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barrel

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  1. Developer: Aquaplus and Sting Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: September 5, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game Atlus USA knew that with a cliffhanger as cruel as the one that Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception ended on, fans could not wait very long for the sequel. So, four months after its release countless burning questions are turned into decisive answers. Taking the form of the conclusion to the visual novel/strategy role-playing-game trilogy called Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth, it makes for an absolutely triumphant example among those willing stand alongside with it until the end. Before elaborating on its strengths Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth may very well be one of the most demanding games ever to get into from a pure storytelling context. The bare minimum to even approach it is to at least finish Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception due to huge storytelling revelations, intricate world-building, character development, as well as how Mask of Truth makes next to no real effort to catch people up to speed in regards to any of these. To go one step further, it even closes several longstanding story threads that date as far back as the original Utawarerumono on PC back in 2002 (and the only real English options for that are a less-than-legal PC fan-translation or the 2006 anime adaptation.) It is a trilogy for a reason and Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth's storytelling makes that abundantly clear as a final chapter that wraps it all up. With that disclaimer out of the way, Mask of Truth rights many of the wrongs of its predecessor. Often times, the previous title -- Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception -- was frustrating to play with how it was structured as a visual novel. The underlying storytelling was great, but the pacing was downright insulting. It felt like for every hour of serious storytelling the player would be subjugated to three or more hours of often pointless filler and anime ''fanservice' immediately after making it incredibly difficult to recommend as a whole. Oh, and for those that went into it expecting more frequent strategy-RPG gameplay would be lucky to see a battle every few hours, so that also did not help. But for a patient crowd that were able to surmount such shortcomings Mask of Truth certainly delivers and is a far more well-rounded adventure. While I would hardly say it is concise, as is the case with most visual novels with their long-winded banter (especially fifty-plus hour ones), it is very rare that the player will feel like their time is really being wasted (except maybe a few unfortunate 'fanservice' scenes, though they are significantly toned down from the previous game), despite not always placing the main conflict at the center stage. The cast of characters make doubly sure by acting much more mature, and the narrative's tone certainly reflects the change in mannerisms as a whole. Speaking of which, it is actually quite impressive how many fairly established characters of the previous release become much more earnestly developed as individuals through the course of Mask of Truth. Seemingly mundane day to day moments lead to surprisingly nuanced backstory moments, for example. Honestly, it's difficult for the player not to connect and resonate with the cast's plight, especially the lead character, knowing that they are forced to carry on in spite of some really heavy burdens and bleak circumstances. Of course, the main storytelling itself in general is an extremely touchy subject (do you know how hard it was to find screenshots without blatant spoilers?). Every other breath about it can easily be interpreted as major spoilers of the previous title at the very least. What I will say is that while I would more than argue that the Mask of Deception felt like half a game (that cliffhanger really did not help), Mask of Truth conversely feels like it could be separated into two entirely separate role-playing game narratives and each one would feel complete on their own. The reason I say that is because there are two dramatically different story arcs between its first and second half; the first being more focused on political intrigue and wartime conflict while the second arc is more about the greater existential questions of the world itself. Admittedly, it does lose some luster in the game's second story arc, with less compelling antagonistic figures primarily (kind of reminding me of Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord in this regard), but there are still pretty powerful and poignant storytelling moments throughout. I am not going to lie, I got more than a little misty eyed during several iconic scenes. Which is a tall order for me and games storytelling, and something that Mask of Truth executes brilliantly. It is easy to forget that there is an entire strategy-RPG component as well when caught in the massive visual novel story. Alright, not as easy this time around because battles are a fair bit more frequent and more involved. Like its predecessor, Mask of Truth's combat is a turn-based affair with an emphasis on chaining skills together mid-combo with real time inputs to increase their potency. With newly added co-op follow-up attacks, including tag-team special moves in 'overzeal' states, both allies and foes are noticeably more capable, making confrontations more engaging and challenging too. Mask of Truth also improves the variability of battle encounters as well. Main story confrontations are fairly good at changing up objectives and often times have multiple parts that forces players to stay on their toes. The final battle in particular plays upon a sense of combat escalation that is crazy in a way I have not seen since basically Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker. As an aside, what is also a neat and subtle improvement is that -- outside of the main story -- there are other means to hone one's combat skills. The first of which are random skirmishes against fellow allies, which help grant points to raise certain stats, but the more intriguing are 'Munechika's Trials'. Munechika's Trials are basically really in-depth tutorials giving one instances to fully understand nitty-gritty combat mechanics and character specific nuances. While it likely would have seen far more use in the prior game (as players should have plenty of combat knowledge by now), it is a neat addition and a good way to get extra passive skills to equips. For as excellent as Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is as a sequel, and frankly as a visual novel, it is a rather inconsistent port on Sony's PlayStation Vita. A fair bit worse than its predecessor to the point of interfering with story and combat scenes, actually. For instance, in busier cutscenes (with the underwhelming 3D engine in particular) the audio will randomly cut out which is somewhat distracting at times. But the bigger grievance is that this also can occur during combat, and I have seen a few minor instances of it throwing off my muscle memory for attack combos because of it. It is not game-breaking, but still disappointing for an otherwise perfect fit for the portable. But when faced with the stellar Japanese voice acting, impactful soundtrack, and gorgeous character art, I suppose I can forgive the occasional technical hiccups for what is primarily a visual novel. By expertly wrapping up what would have otherwise been an extremely inconsistent trilogy, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth almost single-handedly justifies the whole journey up until this point. It is not without its caveats, however, with a mandatory to play predecessor (arguably almost two), and some nagging grievances with the occasionally spotty visual novel pacing as well as handheld port. Still, it serves as one of the absolute best visual novels out there on the market, and it just so happens to have some pretty fun strategy-RPG gameplay at times too. It is an amazing tale that makes it even more of a shame that it demands so much out of the player beforehand to fully appreciate it, but for those that do will be more than glad that they did. Pros + Intricate, and sometimes extremely poignant, visual novel storytelling that provides a really satisfying conclusion to the trilogy during the course of its lengthy adventure + Develops most of its primary cast really well + Smart adjustments to combat noticeably makes allies more capable and skirmishes more varied + Excellent localization and Japanese voice work Cons - Storytelling makes very little effort in catching up players who have not at least finished Mask of Deception prior to it - Awkward visual stuttering and audio cutoffs during random gameplay points in the Vita version - While toned significantly down from the previous game some 'fanservice' scenes and slice-of-life moments here and there do bog down the pacing Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Managing to weave intricate world-building and excellent storytelling Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth should more delight those that are patient enough to trek past its shortcomings towards the wonderful conclusion of the trilogy Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  2. Developer: Falcom Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: September 12, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game For as many adventures as the crimson-haired Adol Christian has been on it is becoming less obvious as to what exactly constitutes as an Ys game nowadays. Classic prior entries such as Ys: Oath of Felgnana or Ys Seven are drastically different in their design philosophies, for example. The only safe assumption one can make about the Ys series nowadays is a fun action-RPG combat system and awesome music. In this simple regard, Falcom's newest entry in the flagship series -- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana -- very much succeeds on that front, despite continuing to isolate itself from many of Adol's former adventures. In pure setup, Lacrimosa of Dana is absolutely faithful to Ys tradition. Adol starts his adventure on a boat... only for it to capsize and leave him stranded on the supposedly cursed location of Seiren Island. Where it quickly deviates, however, is that Adol is not alone during his adventurer this time around. I'm not just referring to eventual playable companions either, like Ys Seven or Ys Memories of Celceta have done years ago, but rescuing fellow shipwreck survivors quickly becomes the focal point of Adol's new debut. After a fairly slow introduction, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana gets into a groove of exploring the mysterious island and creating a safe haven for other survivors to gather the means to eventually escape the island. The more you explore, the more survivors you will likely uncover and eventually -- as a byproduct of doing both -- unlock more gameplay features in the central hub. For example, uncovering a blacksmith to help strengthen your weapons or a tailor to give your new accessories and outfits. At certain points players even have to defend the town from waves of monsters. It is an intriguing ebb and flow when it is done right that is not quite like any Ys title before it. Of course, many recent Ys stables are present and accounted for. The combat system is fast-paced and fun while retaining the three type of attack affinities of Slash, Strike, and Pierce to encourage swapping between allies on the fly in order to exploit enemy weaknesses (as introduced in Ys Seven). What is disappointing, however, is that combat feels considerably more easy, and generally less skillful, than most traditional Ys titles even on higher difficulties. While some bosses have neat tricks up their sleeve the less health they have you can pretty easily brute force most fights through the game's rather generous approach to healing items. It almost feels like overkill to have access to tools like a Bayonetta-styled dodge or a ''Flash Guard' that completely medicates damage, though I am sure it can be argued for the previous two games as well. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana clearly puts a bigger emphasis on exploration, town-building, and storytelling while combat is a means to an end while doing so. Very much like Ys VIII: Memories of Celceta there's a slight Metroid-ish approach to exploration as you gain new traversal skills, like double-jumping or the ability climbs vines, or by removing obstacles in environment based on the more survivors you find. It is neat, though; after a certain amount of time exploration feels more like an act of compulsion than genuine wonderment, like one would experience in likes of something like Xenoblade Chronicles, because of how little variability there actually is to the terrain. This is further devalued by stopgap moments like excessive storytelling scenes as well. Strangely enough, there is abnormally large emphasis on storytelling and it is not, well... particularly good. I am not sure why Falcom continues to put in long-winded stories into Ys games that also manage to be so totally underwhelming and forgettable as well. It is made worse by much of the awkward script where phrases like 'Evolution' and 'Energy' are treated like high level concepts among the cast. No, I get it: Dinosaurs. No, I get it: the ancient civilization had special powers. We don't need to be talking about this for half an hour. Less would certainly be more in the case of the storytelling for Lacrimosa of Dana, although ironically the PS4 version apparently adds even more cutscenes to it... As one may guess, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is not really a cohesive game. I'm not necessarily talking about the presentation either, which runs well enough on the portable despite noticeable slowdown. I simply mean there are a lot of concepts, ideas, and gameplay systems but none of them really excel enough to detract from what should be the series that is at its best when it has focused and fast-paced action-RPG gameplay. There is simply random feature creep for just the sake of it. Sure, you can do fetch-quests, catch fish, or keep hoping the main story will get better over time but... why? Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana explores a new direction for Falcom's beloved series. With its satisfying combat, and rewarding sense of exploration, it could have easily succeeded just on that front. And yet, it is bogged down at its attempt to add more with consistently dull storytelling that remains way too long-winded throughout as well other not fully-fleshed gameplay systems, like a certain town-defense mini game, that surface many unnecessary stopgaps to the game's sense of a exploratory flow. It is certainly fun to play but one can not help but feel it would have been better off if its goals of exploring Seiren Island were simply more focused. Pros + Fun, zippy combat system + Town-building and exploration aspects are neat + Amazing soundtrack Cons - Storytelling and cast are quite dull - Not a whole lot of variation in the actual environments - General difficulty feels more tuned for attrition than actual skill - Stopgap pacing that does not allow many of the gamelay systems to really shine on their own Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana plays with the series formula in a lot of ways and while it is not entirely successful in its execution, nor pacing, it still manages to be a fun action-RPG Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  3. Basically this. In an ideal world I feel like games coverage should cover both sides of spectrum (especially reviews or opinion pieces. We have way too much homogenization in regards to it, I feel like.) Because, hey, lots of different people play games and should have very perspectives because of it. There shouldn't be only 'pro' gamers or 'casual' ones to reflect it (as well as only true fans or non fans of something). But I'll be the first to admit this footage is somewhat painful to watch. Now, I know it's hard to play a game on a show floor, and I know firsthand Cuphead is quite difficult (I got wrecked for a few minutes and then moved onto Bloodstained), but it is kind of cringe-worthy to watch regardless. He doesn't do the himself, or the game, any real service by making a real long video about making zero progress. This is hardly worth any controversy, though. Or at least not in this context. Sounds like a wrong fit at an outlet that didn't really have the option to send anyone else to cover it.
  4. Review: Yakuza Kiwami

    Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: August 29, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature After being locked away for many years, Sega's Yakuza series has seen a sort of resurrection overseas. Fitting then that after the brilliant prequel in the form of Yakuza 0 just this year, Sega has quickly gone the extra mile to also bring over the PS4 remake of the series' very first title. That title, of course, is Yakuza Kiwami. With an enhanced presentation, new content, and a budgeted retail price tag is it worth revisiting Sega's former PS2 relic? The original Yakuza occupied a rather strange space in time, especially for Sega. It was a spiritual successor to Shenmue and, just like it, was also an utter commercial flop for several of the same reasons (poor sales and an overly expensive localization). Still, the series has mostly been kept alive in Japan, and hopefully soon to be the US as well, with each one paying reverence in some form to the very first game. But times have changed, and the series along with it. Yakuza Kiwami seems to embrace this philosophy while retaining the heart of an extremely faithful remake. Premise-wise, Kiwami is almost 100% identical to its PS2 forefather (there are a few new cutscenes which I'll get into a bit). Lead protagonist, Kazama Kiryu, is sentenced to jail by taking the blame for the murder of the Dojima clan's patriarch that his sworn brother, Nishiki, committed out of defense. Ten years later Kiryu is released from prison (his parole was real generous, apparently), only to learn that the tumultuous yakuza landscape has shifted dramatically. With murmurings of a missing ten billion yen from the Tojo clan, and a mysterious girl named Haruka that Kiryu accidentally gets stuck babysitting who may be the key to it all, sets the pieces into motion for the crime based tale that started it all. Beyond that, however, Yakuza Kiwami feels like it is playing an often subtle mind game based on whether or not those that played the original PS2 release are able to spot the differences. Some changes are quite obvious like the presentation. The PS2 version has not aged that well visually so the graphics derived from Yakuza 0's engine really pays off. Granted, it is somewhat clear the production values are not as high as 0's and certain aspects like basic environments or specific character faces still remain to be rather....um, unfortunate upon closer scrutiny. Other changes are less obvious, like how the cutscenes themselves are almost identical, even down to lip sync timing, despite being rendered in an entire new engine. Yet, at random junctions in the story they splice in a few new cutscenes -- most of which constantly made me second guess if they were in the original game or not -- that seem to mostly make a certain character's main narrative motivations more empathetic. If one played Yakuza 0 just before this they will also notice some familiarities to that title well. So, visuals aside, many of the quality of life changes introduced in 0 are pretty much all present such as the fun, if simplistic, combat system changes that allow Kiryu to switch between four different styles on the fly or the ability to play through a bevy of minigames from it too. Newcomers to the first Yakuza or the series in general should be in for a real treat regardless of the sheer breadth of gameplay activities to play around in. There is a lot to see and do in the streets of Kamuracho, like fight thugs in over-the-top combat, visit as well as date ladies at hostess bars, sing karaoke, play shogi, eat at various restaurants, go batting at baseball cages, and plenty more. Though series veterans will likely have more than a lingering feeling of been there, done that for the most part. I mean, it is a faithful remake after all. There are gameplay differences that are actually unique to the series in Kiwami, however. One of the biggest additions is that while waltzing around town from anything to brutally beating up random goons, moving to the next main story destination, or participating in side activities a certain someone is keeping their eyes on you the entire time. Well, 'one eye' on you to be quite specific. The person in question is the eccentric and often "Kiryu-chan!"-shouting thug (also former lead character of Yakuza 0, just FYI) named Majima Goro, who can appear from just about anywhere just to pick a fight with Kiryu. That is not hyperbole, mind you. Majima literally has an entire gameplay system around appearing just about anywhere called "Majima Everywhere." It leads to many genuinely hilarious and unexpected situations to the moment to moment gameplay. He may pop up out of a manhole, after one orders food from a restaurant, during certain mini games (though, he'll avoid the fisticuffs in those situations), and plenty more that I don't want to spoil just to challenge Kiryu. What is also neat about this system is that it also feeds into gameplay progression too like helping Kiryu learn many unique combat skills the more times you fight him too (technically 'remember'). Although, as one can guess, as wonderful as it is to see Majima in any capacity, it can be annoying at times when certain scripted events are recycled and it just feels like you are fighting him with more health the next time around (considering he gets stronger after certain progression points). That said, something nagged on me the entire time while playing. I will be the first to admit that this is somewhat unfair to the remake itself, but I found myself thinking about Yakuza 0 the entire time while playing it. And frankly, Yakuza 0 is a better game in nearly every capacity. The storytelling is much better told, scripted boss fights and battles are way more exciting, has more than double the amount of activities to partake in, and is just presented better. That is not to say Yakuza Kiwami is bad by any means; it is a really well-done remake after all. Yet, it is almost faithful to its original release to a fault as I was feeling far less nostalgic and more so pining to just go back and play Yakuza 0 instead. Yakuza Kiwami is not entirely a net positive from the PS2 release but it is real dang close. As minor as it is, the arrangements of familiar battle themes are rather underwhelming in Kiwami. Also disappointing is that the entire main theme -- "Receive You" -- is outright absent for the US release (seemingly due to licensing issues), so the title screen and battle themes associated with it have also been changed. But otherwise the audio department remains unscathed, though while unsurprising, it lacks the English dub in the original version. Regardless, I will count that too among Kiwami's many blessings, as the f-bomb obsessed and mediocre dub of that title is replaced and a way sharper and wittier English localization. I am torn on my outlook Yakuza Kiwami. On one hand, I really respect the many quality of life changes it presents and how far more accessible it makes one of the most important entries in the entire series to a broader audience (the significantly budgeted retail price helps with that too). On the other hand, as a remake, and as an individual Yakuza game, it feels almost faithful to a fault by not improving as much as it could have. Yakuza Kiwami is best used as a good reference point to where the franchise began than be held up to the standard of the series to its absolute prime as this year's Yakuza 0 was more than willing to prove. Pros + Borrowing Yakuza 0's engine helps add many quality of life improvements, from combat to minigames, to the series first debut + Really cleans up the presentation for what should be a fairly dated PS2 relic + "Majima Everywhere" system brings hilarious, unexpected situations to the moment to moment gameplay Cons - Does not quite have enough new to feel fresh to those that played the original PS2 release - So-so musical arrangements and complete omission of the original main theme "Receive You" in the US release are disappointing - Combat gets pretty repetitive with aggressive random encounters rates and Majima himself does unfortunately contribute to the problem as well - Can feel somewhat thin content-wise compared to more modern entries Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Yakuza Kiwami is an extremely faithful remake of the first title that is better at modernizing a former PS2 classic than it is at proving the best the series has to offer. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  5. Watchu Buyin' August 2017 Edition

    I've been holding back on impulse game purchases for this month purely because of moving stuff. But I still plan to get Mario + Rabbids at launch and buy Hellblade too... eventually (probably the 1st PSN sale it has). The internet is making me tempted to pick up Sonic Mania, but as someone who doesn't find Sonic 1-3 amazing I have a feeling I already know my opinion of it. Next month is gonna hurt my gaming wallet though.... (Yakuza Kiwami is $30.)
  6. Developer: Kadokawa Games Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS Vita/PS4 Release Date: June 20, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game It's difficult to approach strategy role-playing games from Kadokawa Games without some degree of trepidation. One only needs to point to the incredibly unforgiving SRPG (strategy role-playing game) mess that was 2014's Natural Doctrine to reinforce that stance. But, in all fairness, it has been several years since that title and hopefully they learned a lot in between that and their newest foray in the subgenre, God Wars: Future Past. The main premise is one of that is heavily wrapped up in Japanese mythology; those of Shinto beliefs, in particular. A priestess named Kaguya escapes her confinement with the help of her childhood friend and goes on a big journey in search of her mother. From then on, Kaguya gets caught up in far more than she originally anticipated in a world so deeply rooted in the workings of various gods, those benevolent and those very much not. It's a pleasant shift in setting than the all too common medieval styled fantasy in subgenre (which I like, don't get me wrong) and is thankfully easier to parse than the overwhelmingly Japanese PS Vita title Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines. In a sharp sort of contrast to its storytelling, God Wars: Future Past does not have any unnecessary frills to the actual gameplay. It also boasts a pretty involved job system that is genuinely similar to Final Fantasy Tactics (and not in the blanket term way it is often used simply because it's grid-based), which I feel I haven't seen in earnest since the likes of Wild Arms: XF. There are tons of different jobs, skills, and passive skills to equipped (and if you are extra granular stat growths based on jobs to take into account as well) so there is plenty of incentive to mix and match abilities to be all that more effective in combat. It is easier to do so than most in the genre too since you can actually level two different jobs at once on a character because of how progression works, which is rather neat. As solid as the core mechanics are, God Wars: Future Past is noticeably rough in how it is presented. Vita version owners in particular will notice this quicker than most because of how abnormally long load times are for most aspects. For instance, it takes nearly a minute to simply hit the title screen of the game, and getting to the menu to change out equipment and skills takes over ten seconds. I need not say much more than how that really adds up over time considering just how much time one may find themselves buried in menus simply allocating new skills towards allies after each fight. What makes technical grievances more annoying is that they apply to combat as well. To be frank, the in-game 3D visuals are rather ugly. But the bigger annoyance is that the frame rate is rather iffy on top of weird pauses before a combat skills trigger too. The PS4 version is noticeably better based on what I have seen, but it got to a point where I turned off combat animations altogether just so there would be some semblance of smoothness while playing (plus, most attack animations are the same). It really feels like they only went for passable and avoided the means of an actual good port on the Vita hardware at the end of the day. And that's a real shame since it would otherwise be such a great fit for the game with the pick up and play nature. Underneath it all is the heart of a good strategy-RPG title, and one that grew on me over time despite making bad impressions early on. As stated before, it is a mechanically sound tactical game that only really gets better later on as more classes and skills open up. It does not really attempt to move the needle for the SRPG subgenre, as it borrows Tactics Ogre's approach to top-down grid-based gameplay and even MP management where ones start at none and gain more MP per turn. The more distinct mechanics are two gauges to keep track of such as Impurity and Secret Skill Gauge. Impurity is basically what is aggro in MMOs and it is quite practical to have a sturdy character built upon gaining impurity so your more fragile fighters are free from enemy ire. While the Secret Skill Gauge is accumulated over time and both unique character skills, and generally strong advanced classes, get access to that can change the tide of battle if used effectively. Still, there is more than meets the eye. Or rather, there is more to see outside of combat. The 2D character portraits are often pleasant to look at, and occasionally the story does cool comic panel-like transitions to progress the narrative. The less said about the English dub, the better, though the soundtrack does help convey the fun take on Shinto mythology with decidedly old-fashioned use of Japanese instrumentation too (though, it does have frequent audio repetition problems for how many battles use the same themes). God Wars: Future Past faces the dilemma of being a decent game but a bad port on the PS Vita hardware. Obtrusive load times and a rough 3D in-game presentation mar what would totally be a solid, if hardly amazing, tactical-RPG. For those hankering for strategy-RPGs more akin to Tactics Ogre than the popular likes of Fire Emblem, God Wars: Future Past does certainly scratch that rather specific subgenre itch. There is a rich job system, and neat take on Japanese folklore, that helps its case too. But really, unless you are like myself who is willing to suffer many technical inconveniences purely for portability, God Wars: Future Past is only worth one's time on PS4 in which it runs noticeably better on, and even that may be debatable. Pros + Very rich job system that allows quite a bit of freedom in how you mold your party and their abilities + Pleasant character portraits and setting Cons - Jarring load times on vitas - Hideous 3D visuals - Can feel like a mess of menus at times Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average God Wars: Future Past is sincere in its intentions of delivering a solid, if not rough around the edges, take on the strategy-RPG subgenre. And for the most part it does, but the rather poor port on PS Vita really makes it hard to recommend on that system in particular Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  7. Review: Valkyria Revolution

    Developer: Media Vision Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PS Vita Release Date: June 27, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS4 version of the game Few games from the last console generation command such fervent respect from me than that of the original Valkyria Chronicles on PS3 back in 2008. It was so beautifully executed for such a fresh take on the strategy-RPG subgenre and featurded highly-rewarding yet challenging third-person tactical gameplay, a triumphant Hitoshi Sakamoto soundtrack -- all this and more while bannered in an absolutely gorgeous visual style that gave Valkyria Chronicles a real storybook-like flair that caused it to be lauded for years to come. And... no one bought it at the time. It was after this that the series gradually descended in ranks to approach a different audience. To cater to specific Japanese gaming tastes they made two handheld sequels to the original Valkyria Chronicles. Both were good games in their own right, despite the mixed reception that II’s high school setting brought in particular, but clearly made compromises in scope for the weaker PSP hardware. To rekindle the fires of war in what is easily the most divisive Valkyria release to date comes the entirely new action-RPG spin-off: Valkyria Revolution. With a negative Japanese reception, and it forgoing most of the series' signature SRPG elements, it begins to bring into question what merits that Valkyria Revolution has to rally existing veterans of the series. What is likely to feel like a first traitorous act to the beloved franchise is simply in how Valkyria Revolution looks. Characters move stiffly and have doll-like facial expressions, environments are lifeless as well as frequently recycled, and at times the title has the gall to not be animated at all during certain story scenes using only still frames and voice acting to propel it. There are moments where it does try to utilize visual filtering tricks to evoke the storybook-esque effect of the prior titles, but hardly comes close to parity with the original. Really, just about everything about its look feels a step back from its nearly decade old influential forefather, which only adds insult to injury. It may be clear the game was largely hamstrung by the PS Vita hardware but it is still a real shame that Valkyria Revolution has failed to really imitate Valkyria Chronicles' visual charm on even the most basic level. Valkyria Revolution tries to gain its bearing by other means, however. And as a spin-off it does technically have leeway in doing so despite many creative liberties it tries to take in its departure. First and foremost Valkyria Revolution is a four-person squad-based action-RPG. There are certainly elements of the previous strategy titles like the ability to take cover, how action pauses when lining up shots, or issuing orders to allies, but their practical use is next to non-existent on the standard difficulty. Gameplay rarely feels more complicated than running up to enemies, often rather mindlessly, to hopefully exploit their weakness in the process from doing actions like a rocket launcher on a mechanical foe or a well-timed spell (or "ragnite") in a mob of foes. But I would struggle to say if even that much forethought is really necessary depending on how much time you are willing to spend during a skirmish. Most of the inherent difficulty feels dictated by how much time you are willing to spend upgrading your character's abilities and gear than actually making calls of the battlefield, in all honesty. For example, early in the game it felt like it was taking me forever to kill certain mechanized spider-like foes. I decided to then update a character's weapon via a node-based skill tree (which is essentially progressed by using leftover "ragnite" item drops) and was able to shred through that same enemy in far less time. I also found a more satisfying flow the more creative I got with using different ragnite skills by playing upon each of the squad members affinities. The four primary classes bring a sort of MMO mindset to character builds, like shielders being a tank equivalent while sappers on the other hand have a higher affinity towards long range attacks or healing abilities. Depending on if one plays upon a character's strengths well enough can make them feel nigh invincible based on if certain unique character traits of theirs are triggered mid-battle (which are gained either through story or optional character events in the certain town hub). Weirdly enough, the gameplay and the systems around Valkyria Revolution aren't particularly bad overall but rather they are hardly remarkable in the long run. This is largely due to how little variety there is to combat. Enemies are frequently recycled as well as levels. Plus there is an encouraged grind to get new ragnite, or to enhance a character's weapons, which makes it drag its feet more so. Plus, when it has such a strong source material to serve as contrast, as Valkyria Chronicles had wildly varying objectives each story mission, only makes the squandered potential that much more depressing. What is actually Valkyria Revolution's stronger annoyance is not its generally average gameplay but rather the storytelling--and not in the way you would expect. The main story itself would make a good case for the best in the series, spin-off or otherwise, were it not for how terribly it is paced. Cutscenes are abnormally long, redundant, and often last around thirty minutes after each story mission. Every bit of political intrigue, or darker narrative implications, are entirely drowned out by either pointless slice-of-life fluff of squadmates or how much they pound you over the head with things you already know by now. I get it, game, "The Traitors" instigated a war for their revenge under the guise of a liberation. You don't need to tell me the same thing for twenty hours from both the characters themselves and the historians attempting to tell me the truth of that same history as well. There is one aspect that Valkyria Revolution absolutely nails, however -- and that's Yasunori Mitsuda's phenomenal soundtrack. To empowering shifts in the soundtrack in the midst of battle, or more joyful beats when walking around the central town, really stands the musical score out in sharp contrast to the rest of the game. Other than that the trend of mediocrity carries over to other departments such as the voice acting as well. Yet, the generally well-written localization makes whatever awkward narrative scenes more palatable in spite of it and the iffy dub. As tempting as it is to forever compare what it does not do as well as its original legacy, Valkyria Revolution's biggest problem really is that it is thoroughly average for the most part. One can glean instances of potential from it here and there, from storytelling intrigue and gameplay systems, but they are dragged out for way too long to be compelling (story scenes in particular). What is left is a husk of a spin-off that is unlikely to really satisfy existing Valkyria fans, and is not built sturdy enough to stand on its own feet either in a year where one has so many better RPG alternatives. Although, one should give the soundtrack of Valkyria Revolution a listen at the very least. Pros + Storytelling is intriguing when it doesn't drag its feet (which is rare) + Battle Palletes allow for solid party customization in the wide array of skills that can be applied + Mitsuda's soundtrack is phenomenal Cons - Why are the cutscenes so dang long?! -Extremely repetitive and often bland combat/level design - Clearly made with the Vita's hardware limitations in mind and the presentation really suffers for it on the big screen - Those expecting strategic gameplay, like that of mainline Valkyria Chronicles, will be bitterly disappointed Overall Score: 5 (out of 10) Average For a spin-off meant to breathe new life into a beloved series, Valkyria Revolution only serves to lower morale amidst a year of far more capable gaming options to recruit from Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  8. Developer: Falcom Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PC Release Date: May 3, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen The wait to finally see Falcom's The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky trilogy in English feels as emotionally charged as the storytelling within them for just about everyone involved. Publisher XSEED took it upon themselves to localize the nightmare level of difficulty role-playing game series despite their beyond massive in-game word counts, and underwhelming overseas sales, out what seems like an intense labor of love for the source material and their fan base. Fans themselves were left with nearly a half decade of indecisiveness about simply getting the second title alone after a rather cruel cliffhanger in the first Trails in the Sky. So, following-up the localization miracle that was the second entry in 2015, and even the time passing between console generations, it is beyond surreal to see Trails in the Sky: The Third exist in any English form from its ten year old Japanese counterpart. To add just one more blessing to the whole ordeal, which I will attribute to the Goddess Aidios, I am surprised to count it among one of my favorite RPGs this year which already has such fierce competition. Now, I would not be surprised if Trails in the Sky: The Third is viewed as a sort of black sheep for the franchise. It is quite odd for a game I originally thought would simply be more of the same -- and it's really not... well, mostly. It is complicated. Recent The Legend of Heroes releases absolutely thrived upon their world-building and character development to the point where they felt like visual novels in how verbose they were about at times. It was not uncommon to go over an hour without facing so much as a single combat encounter; The Third being no exception. They earned it, however, despite it being quite traditional at times, as the interpersonal moments in particular were far and away the best aspects of the whole experience. It was wonderful to see the energetic tomboy lead, Estelle Bright, eventually evolve into easily one of my favorite gaming heroines outright with her powerful development as a character (as well as those around her) through the course of two games. Except, oddly enough, Trails in the Sky: The Third is not really about Estelle at all. Her narrative arc was actually pretty thoroughly resolved in Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter. Instead the main character mantle has shifted to the green-haired, holy man of the church Kevin Graham, whom had a brief presence in the previous game, and his newcomer assistant Sister Ries that has a bit of history with the questionable 'Father' as well. Beyond the big shift in main protagonists, Trails in the Sky: The Third is structured quite differently as a game as well. Whereas previous Trails in the Sky titles had an on-the-road sense of adventure, as you traveled pretty much an entire continent on-foot, The Third is technically isolated inside a single massive dungeon known as the Phantasma. There are not really towns, NPCs to prod for new lines of text each story beat, and barely any sidequests. On paper this probably sounds quite off-putting to returning fans in nearly way possible. By the end of it, however, I think it actually makes a strong case when it comes to improving the gameplay of its predecessors while somehow managing to retain the best aspects of them, that being the storytelling, by simply presenting them differently. Admittedly, Trails in the Sky: The Third can certainly feel like an the entire game built upon fanservice. Many familiar faces are conveniently whisked in Phantasma only to join your party immediately right after (with a few that would be somewhat unconscionable through the course of the main narrative in the prior two games). Of course, I'll take any excuse to see the goofy bard, Olivier, attempt to spout sweet nothings to any lady or gentlemen of the cast he finds attractive once more. It also conveniently gives the developers quite a few liberties in how to structure the game as well. Phantasma allows players the means to purchase goods/gear, forge Quartz and strengthen Orbament slots (the series' means of magic-like skills) all at various recovery points placed mid-dungeon without much narrative conceit behind it. Most importantly of all, there is an honest-to-goodness fast-travel to warp both in and out dungeon. This is a total game changer as backtracking was far and away my biggest annoyance with earlier releases. It is also structured more linearly because players are constantly moving up in Phantasma at a pretty steady clip, which I think is to it's benefit compared to the stopgap pacing of previous releases. Alongside the list of conveniences are plenty of recycled assets, however. Most of the in-game mechanics are the exact same as its predecessors: such as the exact same combat and same skill progression. They're fine, but I admit I found myself flipping the switch to easy mode to save time. That said, for me personally, the presentation did feel like a leap forward simply because I moved from playing previous entries on PSP to the PC just for The Third. So the cleaned up HD assets, higher framerate, faster load times, and the likes specific to the PC release did make it feel like a bigger jump than it actually was. Also, I was able to play with an Xbox 360 controller (or rather, a PS2 controller converter) without any hitches either. I would guess that if one were to focus purely on the main story it is entirely plausible to see Kevin's journey through Phantasma to its conclusion in less than twenty hours. Heck, one may even arguably not need to play previous two games to appreciate it either (although, one really shouldn't.). It takes a while to uncover but Kevin himself serves an intriguing contrast to light-hearted Estelle as he is far more morally ambiguous in nature despite coming off as a friendly enough guy. Turns out, Kevin's been through a lot and his backstory really does not hesitate to delve into some incredibly dark subject matter that is downright fascinating. I adored learning more about his past, as well as seeing both his and sister Reis's development as characters. Despite all of that, though, one would still be missing out on essentially half the game if they did only that for one key reason: Doors. Throughout Phantasma there are various suspicious doors mid-dungeon with either a Moon, Star, or Sun symbol on them. Each one, most often enough, will only open based on members in your current party composition. If one meets the requirements to open it they are rewarded with either a mini game to play or a lengthy narrative flashback. For fans of the previous two games the latter, that being narrative flashbacks, are an incredibly big deal despite being entirely optional to uncover. Both Moon and Star doors are basically the main means of extra narrative closure for the huge cast of characters that aren't Kevin or Reis. There are plenty of details about the aftermath of the previous games like the plans for many characters going forward (one of which hugely sets up Trails of Cold Steel), or certain events to predate even the original Trails in the Sky, so having exposure to the previous titles is basically mandatory to get much enjoyment out of them. As much as I liked Kevin's story, I'd say I probably got the most satisfaction in uncovering the various optional narrative scenes. Oh, and I should mention that some of these flashbacks are quite long, with the bigger ones taking nearly two hours to complete. That's why it's quite possible to double a normal playtime in simply trying to see them all -- and they're totally worth it. Certain events behind these doors are among the absolute best interpersonal moments in the entire series. As usual, of course, XSEED's top-notch localization really makes it so these numerous event are all the more satisfying to discover. I did not know I wanted Trails in the Sky: The Third as much I did prior to playing it. A cursory impression can make it feel like an unnecessary follow-up to the previous title that did not seem to need it at all, and it cutting quite a few corners with recycled assets does not help its initial case either. However, it somehow manages to feel fresh with its entirely revised gameplay structure and distinctly wonderful new lead characters. The excellent overall storytelling, writing, and incredibly meticulous world-building alone does more than right with the best the series has to offer. Falcom and XSEED clearly put plenty love in Trails in the Sky: The Third to make sure the final chapter in the Liberl arc was a delightful one. Pros + Wonderful character development with "Father Kevin" being the key standout + Entirely revised gameplay structure eliminates most backtracking that plagued the previous two entries and feels more focused because of it + Optional Moon/Sun events have excellent interpersonal events that both add much closure, as well as clever setup for would-be sequel, for the series in general Cons - Thoroughly underwhelming presentation that directly lifts a lot of visual and gameplay assets from the previous game - One should really have a frame of reference of the previous two games before even considering touching Trails in the Sky: The Third Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great There is no doubt in my mind that Trails in the Sky: The Third is a must-play for series veterans and a satisfying conclusion to such a lovingly-crafted trilogy Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PC code provided by the publisher.
  9. I'm not nearly as good with my backlog as I used to be but I think I am still decent at tricking myself into finishing games nowadays (like last week I did really good.). "Play one or two games at the same time you're playing your current one." is a pretty common way of how I play games. I don't really think I do that for backlog intentions rather than simply changing it up so I don't burn out on a single game too quickly (but it is a nice feeling to finish all of those games close together.). Barrel trick #1: Play at least the intro/tutorial of like every game you buy and/or intend to play. There are a lot of reasons to do this. It can trigger the "mood" to play certain games you wouldn't expect, and because having played a game at all is better than staring at something you never touched but spent money on. (And introductions are often the slowest part of a game. So, once you are over that it can often feel like it's just uphill from there when you do decide to seriously play it.) Other stuff I do is kind of specific to me and how I play games in general. I like to gauge how long a game is in advance so I'll look at how many chapters it has or the common completion time. I also often make an effort to be sure I at least reach the halfway mark before I feel myself wanting to put it down for a bit (this, of course, requires a sort of confidence in yourself being able to recall stuff like gameplay systems/story when you return to a game, which... can be pretty difficult depending on the game.).
  10. Developer: Aquria Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS Vita Release Date: May 2, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen It has been only one month since the release of Persona 5 and Atlus USA is already eager to publish another role-playing game full of traumatized high schoolers. The Vita exclusive RPG: The Caligula Effect is a bit different than the countless knockoffs of Atlus's flagship series, however. For one, it actually has the writer behind the first three Persona games behind it (Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin & Persona 2: Eternal Punishment), Tadashi Satomi, which should imply a more bleak tone to storytelling akin to older Shin Megami Tensei games, so that immediately piqued my interest it. I think it would have been warranted too if what narrative potential it has was not squandered in the mobius loop of disappointment with the gameplay's pacing. The intro to The Caligula Effect feels rather distorted, with some of it being intentional. Something along the lines that the mostly mute main character learns that he's trapped in what was supposed to be a digital utopia called "Mobius". Of course, something is not quite right with the digital world which causes the lead to accidently get magical powers based on unstable human psyche (NOT-Persona), and meeting like-minded individuals of the "Go-Home" club who want to Go H-- um, return to reality. So, the lead, and his eventual and slightly crazy posse, decide to confront the famous digital idol "Mu" (Technically "μ"), whom (partially) created Mobius, about their desire to escape from it. The premise made more sense in my head. The early portions in The Caligula Effect feels like an bigger mess of systems it does not really know what to do with. There are functions like being able to recruit over 500 hundred party members from random 'classmates' wandering dungeons, text messaging system called "Wire", and a nightmare of an ability tree called the "Causality Link" if you earn friendship points with the 500 non-main story party members. However, most just feels superfluous in the monotonous dungeon crawler grind that is most of the experience that I avoided dabbling with it entirely except for when I was forced to in the main story. The bulk of the experience (about 80%, I'd wager) is primarily within its clumsy dungeon design and repetitive combat system. It is all the more unappealing to behold when it is presented so ruggedly with a choppy frame rate (battles primarily), messy animations, long load times between the lifeless environments, and the like. Before I get too critical, however, the most promising of the two main gameplay facets is the combat system. Battles are kind of like a weird hybrid between turn-based with real time elements (think Final Fantasy IX's ATB system), a juggling based combo system, and random MMO styled cooldowns tossed in. There are bit and pieces of the combat system that truly I like. For one, before inputting any action you see a sort of general playback of how both enemies and allies will react if you do it in the small time frame it is playing (...assuming the attack doesn't miss, or the character gets interrupted by the geometry). I also like that you can get pretty granular to potentially optimize combos or perfectly time a guard break/counter skill, which is neat. ...Until the repetition sets in, which is very quick. The Caligula Effect really does not reward creativity in combat -- just efficiency (even that being debatable). The enemies that would survive long enough to weave fancy party combos around them you frankly should not be fighting. It is often best to have a bread & butter combo of using your most powerful skills at the offset so you can get the experience bonus and save time. If enemies don't die from that initial barrage the pacing slows down quite a lot. Early in I would try to fight foes several levels higher and... that's a bad idea. Basically, the player's stat disadvantage against foes a few levels or higher gets pretty huge, to the point where allies will even more than half of their attacks in addition to paltry damage, and the game just kind of throws such overpowered foes around every other corner despite the player not needing to be that high complete the dungeon. Oh, and if the main character dies it's an instant game over. You can imagine how pleased I was to learn that after being in a single battle for over 30 minutes, try to extrapolate what combat depth I could, and randomly getting one-shotted. Now, admittedly, the main reason I put up with the frustrating gameplay was to witness the sporadic storytelling and listen to more of the soundtrack, which I would say it is more intriguing than it is actually good. Well, okay, the music is actually quite good despite its J-pop styled flair. Though not quite as masterful, it does a similarly neat trick as something like Nier Automata where the audio will dynamically shift based on whether you are in combat, waltzing around the obnoxious dungeons, or facing the main boss of the level. That said, as good as the dungeon/battle tracks are, you can only be entertained by the short music loops in such lengthy, and often more than several hours, treks through dungeons for so long. Each of the main story dungeons felt like they gave me just one more reason to dislike the title with its shameless backtracking to trigger scripted events, countless copy & pasted corridors, and mashing the X button to talk to, or recruit, for one reason or another. As for the main storytelling in The Caligula Effect, it is intriguing, but hardly paced well because of the game's design. Despite the setup that easily paints the Go-Home club as the good guys, one of the more curious aspects about the storytelling is that the members that follow you around are actually deeply flawed individuals, to the point of being quite unlikable at times (even if some are somewhat redeemed in their optional character events, I think), that becomes much apparent each new dungeon. This is where "The Caligula Effect" name pretty directly comes into play because it touches upon various taboos. And it does not really shy away from uncomfortable subject matters like various forms of depression or a desire for escapism. Still, for as it drummed up my curiosity, the dark storytelling overall is simply not good enough to really warrant a playthrough because of all of the frustrations around the entire experience (despite not being all that long for RPG standards). The Caligula Effect is a real strange case study where I was quite intrigued to see what it'd have to offer going forward but every time I picked it up I could not have been more eager to stop playing because of the actual gameplay. I know Aquiria is capable of making of making decent games after playing Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization not too long ago (despite how much I hate the source material.) but The Caligula Effect is a gameplay-oppressive mess despite its good intentions. I suppose I was not too unlike the main characters in the story where I was saw promise of a digital utopia and ended up in a nightmare that I, and others as well, should desperately try and escape from instead. Pros + Some intriguing, darker themes that are brought up with each character's arc + Great soundtrack that dynamically transitions from vocals to instrumental compositions mid-gameplay + Being able to see how combat skills are likely to play out in advance before inputting them to is a nice touch + I like the character portraits? Cons - Obnoxious, lifeless dungeon design that makes a big habit of backtracking and fetch quests - Combat system is incredibly repetitive even with over 500 playable characters - Several inconsequential gameplay systems that next to nothing overall aside from another number value to grind - Long load times and choppy framerate throughout - Main character KO = immediate Game Over to title screen - Several main party members remain quite unlikable despite some intended moments of redemption, which can be offputting Overall Score: 4 (out of 10) Below Average For as much morbid curiosity as I bore towards the grim storytelling The Caligula Effect excels at so little as an actual game to really be worth breaking the taboo of actually playing it. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  11. Playstation Plus: June 2017 Free Games

    I remember people were raving about Life is Strange during release and if I didn't hear like every spoiler possible I probably would've played it by now. (because the narrative spoilers I heard... don't sound very appealing to me, especially with certain characters.). I'll probably get Killing Floor II (I doubt I'll play much though.). I don't think I know anything about the other games (Well, I am aware of Abyss Odyssey, but not that interested.).
  12. Review: Guilty Gear Xrd: REV 2

    Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PC, PS4, and PS3 Release Date: May 26, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS4 version of the game It is hard to be proud of a beautiful series' 3D resurrection in Gear Gear Xrd-SIGN- when it is already so eager follow in the shallow re-release footsteps that plagued Gear Gear X2 for nearly ten years. Despite somewhat feeling like what the original release should've been at launch last year's rocking Gear Gear Xrd: Revelator generally earned its place as a bombastic fighting game follow-up. That game had it all: a fully-featured sequel story mode (that gets surprisingly good), five entirely new characters, smartly revamped gameplay systems and online, and essentially the best tutorial in a fighting game ever. This year's annual follow-up in Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2 has, well, two new characters and feels like a premium balance patch for the most part. Now, I'm not going to lie. I genuinely adore Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2's two new playable characters. Baiken and Answer feel right at home with the already wonderful diverse character cast and now brings the current total to 25. The fan-favorite Rurouni Kenshin inspired and one-armed lady samurai Baiken finally makes a return in Xrd's gorgeous 3D art style. Retaining familiar skills like randomly kicking a tatami mat into the air, grabbing foes from afar with a weird mechanical claw, and even her signature parry-focused mechanic are there as well as a few others. Baiken does seem simplified compared to her 2D counterpart, especially her combos, but she remains quite enjoyable to play and her rejiggered parry mechanic still feels very execution heavy to use effectively. Oddly enough, despite myself and many others begging to see Baiken in Xrd for years (which she should've been there day one), my favorite of the two new characters to play is actually that of the businessman ninja: Answer. While if it easy to shrug him off when we already have a ninja as cool as Chipp Zanuff fulfilling that role, Answer has a lot of intriguing tricks to his gameplay arsenal. In one moment Answer is tossing business cards, and in the next he's doing Naruto styled ninpo shenanigans mid-air, all while trying to maintain an important phone call in the midst of battle. Best of all -- he has a Ninja Gaiden styled Izuna Drop too, so that's awesome There really is not a whole lot new aside from those two (very fun to play) new characters, however. Everything else included comes across as very subtle gameplay refinements more than anything else. Don't get me wrong, if you haven't played the previous iteration Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator, Rev 2 is absolutely worth one's time and may arguably be the best 2D styled fighter this console generation. As a retail follow-up to Revelator, however, it is quite lacking as an overall package. For returning players from Revelator it can certainly come off as a $20 DLC pack with two new characters (or $40 if one is getting the disc version to replace it) and character re-balancing. Sure, some characters have new abilities, like Faust has extra items to toss or Ramlethal gets two added sword skills, but most of the cast has seen very few significant balance changes (Both my boys Slayer and Potemkin got almost no changes at all despite being extremely low ranked competitively). That said, it is kind of neat that one can change between the balance changes in Revelator and Rev 2 at any time though if one is so inclined. While this update approach is not entirely uncalled for for Arc System Works standards -- as they are notorious for character DLC being sold at $8 a piece -- it can still feel quite thin especially for how few single player additions were added as well. What new single player content it does include does not really help Rev 2's case either. Former characters that didn't have arcade mode-like "Character episodes" now have them as well the two newcomers but they generally add so little story-wise beyond teasing at least one more familiar Guilty Gear X2 face (which will highly likely be DLC or appear in yet another future version). The most substantial piece of storytelling is in the "After Story A" chapter which, while decent, takes less than 20 minutes to complete following the main story (though, it's safe to assume there will be more to come based on naming alone). Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2 is Arc System Works's most obvious attempt of a retail cash grab under the Guilty Gear Xrd name. As tempting as it is to praise an already great fighter that brings just enough excuses to play it once more -- like two awesome and very fun new characters. It is difficult to not feel somewhat shortchanged following right after last year's iteration when Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2 is willing to offer so little that is genuinely fresh as a whole. If one hasn't played Guilty Gear Xrd in any form, this is technically the most complete version to date with a budgeted retail price of $40. If you have, well, Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2 does not make any real strides to impress beyond satisfying die hard Guilty Gear fans that are willing to pay for what is basically $20 DLC pack with balance changes and two new characters. Pros + Wonderfully diverse list of playable fighters with both Xrd newcomers, Baiken and Answer, being awesome additions + Still the best looking 2D fighter on the market + Neat refinements to the online lobby interface Cons - Pretty thin single player additions with only a few new character episodes and a brief "After Story" chapter - Is kind of difficult to look at it as anything more than a $20 dlc pack for two characters if one is coming off of Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator - Danger time is still a bad mechanic - Some baffling balance changes (or lack thereof) Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent As great of a fighter as Gear Gear Xrd has become Gear Gear Xrd: Rev 2 makes a paltry argument as a re-release for anyone less than serious fans Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  13. Developer: Aquaplus and Sting Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: May 23, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game Developer Aquaplus is at it once again by mixing two unlikely gameplay genres into one mysterious form. Their newest culmination of this concept is that of part visual novel and part turn-based strategy-RPG game titled Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception on PS4/Vita. Despite technically being a sequel to a fairly old Japan-only PC game back in 2002 plainly named "Utawarerumono", Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception still somehow strongly feels like first entry in spite of it. Character relationships and backstories have been rebuilt from scratch, so whatever memory I thought I had of the original series (after seeing the 2006 anime adaption) feels like a deception despite wearing a mask of familiar themes and names. Which is perfectly fine by me, and likely a would-be broader audience as well. Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is more than willing to replace whatever gaps in knowledge one may have about its original source material by slowly filling it in with a whole new legend. Admittedly I had a general gist of what I signed up for after having played the overlooked PS3 gem, Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord, a few years ago by the same developer. Yet, even I still underestimated just how Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is far more of a visual novel than it is a tactical-RPG. What is more bizarre is that SRPG portions aren't even half bad, actually. But whatever strategic gameplay it has can feel like a huge afterthought when it is buried in what is occasionally around four hours of uninterrupted visual novel exposition. As a visual novel first and foremost Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is incredibly meticulously paced with its storytelling. It uses the time-worn amnesiac trope with its lead protagonist who starts off without any memories of his past in the middle of a random snowfield. Saved from a near-death experience by an animal-eared (and tailed) lady apothecary named Kuon, she decides to adopt the amnesiac lead on a whim as a sort of parental figure and bestow upon him the name "Haku". From then on it gets into a disjointed rhythm of having Haku slowly but surely learn more about the world around him as he accompanies the mysterious apothecary, and his newfound guardian, on her journey throughout the region. When it comes to storytelling Utawaremono: Mask of Deception does a lot really well, and in nearly equal parts extremely poorly too. It all pretty much has to do with the narrative's pacing. By far the worst of it is in its first half. The storytelling is intriguing enough starting out, but is a rather noticeable slow burn. Kuon keeps the habitually lazy Haku in check by subtly imposing upon him the mentality of "He who doesn't work doesn't eat", and there is strong world-building that is thoroughly steeped in an own sense of internal culture all the while (despite some clear feudal Japan influence). As soon as the storytelling moves to the royal city of Mikato the narrative's pace quickly grinds to a halt, however. Serving as a sort of quick and unfortunate tone setter, player's are almost immediately greeted to a random anime "fanservice" hot springs scene right when they arrive in Mikado. And... it's kind of like that for the next ten hours. There is a lot of intended levity from then on out. Sure, it has plenty of world-building and character introductions during this time too. More often than not, it feels like a shameless excuse to throw in perverted wardrobe malfunction moments, Fujoshi gags, and rampant drunken shenanigans for quite some time. It is very frustrating to see such a promising world and cast be bogged down by back to back slice-of-life styled anime pandering. Surprisingly, the written localization and fully-dubbed Japanese voice work are actually quite good and often reads well in spite of this, so several jokes and quips hit their mark despite me not being enchanted by the general context. By and large, though, it feels as if the first half is really dragged out by wholly unnecessary fluff when faced with its larger and far more engaging overarching storytelling. No better proof of concept than that of when second half of the narrative kicks in and is far better. Seriously, it's really good. The pervading narrative tone becomes darker and more mature. This is no small thanks due to a bigger emphasis on wartime conflict and political intrigue styled storytelling. It is a real stark contrast to what was hours upon hours of regurgitated alcoholism jokes and skeezy fanservice scenes not too long before. For as much as I may complain about the first half, Utawarerumono does also thrive on interpersonal storytelling as well and that's prevalent throughout. Kuon in particular is a very fascinating character and is a clear standout amongst a majority of the cast. While most others, being generally (or eventually) likable, they more or less adhere to a set of familiar character traits throughout, almost regardless of whatever tone the main narrative decides to take the form of. Also around the second half the title is more willing to remind the player (all be it, still infrequently) that it is an strategy-RPG too. Co-developer Sting is certainly no stranger to solid tactical RPGs and the gameplay of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is no exception. Compared to Sting's usually enigmatic take on the subgenre combat is mostly standard fare for turn-based strategy-RPGs standards. Most mission objectives are not anything more complex than defeating one or more enemies on small maps. That said, it is usually good about making each player character have their own pretty unique skillsets and applications in battles. Haku for instance is fairly weak in traditional combat (just like in the main narrative), and is more about passively supporting nearby allies and debuffing enemies. On the other end, the close-ranged fighter Atuy can forcibly stop enemies from moving with her mere presence and potentially get a bonus action upon defeating a foe. The gameplay also applies a few more distinct spins with the general flow to help make it more feel more active. Most attack or support actions can be followed with chains skills where depending on if the player presses, or holds, the X button at the right time they can eek out just a bit more potency or special properties out of their skills. This applies to defensive skills as well and it's real satisfying to prevent what would've been fatal damage by timing a good block or dodge. If one finds that to be too much work regardless players can simply toggle 'auto-chain' at any time, even if they miss out on the chance to pull off criticals. Speaking of such conveniences, the game also has a few nice interface touches like being able to rewind turns, see predicted damage/counter outcomes, or participate in free battles. Going briefly back to storytelling, there is more that bears mentioning during the second act. Most importantly of note is that the finale does in-fact end on a cliffhanger -- and a mean one at that. It is certainly exciting leading up that point but it is more than abundantly clear it serves as groundwork for its sequel Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth that comes out later this September. With a standard playthrough of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception taking a bit under forty hours can make it seem all the more cruel. But I suppose during that wait players can occupy themselves with several optional, and challenging, post-main story battles that give the underutilized combat more time to stretch its legs. For as many criticisms I can easily level against it, specifically the terribly paced first half, I feel much more positive than not about Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception as a whole. I think much of that can be attributed to a sort of indecipherable sincerity that is buried underneath the intricate world-building and likable characters that it all takes place around. Plus, while very underutilized, strategy-RPG portions are enjoyable too. Regardless, it demands an unreasonable amount of patience out of most players to overlook such glaring shortcomings as a visual novel. Which, frankly, I doubt most are willing to spare. It is also difficult tell if even such persistence will be rewarded during the upcoming sequel Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth that is being released September of this year. Despite Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception running the gamut of emotions and testing my patience more than a few times, however, I think it says a lot that I am still quite eagerly looking forward to playing its sequel despite all odds of the experience being stacked against it. Pros + Storytelling gets quite good and rather dark in its latter portions + Highly thorough sense of world-building that creates a vivid sense of various cultures + Well-drawn character art + Kuon is an excellent character and keeps the whiny lead in check + SRPG battles are actually rather solid and don't really force grinding Cons - Terrible narrative pacing. The first half especially which is incredibly obnoxious with anime "fanservice" moments - Is far more of a visual novel than an SRPG, which is likely off-putting for those expecting more traditional gameplay -3D visuals are real underwhelming - Ends with a pretty mean cliffhanger: AKA wait until Utawarerumono: The Mask of Truth in September Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good In some moments engrossing, and in equal parts a frustrating slog, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception demands an immense amount of patience to see it through to completion for more reasons than one. For those willing to undergo such tall demands may uncover a heartfelt adventure that is better than the sum of its parts Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  14. Developer: Spike Chunsoft Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PC, PS4, and PS Vita Release Date: March 24, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game To think that not too long ago it was nearly unconscionable to believe that the visual novel adventure game series Zero Escape would reach its third game conclusion. Nowadays, it just pops in one's brain as a matter of fact. Still, with each game's naming subtitle being harder to discern than the last it can be difficult to know where to start if one has so much as a passing interest in the Zero Escape series and was not already an established fan. Fortunately, Spike Chunsoft has read everyone's mind and got you covered. Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is a collection of the first two games of the Zero Escape trilogy: Featuring Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (usually abbreviated as 999) and its direct sequel Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. Both well known for their engaging, thought-provoking storytelling and copious amounts of puzzles to solve. Two beloved games: one retail package. Though, it is unfortunate that it does not also include last year's final release in the trilogy, Zero Time Dilemma, but I suppose as someone from that title would say: "Life is simply unfair" in that regard. What is totally fair is just how much of an overhaul that the first title in the series, 999, received specifically for The Nonary Games collection. I am pleased to report that those curious about the first release in the Zero Escape series will find no better place to play it than in the The Nonary Games collection. While 999's revised script does have a penchant towards more profanity it generally reads more naturally than that of the original release and the newly added, and great overall, English dub that only heightens the most of the storytelling. More importantly than either of those are the fairly huge quality of life changes: primarily being the narrative flowchart (formally only available in Virtue's Last Reward and on). The flowchart alone nearly entirely removes the monotony of trying to obtain the narrative's many branching endings and I can not stress at how it saved me from losing nearly eight hours of progress because I attempted to get the true ending a little too early and led myself to a bad ending on accident. Then there are more minor touches like making the game entirely playable via button controls, which honestly are more responsive than either of its sequels and I am surprised I did not find myself compelled to use a capacitive stylus by the end of it. The only real disappointment, when compared to the original Nintendo DS version, is that an iconic final puzzle sequence that cleverly utilized both screens of that system is not quite as well realized in The Nonary Games release. While they find a very smart way to convey the same storytelling themes, even without the use of dual screens, they unfortunately changed the entire final puzzle itself and it comes off as less satisfying because of it. The second half of the collection, that being Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, I have far less to say about. Don't get me wrong: Virtue's Last Reward is an brilliant title with its crafty puzzles to its fairly nuanced storytelling that range from occult to metaphysical themes. There was absolutely a reason fans begged so hard for a follow-up to it during years to come. But-- it is also the same exact game in The Nonary Games collection with virtually no changes on the Vita hardware specifically, for better or worse. Plus, I don't want to retread familiar ground that a former GP review more than faithfully covered many years back (except that I may disagree about it being best on 3DS. That save-corrupting bug never went away on that system. Play Virtue's Last Reward just about anywhere else now that this collection is out...). The Nonary Games provides an excellent excuse to play what are not only the first entries in "Zero Escape", but are also arguably the best titles in the series as well. Yet, The Nonary Games it has two key caveats. The first caveat being that the collection completely omits the third and final release in the collection, making it feel hardly complete. The other caveat is that the only game to truly see any refinements is the first title in the series by the name of 999, and its sequel Virtue's Last Reward remains entirely unchanged. It is a perfect stepping stone into the beloved Zero Escape series, though it bizarrely lacks the final piece to safely journey through it to its conclusion. Pros + The two best games in the Zero Escape series in one convenient collection + Easily the most intuitive way to play 999 to date with wonderful design changes to alleviate much of its former gameplay tedium + Gripping storytelling in both with plenty of very thought provoking moments + Great English dub in both games + Solid puzzles Cons - A certain key scene at the end of 999 is not depicted quite as well as the original Nintendo DS version - Virtue's Last Reward controls are finicky if you aren't playing with a capacitive stylus - Some puzzle rooms can feel like a pixel hunt to progress at times - Does not include the final game in the trilogy: Zero Time Dilemma Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Providing a wonderful start towards the "Zero Escape" series, The Nonary Games prides itself on offering the best, and most convenient, way to the first two releases within it. It is just a shame that the last year's title: Zero Time Dilemma, and also final game within the trilogy, is not included in this collection to top it all off. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
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