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barrel

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barrel last won the day on August 3 2018

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  1. Developer: âge Publisher: PQube Platform: PS Vita and PC Release Date: June 12, 2018 ESRB: M for Mature It is hardly an overstatement to say that the success of Muv-Luv's Kickstarter is a testament to just how much people adore Muv-Luv Alternative. Being the final act of a visual novel trilogy, Muv-Luv Alternative firmly plays upon the expectations of its once lighthearted roots in the original Muv-Luv to present a far more mature sci-fi tale in which the stakes have never been higher. Does it provide an exciting, satisfying conclusion or will it leave the player traumatized by the end of the whole ordeal? ...That was a trick question, actually, because Muv-Luv Alternative has no shortage of excitement and trauma. As the the trilogy finale, Muv-Luv Alternative expects a strong familiarity of the original Muv-Luv because it takes nearly every route, character, and story element from them into account. Because of this, some amount of narrative spoilers of the previous titles are pretty much unavoidable when talking about Alternative to any serious degree even though there will be an effort to minimize them. With that disclaimer out of the way, Muv-Luv Alternative brings players back in the past, quite literally, as the lead character Takeru Shirogane's consciousness returns to an all too familiar October date yet again in a Groundhog Day fashion. After witnessing the end of mankind during its last ditch effort plan called "Alternative V" within Muv-Luv Unlimited's finale, Takeru is now driven to do whatever it takes to steer mankind's chance at survival back on its course and prevent it from happening once again. With this pretense, Alternative has the really intriguing setup of both the player and lead character being on the page regarding events of games past. As such, most of the in-game dialogue choices have the player/Takeru armed with the knowledge they should not have at this point, yet also the anxiety of the consequences when attempting to change too much to the point where he can not predict events going forward. It is by playing upon this expectation that the storytelling is quite willing to teach players that change may not necessarily be for the better. The previous title, Muv-Luv Unlimited, frequently tip-toed around its darker story elements yet rarely committed to anything to a frustrating degree. Muv-Luv Alternative, however, has an immense sense of foreboding throughout and one can not really overstate just how grim the narrative can shift at any time. For instance, there was certain gut punch sequence in particular that left me so disheartened that I literally could not play the game the following day. Not because I was not engaged I while playing it, but because of how effective the game was at delivering its narrative cruelty. Little did I know that I was not even halfway through the game yet and had so much more (gripping) heartbreak in store. To say that Muv-Luv Alternative is an emotional roller-coaster is putting it lightly, but there is a slow introductory ramp before reaching those immense narratives highs. It is not exactly due to its deliberate Groundhog Day nature of seeing familiar events in a different light either but mostly because of how Takeru himself has a few too many redundant flashbacks and goofy anime antics that it makes the early narrative pacing move to a near crawl in addition to revisiting what should be familiar events. Plus, well, the game itself is massive for visual novel standards and will easily take fifty hours for slower readers to get through. So it is quite demanding to ask players to trudge through noticeably less compelling initial story instances when it goes on for more than a few hours. But still, in spite of its pacing issues, Muv Luv Alternative wisely utilizes a lot of it to work towards some straight up expertly-handled character development for its lead protagonist in particular. Frankly speaking, Takeru was rather obnoxious in the previous games (heck, the start of this game too) to the point it was difficult to believe that any woman would fall head over heels for him in games past and to see him evolve so thoroughly as a person in a very believable way is nothing short of impressive. The many key heroines do certainly have their time in the limelight as well too, of course, like the incredibly strong-willed Meiya to the fascinating yet also so very morally ambiguous scientist Yuuko, but few of them see nearly as much change as Takeru does during Alternative's tale. Going back to the main story, however, in addition to it being very emotionally charged it also far more complex from a world-building perspective than prior Muv-Luv titles.Themes that were vaguely touched upon in Unlimited this game more than delves into like from a political intrigue standpoint, to the inner-workings of their mech suits as well as battle tactics, and, for better or worse, the true horrors of war from both a human perspective and also a very not human one when the alien race called the BETA makes it abundantly clear why mankind is on the brink of extinction in this timeline. It is a highly involved grand finale and after seeing first hand just the lengths it goes to tell it there is no doubt in my mind it is regarded as a classic for a reason. It is easy to put an unreasonable level of expectations upon Muv-Luv Alternative. It demands so much out out of the player upfront with two basically mandatory visual novel predecessors, as well as to be able to put up with Alternative's own fairly plodding early goings from a time-commitment perspective to fully appreciate its massive narrative. But, that is just it, while there are most certainly a few glaring shortcomings Muv-Luv Alternative's narrative high points are incredibly high. Whether it be through the course of its grim but compelling sci-fi tale to its phenomenal lead character development it is easy to see why the fandom is so passionate towards this trilogy finale. Those that are in-fact patient enough to go through the demanding legwork will likely confidently see why Muv-Luv Alternative earns its title as a classic among visual novels. Pros + Stellar character development + Immensely grim, but very compelling storytelling Cons - A few too many flashback moments (and silly anime antics) lead to some really slow early exposition in particular - Context from the previous two Muv-Luv games is basically required Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great By being just as grim as it is poignant Muv-Luv Alternative ends up being a thrilling conclusion to the trilogy for those patient enough to put up with its many slower early pacing moments Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  2. Developer: Atlus Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: December 4, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen It was inevitable that, after so many years of Persona 4 spin-offs, 2017's critically-acclaimed RPG sequel Persona 5 would eventually follow suit. But of all the spin-offs to kick it off with it is bizarre to not only make the rhythm game titled Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight but Atlus even decided to simultaneously release another one for its less popular predecessor with Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight. By bundling the two games, as well as a PS4 port of Persona 4: Dancing All Night, one would think that even the most devoted Persona fans would be sated by the Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection, but does this bundle really serve fans well or does it end up extorting their goodwill? Of course, whatever flaws this collection has are not immediately discernible because of how captivating each game is from the get go. It does not really matter whether one starts out with either P5's Dancing in Starlight or P3's Dancing in Moonlight as each of them are absolutely striking from their stylish anime intro, the fluid dance movements of beloved Persona characters, slick menu interface, and plenty of other nostalgic bits and pieces. It is immediately inviting to anyone who has any reverence toward Persona 3-5 in raw aesthetic. By being seemingly aware of its primary demographic Atlus included what is essentially several minutes of visual novel-esque exposition almost immediately upon starting either P3's or P5's rhythm title. This makes it quite reminiscent of their highly verbose role-playing game adventures, right down to familiar ambient cutscene music and sound effect chimes. Character models also look gorgeous; so much so that it can be argued the Persona 3 and Persona 5 cast members have not looked better in a 3D space (well, for P3 members there should not really be any argument, to be honest). The pure visual treat is almost enough to make one forget how that they have have next to nothing of actual substance during these scenes. Almost. Unlike, let's say, Persona 4: Dancing All Night, which had a fairly in-depth visual novel story mode, the character interactions are put on the immediate wayside in both of the Persona 3/5 counterparts beyond the intro. The narrative context is such an afterthought that the setup for the entire game(s) is pretty much a vague competition and everyone involved can now magically dance based on the power of their feelings (even if some had zero experience before). Which, say what you want about the quality Persona 4: Dancing All Night's story context (...and I did at some point), but the P4 cast at least earned their sweet moves through weeks of actual dance practice. The piecemeal interactions that are there are quite disappointing, especially from the Persona 3 side, which is ironic given that the original game has several really well-developed characters. This is a recurring theme of the Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection where once you get over the charming visual veneer it is actually an extremely shallow and disappointing rhythm game experience. For example, those that played the Persona 4 Dancing a few years ago will be hard-pressed to notice any changes whatsoever to the actual central gameplay itself in either of the new iterations. While P4DAN was acceptable at the time as a first effort Vita-exclusive with fairly comprehensive gameplay, it had a lot basic rhythm game problems such as a lack of feedback for missing note presses, cluttered presentation for "scratch notes" that is much more glaring on higher difficulties, a broken scoring system, and a thin overall song selection. And frankly, all of these problems remain, including some new ones with the progression. The most vivid disappointment of all is that the song selection is not only paltry by having twenty six songs for each retail release (two songs being locked behind a massive amount of side objective grinding), but the song remixes themselves are really underwhelming. While the P3 side feels the weight of this slightly less due to more song variety to draw from over the years, the P5 side has several songs used three times to shamelessly pad out the total and each remix frequently blurs together in their listlessness. It is very easy to go through most of the playable content for either Dancing in Moonlight or Dancing in Starlight at just around two hours. To make the total song selection feel that much more insulting Atlus has the gall to sell a twenty-five dollar season pass for more songs. Which, by the way, the season pass does not even include every DLC song as there is an additional thirty dollars worth of character specific songs sold separately (each being five dollars). This means that if one bought the already premium priced "Endless Night Collection," Atlus still wants to exploit those same fans out of fifty-five more dollars to have a reasonable song selection alone. Although, to their credit, at least the titles have a decent selection of clothing/accessories choice already thrown in to contrast the exploitative approach of playable songs. For as awe-striking as Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection is in visual flourishes, it does not take long for the disappointing gameplay experience to remove the hollow mask and show its true form. The collection ends up being little more than mediocre rhythm games laced with exploitative business practices on its would-be fandom. It does not matter if one is a rhythm title enthusiastic, or a passionate fan of recent Persona titles, neither Dancing in Starlight or Dancing in Moonlight deserve the money or attention for how little is offered, even when they are combined in a collection. Pros + Hits a lot of the P3/P5's nostalgic notes from amazing looking character models, slick interface, and iconic songs + Lots of positive reinforcement throughout that is especially enjoyable to hear with nearly all English voice actors reprising their former character roles (...except Fuuka's?) Cons - A lot of ho-hum remixes and paltry amount of playable songs for each game in an obvious attempt to sell more DLC - Vapid, dull character interactions that are especially disappointing from the P3 side - A huge amount of random objective "grinding" required to unlock the last couple of songs/character interactions - Pretty much all the inherent gameplay problems back in P4:DAN remain unchanged Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10) Below Average Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection is much better at presenting its list of disappointments as a rhythm game experience than it is at rewarding the passionate Persona fans that would attempt to enjoy it Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  3. Developer: The Bearded Ladies Consulting Publisher: Funcom Platform: PS4, Xbox One, and PC Release Date: December 4, 2018 ESRB: M for Mature Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game It does not take too much effort to find a game that's heavily inspired by the challenging turn-based tactical title X-COM: Enemy Unknown nowadays. But there is something to be said about encountering one that's well-made and reminds you why the X-COM formula is often so compelling. Based on a fairly old Swedish pen-and-paper RPG, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden intends to do just that by taking its source material to the strategic, turn-based video game realm. It is a title that has some fresh ideas, even if its road to paradise is anything but neatly paved. As one would guess from something strongly influenced by the late XCOM titles, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden boasts gun-centric turn-based tactical combat as well as plenty of oppressive difficulty options, such as permadeath or autosaving after every turn for those masochistic enough. But, beyond that obvious parallel, Mutant Year Zero revels in its post-apocalyptic world-building far more than X-COM. One of the primary distinctions is that the units the player has control over are mutants (referred to as "stalkers"), such as the on-the-nose titled "Dux," who as one likely guessed is an anthropomorphic duck, to the less obvious ones like the human-like Selma who can do stuff like bind enemies to the ground with tree roots despite looking relatively normal otherwise. The more inspired aspects of the game come into play rather quickly as there is a heavy emphasis on stealth and gathering resources throughout the various zones. Most enemies have bright red vision cones and it is up to the player to wisely, or not, attempt to thin down enemy numbers before they can attempt to call reinforcements and likely start up a prolonged and difficult turn-based combat scenario. It creates an intriguing blend of real-time and turn-based elements while also encouraging thorough exploration for a new gun, piece of armor, or maybe even an old "relic" to bring back to the home base, referred to as the Ark, for various permanent upgrades. While the player feels woefully equipped for most things early in, including stealth (with only one member able to use a silent weapon at the start), the game eventually starts to balance out as one garners new levels, skills, and equipment. There is a fair amount of flexibility in tactical options such as lopping a grenade to destroy enemy cover to the more supernatural mutant-specific skills like sprouting wings and taking potshots at foes at higher ground. Despite there being a small amount of playable characters there is enough flexibility in their skill trees to encourage a diverse approach to each confrontation in addition to attempting to wisely utilize stealth options or gathered resources when one is able to do so. The least inspired aspect of all is likely the storytelling itself, unfortunately. While the post-apocalyptic title most certainly has a heavy emphasis on atmosphere (and is generally better for it), the narrative plot twists are not only signposted long in advance but also leave one feeling like so little happened by the end journey with its shallow sequel tease. At the very least, however, it is somewhat amusing that the lead cast like to treat "ancients" throughout (or rather those akin to modern civilization in our world), by poking fun at the impracticality of many pieces of their technology or outright misinterpreting the usage of much of it. More important than story qualms, though, and perhaps the biggest problem I had with playing the game at launch was its various technical issues. The biggest issue had to do with enemies being called in as reinforcements yet being unable to reach me (...or some taunted by one of the skills that I enjoyed using) and, conversely, I was unable to reach them, which left the title in a game-breaking state that made exiting combat impossible beyond being forced to reload an old save. Thankfully, despite happening a couple of times near the beginning, it was mostly patched out in recent updates. A few other technical quirks did consistently surface elsewhere, such as awkward load times and frequent visual stutters on PS4, which can distract from the experience. As a first debut Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden gets a fair amount right with its rewarding tactical gameplay and generally well-implemented stealth/gathering systems. Where it stumbles, unfortunately, is in its technical implementation (especially at launch with some game-breaking bugs) and a narrative/cast that is not all that compelling. There is still enjoyment to be had in this adventure despite its rough edges, however, and for those looking for a solid X-COM-like that tries its hand at some new ideas, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden should certainly fit the bill. Pros + Creative take on turn-based tactical gameplay that also includes stealth/gathering gameplay systems + Unit variety, as well as weapons/gear, lend themselves to many strategic options + Characters that amusingly treat "ancients" with the amount of respect they deserve: none Cons - Occasional technical performance hiccups that are really jarring - Stealthily picking off foes one by one can get somewhat tedious in the latter half - Storytelling/cast are quite predictable and does not do much with either by the end Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a rewarding, turn-based tactical title that gets plenty right in its first debut, but it has just enough rough edges, and narrative teasing, that one may find themselves wondering if a sequel could turn the brand into something truly special Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  4. Much of 2018 has been a blur for me. It could be because of some bizarre shifts in my personal life but in a gaming context, I keep forgetting which titles even came out this year. If anything, I have been attempting to catch up on some leftover standouts like Horizon: Zero Dawn or even Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle despite how proud I am of my 2017 GOTY list choices otherwise. But to focus on that would certainly do a disservice to the many great video games that dropped in 2018, and while the overall lineup is not quite as impressive as 2017's there are absolutely more than a few releases that I am honored to have had the chance to check out amid a somewhat hectic personal schedule. So, without further ado, here are my personal favorite games of 2018. 10) TimeSpinner With such an influx of 2D Metroidvania titles lately it is easy for me to shrug off the act of playing even the best of them due to sheer quantity (sorry Hollow Knight, but you did get my money at least.). However, of the games that released in 2018, TimeSpinner was one that gathered a bit of a cult following among my Twitter feed. So, sure enough, I eventually picked it up to finally learn why. For as unapologetic as its Castlevania: Symphony of the Night influences may be there is something that is indeed special about its finely tuned mechanics, nifty time control ability, and progressive story themes that has it not only ooze charm but kept having me come back for more. 9) DJMax Respect I have always held the DJMax series on a pedestal amongst rhythm games. From burying many hours into PSP imports like DJMax: Black Square/Clazziquai to a port of the touchscreen-focused arcade game, DJMax: Technika Tune (which I reviewed), there is a finesse the series has always had, from slick menus to intrinsic rhythmic gameplay feedback that very few rival in the genre. Even the creator's own Superbeat: Xonic did not quite succeed in recapturing DJMax's former appeal after a long (mobile-centric) hiatus. Still, as a last hurrah for lingering fans, they decided to make one final entry called DJMax Respect. And frankly, the game is fantastic and is pretty much all I wanted from the series. I may not be nearly as good at playing DJMax as I used to be but I eagerly look forward to slowly closing the skill gap, or at least trying, with the many, many songs at disposal. 8) Octopath Traveler Octopath Traveler is a vivid example in my mind of just how being in the right mood for a game could radically change your opinion of it. Honestly speaking, I did not think that time would arise at all after feeling indifferent about both the demo(s) and thinking it was only more Bravely Default. Turns out, I just needed to wait a couple months for the hype to die down and be in a different head space. It is hardly the second coming of Japanese RPGs, but Octopath is still a great example nonetheless if you like your SaGa styled gameplay quick and Final Fantasy job systems, which I do. With a nostalgic art direction, likable characters, stellar musical score, and rewarding combat system help make Octopath Traveler stand out despite the unreasonably lofty initial expectations placed upon it. 7) Muv-Luv Alternative 2018 was a strange year for me and visual novels. Comparatively, I did not play as many of them as I did last year, but the ones I did play were exhaustive in terms barrier of entry, like the three-part Muv-Luv trilogy. I may have some mixed thoughts on the original two games, but there is a clear reason why the final entry called Muv-Luv Alternative is so beloved aside from obvious signs made by the incredibly successful 2015 kickstarter. To immensely grim (seriously, I can't stress this enough) but very compelling sci-fi storytelling to really impressive character development Muv-Luv Alternative is a worthy finale that answers many burning questions just as much as it tugs at (/brutally destroy) heartstrings. 6) Super Smash Bros Ultimate Cute Zelda Redesign. Uh, I mean, 2018 had no shortage of noteworthy fighters from Dragon Ball FighterZ, Soul Calibur VI or Blazblue Cross Tag Battle and yet the one I have been most charmed by was Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Featuring a far more appetizing single-player approach than its predecessor, it is easy to get lost in modes such as World of Light, Spirits, or even Classic to the very fun additions to the cast like Richter Belmont, Inkling, Incineroar, King K Rool that are overflowing with reverence towards the source material (and some not, like Ridley.). It is clear this game has a long life ahead of it (if the Persona 5 Joker tease is any indicator). Plus, with the smart changes it has made for the competitive scene, in particular, I am just as eager to see the thoughtfully crafted video game fanservice during singleplayer as much as I will be taking on would-be challengers in multiplayer both online/locally with my adorable (and more competitively viable) Zelda. 5) Divinity Original Sin 2: Definitive Edition The ONLY reason why this game isn’t higher on my list is because I played so much of its predecessor just before it (yet another reason why 2018 is a blur for me). And because of that, I could easily guess how much time would be required for me to do a complete playthrough... A ton. Still, for the twenty or so hours that I've already played, I am quite impressed by how much it improved upon its predecessor from highly nuanced world-building, sharp writing, immensely robust character customization, general voice acting, strategic combat system and so on and so forth. It is an amazing game and it is a shame it does not get nearly as much love as it deserves from fellow console players. 4) Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age It has been such a long wait for not only another console mainline Dragon Quest title, but also the English release of Dragon Quest XI. And it has absolutely been worth the wait. Dragon Quest XI may be one of the most traditional Japanese RPGs around but it is truly a showcase example of it from the grand main adventure, lovable primary cast of characters, gorgeous aesthetic, spirited voice work, and rock solid turn-based gameplay fundamentals. 3) Monster Hunter World I never would have I thought that I’d get into a Monster Hunter game. Ever. And I have attempted to play many of them and easily bounced off of each and every one of them -- except Monster Hunter World. They did it. They made a Monster Hunter game that humans can finally enjoy and also not destroy their hands with a claw grip. Monster Hunter World streamlines a lot of the series longstanding issues from controls, interface, progression and pretty much all for the better. I may have thoroughly burned myself out on the endgame content (or lack thereof), but I'd be lying if I didn't say that the hundreds of hours I spent helping friends or bettering my own character/hunting skills were a mostly wonderful time. I look forward to eventually playing that much more when the IceBorne expansion releases, and to party up once again with a team of capable and charismatic hunters. Also, GUNLANCE4LIFE. 2) Dead Cells Click here to read GP's official review I am sometimes a very simple individual when it comes to my enjoyment of games. For as many story-heavy titles as I tend to prefer sometimes, all I need in a game is something that just feels good to play. That is pretty much what Dead Cells is all about -- impeccable control, challenging gameplay, and deeply satisfying combat. After many runs and sleepless nights due to sheer addiction, and even a few very narrowly earned completions on higher difficulties, Dead Cells is simply an excellent game that has somewhat ruined me for both Roguelikes and Metroidvanias that do not play nearly as well as it ...which is pretty much all of them. 1) Valkyria Chronicles 4 Click here to read GP's official review Plainly speaking, the first Valkyria Chronicles on PS3 was more or less my favorite game of last generation. I already have a strong thing for turn-based tactical games and to see such an inspired, beautiful take on the subgenre absolutely blew my mind at the time. But, after poor sales, the series just kind of died out beyond some admirable but not nearly as good handheld entries (and a recent spin-off best left unmentioned...). To finally get my hands on a truly faithful console sequel in Valkyria Chronicles 4 was downright emotional for me from start to finish. Not only because the game itself is stellar, but because after replaying the original title earlier this year, the fourth main entry somehow managed to surpass it in my eyes as a game. Everything from the more mature storytelling/dynamic lead cast, wildly varied objective design, smart tweaks to the combat system, endearing squad stories missions, and, of course, rewarding tactical gameplay did more than enough to win me over as my favorite game of 2018. Heck, I recently bought the Switch version just so I can have an excuse to play the game from scratch once more.
  5. barrel

    Review: Muv-Luv

    Developer: Age Publisher: PQube Platform: PS Vita and PC Release Date: June 12, 2018 ESRB: M for Mature The Muv-Luv series may be one of the more surprising success stories on Kickstarter. Gathering over one million dollars in Kickstarter donations for an official localization is more than enough proof that the two-decade-old visual novel series certainly has a passionate fandom behind it. Yet, those that did already have a preexisting attachment to Muv-Luv had to wait until 2016 for the official PQube PC release. This year, Sony's PlayStation Vita has seemingly been resuscitated for the same reason, but before getting to the highly acclaimed finale that is Muv-Luv Alternative (which will be reviewed separately), series newcomers are best served by playing the original and separate retail release that is simply called Muv-Luv for reasoning that may not pop into one's brain right away. The first game, commonly referred to as "Muv-Luv Extra", has a setup that frankly feels like it was ripped out of a time capsule contributed by nearly every early 2000's era romantic comedy anime. You have your high school setting backdrop full of romantic interests like the childhood friend, Sumika, to the incredibly rich yet socially awkward, Meiya, that attempt to vie for the affection of the completely oblivious main guy. Muv-Luv Extra absolutely thrives on its often lighthearted enthusiasm above all else. The humor is frequently slapstick and is complemented by very expressive anime character portraits that are honestly much more lively than most visual novels nowadays, which is impressive. It will easily go from the typical mouth flaps and blinking eyes of many visual novels, exaggerated camera panning, to random chibi expressions at the drop of a hat to emphasize the punchline to nearly every joke. Even when not all of the jokes hit their mark (some, uh... out of touch heteronormative perspectives/perverted gags from the obnoxious main dude included), there is a genuine energy to it that makes it entertaining to go through it regardless. That said, Muv-Luv Extra is pretty simple for visual novel standards. Narrative choices are rarely more complex than picking whose bento you want to eat for lunch and staying committed to one of the five wooable heroines to reach their potential ending. Even then, though, there is a clear discrepancy in importance (and likability) with Meiya and Sumika versus nearly everyone else, despite me being a fan of Kei's deadpan humor. Most characters also do not necessarily have much depth to them beyond their apparent anime character tropes making it difficult to justify going beyond seeing the ends of the primary two heroines. It is almost hard to believe that one can really do much with this simple cast of characters for more than one game despite them being likable enough in Muv-Luv Extra. Well, as it turns out, all you need to freshen up the experience is a dramatically different setting in which mankind is on the brink of extinction due to an alien race called the "BETA" in an alternate sci-fi Japan. This is where Muv-Luv Unlimited comes into play which is a separate game despite featuring many familiar faces. And, believe it or not, it is actually a direct sequel to Muv-Luv Extra as well. The reasoning to this, of course, is a spoiler but is partially made clear to the player immediately upon starting up Muv-Luv Unlimited's tale. Muv-Luv Unlimited is the starting point of why the Muv-Luv series was so subversive back in 2003 and gives people a taste of why the series is so beloved. Players immediately question everything they thought they knew in Muv-Luv Extra from the entirely new world to characters. It is compelling to see much more in-depth world-building like the eerie alternate timeline of World War II, the inner-workings of its many sci-fi elements, to higher-brow story concepts for a cast that once cared about little more than high school romance. The biggest problem, however, is that the storytelling itself is very incomplete. There is a lot meandering day to day (under the guise of team building) which was fine in Muv-Luv Extra but feels tonally dissonant with the apocalyptic pretense of Muv-Luv Unlimited. In addition to this are many clearly important story devices that are kept an incredibly tight lip on and frankly will not be answered for players until Muv-Luv Alternative. To rub the most salt on the wound in regards to pacing are, undoubtedly, the many fanservice scenes that stem from its original erotic game roots despite being the "All-Ages" version. Maybe it is just me but when five billion humans have been killed by the BETA I have a difficult time finding an anime beach scene appropriate in the slightest for these lead military cadets training to combat them. The original Muv-Luv is a tricky visual novel to judge. By themselves, both Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited are decent enough visual novels, but neither are nuanced enough to be all that remarkable. Muv-Luv Extra being a perky romantic comedy full of charm while Muv-Luv Unlimited is a subversive take on the once familiar cast of characters and sets the stage for a far more intriguing sci-fi setup. Unfortunately, both titles are rife with rough edges regarding pacing, anime tropes, and lack of story resolution. As parts of a grander tale, however, both games do just enough to trigger one's curiosity and, hopefully, such patience is rewarded whenever one gets around to playing the highly regarded trilogy finale of Muv-Luv Alternative. Pros + Very expressive character portraits that feel more active than a lot of modern visual novels + Intriguing setting shift between the two games that presents familiar faces in a dramatically different context + A bizarre, antiquated anime charm with memorable characters Cons - Many rather cliche story beats throughout - Recycled music between both games is disappointing - Really out of place fanservice scenes with Muv-Luv Unlimited in particular despite attempting to be much more serious - A lot of storytelling is clearly left open for the would-be finale Muv-Luv Alternative Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent Muv-Luv gives players a taste of why the visual novel series is so iconic but without the resolution of Muv-Luv Alternative to wrap the experience up makes the original release feel more disjointed than it should be Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  6. Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: October 2, 2018 ESRB: M for Mature For as immensely influential as Fist of the North Star is in the manga/anime space it is kind of surprising that it has so few remarkable video games. Sure, one can point to a certain Arc System Works fighter or various Musou titles under the Fist of the North Star name, but for pretty much all the wrong reasons. This is why is why a new Fist of the North Star title made by Sega's Yakuza development is an exciting prospect. The Yakuza series has hit an impressive stride the last couple years on PS4 and throwing such an iconic manga license into an already solid gameplay mold seems like a recipe for success. Much like any licensed game property, however, there is reason to have reservations before going into the PS4 exclusive Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, even if its head is in the right place. Where the least amount of concern is needed is wondering whether or not Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is approachable for those not already well-versed in the series lore (like me). The central plot of Lost Paradise is generally easy to grasp and is rarely more complicated than the main character Kenshiro trying to find his fiancee within an isolated city called Eden. Everything else is simply a matter of adjusting to the absurdity of its heavily-influenced-by Mad Max setting and accepting that disproportionate macho men are able to use over-the-top martial arts that can make peoples' heads literally explode. Those that do know a thing or two about the series will recognize its alternate narrative canon from the source material despite featuring plenty of familiar faces. Beyond that, it is very easy to treat Lost Paradise as if it was just another PS4 Yakuza game. Sega makes little attempt to hide its development pedigree from a shared emphasis on 3D beat 'em up gameplay, tons of playable sidequests/mini-games within a central town, to even going as far as to have many shared voice Japanese talents for the main cast (although, an English voice acting option is available for those that want it, unlike recent Yakuza games). It is honestly uncanny the many unapologetic nods that the game has to Yakuza games, but on the flip side, the distinctly different post-apocalyptic setting can make it a fresh contrast to those who have seen the bustling Japanese streets a few too many times lately. Still, because it so easily evokes the many similarities to recent Yakuza games it also begs the quality comparison between the two, and on that front Lost Paradise is far less consistent. It is a weird thing to say considering how crazy powerful the player often feels while controlling Kenshiro as he recites the iconic "You are already dead" line as enemies turn into gory mush in the background, but the combat does not flow well for the most of the game. There are a lot of minor annoyances with it, everything from Kenshiro's overall lack of AOE attacks (despite constantly throwing huge enemy mobs at him) to some overly long skill animations early in, and most of it stems from how slowly the game doles out new skills & level-ups to eventually remedy them. It is a real shame because there are some clever boss moments and very stylish ways to dispatch foes in context-sensitive QTEs and is hindered by the slow progression. This is the main recurring theme of Lost Paradise in that just about all progress is buried beneath a fair amount of unnecessary grind and padding. Want to progress the main story? Well, at a certain point you need to upgrade your buggy vehicle to explore new zones. Want to upgrade your buggy? Then you need to grind for resources/unlock treasure maps that appear randomly outside of town. Want to not have to rely on RNG for materials? You should do the bartending mini-game which requires a Mario Party level of controller mashing (despite being very amusing visually) but makes Eden merchants sell more materials. It is an obtuse process of Do A, but to do A you need to do B, and to do B you need to do C, etc. This design philosophy is very counterintuitive to the ways Yakuza styled games tend to be enjoyed where the side content can be engaged as much, or as little, as the player wants to and Lost Paradise does not offer that sort intrinsic gameplay flexibility. The weirdest part of all, however, is that there are genuinely cool moments when the gameplay all comes together. For example, there is a surprising amount of Sega fanfare throughout. This includes full-fledged arcade ports like Space Harrier, unlockable musical tracks that play while driving from Binary Domain to Phantasy Star Online 2, to the Sega Master version of Fist of the North Star (...which is not a good game, but it is the thought that counts). Even the sidequests have their neat moments like surprising earnest little substories to utterly bizarre objectives like playing "baseball" against oncoming motorcyclists. But because the game paces its many gameplay and campaign components so poorly it becomes difficult to appreciate the title as a whole when it is so eager to overstay its welcome. Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is title frequently torn between two identities despite having good intentions with both. As a licensed game, the Yakuza-gameplay-meets-Fist of the North Star-setting is so close to a working peanut butter & jelly combo, but does not quite take the best lessons from either franchise. Still, those willing to try out a new "Yakuza" game at the risk of a noticeable step back in overall gameplay quality (compared to recent entries; mostly pacing and production values) may be pleasantly surprised by the novel approach to the Fist of the North Star license, even if it may not necessarily make your head explode for the better in the long term. Pros + Hyperactive violence that makes Kenshiro feel genuinely powerful (flashy boss fights in particular) + Neat fanservice nods to various Sega properties such as unlockable arcade games + The absurd over-the-top setting can be a fresh contrast to who have gotten a little too used to familiar Yakuza series locales Cons - Combat and character progression are rather disjointed - The frequently slow (and grindy) gameplay pacing does not really fit the high octane world itself - Main story high points are few and far between Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is better treated as a licensed novelty rather than be held to the current standards of the Yakuza series gameplay it does not hesitate to borrow from. But, because the many gameplay components are eager to overstay their welcome it can be difficult to truly appreciate either the lessened Yakuza formula or alternate take on Fist of the North Star's world in the long run Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
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    Review: Valkyria Chronicles 4

    Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4, Switch, and PC Release Date: September 25, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen As beloved as the original PS3 title Valkyria Chronicles has been, the series has since struggled to recapture the base of its former appeal. From smaller-scale PSP sequels, one of which remains unlocalized, to a spin-off that probably should not have existed in the first place, it was easy to draw the conclusion that the series was going to go out with an immensely disappointing whimper rather than a satisfying bang. Yet, Sega decided to bring out the big guns by recently announcing Valkyria Chronicles 4 on consoles as if the series' missteps had never happened. Revitalizing not only the captivating sketch-like art direction, the series also brings back its unique take on the part turn-based/part real-time militaristic action at a large scope without the limitations of underpowered Sony handhelds. If that was not enough to bolster the fandom morale once more, Sega has beaten the nearly impossible odds by leading Valkyria Chronicles 4 towards a victory so grand that it surpasses even the original. That may have sounded like a bold claim (because it is), but Valkyria Chronicles 4 takes an active command to prove its remarkable capability on a gameplay front. It is much more willing to treat players old and new like a skillful commander rather than an untrained cadet early on without being too daunting or heavy-handed. From a gameplay perspective, it only takes a couple missions before it reestablishes most returning mechanics and classes from the original before moving onto entirely new ones. One new addition is the incredibly welcome unit grenadier. Essentially, grenadiers are extremely powerful long-range units that can easily knock foes out of cover or destroy turrets/pillboxes at a safe range. However, to function properly they require more nimble units like scouts to serve as spotters so they can pick off problem targets without their severe lack of mobility holding them back. Even old units bring a freshened up mix to encounters, such as Engineers now being able to revive units mid-battle or assemble makeshift ladders to gain a different means of approach to a particular stage. There is a ton of care placed into just about every tweaked gameplay mechanic or distinct level. It is clear that Sega learned a lot while remastering the original game on PS4 a couple years ago. A lot of the old AI exploits or dirty tricks (like scout rushing) are mostly gone and the tactical options are greatly increased as it progresses. One mission will have the player take out descending paratroopers/buying time to protect an out of commission vehicle at the same time while another totally different stage is about helping a friend cheat on a target practice test behind the scenes. Admittedly, though, there are a few missions that seem to be made with enjoyable gameplay variety in mind first (rather than actually being logically plausible), like firing sniper bullets at wooden signs to wordlessly (and perfectly) coordinate an ally mortar strike, so some suspension of disbelief is required. Let there be no doubt, however, that there is a serious emphasis on storytelling in Valkyria Chronicles 4. Previous titles in the series would delve into uncomfortable subject matter with surprising tact (namely the original), like the racism allegories involving "Darcsens", but rarely dipped above a PG-rating vibe regarding the overall storytelling or particularly nuanced characters. In sharp contrast, the fourth main entry is much more willing to challenge both its characters and storytelling. The most impressive narrative feat of Valkyria Chronicles 4 is how it develops its characters. As likable of a goofball as Welkin Gunther was, he and most other older characters rarely changed beyond their initial first impressions. That is very much not the case with the characters of 4 to the point where it is quite possible to dislike a certain character early in (Raz) & totally feel the complete opposite way about them by the end because of how much they change and mature (also Raz). A similar level of respect towards development was even placed upon the many non-main story playable units. It is not simply encouraged to keep them alive to prevent a Fire Emblem-ish permadeath, but also because there are some really endearing optional "Squad Stories" chapters that unlock if certain allies fight alongside each other long enough and is a smart incentive to change things up. But perhaps the biggest means of change comes from the huge shifts regarding the main story's narrative tone. Early on, it has a lighthearted pace that is generally in line with Valkyria of the past, if not a little more juvenile due to a "friendly butt-tap between dudes!" scene, yet the latter half has story elements that are grim in a way that is almost unprecedented for the series. Despite not always being elegant in its execution it is as a whole much more grounded than earlier games when it comes to the storytelling. There is a greater emphasis on the mortality of its cast and the horrors/moral ambiguity during wartime that works much more often than it does not (complemented by some excellent English voice work)... even if aspects like main character Claude's ability to predict changes in weather veer into supernatural territory with their unbelievable accuracy. Outside of storytelling, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is very much an iterative game, which is perhaps its biggest detriment for those expecting more sweeping changes. Sure, the clever mission variety is really impressive, or how it smartly cherry picks features from Valkyria Chronicles 2 & 3 (that are barely referenced otherwise) like the ability to move multiple units at once, and it is even paced more briskly than prior games. Ultimately, though, it still operates within a very familiar overall framework in terms of leveling up units/tanks, gaining new weapons/skills, to how it utilizes the presentation (it is the same decade-old engine, after all) and the many re-used orchestral pieces. All things considered, though, these are minor nitpicks to an experience that otherwise more than satisfies what fans adore from the series, especially regarding the much more finely tuned and already excellent gameplay has become. After many pleadings for a proper, fully-fledged Valkyria Chronicles sequel went ignored for years, it is hard to believe that the series would ever regain proper footing. But, here we are, a decade later, and Sega yet again took a nearly Sonic Mania-styled approach by being keenly aware of what fans wanted through stylish visuals and extremely satisfying/varied tactical gameplay, yet also reminding many fans why they loved the franchise in the first place in terms of spirit. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a series return to form in the truest sense. Even with certain creaks in age -- mostly due to playing it a little too faithful to the first incarnation -- Valkyria Chronicles 4 is mitigated by not only meeting the lofty expectations from veterans but even going as far as to exceed their prior accomplishments in the series as the potential best entry as a whole. Pros + Completely nails what made people love the original Valkyria Chronicles so much from strategic, varied level design to the likable cast of characters + Paced more briskly than earlier iterations from storytelling to requiring next to no actual grinding + The Grenadier class is a great new addition to battle and the title also sports many welcome mechanical changes + Strong English localization that breaths nuance even characters that may not seem to have much of it initially (including the surprisingly charming optional "Squad Stories") Cons - The visuals/music are a little too faithful to the original Valkyria Chronicles, as it is very clearly using the same engine/most of the soundtrack from nearly ten years ago, making it feel somewhat antiquated - Some huge narrative tonal shifts in the storytelling that can be rather odd at times, especially in its darker moments Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Excellent Valkyria Chronicles 4 successfully reignites not just the endearing spirit and thoroughly engaging tactical gameplay the series is known for but excels in such a way that surpasses even the most beloved of its predecessors as a game Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
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    Review: Yakuza Kiwami 2

    Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: August 28, 2018 ESRB: M for Mature Even though Yakuza 6: The Song of Life felt like an intended sendoff towards the series' beloved protagonist Kiryu earlier this year, the Yakuza series itself is showing no real intentions of slowing down. To continue the trend of putting basically every main entry Yakuza title on the PS4 in some form Sega has most recently shifted their sights onto revisiting yet another former PS2 relic by remaking Yakuza 2 from the ground up in Sega's "Dragon Engine" (introduced in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life) and slapping the word Kiwami on it. Considered by many fans to be the best entry in the series Yakuza Kiwami 2 has some rather lofty expectations to meet as a remake while also trying to be appetizing to series newcomers as well. Similar to the game's (literal) bombastic introduction, there is no denying that Yakuza Kiwami 2 is firing on all cylinders on a presentational front. By utilizing the familiar "Dragon Engine," Yakuza Kiwami 2's world often looks stunning in motion. From the bustling city streets, over-the-top special attacks in combat, to the facial details on the most menacing of yakuza scowls it does a ton to draw the player in its adventure. Which is good, because, like most Yakuza games, it is filled to the brim with stuff to do during the main story or absurdly robust side content. That said, Yakuza Kiwami 2 does more than just borrow pretty visuals from Yakuza 6 as a lot of the gameplay systems are directly carried over into this remake, and not necessarily for the better. For example, nearly all of Kiryu's bread & butter attack combos are the exact same as they were in The Song of Life just like the general level/stat progression too leading to an odd sense gameplay deja vu. Although, in the matter of fairness, the familiar combat engine is thankfully more enjoyable in Kiwami 2 than it was previously largely due to cleaned up hit detection, more responsive controls, and some really stylish context-specific moves (like during key boss fights). Even the returning RTS-esque "Clan Creator" mini-game from Yakuza 6 is fleshed out for the better by making it more strategic and tower-defense focused in Kiwami 2. Of course, at the end of the day, Kiwami 2 takes precedent as a remake and the story it tells is certainly among the most compelling parts of the overall package. Just like the original PS2 release, the crime-based storyline that delves into one of the most ruthless series antagonists, the Jingweon mafia, remains quite gripping, especially in its latter half. Even if, as a whole, 2's tale does not confidently take the top storytelling billing for the series like it once did (that mantle now belongs to Yakuza 0) and does have some hammy moments, like a forced love interest for Kiryu. Still, for those familiar with 2's tale should find the main story to be a treat even now, especially in how it is presented from much more dynamic combat encounters to revisiting cutscenes in much more impressive visual fidelity. As in-depth as the main story may be, one can easily double their total playtime if they dive into the game's copious amount of side content. Kiwami 2 introduces a lot of new sidequests, playable mini-games like karaoke or the goofy bathroom based "Toylet", full-fledged arcade ports of classic Sega games like Virtual-On, and even a brief campaign that focuses on the fan-favorite Majima. As usual with the series' current standard there are many easy rabbit holes for Kiryu to fall into especially with the often incredibly sharp, hilarious writing that accompanies them. In contrast, however, Majima's brief campaign very much feels like an afterthought in design. Although Majima is still fun to play for the couple hours it goes on for, it mostly comes across as shallow fanservice for Yakuza 0 fans than anything else (and I ADORE Yakuza 0, but still felt underwhelmed). For as deep of an experience Yakuza Kiwami 2 is as a whole, it actually makes some strange compromises over the original PS2 release. Some are negligible, like hit & miss mini-games (mostly miss) that don't make a return as well as certain sidequests. But perhaps the most controversial change of all is the removal of an entire explorable zone in the story (albeit a rather small one overall) where Kiwami 2 essentially re-purposes the story context associated with into the all too familiar in-game region of Sotenbori. While it is easy to guess it may have been done for budgeting reasons, it still is rather odd considering how faithful first Kiwami release was to the original PS2 title to an almost slavish degree. Odder still, the soundtrack of Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a noticeable step back from the original PS2 title and has very few returning musical pieces from it. Yakuza Kiwami 2 hits pretty much all the checkboxes that make for an engaging title in the series, from a thrilling story to an absurdly wide array of side content. As a remake, however, it does bring up some points of contention with a couple of odd compromises and some inherent gameplay flaws that are caused by reusing the engine from Yakuza 6. But, assuming one is not the too concerned about the sanctity of the original PS2 release, there is plenty of enjoyment to be had in revisiting one of the best games to series, especially for would-be newcomers. Pros + By refining the engine originally implemented in sixth main entry Kiwami 2 heavily benefits from tightened up gameplay & slick visuals as a remake + Sharp, witty localization that makes the already compelling main story and copious sidequest banter that much more entertaining + Tons of side content to delve into that can keep one occupied for quite a while Cons - Can create a bit too much gameplay Deja Vu because the combat, stat progression, and most minigames are directly lifted from Yakuza 6 - Some bizarre compromises over the original PS2 release, such as some removed content and the hugely altered soundtrack, and not exactly for the better Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a sleek remake that manages to capture much of the spirit of its original PS2 release that should give fans both old and new plenty to chew on Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
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    Review: Dead Cells

    Developer: Motion Twin Publisher: Motion Twin Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC Release Date: August 7, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game By being clearly inspired by numerous rogue-lite and Metroidvania titles, or to use its own preferred nomenclature of 'RogueVania', it can certainly be tempting to write Dead Cells off as just another one of those. However, Dead Cells is not content with simply paying tribute to iconic titles. There is an impressive sheen to nearly every facet of its gameplay that not only separates itself from its various contemporaries but also makes it so easy to get lost in the experience, even when it was in an Early Access state last year. After being constantly iterated upon, such as adding new levels, weapons, abilities, and plenty more, Dead Cells is now confident enough to consider itself a full product while also finally letting console owners in on the action as well -- and for great reason. The game quickly drops the player right in, quite literally, as an amorphous green sludge falls from the ceiling and reanimates a fallen humanoid vessel. This eerie landscape becomes one of the closest things to a home, especially after a failed run. Players will soon enough find themselves scrounging whatever tools they can to hopefully overcome their fierce enemy and environmental opposition as they uncover the mysterious depths of Dead Cells' world. Regardless of its moody world-building and sparse bits of lore (like a certain From Software series), however, Dead Cells absolutely thrives on its stellar combat-focused 2D gameplay above all else. Whether one is swinging a bulky axe, firing a crossbow, setting up a bear trap, or using hardly subtle nods to other gaming properties (like "Valmont's" whip), the underlying theme is that its huge offensive toolkit has a satisfying power behind it in the right hands. Little details like being able to roll-cancel or shield parry (if it's equipped) out of nearly every animation makes combat feel rather fair too, even though a specific run may not be generous in yielding one's favorite weapons or skills of choice and thus forces them to try out different ones. To help makes its multitude of weaponry and skills more digestible, Dead Cells divides them into the three in-game stat categories of Brutality, Tactics, and Survival, each of which can be strengthened by obtaining scrolls that are scattered across different levels. Despite the categorization simplification, there is a surprising nuance to each style like when picking 'mutation' passive abilities after completing each level. For example, Brutality can take the most advantage of a mutation that increases damage against an enemy suffering from a status ailment while someone specializing in Survival can regain more life per enemy kill. It is very enjoyable to watch once terrifying bosses/enemies quickly melt due to utilizing a smart synergy of mutations/weapons in addition to getting better and better at the game. For as thoroughly entertaining as Dead Cells is with its raw combat, the main reason why its addictive gameplay pull is so strong is because of how it wisely borrows and improves upon Rogue Legacy's overall structure. Rogue Legacy's most welcome contribution to "RogueVanias" was rewarding a player gradually in the form of unlocked blueprints for new abilities or various other conveniences after a failed run. Dead Cells technically does the same thing (while adding many new weapons too), yet the feedback loop is far more consistent by doing so after each completed level. This constant dopamine fix, in spite of the harsh difficulty at many times, also extends to its many branching level paths where thorough exploration can unveil some invaluable permanent upgrades like a quick wall run or a destructive ground pound that opens up the experience that much more. Amidst such incredibly tight gameplay and level design, Dead Cells' greatest blemish actually resides in its technical performance, which still often holds up rather well. Generally speaking, Dead Cells evokes a 2D sprite art feel with chunky pixels (mainly regarding enemy dismemberment) and smooth animations despite technically being rendered with 3D assets. Unfortunately, its key technical slight on PS4 happens mid-level where there is a brief stutter that seems to outright skip frames of animations before going back to the normally buttery smooth gameplay performance and this happens every few minutes. While I never encountered this problem during the mean boss fights, even after a successful hard mode run, I could see the visual hiccups being distracting enough to cause an untimely demise in more chaotic combat moments, so hopefully it can be cleaned up via patch soon. Dead Cells has the uncanny ability of being able to cherry-pick aspects from so many other games and have one be totally fine with it. Because, instead of instilling fatigue, Dead Cells far more often impresses the player by how masterfully realized just about every facet of its core design ends up being. Everything from the skill-based combat that is a total bliss to control, a highly-rewarding structure that accommodates a wealth of different player styles, and plenty of secrets to uncover creates a fiendishly addictive game experience that players will more than struggle to break from the "...just one more run" mentality it so actively encourages. Pros + Fiendishly addictive structure that encapsulates the 'just one more run' mindset + Incredibly tight, responsive combat that accommodates a huge wealth of different playstyles + Branching paths, many unlockables, and the improvisational nature easily makes no one playthrough the same + Stylish aesthetic with moody environmental backdrops Cons - Weird occasional visual stutters mid-level can be distracting Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Dead Cells does not shy away from a familiar "RogueVania" template, but rather chooses to do it so well that players will be hard-pressed to justify dividing their time when Dead Cells is that much more satisfying and rewarding to actually play Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
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    Review: Shining Resonance Refrain

    PLEASE DON'T BRING YOUR THIRSTY MINDSET INTO MY WHOLESOME RPG WHERE THE MOST RISQUE THING THEY DO IS HAND HOLDING. (and thanks for reading, dawg)
  11. Developer: Sega/Media Vision Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC Release Date: July 10, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game The phrase "Shining" holds a very different connotation in the gaming space depending on who you ask. Ask an old school RPG fan what it means to them and they would likely mention its previous, tactical role-playing game form of the beloved Shining Force titles. If you were to ask developer Sega themselves, they would likely phrase it in a way that could be just about anything resembling an RPG, especially given the many games they have churned out under its banner. That said, the Shining series has most often shifted toward a more typical action-RPG template in Japan these past couple decades. Though it may be an enhanced release of a formerly Japanese-exclusive PlayStation 3 title, Shining Resonance Refrain should radiate as a curious new direction for the series after a long absence from English speakers specifically. Above nearly all else, Shining Resonance Refrain takes a keen interest in both dragons and music while very rarely separating either element. Everything from the usage of musical armaments (...called "Armonics") to the main character, Yuma, who bears the latent power of a powerful dragon, play pivotal roles in the overarching narrative. That said, ultimately, the story itself rarely boils down to being more than a handful of good guys fighting against an evil empire despite however much jargon it tries to throw at the player like "Diva Magica" or many phrases straight out of Norse mythology. The main story remains predictable to a fault and can be rather hokey in more than a few instances because of it. Gameplay-wise, Shining Resonance: Refrain takes more than a few notes from its action-RPG contemporaries (such as Namco's Tales of- series) but with a couple of minor twists. You have your real-time combat system in which normal attacks use a stamina gauge and it quickly becomes encouraged to use special MP skills right before one runs out of stamina to maintain a constant offense. To not so subtlety chime a reminder of the musical setup, there is also a BPM gauge that steadily builds up mid-battle which will provide a variety of buffs upon use depending on the song. Admittedly, battles are rather button-mashy, and quickly become routine, but are also easy to get into. The game also does a decent job at making each party member feel unique, such as the ranged grenadier, Marion, who can use support spells, and even the main character, Yuma, who quickly goes from using a standard longsword to transforming into the Shining Dragon mid-battle. There are more than a few battle system foibles than the simplicity of it, however. Some are amusing like the main character becoming overpowered to the point of trivializing most other attackers by literally only needing to mash the circle button from the halfway point and on. Less amusing, however, are the frequent slowdown for flashier spells and, what can be even more annoying, the sleepy ally AI especially in regards to healing/suicidal positioning. Unlike the frequent slowdown hiccups, thankfully some of the AI problems can get straightened out over time if one messes with 'traits' within the Bond Diagram mechanic, which affects AI tendencies like their increased inclination towards using healing or buffs/debuffs mid-fight. In sharp contrast to their unreliable combat usage, one of the surprising strengths of Shining Resonance Refrain's main playable cast is their likability in a story context. One the most obvious ways to see this is within the primary town, which features numerous interpersonal scenes as well as the opportunity to go on dates with party members (yes, guys included). It is clear that these affinity systems were mostly developed with the pretty lady characters in mind but the actual implementation comes across as far more wholesome than one would expect. In addition, there is a pretty earnest friendship that develops between everyone, and not just Yuma despite, well, the story having more than a few over-the-top anime antics moments in-between. Perhaps the biggest problem with the entire game (yes, even more than the very cliched main story) are the huge discrepancies caused by the level-up progression. Main story bosses spike in level at an absurd rate each chapter, and the means of gaining the experience to close the gap in a reasonable amount of time is quite limited. I had to go out of my way to look into items that made it so inactive party members would gain experience, and to increase the rate of seeing the in-game equivalent to Dragon Quest's Metal Slimes (called eggs) in specific, randomly generated Grimoire dungeons, because the experience obtained from normal enemies in regular environments was way too low (... just like in Dragon Quest). In spite of such glaring gameplay flaws, Shining Resonance Refrain still somehow manages to be better than the sum of its parts in charm alone. One of the key ways it does is in the sharp localization which makes an often predictable script somehow still entertaining to read, especially regarding character specific scenes in the central town. The underlying care also transfers to the audio, like how the instrumentation of BPM songs will change based on which character performs it; a nice touch to an already good soundtrack. Heck, even the English dub is solid as well, though I admit I gravitated towards the Japanese voices due to some top-notch talent and it having a more natural transition towards the Japanese-only vocal songs. Shining Resonance Resonance is one of those strange titles that is significantly flawed in both its gameplay progression and main storytelling yet manages to stumble onto the path of being enjoyable regardless. Its key flaws are quite difficult to ignore, especially if one has a low tolerance towards cliche storytelling (which it is dense with), and it requires a willingness to accept the genre stereotypes it so frequently leans on to see a more sincere, lighthearted underside. If one wants an easy to approach action-RPG that is as charming as it is predictable, Shining Resonance Refrain is a solid option. But those expecting anything deeper in their RPG experience would be much better served looking elsewhere than it. Pros + Easy to approach combat system that manages to make each playable character feel distinct + Likable main cast of characters with surprisingly wholesome vibe between them + Pleasant aesthetic from the sharp soundtrack to well-realized character models Cons - Very predictable storytelling that can be quite hokey with its anime tropes - Balancing party experience becomes cumbersome due to huge enemy level spikes between each main story chapter -Occasional slowdown and dumb ally AI unfortunately bog down combat - A bit too much backtracking between zones Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Shining Resonance Refrain does very little to veer from the course of many Japanese RPG stereotypes but for those willing to accept its often predictable nature can still find an earnest hidden charm underneath it all Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
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    Review: Reverie

    Developer: Rainbite Limited Publisher: EastAsiaSoft Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: May 10, 2018 ESRB: E for Everyone Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game There is a fine line between taking inspiration from iconic games and simply being derivative of them, with the latter being far more difficult to escape from. That does not stop many from attempting the inspiration balancing act, such as Rainbite Limited's newest adventure game Reverie. By basking within a familiar framework of two beloved Nintendo series (such as Earthbound's style and The Legend of Zelda's gameplay structure), one can only hope it stands out enough on its own without using 2D nostalgia as a crutch. Despite a bizarrely eerie intro involving treacherous brothers throwing one of their own overboard and then being cursed for an eternity as wrathful spirits, Reverie is nearly devoid of storytelling otherwise. The player is more or less told to spend their vacation on Toromi Island, which apparently means going on a The Legend of Zelda-styled adventure and putting vengeful spirits to rest, I guess. The character's impetus to go from one place to another is not exactly the most cohesive in Reverie. If there is one facet in Reverie that does flow together rather well at times, it's the 2D Earthbound-inspired presentation. There are a lot of neat little flourishes, such as the rustling of foliage, denizens that fidget around as well as turn to face you, and characters leaving imprints in the sand. It creates a homely feel to the starting town of Harikoa in particular, especially when using spare change to play a surprisingly solid shoot 'em up mini-game, or when encountering a nest of kiwi birds in its faux New Zealand. Honestly, if more of Reverie reflected this sort of localized quirk it would likely have been a better game, so it's a real shame that it accounts for so little of the overall experience. The fact of the matter is that Reverie eventually boils down into a wholly forgettable and derivative Zelda-like adventure. Most of your time will be spent in dungeons, which are -- ironically -- the least appealing part of the game, both from an aesthetic and gameplay perspective. If you have played just about any Zelda game, you already know the routine of gathering small/boss room keys in various rooms; which wouldn't be such a bad thing if the dungeons themselves weren't so bland and lifeless. Unfortunately, the frequent combat encounters -- easily the weakest aspect of the gameplay -- only adds insult to injury. Most of the key skills that are usually acquired through dungeons are just renamed Zelda abilities as well, further compounding its derivative nature. For example, instead of using a bow you will instead use a dart gun to hit targets on the wall, just like in a million Zelda games. Instead of Zora-themed swimming gear, you use a snorkel; and so on and so forth. Despite their predictable usage, most key items are thankfully quite responsive in their puzzle and combat implementation, like the cricket bat feeling nearly one to one with 2D Link's sword swing in its immediate timing. Well, pretty much everything except for the final key item ability, at least. What happens to be the most creative ability in the entire game turns out to have poorly implemented physics. This is especially a shame since it also adds much-needed level design variety to the last main dungeon. Basically, the last story item is positional-based and if it drifts a tiny bit off it can leave several puzzle rooms in an unwinnable state. I found myself resetting it by killing the main character and... returning to the start of the dungeon. I originally thought it was poor execution on my end until I saw a couple walkthroughs online that had the same exact issue regarding necessary teleporting in what is otherwise a fairly easy game overall. And with nearly a quarter of my entire playtime spent in that dungeon around that mechanic made it have a significantly longer and more negative impact than it really should have. There are kernels of a much better game in Reverie that the pleasant visuals occasionally remind the player of that are, unfortunately, lost in such a shallow overall Zelda-like adventure. Sure, there are side activities outside of the main campaign's dungeon slog like collecting feather based unlockables but only a small handful of them are rewarding enough to even bother with like a couple off-the-beaten-path mini-games. But even then there is so little driving force to completion beyond the game just being short overall where even the dungeon unlocked after beating the main game is nothing but monster rooms for a game that already has so few enemy variety. There are plenty of games out there that take inspiration from older ones but very few of them that go beyond poorly shadowing significantly better games. Unfortunately, Reverie serves as yet another example as this longstanding trend torn between its clear influences of Earthbound and, even more so, The Legend of Zelda, without a firm grasp on their actual strengths beyond a clean well-realized aesthetic. Reverie does little to offend but even less to really stimulate the player's memory of it because of its lackluster series of dungeons despite hints of a sweeter kiwi spirit. Pros + Clean 2D aesthetic with a welcome New Zealand vibe in spite of its very clear visual inspiration + Bite-sized adventure that is not too demanding of the player Cons - Most of the time is spent in dungeons which are rarely all that clever in their design - Barely anything resembling storytelling or characters makes it quite forgettable overall alongside its derivative gameplay - While the game generally controls well the last usable key item, which is vital in the final dungeon, has very unreliable physics Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average Reverie may be pleasant to look in terms of aesthetic at but as an actual game it has so little to offer than being a totally forgettable, yet generally inoffensive, Zelda-like that simply exists Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4/PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  13. Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Arc System Works Platform: PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC Release Date: May 31, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Arc System Works has been quick to fill in the crossover team fighter void left by Capcom's extremely disappointing Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom. By seemingly invoking the power of Shenron (through Dragon Ball FighterZ) Arc System Works has rapidly jumped in power level in both sales and status among hyperactive team-based fighters. This year, Arc System Works has decided to follow up with another team-based fighter, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle, but this time it leans far more heavily into its crossover nature. Featuring characters from Blazblue, Persona 4, Under Night In-Birth, and the most surprising addition of all -- Rooster Teeth Production's popular action web series RWBY -- one can only hope Blazblue: Cross Tag Battle is as satisfying to actually play as it is inherently bizarre as a crossover game. With such a broad selection of characters, the immediate concern is how daunting it is mechanically. Weirdly enough, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle may be Arc System Works' most approachable fighter to date, even with the strides in accessibility that Dragon Ball FighterZ made earlier this year and Persona 4 Arena before it. Everything from button mash-friendly auto-combos to extremely simple button inputs being no more complex than a quarter circle motion, as well as two button reversals like in P4A more than considerably help lower the execution barrier. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle goes a few steps further than that, however, including little details such as your character automatically trying to close the distance themselves when you input a grab command, leading to far less missed throws. If anything, anyone who has played Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena, or Under Night In-Birth may feel like they have a larger learning curve here than those who have not. The reasoning for this is that most of the characters in this game originally come from four-button fighters while Blazblue Cross Tag Battle primarily relies on two for most attack strings (before getting into tag commands and the "Clash" button, at least). So, in addition to potentially unlearning years of muscle memory, it can lead to many characters feeling quite foreign due to their much more limited movesets. Personally speaking, I found myself gravitating towards characters I had very little experience with before, or outright new ones like members of RWBY, because of how odd it felt playing once familiar 2D spites. Of course, at the end of the day, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle is a team-based fighter and the synergy between character pairs is arguably more important than being decent with any one fighter. A good assist, for instance, can give slow/short-ranged characters like Azrael the opportunity to easily close the distance. To put this into practice even more, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle clearly borrows many mechanics from Marvel vs Capcom like its own version of push blocking, DHC cancels (changing characters mid-super), and its equivalent of X-Factor to dramatically power up a character when their own ally is knocked out. However, there are a few extra tools in Cross Tag Battle that allow much more combo creativity due to its distinct tagging options. Players can switch characters during normal ally assists or the craziest tag feature of all which involves the "Cross Combo" mechanic that has one's second character on-screen at the same time and perpetually attacking, allowing for some truly devious pressure and combo potential for a brief moment. It is truly impressive just how much free reign players are given with the tag mechanics, both offensively and defensively, making the initially easy-to-approach mechanics for newcomers also appetizing for far more seasoned players with its potential depth and enjoyable yet frenetic combat. Those that do not necessarily want to overload their brains with systems can veer into a much more straightforward environment, like the game's visual novel-style story mode. The story by itself is hardly special as it basically revolves around the many characters being taken from their world and the mastermind behind it forcing them to battle others in hopes to return to their own. In spite of this simple setup, Cross Tag Battle does a great job at being fully aware that it is a crossover game and never takes itself too seriously. There is a lot of fun, self-referential writing regarding each respective franchise and it is entertaining to see unlikely character interactions with one another, such as Ruby fangirling over the bizarre weapons of much of the cast, for example. From an English localization perspective, they go the extra mile for quality, such as having nearly every Persona 4 and Blazblue voice actor reprise their former roles, which is a nice nostalgic touch. Unfortunately, the story mode does frequently serve as an unpleasant reminder about the game's tacky approach to DLC as well. Many characters that appear in the story are outright unplayable in the base game, and with nearly half of the roster locked behind a paid DLC pass, it makes what is supposed to be a discounted fifty dollar game on paper closer to seventy dollars in actual practice. And frankly, it is especially hard to ignore when Persona 4, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY characters have four characters or less to play as in the initial twenty roster. Though, in fairness, Arc System Works has made an effort to make sure at least the two extra RWBY characters Yang and Blake are free, and I'd be lying if I did not say that Blake Belladonna is probably my current favorite character to play in the entire game... despite me knowing next to nothing about RWBY as a series. The rest of the gameplay feature set is quite standard when compared to Arc System Work's most recent titles. There is the typical training, VS mode, survival, as well as a fairly insightful tutorial that teaches the gameplay systems in addition to character specific nuances, which are incredibly welcome. The same applies to the online lobbies that allow players to roam around in cutesy character avatars and challenge other in sixty-four player rooms, and it is still as endearing as ever. Plus, a fairly solid netcode (without the obnoxious rollback in various Capcom titles) helps its case too. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle successfully delivers in crossover fanservice and as a hyperactive tag team fighter. A very low execution barrier, incredibly fast-paced action, and surprising depth to its many gameplay systems makes this truly bizarre mashup an entertaining time, regardless of one's inherent fighting game skill level. Yet, for everything it does right as a game, it becomes that much harder to shake the feeling of Blazblue Cross Tag Battle coming off as an incomplete package, especially regarding its character roster with so many playable characters clearly locked behind DLC. If one can accept the distinct fine print required for the full package then Blazblue Cross Tag Battle should make for an enjoyable fighter despite how it "Can't Escape From Crossing Fate" with its intended audience through its questionable DLC business practices. Pros + Very low execution barrier for basic controls makes both high and low level play frantic and enjoyable + Lighthearted story mode that is fully aware it is a crossover game and never takes itself too seriously + Immense potential for combo creativity thanks to really flexible tag mechanics Cons - Most of the cast play extremely different than they do in their original games which can be rather off-putting initially - Nearly half the potential playable cast are paid DLC and having them frequently teased in the story mode makes them feel less than optional for the full package - Clearly recycled assets from entirely separate games lead to the visuals not being exactly cohesive Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Blazblue Cross Tag Battle does quite a bit to provide a very accessible, yet deep fighter that is chock full of crossover fanservice but the stigma of its poorly handled playable character DLC unfortunately severely hampers it as a complete package. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  14. barrel

    Review: Forgotton Anne

    Developer: Throughline Games Publisher: Square Enix Co. Platform: PS4, Xbox One, and PC Release Date: May 15, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen It has been a few years since the launch of the unconventional publishing platform, Square Enix Collective. Though it initially seemed like an excuse to see whether or not someone was crazy enough to make a pitch about resurrecting Gex, it has actually opened the gates for many smaller indie studios to potentially realize their own unique games with the helping hand of Square. The most recent fruition of their efforts is Throughline Games' gorgeous cinematic adventure game, Forgotton Anne [Editor's note: No, that's not a mispelling; it's really spelled that way]. Does this new indie title paint a brilliant landscape for the initiative, or does it distill only emptiness in its unrealized potential? The pretense of Forgotton Anne initially feels like that of some old children's fable. Inanimate objects forgotten in the modern human world, anything from a bookcase to someone's lost left sock, are whisked away to another world and gain both life and a conscious of their own. Yet, the children's story friendly tone quickly dissipates when those same inanimate objects (called Forgotlings) are immediately assigned labor jobs based on their perceived capabilities. Those that do not comply are quickly regarded as rebels that can have their life force forcefully removed and used as the energy source called Anima. To maintain the questionably strict forgotling status quo created by the mysterious human 'Bonku,' the player takes the mantle of his main 'Enforcer,' or rather the lead heroine 'Anne,' who is often dispatched to take care of such rebels with her life-stealing arca bracelet. From its intriguing setup to its much more enchanting anime-inspired art direction, Forgotten Anne does well to quickly draw the players in. Almost just as fast, Forgotton Anne plays with the moral implications of its lead heroine and her ability to 'distill' these now sentient forgotlings into becoming lifeless objects once more. While the choices themselves are often rather binary, like Mass Effect's paragon or renegade choices, the difference between showing empathy towards a forgotling or maintaining her reputation as a strict enforcer gets far more creative with its direct story usage from its halfway point and on through frequent callbacks to your former actions. However, for as much of a focal point is placed upon its cinematic choice-based narrative perhaps an equal amount if not more of its time is used to its puzzle-platformer adventure elements. The most common puzzle mechanic involves transferring anima (energy) from one object to another, usually machinery, and working around the limitations of it to help get to one's next destination. It's a shame that this puzzle mechanic never really hits either a cerebral or an intrinsic gameplay satisfaction. Players should be able to guess what the puzzle situation wants from the player right away and it will just be a matter of having Anne slowing move levers or change the course of electrical panels before reaching the next story beat. The only real exceptions to this anima mechanic usage are more due to their story implications in its latter half than really changing the actual gameplay design itself. Even though the underutilized anima mechanic or its weirdly stiff platforming elements are disappointing from a gameplay standpoint, Forgotton Anne's main appeal lies in seeing how the story will eventually pan it. Despite its vivid art direction and intriguing setup, the early story goings are unfortunately somewhat rather slow because of its larger emphasis on the puzzle adventure elements, which, as stated before, are not as good as they could be. Yet, there is a very clear narrative turning point when a certain forgotling character named "Fig" comes into play who really helps contextualize not only the world itself but even Anne as an actual character. It becomes difficult to empathize with Anne's father figure Bonku because of how much more charismatic Fig is in comparison despite the narrative's attempts at making Anne choose between them. Of course, the most charismatic aspect of all lies within its aesthetic. The environmental backdrops, in particular, are a real treat and it says a lot for its stellar art direction when I can be fresh off of Dragon's Crown Pro, one of the easiest examples of excellent 2D styled animation in gaming, and still be impressed by the visuals of Forgotton Anne. It is genuinely exciting to progress the story, even when it is not hitting on all cylinders with its pacing/shortcomings, because of its imaginatively realized world and eclectic forgotling characters that ooze personality with every animation. The soundtrack itself also has an impressive breadth to its score with some fine orchestral pieces that nicely accompany the visuals as well. However, if there is one strong blight upon Forgotton Anne's presentation, it is the English voice acting itself. While the script is generally fine, despite some really on-the-nose attempts at philosophical contemplation in latter story instances that act deeper than they actually are, a strong majority of the characters have a really stilted voice delivery which can be quite distracting at times. It's not anywhere near Chaos Wars bad or anything, certainly, but for a game with such heavy voice acting usage it takes away the excitement of seeing an interesting new character only to be underwhelmed by them as soon as they start talking, especially when nearly every other facet of the presentation is so alluring. Forgotton Anne is a solid, creative title that is teeming with good intentions. From its memorizing visuals to an intriguing world setup, it goes a long way to pique the player's curiosity throughout its brief story even though it is occasionally obfuscated by its own shortcomings such as so-so gameplay pacing and amateur voice acting performances. Yet, it is hard to hold that much of a grudge against Forgotton Anne's occasional mishaps in character for too long when its heart is clearly in the right place during its imaginatively realized adventure that somehow successfully breaths so much life into what should be listless inanimate objects. Pros + Captivating artstyle with some truly awe-striking environmental backdrops + Intriguing setup and characters that are most strongly illustrated in its later half + Choice mechanics that come back to haunt the player at surprising points Cons - Neither the puzzle nor platforming elements really hit a satisfying gameplay stride - Certain philosophical narrative aspects do get a bit too on the nose at times - Some stilted, amateur voice acting does frequently detract from story scenes when most other aspects of the presentation are so top-notch Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Forgotton Anne does a lot with very little and while it is not entirely successful in its gameplay nor its delivery of it it does manage to craft a gorgeous, intriguing adventure that is certainly worthy of one's attention shortcomings and all Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  15. barrel

    Review: Megadimension Neptunia VIIR

    I think I'm one of the harsher critics of this game (but I kinda imagine those that are still reviewing Nep Nep, aside from myself, already know they like Nep Nep). But yeah, this is still one of those games with the same gameplay problems. The upcoming spin-off "Super Neptunia" might be interesting just because it looks Valkyrie Profile-ish.
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