• Courtesy photo

    "Blossom Tales: The Sleeping Kings" is an unabashed tribute to the SNES classic "The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past."

  • Courtesy photo

    "Cosmic Star Heroine" is a great return to classic 16-bit JRPGs of days gone by

  • Courtesy photo

    "Doki doki," as in the game "Doki Doki Literature Club!," is Japanese slang meant to represent the sound of a beating heart.



Doki Doki Literature Club!

From: Team Salvato

Rated: NR

Who it’s for: Fans of quirky horror, especially Japanese horror

Console: PC

Grade: B+

Cosmic Star Heroine

From: Zeboyd Games

Rated: T

Who it’s for: Anyone nostalgic for games like “Chrono Trigger” and “Phantasy Star”

Console: Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita, PC

Grade: B

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King

From: FDG Entertainment

Rated: E 10+

Who it’s for: Anyone looking for a classic “Zelda-style” game

Console: Switch

Grade: A

Every year, as the holidays hit, I breathe a sigh of relief. The hurricane of big video game releases has passed and I can slow down, if just a little, and play some things strictly for pleasure.

Don’t get me wrong, I love big games. I have never seen a better year for gaming than 2017, and I will be playing a number of last year’s games for many years to come. Over the holidays, however, I decided to check out a few of 2017’s smaller releases and found some real treats that fans should be aware of.

Doki Doki Literature Club!

The first, “Doki Doki Literature Club!,” marks my biggest surprise of 2017. While I was familiar with the “visual novel” genre of games, I had never played one. This distinctly Japanese form guides players through a story featuring sporadic interactive choices that affect the narrative. Used heavily in dating simulators, the form has players choose a girl and try to woo her, so to speak.

This is how “Doki Doki Literature Club!” started. It makes sense, as “Doki Doki” is Japanese slang meant to represent the sound of a beating heart.

To say too much would ruin the amazing experience, but be aware of the following things: a) Nothing is as it seems. b) This is really a horror game. c) Keep playing. Even when you think the game is over, chances are it’s not.

The experience is short — about four or five hours, depending on how you play it — but deep. It’s also a free download on Steam, so there’s no problem getting your money’s worth. But despite its length, “Doki Doki Literature Club!” is a startling experienced not to be missed.

Cosmic Star Heroine

“Cosmic Star Heroine” came out in 2017 after a long development cycle (and a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013). It sat on my PS4 hard drive for nearly six months before I finally got around to hitting play. I’m sorry I waited so long.

The game plays like the love child of “Chrono Trigger” and “Phantasy Star,” and while the overall quality never quite reaches the level of those classic games, the ability to revisit these now defunct styles with a brand-new game feels great.

Alyssa L’Salle, the best the Agency for Peace and Intelligence as to offer, has uncovered a galaxy-spanning conspiracy and, along with a hand-picked cadre of associates, she must … well, you see where this is going. Universe in peril, bad guys, blah blah blah.

The story is less important here than the journey unfolding before you. While not “Citizen Kane,” it works well for this light RPG. The gameplay proves more consequential, with an excellent combat system that encourages experimentation and strategy.

And just because the game looks and plays like a 16-bit classic doesn’t mean it’s devoid of new ideas. The way “Cosmic Star Heroine” handles party abilities — for instance, where each member has a limited number of ability slots to use one in each battle — adds depth and requires pre-fight planning like no game in the ’90s did.

There are some bugs and a few odd limitations, but overall, “Cosmic Star Heroine” provides a great return to classic 16-bit JRPGs of days gone by.

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King

Lastly, there’s “Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King,” the second best “Zelda” game I played last year. No, Link, Zelda and Gannon are nowhere to be seen here, but the game is an unabashed tribute to the SNES classic “The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past.”

While the graphics and gameplay may ape this classic, the story is all its own. Framed as a grandfather telling a story to his grandchildren, there are even times in the game where the story will change per the kids’ input.

The charming story works well with the wonderfully designed overworld and dungeons, concealing plenty of secrets, side quests and collectibles to find. Every aspect of the game is polished to a fine sheen, and there are plenty of puzzles to challenge even “Zelda” experts.

“Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King” is the perfect example of an homage done right.

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