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  1. The sequel to the samurai romancing visual novel, Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, will be ready for PSPs and Vitas starting February 19th! Except Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi isn't a visual novel, but a hack-and-slash game. Yup, you'll get to play as six of the samurai you know and love from the original game as you battle enemies and furies. Warriors of the Shinsengumi also contains two storylines – one where you“re able to relive the events of Demon of the Fleeting Blossom and one that takes place in an alternate universe where things happen quite differently. All retail copies of Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi will also come with a 16-page full-color character guide. Neat! But that's not all! If you pre-order from Amazon, you'll get your hands on a rather fetching bandana that features all of the playable samurai warriors of Warriors of the Shinsengumi. Will you be pre-ordering Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi for the really cool bandana?
  2. Number 905

    Review: Ragnarok Tactics

    Developer: ApolloSoft Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PSP Release Date: Out Now ESRB: T Free-to-play MMOs are made and shutdown every day, making it a genre that provides a nice distraction, but one that struggles to create a lasting impact or franchise. Back when the genre was emerging, though, some games managed to create a name for themselves, one of which was the Korean-made Ragnarok Online. Since launch, the game has seen countless updates, shifts in pay schemes to compete with the expanding market, and even a failed sequel. Despite such setbacks, the Ragnarok brand still occasionally steps out of the MMORPG realm, with the latest entry being ApolloSoft“s Ragnarok Tactics for the PSP. Combining the world of Ragnarok Online with the gameplay of a strategy RPG, Ragnarok Tactics offers an experience that, while not a knock-out, manages to satisfy. The story opens by outlining the history of Tactics' world, unfortunately not the same world as Ragnarok Online. Tensions are mounting between the Branshaldo Empire and the Aura Republic over control of land while the independent Toren Militia is investigating an increase in monster attacks. Your character is thrown into the middle of this conflict, with the choice eventually falling on you to choose which sides to prioritize and fight for. While the characters aren't very compelling and the story sometimes feels like a morality play, the sheer amount of branches to the story is impressive. Though you get a glimpse of what happens on other paths, Tactics is definitely a game designed for multiple playthroughs, with a huge amount of content for those with the patience to play the game more than once. Unfortunately, patience is something you will need in spades to get through the game. Battles are long affairs. With a combination of huge maps, AI that usually only moves when you“re in range, and the sheer number of opponents you“re always against, expect to spend 40 minutes on average in each battle. While this can make the gameplay feel like a chore, the biggest issue is that there“s no real difference between the scale of a story battle and that of a free battle, making some moments seem more uneventful than they should be. Were it not for the ability to save at any time during an encounter, Ragnarok Tactics would be the antithesis of a portable game. Like in an MMO, you have a good amount of control behind the appearance, voice, and skill/stat build of your characters. Those familiar with Ragnarok Online will mostly be at home with Tactics' job and stat system, though jobs are locked into using certain weapons and some jobs aren“t in the game at all. Also, not all jobs are created equally, with a couple being exceedingly overpowered compared to the rest due to their attack stat also being a stat that governs speed. Outside of that, the gameplay is competent and, thankfully, doesn“t match the grind of the MMO that inspired the SRPG. Visually, Tactics is a reminder that even last generation“s portables can still show some muscle. Though battlefields are often reused, they feature interesting aesthetics and are sometimes revisited with different weather effects. Probably the best feature of Tactics is the character art, which manages to be reminiscent of Ragnarok Online while still maintaining its own style and identity. The battle sprites are instantly identifiable as their jobs and fans will be glad to see small touches like the casting circle. On the audio front, the game offers a solid soundtrack, though it would have been nice to hear variations on familiar Ragnarok Online songs. Voice clips are played in Japanese during battle and, while some of them are truly grating, there are multiple options for both genders. At the end of the day, Ragnarok Tactics doesn't offer anything unique to the genre, nor does it offer as satisfying of a use of the brand as it could have. Still, it manages to be completely inoffensive so long as you don“t mind long battle times on a portable system. For those that Tactics can hook in, there are a multitude of story paths and options to take that could easily eat up hundreds of hours. As someone who came into Tactics purely for the Ragnarok branding, that“s not me, but it“s hard not to be impressed with how much content is up for grabs, showing that Ragnarok Tactics isn“t just some hollow attempt to cash in on the MMO“s success. Pros: + Large, branching story mode + Beautiful scenery and character art Cons: - Long battles - Designed for multiple playthroughs Overall Score: 6.5 (Out of 10) Decent Although nothing earth-shattering, Ragnarok Tactics offers just enough to keep fans of Ragnarok Online and SRPGs satisfied.
  3. Back in 2010, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors was a bit of a sleeper hit on the DS. The adventure title managed to garner interest around those who were interested in text-heavy games like Hotel Dusk, Ace Attorney, and Jake Hunter. Two years later, Aksys Games is about to bring out another game, Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, and wants to bring attention back to the previous game as well. Aksys doing this by shipping out new copies of 999 this month. However, it's not exactly the same as previous copies. Instead of bearing the full name it did before, the "999" is now stricken from the title. Instead the game is now going to be called Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. The hope is that people who play Virtue's Last Reward but have have never heard of the preceding game will discover it thanks to the series title of Zero Escape. How did Aksys come up with the series brand title of Zero Escape? 999 editor Ben Bateman explained: For “Zero Escape” we wanted to create a branding umbrella that VLR [Zero Escape: Virtue“s Last Reward], 999, and any future games could rest under comfortably—a little like the “Ace Attorney” brand, if you will. To do that, we thought about what it was that defined 999 and VLR and was common to both games, and eventually settled on the character of Zero and the idea that each game involves a dangerous escape. Hence, Zero Escape, which has the nice, ominous double meaning of “You have zero chance to escape.” This latest pressing of the game also comes with new box art. It's a little strange though as the images still heavily feature "999" and only include a little Zero Escape symbol in the corner. Regardless, the game will henceforth come with this cover. If you prefer the original then you'd better hurry and pick up an older copy soon. Did you play 999? Are you looking forward to Virtue's Last Reward?
  4. Developer: Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PSP Release Date: February 14th ESRB: M for Mature These days it seems more and more games are reaching our shores. In the past, many great Japanese titles never made it west due to publishers believing they wouldn't sell well. They were probably right by thinking that as well. By now though many gamers are ready to try new experiences and so Aksys is catering to these people. Their latest endeavor, bringing Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom to America, is perhaps the gutsiest move yet. It's rare for visual novels or dating sims to make it to market here, and even less common for the ones focused around a female audience. Yet, the game is set to arrive on store shelves and PSN this Valentine's Day. Is the gamble worth checking out? Hakuoki takes us into a world that many American gamers are completely unfamiliar with. In it, we are thrust directly into Japan's past - the Edo period specifically. In this period there is massive amounts of political unrest and warring between factions. You start the game as a young woman, Chizuru, whose father has gone missing. She heads to Kyoto in search of him but ends up crossing paths with the Shinshengumi instead. The Shinsengumi are a group of ronin (samurai) fighting to restore peace to Kyoto. Apparently the Shinsengumi were also looking for Chizuru's father, although she doesn't understand quite why at the start. That paragraph was probably a bit hard to get though. While it is a video game, Hakuoki does not tread lightly with its historical story. You're thrust right into the world as if it were happening now and have strange terms thrown at you left and right. However, before playing the title I had no knowledge of basically everything aside from samurais and now have a grasp on it. This is because while it may seem overwhelming at first, the game excels at introducing things one by one, not all at once. It even has a built-in encyclopedia that will alert you when new terms are used and what they mean. Even if you're not a follower of 1800s Japanese history you can easily get into it. As the game is a visual novel, expect lots of discussion and exposition. Because of this, the game could succeed or fail depending on if it is well-written. Aksys have chosen well as the title is in fact very engaging to read through. There is war, swordfighting, romance, and even some humor thrown in. Each character has their own personality and it's easy to tell who is who. This is important when there are a great deal of "main" characters to keep track of. The more you engage with the Shinsengumi, the more you feel for them. As the story darkens you find yourself tense and wondering how things will work out. Hakuoki definitely is one of the better visual novels out there. The title has also been promoted as the first true otome game in North America. An otome game is basically a way of saying that it is "for girls", although don't let that dissuade you if you're not a woman, or at the very least not interested in men. It is called this because throughout the game you may choose to go down the path of romancing one of six ronin. It isn't required, but for players who are interested in learning more about the characters, this is the best way to find out. Throughout the game there will be choices you can make which will effect your romance levels with the various men. If you act in a specific way they may like you more or you might hurt them. Beyond that there are many choices to be made which don't seem to impact your relationships, and simply change the direction of the story - for better or for worse. For this being an otome game it is surprising how strongly it focuses on the bloody struggle of Shinsengumi as opposed to simply being a fun, happy dating sim. It's certainly appreciated though because many gamers might have completely avoided it if it were nothing other than that. As is, it's quite the intense game which just happens to feature some romance from time to time. It would have been neat to see even more room for romance in the game, but it almost always falls back behind the overarching story. Even if the romance aspects are not played upon constantly, the game is still adept at tracking changes in your relationships for you. If a character grows fonder of you, a brief animation will play which shows the change. Since it's a bit goofy to see a pinkish bloom around a character, it can be turned off. Regardless of whether you watch the "love animation" or not the game will always keep track of your relationships with the men in a special menu. From there you can see if they have low or high interest in you, as well as if they are less or more corrupt. Wait, corruption? Yes, there's a lot more going onto this game then simple political strife. There is also a supernatural element which manifests itself almost immediately. Chizuru's search for her father almost gets her killed by a group of unhuman-seeming murderers. What is quickly revealed is that these warriors, named furies, are bloodthirsty and unable to be killed normally. Some of these beings are even aligned with the Shinsengumi. As time goes on, certain story points will cause characters (and the player) to make tough decisions. Through your actions you will be able to lessen or heighten corruption of the men around you. All of these choices in both romance and corruption will affect how the game plays out and what ending you receive. It may be a dating sim in many regards, but there are some truly unhappy endings so make sure to save often. It is an odd game for many Americans but gamers owe it to themselves to check out. This is an excellent example of a visual novel/dating sim that gets it completely right. The story and characters will be able to hook most people right in. It could have been better to see more romance development than what there is, but because the game is so safe it may pave the way for localization of others. In fact, that's another reason that gamers should snap Hakuoki up. We have very few visual novels and dating sims available to us. There are some, but mostly the market seems stuck on games where more active participation is required. Visual novels certainly aren't for everyone, but it looks like Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom might draw in a whole new audience for them. Pros: + Excellent story and cast of characters + Makes it easy to learn unfamiliar Japanese terms + Lots of endings means for a great deal of replay value Cons: - Skimps a bit too much on actual romance - Edo period story will still probably turn off some players Overall: 8 (out of 10) Great Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is a fantastic example of a visual novel and will serve to make players hungry for more.