NPFC: Assorted Thoughts of a Crap Manager #1

The first match the Revolutions won was a surprise.

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Before this, the total number of goals scored by the club was 3.

I was right to expect great things from the pairing of Jung and Hermann as they’ve both become real assets to the team, with Vink leading the midfield to provide a third reliable goal scorer (admittedly the above screenshot doesn’t show any of the three players I’ve mentioned scoring, but shush). Some problems have arisen in said midfield however. More than half of them are out of the game right now, mostly through injury (except for Grant who has a red card as well). This is my fault for overtraining them and leaning on their strength to prop up my middling defence. Now I’m left with the dregs that I’ve been keeping on the bench. In other words, I’m pretty boned.


I’ve been playing a lot less friendly matches than I did when I first started the game, which is what sent my manager approval rating tumbling because I lost all of them. Now I have a better handle on what I’m doing, playing practise matches against higher league opponents to earn training cards without damaging my reputation with a loss, I’m up to about 50% approval. This is a clear improvement over most of the fans hating my guts.


I’ve changed the club emblem and kit so much that we’ve got more of an identity crisis than Cardiff City. And I may well change it again, because I can’t quite get it right. The game does its damnedest to build empathy and a sense of ownership over the club, which escalates naturally as you spend time watching them play. Sadly though, the painfully limited customisation options leave it difficult to make your club look distinctly yours. Kit customisation isn’t too bad, offering a decent number of patterns and a somewhat limited colour palette of 12. Designing a club emblem is less good. Let’s say you want a dragon on it.

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There are three colourisation options here and none relate to the dragon.

You can totally have a dragon, but it will be this size, in this location, and no you may not choose what colour it will be. You may change the colour of the circlet behind the dragon, from that same measly colour palette. Same goes for the logos with trophy cups, anchors, skull and crossbones, damn near all of them. There are lots of options here, but little in the way of personalisation. I can see the Nintendo logic of not offering too comprehensive an emblem designer in a family friendly game that has an online component, lest younger fans face off against a team with a disturbingly veiny logo, but not even allowing you to recolour a stinking lightning bolt when the game desperately wants you to get attached to your club is disappointing.

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The current Revolutions emblem. There are a few designs that do allow you to choose a letter as centrepiece for your emblem. That’s as personalised as you can get.


I really wish there was a “dispute” button to hammer on when you’re flagged offside. The Revolutions have definitely been on the wrong end of some iffy linesmen. I don’t necessarily want it to change the decision, I just wish to make my dissatisfaction clear. Part of being a great manager is having an epic shit-fit on the sidelines, right?

Nintendo Pocket Football Club and the Humble Beginnings of [Insert Team Name Here]

I was drawn to Nintendo Pocket Football Club on 3DS (or NPFC so as not to wear out my keyboard) the same way I was drawn to its Japan-only predecessor, Game Boy Advance game Calciobit: I really like the art style.

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More iffy photos of the screens I’m afraid. I should write about some PS Vita games, you can save screenshots directly on the system and transfer them easily onto PC and they look lovely and everything… Ahem. This is the main menu; the buildings on the bottom screen represent things like training, play a match, manage the team etc.

The meat of NPFC is a light form of football management. During actual games, your interaction is limited to substituting tired players and changing team tactics. Off the pitch, you can train your players using cards that you earn during the matches. Managerial commentary from your Mii will pop up at random points, each opinion coming with an associated training. “The lads look knackered, best get them doing some Running training”, he paraphrased. Each training boosts one or several of seven stats that make up the skills of each player.

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Skills include kicking, speed, toughness, and are each ranked from E to S depending on how good the player is.

While there is plenty of training you can give, it can often feel like you’re piddling into a rather stiff breeze. Skills are slow to level, and the minimal interaction during matches can leave you feeling irritatingly distanced from your team. What does capture you though is seeing your players in action. Goal celebrations are utterly charming acted out by these chunky stylised pixels, and I’ve found myself grumbling impotently as my players make bad decisions or the ball pings off the opponent’s crossbar, or delightedly mouthing praise for good passing and deft runs. Though it takes some time, you will start to see personality in the randomised sprites in the way they play and how they act with each other. If you were looking for a cutesy Football Manager, NPFC probably isn’t for you as it’s nowhere near that deep. It is however fairly perfect for someone like me, somewhat aware of football and not inherently dismissive of it, but also not a big football fan. A flipping casual football watcher.

I chose to name my team for a real life one that I was involved with some years ago: a small community startup called New Age Revolutions, playing in grey and red with a gear wheel for a logo. Purportedly this was to represent the industrial heritage of the area (the revolutions of the gear and such). Really it came from the chairman being quite into Che Guevara at the time. I was the club secretary officially, but despite our various titles we were just a bunch of teenaged mates who thought it’d be cool to give the whole thing a shot. I only attended one match, the first New Age Revolutions played. We lost, 30 odd-to-1. Though my memory might be generous thinking we even scored once. We were astoundingly shit by any standard, and the team quickly fizzled out after that.

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Back of the net! You can save replays of favourite games or goals for later perusal (hence why this picture looks even blurrier, it’s of a video).

My digital Revolutions (just Revolutions, due to a character limit on naming your team) aren’t quite that bad, but we have yet to win a game. To date, we have scored three goals total and our best result is a 1-all draw. I got my star forward injured two weeks before the first match of the beginner’s league by playing him too hard in a friendly we lost. One of a series of losses incidentally that has seen my manager approval rating amongst the fans tumble like my surname was Moyes. I’m paying 600 coins for a middling goalkeeper who hasn’t seen game time in over a month, my defence is full of players on the downturn of their careers, and my second half performances are routinely shocking. I have been thinking perhaps it was a bad omen to use the name.

There are positives. I recently moved defender Vink into the midfield, where his wide skill range and pro-active play style are better suited. I’ve also started playing the team in a 3-5-2 formation, which is really taking advantage of the strength and depth I’ve got in midfield. While he is currently injured, Jung is a solid forward (he’s scored two of the club’s three entire goals). Hermann, who I hastily signed to fill the gap up front, has turned out to be a better player than fellow forward Alonso, so when Jung is back on his feet I’m looking forward to seeing what he and Hermann can do together (Alonso can drink Lucozade on the bench and like it). Happily, we’re also not at the bottom of the league table, which means there may still be hope for us this season.

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Pictured: not bottom of the league. NAR is my club, the New Age Revolutions. Also we’re highlighted in red, so this explanation isn’t really necessary.

This could be the beginning of a successful dynasty, or it could crash and burn like the real Revolutions. Stay tuned to see whether the team secure a victory any time soon, or if I’m turfed out for being a crap manager with only the most general of footballistic knowledge.

Crimson Shroud

You sit at your desk, mouse in hand, browsing the internet. Unnatural light spills out from the screen and illuminates your glorious locks (unless you have f.lux, in which case the light is probably warmer in tone). You see a link to a review for Crimson Shroud, a 3DS downloadable RPG that came out at the tail end of 2012. Hardly timely, you scoff, but you’re a little curious as to why the writer thought that a meta-narrative in the style of the game’s inspirations would be a good way to start the review. You hold 1d6, noting to yourself that a) you didn’t have any dice a moment ago, and that b) dice rolls are a core element of tabletop RPGs. You don’t know why you noted that second bit, as you haven’t read the review yet.

Roll a 4 or higher to read the review. Roll a 3 or lower to dismiss the review as hopelessly pretentious for using this concept to begin with.

They see me rolling

You enter the review. A man stands facing you. You exchange no words, but you know that this is the writer. Or rather, this is the mouthpiece for the writer. An author insertion. A construct created by the yearnings of the writer’s psyche. This means he shares some passing resemblance (if you encountered the writer and his author insertion about town, you’d think they were… I dunno, maybe cousins?) but is generally thinner and fitter than the writer actually is, with better posture and more friends. He is also disturbingly well endowed. Unbidden, the man starts to talk.

While all videogame RPGs have essentially grown out of Dungeons and Dragons, Crimson Shroud presents a more direct transcription of that ancestral inspiration than its peers. Dice rolls accompany many of the actions you’ll undertake. Every character is represented by a static die-cast statuette and every environment is a half-constructed diorama, more like a theatrical set than an actual location. The sound is deliciously physical, the clangs and trills of combat contrasting with the sheafing of paper and clicking whirring gears accompanying your movement through the menus. The game’s art design as a whole speaks of dog-eared journals and handwritten notes.

The story is one of flashbacks, your small team of adventurers entering a ruined palace in search of information on the titular Crimson Shroud, the first of many gifts in the world supposedly handed down by the gods that bestow magical abilities to the bearer. Gameplay presents you with a map on the bottom screen which you can use to select the area you want to move to. Arriving in a new location triggers “dungeon master” style descriptions along with plot points, world building, and character dialogue as appropriate.

The man scuttles towards you, pulling a smartphone from his pocket. He shows you a picture to illustrate; it appears to be a photo taken of a screen. You assume the device pictured has no adequate or unified method to capture pictures directly from its own screens (and you’d be correct), hence why you’re being subjected to such poor photography.

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Mmm, that writing

It’s worth taking time at this point to make something very clear; there’s a lot of writing to get through in this game. Down to the most insignificant item, everything is detailed. It’s all of a very high standard (barring a few scuffs here and there, which seem to originate in the translation from Japanese to English) and an RPG having a lot of text is hardly anything surprising, but it needs to be highlighted in Crimson Shroud. As I said, environments are like theatrical sets. In a similar theatrical fashion, the game wants you to use your imagination to bring life to the still scenarios, and the writing provides you with the tools you need; vibrant descriptions and vivid histories, lively dialogue, myriad motivations.

There’s so much here to sink your teeth into. While the main storyline includes a huge amount of lore for the world, there’s also a lot of optional material; dialogue that fills in the backstories of the characters, extra descriptions for revisiting rooms. Not to mention that every item has a description of its own, some of them astoundingly lengthy. Every word is worth digging out, as they form more supports to the rich and absorbing latticework of the sumptuously deep universe that Crimson Shroud creates. That the game does this over a relatively short timespan (for the RPG genre) is even more impressive.

My first playthrough ran nine hours, with most of the optional text read. A chunk of that time was spent backtracking through the second area of the game. It’s the only time I was uncertain of how to progress, due to a lack of signposting.

Daphne!

See that Obsidian Daphne? That’s a key item, required to move the game along. It’s a random drop from an unimportant battle. Aside from the irritating necessity of having to grind in order to obtain a critical item, the game offers no indication that this is how to advance the story.

Without that particular buggering about though, you’re probably looking at closer to seven or eight hours. While the game does encourage a new game plus run (with the temptation of a different ending), that looks to be even briefer as much of the text is unchanged. This brevity is more disappointing than anything else, leaving me wanting longer to spend exploring the game’s world.

While the atmosphere of Crimson Shroud is superb, there are a few flaws that appear in the gameplay. Comparing the pros and cons of two different pieces of equipment involves too much faff, especially given how important this process is. In fact, the various menus you’ll use most, to select examine and equip your items and gear, are clunkier to navigate than they should be. The art style of the game is lovely, but in technical terms it’s not super. Character models sit somewhere around the Dreamcast and PS2 level in their quality, disappointing given that they’re never required to animate.

Speaking of, the only animation in the game engine is of burning torches and little hops the statuettes of characters give in battle while attacking and being hit. Despite this, the game still exhibits bouts of slowdown, particularly when magic is used (the effect of which is simply flashing a translucent colour over the screen). And as the game eschews the idea of levelling up your characters, instead binding abilities and magic to whatever the character has equipped, it means that general encounters such as these are somewhat pointless.

To battle!

The battle system itself is fun with a good depth and tactical possibility. It’s here you’ll see most of the dice rolling. Most actions you can make don’t require it, but you can roll to beef up damage dealt or improve hit chances. Your collection of die can be restocked by pulling off combos with elementally themed moves.

Looking back, I can forgive these little niggles. Crimson Shroud is a well crafted game, if not necessarily as well polished as it could be. Its direct rendition of tabletop RPG tropes lend it a distinct identity, while the excellent writing and pleasantly deep systems at play in combat ensure that the game stands up beyond that initial eye-catching design. This isn’t the lengthy experience you might expect from this genre, but immersing yourself in its wonderfully drawn world is a delight entirely worthy of your time.

The man finishes his lengthy speech and stands silently in front of you, eyes locked unblinkingly on yours. You are slightly creeped out. You cast a glance around the rest of the site; two film reviews, one of a Liam Neeson vehicle. Noting to yourself the disparity between game and film discussion, you mentally file the site away as another one of those blogs and exit the review by closing the tab.

The author insertion blinks a few times in rapid succession, before looking around himself questioningly. Finding no-one to tell his tale to, he cricks his neck and leaves the review to go and get wrecked with Jordan Belfort over in the Wolf of Wall Street piece.