Hook and Blade

Long before Shingeki no Kyojin was translated into Attack on Titan for English-speaking audiences, a Nintendo DS game was made titled Hook and Blade that focused on the tactical elements of commanding a group of flesh-slicing titan killers. Strangely, the game was only released in North America, and never received a Japanese translation. Cleary influenced by Intelligent Systems’ Advance Wars and Fire Emblem games, Hook and Blade introduces a few new mechanics.

Hook and Blade Nintendo DS Cartridge

Hook and Blade puts you in command of a Survey Corps expedition sometime before the breach of Wall Maria. The soldiers assigned to your team are entirely random down to the appearance, name, and stats. You’ll start with mostly new recruits and at least one experienced soldier who will do much of the work until the others can raise their stats. That is, if they can survive long enough.

First turn of the first level

The game is endless with procedurally generated rounds continuing until your team is destroyed. As losing is inevitable, this game is all about the journey. Survival depends on more than just maneuvering your team to kill titans, you must manage each units supplies of propellant and blades as well as their morale. The loss of any one of these can be fatal for a character. To kill a titan, a unit must get to a space directly behind it, have at least 1 blade, and successfully hit. The chance to hit of each character ranges from 1 to 99% and increases with each kill or after several assists.

Character using hook movement

Getting into place for a kill and staying out of range of titans requires the use of horses or hook movement. Certain objects on the map, including titans, can be hooked, allowing soldiers to move well beyond their normal movement range. Soldiers must have propellant to use this technique. Once out of propellant, soldiers movement range is limited to less than that of titans. You can’t run.

One way of conserving propellant is stay on horseback as much as possible. When mounted, soldiers can outrun titans without expending any gas. If you dismount to kill a titan, the horse will stay where you left it, but unfortunately for the horse, if a titan moves through this space, the horse is lost. A wagon unit provides both resupply and alternate transport. The wagon can resupply one unit each turn with propellant and blades, as well as serve as a transport for up to 2 units.

Even if you balance the use of propellant and blades, you’ll need to carefully manage the morale of your units. Being near titans, especially when they kill a Survey Corp member, reduces morale. Killing titans is the only way to raise it back up. When morale reaches zero, a soldier will no longer respond to commands. You’ll need to protect this unresponsive soldier until you can kill another titan or the round ends.

Only a few remaining units surrounded by titans

You’ll have to face off against titans of all sizes and capabilities. Rarely, an abnormal titan will appear with various abilities or changes in behavior. Some will simply have greater movement range, others will mix things up by being unhookable or able to attack twice in one turn.

This game never became popular due to the poor timing of a release before the popularity of AoT/SnK in North America, and an obscure name that wouldn’t be used again in the franchise. The tactical RPG format is fitting for an AoT game, and what it lacks in story, it makes up for in the addictive gameplay of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. We wish Hook and Blade would be remade (and renamed) for the 3DS!

Retro-Review: Digger of Graves

Digger of Graves, also known as Gropar Gropar, captures the magic of Zelda (by borrowing some assets) and combines this with the rewarding labor of Harvest Moon.

A Dark Fortress

Funded by the mysterious Gravediggers Guild, Apuseni Games developed Digger of Graves for a global audience at the peak of the GBA’s popularity. Sadly, after legal threats from the National Monster Truck League in North America, and discovering the strong cultural bias against those who tend to the dead in Japan, the game was never released outside of Europe.

 

A Sorcerer curses a failure

Digger of Graves puts the player in the role of a gravedigger. More accurately, the player is a former adventurer whose failed expedition into the Dark Fortress results in a sorcerer’s curse that forces a career change. A permanent change as the terms of the curse mean the player must tend to the remains of those who perish in the Dark Fortress for all eternity. You’re a failure, your friends are all dead, you have to bury them, and keep burying others for the rest of your life. A grim outlook, but don’t let that hold you back, this game is damned fun.

The player starts off with some advice

Gameplay starts you next to a waterfall, and the corpses of your former party members. This Dark Fortress has an efficient waste disposal system!  A tutorial message instructs you to use your only item, a bag, to collect the remains, and then to bury them before the end of the day. There isn’t anything else to do around this pool. A path leads south.

Burying your friends

 

Here you find a clearing that features only an abandoned shovel, a second item. You’re instructed to dig graves for your former companions. The graves must be one space each. A little bit of button mashing and you’ve buried your old friends. At least they have nice headstones. Now you’re told to head to you house and rest until nightfall.

Learning to use lamp

Enter the tiny house south of the clearing to save and skip time ahead to sunrise or sunset. You’ll need to have all remains buried to enter. At nightfall, you’re awoken for your final instruction: protect those who are buried! To do this, a final item is bestowed, the magic lamp. While there are no genies, the lamp produces light to see by and shoots fireballs. At night, your trusty body bag is put away, leaving you with your shovel and your fancy new lamp. The shovel provides short range attacks, but these only stun enemies. The lamp’s fireballs destroy enemies in one hit, but once used, it must recharge before firing again. This also leaves you in the dark until the lamp is fully recharged.

Scaring foxes

Thankfully, the danger to your friends’ remains was only a pair of foxes. They’re easily scared off. No need to battle woodland creatures this night. Now that the dead can rest easy, you may return to the home to skip the remaining time until day.

Seeing doomed souls

When you awake, you see a passing group of adventurers on the road to the Dark Fortress. Will you be burying them soon? You certainly will! But not until tomorrow. Today you must collect the remains of some monsters.

Collecting monster remains

Looks like there was a scuffle between goblins, orcs, and a manticore. The goblins and orcs didn’t fair so well, but they did take down the manticore. Monster remains come in several shapes, and like a morbid Tetris, you must dig graves to fit these shapes to bury the remains. This is easy in the beginning, when you have few remains buried, but as you continue to fill up your graveyard, it can become a big challenge to fit the larger monster remains. Monsters are buried in unmarked graves. While a bit disrespectful, this is to your benefit: monster remains decay over time at rate of 1 block every 2 days. The remains of your former party, and of other dead adventurers that turn up do not decay, and have permanent tombstones. This means you should be very careful about where you place them.

Protecting the dead

Every night you’ll need to defend the graveyard from enemies looking to scavenge from or rob the graves. If an enemy successfully digs up remains, a ghost appears, and has to be destroyed with a lamp fireball. Things can get very frantic as you battle several enemies at once. Everything from wolves to grave robbers to wizards wants to get at those corpses. If you fail to defeat all enemies and ghosts before morning, or are killed in combat, the curse resets the events to the beginning of the night.

A proud gravedigger

Just as Mario Bros. inspired a generation to seek careers in plumbing, Digger of Graves intends to inspire you to work at a cemetery. At it works. If you play this game, you’ll want to tend to the dead. Get out there and start shoveling!