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  1. barrel

    Review: Soul Sacrifice

    Developer: Marvelous AQL, SCE Japan Studio, Comcept Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Platform: Vita Release Date: April 30, 2013 ESRB: M for Mature I really like playing games on my Vita, I sincerely do. I know it's crazy talk, but I've enjoyed several games on the system beyond the multiplatform titles and ports that are easily associated with its library. The reality is though, the 3DS has been rallying a surprising amount of software support as of late, and for fair reason. Heck, Nintendo having the Monster Hunter franchise close to its chest has more or less shifted the entire handheld marketplace in Japan and has left the Vita neglected by many developers. Despite that being the case, game developer icon Keiji Inafune and his newest development team at Comcept attempt to play on Japan's very popular Monster Hunter mold via a distinct approach with Soul Sacrifice on Vita. Soul Sacrifice brings a very dark perspective to its gameplay style and setting with a faithful emphasis to its eerie name. Does it make for a worthy system savior or a fruitless sacrifice? The world of Soul Sacrifice starts off in its final toll and in a bleak, apocalyptic situation. The sky is painted forever black, the earth robbed of most of its life, and the remnants of mankind are imprisoned, awaiting their final days as sacrificial fodder for the sorcerer, Magusar, who brought the world to its current state. As a human captive, the player happens upon a mysterious talking book, who goes by Librom, in their skeletal cell and is offered a chance to change their sorry circumstance. Despite telling the player of how many have failed before them, Librom offers the ability to reclaim the power of a former sorcerer's life, and the possible strength to fight Maguasar, if they relieve the chronicles of the sorcerer's life through his pages. If anything, Soul Sacrifice should be lauded more so for its imaginatively realized setting than its actual storytelling. The main story itself is a bit heavy-handed with its themes and is rather predictable at times, however, the lore behind Soul Sacrifice and how the story is presented is actually rather interesting. Flipping through Librom's pages help paint an interesting faded novel aesthetic that is spliced with stylized animated comic strips for certain scenes. Even beyond that, players can study up on plenty of optional but pretty in-depth and well-written lore and mythology entries, with the backstories of the archfiends, or bosses, in particular being the most interesting. There is also little things like how Librom will interject during certain parts of the narrative, and throw out possible theories about what is about to happen next, humoring the player's possible lack of knowledge, that creates an interesting dynamic about how the story is presented. Even if the main story isn't very noteworthy by itself, Soul Sacrifice does certainly does go out of its way to flesh it out its setting by how it is presented for those willing to take notice. While the emphasis on sacrificing is a bit overbearing in the main story, the way it ties into gameplay is implemented in an engaging way. Everything from skills, abilities, and handling felled monsters is divided between the 'saving' and 'sacrificing' mechanics in Soul Sacrifice. In terms of narrative context, sacrificing forever embeds a creature into the sorcerer's right arm while also granting them power and saving revitalizes the creature and/or caster and gives them at a second chance at living; even if it sounds like a binary good and evil, there is a darker edge to both actions. Both sacrificing and saving in gameplay each have their perks and minuses based on player builds and battle situations, and this ties into multiplayer as well. The easiest comparison for Soul Sacrifice's core gameplay structure is certainly Monster Hunter, but it is also reminiscent of the hidden gem Phantom Dust on the original Xbox due to how skills are allocated and its overall faster and more mobile approach to gameplay. Mission structure of Soul Sacrifice is pretty straightforward where it is designed around either killing a certain amount of enemies, gathering X amount of items, or defeating large scale boss monsters. The player is also ranked at the end of each mission, which yields different offering/spell ability drops. Because of how the quests are structured in Soul Sacrifice, like many games in the 'hunting' subgenre, it leads to some very deliberate repetition. While Soul Sacrifice is faster paced/less grindy than most of its ilk when it comes to its questing, the repetition can certainly wane the enjoyment of less patient action-rpg fans who just want to enjoy the single player. Where Soul Sacrifice most impresses in gameplay is when its more unique facets come into play. Soul Sacrifice has tons of individual skills and abilities to play with, with even more to create using the fusing and combining system for new or better ones. The game also really rewards understanding the weakness of enemies or smartly timed attacks, which reflects most of the time in the midst gameplay and even post-battle grading. A smart parry with an effective shield, a well-timed 'Black Rite', or specific elemental offensive equipment that can paralyze a foe can easily control a tough battle. The difficulty and duration of many battles can easily be set based on how the player utilizes skills/offerings and the game will reward them for understanding it. Beyond standard abilities are Black Rites, which utilize powerful skills at a cost. Black Rites can easily turn the tides of a archfiend (boss) fight depending on when and how it is used. For example, do you use a Black Rite that can easily clear a map of enemies for crowd control or a separate one that allows the player bind an enemy, hopefully a boss, for an extended period of time in multiplayer so your allies can safely beat down on it. Of course, these versatile and powerful skills could also really penalize the player if they are careless and use them too early: negative effects ranging from halving their maximum defense, constantly draining health, or making you unable to see clearly for rest of the fight; so it is safe to say you should use them wisely. Speaking of multiplayer, that is easily the most desirable/satisfying means of playing Soul Sacrifice. Admittedly, you will at first want participate in multiplayer because the single player ally AI is next to useless, or in my opinion, arguably worse than soloing, but also because it creates a different layer of gameplay strategy. Some abilities like a couple of 'Black Rites' as well as standard offerings/skills are only effective in multiplayer. Also having another party member can easily remove the tension of a tough fight since they can save/revive you when you are down ... or sacrifice you because they think you are useless and want large damage on a boss and better item drops. But don't fret, even allies that seem down and out for that battle, most likely because an ally sacrificed them mid-battle (jerk, who would do that? *cough*), doesn't mean they can't help; even fallen/sacrificed allies can boost the attack of fellow allies and also decrease the defense of bosses. In general, I think the multiplayer of Soul Sacrifice is pretty fun and reflects the game at its best... or worst because of these clever extra mechanics. In terms of actual visual fidelity, Soul Sacrifice doesn't seem to be pushing the Vita hardware a whole lot. Environments in Soul Sacrifice generally rather small in scale with few exceptions and will become familiar in no time. When it comes to enemies and character models the attacks animation that accompany them are generally imaginative, even they themselves also don't push the hardware much. However, I've seen the framerate buckle down in gameplay for a couple bosses in particular and just random moments during multiplayer, but that might've been connection related for the latter. Even if I don't inherently like Soul Sacrifice's grotesque art direction, or "metal" style as some might define it, I did find myself respecting it the more I played. As mentioned previously, I think Librom's book presentation from menus to storytelling is creatively done. In addition, I like how the mind's eye, or the game's way of scanning the environment, enemies, and allies, conveys important information without deliberately telling you what is what despite using simple visual color filters. Also, in regards to battles I find myself appreciating the design for the bosses and regular enemies, which showcase several visual quirks and are rather faithful to the narrative lore written about them. If dissected technically I don't think Soul Sacrifice will impress most graphical enthusiasts, even on the vita's lovely screen, but I think it gets by with the interesting aspects of its presentation and art design. The soundtrack of Soul Sacrifice is excellent and has established videogame composer Yasunori Mitsuda at the helm, which some may recognize for his work in titles like: Chrono Trigger/Cross, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Shadow Hearts 1/2. Fitting for Soul Sacrifice, the musical compositions are dense with powerful foreboding orchestral compositions for battles to more somber and melancholic arrangements in the story sequences. The voice acting is less impressive however, with what feels like a stilted delivery for both English and Japanese, even considering the game's oppressive and dreary atmosphere. The voice work is by no means bad at the end of the day, but it is very underwhelming in terms of what the great audio the soundtrack establishes. After investing a surprising amount of time into Soul Sacrifice, I can safely say it is an interesting game to say the least. While it is tempting to label Soul Sacrifice as a dark Monster Hunter clone without any real insight, it offers a lot more than that and more than differentiates itself from the crowd. Soul Sacrifice weaves a surprisingly elaborate setting that carries over from gameplay to its storytelling devices, which most of the hunting subgenre can't honestly claim to have. Soul Sacrifice is also punctuated by fast-paced and rewarding gameplay mechanics, a very distinct art direction, and an excellent musical score. Unfortunately, it does also fall into a few of the genre's traps in regards to uninspired/repetitive quest design and enjoyment that is best served with a group in multiplayer; Also for the main story it does have it is not as realized as the intriguing written lore that sets it up. Regardless, even if Soul Sacrifice isn't likely the vita's system savior for most people, for those who really sit down and play the game they might easily find themselves something far more enjoyable than a certain other monster slaying juggernaut-- I know I did. Pros: + Creative setting that is realized in interesting ways from gameplay to storytelling + Tons of useable abilities and skills + Intriguing background narrative lore + Excellent soundtrack + Fun online multiplayer with clever additions Cons: - Repetitive quest design with little variety, more glaring in single player - Main story is a bit predictable and heavy-handed with its themes - Occasional visual stutters and framerate drops - Poor single-player ally A.I. Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good For an action-rpg subgenre that is so very stagnant, Soul Sacrifice manages to breath a surprisingly amount of life into it with the creative use of its setting and gameplay.
  2. Code of Princess is an action RPG for the 3DS system developed by Agatsuma Entertainment and published by Atlus, and is considered a spiritual successor to the Sega Saturn game Guardian Heroes. I received the game today and played it for a while, and here's what I think so far. The story starts out pretty standard RPG fare - men and monsters have lived separately in peace and never really bothered each other, until one day for some (as yet unexplained) reason the monsters decide to wage war against the humans. Cities are in panic, armies are falling, etc. etc...you've heard it all before. As monsters are attacking the kingdom of Deluxia, the king commands his daugher, the Princess Solange Blanchfluer De Lux, to take the legendary sword Deluxcalibur and escape the castle. As it turns out, monsters aren't the only problem - a group known as the Distron Army is out to find Deluxcalibur for their own purposes. Being an Atlus RPG, the story is told through still-portrait dialogue and text, most of which is voiced, but not all. The writing is good so far, and has the usual dash of humor you'd expect from an Atlus translation, like two characters named Emble and Semble who can't remember which one of them is which.The characters all have different personalities, and they're all fairly likeable, from the Princess herself to her first companion, a female thief named Ali, to the gloomy necromancer/zombie Zozo, who, despite being made of "spare" body parts, claims she is not a zombie. All the characters you meet in the first hour or so, hero or villain, all have some defining feature that sets them apart from each other, and in some cases, sets them apart from most other typical RPG characters. As for the overall look and feel of the game, the graphics are nice, with large, detailed sprites and nicely drawn character portraits. The character designs so far are pretty typical of RPGs, but they're still nice to look at. The sound, meanwhile, took a backseat to the action most of the time. The voice-over work is done well for the most part, and the sound effects do their job, but the music doesn't really stand out. During dialogue and menus was the only time I really heard the music, in battles it may as well have not been there because it was subdued by my concentration on what was happening on screen. So how does the game actually play? Well, at it's core, the game is a 2D beat 'em up with RPG elements. You choose your character, choose some equipment that affects your stats, and jump into arena-style battles against several opponents. I say arena style, but some of the levels are fairly open, but it's not the same type of beat 'em up as say, Final Fight where you travel through long levels. You perform attacks with A and B and can mix them up for combos, and L or R block incoming attacks. Pressing the Y button performs an attack that, if it connects, will lock you on to that opponent, and opponents you're locked on to take extra damage. Pressing X puts you in Burst mode, which is standard "overdrive" mode where your attacks do more damage, and sometimes your equipment gives Burst mode other effects such as healing. Each stage has three "planes" that you can jump between, meaning you can jump to the foreground or background of the stage, or in the middle. The only real advantage to this is escaping enemy attacks, since enemies sometimes take a second to follow you, which gives a bit of breathing room, because there will often be a large number of enemies. Sometimes this many, sometimes more than this many. Which brings me to my one gripe about this game so far - the more action happening on the screen, the slower the game moves. There are framerate troubles abound, which really takes away from what would have benefited from being fast-paced experience. It's worse with the 3D slider turned up, but, fortunately, the 3D effect doesn't really add anything to the game, so you'd do better to play with the slider as low as possible. It's not enough to break the deal, mind, but it definitely hinders the overall experience somewhat. Getting back to the topic at hand though, once you finish a brawl, your selected character is awarded XP points, and leveling up allows you to boost your characters stats - the usual stuff, HP, MP (used for special attacks, which are done via fighting game-style button combinations) defense and so on. You're also awarded new equipment, which changes your stats in various ways, or simply provides extra benefits like defense against fire or added effects to your Burst mode. If you spend a lot of time with one character and level him or her up constantly, then decide to switch, you may find your new chosen character isn't strong enough, and that's where free play mode comes in. It's pretty much what it sounds like - play any level you've already cleared, with any character. There are also multiplayer modes, versus and co-op, neither of which I've tried or probably will try. All in all, Code of Princess is a fun game so far, one only hindered by some framerate issues that don't ruin the game, but certainly detract from it. But I've had a lot of fun with it so far, and I can see myself spending some quality time with it. If you've been on the fence about buying this game, I hope my impressions will help you reach a conclusion.
  3. barrel

    2013 05 14 215033

    From the album: Soul Sacrifice

  4. barrel

    2013 05 10 150058

    From the album: Soul Sacrifice

  5. barrel

    soul sacrifice 27

    From the album: Soul Sacrifice

    © http://cdn2.dualshockers.com

  6. barrel

    2013 05 10 215235

    From the album: Soul Sacrifice

    © Screenshot 'stolen' from GP member Wildcard

  7. barrel

    2013 05 06 205227

    From the album: Soul Sacrifice

    © Screenshot 'stolen' from GP member Wildcard

  8. barrel

    2013 04 25 194100

    From the album: Soul Sacrifice

    © Screenshot 'stolen' from GP member Wildcard

  9. barrel

    2013 04 23 202440

    From the album: Soul Sacrifice

    © Screenshot 'stolen' from GP member Wildcard

  10. From the album: Soul Sacrifice

    © http://17f0418678386b4e6860-e4f9fcd924b589d19bf6ccc2802ea9aa.r66.cf1.rackcdn.com

  11. Developer: Imageepoch Publisher: NIS America Platform: PSP/Vita Release Date: April 23, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A download code was supplied by the publisher for this review As an aficionado of odd Japanese game titles, I have often been able to keenly guess at which games are likely to never see an overseas release. A simple glance at something like Black Rock Shooter: The Game on the seemingly forgotten PSP platform definitely seems like an easy example in this regard. One of several varying adaptations of the Black Rock Shooter franchise in Japan, from anime, manga, and in this example, videogames, it's a series that kicked-off in Japan based on concept art from a Hatsune Miku (very popular vocaloid software in Japan) rendition of the popular Japanese song: Black Rock Shooter. Chances are, if you aren't knee-deep in Japanese anime media then that made absolutely no sense to you, further proving my point. However, despite an unsteady release timeframe, NIS America has finally brought over this obscure PSP title for an overseas audience. Does Black Rock Shooter: The Game shine brightly or is it a faint blue ember? In the year 2032, mankind faces the brink of annihilation after a continuously losing battle with a mysterious alien invasion. The twelve remaining humans make a last stand and forcefully awaken a female humanoid weapon by the name of Black Rock Shooter to fight at their side. It is up to the young girl (her name shortened to BRS), to more or less single-handedly push back to alien invasion and keep humanity alive. Despite what sounds like a somewhat generic apocalyptic premise, the narrative is actually a little bit more interesting than it leads on to be early in. Storytelling gets surprisingly dark and there is some intrigue hidden as it progresses. Still, the delivery isn't particularly good, and certainly has some pacing issues like the main game. The main game is straightforward and broken up between various stages with separate missions to complete. Usually it has BRS go from point A to B while killing monsters in between, with the exception of the occasional motorcycle mission. This makes BRS feel mostly familiar from start to finish with very few exceptions, for better or worse. Combat is probably one of the game's strongest points. It is a pseudo real-time action RPG which has the player attack, dodge, and block based on enemy attack patterns. Timing is pretty crucial for evading attacks in particular and I would maybe draw a comparison to something like Punch-Out!!, but with a bit more depth. It takes some time to show its colors but as BRS acquires more abilities to play with as she levels-up it can have an engaging flow. At its best, some of the game's bosses show off some pretty varied tactics and combat skills. But at its worst, the frequency of normal encounters don't hesitate to recycle enemy types, and aren't nearly as varied. Outside of the main story missions, there are other missions to play through. 'Free missions' allow players to obtain unlockables like art, music, and the ability to rewatch in-game cutscenes while serving as an alternate means to level-up. Upon completing the game the 1st time, it also unlocks even more missions. These new missions can help progress towards an alternate ending as well as allowing much more challenging missions. Black Rock Shooter's main campaign isn't particularly long, and can take less than 10 hours to complete, but players can probably be held over by trying to gather optional content for a fair bit longer. Visual presentation of BRS is pretty unimpressive and I don't think it would be too far off to compare it to stuff I've seen back on the PS1. While the 3D character models aren't exactly terrible, animations arguable, some of the environments kind of are, with some of the worst examples appearing later on in the game. In terms of audio, BRS actually has some solid musical tracks with some catchy techno battle themes in particular. In terms of voice acting there is only the Japanese dub to work with, which is understandable. Despite having some Japanese VA's I like, none of them really seem to stand out, which probably goes hand in hand with how the story is paced. Unlike the unkind words I would use to describe different BRS's independent adaptations, like the anime, I didn't regret my time with Black Rock Shooter:The Game. Aside from certain character's disregard of clothing (BRS), it doesn't really offend and does some interesting stuff as a game. Storytelling plays somewhat intriguing but underutilized themes and the combat does have its fun highlights. Honestly, with better pacing and variety for both combat and storytelling, I think the experience could've easily been more noteworthy. Still, because of a very much samey feel throughout, I can't really think of too many reasons to recommend Black Rock Shooter: The Game to many others who didn't already have their fiery gaze upon this title Pros: + Unique real-time battle system that shines in certain boss fights + Various unlockables and extra content + Some solid musical tracks Cons: - Lackluster presentation, especially for environments - Standard battles and enemies will quickly become routine - Relatively short main game overall, lasting under 10hrs - Black Rock Shooter really should dress more conservatively... Overall Score: 6.0 (out of 10) Decent ImageEpoch created a solid template with the Black Shooter Licence, but in terms of actual execution it doesn't make for a very memorable action-rpg to recommend by itself.
  12. barrel

    Black Rock Shooter The Game 18

    From the album: Black Rock Shooter: The Game

    © http://cdn.atmaxplorer.com

  13. barrel

    Black Rock Shooter The Game 07

    From the album: Black Rock Shooter: The Game

    © http://cdn.atmaxplorer.com

  14. barrel

    The Last Story Screenshot

    From the album: Barrel's storage of pics

    © http://www.dualshockers.com