Wait, what? No, no! We were done with Love Live! It was over! You promised! You promised!
Bloody hellfire. Right, fine, I'll put up with this only because at least it's a game about Yohane, the most relatable Love Live because she goes to pieces when she has to deal with other people, she's just like me for real. Ahem. We played the Switch version of this one but it appears to be identical to the PS4 / PS5, Xbox One / Xbox Series and Steam versions with no obvious performance issues- it's a 2D Metroidvania that probably wouldn't task the Gamecube very much, they'd have to really screw it up to make it run worse on the Switch. Anyway, because we used the native snapshot function of the Switch, these are presented in 720p at max size and a little logo watermark got added but we decided it was easier (and funnier!) to keep them in rather than set up the capture equipment, it makes the game feel like it's got low confidence in itself and has to constantly remind you what its name is. Just like Yohane! Click on the images to make them bigger. Or just bring your face closer to the screen to see them better, I dunno.
Dark destiny once again outstretches its icy grip... The school idols are back!
... In a video game based on an anime based on a manga spin-off of a Love Live sub-series.
Clearly we're too many layers in, but let's blaze in the deep blue (whatever that means) with Yohane the Parhelion.
Let's get on the same page first. Love Live! is the multimedia project about high school girls becoming idols either to save their school or just live their dreams that we've seen on this website before, in the form of the iOS game that started my journey into 2D idol hell and the PS Vita game that may or may not have killed developer Dingo Inc. and it has unfortunately become a series I'm attached to. There's no escape for me, I like it here, but there are more pressing matters at hand today. One thing I wasn't really able to dwell on in those articles is that after the conclusion of the first series which focused on the group µ's from Otonokizaka High School, a new group was formed, Aqours of Uranohoshi Girls' High School, who became the main characters of Love Live! Sunshine!!, another two-season anime with an accompanying movie. While there's vague ties to the first series (µ's are part of the backstory of how the group gets formed and one of the girls is a transfer student from Otonokizaka), from this point onwards the series would move towards a Pretty Cure approach, with each new series being completely separate, including Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club and Love Live! Superstar!! focusing on completely new protagonists and idol groups. I won't tip my hand and tell you which one's my favourite, you'll have to figure it out yourself. (It's Nijigasaki, Kasumin Box forever)
So now we know there's different groups in this multimedia project, but we have to hone in on Sunshine!! specifically because that's the one that got the alternate universe fantasy spin-off manga! This was the second sub-series and followed the same format as the first, with main character Chika recruiting her childhood friend You and new neighbour Riko to become idols to save their school, with former idols third-year students and some eccentric first-year students getting caught in the fray. While 2019 was the last animated feature with Aqours, they're still active including things like BANZAI! digital trippers with Hatsune Miku as a guest but they were also the first one to get a proper spin-off. As explained by Anime News Network, Genjitsu no Yohane -Sunshine in the Mirror- (with the first part localised as Yohane the Parhelion, the name we'll use from this point onwards) began as a series of illustrations in G's Magazine Love Live! Days magazine by Taira Akitsu, with the first reference to it being in the description for Volume 15 (December 2020). This later turned into a serialised manga, Yohane the Parhelion -Unpolarized Reflection- which started in Volume 25 (February 2022) by Kōta Matsuda which also got individual reprints. The manga itself is pretty light-hearted and cute, with Yohane- the Chūnibyō. of Aqours who talks about being a fallen angel and has something of an ego- being recast as a 'fortune teller' (but mostly an errand girl) of the village Numazu in a fantasy world with magic, demon lords and delivery workers who get launched out of cannons. So, you know, I'm down for that. It's a cute little mixture of slice-of-life fantasy and action, mostly revolving around Yohane doing odd-jobs alongside the mystery of the red gems that drive animals and monsters mad (usually resolved by some Tokusatsu-style action by Chika's Million Dollar group or Dia's Scarlet Delta bodysuit-motorbike combo). One of the more notable things about the manga is the distinct art style, having a more rounded, chubby look to its characters which is really charming!
In 2022 an announcement trailer for a Yohane the Parhelion anime adaptation was uploaded to YouTube as an April Fools' Day joke but later privated, because in June of that year, the anime adaptation was shown to be real, the best kind of April Fools' Day joke. While still a fairly laid-back story with a fantasy theme, there's quite a few changes- originally a silent background character who just happened to accompany Yohane, her wolf buddy Lailaps becomes a main character who talks (usually to dunk on Yohane, but in a loving way) and while most elements from the manga are present such as the red gems and the characters, there's a more adventure-y plot involving the 'Resonance' phenomenon bothering Numazu. Across the season, Yohane has to pick herself up after her attempts to become an idol in the big city were shot down in flames, make some new friends in Numazu and solve the Resonance incident with the power of idol performances. It's not a bad show but trading in the chubby style from the manga for the more standard Love Live! art style does take a bit of appeal away and it really has a big problem with pacing. You get the feeling there's something going on behind the scenes with Lailaps but it takes almost the entire season for the payoff and the whole Resonance thing also takes its sweet time to get explained. If you're a Sunshine fan it's neat to see familiar characters in these new roles, and we do get a lot of very good Yohane faces, but eh, it's fine.
... Although just before the anime debuted, there was another announcement, one even more unexpected- Yohane the Parhelion was getting a video game by Inti Creates, developers of games people would know like the Mega Man Zero and Blaster Master Zero series but I know them more as the developers of Love & Destroy and the Gal★Gun series. Listen, once you learn that, it never leaves you, it's just gonna remain in the brainspace forever. Anyway, a gander at the credits shows that this is the work of Inti Creates veterans such as Toshiaki Tai (writer for the Azure Striker Gunvolt series and Gal★Gun: Double Peace) and Hiroki Miyazawa (director for Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon and design for the Azure Striker Gunvolt series) as directors and Yuji Murata (Mighty No. 9 and the Blaster Master Zero series) as lead programmer, so this has plenty of shared DNA with the Gunvolt and Blaser Master Zero series. They're not series I'm particularly familiar with, but my general Metroidvania knowledge gives me enough to give the game fair judgement, I should hope. In any case, this adaptation goes with a plot that you could probably fit somewhere in the middle of the anime series without disrupting too much- Yohane's friends have all gone missing in a mysterious labyrinth underneath a lake in Numazu, brimming with undersea horrors. Venturing into the maze alongside her smartass wolf partner Lailaps, Yohane must save her friends and use their abilities to solve the enigma of the massive underwater maze!
The adventure plays out in the tried-and-true Metroidvania style, with you exploring different areas of the labyrinth, defeating monsters and finding the bosses guarding Yohane's eight friends who grant her new abilities to get past obstacles and open up new routes, so you probably have a good idea how the game flows, but there's a few things that Yohane does to separate it from others in the genre. The big one is combat- Yohane's an errand girl, not a fighter, so at the start of the game all she has to defend herself is Lailaps who teleports in to slash ahead of her. This takes a bit of getting used to as there's a slight wind-up and a cooldown plus it's pretty close-range, so taking on multiple or fast-moving enemies isn't an option at first. As you rescue Yohane's friends, their abilities often serve to remove obstacles and let you access new areas- Dia's lightning sword strikes power up generators to light up dark places and get elevator systems moving, Hanamaru's rolling destroys spikes and, my personal favourite, You's mail delivery cannon acts as an air dash for getting across large gaps and through small crevices- but they also double as combat tools. I always like when Metroidvanias do this- having exploration tools double as attack methods makes them feel less like the abilities are just keys to open the gates preventing you from progressing- and Yohane's implementation is pretty fun. A good example is Kanan, whose ability summons her on top of her robot-frog buddy Tonosama to drop from the top of the screen- it's intended to smash blocks to open paths but it's very helpful for large flying enemies that first appear in the volcano area who are pretty dangerous but stay still just long enough for you to lamp 'em with Tonosama. One odd thing is that aside from Lailaps, summons are tied to the magic meter (called Darkness Points here because, you know, chūnibyō) so there are points where you'll have to stop your exploration to find a save point and refresh your DP, otherwise it'll start eating into your health, somewhat similar to Dead or School where you eventually run out of ammo while exploring. It's best to bring a few restorative items with you, which you can buy with any Yen you find from enemies and item pots (although one issue here is you can also buy items to cure status ailments like poison or solitude... But you only get symbols saying what status ailment you have so you don't know what to buy for specific areas, I'm still mad I bought ten poison cures when I needed venom cures, I'll never forgive them for this). You can, admittedly, use these to make the bosses a lot easier, but this game also auto-saves on death, taking all your used-up items away, so be careful!
You can't entirely rely on your friends though, so Yohane has to use some of her darkety-dark magic to whip up some gear to help her out. Yeah, this game has a crafting system, I guess the Fallen Angel has some Minecraft experience! Defeating enemies and opening chests gives you materials that you can craft at any time (although here it's called casting, because you know, magic) into two types of equipment, weapons and accessories. Accessories alter your maximum HP and maximum DP with potential extra effects like reducing elemental damage, preventing certain status ailments or increasing your critical hit rate (you can only equip one at first but you're eventually allowed up to three... by collecting "Fashion for Dummies" books, ouch) while weapons just alter your attack and have different levels of DP consumption but come in a nice variety of types. Yohane doesn't use them directly, mind, she conjures them up and they do their thing (a cute nod to the manga where she does the same thing) so she gets to use crossbows, magic daggers, katars, gigantic battle axes and even sword-whips. That means these consume DP too, so they'll need to be reloaded eventually as well. There's weapons to suit a few different playstyles if you like, but being able to combine summons and weapons allows you to do a few neat things with the combat system- in particular, alternating quickly between Lailaps and a weapon lets you stay much longer in the air during a jump which is especially handy during certain boss fights and makes them pretty engaging, probably my favourite part of the game. While you'll quickly settle into a favoured weapon type, there's utility for most of them- I stuck with explosives as soon as I got them but the giant swinging axes were more useful at certain points, so making a few different weapon types pays off. One thing I was worried about was the boss fights and fortunately they're pretty fun- there's very little 'here's a tiny window for you to attack in and if you miss, time to wait' nonsense here, you can often attack any chance you get, and some of them allow you to use the summon abilities in clever ways like clearing out a spike pit or sucking up poison gas. The only low point was the final boss which does have a weak point you have to wait for, but I got the hang of it in the end.
Anyway, shifting focus back to the equipment system, there's definitely a few things to be said about this approach. For one, there's a little element of min-maxing your stats but it's mostly relegated to the accessories and you might've noticed there's very few stats to be min-maxing in the first place. It's just your maximum HP, maximum DP and attack, there's nothing else and no levelling up. You know what, I don't mind that at all- it keeps things nice and simple and offers you a fair bit of freedom when it comes to picking out gear you want to use, although that's definitely more true for accessories than weapons. I won't lie, as soon as I got the exploding crossbow I kinda stuck with it as it felt like every other weapon was either too short-range or needed materials I had no idea where to grind for... Which kinda leads into one of the big downsides here, the fact that you craft gear rather than find it yourself really removes the joy of opening treasure chests and finding new stuff. The game tries to compensate for this by often having one-of-a-kind materials in chests (such as the Miniature Train needed for a very useful accessory) but a lot of the time you'll open a chest to get something you've got about five of from enemy drops anyway. I'm sure it sounds like a trifling detail, really- in the end, isn't finding new gear and getting the materials to make new gear essentially the same thing?- but it definitely had a material impact on how I felt about seeing a treasure chest or stash of items, it really puts a damper on the excitement of discovery. At least the descriptions for the items you can craft are funny, but it'd be nicer if I just picked them up rather than have to do it this roundabout way.
There's actually quite a few little inconveniences like this that impact the equipment system and other parts of the game. The most obvious is the lack of a bestiary- enemies don't even have names and you certainly can't look up what material they drop which is especially annoying when you're looking for something specific for an item you want to make. You can sometimes guess where you might find them as each enemy only has one potential material drop and it's usually something you'd expect (the mud-slinging birds drop Dirt Balls, for example) but others are only found in random pots and others are exclusive to the randomised areas (more on those later). Obviously this encourages a bit of thinking and exploration, but it would've been nice to at least have an idea of where to go, finding some materials is like finding a needle in a haystack. The casting menu also doesn't let you compare possible creations with what you have equipped at the moment, so it's easy to waste resources on something that's not as good as what you have if you're forgetful or don't want to rummage through menus to double-check. Finally on this note, not even the summon abilities are free of mildly inconveniencing you- each character has an extra ability unlocked by finding a specific treasure chest, and it's usually something really powerful or silly like Hanamaru blowing up the enemy with a laptop or Mari slowing down time for as long as you have meter, which is great... But if you don't leave the dungeon first to hear the character explain to Yohane what they're looking for first and find the item, it'll be in a locked chest with no way to open it. Additionally, while unopened chests are marked on the map, these special chests aren't made visibly different so you just have to remember or guess. I have a good guess as to why this is- while these extra accessories are generally hidden away such that you won't be able to get them before you rescue the girl they're for, Inti probably didn't want to have to record two sets of dialogue for having and not having the item, but it caught me out a few times and just makes the game seem a little unpolished, as do these other little inconveniences. Not entirely game-ruining but they add up.
OK, that's the combat and equipment sorted out, what about exploration? It's nothing especially out of the ordinary but it does the job well enough and has exactly one (1) feature you don't see too often. Each area keeps things simple with one boss (meaning one friend to rescue) and one upgrade item each, and the map even points out where your friend is once you reach a new area, giving you a rough idea of what direction to head in. The area themes are nice and distinct with unique obstacles in each (the haunted ship has dark areas, the crystal caves have giant slabs that chase you, etc.) although the use of palette swaps mean there's less unique enemies in each area than you'd expect. Outside of your pals helping you out, you'll eventually find some genre-standard exploration tools that let you double-jump, freely swim in water and climb walls (limited to a Guts meter but there's an accessory to let you climb forever) and... That's it, really. Again, Yohane keeps things simple which I appreciate, although I wish the map would be more precise on where you've been- it's often difficult to remember where your new items will come in handy because if you enter a room and can't progress, the whole room gets marked as entered. This obviously becomes less of a problem as you explore and gain new abilities, but it's a little annoying early on, especially if you're as bad at navigation as me (hello, I'm the person who opens my map every five seconds in any given Resident Evil game). On the plus side, unopened treasure chests do get marked on your map (although again, it's a little rude to go out of your way for one to find a few more of the tentacles you've been gathering for hours now) but special chests, like the ones with summon or exploration upgrades, aren't differentiated. At the very least, going treasure-hunting is kept simple too, as any save room you find doubles up as a warp point and entry point if you leave for the shop, so you'll always have an escape plan if you need it which is appreciated- this is a Metroidvania for tired people, I suppose.
The most unique element here is the randomised or displaced area room, one found in each major zone of the map where you enter through a portal and make your way through a series of randomised rooms before exiting and getting back to the normal map. These hide unique enemies (including a Mimic!) and materials for making items and... Well, because they're essentially one-way rooms, you don't really ever have to go back to them unless you really want to grind for stuff. This was a fairly heavily-advertised feature and it just feels a bit underbaked really, and doesn't have as huge an impact on the design as you might think. It's a bit telling that being able to warp to any save point at any point renders these areas almost completely unvisited after you have to go through them because you can just slip by them if you can't be bothered. The only other thing worth mentioning when it comes to exploration is, from the perspective of a person who will absolutely get lost in this kind of game in the silliest ways (that's me, I'm talking about myself), it's fairly easy to intuit where you need to go next in this one. Being able to place markers on the map would've helped for sure as I'd often forget where I'd previously seen an area I could now access with new gear, but I never really found myself in a position where I was completely flummoxed on where to go, there were obvious gaps on my map and missing summon enhancements to find so I always had somewhere in mind to go. Some of the uses of your exploration tools may not be obvious- Ruby's upgraded power, for instance, can eat pushable blocks which didn't click as the solution to a roadblock until a chat member pointed it out- but generally even if you're prone to getting lost in games like me, you'll find this one pretty gentle and easy to figure out. There's even a tiny bit of wriggle-room in terms of boss order if you like, rescuing Riko and Hanamaru can be done in any order it seems. The rest of the game is fairly straightfoward though, although I think they could've cut the boss rush at the end, personally.
This is the bit where we talk about the presentation and it's pretty alright. The sprite art for the characters is extremely cute (big fan of Ruby going into a panic where her cotton candy monster goes out of control), and the undersea theme means that the enemies and boss characters go a little all-in on deep-sea horror which works really well, although palette swaps do appear pretty early on, so get used to some of them. The environment art is perhaps a little less charming, not that it's necessarily bad but it feels less natural, more a 'I can see exactly where the level chunks are' kind of thing if you get me. The music is also pretty catchy but when it comes to sound, the voice acting is great- the entire set of Aqours voice actresses are here, and maybe I'm just biased but I'll never get tired of hearing Yohane shout "Da-da-da-darkness!" when she does any of her nonsense. Surprisingly, even the battle shouts and grunts are subtitled, an odd but welcome touch. One thing that's worth mentioning is that you don't necessarily need to be a Love Live! Sunshine!! fan to enjoy this game, but there's a lot of cute little references to the series that the fans are going to notice. A few examples include Ruby's moves being a nod to Cotton Candy Ei-Ei-Oh!, the greatest Love Live! music video ever made and Hanamaru's exploding laptop being taken from this moment from Sunshine!! where she tries to work a computer. Surprisingly, there's quite a few references to the original Parhelion manga too, including Yohane's ability to manifest weapons with magic and Mari's penchant for macarons. Those are nods just for the hardcore of the hardcore Love Livers, but I think even if you're a complete newcomer, you won't be lost, just a few jokes might be a bit strange. Some things, though, are universal- seeing Yohane get launched out of You's cannon and splatting against the wall Wile E. Coyote style with a pained "GUH!" never gets old, whether you know the series or not.
Better wrap things up on this one then, I think Yohane the Parhelion -BLAZE in the DEEPBLUE- (yes, gotta have the full title here, and the correct capitalisation) is a totally fine, middle-of-the-road Metroidvania that has some additional charm thanks to its unusual license (I'm a Yohane fan, what can I say) but doesn't excel in any particular area. Rattling off the plus points, it's nice and breezy and perfectly possible to blaze (ha) through in a long afternoon, and being able to flit between save points freely is a nice convenience for a lazy, laid-back playthrough. I also mostly enjoyed the boss battles as you're always able to pummel them with weapons with only your Darkness Points limiting how much you can do, and having the summonable partners also double up as offensive tools is a nice touch. However, there's a lot of little inconveniences that pepper the game, chief among them being the equipment creation system not having anything like a bestiary or any help in telling you where you can find materials to make gear you actually want, plus the entire experience is stretched ever-so-slightly by an unnecessary boss rush right at the end (not as awful as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue on the Game Boy's boss rush at least- finally, I get to use that game as an example in a review!) and there's a bit of a reliance on palette-swapped enemies and environments that feel a bit too artificial and pieced-together which can get a bit old. There's nothing egregiously wrong with Yohane's little undersea adventure, and if you're looking for something a bit lighter than something like Bloodstained or classics of the genre, then this isn't a bad choice... It just doesn't do anything outstanding or out of the norm either (and the randomised areas absolutely do not count). A bit like Yohane herself at times, despite the airs she puts on. Maybe it was intentional, now that's meta!
For not really being that great or that bad, Yohane the Parhelion -BLAZE in the DEEPBLUE- is awarded...
In a sentence, Yohane the Parhelion -BLAZE in the DEEPBLUE- is...
A completely fine visit to the great blue sea.