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Found 7 results

  1. barrel

    Review: King of Fighters XIV

    Developer: SNK Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS4 Release Date: August 23, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen Prior to release, it felt like everyone was primed to hate on King of Fighters XIV -- including myself. Much like Konami as of late, SNK seemed more interested in tossing their highly regarded properties into various shameless pachinko money sinks than doing anything else with them. When we finally caught wind of King of Fighters XIV, however, it could not have made a worse first impression. The series has had a long established history in the 2D realm, with King of Fighters XIII being an extremely strong example of striking 2D aesthetics. So, aside from triggering painful memories of King of Fighters: Maximum Impact, King of Fighters XIV being rendered in subpar 3D looked all that much more underwhelming, especially since we live in a world where the cel-shaded mastery of Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator exists. Even though it had just about everyone against it, King of Fighters XIV shows its ability to rise up the ranks even through the harshest of initial scrutiny. Now, before fully addressing the elephant in the room with the 3D aesthetic, King of Fighters XIV takes a couple of serious strides from its predecessor. The three vs three team fighting remains the same, however there is a lower level of entry for attack combos such as an entirely new mash-friendly auto-combo (ala Persona 4 Arena) to the absurdly huge default roster with fifty playable characters. For more serious players they will quickly notice how much combo potential has changed with the omission of the extremely technical and execution heavy "Hyper Drive" system of KOFXIII in favor of the slightly more comprehensive "Max Mode" which powers up certain moves and special attacks. My first expectation (beyond the extremely low ones set by the presentation), was that the playable cast was going to be absolutely packed with eerily similar playing characters. As someone who has a strong pet peeve with clones or might-as-well-be clones in fighting games, I decided to go to training mode with literally every character and see if it even bothers to beat the personal sniff test before touching any other mode. Shockingly, it passed. Not only did it pass with most characters feeling distinctly different one another, especially the entirely new ones, but even many older members feel touched up with move interesting movesets. Though, admittedly, there comes a point where I think XIV should have dropped any sort of visual homage and make characters like Mature and Vice look entirely different as well. I would hardly consider myself any sort of educated scholar in regards to the King of Fighters or Fatal Fury series, but even I felt somewhat nostalgic with certain returning characters. There are obvious choices for returning members like Terry or Mai, but then there are deeper callbacks like Ramon and Angel whom have not been seen playable in over a decade. Personally, I am just happy that I can once again play as the shamelessly evil Geese Howard or former bird man wrestler Tizoc -- Umm, I mean, the entirely new wrestler: King of Dinosaurs. Not to discredit the new fighters by any means, as I found myself digging several of them, but the overall character list more so feels like a love letter to older series fans. More importantly, the core game plays extremely faithfully to previous King of Fighters titles despite the noticeable changes to aesthetic and more forgiving take on controls. With all that out of the way, it is one thing to (far) exceed (very low) expectations, but it is something else entirely to be graded on its own merits. King of Fighters XIV is most certainly a solid fighting game, yet it is a very inconsistent overall package. Undoubtedly, the least consistent part of KOFXIV pertains to the presentation, which is anything but cohesive. The best phrase to describe the overall look of KOFXIV is that not everyone, and everything, are created equal. For instance, the ice queen Kula looks surprisingly fluid in motion as she briskly either attacks or skates back and forth. Then you look at Andy for contrast, and, immediately, want to stop looking at Andy (Street Fighter V Ken has got nothing on some of the hideous hair on KOFXIV fighters). The same applies to backgrounds where some are utterly lifeless (not intentionally so) and others are totally fine, which I would almost use to describe the hit and miss soundtrack as well. More than anything else, King of Fighters XIV coasts on the fundamentals of its gameplay, and not the flourishes surrounding it. The same rules apply to the the various game modes. On one hand, most modes are bare bones, but functional, such as the rigid tutorial and mission modes. Though, admittedly, while better than the online travesty of KOFXIII, netcode and interface of KOFXIV are not particularly great when compared something like Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator. On the other hand, the story mode actually has a lot more heart than it should for something that normally be classified as arcade mode. Be it the tongue-in-cheek writing in the CG cutscenes or pre- and after-battle chat, or certain shockingly in-depth team endings with KOF lore, it genuinely feels like it was written by people who love and care about the series. Of course, SNK boss syndrome is in full effect with the two very cheap final bosses, meaning if you don't want to throw your head against the wall to see the endings it will likely very tempting to put the title on the easiest difficulty and spam auto-combos. Basically, you got to either really like the story mode or competitive to continue playing for very long. King of Fighters XIV may be one of the very few examples of a modern fighting game being totally applicable to the tired expression of "Don't judge a book by its cover". The title certainly does not look great overall from in-game visuals to interface. Nor do most of its modes have all that much staying power, with the exception of the better-than-expected story mode. Yet, there is an absolute sincerity to the tight gameplay and enjoyable 3 vs 3 combat. It is all the more impressive when it achieves this with an extremely impressive 50 character roster, in which very few of them feel like redundant additions. It may not be much of a looker, but most (or initially discouraged) KOF fans should be pleasantly surprised at just how solid and fun the core gameplay of King of Fighters XIV is in spite its somewhat glaring lack of finer extra bells and whistles. Pros + Huge character roster of 50 characters total that somehow manages to make most of them both fun and different + Gameplay feels very faithful to KOF, even with the more forgiving approach to controls + The story mode and endings are more entertaining than one would expect Cons - Most of the gameplay modes, such as online, lack the polish that one has come to expect of modern fighters - Very inconsistent presentation that can occasionally be cringe worthy for today's standards SNK boss syndrome is in full effect so, uh, expect to put the story mode on the easiest setting to make it less painful Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Though noticeably lacking from visuals to gameplay feature sets, King of Fighters XIV survives on the rock solid fundamentals of its combat that is all the more impressive with its diverse fifty character roster. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. barrel

    Review: Stella Glow

    Developer: Imageepoch/Sega Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: 3DS Release Date: November 17, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen Seeing the developer name Imageepoch does not automatically inspire confidence within me. It could be because of the very unfortunate RPG mess that was Time & Eternity or my various loose recollections of the wholly forgettable Black Rock Shooter: The Game. Regardless, my recent memory of Imageepoch titles is not exactly glowing. However, rewinding my memories further back, I actually recall liking the strategy-RPG Luminous Arc 2 on the original Nintendo DS. It was hardly the first title you would recommend on the system but there was a certain charm to it that is difficult for me to articulate now. That said, as of this year Imageepoch filed for bankruptcy. As a possible last hurrah, Imageepoch conducted a spiritual successor to their very first developed game, Luminous Arc, with new turn-based strategy-RPG Stella Glow on the 3DS. One can only hope that Stella Glow leaves their name on a good note. Unfortunately, the early goings of Stella Glow do not make a strong first impression. The storytelling in particular is derivative to a noticeable fault. Lead character whom may-or-may-not be an amnesiac? Check. Romantic interests for the lead fulfilling pretty apparent anime archetypes? Check. A possibly misunderstood villain figure out to destroy the world? Check. Pretty much every aspect of it feels like a checklist of Japanese-RPG cliches. It also didn't help that the intentionally nostalgic character designs of the lead character Alto and the witch Hilda made them blur together with previous Luminous Arc leads for me longer than they should have. That said, I warmed up to Stella Glow far quicker than I would have expected. For as stereotypical as the storytelling is, it somehow feels much more charming and cute than cringe-worthy. The cast of characters end up being generally likable (more so through the "free time" events) and Atlus USA“s clever localization knows when to sneak in plenty of tongue-in-cheek quips to give everything a more entertaining flair than it has any right being. What caught me off-guard more than anything else is how surprisingly polished Stella Glow is as an actual game. Imageepoch has come a long way from the many clunky, mediocre-at-best RPGs that plagued of their entire existence, and it really shows in Stella Glow. The basic turn-based strategy-RPG gameplay actually reminds me a fair bit level-5's PSP title Jeanne D'Arc, but as a game it is structured a lot better. It does nothing new for the subgenre with its grid-based gameplay at large but it borrows pretty much all of the right things.The main story regularly introduces new battle scenarios that play upon different terrain, varying objectives, orbs skills to personalize characters, and tossing new playable fresh faces in addition. More distinctly, each character has at least a few unique mechanics to differentiate themselves: The witch Sakuya goes between different attack stances that change both her movement and attack skills, the ninja Nonoka can conceal herself from enemies, the merchant Ewan has an infinite supply of healing items (but... you'll have to pay him upfront mid-battle to use them), and so on. It's fun to go into battle to employ different strategies with the varied cast and the skill animations in particular have quite a lot of personality to complement them (though, the overhead visuals are admittedly far more basic). Additionally, the witch characters can use song magic to quickly turn the tides of battle, adding an extra layer to the combat. After building up the song gauge by characters dealing and/or taking damage mid-battle, Alto can "conduct" the witch heroines (which... looks like him stabbing them in the heart with knife) to unleash powerful song magic to debilitate foes or buff allies as long as it is active, and varies from witch to witch. The songs themselves are usually of the J-pop variety but end up being catchy regardless. Actually, the soundtrack in general is shockingly good, but maybe less so when legendary video game composer Yasunori Mitsuda is the one behind it (with RPG fame that extends to Chrono Trigger/Cross, Xenosaga, and even Soul Sacrifice). It certainly is not Mitsuda's best work but there is quite a lot of variety in the score with battle themes in particular. Going back to combat, though, there are a few issues. For one, it can be annoying to balance the levels of party members because inactive party members gain no experience whatsoever. This may not sound like a big deal at first until you realize how many scripted story battles there are that require certain characters to be in the group and how you generally can only sortie 6 characters per battle (when there are about 15 playable characters by the end of the game). Another qualm is that gameplay will be on the easier side for many strategy-RPG veterans without any option to change. Outside of combat, Stella Glow also apologetically borrows a Persona 3/4's social link mechanic in the form of "Free time" between the main missions. Alto can take jobs from the Red Bear Tavern for easy cash, explore outside of town on his own to get free items, but the most substantial is without a doubt spending time with fellow party members. In addition to fleshing out most characters, even those not immediately likable in the main story, you get very tangible gameplay benefits in combat as you build up their friendship. Again, very much like Persona 3 and 4. An extension to the Free Time concept for character relationships is "tuning", which is kind of reminiscent of Ar Tonelico/Ar NoSurge's diving mechanic. Basically, Alto can go into the psyche of the various witch heroines for both character development reasons and to enhance their song magic. It is not as in-depth as something like Ar NoSurge, with literal hours of exposition, but it's a cool addition regardless like most of Free Time events. There are also a multitude of character endings caused by these character events so Stella Glow very much rewards picking favorites, from romances to bromances, the first time through in its lengthy 40+ hour adventure. Even if players happen to miss out on most of them the first time the New Game+ is fairly thoughtful in dramatically extending the amount of Free Time and combat experience rate for would-be thorough players to see all of the endings. It is unlikely that Stella Glow will outshine the likes of Fire Emblem: Awakening or Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker in most 3DS owner's eyes. Just the same, however, Stella Glow unassumingly earns its place as one of the best RPGs on 3DS and is pretty much without a doubt the best title from Imageepoch outright. Stella Glow does not attempt to reinvent the wheel amongst strategy-RPGs but, narrative cliches aside, it will likely remind fans why they like the subgenre in the first place because of the deceptive amount of charm and great gameplay fundamentals it has hidden underneath. Pros: + Generally charming characters and writing + Combat animations have quite a bit of personality + Fun, if hardly original, turn-based SRPG gameplay with varied characters + "Free Time" events are a cool break from combat + Great soundtrack Cons: - Main story is nothing to write home about and is incredibly predictable - Balancing party levels can be needlessly annoying due to no shared EXP between inactive members - Easier than many SRPGs Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Stella Glow does not reinvent the wheel for turn-based strategy-RPGs, nor does it attempt to, but it can easily remind fans why they like it in the first place with its deceptive amount of charm and polish. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher.
  3. barrel

    Review: Lost Dimension

    Developer: Lancarse Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: Vita, PS3 Release Date: July 28, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the Vita version of the game "Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer". And, in Lost Dimension's case, they are rather close to being one in the same. Etrian Odyssey developer Lancarse has decided to take a detour from their frequent dungeon crawling expeditions with their newest property Lost Dimension. Having some novel concepts like a traitor mechanic for both narrative and gameplay (as well as Shin Megami Tensei and Etrian Odyssey pedigree for its development), it seems predestined for good things. Yet, it is certainly possible that a gifted staff can be betrayed by their own ambitions, and Lost Dimension may be the result of just that. The setting starts off with a bang, quite literally, when the self-proclaimed mastermind called "The End" declares a nuclear doom upon the entire world after 13 days. So, a special unit known as "SEALED," each imbued with different psychokinetic "gifts", attempt to assassinate The End. The assassin ends in failure, however, and thus leaves the group stuck in a mysterious tower referred to as the "Pillar." The End then tells the group that if they want to reach him they have to climb to the top of the tower while also being mindful that there is a mysterious traitor in their ranks. Treachery or not, the group has to work together through the course of its many Strategy-RPG battles. As an SRPG, Lost Dimension is actually surprisingly decent. Each character brings several different strategic options and there is a strong emphasis on working together through many confrontations due to follow-up attacks. One character may be able to teleport through the terrain to attack behind an enemy while another character can essentially copy another ally's skills, along with any heals/buffs they receive, bringing versatility to party formations. It is also rather encouraged to use different team formations to help fully utilize the main character Sho's precognition skill, which I'll get into later. Where the SRPG formation sort of dismantles is how it is presented. Frankly, Lost Dimension is not a good-looking title on PS3 or Vita for its 3D visuals in particular. Animations are rather stiff and hardly complement their anime character portraits while the framerate dips quite low both in and out of combat. In battles specifically it also has a similar problem as Code Name: S.T.E.A.M does in which enemy attack phases last a bit too long even if they aren't in your peripheral vision. Not only that, but a bit too much of the combat's strategy involves clumping your allies in groups to do lengthy attack chains. The gameplay is mechanically solid, but its lack of polish is certainly apparent as well. Far more interesting than the aesthetic is Lost Dimension's traitor system. Every playthrough of Lost Dimension is basically randomized with who will betray the party. What isn't random is how you determine and react to the traitor(s). At the end of each section of the Pillar The End forces the group to choose who to outright "erase" the existence of in order to proceed. There is no elaborate courtroom scene like you'd see in something like Ace Attorney or Danganronpa, guiding you to the correct solution, these Judgement rooms are concise and decided by majority vote. Right or wrong, someone is going to die the further you climb up (and it'll make sure of it due to some mean auto-saving.) and hopefully it ends up being the traitor. So, how do you go about correctly determining the traitor then? Well, that's where Sho's precognition ability comes into play. After each battle, Sho hears distorted voices which gives a lead on a possible traitor in that group (encouraging the use of different members). Sho can then affirm for sure in a strange, but limited in use, minigame called "Deep Vision" which weeds out the suspect. However, Sho alone is not enough even if he does find out, so he also needs to be on good terms with fellow party members to influence their votes in Judgment Rooms. This is done generally by chatting with party members or simply working together in follow-up attacks, which will then in turn have them ask Sho on who he think the traitor is or isn't at certain random points. As interesting as many aspects of Lost Dimension are conceptually most of them don't feel fully realized. This issue is most apparent with its storytelling. Many characters and the conversations around them are not very interesting to the point where it is sort of hard to get attached to a good majority of the cast. Figuring out the traitor doesn't require any real deduction skills either, it is just a situation of having a minigame basically give you the answer. Lost Dimension also buries its storytelling in a "true ending" matter, wanting you to do at least two playthroughs to get it, and even if you do obtain it it is not exactly worth an 2nd run for it. Lost Dimension is generally better than the sum of its parts but one can't help but feel like its potential is underutilized throughout. Lost Dimension is a clear example of taking an interesting premise and running with it the entire game. But, in that same stride, it doesn't quite flesh out the other aspects around it because of its lack of hindsight and polish. Lost Dimension serves well enough as a strategy-RPG but your investment in what it has to offer overall is almost entirely based how sold you are on its intriguing, but not fully realized, traitor concept. Pros + Strategic turn-based combat system with a strong emphasis on teamwork + The concept of a traitor amongst the party brings a fairly fascinating take on how the storytelling and gameplay are presented Cons - Rough, unattractive visuals - Many of the characters and the conversations with them are not very interesting - Enemy attack phases are too slow Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent Lost Dimension wraps itself around its intriguing concept but loses sight on several portions that would support it to the fullest. It serves as a solid foundation but can't help but leave those who play it feeling somewhat under-served by the end of it. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  4. barrel

    Review image 4

    From the album: Lost Dimension

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    Review image 3

    From the album: Lost Dimension

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    Review image 2

    From the album: Lost Dimension

  7. barrel

    Review image 1

    From the album: Lost Dimension

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