Net Ghost PiPoPa: PiPoPa x DS @ Daibouken - Import Retroview  

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by Michael Baker

Less than 20 Hours
+ Cute visuals
+ Easy to pick up
- No point to most battles
- Lacks enemy variety
- Very random encounter rates
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   Back at the start of the year, I made a rare find at a local used game store: Net Ghost PiPoPa: PiPoPa x DS @ Daibouken. This was a title I'd covered exactly once in Japandemonium back in 2008 and had not seen since. I decided as one of my minor resolutions of the year that I would finish this game by the time of its seventh release anniversary on February 28th.

   I did not expect to have it done so soon. Ten hours is a generous estimate for its length.

   PiPoPa plays out as an extra episode to the animated series which spawned it. Unfortunately, it makes the cardinal sin of most such adaptations and does nothing to explain the characters, setting, or backstory in the regular course of the game. Knowledge of the PiPoPa series (available subbed via Crunchyroll) — or at least a brief look over the series' wiki entry — is strongly recommended before beginning this one, because otherwise all the references will just fly over the player's head.

   At the center of the story is Yuta, an elementary school boy who previously in the series befriended three "Net Ghosts": Alvin, Simon, and Theodore Pit, Pot, and Pat, who are collectively (and with indignant protestation on their part) referred to as PiPoPa. While they look like some bizarre combination of troll doll and Teletubby, they prove to be quite good at eliminating viruses and rogue programs in the digital reality hidden within the city's internet. In this game's episode, a strange and fearsome new breed of programs has appeared — the Noise Monsters. These apparitions aren't quite viruses, but they are certainly more destructive, with the ability to make systems freeze up and deteriorate with their sonic disruptions. The plot follows PiPoPa's investigation into the Noise Monsters as it loops and swerves in odd directions so as to intersect with every major NPC it can manage. The results are not always elegant, but it works out decently if one doesn't mind the usual shonen manga tropes.

Real life is boring. Real life is boring.

   The touchscreen takes center stage when it's time to fight, in ways normally not seen in old DS RPGs. Each time one of the Net Ghosts attacks, the entire point is to score a touch on an enemy sprite as it bounds back and forth across the screen. Different enemies have different spots on them corresponding to the game's three elements (App > Anti-Virus > Spyware), and touching the right spot with an attack of the appropriate type is rewarded with a critical hit. As the game progresses, monsters move faster, but for the longest time the only movement patterns are horizontal or vertical. Only late in the game do some enemies (mostly bosses) move in circles or loops. More variety would have been welcome, as generally the only challenge is when an obstruction occurs. These obstructions make it harder to target enemies in various ways, such as intermittent invisibility, screen blackouts, derezzing, or a dozen pop-up windows suddenly spamming the screen.

   For a game with oodles of 1s and 0s in some of its backgrounds, there are strangely few real numbers to be seen in PiPoPa. Hit points and stats are viewable as bar measurements, and no numerical values are placed on damage to the enemy. There aren't even any numbers attached to the end of battle: no experience points, no monetary gains, just a single data crystal dropped each time.

   These data crystals are the entire advancement system. They come in ranks from C to SS, and raise stats when equipped. Some are only associated with base stats, while others boost elemental power and raise stats as a side effect. A few rare crystals give special abilities in battle, like Pit's Trick Crystal (hit enemy before it can move) or Pot's Snack Crystal (heals party for full health). The most useful is probably the Escape Crystal, dropped by the boss of the second-to-last story level. That one boosts speed by a lot, and allows for instant getaways to avoid battle. As there's little point in grinding late in the game (and the encounter rates are ridiculously random), this crystal saves a ton of time.

He's angry the virus called them PiPoPa. He's angry the virus called them PiPoPa.

   The graphics all come courtesy of the game's parent anime, so there is a consistent level of quality to the artwork. Pit, Pot, and Pat all have a variety of portraits in and out of battle, and the enemies have some interesting designs as well. The Noise Monsters are particularly well done, being strange amalgamations of reptiles, dinosaurs, and musical instruments. The final boss of the game is a hybrid of a cobra and a violin, and looks pretty awesome. The principal graphics outside of battle are all 3D-modeled, and aren't utilized nearly as well as they could have been. Camera angles are always fixed, and areas tend to have a boxy, diorama look to them. Scenery props are two-dimensional pop-ups, and it's often difficult to tell if a path actually goes anywhere, as exits and dead-ends look exactly the same. The ending credits scene is perhaps the only time the game engine plays with the angles or gives close-ups, and it makes an amazing difference.

   The sound and music score also benefits from the game's origins, as a good number of bouncy, energetic tunes have made their way in. There is a spattering of voice acting, mostly by the titular trio, with sound bites popping up throughout battle.

   While researching this game, I could not find a single FAQ in Japanese (which is always worrisome), but I did find several short, angry customer reviews. If I'd paid full price for this — i.e. 4000 yen instead of 400 — then I would likely be pretty mad, too. There's a definite "My First RPG" vibe to PiPoPa, what with simplistic combat and lack of numbers everywhere, but it does deliver a basic package to entertain fans of the series. That doesn't excuse the fact that it's slipshod, hurried, and a cash-in.

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