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  1. barrel

    Review: Dragon's Crown Pro

    Developer: Vanillaware Publisher: Atlus USA/Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: May 15, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen With 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim being just beyond the horizon for a little while longer, Japanese developer Vanillaware seems content with putting out enhanced versions of their older projects these past few years. The first of these was the stellar 2016 remake Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir which was so impressively realized that it turned a severely flawed gem into the makings of a genuine gaming classic. In contrast, Dragon's Crown Pro will take a much higher level of scrutiny to notice its minimal changes on the newer PlayStation 4 hardware. For better or worse, it is still the same game it was five years ago. For those unaware, Dragon's Crown was a title that made its way onto the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita back in 2013. In spite of a lengthy and expensive development cycle, it ended up being a much-needed success for Vanilliaware, likely because of its rock-solid beat 'em up gameplay and distinct female character designs. Those with a more seasoned background in the subgenre were able to glean Dragon's Crown reverent (and hardly subtle) callbacks to classic titles such as Capcom's Dungeon & Dragons arcade games in particular. Considering how the game's art director, George Kamitani, had a hand in those D&D arcade games makes it all that much more clear he wanted Dragon's Crown to hearken back to beloved old school beat 'em ups, yet embrace it in a much more modern gameplay context. Being about four years removed since my last playthrough of the game I am surprised to have grown a stronger appreciation of it upon playing Dragon's Crown Pro. Just as it did five years ago, Dragon's Crown's near-timeless 2D art direction is immediately captivating and is dense with an absurd attention to detail, especially now that it has the benefit of a 4K resolution option as well. This is only complemented further by the fun, enthusiastic dungeon master-styled narration throughout (which can be changed to any of the playable character voices that also generally do a great job) which thankfully much more strongly resonates than the forgettable main plot itself involving -- surprise surprise -- dragons and a special crown of some sort. More important than the many striking presentational flourishes is, of course, the actual gameplay. Those comfortable with 2D fighting games, in particular, will likely find the controls of each of the six playable characters to feel like a dream. Layered on top of RPG-styled level progression and an addictive loot grind, this only makes finer character gameplay nuances that much more satisfying to uncover. As much as I enjoyed lifting enemies and tossing barrels as the Dwarf, or teleporting around and casting support spells as Sorceress, I decided to mess with around with the rest of the cast upon this revisit and found myself pleasantly surprised by all of their capability and multiplayer utility as well. But, admittedly, new players will likely still have to acclimate to control quirks like narrow foreground and background beat 'em up hitboxes or certain, clearly touchscreen-intended mechanics like opening treasure chests or using runes abilities (easily most intuitive on PS Vita, though the PS4 touchpad does work fine), if they are not already familiar with them. The issues that Dragon's Crown Pro unfortunately retains are more structural than anything else. The most common early complaint is that newcomers will still have to play a couple hours by themselves (potentially with AI companions) before they can even so much as touch the online multiplayer options. Ironically, after getting over that early slump, those same players will likely feel like they have "beaten" the game by themselves. To the game's credit, in spite of the poor story context of gathering nine talismans, they do a better job in a gameplay context to justify revisiting the familiar nine locations for "Path B" routes that provide distinctively more challenging and varied setpiece moments as well as entirely new bosses. Yet, even with the Path B routes, the repetition is likely to set in much more quickly without the help of other online/local players or the earned convenience of a save file that already played past the first nine bosses and allows them to play a level 15 character right away. The repetition problems are only exacerbated by rather dull quests that seem to conveniently pop immediately after the player likely completed their objectives mid-dungeon trek already. Though these quests are certainly optional (I never touched them until this release) they can be a good way to earn experience points, the occasional questionably lewd pictures, and, much more importantly, skill points which are vital for min/max reasoning to those who want to mess with the game's hardest content on higher difficulties or the randomly generated gauntlet Labyrinth of Chaos/Tower of Mirages modes. It really feels like a huge missed opportunity in general for Vanillaware to not add potentially new playable characters, stages, or modes regardless of how surprisingly well the game has aged. However, it says a lot about just how entertaining the core game is, glaring flaws and all, when I easily doubled my original thirty-hour playtime by trying out other characters or higher difficulties this time around. Even if it definitely missed its chance with sweeping changes, there are some small details that do help Dragon's Crown Pro to barely eke out its position as the best version of the title. Though it took me more time to notice than I care to admit, the entirely redone live orchestra soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakamoto is one such benefit, with richer vocals and instrumentation of the entire soundtrack. Much more granular details are appreciated too, like improved inventory interface, painless direct save transfer options from PS3 and PS Vita, or secretly most important of all, a much more stable PS4 online netcode, especially when playing with individuals overseas. Of course, I am reaching for straws because -- for as positive of a time I have had with the whole experience -- it is tough to make the argument for this re-release for those who did not already enjoy the game. After being spoiled by the excellent enhanced release of Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir not too long ago, it is more than a little disappointing at how little has been added to the PS4 release of Dragon's Crown Pro. Despite the passing of five years time, however, Dragon's Crown has aged remarkably well. It may retain its structural mishaps as well as repetition problems, but its stronger overall components also maintain its addictive moment-to-moment gameplay and superb visual and aural presentation. For those that did not exhaust themselves on the game the first time around, there is still good fun to be had with Dragon's Crown Pro in what is easily among one of the finest beat 'em ups available. It also serves as a good reminder as to why one should be excited for the upcoming next title Vanillaware has in store. Pros + Stunning visuals and incredibly tight beat 'em up gameplay that more than stand the test of a five years time + Charming choose-your-own-adventure styled narration and classic subgenre throwbacks that permeate throughout the experience + Great, addictive fun with fellow human players complemented by a smoother PS4 netcode Cons - Fairly repetitive design loop with no new gameplay additions in Dragon's Crown Pro can make it a tough sell for those that have already played the game on other consoles - Certain clearly touchscreen-focused mechanics like opening treasure chests or using runes are still most intuitive on the Vita hardware - Feels like a huge missed opportunity to not add new content such as extra levels or playable characters Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Vanillaware may have squandered its chance to significantly add upon and fine-tune Dragon's Crown Pro but, for an already high-quality beat 'em up, it does leave room for forgiveness for this minimal PS4 port, especially because of how enjoyable it is to play with others even now. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. barrel

    Review: Yakuza Kiwami

    Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: August 29, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature After being locked away for many years, Sega's Yakuza series has seen a sort of resurrection overseas. Fitting then that after the brilliant prequel in the form of Yakuza 0 just this year, Sega has quickly gone the extra mile to also bring over the PS4 remake of the series' very first title. That title, of course, is Yakuza Kiwami. With an enhanced presentation, new content, and a budgeted retail price tag is it worth revisiting Sega's former PS2 relic? The original Yakuza occupied a rather strange space in time, especially for Sega. It was a spiritual successor to Shenmue and, just like it, was also an utter commercial flop for several of the same reasons (poor sales and an overly expensive localization). Still, the series has mostly been kept alive in Japan, and hopefully soon to be the US as well, with each one paying reverence in some form to the very first game. But times have changed, and the series along with it. Yakuza Kiwami seems to embrace this philosophy while retaining the heart of an extremely faithful remake. Premise-wise, Kiwami is almost 100% identical to its PS2 forefather (there are a few new cutscenes which I'll get into a bit). Lead protagonist, Kazama Kiryu, is sentenced to jail by taking the blame for the murder of the Dojima clan's patriarch that his sworn brother, Nishiki, committed out of defense. Ten years later Kiryu is released from prison (his parole was real generous, apparently), only to learn that the tumultuous yakuza landscape has shifted dramatically. With murmurings of a missing ten billion yen from the Tojo clan, and a mysterious girl named Haruka that Kiryu accidentally gets stuck babysitting who may be the key to it all, sets the pieces into motion for the crime based tale that started it all. Beyond that, however, Yakuza Kiwami feels like it is playing an often subtle mind game based on whether or not those that played the original PS2 release are able to spot the differences. Some changes are quite obvious like the presentation. The PS2 version has not aged that well visually so the graphics derived from Yakuza 0's engine really pays off. Granted, it is somewhat clear the production values are not as high as 0's and certain aspects like basic environments or specific character faces still remain to be rather....um, unfortunate upon closer scrutiny. Other changes are less obvious, like how the cutscenes themselves are almost identical, even down to lip sync timing, despite being rendered in an entire new engine. Yet, at random junctions in the story they splice in a few new cutscenes -- most of which constantly made me second guess if they were in the original game or not -- that seem to mostly make a certain character's main narrative motivations more empathetic. If one played Yakuza 0 just before this they will also notice some familiarities to that title well. So, visuals aside, many of the quality of life changes introduced in 0 are pretty much all present such as the fun, if simplistic, combat system changes that allow Kiryu to switch between four different styles on the fly or the ability to play through a bevy of minigames from it too. Newcomers to the first Yakuza or the series in general should be in for a real treat regardless of the sheer breadth of gameplay activities to play around in. There is a lot to see and do in the streets of Kamuracho, like fight thugs in over-the-top combat, visit as well as date ladies at hostess bars, sing karaoke, play shogi, eat at various restaurants, go batting at baseball cages, and plenty more. Though series veterans will likely have more than a lingering feeling of been there, done that for the most part. I mean, it is a faithful remake after all. There are gameplay differences that are actually unique to the series in Kiwami, however. One of the biggest additions is that while waltzing around town from anything to brutally beating up random goons, moving to the next main story destination, or participating in side activities a certain someone is keeping their eyes on you the entire time. Well, 'one eye' on you to be quite specific. The person in question is the eccentric and often "Kiryu-chan!"-shouting thug (also former lead character of Yakuza 0, just FYI) named Majima Goro, who can appear from just about anywhere just to pick a fight with Kiryu. That is not hyperbole, mind you. Majima literally has an entire gameplay system around appearing just about anywhere called "Majima Everywhere." It leads to many genuinely hilarious and unexpected situations to the moment to moment gameplay. He may pop up out of a manhole, after one orders food from a restaurant, during certain mini games (though, he'll avoid the fisticuffs in those situations), and plenty more that I don't want to spoil just to challenge Kiryu. What is also neat about this system is that it also feeds into gameplay progression too like helping Kiryu learn many unique combat skills the more times you fight him too (technically 'remember'). Although, as one can guess, as wonderful as it is to see Majima in any capacity, it can be annoying at times when certain scripted events are recycled and it just feels like you are fighting him with more health the next time around (considering he gets stronger after certain progression points). That said, something nagged on me the entire time while playing. I will be the first to admit that this is somewhat unfair to the remake itself, but I found myself thinking about Yakuza 0 the entire time while playing it. And frankly, Yakuza 0 is a better game in nearly every capacity. The storytelling is much better told, scripted boss fights and battles are way more exciting, has more than double the amount of activities to partake in, and is just presented better. That is not to say Yakuza Kiwami is bad by any means; it is a really well-done remake after all. Yet, it is almost faithful to its original release to a fault as I was feeling far less nostalgic and more so pining to just go back and play Yakuza 0 instead. Yakuza Kiwami is not entirely a net positive from the PS2 release but it is real dang close. As minor as it is, the arrangements of familiar battle themes are rather underwhelming in Kiwami. Also disappointing is that the entire main theme -- "Receive You" -- is outright absent for the US release (seemingly due to licensing issues), so the title screen and battle themes associated with it have also been changed. But otherwise the audio department remains unscathed, though while unsurprising, it lacks the English dub in the original version. Regardless, I will count that too among Kiwami's many blessings, as the f-bomb obsessed and mediocre dub of that title is replaced and a way sharper and wittier English localization. I am torn on my outlook Yakuza Kiwami. On one hand, I really respect the many quality of life changes it presents and how far more accessible it makes one of the most important entries in the entire series to a broader audience (the significantly budgeted retail price helps with that too). On the other hand, as a remake, and as an individual Yakuza game, it feels almost faithful to a fault by not improving as much as it could have. Yakuza Kiwami is best used as a good reference point to where the franchise began than be held up to the standard of the series to its absolute prime as this year's Yakuza 0 was more than willing to prove. Pros + Borrowing Yakuza 0's engine helps add many quality of life improvements, from combat to minigames, to the series first debut + Really cleans up the presentation for what should be a fairly dated PS2 relic + "Majima Everywhere" system brings hilarious, unexpected situations to the moment to moment gameplay Cons - Does not quite have enough new to feel fresh to those that played the original PS2 release - So-so musical arrangements and complete omission of the original main theme "Receive You" in the US release are disappointing - Combat gets pretty repetitive with aggressive random encounters rates and Majima himself does unfortunately contribute to the problem as well - Can feel somewhat thin content-wise compared to more modern entries Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Yakuza Kiwami is an extremely faithful remake of the first title that is better at modernizing a former PS2 classic than it is at proving the best the series has to offer. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  3. Venom

    Review: Rock Zombie

    Rock Zombie recently shambled onto the WiiU eShop, just in time for Halloween. But how does this rockin' undead beat 'em up compare with the games of old that it claims to take inspiration from? Grab your zombie survival kit and read along as I tell you the tale of...The Rock Zombie Review! Developer: Quaternion Studio Publisher: EnjoyUp Games Platform: Wii U via eShop (version reviewed), Steam (coming in late 2014) Release Date: October 30, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen Rock Zombie tells you most of what you need to know right there in the title - there's gonna be rock, and there's gonna be zombies. The name of the game is also the name of its trio of stars, Zoe, Crystal, and Sasha, who have formed an all-girl band called Rock Zombie. While rocking out at one of their shows though, things go a bit south when a green mist seeps into the venue and turns their screaming fans into moaning zombies. Now the girls have to fight their way across the stage and across town in search of answers. What is this green mist? Where did it come from? Whose face do they have to melt to find out? The game promises an intriguing story, which is told entirely through static comic pages between certain levels. While there is certainly more story than your average beat 'em up, it's also a bit of a moot point when most players aren't going into a brawler for the story in the first place. It also doesn't help that the writing in the comics isn't particularly engaging or even grammatically correct at some points. Thankfully, regardless of if you care about why you're doing it or not, the game delivers plenty of opportunity to bash in some undead brains. Rock Zombie is a pretty typical beat 'em up that doesn't try to change too much about the genre. You've got a regular attack, a strong attack, two magic attacks - because the characters are also witches, you see - and the ability to block and evade. The magic attacks are tied to a bar that fills as you take out enemies, and serve as great projectile attacks to keep enemies from getting too close. Your standard melee attacks do the job of killing zombies just as well though, so there's not a lot of incentive to mix things up. You can create combos out of certain moves, but they don't string together well enough to be any different than just performing each attack separately. As you might guess, you'll mostly be fending off zombies, which come in regular, flaming, and acid spewing varieties but there are a few non-zombie enemies in the game, like giant spiders. Naturally, you'll be seeing the zombies more often than anything, and you'll also face off against a few bosses over the course of your 4-5 hour journey, some of which provide more challenge than others. And when I say "you" I unfortunately mean just you - the game lacks any multiplayer whatsoever. It's a baffling decision for a game that claims to have learned from the knee of its elders (like Golden Axe) to leave out one of the things that made those games so popular in the first place. The game was clearly designed with single-player in mind as well, as some of the areas would be too cramped for two players to move around easily, and there are a couple of atrocious vehicle segments that wouldn't work with two players. Most of the game isn't so challenging that you'd need an extra hand, but it would certainly make things more entertaining to bring a friend along. If you do soldier through the game alone, you'll find that there's lots of bonus goodies in the Zombie Museum to unlock with coins you gather through the game, as well as achievements to unlock that will require more than one playthrough to obtain them all. Beyond the gameplay, Rock Zombie doesn't really have much in the way of distinct visual or audio flair. While the environments look good and there's some variety between most of the levels, there's just not anything that really stands out either. You'll see sewers, city streets, warehouses, and other places that look exactly like your typical video game sewers, streets, warehouses, and so on. The character models for the enemies don't look too bad, though the player character models appear as if they're made out of plastic, like dolls with shiny hair and painted-on clothes. The audio, meanwhile should be one of the standout features - after all, it's right there in the name. While there's plenty of rocking and rolling, most of the music and sound effects are so generic that you'll hardly give them a second thought. It's a bit of a shame, since one would expect a game that lists the varied soundtrack as one of its features to make sure that the soundtrack is actually memorable. Perhaps more pressing, there were some glitches on both ends. The graphical glitches weren't too bad, and mostly consisted of the camera sometimes getting confused during perspective shifts and switching rapidly between different views, and just some oddities with enemy corpses and the blood that forms around them being wonky. There was also a pretty severe audio glitch around halfway through the game that caused the music and most of the sound effects to cut out completely, and the only fix was to quit back to the WiiU menu and restart the game. Overall the game definitely lacks technical polish, but fortunately there weren't any game-breaking bugs - everything works, it just doesn't all work particularly well sometimes. Given that it's mostly the work of a single person though, that's pretty understandable. When it comes down to it, Rock Zombie is a schlocky B-game with a schlocky B-movie premise, and it makes no apologies or excuses for it. Even if you're into that sort of thing, though, it would be difficult to actually recommend this game. It's certainly possible that players might get some mindless fun out of it, and, at $6.99, it's pretty cheap - worse games have cost more money. Unfortunately, there's just no stand-out aspects of this game that make it something everyone should experience. If, however, reading this review has gotten you interested in playing it, go for it - just know that not everyone is going to enjoy rocking to this game's tune. Score: 5.0/10 TL;DR version - Rock Zombie is a beat 'em up containing plenty of rock and plenty of zombies, with a storyline that delves into far more detail than most brawlers. While bashing in zombie heads over the course of the 5-ish hour campaign might offer some cathartic thrills, the lack of technical polish, of multiplayer, and of stand-out gameplay features means it's probably best to keep shambling past this title in search of something more engaging. Still, if you like B-movies, you might get a kick out of it, but you should probably still wait for a sale if you decide to try it.
  4. Developer: Tamsoft Publisher: XSEED Games Platforms: PS Vita Release Date: October 14, 2014 ESRB: M for Mature Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus knows exactly what it wants to be. Whether or not you are willing to accept its identity is another story, but frankly, it really doesn“t care if you do. In the producer“s own terminology, it has its sight set firmly on “Life” and “Hometown”, and you will know that immediately upon starting the game. I was aware of this, but I was still very surprised at how much more risque Shinovi Versus is in comparison to even Senran Kagura Burst. Reviewing Senran Kagura Burst may have caught me off-guard last year, but it was for entirely different reasons. Not because of “Life” and “Hometown”, which were certainly emphasized, but because it surpassed my expectations as a game and, dare I say it, through its storytelling. Neither aspect were terribly noteworthy on their own, but the overall experience ended up being better than the sum of its parts. Trying to balance expectations once again, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus attempts to prove that extremely unapologetic "fanservice" and decent storytelling/gameplay can be two sides of the same coin. Much like the original 3DS title, Shinovi Versus plays up the Good Shinobi vs Evil Shinobi theme. Hanzo academy and Gessen academy help depict Good Shinobi, while the Hebijo Academy, and the newly formed Renegades (or rather, former Hebijo students from the Senran Kagura Burst), as Evil Shinobi. Despite their similarities as well as differences, they all have their own perception to the currently prescribed Good & Evil Shinobi beliefs and, unsurprisingly, are brought to conflict for one reason or another. The story does a reasonable job at catching people up who have not played the first game. That isn't terribly important for the mostly predictable main narrative arcs of the four groups, but considering how much more character-focused the storytelling is it's good to know newcomers will be on mostly fair ground. However, the storytelling itself is very hit and miss depending on the group you play. Narratively, I think it is pretty apparent that more substance is put behind the Evil Shinobi characters, in particular Hebijo, while Good Shinobi feel like they are generally driven by much more shallow ideals. The story modes are not as in-depth individually as the Senran Kagura Burst, but accumulatively the story modes end up being quite a bit denser simply due twice as many characters to play as. This is kind of the recurring theme for Shinovi Versus as there is simply more of everything in comparison to the first release: more story, more characters, more gameplay/missions, more unlockables, lot more cosmetic options, and... a lot more perversion. It may be difficult to believe this, but Shinovi Versus is way more perverted than even Senran Kagura Burst. I think a lot of this is attributed to the change from a Teen rating to a Mature rating between both games. Everything from disintegrating clothing in combat, exaggerated physics, to even innuendo in dialogue has really been upped with the release of Shinovi Versus. To give more specific examples, if you use a special move as a final blow in combat, you can destroy a characters bra or panties (granted, censored in a goofy way) and it will carry over into the next story scene, and I'm not even going to talk about how much lingerie the in-game shop has for its multitude of character outfits. It really creates a weird dissonance considering how serious the characters may be in certain story scenes, only to be wearing virtually nothing because of the perverted gameplay mechanics. But, is the gameplay good? Well, this release leaves the 2D beat 'em up plane in favor of a substantial transition to 3D environments as a brawler in Shinovi Versus. I am a bit mixed about the change in gameplay styles, honestly, simply because I have higher expectations in what I'd expect from action games that take place in a 3D space. I think I can subjectively say that Shinovi Versus is a better game than its predecessor. There are twice as many characters and they all feel quite different with their extremely flashy attack combos. Also, in general it simply looks and runs much better than the 3DS title. In a lot of ways, it actually feels like the more natural progression for the series mechanically and it really feels like it is doubling down on its own identity in regards to presentation, for better or worse, even if I really don't inherently care for the direction. That said, I“m going to be upfront—Musou-styled games are not really a sub-genre I care for at all. I re-solidified my opinion of this after playing Warriors Orochi 3: Ultimate recently. While Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is technically closer to a brawler more than something of a musou ilk, simply because of its smaller scale and focus on mobility, it does feel like it hits a similar simplistic action gameplay appeal. I may think it is better than what passes for musou nowadays, but I have higher expectations for 3D action releases and in this regard Shinovi Versus has several problems. My biggest complaints with this entry are actually with its camera and gameplay progression in particular. The first grievance is with its camera. There are two key reasons why it has issues, that being a wonky lock-on system and a camera that feels too zoomed. Unfortunately, you can't adjust either of these and you have to accept that it'll be obscured for one reason or another. Thankfully it isn't particularly difficult game at all, as I had only seen the game-over screen once when trying out a character for the first time, but I could imagine it being a big problem for those trying to achieve higher ranks or difficulties. Actually, speaking of that, I also don“t think the skill/combo progression is handled very well in Shinovi Versus either. Some characters feel absolutely useless when you first get them, and most characters don“t show their natural playstyle until hitting at least level 10. In all honesty, it sort of becomes busy work to essentially level grind for certain characters to even be fun to play as. It may not take long to level characters up, especially through the optional "girl's heart" side missions, but it still feels no less tedious especially for an already repetitive level design structure. If there is one thing I can say about Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, though, it is that it has a lot of personality. I don“t even mean that facetiously either; well, not entirely. It's visually vibrant and, perversion aside, has a pretty distinct look that looks solid in motion from gameplay, clean menus/interface, and story scenes on the Vita screen. It does have problems with fairly long load times, despite being Dark Souls-ish in terms of giving random tidbits. Also, like the original, the soundtrack is also surprisingly good. The character themes play with a lot of musical styles from rock-orchestra, Spanish guitar, and even creative arrangements of classical pieces. Overall, Senran Kagura: Shivovi Versus is almost unquestionably better than its predecessor. It looks better, plays better, has a lot more content, and goes the extra mile with more of its love or hate it distinct visual sensibilities. The biggest problem is that its transition to a 3D perspective is not completely seamless due to a limiting gameplay progression, awkward camera, and a lot of other quirks bogging it down. While it may have gotten further away from what I found to be a pleasant surprise with Senran Kagura Burst, as a straightforward beat 'em up it is still likely to surpass expectations for those who can cope with its overwhelming amount of perversion with its aesthetic. Pros: + Lots of varied characters with very flashy attacks and combos + Huge amount of story content and missions + Character theme songs are surprisingly good + Many cosmetic options Cons: - Lock-on is unreliable and camera is too slow/zoomed in. - Fairly repetitive level design - Long load times - Leveling-up progression severely limits character abilities early in - Much more perverted than even Senran Kagura Burst Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent Despite a not wholly successful shift in gameplay styles from its predecessor, the series remains as a brawler that has more overall substance than you'd expect. Of course, you have to be willing to overlook (or look at?) its extremely unapologetic and perverted presentation in order to do so. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  5. Developer: Acquire Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PS3, Vita ESRB: M for Mature Release Date: August 12, 2014 It must really suck to be a vampire in Japan. According to Akiba“s Trip: Undead & Undressed, all vampires want to do is sulk around Akihabara with a hunger for rare goods. Of course, such a simple plan is ruined if the Akiba Freedom Fighters catch up with you. They“ll beat you up and tear off your clothes, leaving vampires to evaporate due to sunlight exposure. Akiba“s Trip puts you on the side of good although the protagonist himself has inherited inhuman powers… This isn“t really a spoiler because the poor hero is captured within the opening moments of the game. There he comes face to face with a man in charge of converting regular otaku into vampire slaves. What“s this all about? As the game progresses, you learn more about this strange organization and its goals. In any case, the basics are that Akihabara is swamped with vampires and you need to stop them from converting more unsuspecting citizens to their side. Thanks to newfound powers, you“re suddenly a super powerful and skilled fighter. Armed with random objects you collect from downed enemies, you enact street justice whenever a vampire crosses your path. Most of the time fights are initiated due to story sequences. However, there“s also a lot of room to simply explore the city. After a smartphone upgrade it“s even possible to sense which NPCs are vampires. No matter what, there are a ton of fights to pick during an Akiba“s Trip playthrough. The game appears to take inspiration from other modern beat ”em ups. At the start you“re given just paltry weaponry, but after downing a few vamps you gain access to greater goods. For example, one might drop a baseball bat which offers increased attack reach. Then again a street sign offers even more reach, although it“s slower as well. Enemies also drop clothes which you can then equip yourself. It“s a bit creepy but each clothing item has its own stats. Basically, you want to have “strong” clothes so vampires can“t strip you as easily. There“s also a special system in play for how to damage clothing. In two of the three difficulty settings, players must target hats, shirts, and pants/skirts separately. Each item of clothing has its own defense and by attacking it you wear that segment down. Once low enough it“s easy to tear off the garment. As you do this to enemies, they do the same to you. Players can return clothes to full health but it takes a few seconds to do this. Usually there“s not many openings to get spruced up. Beat ”em ups are really hit and miss and it feels like it takes a long time before Akiba“s Trip really gets into a groove. Much of the early fights seem almost unfair thanks to super cramped fighting quarters and big groups against you. The camera also tends to get in weird spots. Yes, you can move this but while being beaten by a group of vampires that“s probably the last thing anyone wants to worry about. Eventually, fight areas widen up and you have access to enough goods to balance fights but the game ends shortly after. Thankfully, there is a New Game + mode which lets you restart with all previously collected items and characters already. From the outside, Akiba“s Trip appears like a truly ridiculous, silly title. I came into the game fully expecting juvenile humor, male gaze-y scenes, and a ton of humor. What I didn“t expect to find was unchecked bigotry. You see, there“s a optional message board called Pitter which updates in game with responses to what happens in the story and there“s a particularly hateful user on there. They name call one other user multiple times and somehow this fictional hater shocked and bothered me. Most players were not harmed in any way by these segments, but because I was it“s something worth mentioning. If you might also take issue with it then ignore Pitter entirely. Although Akiba“s Trip had the potential to be a riotously fun title, it feels weirdly restricted. Yes, it“s awesome that Akihabara is replicated in video game format, but it“s cut up into chunks with long loading times between each. Yes, there are a boat load of weapons but what benefit is there to trying each when so many are totally weak? Honestly, the best portion of the game is its storyline and interaction between characters. Every time a battle cropped up I couldn“t help but groan because they were annoying most of the time. It would have been so much better to simply skip all that periphery and enjoy the story alone. Akiba“s Trip is not a visual novel but it might have honestly been better as one. As is, the game is an average beat ”em up with a better than average storyline. Pros: + Surprisingly entertaining story with a fun cast + Lots of character customization, especially during a replay + Incredible visual reproduction of Akihabara Cons: - Fights for majority of game feel especially cramped and annoying - Little reason to utilize the wide array of available weaponry - Camera gets into messy angles at all the wrong times Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent Akiba's Trip is certainly odd, but that alone fails to make the beat 'em up experience all that compelling. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.
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    Review: Senran Kagura Burst

    Developer: Tamsoft Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: 3DS (eshop only) Release Date: November 14, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A download code was provided by the publisher for this review As much as I love Japanese video games, every now and then there are certain game properties from there that make me furrow my brow in bitter disappointment due to their ”target demographic.' On consoles specifically, this includes shallow, sexualized, and arguably sexist titles like Gal*Gun, Onechambara, and Dream Club. Of course, there are also games that embrace very questionable ”fanservice“ like Dragon“s Crown, Ar Tonelico 2, and Skullgirls (not Japanese, but still), that pave very solid, arguably great, titles with plenty of gameplay substance. Recently, XSEED did the completely unexpected by finally localizing Senran Kagura Burst - a 3DS title that makes it quite apparent that it follows its own sort of gravitational field in regards to presentation, like other questionably sexualized franchises. What was originally two separate releases in Japan, Senran Kagura Burst is the definite 3DS release containing two different story campaigns: Senran Kagura: Skirting Shadows and Senran Kagura: Crimson Girls. Skirting Shadows focuses on a cast of "Good Shinobi" from the Hanzo Academy, while Crimson Girls focuses on "Evil Shinobi" from the Hebijo Academy, both having very different narrative scenarios and playable characters. Does Senran Kagura Burst help buck the trend of shallow fanservice games, or is it yet another unfortunate and tasteless example of a game stripping all of its potential pride? At its heart, Senran Kagura Burst is a very fast-paced and mobile beat 'em up. The cast of characters are generally eccentric, full of visual personality, and the moves they use are also over-the-top. Outside of more traditional beat 'em up titles, though, it is far more aerial-based, especially for combo attacks. And in spirit of more anime-like fighting games, you have a combat skillset with light/heavy attacks, air-dashes, defensive bursts, and more. While I would love to avoid the topic, you can't honestly get away with talking about Senran Kagura Burst without mentioning exploding garments and tattered midriffs, which occur to characters when they take a certain amount of damage. In addition, when the characters change outfits mid-battle or use certain special moves, they flamboyantly emphasize the characters', erm, exuberant physical proportions, which are more than a bit distracting (but you can skip the lengthy animations of them). Even if these features are purely cosmetic and not integral to the core game, it's quite apparent that the game wears its fanservice boastfully, and is likely to either please simple minds or put off, or outright offend, others. Where Senran Kagura is most likely to shock people (beyond its hardly subtle 'fanservice') is actually within the dense amount of visual novel-styled story sequences. Narrative backdrop initially starts off with a simple explanation on the difference between the Hanzo academy "Good Shinobi" and Hebijo academy "Evil Shinobi" and focuses on whichever narrative side the player chooses to play through. While the storytelling does more than occasionally feel like typical long-winded, slice-of-life anime fluff, especially on the Hanzo side, it gets a surprising amount of substance when it fleshes out the various individual characters and their backstories, especially of the darker Hebijo characters' side which tends to play on expectations the most. Despite the exposition-heavy visual novel portion of the title, the fast-paced gameplay generally lends itself pretty well to portable bursts (pun not intended). Each mission usually lasts no more than ten minutes, assuming you have the confidence to play it outside of the house. Unfortunately, the fun and fast-paced combat does lead to repetition pretty quick like many beat-'em-up games due to the limited combo moveset. The playable characters themselves are varied, but the overall mechanics and enemy encounters lead to most battles feeling very familiar, especially if you play both story routes. The game does try to spice up regular missions with a leveling progression, mission grades, frantic mode (a pseudo-hard difficultly), many cosmetic unlockables, and plenty to work toward, but overall the gameplay leans more on mindless fun and overlooking the repetition. Though it is basically a two-year-old 3DS game in Japan, Senran Kagura Burst isn't a bad looking game on technical level. The 3D character models in particular have a lot of visual personality that definitely stand out in their glorified, albeit excessive, animations. Also, in the visual novels scenes I do like how they utilize the 3D in-game visuals to propel them, instead of the still-frames that are so common in VN's and RPG's, showing the character's extra personality quirks, like Hikage's snake-like tongue movements or the bashful side of characters like Yagyu. In the midst of gameplay and combat, however, it seems to buckle down a very noticeable amount in regards to framerate. It doesn't become as much of a presentational mess (like Code of Princess on 3DS) and ruin the overall experience, but the framerate is rather choppy in contrast to its speedy nature and it is extra apparent in the very few smaller scale fights that run very smooth. For a game that seems to really like surpassing expectations, even the audio caught me off-guard. The battle music is fairly varied, going from a remix of Schickhardt's Sonata with a Japanese flair, to some intense upbeat rock themes that usually fit the cast of characters. Also, for the extra nerdy (like myself), there is a lot of fitting and popular Japanese voice actors for the various characters, despite the hammy and bubbly script they have to work with at times. Senran Kagura Burst is the very definition of a game that is better than it has any right being. Very unlike most ”fanservice-y“ games, it feels rather earnest with trying to be a fun game while also providing a surprisingly in-depth character focused narrative, but it is also keenly aware of what kind of (perverted) market it is after at the end of the day. It is unfortunate that the gameplay isn“t nearly deep or varied enough to satisfy more technical action game fans, like myself, and the story isn“t strong enough to recommend solely as a visual novel. Still, it“s a game that is better than the sum of its parts, regardless of its very apparent rough edges. If you are willing to spend some time and give Senran Kagura Burst eye contact, you may be in for a pretty pleasant surprise, but only if you pay attention to the right places. Pros: + Surprisingly in-depth, character focused, visual novel narrative + Fun, fast-paced, and mobile beat 'em up gameplay + Polished 3D character models with plenty of personality in cutscenes. + Solid battle music + Plenty of unlockables, missions, and playable characters Cons: - Pretty unapologetic about ”fanservice“ especially during gameplay - Hanzo story route is rather slow and predictable - Gameplay is generally pretty repetitive - Presentation has noticeable framerate drops during most battles Overall Score: 7.0 (out of 10) Good The fanservice alone will more than likely push away or outright offend some people, but if you can play along with it in a tongue-in-cheek mindset, much like the game does, Senran Kagura Burst offers more gameplay, and dare I say it, narrative substance than you“d expect.
  7. Marcus Estrada

    Review: Final Exam

    Developer: Mighty Rocket Studio Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Platform: PC (Steam), PS3, Xbox 360 Release Date: November 5, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PC version of the game A download code was provided by the publisher for this review Have you ever heard of a, well, obscure series by the name of ObsCure? Revolving around horrors tormenting a cast of teenagers, the series was always a bit more ham-fisted than frightening. All the same, it drew in a following. This collective audience was pretty mad when Final Exam was revealed. At the time, it was being specifically titled as the next ObsCure game and was no longer a survival horror title. Instead, it was a beat ”em up! As such, the name was changed and development continued in this direction. Now that Final Exam is out we can see just how it stacks up. It all begins with a group of characters who are on their way to a high school reunion. Instead of showing up and finding all their old friends, they“re greeted by green oozing and bubbling monsters instead. Players assume the role of one of the high school stereotype characters (jock, nerd, etc) and set forth destroying all the baddies in their path. To what ends? Well, the story isn“t very in depth, but there is a reason to it all revealed in the last few chapters. The real meat of Final Exam comes in the beat ”em up gameplay. In either single player, local multiplayer, or online multiplayer, you“ll be fighting copious amounts of enemies. However, it“s not your typical beat ”em up. Each stage has a series of missions that must be completed. Sometimes this requires breaking specific objects while others task you with moving items to a different area. Regardless of what you“re tasked with, there will be multitudes of enemies regularly swarming around to slow the pace. This is the main reason that playing the game alone is not suggested. Unless you“ve already beaten it and leveled all up, there“s a lot of effort exerted to kill even average enemies. Each can take a tremendous beatdown before giving up and there always seem to be more monsters ready to arrive. Having two to four partners in game makes completing missions far more manageable. Instead of doing tasks and stopping periodically to fight, you can switch off between who gets monster duty. Fighting continuously is a pretty dull task which makes Final Exam“s implementation of character upgrades and skills worthwhile. At the end of each mission, players gain points that they can use to spend on upgrading traits or unlocking new abilities. These special skills require the related bar to be filled during play, but the meter fills up pretty quickly. Once some new specials and skills have been unlocked, it makes containing enemy swarms a bit more manageable. Just a bit, though, as monsters still soak up a lot of hits. So, get used to their presence. For being a beat ”em up, you would expect Final Exam to have a variety of enemies to encounter. Unfortunately, there are about five in all, with them mostly being split into the camp of neon green bipeds or quadrupeds. There is one main boss type who is encountered at multiple junctions but that“s all. This sad shame in variety of creature types is really weird. They“re not zombies, after all, so why aren“t there more distinct creatures to encounter? The more you play, the easier it is to realize its shortcomings. While the game has lovely graphics, different specials for each character, a couple weapon types, and a full range of multiplayer options, the gameplay itself just isn“t that compelling. It might be fun to run through once with a group of friends, but that takes 2-4 hours. After that, there“s little reason to return to Final Exam. Pros: + Co-op modes (local and online) work flawlessly and there are many people playing + Interesting cartoon aesthetic gives game distinct look + Missions change up gameplay Cons: - Fighting enemies is dull until you“ve unlocked a host of abilities (and even then…) - Monsters are sponges for damage and are always arriving at the most inopportune times - Lack of compelling reasons to replay Overall Score: 5.0 (out of 10) Average Final Exam should have studied the beat ”em up genre further to craft a more engaging experience.
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    From the album: Senran Kagura Burst

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    From the album: Senran Kagura Burst

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    From the album: Senran Kagura Burst

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    From the album: Senran Kagura Burst

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    From the album: Senran Kagura Burst

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  13. Have you been waiting for a new beat 'em up to play on XLBA? If so, then perhaps Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds will be up your alley. The game takes on a 2D pixel-styled appearance with chibi characters. Mages have brought the game West and this will actually be the first game they have ever released in North America. There are four players to choose from and of course you can team up with friends in co-op to beat up everything in sight. Both online and local co-op (up to four players) are included. Four modes are also included which are story, arcade, co-op, and battlegrounds. If the name seems familiar that's because Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is itself a spin off of the game Phantom Breaker. What makes this notable is that game actually has not come out yet. A multitude of delays have kept it from arriving and so it seems especially odd that the spin off will see release first. Regardless, Battle Grounds is out today and costs 800 Microsoft Points. Here's the official trailer to see what you're in for:
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    Review: Anarchy Reigns

    Developer: Platinum Games Publisher: Sega Platform: PS3/Xbox 360 Release Date: 1/8/13 ESRB: M for Mature This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game. A retail copy was provided by the publisher for this review. Platinum Games has earned quite a reputation over the years with their higher pedigree approach to action games. Even if they proudly have games like Bayonetta and Vanquish under their belt, it seems like as a whole, most of their games have been more so critical darlings than commercial successes. The ambitious developer hopes to continue the tradition by crafting their most recent game, Anarchy Reigns - a crazy beat 'em up/brawler and HD spiritual successor to their first title, Madworld. Though the game has been out in Japan for roughly over half a year, and more than arguably fully-localized, it has finally received an official overseas release and at a discount $30 price to boot. Does this overdue release earn its keep or should it be left in the bargain bin? Probably the most practical introduction to the game, outside of the necessary tutorial, is the game's single-player, which features two sides of a short story mode. Representing the 'black' side is Jack Cayman, familiar face and lead protagonist of Madworld in quite literally new colors, and representing the 'white' side is new character Leonhardt "Leo" Victorion. Both campaigns can are played separately by player preference, until both narratives eventually overlap for a final conflict, otherwise known as the 'red' side in the game's color based jargon. Jack's story tells the tale of a hot-tempered mercenary with a chainsaw attached to his arm and a quest for vengeance. Leo's story, on the other hand, tells of a law-enforcement cybernetic agent, tracking a rogue member by the name of Maximilian. Admittedly, Platinum's games have never really been known for their high-quality storytelling, and it is especially apparent in Anarchy Reigns. Even if a lot of the cast seem to have a distinct flair, a good majority of them are pretty two-dimensional and some embody some very general stereotypes. It's a good thing that Anarchy Reign's overall tongue-in-check nature makes it apparent that it doesn't take itself too seriously, but that isn't to say that that tongue-in-check nature spares the game from feeling like, outside of the end, the single-player story was constructed in a somewhat basic attempt at bringing the off-the-wall cast in back-to-back, short-lived skirmishes. Despite that, The single player is a solid means to get comfortable with the game, and the most efficient way to unlock a good bulk of the characters to play online. Unfortunately, it is possible to feel a bit underwhelmed with it as a whole. I enjoyed Jack's side of the campaign more, with its nods to Madworld and his more entertaining personality, but Leo's, from a gameplay standpoint, was more mechanically fun. Regardless, the single-player was, as a whole, pretty bare-bones and came off as repetitive. There are only a handful of maps and missions available, and overall it is centered around earning a certain amount of points until you can progress further. I wouldn't say it is particularly bad so much as it is 'entertaining enough' due to game's overall zany attitude and fun combat system. Combat in Anarchy Reigns is solid, as you would expect from a Platinum Games title, and it certainly has their trademark over-the-top style and quirk. Battles allow players to mess around with both ground- and aerial-based crazy combos, as well as use deadly environmental objects/subweapons, or simply show off with plenty of character specific signature moves in the midst of combat. Like a lot brawlers and beat ”em ups, it can be easy to misunderstand this game for a ”button-masher“ and, in all honesty, it may very well be possible to get away with that in single-player mode. That said, for those willing to take the time to learn the basics of the game, or those willing to take the extra step to learn deadly techniques for higher-level play with the the virtual training room, Anarchy Reigns actually embodies the upper echelon of the craft. Where Anarchy Reigns probably shines the most is in its online multiplayer. Players compete in various entertaining modes to showcase or better their skills. The more straightforward game types are tag-team, deathmatch (and the team variations), capture the flag, survival, and a few others, but I think Anarchy Reigns's more distinctive modes are Deathball and Battle Royale. Deathball combines the deadly combat with a hyperactive football-esque sport, and has teams try to score into opposing goalposts by any means necessary. Battle Royale, where similar in concept to deathmatch, is a much more frantic in nature free-for-all with many varying side-objectives, obstacles, and means to collect points and rise to the top. Technically, there is a few more modes that were relegated to pre-order downloadable content, but I was unable to try them as of this review. Even though a lot of the multiplayer is good fun in its own right, I am a bit disappointed the game doesn“t allow any offline component for it. I“m sure the game probably wouldn't lend itself well to a split-screen nature, but I don“t see why the smaller scale modes like Survival, Tag Team, or Deathmatch couldn't be played offline. Plus, with the ability to use player bots in online private matches or even in the single-player 'simulator' of the online modes, even the bigger modes don't seem too out of the question to me. It just seems like an odd omission to not include offline multiplayer, or at least some version of it. Visually, the game isn't likely to compete with the more renowned AAA big boys, despite using what almost seems like the entirety of a standard 360 disc in terms of space. There aren't a whole lot of maps, and neither the environments nor character models are likely to push the hardware for either platform too much. Having said that, the characters and their animations have a lot of distinct personality and the game doesn't really stutter too much on a technical level. Supposedly, the original Japanese release was riddled with quite a few technical issues, but I personally had no noticeable bugs in my experience with the game; I suppose a half year delay helps in that regard. Load times can possibly be a hindrance on 360 if you don't do a full install of the game, but are negligible otherwise. From hip-hop to rap to techno beats, the game's overall musical score seems to complement the game's 'cool' attitude well. I also noticed Anarchy Reigns sneaks in plenty of musical fanfare reminiscent of Platinum“s Madworld, with more than a couple distinctly familiar artists and tunes, which is neat. On the voice-acting side, even if the main game doesn“t have the best script, the English voice actors do a pretty solid delivery throughout from story events to the battles, and I never felt compelled to dabble with the vocal tracks of other languages. I may question the liberties they took with some characters though, and the stereotypes some represent, but I have no real complaints with voice acting or the overall audio. Anarchy Reigns makes for a very unique game, especially considering the default asking price of $30. Even if it could be perceived as a lack of confidence in the actual product, Anarchy Regins actually brings a much higher grade of quality to what is often associated to brawlers/beat ”em ups and more than earns its accessible retail asking price. The game does have some rough edges with a somewhat lacking single-player, a throwaway story, and non-existent offline multiplayer. Beyond that, though, it would be a disservice to not give the game a shot amidst the well-constructed combat system, online multiplayer, solid audio and voice work, and just plain fun over-the-top attitude. For those who enjoy Platinum Games' titles, they should feel right at home among the chaotic, lawless, but still very fun order that is Anarchy Reigns. Pros: + Fun combat system with many different playable characters + Entertaining online multiplayer + Solid voice acting and soundtrack + Lots of personality and style Cons: + No offline multiplayer + Somewhat lacking single player + Weak main story Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good A frantic and fun beat 'em up action game. Fans of Platinum Games should feel right at home, as Anarchy Reigns is more than worthy to note considering the fairly reasonable retail price tag.
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    From the album: Anarchy Reigns

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    From the album: Anarchy Reigns

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    From the album: Anarchy Reigns

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