Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is a strange and experimental take on the state of JRPGs. Upon first glance it would be easy to assume it to be some kind of RPG with hacking and slashing. It has all the trappings and visual flair of a Japanese action-RPG; complete with sexy monster girl adornments.
The experience is closer to capturing the feel of those isometric adventure games that were popular on the ZX Spectrum. There is a heightened excess of backside groping that makes Hakoniwa Explorer Plus more unique than anything else, but also an unusual high attention to detail for something that could be mistaken for a hentai game.
Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is the kind of game that tells you exactly what it is, seconds into the game. The title gives away what the bulk of the gameplay entails. Hint: it involves exploring.
Hakoniwa Explorer Plus
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: June 6th, 2018 (Windows PC), June 18, 2020 (Nintendo Switch)
Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is like a fever dream where you aren’t sure if what you are witnessing is actually happening. Between all the twerking and vulgar dialogue that is compounded with an anemic story, the game takes on a unique aura.
Pressing on to see what else Hakoniwa Explorer Plus has in it is a palpable driving force and it does not disappoint. Impressively, there are more than one ways to strip a big-breasted mimic that wants you dead. Being able to experiment with items and creating reactions is a core pillar of the experience.
Every item collected is like a chemical component that will cause some kind of reaction when used in various ways. Squirting “Pervy Liquid” on an unsuspecting monster girl will cause their clothes to deteriorate and the same effect works both ways.
The logic how items interact are always creating alternate possibilities. Even when a useful fire weapon breaks, it is possible to cobble together a makeshift alternative. The only problem with any of this, is the utterly spartan interface that makes using items a complete drag.
The protagonist can hold only three pieces of gear; a weapon, consumable item. and a protective. The durability is often very low, and the rate that corrosive enemies show up will guarantee that half of the time the hero will be fighting unarmed or naked.
Getting attached to any equipment is pointless. Most of the time the hero will have to use whatever they happen to find, therefore you’ll never want to bother buying anything from shops. This means always going in and out of the item screens to equipping whatever is on hand.
Having to toil away in the inventory on such a regular basis not only breaks the flow of the action while exploring or fighting, it can potentially lead to disorientation. Hakoniwa Explorer Plus‘ stages sometimes have infinitely repeating spaces, where traveling in a specific way is the only means of progression.
Having to outfit the protagonist just might cause enough of a distraction that anybody could lose track of direction. This is exacerbated by the very small map size where it is easy to accidentally step back into previously visited areas.
Enemies respawn and regenerate all HP if you happen to accidentally leave the area, which wouldn’t be too bad if the core combat wasn’t so rough. The hero can move around fluidly, and is animated well enough that poses and gestures are easily readable. Attacking is where things are extremely rough or unfinished.
The player-character’s sprite can only face left or right when attacking, despite the fact the little hobo can strike in all angles. This makes the combat feel very inaccurate and often like a crapshoot.
It never feels right to be attacking northward when the protagonist does not face that direction. Enemy tells and the hit boxes are also wildly inconsistent, making melee unreliable. This is where the items acquired prove to be useful since they tend to strike a wider reach and can soften threats where picking them off with a close range weapon becomes more viable.
Interestingly, items acquired can react to the player’s surroundings. Carrying a library of dangerous spell books can render them unusable if you decide to go for a swim while carrying them. This applies to all kinds of pick-ups; not paying attention to the effects of the surroundings can render that expensive gear into junk.
The most satisfying aspect of Hakoniwa Explorer Plus, is the game loop of exploring the world and its dungeons. A lot of it is elevated by the appealing and chunky voxel art style, and how bouncy the animation is.
Helping out some NPCs by doing generic quests and talking to them is basic, but finding a lead of where the next dungeon is and having to find it in the world map appeals to old school sensibilities that is lost in most RPGs today.
Aside from the fighting, running around and exploring dungeons or forests is a bulk of Hakoniwa Explorer Plus. The other side of progress is the way how the game is designed around completing achievements. It is almost like the designer is making a statement on game design in the modern age how there is not much content outside of trying to earn trophies.
Seeing the true ending does require the player to earn every achievement and it is worth the effort. The climax ultimately feels like a punchline to one big joke, making Hakoniwa Explorer Plus seem like it is less of a traditional game and more like an artist’s statement.
Sometimes it feels like the creator it taking potshots at developers like Nippon Ichi who lean on fan service to sell a game. One crucial NPC is Sukumizu, a girl with a severe caca-mouth who always wears her namesake (Japanese high school batting suit).
The designer’s exaggeration with how blatant fan service is handled goes so far it stops being sexy and just becomes mundane. It becomes possible to become numb to thick thighs and puff-puff poses; not that it was that hot to begin with because the art in Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is on the amateurish side.
Characters are drawn with sloppy anatomy, with only the “important” parts getting the most attention. Certain poses have limbs appearing to be rubbery and ill-defined bone structure. It is obvious that only one artist did a single pass for all the characters, and there was nobody on staff to refine the sprites.
Even the environments are built to be more economical in their design than to have any flair. The voxel construction proves to be limiting, and areas end up feeling like copy-pasted pallet swaps. Level design also is lacking; there is hardly any platforming or environmental puzzles which makes the competent jumping mechanics feel wasted.
Even boss battles follow an iterative formula, which involves them being restrictive and occasionally attacking. The real joy of Hakoniwa Explorer Plus, is the experimentation and discovering secrets. Finding hidden encounters and obscure areas with amusing easter eggs keeps the experience from getting boring.
Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is not recommended for anyone who wants a polished, deep or lengthy action JRPG. This is an experimental and cheeky experience-driven game where it is more of a joke than a legitimate game.
The price tag won’t break the bank, and for what it is worth, interested parties will find it worth the money. Exploring and discovering is the heart of Hakoniwa Explorer Plus, and along the way it will make you laugh.
The gameplay is roughly on par with something that might have been on a PSP from the 2000s, but what keeps the experience from getting stale is the sense of humor, and the way how the game reacts to player actions. Just be sure to keep your hands off people’s bathing suit areas, otherwise you’re going to have a bad time.
Hakoniwa Explorer Plus was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a personal copy acquired by the reviewer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
Some Images: Nintendo