“E” for “Effort”
I haven’t played a mahjong game in a while, because proper mahjong games don’t get localized, I’ve played all the ones I already owned, and I hadn’t been to Japan to restock for a few years.
So, I made sure to buy some PSN point cards while I was visiting. This hasn’t translated into many actual GAME purchases, because I have a monster backlog as is and frankly Japanese game prices are kuh-RAAAAAZY when you’re not buying used. Since I tend to only buy used, looking at full-priced games has been a serious case of sticker shock.
Fortunately, mahjong titles also tend towards the budget end of the spectrum, and that brings us to Tottemo E Mahjong, which set me back all of Y1543 including two extra DLC characters.
Since the glory days of the Sega Saturn, with its infamous red-label games, are long since behind us, this is not a strip mahjong game. You do play against an all-woman cast of opponents, and your rewards for victory are unlocked pages in an image gallery, but there’s no nudity involved.
You do get your pick of all the popular stereotypical opponents. There’s five in total, including a couple of imouto types, a genki athletic type, and an ojousama who’s so far over the top that I half expect her to break out into B-ko-style laughter every time she wins. I haven’t started the fifth character’s challenges yet so I don’t know her personality yet.
The writing is really fun – your opponents are really melodramatic when they lose and gloat unabashedly when they win, and even a crushing defeat is met with a threat that NEXT time they’re not going to let you off so easily.
So, that aside, presumably the next question is “but how does it play?”
Well, it’s four-player mahjong (you, your chosen opponent, and two nameless NPCs), it’s well-drawn, the sound effects are very mahjongy, it does a good job of pointing out when you can pon or kan or chi or richi, it handles all the scoring for you, it is in general a very competent mahjong game. It gets extra points in my book for not having “meld” be the default action when it shows you a potential meld, because I almost never want to meld unless I’m doing it for a pon of dragons or the seat / prevailing wind. I’m lousy at setting up high point value hands and I go for the guaranteed 1-yaku win of having a closed hand.
This originally meant that I lost a LOT. See, most mahjong games go off straight wins – you come in first and that’s all that matters. It’s actually theoretically possible to “win” a game of mahjong without winning a single one of the eight hands you play, as long as you pick up enough points from draws and your opponents beat each other up in a more-or-less balanced faction.
Tottemo E Mahjong has more of a mission structure, with (usually) multiple objectives per mission. Your first game against any character will have a simple objective of “come in first”, then maybe “come in first AND be more than 30,000 points ahead of your opponent”, or “come in first AND only win by tsumo” or, well, something like this:
Which is “come in first AND have 30,000 points more than your opponent AND your opponent must go bust AND you must have a total score of 60,000 or more AND the dealer must win at least two games in a row, or at least draw”
It gets quite frustrating when you have a results screen like this:
It’s very difficult to meet these sorts of win conditions through straight mahjong, which leads to the part of the game that I’ve become less and less fond of – the item shop, where various cheat items are sold to help you complete your missions.
Fortunately, this is not a real money item shop. You buy your nefarious tools using currency earned in-game, and you rack up this currency even when you’re failing missions, which is something of a comfort when you’re beating your head against one of the trickier challenges.
Unfortunately, it’s really imbalanced. It’s very cheap to buy, say, the following combination:
1) An item that gives you a guaranteed pon of dragons and generally gives you an extra KAN of dragons.
2) Another item that allows you to review your hand before you start, and throw back any pieces you don’t like.
3) An item that lets you interrupt an opponent’s ron or tsumo, which is even nastier if you interrupt their tsumo because it forces them to discard their winning tile and go furiten.
Oh, and just for kicks,
4) An item that guarantees that your needed wait WILL appear when you call richi, as long as the tile isn’t already in an opponent’s hand or in a discard pile.
Or, if you are absolutely stuck on a particular challenge, there IS an item which you can buy which will simply auto-complete the mission for you. This isn’t a cheap option by any means, but it’s there.
I’ve had a lot of fun with mahjong games that have occasional cheat items in the past. I love the Suchi-pai series, for example, and that’s a mahjong game where you frequently win by playing a panel match game instead of actually defeating your opponent with your leet mahjong skills. Still, something about the particular way this one is implemented is, well, it doesn’t feel very sporting.
I’m abusing the heck out of it, don’t get me wrong, because I went through at least one stretch of fifteen straight mission failures BEFORE I broke down and started hitting the item shop, and that sort of thing could break a man.
So I’m a little negative on the game, in the final analysis. I’ll probably stick with it at least until I finish all of the character paths, because it’s been fun having a mahjong game to play after a long drought, but I wish that the developers had done a better job of setting the difficulty from the beginning, rather than leaving it in the hands of the player via the shop.
About the most positive thing I can say is that the mission structure has made me think a lot more about HOW to win as opposed to just trying for the fastest win possible, and I’m starting to recognize situations where letting another player win is beneficial to me, which is a completely new skill.