The 3DS online store: useful to buy games you can’t find, games you can’t be bothered to get a physical cart for, games you want on sale, or games you used to have on your Sega Genesis until it fried. But there’s also a pretty substantial indie game market on there, many for $10 or less. So they’re not Mario or Link or Pokemon games (okay, most of them aren’t Pokemon games) you’ll dump hours and hours into, but many of them are a good value for the price.

Attack of the Friday Monsters, Millennium Kitchen Co., Ltd., Level 5, 2013.

Actually a plot point.

Attack of the Friday Monsters

Millennium Kitchen Co., Ltd.
Level 5
$7.99

Attack of the Friday Monsters features a young boy named Sohta, growing up in a small town that happens to be attacked by giant monsters every Friday. That aside, Sohta has more pressing concerns, like beating his friends in their rock-paper-scissors-esque card game, running errands for his parents, and trying to get the Junior Members of the Space Defense Department badge. Gameplay consists of running back and forth on fetch or talk quests, some of which advance the plot. There’s also collecting monster cards for the card game, but “encounters” are relatively few and mostly with the neighborhood kids who boss you around if you lose.

Due to the limited nature of actual actions you can take (mostly walking and choosing options), it plays less like an RPG and more like a Choices game or the storybook games of the NES. So if you’re looking for battles or branching narratives, well, you won’t find that here. It makes up for this with its charming small-town art and heartfelt narrative centered around whether the Friday monsters really do exist. It’s also a fairly short narrative compared to your average JRPG, but I think it’s just the right length for the tale it aims to tell. It’s a good catch for the price, and moreso if you get it on sale.

Obligatory goat joke on the Grindcast. Weapon Shop de Omasse!, Level 5, 2014.

Weapon Shop de Omasse!

Level 5
$7.99

Made by the same studio that made Attack of the Friday Monsters, Weapon Shop de Omasse! is a more standard fantasy RPG, featuring heroes who battle against a demon king. The catch is that you’re not the hero: you’re the apprentice weaponsmith making swords, spears, and hammers for those heroes to use. The actual gameplay consists of a rhythm-based minigame in which you shape metal into weapons, then sell those and use the funds to buy more materials and tools. While more game-like than Attack of the Friday Monsters, the weapon-making gets repetitive and doesn’t really inspire one to play the post-game grind.

But again, what Level 5 lacks in gameplay, they more than make up for in narrative. One of the big functions of the game is the social media-like “Grindcast”, which constantly updates you on the do-gooding of the heroes whose weapons you supply. In addition to your bog-standard NPCs, there are six characters in particular you follow and make better weapons for as they each work toward taking on the Demon King (and their own shortcomings), playing off many RPG tropes. My favorite is the mace-wielding grandmother who suspects her silly, forgetful husband went off to challenge the Demon King, so of course she needs to get him before dinner. The one place the strong storyline falls flat is that it ends on a comparatively weak note with a “twist” that feels completely out of left field and unnecessarily bleak.

Sample battle. Kingdom's Item Shop, ASOBOX Co.,Ltd./PUMO Co.,Ltd., Circle Entertainment, 2016.

Kingdom’s Item Shop

ASOBOX Co., Ltd./PUMO Co., Ltd.
Circle Entertainment
$5.00

Kingdom’s Item Shop is an RPG merchant game in the lines of the Torneko storyline of Dragon Quest IV or the game it’s often compared to, the more popular Adventure Bar Story. True, Adventure Bar Story is more complex and the stakes are higher, but the simplicity and no-pressure approach is why I actually prefer Kingdom’s Item Shop. You play the part of a young noble, aided by their energetic old butler, trying to get their little item shop off the ground. You do this by going out into the fields, gathering materials, and then either selling them as they are or combining them with recipes you get from various NPCs. Battles are atypical in that you don’t fight the monsters yourself; you hire various kinds of soldiers to fight for you while you run around in the background collecting materials. Gameplay is basically an ever-expanding loop of getting materials, selling them, and using that money to go hunting for more materials. Meanwhile, make sure to keep your shelves stocked, because customers will keep buying even if you’re not there or you turn the game off.

Like any good RPG, the game features a leveling system—your warriors level up with typical EXP, but some of their stat boosts can be gained by selling certain quantities of an item. Other boosts and abilities can be outright bought, including upgrades to your store’s look. It also features a little quest system where you can bring the various people of your town items they request. They never outright state what they want, so sometimes there’s a bit of puzzling and guesswork involved, but if you get it wrong, you just lose that item and can try again. There’s no punishment for failure: no rivals, no drop in rank, and if you run out of money, the butler will sport you enough to go on a first-level run. Even if you’re careless enough to wander into a monster’s attack, you’ll just get knocked silly and the butler will come drag your rear home.

It’s not a long game—even grinding for warrior levels, 100 percenting the game only took me about 20 hours total of gameplay. But the graphics are cute and I really like the music. The storyline is mostly bits and pieces of NPCs living their lives with all the sweet fluffiness of Castle fandom babyfics. The primary audience for this game isn’t so much the hardcore gamers, but the older generations who just want to wind down their day with something easy but fulfilling.

Dialogue with tower girl. Fairune 2, SKIPMORE/Flyhigh Works/URARA-WORKS, Circle Entertainment, 2016.

“Have you done this kind of thing before?”

Fairune & Fairune 2

SKIPMORE/Flyhigh Works/URARA-WORKS
Circle Entertainment
$2.99/$6.99

The Fairune series falls into the ever-growing category of nostalgia-tinged 8-bit RPGs in the style of Legend of Zelda and other NES classics. It should be no surprise that you play as a hero with a sword, trying to save the world. But unlike many straight-up clones in the genre, Fairune adds a few interesting tweaks. For one thing, your hero is actually a heroine, which is a nice change of pace. The leveling system is unique in that you only get EXP for monsters at or above your level; depending on how much higher the level is, challenging monsters before your time can result in precipitous drops in HP, whereas anything below your level will be straight-out stomped. Fights merely consist of ramming the monsters in question, which makes the battle portions play out fairly easily (something this primarily turn-based RPer appreciates.)

Play takes place on a sprawling world that has both an aboveground and underground map—Fairune has one world, whereas Fairune 2 expands that to four. Like many in its genre, you get ahead by solving puzzles, using one area’s new item to solve an old problem in a different one, chipping away at the edges of the unknown. Puzzles are logical but not completely straightforward, making for a nice difficulty level. The two feature different plots and different maps, so it’s worth playing both, but if you’re only getting one, get Fairune 2. In addition to the much longer maps, it’s actually got an interesting storyline that unfolds as you try to figure out who sealed away the guardian fairies and who the mysterious girl in the control tower is. It also corrects the biggest problem I had with Fairune, which is that the boss, unlike the rest of the game, is full-on action RPG bordering on bullet hell, which can create a frustrating wall just prior to the end of the game in a world where death otherwise is a setback, not a game over.

Though you’re free to explore the map as you wish, the puzzles and items dictate a fairly linear path, which can be frustrating if you’re not sure what you’ve missed. Getting around, especially if you’ve finally figured out that the next MacGuffin is halfway across the world, can be tiresome and repetitive, as there aren’t many good shortcuts or ways around. And while the game does have a short list of achievements, they’re a mix of 100 percenting and challenges so far outside the box they’re pretty much Guide Dang It moments. But they’re enjoyable for both gameplay and storyline, so if you missed one of the achievements, you may just be tempted to play it all over again.

Dungeon crawl. Brave Dungeon, Inside System, 2017.

Brave Dungeon

Inside System
$5.00

Brave Dungeon is a non-randomized turn-based dungeon crawler focused on a scythe-wielding girl named Ai. Ai starts by marching straight into the final dungeon, because hey, there’s treasure in there! And swiftly gets her rear handed to her. Yeah, uh, why do you think it’s still there? Plan B: Ai assembles a team from five predetermined characters to level up enough to go take on the strongest dungeon and all its treasures. You start out on the first floor of the fire-themed dungeon, lighting up the map as you progress, finding caches of materials and stationary monsters in predetermined locations. While you can avoid them in many cases, you’re going to want to fight them a fair bit for both experience and money.

Because oh, this game demands money. In-game money is your primary form of leveling up—while you can get tokens for random stat boosts from completing material-fetching quests, money is used to buy the basic stat level ups like attack, defense, and speed: only HP, MP and part of the damage formula go up with levels. Money is also the only way to purchase spells, which are anywhere from helpful to necessary. Unlike many games where purchasing a spell gives you unlimited uses, buying a spell only grants you one use every time you go on a dungeon run. The materials you collect create accessories, which are the only other way to boost your stats and gain certain abilities. Meanwhile, levels are needed to gain titles (read: “evolve”) so you can gain extra attacks and abilities. With the different materials/currencies (including bonus currency you only get for beating the game or playing a mini-game), it feels more like a mobile game than a console game.

When you’re strong enough to beat the first level, the game’s intention is for you to go to the first level of the next dungeon, and so on through all the first levels before starting the second level of the first dungeon. It’s not exceedingly obvious in this departure from the norm, so it’s pretty easy to go straight to the second level and just assume it’s a roguelike step up in difficulty. You can even do what I did and clear the entire first dungeon, then be surprised at the ease of the remaining dungeons. The mechanics of this game overall are non-standard, which makes for both an interesting game and a head-scratcher. But it’s good-looking, with its sprite-based overview and anime-style portraits.

Brave Dungeon does have a smattering of comedic plot—the monsters are clearly humorous in design, and Ai is depicted as greedy and not the brightest. The game also hints at a few things regarding Ai and a possible connection to one of the bosses, which is likely a tie-in to their previous game, Legend of Dark Witch. Since that game is a platformer instead of a dungeon crawler, it’s possible you miss that one and thus, have bits of the game that make no sense. But overall, Brave Dungeon is more focused on its gameplay than its plot.

Kriss Kross. Word Logic by Powgi, Powgi, 2016.

Word Logic by Powgi/Word Puzzles by Powgi

Powgi
$9.99/$9.99

Most of the puzzle games on the 3DS store are your average word search or sudoku or what have you. Word Logic and Word Puzzles stick out for taking the word puzzle and then spinning it into some new formats. In Word Logic, you have puzzles like Kriss Kross, where you’re given a list of words and an empty crossword, and must figure out which words go where based on their length and where words intersect. There’s also Word Sudoku, which is basically sudoku, but using a nine-letter word which will appear in one row or column, giving one extra clue you may need for the later puzzles. Word Puzzles has formats like Word Maze, where you cross a grid from beginning to end by spelling out words related to a theme, and Flowers, which gives you the same middle two letters for several six letter words, leaving you to figure out which letters go where.

Word Logic contains six kinds of formats in all, each including 120 puzzles, and should last you for at least a few hours; Word Puzzles holds six types that each include either 60 or 120 puzzles. Both have some additional functionality beyond the puzzles (there are some hints and Streetpass functionality if you find the one other person out in the wild Streetpassing their indie puzzle games) but these aren’t really much of a draw—the puzzles themselves are enough. My biggest complaint about the game? I can’t buy more puzzles!

A note for the Android users: Powgi also has their games in the Google store as $2-$3 packs. The 3DS nets you six packs for $10, so it’s the better deal, but if you don’t have a 3DS you shall not be denied.

 

The 3DS digital store is a niche market on a (relatively) niche console, far smaller than, say, the mobile or Steam independent markets. But in indie games alone, there’s a nice variety with many more gems outside my particular preferences. There are often sales and several games with demos as well, so it’s a good place to find something that’s less of a commitment than the next mainstream odyssey.