Over the course of the last two years, Level-5's Guild series has drip-fed some of the 3DS' more surprising experiences on to the European eShop. Crimson Shroud - the return of RPG maestro Yasumi Matsuno after the Tactics Ogre director had spent nearly a decade operating on the margins - is one of the handheld's very best, as is Kaz Ayabe's Attack of the Friday Monsters, a delightfully delicate take on a childhood gripped by fertile imagination.
Weapon Shop de Omasse, which featured in the first of two Guild compilations released in Japan nearly two years back, is the last of the seven short games to make it over, for reasons which aren't particularly hard to fathom. Its star name - Yoshiyuki Hirai, an Osaka-born comic who makes up one half of the duo America Zarigani - doesn't travel well outside of Japan, and its dense stream of nerdish humour only does so after what one can assume was a monumental translation effort. A shame, then, that so much has been lost in the process - and that, beyond the jokes, there's very little left of substance.
The concept's solid enough - a kind of Open All Hours set within a knowingly generic RPG world. You're a father-and-son pair confined to the counter of a weapon shop; your many customers are adventurers, heroes and the occasional ambitious NPC who are out to conquer the land, its many quests and its many monsters. It's a sly inverse of the RPG norm that has worked well for other games - EasyGameStation's Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale and Square Enix's own Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King are two smart, accomplished examples - yet Weapon Shop de Omasse lacks their wit and, more importantly, their depth.
Not that it's short on humour - Hirai's heavy hand can be felt across the game. It's most successful during the Grindcast, a social network stream whose name unintentionally summons up thoughts of Grindr, but is more of a Twitter-lite feed through which you can keep tabs on customers who've leased your weapons. Some of the jokes fall flat - the JRPG genre is so often lampooned it would be more refreshing these days to see one that plays it straight - while others have their own childish charm. "Love is like a fart," reads one update. "If you have to force it, it's probably poop."
From behind the counter, the comedy's laid on a little more clumsily, and the translation stutters and falls. There are several returning customers weaved throughout Weapon Shop de Omasse - a preening French knight and a weary samurai among others - and their entrance is heralded by the ring of the shop door as well as the applause of an off-screen audience. The sitcom trappings go further - moments of drama are met with gasps from the audience, and they'll occasionally break into laughter - but they're often reacting to something that clearly didn't make it over in translation. The result is a little discordant, and it ends up more David Lynch than David Jason.
"As a study of life behind the counter, Weapon Shop de Omasse does a fair job - with its monotony and tedium, its simple task stretched out across entire listless days."
All of which places an emphasis on the business of running the weapon shop, and there's not enough there to support more than an hour of play. You'll have to listen to customer requests and pick items to suit, from which it's over to a forge and a thin rhythm-action game where the crafting takes place. Tapping in time ensures better stats, and a better chance of success for the customers out in the field. Success then yields better materials, with which better weapons can be made.
And that, quite simply, is that. There's a fuzziness to Weapon Shop de Omasse's systems that holds them back from ever really engaging, with a series of perfect strikes in the forge sometimes ending up with less than perfect results, and any intricacy is either lost or played out within only a handful of attempts at crafting. All that's left in between are the moments of pacing around the shop floor, idly checking the Grindcast while waiting for the next customer to swing through the doors.
As a study of life behind the counter, Weapon Shop de Omasse does a fair job - with its monotony and tedium, its simple task stretched out across entire listless days. Perhaps that was the intention of Level-5 and Yoshiyuki Hirai, though somehow I doubt that's the case. As part of the Guild portmanteau it's a curio that earns its place, an eccentric exercise whose existence you can't help but be grateful for. Torn away from its more substantial partners, though, it never does enough to stand out on its own.
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