The Denpa Men 2: Beyond the Waves 3DS Review
An average RPG allows players to have three or four party members in a team at any one time, forcing them to choose their favourites from a roster of about ten to fifteen, with the exception of games like Valkyria Chronicles and Suikoden. But even in titles with a huge roster there is still a limit, so what about an RPG where there are an infinite amount of characters to choose from? Here’s the catch – all you have to do is find them, which is the twist that Denpa Men 2 offers. In Denpa Men 2, every player starts with a unique character and must form a team of denpas, which are small human-like creatures that exist in a hidden world beyond our own in order to confront an annoying monkey that is terrorising your home of Digitown. After you run the obnoxious bully out of town it returns with some friends including the king monkey, who kidnaps your wife and two children setting up the cliche storyline from the get go. Using text for dialogue, only your main character has a voice and boy is it funny. The squeaky high-pitched and fast-forwarded voice over had me laughing from the very beginning when your main denpa talks to you directly, breaking the 4th wall and pulling you right into their world.
My personal main character was called Seth, and I didn’t know what to expect when he asked me to find and capture some denpas to help him on his quest. I soon discovered that to capture denpa men you must enter their world via the use of AR that allows you to look through the screen of your 3DS and see denpa men flying around. Moving your system moves your view inside their world and the radar on the bottom screen shows which direction you should be facing. You can see all kinds of denpas floating around and can fire a net at the one that you like in an attempt to catch it, with rarer and more powerful ones avoiding the nets and making you to wait until they turn their backs before you can successfully snag them. After being captured they will either join your party or be sent to the denpa house, which is basically storage for excess denpas. If you have a favorite denpa, you can even share it with friends via QR codes that you can retrieve from each of your characters. But here comes the cool part.
Your main character will always come with the antenna power ‘Revive’, which revives a downed ally in battle, but your captured denpas are unique. How is this done exactly? Does the game randomly generate denpas, meaning if you search long enough you will always find the best? Nope; denpa men are born from radio waves. I know what you’re thinking, I found it gimmicky at first too until I tested it and found it to be true. Looking through some forums I discovered that they apparently seem to be created through Wi-Fi signals, though nobody but the developers know for sure. In that case I should find the same few denpas if I keep looking for them in the same place, which I did. And if I go somewhere with better Wi-Fi I should find different denpas and more of them, which I did. Denpas come in different colours, shapes, sizes and with different facial features. They come with their own unique name, stats and either with or without an antenna, which is the particular magic that they can cast. This means that for the last few weeks I have taken my 3DS with me everywhere and anytime I found myself in a place with Wi-Fi I’ve whipped out my system and began to act like a crazy person spinning in place in search for new team members.
A denpas colour is basically their ‘type’, which in RPG terms refers to what weakness’ and resistances they have, with water being weak against lightening but strong against fire etc. Their size usually refers to how strong they are generally with bigger denpas simply having better stats overall and their antennas (or lack thereof) refers to what they can do in battle. Denpas without antennas are more brutish, usually having much higher defence and attack power as their own means of damaging an opponent is a basic physical strike. Denpas with antennas are more varied as there are many types of antenna powers each with their own purpose, strengths and weaknesses. A few of my favourites include ‘heal’ which is self-explanatory, ‘laser beam’ which is strong against dark types and ‘mud stream’, which is strong against fire types. Attacking opponents with the correct antenna powers will cause huge damage bonus’ and you are often warned before each new dungeon which types are recommended for your team, though many times you will have to figure it out for yourself. It is absolutely necessary to switch your denpas out accordingly and would be near impossible to play through the game with a single team, forcing you to try new characters, powers and strategies all the time.
Battles start by touching a patrolling enemy, which you can attempt to sneak around or outrun should you want to. In battle you only control four denpas, but as you make your way through the story you unlock the ability to use six and then finally eight at once. Controlling so many characters requires a lot of strategy during battle as well as in pre-battle preparation, such as changing out team members and equipping each denpa with the right load-out of clothing that can drastically alter stats. Besides giving each denpa a separate order to use their antenna power, physically attack, use an item or defend, you are also given several ways to command your entire team at once. By choosing ‘Go for it’, ‘Heal’ or ‘Attack’ your entire team (that doesn’t already have a command) will be issued an order respectively. ‘Go for it’ allows the AI to do what it thinks is best, ‘Heal’ will have each denpa use items or curing magic, and ‘Attack’ will have each denpa strike with a physical attack. Using ‘Go for it’ or ‘Heal’ is especially useful for dynamically healing players that are damaged during your battle phase as you can’t pre-issue a command to revive a still living character.
I would have been liked to create my own quick battle options, much like paradigms in Final Fantasy XIII. If I could have created a command that would have had some of my denpa men heal and some attack, depending on the settings I created, there could have been a new strategic layer added; instead, I had to stick with issuing my attack commands separately and then using ‘Go for it’ for all my healing units, to revive anybody that might be killed mid-attack. If an ally does die in battle, they can be revived afterwards, unless you are on the over-world. By dying on the over-world or leaving a dungeon with a downed party member will send said members to the ’Spirit Shrine’ where you can only recover them in exchange for gold, which can be expensive near the beginning of the game. Sometimes this means sneaking around enemies to make sure all your party members survive until you find an exit, especially if one of your more useful denpas die and jeopardises the rest of the teams chance of survival. It’s not difficult for your whole team to be wiped out either and even regular battles can be very difficult, forcing you to learn or die.
The game’s over-world is pretty large, especially for a downloadable title. Starting off on the smaller of the three main continents limits mobility for quite a few hours before you are rewarded with a boat that you can use to navigate the rest of the world. Even at this point, you are still effectively directed to where you need to go by difficult enemies that will annihilate you if you try to reach areas meant for later in the game. Towns are dotted around the world and usually contain shops, inns, random chests, and NPCs. Oddly, many of the NPCs in this game actually have something useful to say (unlike most RPGs), such as the location of hidden treasure or the types of denpa men you should be using in the upcoming areas. Like older RPGs, you must explore to find where you should head next instead of having it pointed out, which is much more satisfying. For important locations, once you have been inside, you can fast travel back to the entrance from a town or the over-world, which is a feature I would have appreciated in many other RPGs. Between the towns, there are dungeons to conquer and hidden areas to discover should you travel off the beaten path. There is always something new to find and you are rewarded generously for exploring.
Each dungeon has a main type that most of the enemies and the boss will be, which must be accounted for when preparing your team. Once you get the hang of the new enemies attacks and weaknesses, fighting becomes a bit easier and you can focus on maneuvering your way through the often maze-like floor plans. Fortunately, the bottom screen is used as a map that is uncovered as you progress. The dungeons are designed in layers by having smaller floors but plenty of them as you are either trying to make your way to the very top or bottom. This makes way for some clever uses of hidden rooms and puzzles, as you can use holes to fall into secret areas or push boulders onto switches located on floors below you. Although, using boulders to weigh down switches is only done several times and there are only a few other puzzles in the game, which seemed a bit lacking. I would have certainly enjoyed having to split my party up into different teams to overcome various obstacles. Once you’ve found your way through the dungeon, you are always given an exit portal before the boss, which can be used to escape to the over-world and then entered through later so that you can heal or change out your team without having to go through the whole dungeon again, a brilliant convenience.
Exploring and battling aren’t the only features Denpa Men 2 has to offer. You can grow useful items in your garden, take on fishing challenges throughout the world and there are even a fair share of side-quests for NPCs. Upgrades for the denpa house can also be found allowing for more denpas to be stored, as you continue to search for that perfect dream team to take online. Battling other player’s teams is an incredible addition that is unlocked by playing through the main story, where you are forced to fight a similarly ranked online team in order to progress. Once unlocked you can fight online until you attain three losses, when you are forced to wait until to the next day to fight again. You don’t fight other players directly, just an AI that uses their uploaded teams and likewise an AI takes over your team even when you’re offline. Each win gets you a victory medal and the more medals you earn, the more prizes you unlock but most important is your team’s rank, which made me want to continue improving my team post-game. There are also several dungeons to discover that require a streetlamp to light up, which will drain over time as you make your way through and once empty you will be banished and forced to refill it, which can be done in one of three ways; using certain items, waiting in real time for it to slowly fill or streetpassing other Denpa Men 2 players.
Overall, Denpa Men 2 is a vast improvement over the first with the addition of a rather large over-world to explore, a classic RPG soundtrack, a seemingly shallow story that evolves into a deeper (but still comical) tale as you progress, and great 3D visuals with the dungeons actually looking deep due to the semi top-down view. There’s hours of challenging end game content with the inclusion of further story quests, which has taken me over the forty hour mark and is still rising thanks to the online battle coliseum and huge amount of side missions. The incredibly fun use of AR and Wi-Fi detection technology makes me keep wanting to come back to the game when I’m out, just to see if there are any rare denpas hiding and the colourful art style charmed me (Denpa Men players will get that one) from the very beginning. Denpa Men 2: Beyond the Waves may just be my favourite 3DS title so far and much like how you can pull characters from your save of the original Denpa Men game into Denpa Men 2, I hope I can take Seth and the rest of my team into the third and beyond.