Hakoniwa Explorer Plus

A game by Suxamethonium for PC and Switch, originally released in 2018.
Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is an isometric open world action-adventure, and it’s as quirky as they come. You take on the role of an unnamed adventurer who sets out across the world to fight monsters, uncover secrets, and fight buxom female boss creatures who do their very best to suck the life out of him/her. The game plays on numerous RPG tropes and is often silly for the sake of being silly, while offering a huge world to explore with few restrictions as to how your quest plays out.

At the start of the game, you are asked to choose your gender, and you are offered choices of male, female, or neither. However, what first appears to be a progressive gender-friendly option turns out to be a joke, as selecting “neither” results in a text box stating that the developers didn’t create graphics for a gender of “neither”, and then forces you back to a binary selection. While this attempt at humor may have elicited some laughs in the 80’s – the era after which the game is modeled – it’s completely unacceptable by modern standards (it was also unacceptable in the 80’s, but hey, we’ve grown since then).

The game goes out of its way to offer crass humor at every turn, but starting things out by taking a dig at nonbinary genders sets entirely the wrong tone. It’s hard to laugh this off as silly or infantile when it pokes fun at a group of people who are already marginalized by a largely gender-normative society. It begs the question: What prevented the developers from creating multiple sprites and allowing the player to choose one and then select between male, female, and neither… especially given that there are already mechanics built around whether the selected avatar is male or female. Also, the male character is referred to as a slacker, whereas the female character is referred to as a harlot. If you’re looking for a modern retro-style action-adventure that gets things right when it comes to gender, give this game a miss and check out Even the Ocean or Pyre.

If you’ve managed to get past the opening without being turned off, then you get to select your difficulty level, which impacts your starting level, item count, and money. However, you level up extremely quickly and you find items and money all over the place, so you aren’t at much of a disadvantage if you pick one of the harder difficulty settings, aside from the increased difficulty of the enemy encounters.

You wake up in a house in the village of Firsttown (a possible reference to Earthbound’s Onett). A young lady named Sukumizu is standing in the kitchen and she explains that you can stay in the house for free since you’re an adventurer, and the town needs some help with its lack of a labor force and the nearby monsters. She also explains that you should talk to the villagers to learn more information before exploring the world map.

This all sounds like typical fantasy-RPG faire, except Sukumizu literally means that you must talk to villagers to gain information so that you can explore the world map. The world map is all but empty, and the only way to discover new areas is to talk to villagers who tell you about new areas and dungeons, and this often requires that you engage them in conversation several times.

Once you’ve been told about an area, you can go and find it on the world map and then hop in to fight some monsters. Areas on the edge of a map usually lead to adjacent sections of the map, allowing you to branch out and explore larger chunks of the world, but you’ll need to check in at the villages in each region in order to discover new locales (although there are a few areas and secrets that you can find without speaking to villagers).

The game world is presented from an isometric viewpoint, but rather than offering completely static backgrounds – as was the case in the 8- and 16-bit eras – the background tiles here can often move about independently of one another, resulting in some wobbly visuals. This effect can help to emphasize certain organic elements in the environment, including huge underwater areas, but it does add some chaos to the already busy visuals and feverish combat.

There are lots of unique areas to explore. Some offer multiple paths and let you go off in whichever direction you like in search of monsters and secrets, others loop back in on themselves if you don’t take the proper route, and still others require you to complete minor environmental challenges on your way to end-level boss encounters. Each area introduces new gimmicks and enemy types to keep things fresh, such as a boss that becomes less powerful with each enemy you kill on your way to meet her, towers that you must climb without falling back down, and an area that is completely submerged and lets you swim freely in any direction.

The player character has a bit of inertia applied when speeding up, slowing down, and changing directions, and his movement speed is fairly high given the small environments. This results in some rather slippery movement as players careen around obstacles and slide in to attack enemies. You can also perform a jump, although platforming is minimal, and boss creatures are some of the only enemies that require you to jump and attack their weak points.

By default, the player attacks with his fists, but there are numerous melee weapons (and a few projectile weapons) to be found by killing enemies and opening treasure chests. The isometric viewpoint and busy visuals often make it difficult to properly line up an attack, so the most effective weapons are the ones with a wide range. You can buy weapons and armor in shops if you like, but the world is practically bursting with powerful equipment drops, so there’s really no need.

You will, however, need to ensure that you have a regular supply of weapon and armor repair kits, as this equipment wears down quickly. Your weapons take damage with each swing, regardless of whether you are striking an enemy, even when you are using your weapons to open treasure chests or wandering the enemy-free world map. Fortunately, repair kits are inexpensive and equally plentiful as loot drops, so players can keep their favorite equipment in good working order. That said, there are enemies that have attacks that can corrode your equipment, and some enemies can knock your equipment away from you, so it’s worth carrying some spares.

Despite the slippery combat, you need to pay close attention to enemy behaviors and the effects of their attacks, as well as the secondary effects of your own equipment. It’s possible for you or your enemies to become stunned, poisoned, or take continuous damage from fire. Some enemies are so dangerous that their attacks can cause your character to level down, so it’s important that you watch for the best opportunities to strike, or just make a run for the exit.

Secondary effects from your equipment can cause status effects, but you need to read their descriptions carefully because sometimes the tradeoff isn't worth it. For instance, a powerful axe gives you strong attacks and a wide attack range, but prevents you from earning experience while it is equipped. You can also carry limited-use items such as explosives or spell books that unleash powerful elemental attacks on nearby enemies. Also, you may want to make sure you aren’t holding worthless items in your inventory… including vials of monster shit.

You have very limited inventory space as compared to the frequency of item drops, so you’ll need to make some decisions early on as to what is most important to you. You can store/retrieve items with Sukumizu at the start of most dungeons, or you can sell extra loot in one of the villages. Levelling up does not increase your carrying capacity, but defeating key bosses does. These bustle-busting bosses generally appear as buxom female monsters, and some of the game’s crass humor comes into play here as you’re told to get between a monster’s legs to attack, and then beat a hasty retreat before the monster uses her feet to pull you in and crushes you with her thighs.

This type of humor is most obvious when speaking to townsfolk, especially given that there is an entire system in place that changes NPC behavior depending on how you interact with them. In most RPG’s, you only have the option to speak to NPC's, who will then spit out their lines of dialogue (and maybe one or two additional lines if you speak to them again). Here, if you approach an NPC from the front, it works in the same way.

However, if you approach NPC's from behind, they will comment on the fact that you are touching their butts. One of the NPC’s even changes her dialogue artwork to a picture of her butt while she makes a “bouncy bouncy” comment. You can also jump on NPC’s heads, and they will comment about how heavy you are, and you can attack NPC’s who will react in anger. If you do any of these things too much, the NPC's will turn on you and begin attacking. You can run away to avoid the fight, or kill them on the spot, but they will always respawn and return to neutral behavior when you leave and come back. There are also several animals that will speak to you in their native language, which is then translated into English for you, including some cats who like to scream “TITTIES!”

If you manage to get killed by NPC’s or enemies, you are given the choice to reload a previous save or to continue your game with the loss of 10% of your money, but you get to keep your level and collected items. Players can sleep in any town for free, so it’s easy to keep their health meters up, and there are lots of health restorative to find and purchase. In addition, players are given the freedom to save anywhere and access multiple save slots. Players can also return to the first town to check on their in-game achievements – of which there are many – which involve discovering dungeons, defeating swarms of monsters, and taking down boss creatures… and some of these feats are required to unlock new areas.

Hakoniwa Explorer Plus was developed by Suxamethonium. The game was originally released as a freeware title in japan, with the updated "plus" edition doubling the content with new dungeons and enemy types. The game's soundtrack was composed by Tatsuyuki Yoshimatsu.

The game was published by Playism / Active Gaming Media, which also published Kero Blaster, Pink Hour, Pink Heaven, Gunhound EX, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, Touhou Luna Nights, Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, Mighty Goose, some versions of La-Mulana, and La-Mulana 2.