played before, because their certainly were. New games on display with demos included Far Cry 5, The Crew 2, Hokuto ga Gotoku (Fist of the North Star), Attack on Titan 2, Detroit: Become Human, and Dynasty Warriors 9. There was also a large number of new mobile games you have never and probably will never hear about as well as a bunch of PC games and lots of HTC Vive VR titles. There was also a huge section of board and card games. This is the case every year and it’s interesting to see. Happy to report that they still carry Settlers of Catan.

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Personally, I was happy to get to try Far Cry 5, Hokuto ga Gotoku (Fist of the North Star), and Attack on Titan 2. I’ve been considering buying these three games, once released, for a long time now and I’m glad that I got to actually try them so I can make final decisions about each game.

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This was a good Taipei Game Show, but it was not the best year I’ve ever attended. In a lot of ways it made it seem like the best games currently on the docket are already out, Monster Hunter, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and so on, rather than that we have some amazing games coming soon, which we absolutely do.  Maybe the timing was just a bit off this year or the very recent releases seemed more important than unreleased titles, but this TGS felt like I paid more for atmosphere than gaming news compared to previous years I’ve attended.

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