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barrel

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Posts posted by barrel


  1. Developer: Sega

    Publisher: Sega

    Platform: PS4

    Release Date: June 25, 2019

    ESRB: M for Mature

     

    Sega has given an immense amount of love to the Yakuza series on the Playstation 4. From the magnificent prequel that is Yakuza 0 to a fitting finale to the series' beloved lead that is Kiryu Kazama in Yakuza 6 players are left with no shortage of avenues to play the series from start to end. Heck, to further cement the PS4's Yakuza entry point status, Sega even most recently announced a collection of the formerly PS3 exclusive Yakuza titles 3-5 now making every mainline Yakuza entry accessible on the same system.

     

    But perhaps one wants to try something different in yet also operate in a similar gameplay framework. Maybe they are getting little weary of seeing Kiryu's mug in the main character slot for so long (how dare you), or perhaps newcomers that are Yakuza-curious are looking for an entry point without the commitment anxiety of a long-running series. Well, good news for either of you hypothetical individuals, because Sega has constructed a game almost specifically for you. Starring the incredibly popular Japanese actor Takuya Kimura (popular, um, in Japan. if that was not clear) the PS4-exclusive Judgment brings yet another crime-focused action-adventure title but through the lens of a part-detective/part-attorney. Can it proudly call itself 

     

     

     

    For one. Kiryu is an idiot and Yagami is not. A lovable, ridiculously tough, and good-natured idiot, mind you. But an idiot nonetheless.

     

     

     

     as fresh as one's face can be if we more or less ignore the fact that.

     

     

     

    been essentially a cornucopia for nearly all of Sega's beloved Yakuza game titles. From the stellar prequel that is Yakuza 0 to the mostly fitting conclusion that is Yakuza 6 players are hardly left wanting for adventures starring the lovable dope Kiryu on Sony's console. Because of that, it feels as if that the Rya Ga Gotaku studio (Yakuza developers) collectively decided it was the perfect time try their hand at something different starring, Well, as fresh as one's face can be if we more or less ignore the fact that the lead is modeled after Japan's most popular tv show actor. 

     

    In any case,

     

    For those expecting some sort. Honestly, players have to dig pretty deep for so much as even a kernel of flavor text that even alludes to the exists. Which is to say Judgment may very well be the perfect starting point if the various mainline Yakuza games starring Kiryu sounds like a daunting prospect (even if you don't need to go much further beyond just playing Yakuza 0...)

     

    Which, for those that did not already know, Japan has a 99.9% percent acquittal rate so it is incredibly rare for the defense to win any court cases (hence why the iconic Ace Attorney series has always been presented that way as well).

     

    Chasing. Tailing. Analyzing environment

     

    The first title by the Rya Ga Gotoku studio with both English and Japanese. More interesting than that is that the localization is actually slightly different based on the language at hand, which I frankly have not seen in a game since Sakura Wars: So Long My Love on the PS2.

     


     

    Pros

     

    + One of the stronger main narratives in 

    + Great sidestories

     

    Cons

     

    -

    - Search and tailing missions break up pacing in an awkward way

    - Yakuza series fans might be more than a little tired of the familiar city Kamurocho by now...

    - Narrative takes its sweet time addressing the primary story thread

     

     


     

    Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)

    Good

     

    Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is a refreshingly unique take on dungeon crawlers that is only really held back by it not going quite far enough with certain gameplay systems or, more disappointing, its underutilized storytelling

     

    Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.


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  2. Developer: Askiisoft

    Publisher: Devolver Digital

    Platform: Switch and PC

    Release Date: April 18, 2019

    ESRB: M for Mature

     

    One of the most influential titles in the indie space is no doubt Hotline Miami. From its psychedelic pixelated visuals, catchy soundtrack, to the quick, ruthless gameplay it is little surprise it garnered such a cult following.  So inspiring was it that developer Askiisoft took nearly six years to realize their own take on some of its spiritual tenants in the form of Katana Zero. With so many clear influences from another title does Katana Zero does enough to stand on its own merits?

     

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    There is no doubt that despite a distinctly different choice in primary weaponry that Katana Zero was heavily inspired by Hotline Miami. And with . While any comparison Sekiro would be tenuous at best beyond, well, dude with sword and challenging gameplay, the quote "hesitation is defeat" from a certain character of that game could not be more applicable to the moment to moment gameplay of Katana Zero. Where even a split second of hesitation can easily be the difference between a clean level to an unceremonious death.  

     

    With a certain interrogation scene in particular that is incredibly creative in articulating its visual aesthetic. 

     

    and considering how snappy, and stylish, the game is even it goads players into a swift almost speedrun-like mentality because the margin for error becomes razor-thin at certain latter half stages.

     

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    ......

    ......

    ......

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    Voice changes and character models vary based on age.


     

    Pros

     

    + Swift, electrifying combat that makes it is easy to jump right back in despite many unceremonious deaths

    + Intriguing storytelling that also creatively leans into its distorted pixelated visuals and VHS motif

    + Poppin' soundtrack

     

    Cons

     

    -

    - Outside of some slick boss fights the general simplistic gameplay doesn't really evolve all that much from start to finish

    - Ends on an odd cliffhanger with several clearly unresolved story elements (hopefully the upcoming free dlc will remedy that?)

     

     


     

    Overall Score: ?.? (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 Switch code provided by the publisher.


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  3. Developer: Spike Chunsoft/Lancarse

    Publisher: Spike Chunsoft

    Platform: PS4 and PC

    Release Date: April 9, 2019

    ESRB: M for Mature

     

     

    After the many memorable twists and turns of the iconic Danganronpa series one would guess that the next project by many of its former key staff would strike at a similar gaming vein. And yet, that sort of assumption could not have been further off the mark. 

     

    Spike Chunsoft's newest title, Zanki Zero: Last Beginning, explores and experiments with much more uncharted territory by combining first-person dungeon crawling gameplay, survival systems, and the perpetual death and rebirth of its lead cast. To say it is a departure from their previous visual novel work would honestly be putting it lightly.

     

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    As cliche as this turn of phrase likely winds up being it is still more than tempting to say there is not really anything quite like Zanki Zero: Last Beginning as a game. Or, at the very least, it is the most unique first-person dungeon crawler in recent memory within a world where it is all too easy to compare to the highly-acclaimed Etrian Odyssey series, for better or for worse.

     

    The most immediate way Zanki Zero establishes its distinct take on the subgenre is through its inherent story/premise. Despite its initial Danganronpa-esque setup, in which several adults find themselves with trapped on an abandoned island (with clear gaps in the memory in how they got there), the title quickly veers into much stranger territory. After the prologue sequence the lead cast of characters not only learns that they can be revived after even the goriest of deaths via an arcade-like "extend machine" to a literal child-like state once more, but also that they are all clones that age an accelerated rate to the point where they will die of old age in roughly two weeks time.

     

    This odd narrative pretense is creatively implemented into nearly every facet of the game. Story scenes vary based on each character's current physical age, down to appearance and voice pitch, leading to many odd interactions throughout between the cast throughout as they try and figure out their current bizarre predicament. On a gameplay front, however, the aging mechanic becomes very much a variable to take into account as it directly affects combat prowess such as how quickly characters can attack to the ever-present worry of when one of them may simply die of old age while exploring.

     

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    Perhaps more morbid than frequently dying of old age as a gameplay mechanic (if one can even live that long) is that dying in different ways, known in-game as "Shigabane", is highly encouraged as it is the primary means of strengthening your characters. For example, dying while being poisoned permanently increases one's resistance to toxin, and kicking the bucket as an old geezer permanently slows down the aging process entirely, and biting the dust while over encumbered permanently increases how much a character can carry at any one time. It is an intriguing system but admittedly becomes somewhat annoying on higher difficulties because so many enemies and environmental obstacles can more or less one-hit KO characters if one does not deliberately grind for different Shigabane in advance, despite being negligible on the lowest difficulties otherwise.

     

    While a good majority of Zanki Zero's gameplay mechanics are in its addictive dungeon expeditions (and some creative environmental puzzles) in each story chapter, there are a few noteworthy systems outside of it. For instance, in the main island, hub players can build new facilities such as crafting benches for equipable gear, housing (which has a whole affinity system if certain characters share rooms enough), or even a creating working toilet. Still, it is a shame that, either due to wildly varying drop rates between the different difficulties or item information being obfuscated altogether at times (how was I supposed to know that "monkey adhesive" does not actually drop from the monkey enemies?), a lot of it is unlikely to be underutilized by the end.

     

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    Regardless, the most disappointing aspects of the entire game are simply the gameplay or story elements that get underdeveloped in spite of the often engaging dungeon crawling. Like, players eventually get access to parasitic implants called "Cilione" that give characters unique skills for healing, attacking, or the ability to open new parts of the terrain, but are never really encouraged to be used that much due to the harsh penalty they inflict on overuse. It is a similar deal with a lot of other gameplay mechanics such as targeting/breaking enemy limbs or keeping up with aspects like the hunger/bladder meters as the necessity of either are nearly entirely decided upon if one is playing on the highest difficulties or not (which thankfully can be toggled between mid-playthrough).

     

    Yet, the storytelling itself has even more unrealized potential. Despite having some intriguing character-focused vignettes each chapter that delve into some rather dark subject matter, the main story itself almost serves to contrast by unfortunately meandering a lot. Every other story chapter forces some shallow attempt at shock value and play upon the seven deadly sins motif, but is easily undermined by the fact the characters are, well, clones that can be revived upon death. 

     

    Plus, it really does not help that even the interesting flashbacks are setup by some truly awful mascot characters that put showcase's the games writing at its absolute worst with juvenile and tone deaf potty humor that thinks it is amusing. It is a shame that, regardless of the developer's Danganronpa pedigree, the storytelling of Zanki Zero is barely a noteworthy footnote in stark contrast to the much more engaging dungeon crawling.

     

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    Zanki Zero: Last Beginning frequently bounces between both refreshingly unique to incredibly flawed all in the same breath. It plays with a lot of different gameplay systems going from surprisingly addictive dungeon crawling and level puzzles to survival mechanics that do not quite stand out as much as the game wants them to be. If anything, the title should be played more so due to its zany take on dungeon crawling RPGs than going in with preconceived notions of expecting something similar at all story-wise to the developer's prior work in Danganronpa, and that is perfectly fine.

     


     

    Pros

     

    + Genuinely unique take on the DRPG mold that is a welcome contrast from the developer's previous work

    + Varied level motifs and puzzles prevent it from getting tedious like many in the subgenre

    + Aging mechanic helps present both cutscenes as well as the dungeon crawling in an intriguing light

    +  Quirky overall personality and characters that have twisted backstories

     

    Cons

     

    - Those expecting it to be particularly similar to Danganronpa, or only care about the main storytelling, are likely to be disappointed

    - Frequent inventory management or attempting to get different "Shigabane" can get tedious on higher difficulties

    - Really juvenile writing at times that is especially annoying when the two mascot characters are on-screen (which is too often)

    - Some underutilized gameplay systems like the base building or Cilione abilities

     

     


     

    Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)

    Good

     

    Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is a refreshingly unique take on dungeon crawlers that is only really held back by it not going quite far enough with certain gameplay systems or, more disappointing, its underutilized storytelling

     

    Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.


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  4. 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?

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.


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  5. 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. 

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.


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  6. 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.

     

     

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    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.

     

     

     

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    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.

     

     

     

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    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.

     

     

     

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    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.

     

     

     

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    6) Super Smash Bros Ultimate

     

    Cute Zelda Redesign. Uh, I mean, 2018 had no shortage of noteworthy fighters from Dragon Ball FighterZSoul 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.

     

     

     

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    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.

     

     

     

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    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.

     

     

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    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.

     

     

     

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    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.

     

     

     

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    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.


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  7. 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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.


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  8. 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 even 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. 

     

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    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.

     

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    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 stories 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.

     

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    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 are 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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  9. 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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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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  10. 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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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. 

     

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    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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  11. 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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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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  12. 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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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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  13. Developer: Rainbite Limited

    Publisher: EastAsiaSoft

    Platform: PS4 and PS Vita

    Release Date: May 10, 2018

    ESRB: E for Everyone

     

     

    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. 

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.


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  14. 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 fighter void left by Capcom's extremely disappointing Marvel Vs Capcom: Ultimate. 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, 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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.


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  15. 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?

     

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    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. 

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.


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  16. Developer: Compile Heart

    Publisher: Idea Factory International

    Platform: PS4 (PS VR enabled)

    Release Date: May 8, 2018

    ESRB: T for Teen

     

     

    Developer Compile Heart is seemingly never fully satisfied with any of their mainline Neptunia games. While there is certainly precedent for it regarding the technical and gameplay mess that was the original PS3 Hyperdimension Neptunia title and its significantly improved (and formerly exclusive) Vita remake Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth several years after, the necessity of all the remakes afterward becomes murky at best.

     

    Contrary to its confusing original name, and even more misleading VR pun, Megadimension Neptunia: VIIR is neither exclusively a VR game nor magically the seventh main entry with a roman numeral styled naming convention (despite how it may feel like so at this point) but rather a remake of Neptunia's fourth mainline entry that debuted on PS4 back in 2016. Promising dramatically overhauled gameplay systems, improved visuals, and other fine-tuning, does Megadimension Neptunia VIIR provide a happy ending to one of the series' more divisive entries or should one simply give up daydreaming on the prospect?

     

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    Weirdly enough, the very first thing one views in the game is actually a VR headset-intended-- but still fully playable without--- series of cutscenes which are completely new to this remake. Through this it essentially establishes, in an unapologetic shattering of the fourth wall, that the "player" themselves is able to choose between going through the main role-playing game itself or the much more mundane VR-encouraged features in which you can optionally subjugate yourself to listen to the ramblings of CPU goddesses Neptune, Noire, Blanc, or Vert with the occasional "yes" or "no" affirmations from the player. You can probably guess how much time I spent with the latter... (very little).

     

    As for the main RPG itself, it is obviously the most substantial portion of the experience that even breathes a somewhat intriguing change in context with the VR features as the main story progresses. Admittedly, I never played the original version of Megadimension Neptunia VII but reportedly its biggest annoyances were that the gameplay systems were not very intuitive; like an overly complicated combo system in battle or other grating annoyances over time like constant random encounters on the world map. Anyone that played it in its original incarnation may be pleased to hear that neither of these features is a factor this time around in Megadimension Neptunia VIIR.

     

    That said, for better or worse, the series is seemingly back to being quite mindless with its more menu-driven battle system, which is also very easy to exploit. I found a very quick routine in abusing the newly added counter abilities (which basically wastes an enemy's entire turn) or spamming strong special moves rather than doing anything particularly strategic or creative regarding its combo mechanics. This is only emphasized further by the main story's cakewalk difficulty and how little effort it requires to be overleveled throughout since normal equipment can have generous experience multipliers applied to them.

     

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    It is honestly a good thing the difficulty is so breezy (yet for the wrong reasons) considering the aggressive amount of gameplay monotony it has throughout. Everything from bosses to dungeon layouts are recycled constantly throughout and this pretense, unfortunately, goes into hyperdrive during the game's true end in particular. For reference, the final boss is reused twice... and it's basically a palette swap of a boss enemy that is regurgitated nearly five times earlier in the story.

     

    Don't get me started on the dungeon recycling that somehow sets a much worse reuse precedent. The series has always had glaring repetition issues but, for some reason, it becomes even more insulting when the main characters themselves point out how tired they become of it.

     

    Here's a pro tip about self-aware gameplay humor -- It doesn't work when you handle your own gameplay recycling worse than the games you attempt to poke fun at.

     

    Megadimension Neptunia VIIR unsuccessfully tries to disguise this blatant padding in the form of three bizarre, disjointed story arcs. The first story arc is easy enough to follow with a (deserved) emphasis on the newcomer Uzume,  however, the storytelling takes an especially weird turn in its second act, which re-contextualizes the world itself. Basically, the player switches between the CPU Goddess leads of Neptune, Noire, Blanc, & Vert; all of whom have self-contained story arcs that focus on eventually confronting the parody characters that represent Square-Enix, Capcom, Bandai, and Konami.

     

    While this leads to some occasionally humorous quips in the script, in a gameplay context, however, this means that the goddesses pretty much never have more than one to two party members with them at any one time. As an extension to this problem, the bland reused dungeon treks become much more obvious and the combat system itself comes across as very limited until very late in the third and final story act that finally gives access to its huge playable cast.

     

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    Even though I would certainly struggle to say the storytelling approaches being anywhere near cohesive, or particularly decent for that matter-- Megadimension Neptunia VIIR's storytelling does manage to be a fair amount more endearing than the sum of its many rough, plodding parts. It mostly achieves this, despite all odds, narrative feat through its approach to characters. Because the storytelling so frequently splits up the party it actually gives individuals who barely justified their existences in prior games, like the CPU Candidates in particular (or little sisters of Neptune, Noire, & Blanc), the surprise opportunity to become much more likable. The several new VR segments also give a formally underutilized character, who is somewhat of an early spoiler, in original VII a more prominent role (despite how vapid many of the early scenes are), which is a nice touch as well.

     

    Yet, far and away the biggest character standout is certainly Uzume, who almost feels out of place because of it. In a series where most of its heroines are defined by their tropes like Neptune and her fourth wall breaking jokes or Noire and her tsundere attitude, Uzume is far more thoughtfully handled as a character who sees a lot of genuine development. Of course, it can be more than difficult to recognize this considering how Megadimension Neptunia VIIR not only has several shallow "fanservice" bathing scenes but an incredibly obnoxious amount of breast size jokes throughout which makes it more than safe to say the writing frequently misses its mark for humor in spite of some earnest attempts at character development it sneaks in every now and then.

     

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    Megadimension Neptunia VIIR seems to struggle giving much incentive to long-standing fans or even newcomers to really try it out. It is an enhanced release that had the misplaced focus of streamlining certain  gameplay and cosmetic rough edges rather than taking a stern look at fundamentally fixes the core game itself, especially story-wise. Though there are glimpses of fairly earnest character moments sprinkled about, the majority of the time the player is left with an incredibly subpar RPG that tries to poke fun at its genre contemporaries without either the wit or the understanding as to what makes them actually good to earn it.

     

    Frankly, with so many better Japanese RPGs that have appeared since 2016, Megadimension Neptunia VIIR feels that much more stuck in the past and tough to justify paying attention to it at all, no matter one how many dimensions it claims to have warped between.

     

     


     

    Pros

     

    +  Does a decent job at giving its huge cast of playable characters a proper individual spotlight, even if Uzume easily has the biggest role (as she should because she is far and away the best character)

    + Big combat gameplay changes and generous auto-saving make it more approachable than its former incantation

     

    Cons

     

    - Why are there so many re-skinned enemies/bosses and recycled dungeon motifs throughout?!

    -  Cakewalk difficulty and frequently limited character parties make already extremely repetitive gameplay that much more mindnumbing

    - Lots of jokes miss their mark because of the often trite (and repeated!) fanservice jokes and poor game design decisions they attempt to poke fun at while doing it even worse themselves

    - Outside of some late main story events, the VR-intended features add very little to the overall package

     


     

    Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10)

    Below Average

     

    Megadimension Neptunia VIIR proves that even with many gameplay adjustments that players both new and old will struggle to justify giving at any time at all among many better recent RPG options on the PS4 alone

     

    Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.


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  17. Developer: Vanillaware

    Publisher: Atlus USA/Sega

    Platform: PS4

    Release Date: May 15, 2018

    ESRB: T for Teen

     

     

    With 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim being just beyond the horizon for a little while longer, Japanese developer Vanillaware seems content with putting out enhanced versions of their older projects these past few years. The first of these was the stellar 2016 remake Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir which was so impressively realized that it turned a severely flawed gem into the makings of a genuine gaming classic. In contrast, Dragon's Crown Pro will take a much higher level of scrutiny to notice its minimal changes on the newer PlayStation 4 hardware. For better or worse, it is still the same game it was five years ago.

     

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    For those unaware, Dragon's Crown was a title that made its way onto the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita back in 2013. In spite of a lengthy and expensive development cycle, it ended up being a much-needed success for Vanilliaware, likely because of its rock-solid beat 'em up gameplay and distinct female character designs.

     

    Those with a more seasoned background in the subgenre were able to glean Dragon's Crown reverent (and hardly subtle) callbacks to classic titles such as Capcom's Dungeon & Dragons arcade games in particular. Considering how the game's art director, George Kamitani, had a hand in those D&D arcade games makes it all that much more clear he wanted Dragon's Crown to hearken back to beloved old school beat 'em ups, yet embrace it in a much more modern gameplay context.

     

    Being about four years removed since my last playthrough of the game I am surprised to have grown a stronger appreciation of it upon playing Dragon's Crown Pro.

     

    Just as it did five years ago, Dragon's Crown's near-timeless 2D art direction is immediately captivating and is dense with an absurd attention to detail, especially now that it has the benefit of a 4K resolution option as well.

     

    This is only complemented further by the fun, enthusiastic dungeon master-styled narration throughout (which can be changed to any of the playable character voices that also generally do a great job) which thankfully much more strongly resonates than the forgettable main plot itself involving -- surprise surprise -- dragons and a special crown of some sort.

     

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    More important than the many striking presentational flourishes is, of course, the actual gameplay. Those comfortable with 2D fighting games, in particular, will likely find the controls of each of the six playable characters to feel like a dream. Layered on top of RPG-styled level progression and an addictive loot grind, this only makes finer character gameplay nuances that much more satisfying to uncover.

     

    As much as I enjoyed lifting enemies and tossing barrels as the Dwarf, or teleporting around and casting support spells as Sorceress, I decided to mess with around with the rest of the cast upon this revisit and found myself pleasantly surprised by all of their capability and multiplayer utility as well. But, admittedly, new players will likely still have to acclimate to control quirks like narrow foreground and background beat 'em up hitboxes or certain, clearly touchscreen-intended mechanics like opening treasure chests or using runes abilities (easily most intuitive on PS Vita, though the PS4 touchpad does work fine), if they are not already familiar with them.

     

    The issues that Dragon's Crown Pro unfortunately retains are more structural than anything else.

     

    The most common early complaint is that newcomers will still have to play a couple hours by themselves (potentially with AI companions) before they can even so much as touch the online multiplayer options. Ironically, after getting over that early slump, those same players will likely feel like they have "beaten" the game by themselves. To the game's credit, in spite of the poor story context of gathering nine talismans, they do a better job in a gameplay context to justify revisiting the familiar nine locations for "Path B" routes that provide distinctively more challenging and varied setpiece moments as well as entirely new bosses.

     

    Yet, even with the Path B routes, the repetition is likely to set in much more quickly without the help of other online/local players or the earned convenience of a save file that already played past the first nine bosses and allows them to play a level 15 character right away.

     

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    The repetition problems are only exacerbated by rather dull quests that seem to conveniently pop immediately after the player likely completed their objectives mid-dungeon trek already. Though these quests are certainly optional (I never touched them until this release) they can be a good way to earn experience points, the occasional questionably lewd pictures, and, much more importantly, skill points which are vital for min/max reasoning to those who want to mess with the game's hardest content on higher difficulties or the randomly generated gauntlet Labyrinth of Chaos/Tower of Mirages modes.

     

    It really feels like a huge missed opportunity in general for Vanillaware to not add potentially new playable characters, stages, or modes regardless of how surprisingly well the game has aged. However, it says a lot about just how entertaining the core game is, glaring flaws and all, when I easily doubled my original thirty-hour playtime by trying out other characters or higher difficulties this time around.

     

    Even if it definitely missed its chance with sweeping changes, there are some small details that do help Dragon's Crown Pro to barely eke out its position as the best version of the title. Though it took me more time to notice than I care to admit, the entirely redone live orchestra soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakamoto is one such benefit, with richer vocals and instrumentation of the entire soundtrack. Much more granular details are appreciated too, like improved inventory interface, painless direct save transfer options from PS3 and PS Vita, or secretly most important of all, a much more stable PS4 online netcode, especially when playing with individuals overseas.

     

    Of course, I am reaching for straws because -- for as positive of a time I have had with the whole experience -- it is tough to make the argument for this re-release for those who did not already enjoy the game.

     

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    After being spoiled by the excellent enhanced release of Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir not too long ago, it is more than a little disappointing at how little has been added to the PS4 release of Dragon's Crown Pro. Despite the passing of five years time, however, Dragon's Crown has aged remarkably well. It may retain its structural mishaps as well as repetition problems, but its stronger overall components also maintain its addictive moment-to-moment gameplay and superb visual and aural presentation.

     

    For those that did not exhaust themselves on the game the first time around, there is still good fun to be had with Dragon's Crown Pro in what is easily among one of the finest beat 'em ups available. It also serves as a good reminder as to why one should be excited for the upcoming next title Vanillaware has in store. 

     


     

    Pros

     

    + Stunning visuals and incredibly tight beat 'em up gameplay that more than stand the test of a five years time

    +  Charming choose-your-own-adventure styled narration and classic subgenre throwbacks genre that permeate throughout the experience

    + Great, addictive fun with fellow human players complemented by a smoother PS4 netcode

     

    Cons

     

    - Fairly repetitive design loop with no new gameplay additions in Dragon's Crown Pro can make it a tough sell for those that have already played the game on other consoles

    - Certain clearly touchscreen-focused mechanics like opening treasure chests or using runes are still most intuitive on the Vita hardware

    - Feels like a huge missed opportunity to not add new content such as extra levels or playable characters

     


     

    Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)

    Good

     

    Vanillaware may have squandered its chance to significantly add upon and fine-tune Dragon's Crown Pro but, for an already high-quality beat 'em up, it does leave room for forgiveness for this minimal PS4 port, especially because of how enjoyable it is to play with others even now.

     

    Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.


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  18. Developer: Soft Circle French Bread

    Publisher: Aksys Games

    Platform: PS4, PS3, and PS Vita

    Release Date: February 8, 2018

    ESRB: T for Teen

     

    Clearly the Japanese developer French Bread has given up any attempt at a coherent title with their newest fighting game rerelease by name of Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late(st). In spite of its self-inflicted unfortunate naming choice the newest Under Night In-Birth iteration remains steadfast as a fighting game gem amongst some pretty fierce competition. It is just a shame that it is highly likely to be buried by the recent Dragon Ball FighterZ for a multitude of reasons or how many serious fans already imported this version of the series half a year ago.

     

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    Those of which who are still curious in  Under Night's second console release has to offer may notice its handful of new bells and whistles as it tries and justify its additional retail price tag. I would define the original PS3 release of Under Night In-Birth as to have no unnecessary frills, yet also be quite entertaining, that was only really held back by simply not explaining its nuanced fighting game system mechanics such as "Chain Shift", "Veil off", and the likes. The lack of tutorials would essentially force one would who wanted to give the prior game a fair shot to dig into online guides or wikis to understand the gameplay systems. This is no longer the case with Exe: Late(st) with many, many tutorials that are willing to teach in a very beginner friendly manner like simply moving around or looking at the health bar to going as deep as to explain concepts like "fuzzy guarding" in high level play. It is a rather dry text dump based approach compared let's say Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator's tutorial but the in-game insight is more than welcome nonetheless.

     

    It is all well and good that they added tutorials however features beyond that should be more enticing for returning players such as new playable characters and modes. In addition to adding much-needed re-balancing from the prior game (Seth and Chaos are finally viable competitively!) the four new playable characters themselves are all quite enjoyable and generally easy to pick up & play like the rest of the roster. Some are straightforward enough like Enkidu who is a close ranged fighter with various parrying skills to Phonon who keeps foes at bay with long-range whipping abilities. The more intriguing newcomers design-wise, however, are that of Mika who is deceptively mobile fighter despite wielding two huge gauntlets or the lady Wagner who has a fiery and hyper aggressive playstyle that is similar to her presence in the main story.

     

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    Speaking of which, the newly added story mode may just be the worst part of the whole game. One could tell that the storytelling was not particularly noteworthy in the arcade mode of the earlier release and having an exhausting ten hour plus visual novel story mode could not do this game less favors. As someone who more than tolerated the extensive visual novel narratives in various Blazblue games it says a lot for just how dull and uneventful the Chronicles story mode in EXE Late(st) ends up being. At best, players will see some halfway interesting backstory regarding the playable cast, yet the far more prevalent theme is that it'll likely bore them out of their mind with incredibly mundane and redundant exposition that can stretch the course of five minutes into feeling like several hours. Worst part about the storytelling is that there is very little resembling a central narrative as whole making it feel that much more pointless to endure.

     

    The rest of the gameplay mode feature set is a matter of taking the good with the bad. For example, the "Mission" mode is neat in that it has players be able to learn actual viable bread & butter combos to more advanced techniques. Then there is the training mode which, despite being a total user interface nightmare, allows somewhat granular options in finding out which actions can easily be countered. The Network features remains to be much more mixed, however. In addition to being close to dead in terms of online presence (one of many reasons why the release date timing was unfortunate...) the online netcode itself is kind of dodgy and bare bones. There are the standard lobbies and ranked matchmaking, sure, but good luck finding fellow opponents or matches without noticeable lag. 

     

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    Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late(st) makes for a tricky recommendation in the modern fighting game climate. It's a criminally overlooked, and surprisingly approachable, fighting game series though I find myself quite conflicted in how underwhelming Exe: Late(st) is as a re-release. The story mode is downright awful and whatever potential for longevity it has is sapped away by a weak online interface and an even worse release date timing thanks to the recent Dragon Ball FighterZ. What is left are a few neat additions such as the four entertaining new characters and the smart training mode options, as well as the solace in that would-be fans no longer have go out of their to import the title, but little else.

     


     

    Pros

     

    + Rock solid fighting game fundamentals that is surprisingly approachable in terms of controls

    + The four new playable characters are diverse and entertaining

    + Nice tutorials and training mode options

     

    Cons

     

    - Utterly boring visual novel story mode

    - Wonky versus netcode with the online presence of a ghost town

    -Interface and UI is clumsy

     

     


     

    Overall Score: 7.0 (out of 10)

    Good

     

    Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late(st) is stuck in the unfortunate position of being a really good fighter that is held back by an  underwhelming overall re-release and terrible release date timing. But for those willing to accept Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late(st) as the diamond in the rough that it is should still have fun playing it.

     

    Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.


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  19. Developer: Sega

    Publisher: Sega

    Platform: PS4

    Release Date: April 17, 2018

    ESRB: M for Mature

     

     

    Over a decade after the series took Japan by storm, the West seems to have finally taken notice of Sega's intended spiritual child of Shenmue. Thanks to some highly memorable PS4 entries featuring the ex-yakuza with a heart of gold Kiryu has suddenly become a recognizable gaming face alongside the Yakuza series itself.

     

    That's why it's more than a bit odd that we must bid Kiryu farewell just as the series is gaining momentum in 2018. Yet, with more than a half-dozen of his crime-centric stories etched upon the backs of various Sony console generations (including the highly recommended prequel: Yakuza 0) it does certainly have justification behind it.

     

    With the hopes telling one final tale deep into Kiryu's adulthood age does Yakuza 6: The Song of Life provide a worthy finale to the series' beloved main protagonist?

     

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    Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a confusing beast much like the lead protagonist it is focused upon. For veterans of the series the gameplay framework will be more than recognizable, from punching in the faces of countless thugs to playing Puyo Puyo at a random Sega arcade cabinet but thematically it will likely feel quite foreign. This is most true when Kiryu bounces from the all too familiar bustling starting town of Kumurocho (which has been a staple for every single main entry game) to the entirely new and much more rural location of Onomichi for more than half the main game.

     

    To avoid being too specific for spoiler-ish reasoning, the very loose pretense being that Kiryu gets saddled with taking care of a child in a quest of finding the would-be father. Of course, like any Yakuza storyline it never ends up being quite that simple for the "Dragon of Dojima" Kiryu and his unlucky interwoven fate with the criminal underground.

     

    To strongly punctuate the distinctly new Onomichi backdrop is in no small part because of the series' entirely different gameplay engine as well as the surprising focal point on new characters. The advanced gameplay engine often makes Yakuza 6 gorgeous both visually and aurally. It is also the first time in a long while the series hasn't felt shackled by dated PS3 hardware. Through the smart use of furrowed brows, eye contact, and other nonverbal tics it goes a long way in making the fresh setting and cast captivating aesthetically, alongside some strong musical accompaniment, even when story scenes get a little too self-indulgent in terms of running time and occasionally eye roll worthy story twists.

     

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    Perhaps the strangest aspect about Yakuza 6 is that the story it tries to tell often feels quite removed from almost every prior title. Many fan-favorite characters are barely anywhere to be seen, for example, despite doing an admirable job at making one warm up to the new cast like the hotheaded thug Nagumo or his nonchalant patriarch Hirose. 

     

    The only real exceptions to this independent storytelling philosophy being the intro that immediately follows up Yakuza 5's conclusion and the emotionally charged and satisfying finale for returning fans. While I grew to appreciate the refreshing (and generally more focused theme around family) change in storytelling dynamic, especially since Yakuza 4 and 5 had plenty of narrative throwback fanfare, I can definitely see a knee-jerk reaction from other longstanding Yakuza players expecting much more familiar territory for Kiryu's final adventure.

     

    I may have grown to appreciate the differences in Yakuza 6's approach towards narrative the gameplay is not quite as consistently well-realized within the snazzy new engine. Like most Yakuza titles there is a strong focus on soaking in the sights of Japan to just as quickly settling fights--and there's plenty reasoning to do both.

     

    The combat, in particular, is where Yakuza 6 comes across almost like a groundwork for future games than what it should be as a culmination of the series.

     

    There are some smart changes like much smoother transitions both in and out of battle, whereas the previous titles often felt like random encounters in role-playing games you couldn't really run away from. But Kiryu's overall moveset is more simplified this time around with the lack of Yakuza 0's combat stances or the character variety in games like Yakuza 4 & 5.

     

    It also doesn't help combat itself is made less responsive than it should be with some really wonky hit detection and bizarre usable item physics-- like some faceless thug casually able to kick a bicycle as if it were a soccer ball across the street. Sure, battles are still fun in a mindless beat 'em up way with a whole lot of visual flair, scripted story battles especially, but a handful of welcome tweaks does not save it from coming off as an arguably more clumsy battle system overall.

     

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    Yet, Yakuza is one of those series that can often get past the more hit & aspects with its core systems due to the sheer breadth of optional side activities. As per the series' standard, there are a whole lot of distractions from the main story and the game is better for it since it helps distract from some occasional main story pacing flaws. 

     

    Kiryu can go around doing all sorts of stuff like working out at a gym, sing karaoke, feeding stray cats to have them become part of a cat cafe, gamble, go to hostess bars, and more. There are some obvious winners like excellent ports of Sega games via in-game arcade cabinets like Fantasy Zone or Outrun to straight-up most recent editions of Virtua Fighter 5 and Puyo Puyo. The biggest loser, unfortunately, in terms of being just plain annoying despite the clever name involves "Troublr", which are time-sensitive missions that love to pop up at the most inconvenient times and try and guilt trip you for not helping right away.

     

    Some sidequests in particular, however, run surprisingly deep. Easily the most in-depth mode of all involves an overhead real-time strategy game in which Kiryu commands and recruits various warriors in an attempt to stop the iconic Japanese wrestler Rainmaker and his clan called "Justis" from terrorizing the city. There is a surprising amount of nuance to it like connecting online to battle other clans or learning the synergy between certain recruits so they get better stats, even though you can easily over-level your way through it with exp bonuses. Aside from that there are also much more bite-sized side stories which are usually when the localization is at its sharpest because of their either heartwarming or totally bizarre scenarios, all of which are fully-voiced now.

     

    As entertaining as much of the side content is, it is disappointing that Yakuza 6 is scaled back in several regards.

     

    Quite literally, The main town of Kumurocho has several familiar locations straight up closed off because of in-game construction that never goes away making the adventure feel more claustrophobic than several games before it. Onomichi being even smaller with even less to do (aside from the main story) does not help its case. It is among one of the shortest adventures in the series, and while the game benefits from it story-wise, there is only about half as much to do compared to earlier releases outside of it.

     

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    Much like Kiryu does as a person throughout his life, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life ends up stumbling in a lot of places despite having its heart in the right place. Everything from its remarkably different and self-contained main narrative structuring to the completely overhauled combat system will almost guarantee that it will rub returning series' fans the wrong way for one reason or another. But what Yakuza 6 does showcase is plenty of passion, like the surprisingly likable new cast to the entertaining (but somewhat more limited) side activities, which permeates throughout the experience and helps the game stand tall.

     

    Even though Yakuza 6: The Song of Life may not present the series at its peak performance (that'd be Yakuza 0), it is still a more than worthwhile adventure that does not simply rest of its former achievements to earn one's respect over time.

     


     

    Pros

     

    +Visually and aurally captivating presentation

    + Develops the entirely new cast of characters well like turning obnoxious goons into likable companions

    + Enticing side stories and mini games 

    + Good quality of life additions like the series finally discovering auto-saving

     

    Cons

     

    - Some underwhelming reveals and the very self-contained main story arc can be disappointing for longstanding series fans

    - Despite being completely overworked the combat system actually controls less responsively due to some iffy hit detection

    - Closed off city spaces and less overall side activities than one has come to expect from the series

     

     


     

    Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)

    Good

     

    Yakuza 6: The Song of Life strides to go in a remarkably different direction with its themes without abandoning much of the inherent charm the games have become known for showcasing. But at the cost of shedding some of its gameplay strengths in particular in the brand new engine leads to it not quite standing toe to toe with series' best entries.

     

    Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.


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  20. Developer: Falcom

    Publisher: Aksys Games

    Platform: PS4

    Release Date: December 8, 2017

    ESRB: T for Teen

     

     

    It has not been that long since the Vita release of the action-RPG Tokyo Xanadu -- a slick-looking game for Sony's portable system that tried to serve as a departure from Falcom’s signature series like The Legend of Heroes and Ys titles. If anything, Tokyo Xanadu felt like a confluence of both of Falcom’s key franchises with a modern day setting and more distinctly “anime” take. The enhanced version on PS4 named Tokyo Xanadu EX+ boasts much in the way of newly added content and enhanced visuals but is it really worth the envy of impulsive players of the original?

     

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    In terms of fundamentals, Tokyo Xanadu EX+ is largely familiar to its handheld predecessor. From the episodic style of anime storytelling to the dungeon crawling and occasional social aspects both in and out of school, the heart of Tokyo Xanadu EX+ remains the same. How it wears its recent Persona game influence (4 especially) on its sleeve remains quite prevalent as well. Frankly, my recommendation remains steadfast that one should just play something like Persona 3-5  before getting to something so clearly derivative of that series yet not nearly as good. Heck, the title is not even Falcom's A-game either when recent Ys games have better combat systems and The Legend of Heroes has much stronger characters and storytelling.

     

    For those curious as to what Tokyo Xanadu EX+ has to offer, there's a surprising amount compared to what its predecessor offered and it's safe to say that it's the definitive version of the game. 

     

    What is actually new seems to stem out from various attempts at re-balancing and dispersing new content here and there between the main story. Enemies and bosses are noticeably more aggressive to counter the player’s newly added combat tools, enhanced 60 fps fidelity, and more responsive controls. For example, the mechanic "X-Drive", which used to be a temporary stat/regen buff on Vita, does that as well as summon another ally to join mid-battle and spam special moves alongside the player character in EX+. The game was not particularly challenging on the standard difficulty and remains so on PS4,  but it feels that much honest on PS4 because the technical side is not a point of contention anymore and the enemy AI nowhere near as sleepy.

     

    While the action-RPG gameplay itself remains fairly average with repetitive dungeon crawling and so-so storytelling, the PS4 port itself is excellent. The art direction holds up and the generally silky smooth frame rate makes it pleasing to look in motion despite more than a few bland environments/enemy models. This stood out to me all that much more after playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 alongside with it which is far less cohesive aesthetically, and technically, in comparison.

     

    Perhaps the most likely cause of envy for those saddled with the Vita release is the many new story scenes. 

     

    After every chapter, there is a new narrative interlude generally focused on a specific character and ends with a short dungeon trek. Unfortunately, most extra chapters are barely worth mentioning except for the ones centered on the most intriguing character of the main narrative named "White Shroud" which gives players a neat taste of endgame combat early in. Speaking of which, if there is one aspect truly worth the spite of Vita-only owners, it is the endgame "After Story" chapter. Taking place following the main story, the After Story starts rather cute with a Halloween theme and heartwarming interpersonal sidequests. Though, that goodwill is later ruined by the lengthy grind of extra dungeons that introduce next to nothing new along a sequel tease to top it all off.

     

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    Tokyo Xanadu EX+ straddles the line of being a wonderful port but also begs the question as to why did they put such effort into a game that hardly stands out as is. The PS4 version cleans up and refines the title in many subtle ways -- from extra story chapters, tightened up battle mechanics, and an enhanced presentation -- yet it still doesn't shake the overbearing feeling of Tokyo Xanadu being so thoroughly average among much better role-playing games in 2017 (even from Falcom itself.).

     

    It may be the most complete version the game has to offer though I can certainly think of more than a few PS4 RPGs more worth one's time before even giving Tokyo Xanadu EX+ a passing glance.

     


     

    Pros

     

    + Great port to PS4 from enhanced visuals to tighter combat mechanics

    + The "After Story" chapter is a neat addition

     

    Cons

     

    - Most extra chapters barely add anything story or gameplay-wise and feel like bloat for a game that already had way too much

    - Still has the fundamental problems of the original game from throwaway storytelling/characters and tedious dungeon crawling

     

     


     

    Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10)

    Average

     

    Tokyo Xanadu EX+ is essentially what the original release should've been with its neat additions but still struggles to really stand out among many better role-playing game options from 2017

     

    Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.


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  21. This past year was easily one of the worst in my entire life. Without even going into the hellscape that is the current political climate I was also forced to deal with many far more personal concerns that made sure my mental fortitude was being only kept intact by the narrowest string at times.

     

    Irrespective of the time or seasons that the hardships of life decided to unfurl before me, 2017 in gaming brightly illuminated even amongst the darkest moments of my life. If anything, it's one of the very few things that kept me sane with reasoning to look forward to each new day.

     

    Maybe that intro was a bit too much of a downer, but what I am trying to say is that if 2017 was not such a strong year for gaming I would very likely still be in a terrible mental state. People have been arguing that 2017 is on the level of being on the caliber of 1998 in gaming -- and I'd be inclined to agree with them for the most part. 

     

    You may notice a recurring theme as my 2017 list goes on where I'm actually putting a bigger emphasis on storytelling than gameplay like I would normally in previous years. Because there is no shortage of excellent games with great gameplay in 2017, the ones that also hit an emotional focal point through either their storytelling or writing were more likely to click with me.

     

    Without further ado, here are my personal favorite games of 2017.

     

     

    10) Super Mario Odyssey

     

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    Super Mario Odyssey is probably the closest thing in my mind to 3D platforming perfection.

     

    Masterful controls, top-notch level design, a constant satisfying loop with collectibles, a dapper-looking Bowser, and even the catchy "Jump Up, Super Star!" theme is sung by none other than the seemingly long-forgotten Pauline. Perhaps the biggest criticism I could truly level against Mario Odyssey is that it simply did not stick in my memory quite as much as other games this year after the initial credits rolled despite how much I enjoyed playing it in the heat of the moment.

     

     

     

     

    9) Nier Automata 

     

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    Like most Yoko Taro games I find myself strongly respecting but am also equally frustrated at what Nier Automata attempts to achieve.

     

    Part of that was the unfair expectation was thinking it'd be a Platinum game with a Nier touch. And let me tell ya, I LOVE Platinum character-action games (Bayonetta 2 <3). What I got, however, was a Nier game with a Platinum touch, which conceives of all of the bizarre, yet fascinating quirks of a Yoko Taro game without the shoe-string budget and generally terrible gameplay he was known to be saddled with back at Square-Enix (*cough* the entire Drakengard series *cough*).

     

    Because of this, I was fighting between conflicting emotions of it not quite grabbing me as the storytelling/cast of characters in the original Nier did, nor the gameplay of Platinum in their prime. But like any game by the eccentric director, it likes to play upon expectations over time. Everything from a Metal Gear Solid 2-styled mantle pass, phenomenal dynamic soundtrack, twisted storytelling, and a highly evocative ending sequence that could only be executed within the medium of video games made the whole experience better than the sum of its clunky parts for myself. 

     

     

     

     

    8) Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood

     

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    Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn continues to be far and away the best thing bearing the Final Fantasy name in nearly a decade.

     

    Unlike the prior expansion that is more noteworthy for its storytelling, Stormblood is generally more impressive for its dramatic gameplay overhaul (not to say the story isn't compelling in Stormblood, though). Apparently, all it took was the noble sacrifice of the PS3 version. In which case I'll just say: why didn't they just throw the PS3 version into the sun earlier? [says this as someone who played FFXIV on PS3 for nearly 2 years]

     

    While I hardly consider myself a hardcore player I was more than swept into the fires of war that is Stormblood for months. With a campaign that is better than most RPGs this year (I've played a lot of RPGs this year), it features exciting bosses, creative dungeons, an English story localization that nearly rivals the quality of FFXII, two incredibly fun new classes, and entirely revamped gameplay mechanics that also happened to give my precious Astrologian class lovely buffs to help bring the Ala Mhigan war effort that much closer to home. To justify my occasionally dangerous addiction that much further I even made some new friends in real life during the course of playing it as well. All of this was almost enough to make people like myself forget the nightmare that was the early access launch. Almost...

     

     

     

     

    7) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky The 3rd

     

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    I would've been perfectly okay if Trails in the Sky simply ended with the second entry. I mean, the extremely endearing Estelle Bright had her story arc pretty thoroughly resolved by the end of the Trails in the Sky SC after all.

     

    Still, despite initially coming off as a somewhat unnecessary fanservice game, Trails in the Sky: The 3rd tugged at my heartstrings in many surprising ways.

     

    I grew to greatly appreciate the distinctly different yet engrossing new lead cast members (Kevin especially) and radically changed-up gameplay structure present in The 3rd. It played the gamut of emotions from giving beloved supporting characters a stronger foundation/resolution, to also revealing deeply unsettling parts of ones you didn't know quite as well as you thought you did, all up until its tear-worthy conclusion that eventually wormed its way overall into being my favorite game in the would-be trilogy.

     

     

     

     

    6) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

     

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    It's tempting to make the obvious play on the title like: "The newest Legend of Zelda was a breath of fresh air!" or something like that. But... that's just it. Breath of the Wild truly was a fresh contrast for not only the series becoming notoriously stagnant with its formulaic design but open world games at large. In a year where I dipped my toes into games such as Horizon: Zero Dawn or Assassin's Creed: Origins, I learned that I wasn't actually totally done with the entire open world subgenre, but rather ones that refused to challenge their gameplay norm. So, apparently, I was just bored of open world games not made by Nintendo, I guess.

     

    Breath of the Wild brought back a sense of genuine wonderment to not only the once decaying series but its homogenized modern open world contemporaries.

     

    It successfully evoked the sense of mystique during exploration and respected the player's own ability at discovering unorthodox solutions at nearly every turn we haven't seen since basically the very first Zelda game. I may not adore every facet of its design, such as weapon degradation, but I could not be more pleased with how Nintendo (of all companies) deliberately chose to be so fascinatingly different in a time where every other company tried to stay the course with open world games.

     

     

     

     

    5)  Night in the Woods

     

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    It seems to me that Night in the Woods is highly likely to resonate with a very specific age demographic than others. As it turns out, I happen to be one of them within that age group. So I saw more than a bit of myself in Mae and her group of friends with their day to day troubles even if they were all animal... people... that stood on two feet.

     

    Shelving the existential animal question for now, both the writing and characters really struck a chord with me.  The fact that I also happened to unintentionally play the game mostly concurrent with the late October themed narrative helped it be that much more immersive.

     

    Admittedly there are some elements that don't entirely ring with me in the game; predominately the weird psychedelic/supernatural elements that seep their way into what should've otherwise felt like a surprisingly grounded main narrative. But the moments where it felt so very human made me forgive such shortcomings the game had... even though they were technically animals.

     

     

     

    4) Yakuza 0

    Click here to read GP's official review

     

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    The Yakuza series has always been one I liked much more conceptually than actually playing. Well, until Yakuza 0 that is. Turns out all they needed was a playable Majima!.. in a game that wasn't Yakuza Dead Souls.

     

    But seriously, I extolled the many virtues of Yakuza 0 through the course of my review. But the cliff notes version of my fondness for it had a lot to do with how expertly it balanced very serious, engaging storytelling and hilarious (though, occasionally heartwarming), as well as insanely abundant, side content complemented by the expert localization.

     

    Most impressive of all is that it is a prequel that retroactively makes all of its predecessors better by the reverence it pays to them as well as being the best game in the series.

     

     

     

     

    3) Xenoblade Chronicles 2

     

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    There have been a lot of knee-jerk reactions towards Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in it simply existing. Some justified, some not. What I will say is that even though Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is likely the least cohesive game in the entire series, it is also far and away the one that I had the most fun actually playing. 

     

    Xenoblade Chronicles 2 may not be the game that I myself and many others expected, but it was also one I did not know I wanted as much as I did.

     

    For as many technical rough spots and unnecessary anime fanservice/trope moments it presents at the forefront, I was also blown by just how much heart and depth it had buried beneath for both its gameplay systems and storytelling. It has been a while since I felt like a game so regularly went "And here's one more cool new thing!" via some gameplay mechanic or an exciting story beat.

     

    Couple it further with a masterful soundtrack, an impeccable world design, very rewarding battle system, and a surprisingly endearing main cast made my expansive journey and my absurd current playtime within more than worth it (...100+ hours). I am certainly looking forward to the additions to it via various updates in 2018, such as the added story content too.

     

     

     

     

    2) Persona 5

     

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    As someone who would easily put Persona 3 & 4 high in the bracket of my all-time favorite video games, to say that I was hungry for Persona 5's eventual release would be a major understatement. Turns out that "Winter 2014" was much further away than anyone had imagined. So impatient was I to finally play it that I literally bought the game two times just because I could not wait an extra day for my limited edition to arrive via mail.

     

    Even though I was frothing at the mouth to finally play it I would say my expectations were actually pretty reasonable for what P5 actually ended up being. I wanted a game to NOT just feel like Persona 4 all over again by assuming a strong identity of its own and, of course, improve upon many enjoyable gameplay systems of prior entries. And it did just that. Actually, it did MUCH more than that.

     

    Persona 5 challenges much of the fundamental ideology of its two predecessors from the relationship dynamic between characters to the dark underpinnings of its storytelling, causing it to be rather divisive amongst fans on that front alone. It is also the most Shin Megami Tensei-y the series has felt since the original two Persona games (...technically, three.) with the return of demons, negotiation mechanics, and an oddly high default difficulty.

     

    On that pretense, I had a blast playing Persona 5. Its countless quality of life improvements to an already addictive RPG/school life formula, some insane late game narrative twists, jazzy soundtrack, and basically being the most stylish video game in existence (with people still swooning over its UI) more than solidified its place in my mind.

     

    It may not be my favorite Persona game (that honor goes to Persona 4 Golden), and I certainly have a criticism or two against specific story elements, but it didn't need to be for me to consider it an amazing RPG experience.

     

     

     

     

    1) Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth

    Click here to read GP's official review

     

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    Ever have that one game in which you adore but also can't really recommend it to anyone? Yet, at the same time, you also desperately want to talk to someone about how amazing it was? Yeah, that's kind of how it was for me while playing Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth.

     

    Unfortunately, most people will be unable to get past either its' odd gameplay hybrid of both visual novel/strategy-RPG OR the basically required-to-enjoy predecessor called Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (released just four months prior), which is not nearly as good as Mask of Truth, and I can't really blame them. Much like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, there are also more than a few problematic "anime" fanservice elements that become a really tough aspect to ask most people to overlook. Again, can't easily recommend it to anyone...

     

    But, in a year where everyone is rooting for incredibly depressed robots trying to act like humans (Nier Automata) -- I and maybe like two other people were tested by the plight of the equally, if not possibly more so, emotionally scarred protagonists in the brilliant narrative conclusion to the Utawarerumono trilogy in Mask of Truth. Wrapping up so many story threads through amazing character development and riveting wartime storytelling, a deeply fascinating world/lore with a shockingly stellar localization to punctuate the experience, and perhaps an instance or two of salt flying into my eyes to trigger the waterworks did more than a number on me story-wise alone.

     

    Add all of this to my favorite subgenre of role-playing game (good ol' turn-based SRPGs!) and it somehow it snuck its way into my favorite of the year in such fierce competition. It is definitely a game most are unlikely to get around to appreciating, and again, I don't blame them in the slightest, though I know that I could not have been gladder to have played it as my Game of 2017.


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  22. Developer: Experience Inc.

    Publisher: Nis America

    Platform: PS4 and PS Vita

    Release Date: November 14, 2017

    ESRB: T for Teen

     

    Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game

     

     

    Most handheld role-playing game fans are likely more than aware of the critically acclaimed Etrian Odyssey series on 3DS.  What is less common knowledge is that the not-quite-as-popular PlayStation Vita handheld has also had an abundant selection of dungeon crawling RPGs as well. Granted, the gem offerings within Vita's handheld circle are far more inconsistent in comparison. 

     

    One of the standouts of Vita's batch of dungeon crawlers was the original DRPG Demon Gaze. Though it was certainly not flawless, it was an incredibly colorful title that also made several strides to its game design that caused it to be easier to approach than most in the subgenre.

     

    Three years later, players are now able to play its direct sequel, which is plainly named Demon Gaze II. Does the exuberant successor have the heart that could charm a demon or should one avoid its memorizing gaze the second time around?

     

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    After one quick glance, it becomes rather clear that Demon Gaze II doubles down on its anime influence. With the loose narrative setup predicated upon revolutionists trying to save the region (Asteria) through the power of music, it will likely feel like you have seen this story in some anime before. Chances are you probably have. Couple it further with the JRPG amnesiac lead trope and the main villain Magnastar, whom may-or-may-not-be misunderstood, will only solidify this strong sense of narrative Deja Vu. However predictable it may be, Demon Gaze II is presented with more than enough personality for its world and characters to have it be entertaining enough to see it through to the end (post-game aside). Well... so long as the far and away worst character from the original game (Lezerem) -- who, unfortunately, makes a return in II -- is not on-screen.

     

    In several ways, Demon Gaze II tries to be more approachable than its predecessor -- or even most DRPGs, to be honest.

     

    Most applications to this mindset tend to be more subtle instead of simply being easier/having faster turn-based battles than most in the subgenre on the default difficulty. One of the quickest changes that returning players will notice is that they will no longer bleed financially every time they return to the main inn like various Etrian Odyssey games (in which the original Demon Gaze poked fun at by having a financially shrewd innkeeper) and upon returning from a dungeon the party's full recovery is free with no real strings attached.

     

    Another welcome change, specifically for lower difficulties, is the incredibly generous option outright retry battles after a party wipe. Instead of simply restarting the battle the player returns with full health/MP, star gauge (which is needed for certain mechanics like fusion or party-wide buffs) and, most surprising of all, all inflicted damage upon foes and bosses too. Demon Gaze II certainly takes initiative to be all the more inviting to newcomers to DRPGs. For hardcore players, they should be plenty fine with the higher difficulty options available. There's also an entire extra story mode after the main campaign which dramatically raises the level cap(/challenge) and it even forces players to play on the second highest difficulty in order to see it through. Unlike the main story, which is mostly self-contained, the post-game narrative is also full of direct callbacks to the first Demon Gaze and can easily double the standard playtime too, which is a neat addition.

     

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    At the same time, Demon Gaze II is willing to sever some tried and true approaches to traditional dungeon crawlers as well.

     

    Subgenre staples like being able to create customized party members are nearly entirely absent in Demon Gaze II, for example. Players are only really able to alter the look of the main male protagonist and choose between one of three "alignments" (which apparently slightly modifies the tone of inconsequential dialogue choice options in the story and learned abilities at specific leveling thresholds).

     

    Otherwise, all (demon) party members that join the player, either via the main story or optional sidequests, are preset in their appearance and abilities with the exception being to choose where to allocate stats per level up or their occasional "Liberty Skill". It may be tough for subgenre purists to adjust to but the preset allies do tend to be far more well-rounded in the vital skills that they acquire naturally than what was formerly separate classes were in the original. The one huge shame, however, is that most party members start at level 1 regardless of how late they may be unlocked (with only three exceptions). Like the original Demon Gaze, though, gear tends to matter far more than regular base stats, so someone that starts at level one is not entirely hopeless when attempting to catch up. That and some late-game party members are really strong.

     

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    Speaking of which, there are some other new mechanics in Demon Gaze II, though they are hit & miss in their execution. In battle, the main character will eventually obtain the ability to fuse with another party member. While this is fairly cool conceptually, I did not once find it that practical to actually use because you essentially sacrifice the use of a party member for several turns in the exchange of quick burst damage. The other mechanic that isn't fully fleshed out is the ability to perform "maintenance" on demons... which basically involves going on dates and doing a touchscreen mini-game. Thankfully, the mini-game itself is not nearly as tasteless as some other Vita games (looking at you, Monster Monpiece), but it is clear that this mechanic is tacked on purely because most of your potential party members are cutesy anime ladies (even if it has more tangible rewards like unlocking strong passive abilities, direct stat increases, and giving some spotlight to otherwise entirely overlooked characters in the main narrative.)

     

    Aside from those new additions, Demon Gaze II should otherwise feel fairly familiar and not always for the better. Developer Experience Inc. has a bad habit of directly lifting certain dungeon themes from their prior games (including non-sequels like Stranger of Sword City) and this issue surfaces yet again in Demon Gaze II. On the positive side, players are rarely in any one dungeon for all that long so the fatigue in certain mechanics or themes does not last too long *shakes fist at the underwater dungeons that do not allow players to use magic*. The other returning mixed key feature is the loot system that is incredibly reliant on RNG. Because, like the original, pretty much all useful gear is obtained via specific summoning circles in dungeons and hoping to get what you want upon defeating the enemies that appear.

     

    Last, but certainly not least, to mention is the presentation, which remains incredibly vibrant regardless of its admittedly low production values.

     

    All the characters have really distinct 2D portraits and they have made little touches like how the enemies in combat now move so battles feel more lively. The bigger step up seems to be the soundtrack, which has more musical variety than the first title. Going from catchy swing-like themes in the main tavern to some unobtrusive vocaloid accompaniment to other tracks really works well with the game's hyper personality. That said, the clear standout of the entire soundtrack is without a doubt the piece "Starllica", which would feel right at in some sort of Ar Tonelico game (even if it lacks the made-up language of hymnos.).

     

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    Demon Gaze II is ultimately a better game than its predecessor. It takes the initiative to become more approachable for newcomers, has nearly twice as much content than the original for serious players, and introduces plenty of subtle refinements and mechanics.  Even the storytelling itself, while still really predictable, has seen an improvement too. What Demon Gaze II truly lacks is much to make it feel genuinely fresh and can come across as a bit too familiar at times for players of the original. If one is fine with the prospect of more of the same, but generally better, then Demon Gaze II is better viewed as an extremely solid DRPG offering on Vita (and one of the very few on PS4) instead of the revolution the narrative tries to embark on.

     


     

    Pros

     

    + Energetic presentation with an equally eccentric cast of characters

    + Makes quite a few strides to be more approachable, such as very generous retry options on lower difficulties

    + Addictive dungeon crawling gameplay and speedy combat

    + Nearly twice as much content as the original including a meaty post-game story mode

     

    Cons

     

    - Most character customization in combat has been replaced with preset party members. Which becomes a bit more glaring as almost all of them start at level one...

    -  Experience Inc. is still recycling dungeon themes from their previous games

    - Incredibly reliant on RNG for good gear

     


     

    Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)

    Good

     

    While it is unlikely to capture the minds of those who did not enjoy its predecessor Demon Gaze II is a proud follow-up as well as a worthy DRPG performance 

     

    Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.


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  23. Developer: Idea Factory

    Publisher: Aksys Games

    Platform: PS Vita

    Release Date: July 28, 2017

    ESRB: M for Mature

     

     

    With the likes of distorted camera footage showcasing ruthless murders in the name of "justice," the PS Vita's newest visual novel Collar x Malice quickly sets the tone of its tense setting. One would be hard-pressed to find any trace of Idea Factory's romantic otome underpinnings until at least an hour in, if that. At least until a group of pretty males that were former officers join the fray to help you solve various murder mysteries. But even that does not bring much comfort considering just how cold they all are at the outset.

     

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    At the start of the game, it's bad news all around. An extremist terrorist group named Adonis has been publicly announcing systemic "X-Day" killings to judge various "sinners" that the law has apparently failed to reach. After months of failing to apprehend these suspects, the Japanese government has grown so desperate that they decide to quarantine Shinjuku entirely to help contain the terrorists' influence. Trust in law enforcement is at an all-time low and public unrest at an all-time high. Just when things could not seem to get any worse, Ichika Hoshino -- the main heroine, and a fresh and upcoming officer -- gets kidnapped. The next moment she wakes up, she learns she is saddled with a deadly collar around her neck. Though she is temporarily saved by a group of mysterious former police officers rather quickly, she is told by the leader of Adonis, via her collar, that she needs to uncover the truth behind the "X-Day incidents" alongside these men or she will be poisoned to death at the end of the year. And so, that becomes the player's primary objective

     

    Collar X Malice is a visual novel structured around five different character routes (the last of which is locked until one completes the four others) with each tale standing well enough on their own.

     

    What is intriguing in how it is told is each story route has an entirely different focus and the many pieces to the overarching storytelling only really make sense upon finishing all of them due to their complex subplots. Though, one will have to be able to overlook a hokey story element or two to see it through (like how the Japanese government apparently thought it was a good idea to issue guns to all citizens during the Shinjuku quarantine?).

     

    Collar X Malice is largely about investigating murder mysteries and conspiracies with a dash of romance interspaced between it all. Flowery otome fanservice is present, but generally speaking, it is the furthest thought from the primary cast early in. Each of the male leads has rather distinct personal objectives that give them plenty of reason to act cold to the main heroine (the same also applies in inverse). Because of this pretense, the trust that is gained between what is initially a business-only relationship feels much more organic than one would expect.

     

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    My favorite of these character developments is the incredibly brash former officer of the cyber crimes division, Takeru. Though he is more than a bit haughty (aggressively so usually), his route is far more personal focused than most others in the entire game (except for maybe the eyepatch-wearing Mineo perhaps). For as prideful as Takeru may be, his side of the storytelling does a wonderful job of making him feel down to earth during the course of it. Also, he has some hilariously sassy quips at times, so that's a plus for me too.

     

    Some routes are certainly better than others, however. The one that personally took me the longest to shoulder on through, purely for thematic reasoning, was that of the Special Protections officer, Kei. Now, I like Kei enough as a character but I found his character route to be rather obnoxious. It encroached upon a trope that I dislike in otome games especially, which is the fixation of protecting the main heroine. Admittedly, the context behind Okazaki's seemingly selfless motivations unravels to have much darker implications over time. Still, one will hear some variation of the phrase "I will protect you" a nauseating amount of times. Of course, reminiscent of Code Realize: Guardians of Rebirth in this small regard, both characters and their narrative arc focus are extremely subject to taste and, occasional narrative grips aside, are told well overall in spite of excessively long banter at times.

     

    That said, there is actually more that goes on in Collar X Malice than thumbing through walls of story text and earning the hearts and minds of one's eventual male suitors as a game. Without a doubt, most of the progression stems from picking correct dialogue choices to properly reach a tale's conclusion and hoping they don't die in doing so.

     

    There are also instances of basic point & click-styled detective work and, surprisingly, an occasional gun-based quick-time-event to shoot down a prospective criminal. Speaking of which, there is an alarming amount of bad endings. Most bad endings usually not-so-subtlety apply the expression "curiosity killed the cat", but there are a few bad ends that are surprisingly meaningful to the overarching story despite not technically being required to see.

     

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    For as much as the player is likely to stumble to their doom before reaching their desired conclusion(s), Collar X Malice is usually quite slick in how it is presented. The beautifully drawn character art is but one clear perk of it (unless one is uncomfortable with the occasional otome-styled fanservice scene. I'm not). The Japanese-only voice-acting is also really impressive, making each main character have a distinct presence throughout, though the main heroine herself is unfortunately unvoiced.

     

    Idea Factory proves yet again they have the visual novel interface thing down pat, for the most part.

     

    Godsends to the subgenre like fast-forwarding until reaching unread text, instant story scene rewinding, and various save options are all there and then some. However, the biggest replay tool of all, that being the chapter select, is not available until reaching a character's "true end". This is very important to keep in mind as I personally almost locked myself into a bad ending right before the finale of the last character route and was really close to a redundant VN fast-forwarding nightmare to fix it.

     

    While Collar x Malice is pretty good at implying that you are on the right path "for the most part" I'd recommend other's veer on the side of safety and follow a dialogue choice guide when they can just to get those true ends out of the way first. This is especially true since character routes themselves are only triggered through rigid and specific dialogue choices early in.

     

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    Of Idea Factory's many otome visual novel offerings, Collar x Malice comes across as their most well-rounded. A fascinating, crime-based storytelling setup and a nuanced lead cast of characters make it easy to be drawn into its world, though various pacing mishaps and an inconsistent overarching storytelling emphasis placed upon certain leads do hold the game back from its full potential. But, all in all, Collar x Malice stands tall on its own and has the heart of a genuinely good visual novel, and it becomes quite rewarding to uncover the larger truth buried beneath its lengthy adventure.

     


     

    Pros

     

    + Intriguing storytelling with a heavy emphasis on murder mystery and crime-solving

    + Gorgeous character art and often slick visual novel interface

    + Healthy mix of very serious storytelling and lighthearted moments throughout

    + Takeru is the best boy

     

    Cons

     

    - Triggering specific story routes or right dialogue choices can feel redundant at times

    - Varying significance of overarching storytelling between routes can make some character's tales feel longer than others

    - Localization hiccups

     


     

    Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)

    Good

     

    With a gripping premise and cast of characters alone makes it quite easy to forget Collar x Malice's occasional foibles in how it is told as a visual novel

     

    Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.


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  24. Developer: Otomate

    Publisher: Aksys Games

    Platform: PS Vita

    Release Date: October 10, 2017

    ESRB: T for Teen

     

     

    2017 has been a rather generous year for visual novels. More importantly, if you are a fan of otomes in particular, they have not been in short supply. The otome-churning machine that is developer "Otomate" has released the likes of Collar X Malice, the (partial) enhanced port of Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds, and Period Cube: Shackle of Amadeus just this year. The newest addition, and what seems to be last on the English roll call list from Otomate this year, is the recent visual novel: Bad Apple Wars. Is the stylish Bad Apple Wars a visual novel worth biting into or should it be left to rot?

     

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    The setup for Bad Apple Wars is pretty well-worn territory for both anime and visual novels. Taking place in yet another example of a high school-themed approach to the purgatory concept, various young adults are whisked away just after their untimely death and are given the second opportunity at life in the bizarre "Nevaeh Academy." Or so, that's the belief. Nevaeh Academy rules are anything but clearly defined except for the ones in which students are expressly forbidden to break. This is where the clear divide between students arises where the "Bad Apples" are all too eager to break the rules in an attempt to live on and retain their identities, while "Good Apples" conform to the bizarre school life and try to properly graduate from the afterlife.

     

    It sounds all good and well until you learn that there is actually not much variation between the two apple types from a story perspective in more ways than one.

     

    Early on there is the narrative conceit of choice when choosing to become either a "Good Apple" or a "Bad Apple" which dictates which of the five character routes and "husbandos" to eventually woo. Except, spoilers (but not really): they almost all more or less tell the same story and eventually converge towards the Bad Apple side for one reason or another. It is honestly alarming just how many redundant scenes there are between every character's story because of the tunnel vision focus on breaking the seven main rules and how they need to try and justify how each male lead falls into it. Because of this, the title honestly has a tough time making any route, or its main characters, really stand out because of it.

     

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    Bad Apple Wars has a lot of flaws in how its narrative is told. It is not only very derivative, bordering on plagiarism territory with its similarities to the many story devices and themes from the iconic anime Angel Beats, but it is also not that great at presenting what it attempts to do differently either. 

     

    One of the strangest aspects of Bad Apple Wars is that, despite the whole romance angle, the main heroine (Rinka) does not spend that much time with her romantic candidates.

     

    You can chalk some of that up due to how Bad Apple Wars is not that long of a game for visual novel standards per story route. But I think the more apparent reasoning is how she generally spends an equal, if not greater amount, of time with supporting characters, which ironically feel more fleshed out than most of the would-be romantic candidates.This is both good and bad. On one hand, certain supporting characters are treated with far more respect than you'd expect (such as Sanzu or Naraka). On the other hand, it is an otome game that fails to earnestly flesh out their romances. 

     

    The most problematic portion of the whole game is its "Soul Touch system" and the narrative context behind it. As a story device, Rinka is able to see glimpses of the past of those she physically touches. So, the more she touches them the more bits and pieces see into their past, however dark of a note they tend to end on (they all died after all). As brief as the almost text-only flashbacks are, they are generally effective at presenting their often heartbreaking past (which often come across as more grounded than you would expect.) and why they act the way they do at Nevaeh Academy.

     

    Unfortunately, prior to the flashback scenes themselves, the Vita continues to retain its unfortunate reputation of awkward touch-screen mini-games: complete with forced ecstasy moans, random disappearing clothing, and not-so-subtle visual implications (....despite them not actually doing it. It's soul touching after all!). Worst of all is that these touch-screen only portions are literally the difference between a good ending and a bad one. While it's generally pretty easy to get the good ending for most characters I did stumble upon a bad ending accidentally (for "White Mask" in particular) and was totally baffled what I did wrong at the time because I apparently did not touch the right spots enough.

     

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    Awkward mini-games and questionable visual implications aside, my biggest problem with the whole Soul Touch System is that it comes across as a really cheap escape from having proper character and romantic development. The main heroine spends a whole lot of time complaining about how empty or boring she is then and then, oops, upon often accidental physical contact with [character route of choice] she discovers she has sympathy towards their various tragic backstories prior to their death. They don't tell her about their past directly, or really open up as characters, the romances just kind of happen because she learns their past. Rinse and repeat this process multiple times per character and it all feels like the least sincere approach they could have taken with their would-be romances possible.

     

    I do not want to sound totally down on the game. There are certain aspects it handles well. The Japanese voice-acting, in particular, is top-notch and has some rather prolific vocal talents.

     

    I was quite impressed by Akira Ishida's dynamic performance when playing the seemingly calm and collected male lead (and my own personal favorite route), Shikishima, as well as Tomokazu Sugita voicing the eccentric side character teacher "Mr.Rabbit" that makes about as many hare-themed puns as Zero for Virtue Last Reward. Also, something that grew on me over time is the art style as well. As much as I may like the overly detailed art style of games like Collar X Malice I came to appreciate Bad Apple Wars' very colorful art style and its water-color approach to the background environment. Though it is unfortunate that the bizarre text font choice that makes the moment to moment reading awkward, which was also seemingly made with style over practical substance.

     

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    For as unique and stylish as Bad Apple Wars appears on the surface it only serves to prove that it is much more shallow and derivative experience over time. And frankly, for how much repetition there is between each story route, one needs not justify spending that much time with the main cast while playing it, just like the game does. Bad Apple Wars is neither a bad visual novel nor a good one, but rather a thoroughly unremarkable one. However, in a year with no shortage of worthwhile visual novel offerings, otome or otherwise, Bad Apple Wars does not succeed in graduating alongside with them.

     


     

    Pros

     

    + Strong voice acting for the main cast

    + Very colorful presentation with plenty of style

     

     

    Cons

     

    - Lots of redundant scenes between routes regardless of being a "Good Apple" or "Bad Apple"

    - Many story themes are shamelessly derivative of the anime Angel Beats

    - Really awkward touchscreen portions, with very poor narrative context behind them, that for some reason decide actual endings

    - What is with the in-game font?

     


     

    Overall Score: 5 (out of 10)

    Average

     

    Bad Apples Wars is a disappointing visual novel offering from Otomate that really seems to emphasize style over substance and is only really worth passing glance if one has somehow exhausted their visual novel options on Sony's gaming handheld.

     

    Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.


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  25. Developer: Falcom

    Publisher: Aksys Games

    Platform: PS Vita

    Release Date: June 30, 2017

    ESRB: T for Teen

     

    Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game

     

     

    Falcom has gradually been winning over the hearts and minds of Japanese role-playing game fans overseas these past several years. With the Ys series, they have hit a sweet spot with action-RPG fans due to the purity of their fast-paced and fun combat design (their sweet soundtracks helped too).

     

    On the other end there are The Legend of Heroes titles where, despite having quite the troubled localization history, they have enticed fans with their incredibly meticulous world-building and character development with such releases as the fashionably late Trails in the Sky: The Third earlier this year.

     

    Now arrives a rather loose spiritual successor to one of Falcom's oldest dungeon crawler series, Xanadu, under the newest entry called Tokyo Xanadu. With a far more modern setting and gaming influences does Falcom continue to hit their stride or does Tokyo Xanadu just feel out of touch at what they do best?

     

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    Right out of the gate Tokyo Xanadu feels dense with anime tropes and a modern Tokyo flair.

     

    So you'll see no shortage of anime cliches like idols, a super hacker, a bancho-esque delinquent, and plenty of high school life. This can totally be fine if well-written enough, or they subvert such tropes in clever ways, as titles like Persona 3 and 4 have certainly proven. And, well, Tokyo Xanadu kind of does that and... kind of does not; it's weird. It also wears the influence of recent Persona games on its sleeve too, which is all the more strange after having played Persona 5 released just this year.

     

    The basic premise is something along the lines that the lead character, Kou, stumbles upon a rather odd scene returning home after working late at his part-time job. Just before he attempts to play the hero in order to stop thugs from harassing a female classmate of his, a dangerous portal to another world randomly opens up and sucks everyone into it. Turns out, "Eclipse" portals are a common occurrence outside of the public eye that an underground organization, known as "Nemesis" (that his female classmate, Hiragi, happens to be a part of too) has to deal with to protect normal people from otherworldly monsters. So, after the Eclipse phenomenon impedes upon Kou's personal life a few too many times, he decides to help Hiragi with dealing with the eclipse to protect his friends and family. Oh, and Kou can manifest a magical weapon in the other realm too, because anime.

     

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    As a game, Tokyo Xanadu is a hodgepodge of a lot of ideas, but most of all it is a dungeon-crawler action-RPG with social elements.

     

    It's like a mix of both Falcom's recent Ys and The Legend of Heroes releases but in a lite sort of way. It doesn't exactly satisfy when it comes to either their strengths, but it does evoke the feeling of both.

     

    Throughout the story, as well as optionally, players will come across different Eclipse dungeons. In these moments one will gain control of three different party members to play as and can switch between them on the fly in an action-RPG fashion. Tokyo Xanadu attempts to justify this through the use of strengths/weaknesses affinities, very much like recent Ys, but the normal difficulty is not skewed in a way that makes it feel all that necessary. I only really tried to exploit enemy weaknesses to get higher completion ratings and what I believe to be increased drop rates on items, but the practicality of it rarely surfaces for anything other than a player-imposed sense of changing it up. Which, well, the game doesn't do all that well to justify. The dungeon and enemy design are not particularly varied outside of bosses, but combat is entertaining enough despite not quite getting as frantic as Ys does.

     

    The rest of the experience feels more closely linked to like Trails of Cold Steel, which, by further extension, were influenced by Persona 3 & 4. So plenty of optional friendship events to uncover both in and out of school, sidequests and side activities to undertake from skateboarding to arcade games, and main character traits to increase based on specific actions (though, the stats feel pretty superfluous in this title beyond fairly minor bonuses). These tried and true systems work fine, and in pure presentation improves upon Trails of Cold Steel a noticeable amount, but the underlying story and cast of characters it's centered around makes these systems come off more like fluff as neither are all that compelling.

     

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    As stated before, the anime influence is incredibly strong in Tokyo Xanadu (outside of obvious character art). And not exactly in a good way.

     

    It feels very much like a weekly show with the opening song to start it off, and a new companion by the end to conclude most chapter arcs. Plus, it is pretty aggressive with anime tropes like going pro hacker to a "bancho" like figure so shortly after. While none of the characters are particularly obnoxious (except maybe the "pro hacker" guy.), they are also not all that interesting either and barely subvert the apparent anime character trope they are based on, if at all. This stands out even more because there are fairly long stretches of storytelling where you will do little more than move to different parts of town to trigger new cutscenes.

     

    It's weird because Tokyo Xanadu is quite well made from a production standpoint. They clearly made it with the Vita hardware in mind and it plays and runs smooth both in and out of combat for the most part. The soundtrack is fairly catchy, and it is respectable how much (and how well) Japanese-only voice acting is prevalent throughout. Little details like how it is presented fairly stylishly as well are cool too (not Persona 5 stylish, but no other game really is). Facets like the NiAR phone interface make it easy to keep track of storytelling to sidequests to in-game UI and conveys a lot of information quite well. Despite all of this, however, Tokyo Xanadu feels somewhat hollow and it hugely boils down to its storytelling and cast it revolves around.

     

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    The strangest part of Tokyo Xanadu is that it is a fairly well-made game but rarely excels at any one thing (except maybe music). Its storytelling straddles the line of inoffensive and also dense with anime tropes. Combat is entertaining but is not varied or challenging enough because of the dungeons and enemies themselves.

     

    I find myself thinking that I would sooner recommend the likes Falcom's other properties that one can also play on the Vita instead. Like, if one wanted a fun action-RPG I would suggest Ys Seven on PSP. If one wanted to see very intricate world-building, smart writing, and good character development I would suggest Trails in the Sky on PSP or Trails of Cold Steel on Vita.

     

    Tokyo Xanadu is a solid title but it feels like a half step in both gameplay and storytelling when Falcom has clearly proven better when they are focused on either one.

     

     


     

    Pros

     

    + Has several cool gameplay ideas, if shamelessly similar to Persona, that mixes school sim and dungeon crawling

    + Catchy soundtrack

    + Slick presentation and gameplay interface

     

    Cons

     

    - Neither the storytelling or characters are compelling enough for how much of a focus is placed upon them

    - A few too many anime tropes with the inherent setting can get annoying (idols, super hackers, and banchos-- oh my)

    - Dungeon design gets repetitive

     

     


     

    Overall Score: 6 (out of 10)

    Decent

     

    Tokyo Xanadu is Falcom's attempt of blending two of their best franchises (Ys and The Legend of Heroes), but rather than feeling like a perfect combination of both it comes off as a half-hearted attempt at their individual strengths

     

    Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.


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