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Game Info:

Kowloon Highschool Chronicle
Developed By: Atlus
Published By: Arc System Works
Released: February 04, 2021
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 2
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle, Role-Playing
ESRB Rating: Teen (Violence)
Number of Players: Singleplayer
Price: $29.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

I'd like to thank Arc System Works for the review key to this title.

In this day and age, we live in a time where a lot of old classics are getting revived as remakes, remasters, or simply fixed to run on modern hardware. Kowloon Highschool Chronicle is a semi-remake/remaster of a formerly Japanese-only PS2 game, but whether it's a good game now that it's in English has a mixed answer.

To be more specific, this is a semi-remake of the original version of the PS2 game, not the version that added a bonus playable epilogue. This version includes full voice acting, some art enhancements, and tweaks to accommodate the Switch controls, but is still a port of the original PS2 release in all other respects.

The general plot is certain to give Indiana Jones fans deja vu. You are an archeologist who works for the Rosetta Society, an international guild based in Cairo, Egypt that delves into ruins all over the world and secures the relics within for scholarly purposes. Your enemies include whatever was sealed in the ruins, both natural and supernatural. There are also human foes, including an evil counterpart to the Rosetta Society who you will wind up facing on your journey. After a prologue mission in Egypt that serves as the tutorial, you then are sent undercover as a transfer student to a Japanese high school built atop a tomb. While trying to keep your cover under wraps to prevent tipping off those who seek the ruins and their contents for less savory purposes, you must juggle school life by day and dungeon delving by night to solve the mystery of your Japan assignment.

The gameplay is split into three parts: a visual novel, a first-person dungeon crawler, and a puzzle game. There is also a retro game within a game that is called "Rockford Files", which has a similar story but plays like an NES turn-based role-playing game version of the main game.

The main game's dungeon-crawling RPG sequences feel like something right out of the early nineties first-person shooter RPG games, only with PS2 level graphics. You have a heads-up display with a minimap in the upper left corner, and when you encounter enemies, you can switch to a turn-based "combat mode" with the top right shoulder key, whereupon you can use any equipped arms (a gun, knife, or various throwable weapons) against any enemies by pressing the Y, X or B key they are assigned to. In "Search Mode", this is where the dungeon exploration comes into play. Being set in a 3D world, you will have to jump platforms, use a wire gun to scale heights, and solve various logic puzzles on the floors of the dungeon utilizing hints you collect and any items you can find. The dungeons are tile-based and you will often need to keep track of your location via the minimap for certain puzzles especially.

Kowloon Highschool Chronicle
Highlights:

Strong Points: Lots of fun Indiana Jones-style adventuring; a clever blend of puzzle, RPG, and visual novel genres
Weak Points: Obtuse puzzles; clunky controls, odd UI choices
Moral Warnings: Violence against demonic, human, and animal beings; mild use of profanity throughout like h*ll and d*mn, with rare usage of slightly stronger language like b**t**d; Some revealing, belly dancer style outfits; profound presence of demonic beings (portrayed as evil and worthy of destruction); use of occult powers and consorting with demons (portrayed as incredibly stupid and evil)

The visual novel sections play out with a cross-shaped "emotional response system", where each direction and how long you hold down the appropriate D-pad direction for it when prompted will determine if your response is happy, sad, whimsical, or excited. You can ignore these prompts and after a few moments, the game will continue as if you responded with silence or a non-committal answer. It is possible to form relationships with certain characters (romantic ones with female characters as well), so keeping track of your emotional responses is important, as each character responds better or worse to certain emotional responses.

Other parts of the game involve the metagame aspects. During the day you get free periods to explore areas of the school you have access to on a world map screen, which will provide items of various sorts and you can shop at the school store for various goods and healing items. Your room at night before dungeon-delving gives you access to a store to buy weapons and ammo, take on requests for certain dungeon items in return for a commission fee, and otherwise prepare for missions. While in the dungeons, you can access a slot-based inventory system to equip items, mix items to form a new one, or use them as needed. In the dungeon levels, you have use of a H.A.N.T., or Hunter Assisted Navigation Terminal, which provides information on defeated foes, tutorial tips, and notes and clues you have collected for solving puzzles.

Graphically, the game has a heavy Indiana Jones-inspired setting. While taking place in 2004, it has 1930's style dungeons with lots of Egyptian touches (even in the Japanese dungeon, which has some sort of connection to the tutorial dungeon in Egypt proper), and the character designs in the visual novel scenes are a cross between realism and classic anime. Monsters look like typical things like mummies and zombies right out of the adventurer archeologist genre, called "Kehito" (one who takes human form, as most do have humanoid forms). The game is properly resized in visual novel scenes for the Switch, though the dungeons are letterboxed to a 4:3 perspective ratio like the original PS2 release. While there has been some smoothing and upscaling of the original graphics for the Switch, they still have a very PS2 level of detail that is quite noticeable.

There is voice acting where was none in the original release, and all of it is in Japanese with English subtitles, and it's well done. Sounds are nothing remarkable but sound good, especially the ambient tomb noises like footsteps, and the guns do sound like actual weapons. Music is very Indiana Jones inspired, with some anime-like sequences, with a mix of tracks that sound mysterious, dramatic, and ambient horror music at appropriate intervals. None of it stood out, but it did sound appropriate to the setting.

The controls were ported from the PS2 to the Switch mostly unchanged since the Switch has a similar control scheme layout to the PS2. The buttons are relabeled appropriately in the context menus, and most sections save two are easily navigated. The items screen is clunky and tedious to navigate like the early Resident Evil games, often forcing the player to scroll up and down to find items. The switching between combat and search mode toggle is easy enough to understand, but the controls for combat itself are a tad unintuitive, as guns can only lock onto enemies at a certain tile range, and the crosshair movement is a tad stiff. There is an AP system that controls movement during battle turns, and while you can see how much AP you have left, ANY action will use some, and it's hard to gauge how much you might waste until you get a firm handle on the controls.

Stability is excellent, as this has a butter-smooth framerate of 60 FPS. Load times are a bit long at times, and I did notice (since I played on a handheld Switch) that this can burn through power pretty fast, so keep the power cord plugged in.

Kowloon Highschool Chronicle
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 3/5

Morality Score - 58%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 7/10
Sexual Content - 7/10
Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10 (+3 for emphasizing the folly of consorting with demons)

Morally, this title has some definite issues.

Violence is of the RPG style, where orders are given and you watch the results. Guns and knives are used against animals, demons, and the rare human opponent, but this game has no blood or gore depicted. Some scenes are disturbing regardless, like one where you get to see someone's hands shrivel till they look corpse-like in one scene, but that's generally the worst of it. Bodies disappear immediately in combat and any people who die in cutscenes generally leave no grisly details or the matter is merely discussed, with bodies not shown.

Language is about mild teen level, with the most common profanity being some occasional h*ll and d*mn, with some rarer use of stronger words like b**t**d once in a while. Sexual content is not a focus of this game, though we do get to see some belly dancer like-outfits and a fair bit of cleavage at times. One character is implied to be a bit of a lecher, but this is not done often and played off as a joke more often than not.

The supernatural and the occult are an omnipresent element in the story, as it's steeped in the "All Myths are True" trope of adventurer archeology stories (including implications of aliens being real at times), though this does get a rather negative portrayal. All supernatural entities fought are regarded as foul demons worthy of destruction. The player uses no supernatural powers, but they can use salt as an offensive weapon against demons in a generic sense. Salt is considered in many traditions (Judaism and Christianity as well) as a symbol of holiness and purity, so this is not anything worth much concern. Otherwise, most other information on other cultures and religions is provided as historical references, and the game makes clear what is real historical information and what is fantasy.

The game does clearly show demons are NOT worthy of trust and all they do is evil. Anyone in the plot who is foolish enough to bargain with, trust, or allow themselves to be used by the demons is shown to get nothing but misery from doing so. A recurring theme is that evil is not a toy, treating it as such has dire consequences for the mind, body, and soul.

Morally and ethically, you are an undercover agent of an international guild meant to keep ancient technology and relics out of the hands of those who would use them for evil, and they have ties to legitimate governments that firmly establish their official sanction. Certain options exist in dialogue to act bizarrely or rudely, but in the end, the player is firmly on the side being responsible, and any authority that is resisted is generally that which is corrupt, so there are no authority issues of note.

My experience was, overall, fairly enjoyable. It has some clunky mechanics, some obtuse puzzles, and some odd control and UI choices still, but the game itself is recommended if you love dungeon crawlers and adventurer archaeologist stories. Morally, while it has a profound presence of occult and supernatural themes, given the genre, it does show none of these things are good as a counterbalance. Overall, it's perfectly fine for any reasonably mature teenager and up.

About the Author

Daniel Cullen

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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