(Please note – this is a review of the version of Xi (also known as Devil Dice) that is available through the Japanese PSN Store for Vita)
World-building & Story
There’s no story or world-building in Devil Dice – you merely play as one of a number of colourful little devils who solve puzzles involving dice. There’s nothing more to it than this and there doesn’t need to be – it’s a perfect pick up and play game as it is.
Presentation & Sound
With its cartoon-y style and generous use of colour, Devil Dice leaves an impression and certainly manages to make good use of the PS1 hardware.
Everything here takes place in enclosed arenas, which means the game doesn’t have much to play with. It makes up for this by making each individual element memorable – take for example the playable devils, which are dressed in onesies with different primary colours to differentiate them. They’re insanely cute, falling over on the menu screen and wailing when they get defeated in battle mode, which means they’re filled with character and life even if they’re not speaking.
This bright palette continues into the arenas themselves which are filled with vibrant dice, each side represented by a colour so you always remember what you’re looking at (i.e five is green, while six is pink). It’s a shame there’s not much in the way of background elements here – just endless black spaces, although little graphical flourishes like bolts of lightning when a new dice is spawning help liven things up.
Music just tends to be background noise, but otherwise the sound is solid here – the squeals of the devils is always amusing and I particularly enjoyed the announcements being done by a group of them at once.
Gameplay & Content
An incredibly unique idea for a puzzle game is at the centre of Devil Dice that thankfully is executed with all the care it deserves. I’ve never played anything quite like this before, yet I got completely hooked.
The basic idea is that you control a devil in a 3D arena filled with dice. By standing on top of them, you can move them over a grid to show each of its six sides – by lining up the number of pips on top with other dice adjacent to it (i.e a dice 2 pips next to another dice with another 2 pips), they’ll melt into the floor and you score points for it. Of course, this isn’t easy – getting the dice onto the side you need is a difficult task in itself, made even more difficult when you’re going for something like lining up six dice with six pips on top.
That may have been a bit of a ham-fisted explanation, but it’s actually incredibly easy to get to grips with once you give the game a go – and incredibly addictive too. Various higher-level strategies are slowly introduced – for example you can ‘chain’ by adding a further matching dice into ones that are already melting, or push a dice with one pip on into them to get rid of all the one’s on the screen.
You’re best honing your strategies in ‘trial’ mode, which basically features endless gameplay to chase high scores and fiddle around in. This is Devil Dice at its most pure – just one character and one board, which is simple enough to figure out but not too overwhelming as you’re rarely trying to outrun the clock or outwit opponents.
If you are after an AI to play against, you could check out ‘battle’ mode which is 1v1 combat where the idea is to get a set combination of melting dice before your opponent (i.e a 2, 3 and 4). Since you can steal them from each other or chain into the enemy’s combo, this mode is tense and exciting and is easily my favourite of what’s available. There’s also a five-player variant called ‘wars’ where getting combos damages your opponent’s health, but I found this too chaotic to be particularly enjoyable.
There’s also ‘puzzle’ mode where you need to solve pre-set block combinations within a set number of steps. This provides an almost completely different experience – rather than playing on the fly and trying to make combos, you’re sitting back and thinking about how to overcome the challenge. Different block types – such as ice (which slides) and steel (which doesn’t move) make this particularly challenging at times, but very rewarding when you pull it off.
My biggest criticism with Devil Dice is just that it’s easy to have seen all these modes and then get a little bored with the game – you’re going to need to have the drive to chase high scores and pick away at puzzles to get longevity out of this. Still, thanks to the endless and battle modes this is something I can see staying on my Vita’s memory card for years to come as they’re great for just passing small bits of free time.
Everything about this game is just smart and well-executed – this is the kind of cult classic that has stood the test of time and I was very pleased to have been able to revisit it through backwards-compatibility on Vita.
Ease of Understanding
Surprisingly, the main menu and many of the other features here are fully in English – making it easy to pick up and play.
Unfortunately, some of the guides in puzzle mode are in Japanese which means you may struggle with these sections, but I’d say 95% of the game is straightforward to understand and the rest can be solved either with a guide or Google Translate.
An extremely unique idea which has been handled with care and skill, Devil Dice is a great representation of the kind of quirky game that flourished on PS1 and is still fun and relevant today. It might not be something that will give you weeks of gameplay, but it’s safe to say there’s a really enjoyable time here that’s as good as ever on Vita.