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  1. Developer: Nippon Ichi Software Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software Platform: PlayStation 3 Release Date: March 25, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen Sometimes a game is more than the sum of its parts. There are titles out there that may have drab mechanics and a dull story, but everything blends together so well that the game is better for it. Whether it's the result of a clever designer or some voodoo programming magic, a game that would normally be considered boring or bad is now suddenly playable and, dare I say, fun. Normally these types of games don't really end up being masterpieces or classics, but instead are pleasant surprises—a neat little game that was just a little bit better than expected. Is The Witch and The Hundred Knight greater than the sum of its parts? Not quite, but this is a title that requires you to look past just its disjointed pieces and judge it as a whole, because while no particular part of this game is stand-out, it is still an enjoyable (if obtuse) experience. In The Witch and The Hundred Knight, you control the Hundred Knight, a legendary creature that is capable of spreading death and destruction around the world. Unfortunately for the summoner, however, the legends were a little exaggerated, and instead of a giant world destroyer, the Hundred Knight is a puny monster incapable of even human speech. This doesn't deter the self-appointed Great Witch of the Swamp, Metallia, however. Menacing or not, she plans on controlling and using the Hundred Knight to her own evil deeds, and take over the world with a sea of swamp water and muck. The thing is, Metallia is evil. Not "evil" in the typical fashion that you might expect a Disgaea protagonist to be, but flat out demonic. She does not simply stop trying to take over the world because of some wonderful revelation, nor admit to doing so to achieve some vaguely noble cause; Metallia is pretty mad at the world, and she'll do whatever she wants in order to take her revenge. The game doesn't show you the Swamp Witch's torturous acts in action as the graphics aren't really up to that challenge, but it doesn't pull any punches in describing these acts to you. The fact that this title dares to have such an evil, mostly unlikeable protagonist is pretty impressive on its own, but when you add on the game's ability to balance these gruesome scenes with touches of humor and light-heartedness, you've got quite the intriguing plot on your hands. However, intriguing doesn't always equal perfect. Many jokes in The Witch and the Hundred Knight fall flat, and the writers made Metallia so despicable it can be truly hard to care about her plight, and by extension, the story itself. Also, the storytelling is pretty uneven, in terms of how it meshes with the gameplay. There are long stretches of fighting with only a few quick lines to break it up, and then there are long scenes that shove far too many plot points in twenty minute stretches. Had the storytelling been better disbursed amongst the chapters, rather than dumped inelegantly at the beginning and end, The Witch and the Hundred Knight would have stood a lot better on the story front. When not wading through cutscenes, you'll be wading through the blood of Metallia's enemies, as well as any wildlife that happens to get in your way. The Witch and The Hundred Knight is an Action RPG with some dungeon crawling mixed in, and frankly the game makes the oddly named and various systems it implements sound way more complicated than it is. When exploring the various fields the Hundred Knight will be sent out to, the first thing you'll notice is a number in the upper-left hand corner of the screen. The Hundred Knight's GigaCal meter, which starts at 100%, will constantly go down while exploring. Every single action the Hundred Knight takes will deplete the GigaCal gauge (even if it's miniscule), and if the Hundred Knight runs out of GigaCals while out on the field, you'll be sent back to Metallia's home with some hefty penalties. While it seems like you'll always have to keep an eye on GigaCals, it's really not as troublesome as it sounds, though. The game gives you some very clear indicators when you're running low, and even if you happen to run dry, you'll be able to scurry back to a checkpoint-like Pillar to return to base... as long as you have enough HP to survive the constant drain, that is. There's also various ways to restore your GigaCals, and the presence of said Pillars allows you to go back to base and rest up fairly frequently. Like most Action RPGs, the Hundred Knight can equip a variety of different weapons to take down his foes. The thing that makes The Witch and the Hundred Knight different from other RPGs, however, is how weapon combos work. Instead of a weapon having a canned combo, the weapon itself is the combo, and you can customize it to your needs and situation. You have fives slots to equip weapons in, and where you equip your weapons will effect how your combo plays out depending on the weapon type. For example, Hammers are slow but very powerful, so they tend to be better at the end of a combo. However, they also have a high chance to stun the enemy, so they could also go well at the beginning of a combo so you can get a full round of hits off before an enemy can retaliate. It all depends on your playstyle, but it's also important to keep track of enemy weaknesses. If it all sounds overwhelming, it really isn't. The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a bit on the easy side, barring some random, small difficulty bumps. Enemies scale to your level, but only to a certain point; it's supposed to encourage leveling the really-not-that-different Facets evenly, but it ends up make the adventure simply a task of equipping the right weapon at the right time. There are other small mechanics and tricks that help the player succeed, but for the most part these mechanics can be ignored. That's one of the larger problems with the gameplay, really. For all the intricacies and nuances the game has, little of it really matters when you're going through the game. This isn't helped by the fact that many of these aren't alluded to in the game itself. Instead, they are briefly mentioned in the tips displayed when the game is loading. Since the tips come up randomly and out of order, it could be chapters before you learn of certain aspects of the game. Therefore, they mostly become throwaway mechanics—neat when you learn about them, but ultimately having no real impact on the gameplay. The Witch and the Hundred Knight is far from perfect, but it is still a title that's worth a look for those with an interest with a different storyline. It has its quirks, and even its stretches of boredom in between cutscenes, but can be worth powering through in order to see what happens next. Pros: - Intriguing characters give you reason to see the plot until the end - Weapon combo system allows for a lot of customization - Tenpei Sato's soundtrack is exceptional Cons: - Uneven storytelling makes battle and dialogue alike drag on - Many of the mechanics throughout the game are throwaway Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent The Witch and The Hundred Knight is going to be one of those 'love it or hate it' games with Nippon Ichi fans. The title has a lot of interesting concepts, but are haphazardly implemented and weaken the overall package. Disclaimer: This game was reviewed using PS3 downloadable code provided by the publisher.
  2. barrel

    Review: The Last Story

    Developer: Mistwalker, AQ Interactive Publisher: Xseed Games Platform: Wii Release Date: August 14, 2012 ESRB: T for Teen With the Wii's waning hardware considered long-abandoned by developers and gamers alike, Mistwalker's ambition to create a fully-featured, action role-playing game on it with The Last Story was nothing short of, well, ambitious. With gaming icons like Hironobu Sakaguchi, regarded as the father of Final Fantasy, at the helm, Nobuo Uematsu for its musical score, and a team founded by ex-Square employees, the staff's pedigree has the possibility of overshadowing the final product. When presented as a fresh bold statement against the once-proud juggernaut Final Fantasy, and possibly a stagnant genre as a whole, does The Last Story embody an adventure worth telling? The player embarks as a fellow sellsword, Zael, who works alongside a colorful troupe of mercenaries. They are hired to work as monster exterminators by a powerful noble, which causes Zael and the rest of the group to be dispatched to an underground cavern for what would seem like a routine job with a big payout. That is, until plans take a turn for the worst and the band finds themselves separated against overwhelming odds. Amidst the confusion and fear, Zael unknowingly beckons a mysterious power, imbuing him with the ability to mend fallen allies in battle and debilitate any foe into an uncontrolled rage. Zael harnesses this strange power for his own to protect the ones he cares about and to pursue his dream beyond a mercenaries' lot. It“s apparent that The Last Story doesn“t really try to stray far from a familiar narrative path. Depending on the individual, the story can come off as either a nostalgic and endearing take on a familiar formula or be worthy of an occasional eye-roll because of it. What“s interesting about the story, though, despite its common narrative devices, is that it focuses on a much more localized adventure as opposed to a grandiose scale. Interactions between characters, who are more than likely to grow on you over time, remain at the forefront throughout and, despite its predictable structure, it weaves together well, leading to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. While the story attempts to introduce some interesting themes, particularly in the latter portion, the player“s investment overall will most likely rely more heavily on what one gets out of the game“s cast of characters. The Last Story“s best argument comes not from not its storytelling but what it tries to achieve through its gameplay. Tossing players immediately into the midst of it upon starting the game, The Last Story“s action battle system is completely real-time. Initially, the game“s combat is likely to come off as rather simple, if not a bit automated, without adjustments to the default control scheme. What The Last Story does to compensate is introduce extra layers of depth with its strategic, and even stealth, elements, encouraging players to utilize terrain, issue commands, alter spells mid-battle, and more. Altogether, it is likely to sound a little overbearing, but will rarely feel like that in practice. It“s fun overall, encouraging varied play throughout, though it isn“t until the later stretches of the game that one will feel obligated to fully utilize the combat“s many intricacies. When not transitioning from one battlefield to another, players are free to explore the various junctions of Lazulis Island. Technically taking place in one city, which sounds terrible on paper, Lazulis actually feels quite populated and expansive. Outside of the main story, players are encouraged to explore Lazulis“s nooks and crannies, undertake sidequests, justify playing dress-up, and even participate in online multiplayer. As tempting as it may be to pick at The Last Story“s individual facets like an open-world nowhere near the scale as a lot of sandbox games, or customization as deep as the best of role-playing games, and, well, any sort of online multiplayer on the Wii“s infrastructure, it“s easy to appreciate the genuine attempts at changing up the pace throughout. The experience overall can only be best described as better executed than the sum of its parts. Perhaps one“s greatest fear when approaching a good majority of Wii games nowadays is the controls and the woes of the ever-dreadful “waggle”. The standard control scheme with the Wii-mote and nunchuck is surprisingly functional, however, not forcing motion controls at all. That said, without some adjusting to the control“s schematics, it is quite possible to run into some unwieldiness in the game“s battles. Without personalized tweaking in the game“s control settings, or, from what I hear, simply using the preferred classic controller, the camera in particular can be a bit unyielding in the more narrow environments, and enemy targeting in general can be clunky. It can be easy to be a bit spoiled, and to find a Wii game like The Last Story to be a bit jarring visually. Of course, after spending some time with the game, it“s quite possible to notice its strengths and weaknesses under closer scrutiny, with its strengths lay primarily in its character models and environments, giving both a fair amount of variety throughout with the environments in particular. However, its weaknesses lie more with its technical blemishes, with an art direction that doesn“t hide the Wii“s hardware limitations very well, revealing plenty of muddy textures, and also sporting some awkward slow down in certain scripted events and the busier battles. Even if the game is technically impressive for the hardware, it seems like it could“ve benefited from a bit more polish. Fitting for yet another nod against Final Fantasy, the series“s former and most heralded composer, Nobuo Uematsu, takes the reins for the game“s score. For an individual who is generally grounded in a classical composition style, he actually takes quite a few liberties with The Last Story“s soundtrack. Everything from some surprisingly intense battle themes to some tracks with nostalgic audio queues reminiscent of classic Final Fantasy games, Nobuo manages to blend a lot of old and new with the game“s score. Also on the audio front, the game is surprisingly dense, with well-done voice acting with a British English flair. From flavor dialogue that various NPC have in the background to the banter between characters of the main story, it goes a long way in making the overall game more engaging, even if it doesn“t always have the best writing or script to work with. What is probably The Last Story“s greatest fault is how much it undermines its own potential. Though a solid game in its own right, it simply isn“t as groundbreaking as it tries to be. With a narrative that plays it too safe and gameplay that doesn“t realize its full potential, it can come off as a bit disappointing in the grander scope. That said, The Last Story is still a fun and ambitious game. It doesn“t always hit all of the right notes, but it is certainly worthy the attention of any Wii owner (or newcoming Wii-U ones) or those jaded towards Nintendo“s previous home console. Pros: + Fun and interesting real-time battle system + Well-done musical score and voice work + Lots of variety in gameplay scenarios and sidequests + Satisfying conclusion Cons: - Predictable narrative structure with familiar story devices - Inherent clunkiness with standard control scheme. - Awkward slowdown in combat and story events - Game is rarely challenging and combat takes time to unravel Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good While The Last Story isn't quite as revolutionary as it tries to be, it is still a fun and solid action-rpg that should not be overlooked by Wii owners.