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  2. Developer: Falcom Publisher: NIS America Platform: Switch, PS4, and PC Release Date: June 30, 2020 ESRB: T for Teen One would think school days were behind The Legend of Heroes series after just about everyone graduated at the end of Trails of Cold Steel II. Yet, sure enough, Thor's Military Academy is back in session. With a new set of students as well as branch campus location Trails of Cold Steel III attempts to blend familiar and foreign ground all at once for returning players. Which makes sense as the long running role playing game series finally makes the long overdue shift to modern hardware with its newest port being on the Nintendo Switch. Just like the previous Cold Steel games it places the main character mantle on Rean Schwarzer once more. Rather than him being a student this time around, however, he has quickly decided to become a teacher in spite of the war hero moniker "Ashen Chevalier" that he obtained just a year beforehand. Also, because of his teacher position this time around, Rean makes it clear that he is more of a guiding hand for the new faces of Class VII rather than the primary focal point of it, at least initially. Despite being the third entry the title does a surprisingly good job at initiating would-be newcomers to the series rich history. It also take its' time to develop the plucky new students of Class VII through meaningful arcs to slowly reintroducing many familiar faces that have mostly already gone through their own. The Switch release even attempts to go the extra step by having exclusive chapter by chapter recaps of the previous Cold Steel entries right on the title screen. Regardless of one's established familiarity though, many of the game's best moments are through the countless interpersonal exchanges in Cold Steel III. Be it optional bonding events, or deliberate main story scenes, it is a treat to see someone like the incredibly haughty punk Ash start to show his genuine compassion over time, in his own awkward foul-mouthed way, and plenty others see a similar level of earnest growth over time including instructor Rean himself. Of course, this measured character-focused approach most certainly comes at the huge price of downright glacial main narrative pacing for many returning Trails players. At times coming across in a way that seems to actively avoid addressing important story threads that have been lingering across multiple games and subseries (some dating as far back as the Trails in the Sky entries), even when certain important elements are almost literally staring the player in the face. It is all the more frustrating when the story finally goes into a no holds barred state of narrative escalation only to abruptly end on more or less the most fiendish cliffhanger in the entire series, which admittedly already had a fairly high bar. The only real solace to the cliffhanger being that, well, Trails of Cold Steel IV is being released so soon after. With all that said, it is easy to forgot that there is, well, traditional role playing gameplay. Even amid the often hours long gaps between questionably paced story beats or interpersonal exchanges that enriches it cast. For instance, a somewhat understated strength in all Cold Steel releases are its rock-solid and rewarding combat system. Placing an engaging emphasis on cleverly interrupting enemy attacks or manipulating the turn-order. The third entry improves the formula even more by the entirely new feature called "Brave Orders" that is centered around activating strong player buffs at key times to really change the flow of a fight. While Brave Orders are certainly an enjoyable strategic addition it is far from a balanced one, unfortunately. Certain order combinations are so overpowered that it becomes quite easy to stunlock late game bosses into no more than a single turn total. Making it somewhat temping to dabble with higher difficulties for that reason alone. What Trails of Cold Steel III brings the most to its gameplay systems are actually in the form of huge quality of life additions than outright new elements, however. Though originally introduced in the excellent PC ports of Trails of Cold Steel, the tremendously welcome "high-speed mode" speeds up anything from combat, on-foot traversal, to the occasional cutscene animation that is just a little too slow is one of the most obvious inclusions. But even then, returning players are likely to quickly notice the more subtle, but welcome, aspects more relationship building events that don't require the precious usage of limited bonding points or the slick UI interface in and out of battle. One would be remiss to not make the direct comparison to its PS4 counterpart, however. Which, admittedly, if one is only looking for a PS4 vs Switch pure technical comparison then there is not not much room for discussion. The PS4 release is easily better with nearly doubled frame rate fidelity, smoother textures, or superior audio quality. If one is transitioning directly from the PS3 and Vita releases of Cold Steel I and II, then the Switch port becomes far more impressive in comparison improving not only visuals but dramatically improved load times as well. It is just a shame that in docked mode that a lot of visuals are noticeably more blurry compared to its portable friendly form. Yet, even being fully aware of the compromises it makes for portable convenience what truly makes any Cold Steel III Switch port recommendation far more murky is its tendency to outright crash a random points. If it only happened once or twice it would not be really mentioned at all, but because it happened several dozen times from start to finish the Switch port becomes far harder to consider for even the most tolerant of players. The only rhyme or reason I could find behind its straight up crashing problem is that it seemingly only really happened in bigger towns and not in dungeons. Plus, without a single patch in sight months after its release, it becomes far less of a passive warning to "save very often" and more of a big cautionary tale of being fully aware of the Switch port's near game-breaking problem during the course of a tremendously long RPG experience, almost regardless of the quality of the game itself. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is both forward-moving in various quality of life enhancements for the series in terms of gameplay and also somewhat clumsy in its attempt to create room for its new setting and cast during its massive campaign. With a main narrative pacing in particular that occasionally borderlines a glacially paced seminar only to randomly slap the player with sporadic moments of character and world-building brilliance. It becomes a tricky RPG proposition to recommend for anybody that is not already more than knee-deep in Trails fandom that already know that they want to see the sub-series story arc to completion, especially with its fiendish cliffhanger. But, for however much one may want to talk about the game itself, the discussion is almost completely supersede by the necessity to point out the dodgy Switch port itself. For its disconcerting frequency to outright crash at random points can easily be a deal breaker for even for the most staunch fans of portability, especially with no patch in sight several months after release. Unless one is a Trails fan that simply has not gotten a PS4, or capable enough PC, Trails of Cold Steel III on Switch can easily ignored by its far more reliable counterparts on other hardware. Pros + Great interpersonal moments that either fleshes out its new cast of characters well or puts a welcome new perspective on the many returning ones + Fairly noticeable visual and interface step up from the previous two games + 'Orders' add a fresh strategic dynamic to what was an already rock solid combat system + Very portable friendly in handheld mode (unlike some recent first party Nintendo games...) Cons - Glacial main narrative pacing and absurd completion time that struggles to earn the player's patience level it demands - Clear technical compromises compared to the PS4 version with a surprisingly high chance of random crashing in certain areas that are unique problems to the Switch release - Certain 'Orders' can wholly trivialize a lot of the game's bosses - Visuals do not quite upscale well in docked mode and look rather blurry Overall Score: 6.0 (out of 10) Decent The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III on Switch quickly warps the discussion of a forward-moving, but very frustratingly paced, RPG entry in the series into an almost easy skip on the system entirely due to unpredictable technical problems that make it prone to crashing at any time unlike its PS4 counterpart Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Switch code provided by the publisher.
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    Review: Judgement

    Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: June 25, 2019 ESRB: M for Mature Sega has given an immense amount of love to the Yakuza series on the Playstation 4. From the stunning prequel that is Yakuza 0 to a fitting finale to the series' beloved lead that is Kiryu Kazama in Yakuza 6 players are left with no shortage of avenues to play the series from start to end. Heck, to further cement the PS4's Yakuza entry point status, Sega even most recently announced a collection of the formerly PS3 exclusive Yakuza titles 3-5 now making every mainline Yakuza entry accessible on the same system. But there a chance one wants to try something somewhat different. Maybe one is getting little weary of seeing Kiryu's mug in the main character slot for so long (how dare you), or perhaps newcomers that are Yakuza-curious are looking for an entry point without the commitment anxiety of a long-running series. Well, good news for either of you hypothetical individuals, because Sega has constructed a spin-off game seemingly with that perspective in mind though the PS4-exclusive title Judgment--A title that is more or less the textbook example of a Yakuza game in nearly way except name and direct narrative ties. Of course, Judgment certainly attempts to illustrate its own distinct take on crime -focused action game series in various forms. For one, the lead character mantle goes to a new face to the series by name of Yagami Takayuki (who looks identical to the incredibly popular Japanese actor who plays him), who was once an attorney but now plays the part of a detective. The reason for this drastic career shift is due to Yagami deeply regretting helping a convicted murderer free only for them to go and kill their girlfriend shortly afterwards. Which, for those that don't already know, Japan has a 99.9% acquittal rate for murder cases, so it is incredibly rare for the defense to win any court cases making it all the more tragic for the fallen from grace lead Yagami. Still, despite some broken spirits Yagami tries to make due with his noticeably worse paying gig of detective work. And this is where a good majority of the newer gameplay elements come into play, at least compared to the studio's long-running contemporary Yakuza. Like your typical Yakuza game, however, lead character Yagami has more than his share actiony street brawls. Yagami himself being more nimble than Kiryu like being able to jump off walls to attack and he himself being more inclined to kick foes in the faces of foes more often, which makes for a refreshing contrast to the fisticuff focused Kiryu. Even though... series fans may be more than a little weary of seeing the highly familiar streets of Kamurocho for the umpteenth time during these frequent combat confrontations. Where the standard gameplay flow takes a turn specifically for Judgment is how it chooses to handle various mini games. In mainline Yakuza entries elements like mini-games are generally buried among the sidelines to be played at one's pace, while Judgment conversely makes a lot of them much less optional and not necessarily for the better. Though interesting from a world-building perspective, mandatory mini-games such as tailing a suspicious individual, lock-picking various doors, chasing a fleeing individual, controlling a drone, or analyzing environments for clues are not all that enjoyable in actual practice. It is also more than tempting to use skill points that one would normally use to make Yagami's combat prowess more entertaining to instead make things like the most dreaded tailing missions less annoying when the pop up during the main story, which is a bad trade-off. In spite of the many annoyances that crop up from attempting to change up the standard gameplay, a lot of the studio's strengths still shine through in spite of it. For instance, even though the main story takes its sweet time for setup, perhaps too long when addressing the primary story thread about a certain elusive murderer that is referred to as "the mole", Judgment is actually one of the best crime-centered stories the developer has written (and perhaps the most grounded) and with next to no direct dies to mainline Yakuza titles makes it also quite possibly the most approachable story-wise too. Plus, as usual, the sharp localization punctuates this even more from serious story scenes to hilarious sidequests. Curiously enough, this title is also the first one by the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio to feature both English and Japanese voice acting. Though a solid English dub is surprising enough for a Japanese game, which Judgment thankfully has, the most intriguing aspect about it is that the script is actually slightly different based on the voice acting language one chooses, with the Japanese one being more inclined to maintain certain Japan-specific idiosyncrasies while the English one favoring a more natural conversational flow. And to be frank, I have not seen this approach to localization in a game since Sakura Wars: So Long my Love on PS2, so it an appreciated addition regardless. To add one more praise to the audio, the soundtrack is also quite well done with certain catchy battle themes being the primary treat among the compositions. Yet, the strongest component of Judgment, aside from the pretty visuals lifted from "Dragon Engine" introduced in Yakuza 6, is actually within its seemingly innocuous sidequests. While one can certainly spend plenty of time playing classic Sega arcade games, like Virtua Fighter 5 or Puyo Puyo, as well as light gun-ish game that slightly pokes fun at Yakuza: Dead Souls, the real star is actually the many character focused sidequests. From taking up optional detective cases, helping random strangers on the street, to even pursuing certain oddly in-depth dating options there is a surprising sense of community that develops as Yagami helps countless people out with their troubles and it is quite rewarding from both a storytelling and eventually a gameplay standpoint as well. Judgment tip-toes the line from being a very welcome spin-off alternative to mainline Yakuza games to also one that has several glaring annoyances that make it stop just shy of unbridled greatness on its own merits. As refreshing as the shift in lead protagonists, various combat and quality of life gameplay changes, and eventually its focus on setting/storytelling, it is often at odds with the many poorly implemented mandatory mini games that discordantly get in the way of its strong storytelling in particular. Yet, in spite of all of its shortcoming, Judgment can more than testify it being worth playing in the long haul by either long-standing Yakuza fans or would-be curious individuals in general due to its remarkable character and storytelling moments. Pros + One of the strongest main narratives from the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio + Often great character-focused sidequests + Sharp localization that finally features a well-done English dub as well + Welcome changes to combat and traversing around the city (when compared to Yakuza titles) Cons - Search and tailing missions in particular break up pacing in an awkward, tedious way - Yakuza series fans might be more than a little tired of the familiar city Kamurocho by now... - Narrative takes its sweet time addressing the primary story threads Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Judgment is a solid attempt at freshening up the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio's very familiar gameplay formula. Though it does not always succeed from a gameplay front with the questionable quality of certain mandatory mini games, it does manage to succeed in spite of it with many great character and story moments interlaced throughout its main tale Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
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