PEGBRJE: Monster Pub Chapter 1 and Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle, Chapter 2: “Broken Wings”

Chapters. Lotta chapters.

I like gifs. Alex offers gifs. I use gifs. Thank you Alex.

Monster Pub Chapter 1 is a narrative experience made by Alex Ilitchev, a solo indie dev that’s done comics and video games. Players are a shadowy figure that they can name themselves, standing in the rain during an undescript evening when they suddenly find themselves approached by a curious individual with an umbrella. This character Pfeffer offers their umbrella to the player, and helps them seek shelter within a bar call the Monster Public House. From here, the journey to ultimate friendship begins.

Monster Pub is a game about making friends through two different means; interaction and CARD GAMES. Upon being set free by Pfeffer, players can roam around the bar and interact with any of the patrons to talk with them to gain friends. Each one of them is there for a different reason, but will small talk all the same if approached. Some conversations will lead to player choice, which can result in positive or negative feedback from the patron shown as +’s and -’s. It’s simple and clean, allowing for players to quickly understand if their answer was received well or poorly.

To gain some more friendship, however, players must join in a jovial game of cards in order to bolster friendship with heart pumping competition. In general, most of the patrons will ask to play a game of ‘Sandwiches’, a variant on Slapjack and Snap that I was not familiar existed until today. The goal is to collect every card within the game after the deck has been split between both players, involving placing a singular card in the centre of the table until a match comes up. The first person to grab the pile wins the entire thing, and play resumes. Normally there are set ‘pairs’, but in this bar each patron has a different way of playing the game, meaning that they all have their own pairs that they like to play with. A certain aggressive mail carrier decided that adjacent numbers of different suits was one type of pair, while Pfeffer needed the suits to be the same and adjacent to be considered as such. Being able to adjust to the patron’s variations in the rules is important to win, plus it keeps the game fresh and a tad more personal — especially when the rules are being read to the player by the patron in question. Now, there are some that cannot play Sandwiches, such as B.R, so there are other games like Samson that may get played as well.

It’s the integration between these two systems that bolsters the authenticity of the player’s attempts to make friends and learn more about these different individuals. Conversations are great on their own, with each person having a distinct personality and their small talk sounding authentic as if they were people I actually just met. Adding in the possibility of winning a minigame gives more variants to what the characters can say and do, opening up even more possibilities for friendship. I will say that the only time I was a little disappointed was when I thought I needed to lose on purpose, as the patron in question was getting upset that I was winning. Unfortunately, upon losing, all of the heart points I had acquired throughout the game were lost; sure, I gained lots of +’s after the game ended, but it still felt a bit awkward. Thankfully this didn’t detract from the game, just was an encounter in dissonance.

Monster Pub Chapter 1 isn’t meant to be big or extravagant, it’s just a small simulation about something I didn’t realize I actively missed during quarantine; being able to go out to a bar as an uncomfortable individual, stumble upon another who is much more extroverted, and interact with them about nothing and everything for a bit. There are two more chapters to this little friendship adventure, both included in the bundle, and I can’t wait to see where it goes. To anyone looking for a friendship simulation, this is definitely a title to grab.

Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle, Chapter 2: “Broken Wings” is the lengthy title of the second installment in a visual novel adventure series by Tanuki-sama Studios, an indie team founded by Ethan Fox. Players follow the adventures of Nina Aquila, a defense attorney not currently practicing law at the start of the title. However, upon a goggle-wearing fellow entering her office unannounced, Nina takes on a bizarre case involving billionaires and a children’s card game to prove the innocence of an amateur card player.

To any that have played the Phoenix Wright games (which I haven’t, for the record, but I do know many who have), Nina Aquila brings the evidence gathering and courtroom drama to a semi open world. Players follow the story along with Nina, moving throughout the city to different locations marked on her GPS in order to gather evidence and learn more about the case at hand. Each location she and her party stops at also allows for exploration and interaction, with many colourful characters to stop and talk to while she attempts to figure out what happened to the aforementioned billionaire. All evidence — and I do mean all — is documented within a folder for players to reference at any time, detailing information that may shed some light on what truly happened.

This is all in preparation for the courtroom briefings, in which Nina is put up against prosecutor Chad Hawke as he attempts to obtain the guilty verdict on Nina’s client. He will call witnesses up to the stand, and after giving their statement players will be given each line of the statement again with the ability to either press it for more information, bring forth evidence to dispute the claim or continue onward. Bringing forth faulty evidence will give Nina a strike (indicated by blue swirls turning red), and 4 strikes results in a failure. If players are anxious about previous information, thankfully pressing continue throughout the statement will give Nina an internal monologue as a small hint, and restart the statement from the beginning. It really helps with attempting to parse the words carefully so that I don’t throw evidence out there on a whim, even if I did that a few times due to grasping at straws looking for a solution.

What makes Nina Aquila so interesting to me was the characters themselves that inhabited the world, and the sheer audacity of the situation. While I said I was unfamiliar with Phoenix Wright, I am familiar with a certain children’s card game; Yu gi oh. I’m not entirely proud to state that I watched all 224 episodes in their original 4Kids dub, but that’s not entirely the point. I bring this up as the scenario Nina is going through is a complete satire on that media genre of collectable children’s toys being used as adult competition, drawing dozens of references from that series and many more. It’s hilarious to see an entire court case argument over the legitimacy of a children’s card game making millions in a sporting fashion, especially as the three legal representatives have little to no understanding of it. Nina runs into dozens of stereotypical characters, from the second-highest ranking player being another billionaire with a birr in his side (and in serious need of sleep, good lord) to the dozens of fans this utter Angst Lord has accumulated. The defendant is just a down on his luck biker who thought playing a card game would get him some much needed cash, and the murder victim somehow had time to be a body builder, card collector and multi-billionaire entrepreneur.

It’s this constant collection of references coupled with fun story telling that brings Nina Aquila’s world to life, and makes the investigations and the verdicts all the more satisfying upon completion. I had my fair moments of frustrations attempting to figure out some of the sequences to call certain evidence, but that didn’t utterly detract from the overall experience. It’s a fun visual novel and adventure game to play if you enjoy absurd courthouse shenanigans, and made even better if you are familiar with the satirized material as well. While the other chapters aren’t in the bundle (I checked), if you enjoyed this sneak preview into the universe of Nina Aquila I’d recommend going and grabbing the other chapters.

Links

Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.