Sofia sequel on Switch

By wyrdwad

Paladin (931)

wyrdwad의 아바타

30-06-2021, 04:02

So this is a bit of an odd thing to talk about here, but I thought you guys might be interested to know a bit more about this. (Actually, I first posted this on the MSX Home Computing Facebook group yesterday, but I figured people here on the MRC forums might be interested too, so I decided to cross-post!)

Some of you may know the name "YMCAT," if only in passing. He's a developer who produced a number of MSX games back in the day, including The Demon Crystal, Knither Special, Gate of Labyrinth, and -- most notably for this post -- Sofia, one of my personal favorite MSX titles (an absolutely stellar game, if you've never played it before!).

Well, it turns out he's still around, and still making games! In fact, he's ported The Demon Crystal to the Nintendo Switch, along with its numerous sequels, so if you've got a Japanese eShop account and a means of buying games from there, you can grab a copy of it right now -- and as you might expect, it's a smooth, 60 fps experience as opposed to the unfortunately choppy/laggy experience the game provides on MSX, so it might just be worth your while!

Sofia is the reason I'm posting this, though, as he's also been working on "Sofia 2" for several years now, and finally released it just recently on the Japanese eShop for Nintendo Switch... though he dropped the "2" from the title, so it's just called "Sofia" now, and even has the exact same logo as the MSX game, color palette and all. Which is... confusing, because it definitely is NOT the same game in any way! But as a huge fan of the original Sofia, I had to give it a try, so I purchased and downloaded it the other night and spent a little over an hour with it. And in case anyone else is interested, I figured I'd post my first impressions.

First off, it actually has the same exact story as the MSX Sofia (more or less), so you can kind of think of this as the Shin Golvellius to Sofia's MSX1 Golvellius, I guess? In other words, it's more of a reboot than a sequel, which is probably why the "2" was dropped from the title... but as reboots go, this one is WEIRD.

For those who've never played the original Sofia, the game was basically a Metroidvania. There were no stages; just one contiguous world, with keys that open identically colored doors and items that let you do things like wade through shallow water, allowing you to access areas you couldn't before. Your goal was to find the crystal that warped you to the parallel world where the game takes place, but you needed to find a bible that allows you to touch the crystal safely first, and then you also needed to find a scale that would calibrate the crystal, before returning to the starting screen and warping home. The game did have multiple endings, including a bad ending if you returned to the start screen without the scale, as well as secret "programmer's ending" if you found a hidden alternate route. It was pretty rad stuff, and presented some hefty difficulty without ever going too far (especially if you found the hidden continue item right at the beginning!).

This sequel... well, like I said, it has the same story, and there are similar gameplay elements (you still break open boxes by standing on top of them and jumping, you still collect keys to open similarly colored doors, you still collect bags of apple seeds that you can use at trees to recover health, and you still can reveal hidden platforms by jumping in set locations), but everything else is QUITE DIFFERENT.

For one, the game is split into stages, each of which has numerous checkpoints and an end goal. Stages are typically split into an above-ground and underground section, with the underground section limiting your viewpoint -- though you can collect candles to extend that viewpoint, with a candle meter slowly ticking down on the bottom of the screen alongside your life meter.

As in the original Sofia, you don't have any means of directly attacking enemies (though you did eventually get one such means in the original game!), so the only thing you can actually do is jump. However, this time around, you sometimes reveal a beach ball (!) when breaking open crates, which you can knock around the stage using realistic ball physics. If the beach ball collides with an enemy, that enemy will be instantly destroyed, and will stay dead for the rest of your time in the stage -- though if the beach ball touches fire, lava, or water, IT will be destroyed, so you need to be careful with your movements around it.

By far the STRANGEST new additions to Sofia, though, are the mascot characters. You'll see them quite a bit in the linked trailer, but they're a weirder addition than you might've thought. Each stage has one mascot character hidden somewhere within, and these... are actual tourist mascots from actual Japanese cities. When you interact with them, they'll tell you all about the city, culture, food, etc. from the areas they represent, then promptly disappear and get permanently added to the game's title screen. All the while, a disclaimer will be printed on the bottom of the screen telling you that the mascot text was written in 2019, so some of the information provided may be out-of-date.

It reminds me a bit of the real-world advertisements in Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash, but even more inexplicable and out-of-place. I have no idea what the idea was here, but it's... certainly a thing! Wink

Visually, the game is a real mixed bag, regrettably tending toward bad but not without its merits. The background visuals are interesting, but they're a different resolution from the character sprites, and the game's text when you speak to mascot characters is a different resolution as well, so everything feels very incongruous and out-of-place.

Aurally, the game has surprisingly good music, though the music that plays when reading tips doesn't loop -- so once it hits the end of the track, you're just left in silence until you start the stage. Whoops! That aside, though, I have no complaints with the music, and actually quite like how the music track changes when you enter and exit the underground areas -- not all at once, but through cross-fading, as if the two music tracks are playing simultaneously without you even knowing it.

The sound effects fare less well, though. I mean, they're fine, but they can be VERY noisy -- either due to their volume being dialed up way too high, or because of the sheer frequency with which you hear them. Sofia's jump sound in particular is somehow really aggravating to me after a while.

All in all, Sofia on the Nintendo eShop is not as good a game as the original Sofia in any way, IMHO, and really feels like it struggles to find its identity -- as you might be able to guess it would, given its parallel fantasy world filled with beach balls and Japanese mascot characters.

Putting all of its incongruities aside, though... it's still FAIRLY decent, and does still feel at least a bit like the original Sofia. I don't HIGHLY recommend it, but I do at least somewhat recommend it if you're a fan of the original and are desperate for more.

Its current price tag, though, is pretty steep, at nearly 2000 yen -- I might suggest holding out for a sale and grabbing it at half that price, as you'll get more value for your money that way.

Anyway, that's Sofia on the eShop! A game I haven't really seen any other non-Japanese MSX fans talk about, but which I really feel deserves mention, if only for the fact that it exists at all.

Here's the official trailer for the game. Check it out if you're interested!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nKGG32Hj8g

Oh, and it's also worth mentioning that YMCAT is very active on Twitter, so you can follow him here for updates on this and his many other game projects. It is really cool to see one of the original game designers of that era still around and still making games, so I definitely think it's worth supporting his efforts, through Sofia on Switch or otherwise!

https://twitter.com/info_ymcat

-Tom

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