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  1. Developer: Compile Heart/Sting Publisher: Idea Factory International Platforms: PS Vita Release Date:February 24, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen I am pretty sure new Hyperdimension Neptunia games and spin-offs have become something of a semiannual (or more) tradition. There have been three PS3 games, three Re;Birth remakes of those same games on Vita, multiple upcoming as well as older spin-offs like Hyperdimension: Producing Perfection, and now a newly announced sequel to Hyperdimension Victory called Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory II within the span of five years. Except, Hyperdimension V (or Victory) wasn't the fifth game, it's actually the third main entry, so I guess the sequel would be the fourth main entry? Frankly, it's confusing to everyone but hyper-devoted fans. But, I gave up on following the chronology ages ago, and apparently developer Compile Heart did too since they constantly re-write their own fiction. What I do know is that Compile Heart has decided to give the (2nd best) "GamIndustri Goddess", Noire, her own video game based on pure popularity alone. Not just her own game, but a completely different turn-based strategy-RPG by the name of Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart. Far more interesting to me, however, is that this title was developed by Sting. Sting was the developer behind enigmatic SRPGs like Knights in the Nightmare, Yggdra Union, Generation of Chaos: Pandora's Reflection, and the admittedly far less crazy mechanically, Gungnir. Should both Hyperdimension Neptunia fans as well as those of SRPGs unite under Noire's banner or should it be the Lastation for future spin-offs? The basic preface is that the four nations of Gamindustri are in constant conflict because the goddesses ruling each one wants to spread their influence. The tsundere goddess of Lastation, Noire, attempts to seek a peaceful solution to these battles despite having the upper hand in both power and shares (aka influence). Unfortunately for her, and the rest of Gamindustri, she is inadvertently manipulated by Arfoire, the baddie bad of like every Neptunia title ever, by reducing Gamindustri into a decaying state and destroying the goddesses's power along with it. So, Noire sets off to regain her shares, as well as her former generals, to restore Gamindustri while also trying to stop Arfoire's ambitions. And that is kind of the setup for the entire game. I am missing a nuance or two about a very awkward player insert character [assumed to be male], and how he kind of helps Noire (but not really), but it is so bad that it is not even worth talking about except in a gameplay context. Like most Neptunia releases, you will get more millage out of the occasionally funny dialogue quips than anything else. Certain people may also get a kick out of the shameless video game themed generals as well, which reference known series like Metal Gear Solid and Street Fighter to far more obscure stuff like Sakura Wars and Little Queen Snow. Otherwise, beyond conceptual jokes, I found the actual characters and storytelling around them to be rather shallow, and the self-aware nature of its setting does not really save its overly bloated, and poorly-told script (despite its solid localization). That, and the flagrant "fanservice" scenes that seem to really push the T rating at times. Bad storytelling aside, however, Hyperdevotion Noire is a surprisingly competent strategy-RPG. So much so, I may be (more than) willing to argue that it is better than any other title in the series on gameplay alone. Sting is known to make unnecessary obtuse strategy-RPGs. For example, Yggdra Union alone had a strength/weakness list that would make even Pokemon's look simple and intuitive, and Knights in the Nightmare had tutorials that could take literal hours to comprehend. Yet, Hyperdevotion Noire was clearly made for fans who are not well-versed in SRPGs, but it is also distinct and polished enough that it could interest Strategy-RPG fans too. As with a lot of Strategy-RPGs, combat is turn-based and takes place on a grid. Mechanically speaking, it actually reminds me of Level-5's PSP SRPG, Jeanne D'Arc, a fair bit. Both are simple, straightforward SRPGs (and heavy-handed with tutorials) but also share similar gameplay systems, like slotting elemental attributes to characters or key story characters having powered-up forms. One of Hyperdervotion's strengths is how much it tries to change it up during most main story missions despite its lack of mechanical depth. There are plenty of varying scenarios, such as unique, trap laden environments, different objectives, or perhaps having the player navigate the terrain in a different way. Unsurprisingly, not all of the themes successful, and there are a few too many maps that want you to toss boxes/crates around to reach higher ground (which can be rather annoying since some characters can throw significantly further than others). While main story missions may work to your disadvantage, most gameplay mechanics are not. Hyperdimension Nepunia MK2's lily rank system makes a return (which might as well be re-named to "yuri rank" because of its lack of subtlety in this game) and is significantly to the player's advantage. It is loosely similar to Fire Emblem: Awakening's support system where you get passive bonuses when you place allies next to each other and also unlock more character-specific cutscenes if you do it enough. Far more important, however, is that it strengthens attacks, cheapens Special Move cost, as well lowering Lily point usage (if not eliminating the cost entirely) which pertains to really powerful, flashy abilities mid-battle. Even if the player were to fall during battle the game is pretty generous in allowing you to re-deploy allies, retrying maps while keeping whatever experience you gained, or lowering the difficulty altogether. However, the are a few instances where even such perks are not particularly helpful, for example, the huge level gap during the last two chapters or maps that more or less require specific characters to save a lot of time. Outside of combat, there is "Sim Noire," which sort of doubles as a reward for buying items in shops while also supporting the idea of Noire as a leader. Noire will answer (or not answer) multiple choice requests from Lastation denizens each chapter, and generally the context of each request is rather ridiculous. Just the same, Noire will transition from rags to riches based on "Amazoo.nep" reward points you get from buying stuff from item shops. Even if neither aspect amounts to much functionally, beyond very specific ending requirements, it is a neat little touch to the setting. That said, these systems do unfortunately give the player insert character more screen time with its cliche, romantic interest undertones. I am not even beholden to the source material, but the "secretary" (aka player insert character) just feels out of place since he doesn't even have a character portrait. Speaking of cutting corners, Hyperdevotion is also no stranger to re-using familiar art assets for story scenes and audio too. Despite being well-drawn, the series has been more are less using the same character portraits since the first PS3 release. Same deal with the soundtrack, which is still being recycled with some barely noticeable alterations to certain tracks from earlier games... which, honestly, were never particularly good. In the matter of fairness, the actual SRPG gameplay doesn't do the same, thankfully. There is a lot of personality in the midst of the actual combat with the special attack animations, in particular. Many of the "general" characters have a lot of visual fanfare of their respective parody. The Final Fantasy-themed character Ein unapologetically summons Bahamut or the conceptual Pac-Man character, Lady Wac, literally devours enemies with her skills. It isn't technically flawless, since slowdown does occur time to time on certain bigger maps, or areas with lots of enemies, but it is generally negligible otherwise during actual gameplay. After the not-so-great spin-off release of Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection, Sting significantly raises the series' bar for would-be spin-offs. This title is by no means Sting's best SRPG outing, but for a game that has no real right to manage being decent, it manages to achieve just that. And—for a handheld system that has very few Strategy-RPG offerings beyond great Disgaea 3 & 4 ports—you could do far worse than playing Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart for an acceptable, though noticeably flawed, SRPG and Hyperdimension Neptunia fix. Pros: + Decent amount of variety in main mission design + Easy to learn SRPG systems with convenient gameplay options + Occasionally funny dialogue and video game themed character designs Cons: - Wholly uninteresting storytelling and completely shallow characters - Recycled music that wasn't particularly good to begin with... - Certain map themes are rather hit and miss - Some general slowdown for certain levels Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent While it is no means Sting's best Strategy-RPG outing, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart brings a much higher grade of spin-off to the current series' standard that it could pique the interest of both Hyperdimension Neptunia and SRPG fans despite its noticeable flaws. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  2. Many fans are already aware that LEGO Jurassic World is the next LEGO game on the dock from TT Games, set to coincide with the upcoming blockbuster movie of the same name (minus the LEGO part). Today, Warner Bros. revealed a first look trailer which reveals what we can expect to see in the game. Surprisingly, the trailer is light on actual content from Jurassic World and instead reveals a fairly surprising element: the gameplay actually spans the entire four movies in the series rather than just the new film. You'll play such characters as Alan Grant, Ian Malcom, and more as you make your way through some of the films' most classic moments (the T-Rex chase, raptors in the compound, etc.), and it will all be tied to the movies' voice track and music as well. While the game will take you to several of the different islands (such as Isla Nubar and Isla Sorna), it's unclear whether each will have an open-world element to them such as previous LEGO games have. Either way, with four movies to cover, LEGO Jurassic World is bound to have a ton of content to play through. LEGO Jurassic World is slated for release on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Wii U, 3DS, PS Vita, and PC this June. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsCO_h8qVpQ Source: Press Release Are you looking forward to LEGO Jurassic World?
  3. In a strange move for PlayStation, the March PlayStation Plus free games were announced today, the actual day of their debut as opposed to a week before when they are usually announced. Still, there is a bevy of excellent titles available for download this month, and they include the following: Abe's Oddysee—New 'n' Tasty! (PS4) Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS4) Papo & Yo (PS3) Sherlock Holmes: Crime and Punishment (PS3) OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood (PS Vita, PS4) CounterSpy (PS Vita, PS4, PS3) Some of the big standouts include Valiant Hearts, which was a Game of the Year contender on many sites in 2014; Papo & Yo, a poignant yet heartfelt game about a boy using escapism as a means of dealing with his father's alcohol addiction and abusive nature; and Sherlock Holmes: Crime and Punishment, an investigation game in the Sherlock Holmes series of games by Frogwares which released in the latter half of last year. Abe's Oddysee—New 'n' Tasty was also very well-received by our own Marcus Estrada in his review, and OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood represents the debut of the title, being one of the few PS Plus games to debut with its release. Source: PlayStation Blog What do you think of the March PlayStation Plus lineup?
  4. Shovel Knight was one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed games to come out in 2014 (especially in our own review)—even going so far as to win Best Indie Game at The Game Awards 2014—but Yacht Club Games isn't quite finished with the title just yet. Today, the developer announced the first of a few special modes that will be coming to the game courtesy of reaching certain Kickstarter stretch goals in 2013. The first of these is a brand new campaign called Plague of Shadows, starring a playable Plague Knight; one of the villainous knights of The Order of No Quarter. In this story, Plague Knight is looking to concoct Serum Supernus, the Ultimate Potion, but to retrieve the ingredients he must turn on his former allies (the aforementioned Order of No Quarter) in order to extract them. Yacht Club mentions that this new campaign will feature a new play style, new story, new bosses, and more. It will also, of course, be free to everyone who has bought the game. They also mentioned that the first playable demo for Plague of Shadows will make its debut at PAX East coming up, so you can expect to hear more about gameplay specifics very soon. As mentioned before, this is only the first of several downloadable extras Yacht Club is working on as part of their achieved Kickstarter stretch goals; others include a gender-swap mode, challenge mode, 4-player boss fight mode with all bosses playable, and at least two more playable bosses with their own campaigns and stories (but presumably using the same levels). Also, Shovel Knight for PS3, PS4, and PS Vita finally has a release date of April 21, which will also be a part of Sony's Spring Fever sales event on PSN. Additionally, the game will be Cross-Save and Cross-Buy and will take advantage of PS4 and Vita's different features (such as the light bar and Vita's touch pad). And, as announced previously, Kratos will make a special appearance exclusively in this version as well. Regardless of whether or not you already have the game or will be experiencing it for the first time on PlayStation platforms, one thing is for certain—it's definitely a good time to be a Shovel Knight fan. Source: Yacht Club Games Are you excited to play Plague of Shadows and/or the main game on PlayStation platforms?
  5. Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, Felistella Publisher: Idea Factory International Platform: PlayStation Vita Release Date: January 27, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen With a name that surely sounds like a K-pop band, Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation arrives to follow up last year“s Re;Birth1. Like the latter-mentioned title, this game is a remake, this time of Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 (which first appeared on the PlayStation 3). Also, like before, this game is a cacophony of video game references and tongue-in-cheek humor the likes of which few other games can make work. I mean, where else can you fight “Anannymouse” alongside personifications of your favorite Japanese game developers? But as much as the song remains the same, some things are a bit different. Neptune and our favorite CPUs are finally playing nice, and then they up and disappear. Three years pass and the land of Gameindustri falls into the grips of widespread piracy. To combat this threat of the impending collapse of Gameindustri, the CPU candidates—younger sisters of the CPUs—must face this crisis and save their older siblings from a terrible fate. Oh. I guess that“s why it“s called Sisters Generation. Don“t mind me, I just put that together. Again, Sisters Generation comes hot on the heels of Re;Birth1 (about six months so, in fact) so expect there to be a lot of similarities between the two. The Remake System, combat, Lily System, and basically every gameplay element is carried over with little to no change. In fact, the largest change is the ability to have four party members instead of three. I could totally bring up that old adage, “If it ain“t broke, don“t fix it,” but the fact is players who have recently completed Re;Birth1 may find themselves yawning at the lack of changes in the mix. That“s not to say there isn“t change though. The game does explain some of the games mechanics more thoroughly, like the Lily System—which I made a point to mention how poorly it was explained in Re;Birth1. Then there“s Stella“s Dungeon, an automated text RPG side-game where you can send Stella and her cat Felis into dungeons to gather equipment and the occasional custom chip and monster item required for quests and the Remake System. Doing so is completely optional, but since you literally have nothing to lose and everything (including a pair of shiny PSN trophies) to gain, why not? It won“t make or break anyone“s opinion of the game but it“s a pretty nifty new feature. Plenty of other elements like setting and story are all new, though, including plenty of deviations in story from Mk2. The new locations are pretty gorgeous, and while you do head back to the same dungeon a few times during the story, it“s a welcome change over having multiple dungeons with the same designs, another complain of mine from Re;Birth1. Like the previous game, the pacing loves to parse out the mechanics, continually adding new stuff to play around with to keep you interested and combat fresh. Just as before, though, since not much is really new, this can make playing Re;Birth2 shortly after the first feel like you“re really dragging your feet. It really makes me feel like the six month gap between games is making some of the better features of the first game feel like a double edged sword here. Just as with the case of the Lily System though, a few things are explained far better this time around. C-Skills and F-Skills (Coupling and Formation Skills respectively) are given more than a passing mention, allowing the player to get a much better idea of how to get the most out of combat by being mindful of party selection and paired characters. And like I mentioned before, you can now have a total of four of Gameindustri“s finest femme fatales fighting at once, which gives you even more options for taking down the flat-footed jagaloons and underlings that pollute the fair land of Gameindustri. Speaking of polluting… there“s one thing about this game that even I can“t ignore. It… well…you“ll just have to come to your own conclusion on the issue. You see, it“s no secret most of the CPU candidates are very similar to late middle school/early high school age. It“s pretty common for stuff coming out of Japan, so no surprise there. But a pair of them, Ram and Rom, the twin CPU candidates out of Lowee are much younger; in fact, they are often treated as grade-schoolers, if even that. This isn“t so bad since the game manages to keep them out of most of the risque humor—that is, until the antagonist CFW Trick comes along. Basically, everything regarding the interactions between him and the two youngest CPU candidates is easily as inappropriate as the multitude of phallic objects in The Little Mermaid, but Trick will do one better (read: worse). I“ve been assured that his dialogue has been toned down quite a bit, and there is plenty of vocal opposition to his... infatuation with the Lowee CPU candidates, even by other villains. Even so, the creepy vibes still exist so consider yourself warned. Thankfully, everything else is hardly worse than anything you“d find in yuri anime, but there will be no judgement on my end if you wish to stay away. If you“re still with me though, then I think you“ll find something worth playing here; the best of Re;Birth1 is back. The combat system is still impressive and makes fights fun, while still giving players plenty of options and customization. The Remake system returns, with plenty of ways to enhance gameplay by creating weapons and items, or even by changing entire dungeons around. And lastly, the trademark humor the Neptunia franchise is known for—combined with wonderful voice acting—easily shows off why these games have the ever expanding fan base that they do. I only wish that Idea Factory International would space these games out a tad bit more! Pros: + Combat is fun and interesting + Humor is off the charts, complemented by a great localization + More attention is given to elements only glossed over in the previous installment Cons: - Few changes to this game from the first - Slowly unlocking the mechanics of the game can be a chore for returning players - CFW Trick Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Sisters Generation makes (too) few changes to the formula but manages to remain a fun and witty stand out title for Vita owners. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  6. Developer: Nippon Ichi Software Publisher: NIS America Platforms: PS Vita, PS TV Release Date:February 24, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen Lumen and Umbra. Polarities such as these help illuminate the primary themes for Vita's newest puzzle-focused exclusive: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary. It is a creative concept brought to light by a designer behind the popular strategy-RPG series Disgaea and it attempts to make its deceptively dark presence known on the often overlooked Sony handheld hardware. Whether this chronicle actually deserves to be written upon anyone“s Vita system, however, is another story. The adventure has very little in the way of direct exposition. The young girl Mion wakes up in what seems like some sort of dark underground facility and shortly thereafter encounters two fireflies. These two fireflies: a green one referred to as Lumen; and also the purple firefly, Umbra, who presides in Mion's shadow; both attempt to help guide the strangely obedient Mion through these unknown depths. Both fireflies are the crux of its puzzle-focused gameplay with its light platformer elements in-between. Lumen very directly guides Mion where to go and is controlled via touchscreen in the foreground, while Umbra is controlled by the Vita's back touchpad, and moves about from shadow to shadow in the background. You control both separately depending on the circumstance to navigate the terrain in a mostly linear fashion. For example, you may use Lumen to direct Mion to climb ladders or push boxes/switches, while Umbra can trigger normally inaccessible objects from afar when moving between various shadows. Beyond light and dark comparisons, disparities is a recurring theme in almost every facet of the title, even down its aesthetic. The visuals will probably seem cute and innocent despite the bleak setting. Well, until you see Mion mangled by shadow monsters, sliced by saws, accidentally hit by boulders, incinerated by flames, or fall to her death. While the visuals do tend to cut out just before it gets into gory territory, the implied imagery in The Firefly Diary is definitely much more unsettling than it leads on to be from a first glance. Yet, it is for that reason that the presentation manages to be so distinct, because it balances two such different tones with one captivating 2D style. Even if, unfortunately for Mion, it feels like everything in the world is out to kill her, and it frankly shall—many times. If it wasn't obvious already, HtoL#NiQ is a very, very difficult game. No, really, I don“t think you fully understand. I had a PSN trophy congratulating me on dying one hundred times less than halfway through the main campaign. I dare not think about my total death count by the time I finished it. Of course, higher difficulty is not inherently bad, and the Vita is no stranger to challenging titles like Dokuro, or plenty of other ports like with 1001 Spikes. Problem is, HtoL#NiQ is not as good as either of those as a game and it is difficult for all of the wrong reasons, and this is made more obvious in regards to its cheap level-design and disjointed control scheme. Puzzles and platforming situations have brief bits of novelty with their occasional variety in theme but are quite frustrating in execution. It's not even that the puzzles themselves are tricky, they are either completely obvious or feel kind of random. But, what makes the gameplay go from middling to awful at times is the awkward, unwieldy controls and the incredibly strict trial-and-error design that just doesn't work with it. Difficult games tend to work when the controls are spot-on and there is skillful level-design around it, but this title has neither. On the most basic level, there is simply a jarring slowness/lack of responsiveness to moving Lumen around and having Mion (very slowly) follow behind to the gameplay that becomes increasingly more apparent over time, and will be the source of most player deaths. That, and inconsistent boss fights and the generally unfair feeling level design. Some of the most egregious examples of level design are probably two repeating segments that are almost guaranteed leave most players stuck. The first offensive portion is when you control only Lumen after being separated from Mion. However, Lumen cannot touch anything without dying during these segments, including walls. The already questionable responsiveness and the level's obnoxious automatic screen-scrolling is bad enough, but your own hand can easily obscure navigation in these segments as well if playing via touchscreen. The second is that for nearly an entire chapter later of the game, in which there are four of (five if we include "True End" content), the title completely reverses the controls (for no real rhyme or reason behind it) for what is an already difficult part. If it weren't for the somewhat frequent checkpoints these parts would be near unmanageable. Even if you were smart enough to choose one of the different control schemes (one centered around using the analog), and certain portions were less glaring, I don't think htoL#NiQ is compelling enough on its own as a game. As stated before, most puzzles don't feel smart or satisfying, they are just strict trial and error based that love to toss at least one unfair gimmick before reaching the next checkpoint. And, for whatever narrative intrigue that is hidden through out-of-the-way unlocks, or rather "memories", it is not really worth the hassle of repeating certain levels just to see the true ending when playing through them once is already too much. Honestly, there isn't a whole lot that is worthwhile in htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary aside from those starving to try something that looks different. Whatever interest it piques through its captivating presentation and dark setting it botches it nearly every step of the way with its incredibly poor control scheme and frustrating, unsatisfying level design. I can respect that Nippon Ichi wanted to try something beyond their over-the-top RPG comfort zone, and it feels like they were on the right track, but perhaps with more controlled guidance lighting htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary's way, it would've been much better for it. Pros: + Captivating setting that mixes both cute and disturbing + Light and dark fireflies lend themselves to interesting puzzle mechanics Cons: - Extremely clumsy, unwieldy controls for touchscreen in particular - Infuriating level design/bosses that generally feel cheap - Way too many hurdles required to unlock the "True End" - Mion moves and reacts really slow… Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10) Below Average Whatever intrigue that is built up from htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary's captivating setting and visual style are completely lost due to its frustrating controls, cheap level design/bosses, and generally unsatisfying gameplay. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  7. NISA has announced their latest title that they're bringing to the West; this time a dungeon crawler RPG called Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy. If the art style looks familiar to you, that's because it's from the same studio who made last year's Demon Gaze. Operation Abyss is set in a near future Tokyo where the city is under threat from genetically-engineered monsters called Variants, as well as the appearance of portals leading to a dimension called the Abyss. Due to these events, the government has commissioned the Xth Squad—a team of technologically-modified teens—to confront the monsters and investigate the mystery behind the Abyss. As the player, you'll recruit and train a group of six Xth members, customizing each one's appearance, class, personality, and morality to your preference. The laybrinthine dungeons themselves are said to offer over 40+ hours of dungeon-crawling gameplay and feature traps, secret doors, challenging enemies, and more. Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy will be coming to the PS Vita via retail and digital download on April 14 in North America, and then on April 17 in Europe. Check out the game's first trailer below. Source: Press Release Are you interested in checking this out?
  8. XSEED has announced that Nihon Falcom's dungeon-crawling, action RPG Brandish: The Dark Revenant is heading to PSP and PlayStation Vita via the PlayStation Store next week. A remake of the very first Brandish game, The Dark Revenant features a "world-turning" mechanic in which the dungeon walls rotate around the player (in third-person view) as they walk around corners and such. Players will assume the role of Ares Toraernos as he makes his way through 40 floors of monsters, traps, and puzzles; all on the heels of a bounty hunter named Dela Delon, who intends to claim the bounty on Ares' head. In addition to recreated maps, puzzles, smoother gameplay, revamped boss battles, enhanced graphics, newly arranged music and more, The Dark Revenant also features additional content, where completing Ares' campaign unlocks an expert mode where you can play as Dela Delon and take on an additional 10 never-before-seen floors with tougher enemies, traps, and more. Brandish: The Dark Revenant will be available for digital download for $19.99 on January 13 for the PSP and PS Vita in North America. Source: Press Release Are you interested in playing this Brandish remake?
  9. Developer: Gust Corportaion Publisher: Tecmo Koei Platforms: PS Vita and PS3 Release Date: June 24, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the Vita version of the game As the resident Atelier series expert here at GP, I“ve been asked multiple times to tell people which recent Atelier games (on PS3 and PS Vita) that they should check out. No matter how many times I“d phrase it, however, I“d have a hard time recommending Atelier Rorona. Why, you ask? Well, the original Atelier Rorona had a lot of problems. Not only in comparison to its sequels, which largely improved upon the gameplay, visuals, and even storytelling/characters, but it was also chock-full of annoying design decisions and it even had significant technical problems as well which made it quite difficult to recommend, even as a prerequisite towards its sequels. Still, after many sequels with lessons learned, Gust decided to revisit the first PS3 title in the series just four years later and attempted to significantly overhaul it with Atelier Rorona Plus. Does it prove to be a much-needed improvement or is it little more than lip-service? The title starts off with the young apprentice, Rorona, who takes on the responsibilities of running an alchemy workshop because her master is too lazy to keep it running. Because of this, Rorona is pressured by the royal council and the local townsfolk of Arland to fulfill various tasks for three years, otherwise the workshop will be forced to close down for good. It is a simple setup that more or less dictates the entire flow and has been left largely left untouched from the original release minus a few new character events and endings. In part and parcel with the setting, Rorona has to wisely manage her time through the use of alchemy while supplementing the means to do it with both light-hearted RPG exploration and combat. Every three months or so, the fan-favorite character knight, Sterk, assigns new objectives to Rorona in which requires her talents in some form. As a bare minimum she needs to complete at least the primary task, but there are other optional objectives to work towards in the meantime for overachievers who want additional rewards. No part of Atelier Rorona Plus is terribly complex on its own, but it is generally how it is woven together that makes it and the other entries stand from the traditional RPG crowd. For example, its primary focus on alchemy, or rather item crafting, is a crucial component to the structure and has a deceptive amount of depth to it. Rorona may be inherently encouraged to be a hermit to fulfill most tasks despite the game's bursts of exploration to obtain new materials or see new character events, but it manages to avoid the laborious trappings associated with item crafting because of the quick and rewarding nature of it. This also applies to battles and exploration, which generally go by fast as well and helps feed into the simple but effective overall gameplay loop of fulfilling various tasks for the local denizens. With that said, the original Atelier Rorona was actually quite an unforgiving title at the time. For those who weren't following a guide and maximizing their in-game time, they were under the constant pressure of a bad ending because of its strict deadlines that left little room to do anything else. Thankfully, that has changed as well as many other aspects and it is crazy how many of the minor annoyances and oddities from the original release have been ironed out. Everything from streamlining inventory for turning in quests, being able to skip cutscenes, choosing specific endings, or even simply having an MP bar opposed to HP being the primary resource for combat skills and alchemy. The original game was full of very odd and annoying problems like these, not to mention how it also liked to crash a lot too. Honestly, I could spend all day talking about mechanics or subtle interface changes and how much better this is compared to the original. At the same time, though, there is the rub, there are a lot of changes and improvements from the original release but very little that is unique from the sequels it mimics. It borrows Atelier Meruru's combat system and gameplay engine, Atelier Escha & Logy's main mission design, and general interface enhancements from recent entries. These are all good aspects on paper, and unquestionably makes for a much better game than the original overall, but for those that actually played those titles (like myself), it noticeably doesn't handle most of those aspects quite as well those other entries. A lot of Rorona Plus's problems for existing fans is its been there, done that feel of it all. This is primarily because it does not quite have the same finesse/spirit as the games it copies. As mentioned earlier, most of the main campaign has been left unchanged and it only reminded me of how much better character interactions/storytelling are handled in later games like Atelier Totori and Atelier Ayesha. It's the same deal with the gameplay, like how it generally copies Atelier Meruru's combat system for the most part, but isn't as flashy or fun; or even Atelier Escha & Logy's main mission design, but with less incentive or reward. With all of these constant comparisons running through my mind, I wasn't really thinking about how much they have improved this game but rather how much I'd rather play those other sequels, especially with Atelier Meruru Plus and Atelier Escha & Logy fresh in my mind. In the matter of fairness, what is new beyond interface/mechanical changes is its enhanced visuals/environments and a new post main story chapter. I know what you may be thinking—"The visuals are enhanced?"—and yes, they actually are. It does away with its originally bizarre chibi-ish character models with new models altogether that are more faithful to their in-game portraits. Also, the environments have been expanded, quite literally, from the original release which had very claustrophobic locales. Of course, the blunt truth of it all is that the visuals are still pretty underwhelming, in particular the environments, and even the character models aren't as good as later iterations, but it is a mostly appreciated refinement from its original release. Perhaps the most substantial addition is the new chapter called "Overtime", which occurs after completing the main story and extends in-game time by one year. The context for it is that the main protagonists from Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru accidentally go back in time and need help from Rorona to get them back to their present. Admittedly, this new chapter is mostly fanservice either for those who have played the later games or so advanced players can go crazy with item crafting in preparation for the tough superbosses/dungeons. In spite of that, it does have some neat new additions like a time capsule mechanic that utilizes save files from previous titles to get new items, and even a few new cutscenes that make the narrative transition between the sequel, Atelier Totori, more cohesive. In all honesty, this mode was probably the most fun part of the entire game since progression is much less funneled than with the main scenario. For as numerous as the changes that are in this version, Atelier Rorona Plus does not manage to completely escape the groundwork from its original release, for better or worse. It borrows a ton of elements from its sequels, and adds a few neat additions of its own, but rarely achieves complete parity or even tries to creatively surpass its later iterations. As a whole, Atelier Rorona Plus merely cements itself as the least desirable recent entry in the series. It's certainly better than it has ever been, and it works itself up to being decent overall, but the series has simply seen better. Pros: + Big improvements to the gameplay and interface over the original + Huge in-game soundtrack to draw from + “Overtime” mode has some neat additions Cons: - In-game visuals are still unimpressive overall - Combat, alchemy, and gameplay structure still aren“t quite as good as other recent iterations - Doesn“t do enough of an overhaul for those who have played the original game Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent A very significant refinement from the original release, but Atelier Rorona Plus ultimately pales in comparison to its other recent iterations as a game overall. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  10. Today, Idea Factory International announced that their next game, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart would be coming to North America and Europe on PlayStation Vita in early 2015. Although the title is slightly similar and yet different, Hyperdevotion Noire is a part of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series and serves as its very first SRPG. However, the world within is not set in Gamindustri (as is the case for Hyperdimension games) but features a new, separate world called Gamarket. In the story, CPUs of the four different nations are locked in a battle for supremacy, but a mysterious, unknown force robs the CPUs of their powers just as Noire is about to seize victory. The four CPUs must now unite Gamarket in order to stand against and defeat this new force. Adding to the turn-based gameplay is a "Sim Noire" mode where you'll be able to buy accessories, furniture, and more for Noire's home and have her go out with friends and such to build her social level as well. We'll have more on the game in the lead-up to its release early next game. Source: Press Release Are you interested in Hyperdevotion Noire and the fact that it will be an SRPG?
  11. Jason Clement

    PlayStation Plus Games for October Revealed

    Another month, another set of new PlayStation Plus Instant Games for subscribers to play. This month sees a few big games hitting the lineup, including one of the first big exclusives on PS Plus for PlayStation 4 owners. Here's what you can expect to download and play in October- PS4 Dust: An Elysian Tale (to read our official review, click here) Spelunky (Cross-buy) DriveClub PlayStation Plus Edition PS3 Batman: Arkham Asylum Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara PS Vita Pix the Cat (PSV/PS4) Rainbow Moon (PSV/PS3) (to read our official review, click here) It's worth noting that DriveClub PlayStation Plus Edition features unrestricted access both online and offline to 11 tracks of India and 10 cars for your garage, according to the PlayStation Blog. However, if you want all the content, you'll have to purchase the full game. Check out the video below for more info/footage on the games. http://youtu.be/nqJwE7_nIpY Source: PlayStation Blog Are you interested in any of the PlayStation Plus lineup for October? Which do you plan to play?
  12. Hey guys, for those of you looking forward to the awesome anime fighter, here's a new trailer they just released. There's still no word on other countries getting it, so let's hope we'll hear more about it soon! In the mean time, enjoy a trailer of your favorite anime character beating the crap out of each other...and Akira and Pai from Virtua Fighter.
  13. Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, Felistella Publisher: Idea Factory International Platform: PlayStation Vita Release Date: August 26, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen Some things are not meant to be taken seriously. This goes for pretty much any medium. Sure you have films like Citizen Kane, but then you also have stuff like Disney“s The Three Amigos. Then there“s basically anything with Channing Tatum in it. My point is you don“t have to be making a statement about the social or economic climate of a chippendales strip club in order to sell tickets. Sometimes a wafer thin plot and well oiled chests are enough. Not that there are any oiled chests in Hyperdimension Neptunia Re:Birth1 (though there are some close calls), a remake of the PlayStation 3 title Hyperdimension Neptunia, but the previous metaphor still applies. This isn“t the grand narrative usually synonymous with RPGs, but that doesn“t mean there isn“t something enjoyable about this hilarious take on the video game industry. So if you“re new here let me explain that last statement. The world within Neptunia is a literal representation of the world of video games. The world of Gameindustri houses four nations, each representing a heavy hitter in our own world. Leanbox (Xbox), Lastation (PlayStation), Lowee (Wii), and Planeptune (a take on a seventh generation Sega console, as if the company had survived the Dreamcast) are all locked in a struggle known to all as The Console Wars. Yep, it“s about as campy as you can imagine with references to not only each console“s individual quirks, but the world of Gameindustri seems to be populated with folk that represent a bunch of different developers. For instance, Falcom is a character in the game that sports a mop of Adol-like red hair and is obsessed with adventuring. Anyone who is invested as much in the world behind video games as much as they are in the games themselves will be chuckling ridiculously at the sight of enemies such as "Tokimeki Sister", a monster that is literally a floating screencap of a visual novel game that is an homage to Tokimeki Memorial, a Konami dating sim that came out in 1994. The references are literally everywhere, especially in Neptune's fourth-wall breaking antics. Though I absolutely adore the game's about-as-serious-as-a-hula-dancing-meerkat plot, that isn't the only thing I liked. Since the original's release, the game's combat and other in-game systems have been overhauled to resemble Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. Basic combat takes place in a small three-dimensional space, allowing you to move your characters to meet the enemy head on, retreat to a safe distance, or anything in between. This is further enhanced by the variety of combat options such as the EXE Drive, SP attacks, Lily Partner combination attacks and shared skills, and Hard Drive Divinity, a powerful transportation move available to certain characters. Even regular attacks are broken up into several categories that you can customize, swap, and use to exploit certain advantages in battle. It's anything but simple but by spacing out the introduction of some of these mechanics (some even up to the halfway point in the game!), it keeps from being too confusing while also ensuring combat remains fresh throughout the game. MAGES., a party member you recruit about halfway into the game, even has a completely different method of attack. Outside of battle there is still plenty of additions to this game. The "Remake System" allows you to craft new experiences within the game. Anything from unlocking optional dungeons to new weapons can be created using it. The Remake system even allows you to tune the difficulty a bit, a nice addition considering there is otherwise no difficulty options. Other options include a variety of repeatable side quests that raise and lower the "shares" between Gameindustri's major players, burning "discs" that allow you to further customize characters, and even events with bit characters that will usually yield more plans for the Remake System or useful tips. Basically there is really too much to this game to talk about it all at length, which is exactly why I haven't even tried! But all is not well in the land of Gameindustri. While there are plenty of things well worth praising, there are a few hang ups that keep the game from being even better. For one, level designs tend to repeat themselves often, especially when you partake in the optional dungeons as well. I'm not just talking about textures and objects that tend to populate multiple dungeons; I'm talking even the exact layouts and item/monster spawn placement of these dungeons are complete copy and pastes from other dungeons. It doesn't happen too often, but enough that it'll make you wonder if you clicked on the wrong dungeon from the overworld map, with only the difference in enemies to tip you off otherwise. Another bummer, at least to yours truly, is the overall lack of voice over. I certainly don't expect any game to be fully voiced, but this one is odd with less than half of the game's main story featuring voice overs for the characters. You can literally move from a voiced scene to a non-voiced scene without any real transition by the player. Frankly, it's a little jarring. Now, this is really only disappointing because I think the voice cast is pretty spot on. Players will definitely recognize most of the voice actors for the English dub, and players who don't care for English dubs can switch to the Japanese language track at any time from the menu too. Also, I'm not going to speculate on your personal line of decency, but yes, there is some fan service in this game. Thankfully it isn't overwhelming and occurs half as often as you'd expect, but you were warned. Personally, also had a hard time taking full advantage of the Lily system. This mechanic allows you to pair party members up, providing passive bonuses as well as exclusive attack options, provided their affection level is high enough. Sounds great right? Well, unfortunately I couldn't seem to figure out how to raise affection levels for my characters. Keeping certain members paired should do it from what I understand, but all through my time with the game the rank never seemed to go up. Not to mention there isn't any sort of visual indicator for when they might level up their affection. It's like tying these girls up at the ankle for a three-legged race, only they are blind and in the middle of some long-forgotten African mine field. You are very welcome for that visual, by the way. So what have we got so far? Funny, never serious story? Yep. Deep and involved combat that rewards strategic use of its features? Got that too! Well, there are a few more things to add to the pile. The music is equal parts kitschy and catchy... but in the best ways possible. These aren't "Journey" level songs by any means (Austin Wintory; not the "Loving, Touching, Squeezing" guys), but I will say every song suits Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 perfectly. The art is quite adorable too. Even without ties to real life references, each character's design stands out just like their respective personalities. There are even a few all new characters to replace those removed in this version of the game. All of Hyperdimension Neptunia's features made my time in Gameindustri an irreverent romp through a highly idealized world populated by wacky characters and campy dialogue. And honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. The flashy designs, immersive combat and pure hilarity made this game a joy to play. Even the lack of consistent voice-acting and other flaws couldn't ruin the experience for me. Heck, there's even enough changes to make Re;Birth1 seem like more of a reboot than a remake; something I think Acquire was aiming for from the start. So if you have a Vita and love you some RPG goodness, this comes as definitely recommended. I mean, most gamers are more than willing to wage the console wars on the eternal battlefield that is the internet, so why not do it where you can actually see results?! Pros: + Vibrant graphics look great on the Vita + Hilarious dialogue and premise + Combat stays fresh and interesting + Heaps of mechanics to play with Cons: - Repetitive dungeons designs - Not as many voiced scenes as I'd like - Lily system isn't quite user friendly Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great It's far from typical, but Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 is an energetic reboot that is sure to please with both its humor and overhauled mechanics. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.
  14. Steve Bitto

    $9.99 PSN Flash Sale this Weekend

    Sony is running another flash sale this weekend on the Playstation Network. This go around there are a number of Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita titles all for the low price of $9.99. Even included are "Ultimate Editions" of games like Bioshock 2 and Starhawk. The full list is shown below: BioShock Infinite (PS3) BioShock 2 Ultimate Edition (PS3) DmC Devil May Cry (PS3) Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires (PS3) Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two (PS Vita) God of War Collection (PS3) God of War Collection (PS Vita) Lost Planet 3 (PS3) Metro: Last Light (PS3) MX vs ATV Alive Ultimate Edition (PS3) PayDay 2 (PS3) Persona 4 Arena Ultimate Edition (PS3) Prototype 2 (PS3) Resident Evil: Revelations (PS3) Starhawk Ultimate Edition (PS3) Street Fighter x Tekken (PS Vita) Tales of Graces f (PS3) The Sly Collection (PS3) The Sly Collection (PS Vita) Wonderbook: Walking With Dinosaurs (PS3) XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PS3) Source: Playstation Blog Which of these games are too good to pass up at this price?
  15. barrel

    Review: Magical Beat

    Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Arc System Works USA Platform: PS Vita Release Date: June 17, 2014 ESRB: E for Everyone It is quite easy to view Arc System Works purely as the developer behind well-respected anime fighting games like Guilty Gear, Blazblue, and Persona 4 Arena and little else. That said, unknown to most of the world beyond Japanese arcades, a quirky puzzle/rhythm title by the name of Magical Beat managed to make its debut a couple years ago and was made by none other than Arc System Works themselves. With a recent port to Vita does this quirky puzzle/rhythm hybrid hold up well or does its pieces discordantly hit the floor? Much like the very brief tutorial directly says, Magical Beat is a very simple puzzle game. It“s a match-three or more of the same color kind of puzzle design, but the primary twist is that you need to drop the pieces in sync with the BPM (beats per minute) of a song. While the in-game tutorial says the goal is to destroy more beatons (colored puzzle pieces), the actual main gameplay focus is more akin to Puzzle Fighter where you really just want to make the other player“s life hell and have them mess up first. You not only want to create consecutive beaton chains to manage columns and score more points, but also to place jammers (grey blocks) on the opponent's grid to help them fail. The only way to clear jammers, which deliberately separate their beaton contemporaries, is by creating chains right next to them so they disappear. So, ideally, the better you get at chaining with the rhythm, the easier it is to ruin the opponent's day with jammers so you yourself don't have to deal with them as much. It is a very fast and fun back-and-forth puzzle dynamic that lends itself quite well to the portable system because of the general quickness of each skirmish. Unfortunately, Magical Beat is likely to be difficult for most players who do not carry over skill from somewhat similar titles like Puyo Puyo and Puzzle Fighter, like myself. It's one thing to adjust to the BPM rhythm and smartly place pieces quickly, but it's another when the A.I. goes through some outright insane difficulty spikes in later stages on normal mode, pretty much regardless of your skill level. Seriously, stages 9 and 10 on the normal difficulty in particular will have most people hitting "Continue" far more times than they are willing to admit. Thankfully, you only have to beat normal once to unlock all of the extra songs and characters, but, of course, beating it once is quite the ordeal. Despite its frustration and the very significant A.I. difficulty spikes present, it's worth putting up with it because of the engaging fast/fun gameplay, cute aesthetic, and catchy vocaloid soundtrack that complements it. Now before you have a knee-jerk reaction like you may normally have with a certain popular green-haired vocaloid, the soundtrack is far more consistent in Magical Beat. It is certainly strange to hear a light-hearted vocaloid track be interjected with dubstep seconds later (and it somehow isn't the worst thing in the world), but the very whimsical and varied jingles make it very bizarrely fun to listen to while playing. If you decide the vocaloids still aren't your jam, there is a fair amount of songs to draw from other Arc System Works titles: including Blazblue, Guilty Gear, XBlaze: Code Embryo, and even the obscure puzzle release 0-D Beat Drop, which have cool musical contributions as well. The most disappointing aspect of Magical Beat is its sparse selection of options and modes. There are only three difficulty modes (Beginner, Normal, and Hell Battle) and "My Own Battle" in which you personalize the A.I. difficulty and the song of your choice. Far more disappointing is that there is no online multiplayer, and only local ad-hoc, for a game that outright begs for human competition, especially after getting your spirit crushed by the demonic A.I. at times. Despite seemingly going out of its way to be overlooked with its stealthy release, Magical Beat proves itself as a fun hidden puzzle gem that is very worth checking out for puzzle fans on Vita. Its very few/limited modes and fiendish A.I. difficulty spikes do detract from it being an entirely safe recommendation, but overall, for those who would like to try an entertaining and clever musical spin on the puzzle genre would do well to check it out. Pros: + Fast-paced puzzle gameplay with a very fun rhythm dynamic + Strangely catchy vocaloid music + Unlockable Blazblue, Xblaze: Code Embryo, and Guilty Gear music and characters Cons: - No online multiplayer, local ad-hoc only - Ruthless A.I. creates a huge difficulty spike on the normal and higher difficulties - Very few modes and options to choose from Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Magical Beat presents a fun musical spin on the puzzle genre despite an unfortunate lack of overall content Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  16. Today XSEED announced that Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed is confirmed for an August 12 release date on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. Along with that news is the fact that the game is also confirmed for release on PlayStation 4 later this Holiday season. The game features an unusual and quirky plot where vampires invade Japan's popular Akihabara district, and the only way of detecting and killing them is by using the protagonist Nanashi's in-game smartphone app and then "ridding" them of their clothes, thus exposing them to sunlight that destroys them. Our own Marcus Estrada recently had an opportunity to demo the game at E3 2014, so be sure to check out his hands-on impressions if you're interested. Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed will be released physically through retail and digitally on the PlayStation Store for PS3 and PS Vita on August 12. Source: Press Release Are you interested in Akiba's Trip?
  17. Jason Clement

    PS Store PLAY 2014 Games Lineup Revealed

    Every year around late July, Sony reveals a special promotion for the PlayStation Store called PLAY which focuses on pre-order discounts for four new, spotlighted indie games. This year's selection is especially interesting given that all four games feature Cross-Buy across all three current PlayStation platforms. The games and their schedule are as follows- Note: Red indicates the pre-order price July 29 - Rogue Legacy (PS4, PS3, PS Vita) - $13.59 | $16.99 August 5 - The Swapper (PS4, PS3, PS Vita) - $15.99 | $19.99 August 12 - Hohokum (PS4, PS3, PS Vita) - $11.99 | $14.99 August 19 - Counterspy (PS4, PS3, PS Vita) - $11.99 | $14.99 Also, the more of them that you pre-order, the more you'll save. For example, if you pre-order 2 of the games, you'll get a $3 credit to your account. Pre-ordering 3 will net you $6, and all 4 will net you $10. You can check out gameplay for all four games in the trailer for the event below. Source: PlayStation Blog Are you interested in any of the PLAY 2014 titles?
  18. Welcome to the "Official" PlayStation Plus thread! February Game Collection Transistor (PS4) Apotheon (PS4) Yakuza 4 (PS3) Thief (PS3) Rogue Legacy (PSV) Kick and Fennick (PSV) January Instant Game Collection (Leaving 2/3) Infamous: First Light (PS4) The Swapper (PS4) Prototype 2 (PS3) Duke Tales: Remastered (PS3) Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition (PSV) Whoa Dave! (PSV)
  19. The newly renamed Choice Provisions (known previously as Gaijin Games, the developer behind last year's Bit Trip Presents...Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien) has released a trailer for their newest upcoming arcade-inspired title called Whoa Dave!. In the game, the premise is to destroy monsters, steal their change, and survive. As the trailer shows, this is easier said than done, as Whoa Dave! is fast, frantic, and pretty challenging. Choice Provisions has announced that the game is currently slated for release on 3DS, PS Vita, iOS, Android, Steam, and OUYA, with possibly more platforms to come later. They're also working on determining a release date, which could be as soon as this Summer, and mention that it will "definitely be out soon." In the meantime, be sure to check out the game's trailer below. Source: Totally Choice Are you interested in Whoa Dave!? Let us know below!
  20. Developer: Game Arts Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PS Vita, PS3 Release Date: April 1, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the Vita version of the game Fighting games may be the go-to example for iterative re-releases in videogames, but it seems like those within the “Hunting” Action-RPG subgenre have been just as guilty as of late. The Monster Hunter franchise has seen more versions/releases than you can count on both of your hands, regardless of it being only ten years old itself, and even exclusive Vita titles like last year“s Soul Sacrifice to the the fairly recent Toukiden have quickly made sequels to their prior releases. Now comes the new and supposedly improved follow-up to 2012's original Vita release Ragnarok Odyssey, which is also a loose spin-off to the classic MMORPG Ragnarok Online. Boasting entirely new content and cross-play between both PS3 and Vita, is there enough reason to take another lengthy voyage with Ragnarok Odyssey ACE? Did you play the original Ragnarok Odyssey? Well, for better or worse, that doesn't really matter either way as all players will have to play all of the missions as well the entire story mode from scratch, regardless of the their progress in the original, with minimal transfer functionality beyond importing "skill cards" for returning players. This alone should help give an idea on who this re-release is for—that being specifically for enthusiastic fans of the original or newcomers altogether. In the matter of fairness, it needs to be mentioned that the new content in this version includes new post-game bosses/quests, ACE skills, "The Tower of Yggdrasil" mode, and a few other mechanical tweaks and cosmetic additions. Unlike some of its contemporaries in the genre like Soul Sacrifice, God Eater Burst, or Toukiden, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace doesn“t really have much in the way of a direct storyline. The player can poke NPCs for occasional Norse-themed narrative context, but it really boils down to little more than being assigned to slay a specific number of monsters or big enemy bosses with occasionally humorous quips in-between. The main story mode in particular is absolutely identical to the previous release, so players are not going to see anything new until hitting post-game material with the exclusive ACE chapters, which are still rather thin for story context. What has been, and still is, Ragnarok Odyssey's primary strength is its fast-paced and mobile combat. Even now the combat system is the main difference between it and most other titles in the "Hunting" subgenre which are usually more grounded (literally and figuratively) in their slower, methodical pace. Also, while short in number count, classes have a decent variety in skills and in terms of general moveset: Assassins are nimble and focus on inflicting status ailments, Hammersmiths are slower but pack quite a punch, and Hunters fight mainly from afar. Subtle nuances like Clerics having a technical parry mechanic, or the Mage class requiring charged-based inputs mid-attack for stronger moves, also help each class play distinctly different. In the ACE release in particular, classes have been balanced out so they are more well-rounded overall. Speaking of term "ACE", one of the new gameplay furnishes of this release are "Ace Skills". In the original release there were certain abilities that a character could use by holding down the circle button and were specific to each class. ACE Skills streamlines these abilities by placing them via shortcuts, as well as having outright more of them, so they make each class more versatile and the skills themselves more viable in the midst of combat; so, in the case of the Cleric, they can draw from more healing spells as well as status increasing buffs that they couldn't before. The most substantial new addition is the newly added "Tower of Yggdrasil mode" which appears after the main story and is introduced in the new ACE chapters. Unlike a good majority of the missions of the game, which only have you kill X amount of certain enemies, this mode brings a randomly-generated dungeon component to the game. During this mode, side-objectives also spontaneously appear and upon completing them can yield tremendous, albeit brief, benefits to the player's stats and item drop rates, so the gameplay structure is more actively rewarding and interesting. Where the game buckles down—and this newest release only reemphasizes— is just about every else. My biggest complaints primarily stem with its overall gameplay flow, balance, and the lack of mission variety in general. It may sound like a weird complaint to have, but Ragnarok Odyssey's combat system does not seem to particularly suit the structure of the game. Most enemies are massive damage sponges, and generally unflinching at that, so it seems at odds with battles that are supposed to move fast. This is only more obvious as the player fights a ton of recycled enemy types and bosses through most of the chapters. For a more technical complaint, a lot of the skills come off as rather clunky due to their protracted animations, many of which can not be canceled through jumps/dashes, so bosses, for example, will get many free hits because of attacks you outright can't react to. In general, most of the combat fails to hit a sort of satisfying sense of finesse despite having decent base mechanics. Another oddity is that multiplayer isn't designed to encourage it, ironically enough, at least early in. In these type of games where you'd normally want to team up and help each other, it can actually be less practical with other players, online or locally, because the entire team shares the same three lives pool. It may not sound like a big deal at first but if you take into account stuff like the instant kill moves that many bosses have, it is not too hard to imagine one person (or more) accidentally messing up and ruining an entire team's effort rather quickly. That said, one significant improvement Ragnarok Odyssey ACE makes over its predecessor is the ability to hire CPU characters join during mission. This can be beneficial not only because CPU characters do not deplete from the player's life stock but also because they infinitely respawn and can help divide the enemy's attention (despite being dumb as bricks). Progression in general is done in a very limiting and oddly linear way. You could relish in the death cries of adorable slime or mushrooms monster all day but still won't directly get stronger as a result. You see, a character's overall base stats are mostly only increased at the end of each story mode chapter. Even the game's attempt at player customization with "skillcards" (which enhance certain skills and stats) or weapon upgrades are often times funneled generally by later game missions or rare item drops, leading to a very awkwardly formulated progression style. To not sound totally down of the game, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is still a good-looking game in motion on the portable system. It is, of course, less impressive nowadays since little has changed visually, and because technical standouts like Tearaway and Killzone: Mercenary exist. However, there is something to be said about maintaining a colorful art direction, with charming visual quirks from time to time, and a fairly smooth presentation throughout, despite situations where the player is pitted against huge bosses or hordes of enemies, or both. Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is in many ways inoffensive in its execution, but there are so many seemingly minor chinks to its design that really add up and bog down the entire experience. By squandering its opportunity for renewal there has been very little added to the ACE release to entice many players to return except for the chosen few that have a lot of diligence to play through the exact same main story and missions again just for the sparse new content. It may have a decent core combat system and production values, but overall Ragnarok Odyssey ACE feels like it tries to serve multiple masters without really satisfying either, so it continues to leave this release mostly indistinguishable and muddled even among titles in its own subgenre. Pros: + Decent core combat mechanics with varied playable character classes + Very clean overall presentation with stylized visuals + Tower of Yggdrasil mode brings a welcome attempt at variety to the standard mission routine Cons: - Limiting character progression for most of the game -Mission design is very repetitive with a bunch of recycled enemy types throughout - Multiplayer isn't balanced in a way to actively encourage it -Save transfer functionality is woefully short for returning players - General combat lacks a sense of finesse Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average Beyond a template for a decent combat system, most will struggle to find too much staying power in this release because of the very few enhancements that are introduced in Ragnarok Odyssey Ace. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher