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  1. barrel

    Review: Tokyo Xanadu EX+

    Developer: Falcom Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PS4 Release Date: December 8, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen It has not been that long since the Vita release of the action-RPG Tokyo Xanadu -- a slick-looking game for Sony's portable system that tried to serve as a departure from Falcom’s signature series like The Legend of Heroes and Ys titles. If anything, Tokyo Xanadu felt like a confluence of both of Falcom’s key franchises with a modern day setting and more distinctly “anime” take. The enhanced version on PS4 named Tokyo Xanadu EX+ boasts much in the way of newly added content and enhanced visuals but is it really worth the envy of impulsive players of the original? In terms of fundamentals, Tokyo Xanadu EX+ is largely familiar to its handheld predecessor. From the episodic style of anime storytelling to the dungeon crawling and occasional social aspects both in and out of school, the heart of Tokyo Xanadu EX+ remains the same. How it wears its recent Persona game influence (4 especially) on its sleeve remains quite prevalent as well. Frankly, my recommendation remains steadfast that one should just play something like Persona 3-5 before getting to something so clearly derivative of that series yet not nearly as good. Heck, the title is not even Falcom's A-game either when recent Ys games have better combat systems and The Legend of Heroes has much stronger characters and storytelling. For those curious as to what Tokyo Xanadu EX+ has to offer, there's a surprising amount compared to what its predecessor offered and it's safe to say that it's the definitive version of the game. What is actually new seems to stem out from various attempts at re-balancing and dispersing new content here and there between the main story. Enemies and bosses are noticeably more aggressive to counter the player’s newly added combat tools, enhanced 60 fps fidelity, and more responsive controls. For example, the mechanic "X-Drive", which used to be a temporary stat/regen buff on Vita, does that as well as summon another ally to join mid-battle and spam special moves alongside the player character in EX+. The game was not particularly challenging on the standard difficulty and remains so on PS4, but it feels that much honest on PS4 because the technical side is not a point of contention anymore and the enemy AI nowhere near as sleepy. While the action-RPG gameplay itself remains fairly average with repetitive dungeon crawling and so-so storytelling, the PS4 port itself is excellent. The art direction holds up and the generally silky smooth frame rate makes it pleasing to look in motion despite more than a few bland environments/enemy models. This stood out to me all that much more after playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 alongside with it which is far less cohesive aesthetically, and technically, in comparison. Perhaps the most likely cause of envy for those saddled with the Vita release is the many new story scenes. After every chapter, there is a new narrative interlude generally focused on a specific character and ends with a short dungeon trek. Unfortunately, most extra chapters are barely worth mentioning except for the ones centered on the most intriguing character of the main narrative named "White Shroud" which gives players a neat taste of endgame combat early in. Speaking of which, if there is one aspect truly worth the spite of Vita-only owners, it is the endgame "After Story" chapter. Taking place following the main story, the After Story starts rather cute with a Halloween theme and heartwarming interpersonal sidequests. Though, that goodwill is later ruined by the lengthy grind of extra dungeons that introduce next to nothing new along a sequel tease to top it all off. Tokyo Xanadu EX+ straddles the line of being a wonderful port but also begs the question as to why did they put such effort into a game that hardly stands out as is. The PS4 version cleans up and refines the title in many subtle ways -- from extra story chapters, tightened up battle mechanics, and an enhanced presentation -- yet it still doesn't shake the overbearing feeling of Tokyo Xanadu being so thoroughly average among much better role-playing games in 2017 (even from Falcom itself.). It may be the most complete version the game has to offer though I can certainly think of more than a few PS4 RPGs more worth one's time before even giving Tokyo Xanadu EX+ a passing glance. Pros + Great port to PS4 from enhanced visuals to tighter combat mechanics + The "After Story" chapter is a neat addition Cons - Most extra chapters barely add anything story or gameplay-wise and feel like bloat for a game that already had way too much - Still has the fundamental problems of the original game from throwaway storytelling/characters and tedious dungeon crawling Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average Tokyo Xanadu EX+ is essentially what the original release should've been with its neat additions but still struggles to really stand out among many better role-playing game options from 2017 Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. barrel

    Review: Tokyo Xanadu

    Developer: Falcom Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PS Vita Release Date: June 30, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game Falcom has gradually been winning over the hearts and minds of Japanese role-playing game fans overseas these past several years. With the Ys series, they have hit a sweet spot with action-RPG fans due to the purity of their fast-paced and fun combat design (their sweet soundtracks helped too). On the other end there are The Legend of Heroes titles where, despite having quite the troubled localization history, they have enticed fans with their incredibly meticulous world-building and character development with such releases as the fashionably late Trails in the Sky: The Third earlier this year. Now arrives a rather loose spiritual successor to one of Falcom's oldest dungeon crawler series, Xanadu, under the newest entry called Tokyo Xanadu. With a far more modern setting and gaming influences does Falcom continue to hit their stride or does Tokyo Xanadu just feel out of touch at what they do best? Right out of the gate Tokyo Xanadu feels dense with anime tropes and a modern Tokyo flair. So you'll see no shortage of anime cliches like idols, a super hacker, a bancho-esque delinquent, and plenty of high school life. This can totally be fine if well-written enough, or they subvert such tropes in clever ways, as titles like Persona 3 and 4 have certainly proven. And, well, Tokyo Xanadu kind of does that and... kind of does not; it's weird. It also wears the influence of recent Persona games on its sleeve too, which is all the more strange after having played Persona 5 released just this year. The basic premise is something along the lines that the lead character, Kou, stumbles upon a rather odd scene returning home after working late at his part-time job. Just before he attempts to play the hero in order to stop thugs from harassing a female classmate of his, a dangerous portal to another world randomly opens up and sucks everyone into it. Turns out, "Eclipse" portals are a common occurrence outside of the public eye that an underground organization, known as "Nemesis" (that his female classmate, Hiragi, happens to be a part of too) has to deal with to protect normal people from otherworldly monsters. So, after the Eclipse phenomenon impedes upon Kou's personal life a few too many times, he decides to help Hiragi with dealing with the eclipse to protect his friends and family. Oh, and Kou can manifest a magical weapon in the other realm too, because anime. As a game, Tokyo Xanadu is a hodgepodge of a lot of ideas, but most of all it is a dungeon-crawler action-RPG with social elements. It's like a mix of both Falcom's recent Ys and The Legend of Heroes releases but in a lite sort of way. It doesn't exactly satisfy when it comes to either their strengths, but it does evoke the feeling of both. Throughout the story, as well as optionally, players will come across different Eclipse dungeons. In these moments one will gain control of three different party members to play as and can switch between them on the fly in an action-RPG fashion. Tokyo Xanadu attempts to justify this through the use of strengths/weaknesses affinities, very much like recent Ys, but the normal difficulty is not skewed in a way that makes it feel all that necessary. I only really tried to exploit enemy weaknesses to get higher completion ratings and what I believe to be increased drop rates on items, but the practicality of it rarely surfaces for anything other than a player-imposed sense of changing it up. Which, well, the game doesn't do all that well to justify. The dungeon and enemy design are not particularly varied outside of bosses, but combat is entertaining enough despite not quite getting as frantic as Ys does. The rest of the experience feels more closely linked to like Trails of Cold Steel, which, by further extension, were influenced by Persona 3 & 4. So plenty of optional friendship events to uncover both in and out of school, sidequests and side activities to undertake from skateboarding to arcade games, and main character traits to increase based on specific actions (though, the stats feel pretty superfluous in this title beyond fairly minor bonuses). These tried and true systems work fine, and in pure presentation improves upon Trails of Cold Steel a noticeable amount, but the underlying story and cast of characters it's centered around makes these systems come off more like fluff as neither are all that compelling. As stated before, the anime influence is incredibly strong in Tokyo Xanadu (outside of obvious character art). And not exactly in a good way. It feels very much like a weekly show with the opening song to start it off, and a new companion by the end to conclude most chapter arcs. Plus, it is pretty aggressive with anime tropes like going pro hacker to a "bancho" like figure so shortly after. While none of the characters are particularly obnoxious (except maybe the "pro hacker" guy.), they are also not all that interesting either and barely subvert the apparent anime character trope they are based on, if at all. This stands out even more because there are fairly long stretches of storytelling where you will do little more than move to different parts of town to trigger new cutscenes. It's weird because Tokyo Xanadu is quite well made from a production standpoint. They clearly made it with the Vita hardware in mind and it plays and runs smooth both in and out of combat for the most part. The soundtrack is fairly catchy, and it is respectable how much (and how well) Japanese-only voice acting is prevalent throughout. Little details like how it is presented fairly stylishly as well are cool too (not Persona 5 stylish, but no other game really is). Facets like the NiAR phone interface make it easy to keep track of storytelling to sidequests to in-game UI and conveys a lot of information quite well. Despite all of this, however, Tokyo Xanadu feels somewhat hollow and it hugely boils down to its storytelling and cast it revolves around. The strangest part of Tokyo Xanadu is that it is a fairly well-made game but rarely excels at any one thing (except maybe music). Its storytelling straddles the line of inoffensive and also dense with anime tropes. Combat is entertaining but is not varied or challenging enough because of the dungeons and enemies themselves. I find myself thinking that I would sooner recommend the likes Falcom's other properties that one can also play on the Vita instead. Like, if one wanted a fun action-RPG I would suggest Ys Seven on PSP. If one wanted to see very intricate world-building, smart writing, and good character development I would suggest Trails in the Sky on PSP or Trails of Cold Steel on Vita. Tokyo Xanadu is a solid title but it feels like a half step in both gameplay and storytelling when Falcom has clearly proven better when they are focused on either one. Pros + Has several cool gameplay ideas, if shamelessly similar to Persona, that mixes school sim and dungeon crawling + Catchy soundtrack + Slick presentation and gameplay interface Cons - Neither the storytelling or characters are compelling enough for how much of a focus is placed upon them - A few too many anime tropes with the inherent setting can get annoying (idols, super hackers, and banchos-- oh my) - Dungeon design gets repetitive Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent Tokyo Xanadu is Falcom's attempt of blending two of their best franchises (Ys and The Legend of Heroes), but rather than feeling like a perfect combination of both it comes off as a half-hearted attempt at their individual strengths Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  3. Developer: Falcom Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: September 12, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game For as many adventures as the crimson-haired Adol Christian has been on it is becoming less obvious as to what exactly constitutes as an Ys game nowadays. Classic prior entries such as Ys: Oath of Felgnana or Ys Seven are drastically different in their design philosophies, for example. The only safe assumption one can make about the Ys series nowadays is a fun action-RPG combat system and awesome music. In this simple regard, Falcom's newest entry in the flagship series -- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana -- very much succeeds on that front, despite continuing to isolate itself from many of Adol's former adventures. In pure setup, Lacrimosa of Dana is absolutely faithful to Ys tradition. Adol starts his adventure on a boat... only for it to capsize and leave him stranded on the supposedly cursed location of Seiren Island. Where it quickly deviates, however, is that Adol is not alone during his adventurer this time around. I'm not just referring to eventual playable companions either, like Ys Seven or Ys Memories of Celceta have done years ago, but rescuing fellow shipwreck survivors quickly becomes the focal point of Adol's new debut. After a fairly slow introduction, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana gets into a groove of exploring the mysterious island and creating a safe haven for other survivors to gather the means to eventually escape the island. The more you explore, the more survivors you will likely uncover and eventually -- as a byproduct of doing both -- unlock more gameplay features in the central hub. For example, uncovering a blacksmith to help strengthen your weapons or a tailor to give your new accessories and outfits. At certain points players even have to defend the town from waves of monsters. It is an intriguing ebb and flow when it is done right that is not quite like any Ys title before it. Of course, many recent Ys stables are present and accounted for. The combat system is fast-paced and fun while retaining the three type of attack affinities of Slash, Strike, and Pierce to encourage swapping between allies on the fly in order to exploit enemy weaknesses (as introduced in Ys Seven). What is disappointing, however, is that combat feels considerably more easy, and generally less skillful, than most traditional Ys titles even on higher difficulties. While some bosses have neat tricks up their sleeve the less health they have you can pretty easily brute force most fights through the game's rather generous approach to healing items. It almost feels like overkill to have access to tools like a Bayonetta-styled dodge or a ''Flash Guard' that completely medicates damage, though I am sure it can be argued for the previous two games as well. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana clearly puts a bigger emphasis on exploration, town-building, and storytelling while combat is a means to an end while doing so. Very much like Ys VIII: Memories of Celceta there's a slight Metroid-ish approach to exploration as you gain new traversal skills, like double-jumping or the ability climbs vines, or by removing obstacles in environment based on the more survivors you find. It is neat, though; after a certain amount of time exploration feels more like an act of compulsion than genuine wonderment, like one would experience in likes of something like Xenoblade Chronicles, because of how little variability there actually is to the terrain. This is further devalued by stopgap moments like excessive storytelling scenes as well. Strangely enough, there is abnormally large emphasis on storytelling and it is not, well... particularly good. I am not sure why Falcom continues to put in long-winded stories into Ys games that also manage to be so totally underwhelming and forgettable as well. It is made worse by much of the awkward script where phrases like 'Evolution' and 'Energy' are treated like high level concepts among the cast. No, I get it: Dinosaurs. No, I get it: the ancient civilization had special powers. We don't need to be talking about this for half an hour. Less would certainly be more in the case of the storytelling for Lacrimosa of Dana, although ironically the PS4 version apparently adds even more cutscenes to it... As one may guess, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is not really a cohesive game. I'm not necessarily talking about the presentation either, which runs well enough on the portable despite noticeable slowdown. I simply mean there are a lot of concepts, ideas, and gameplay systems but none of them really excel enough to detract from what should be the series that is at its best when it has focused and fast-paced action-RPG gameplay. There is simply random feature creep for just the sake of it. Sure, you can do fetch-quests, catch fish, or keep hoping the main story will get better over time but... why? Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana explores a new direction for Falcom's beloved series. With its satisfying combat, and rewarding sense of exploration, it could have easily succeeded just on that front. And yet, it is bogged down at its attempt to add more with consistently dull storytelling that remains way too long-winded throughout as well other not fully-fleshed gameplay systems, like a certain town-defense mini game, that surface many unnecessary stopgaps to the game's sense of a exploratory flow. It is certainly fun to play but one can not help but feel it would have been better off if its goals of exploring Seiren Island were simply more focused. Pros + Fun, zippy combat system + Town-building and exploration aspects are neat + Amazing soundtrack Cons - Storytelling and cast are quite dull - Not a whole lot of variation in the actual environments - General difficulty feels more tuned for attrition than actual skill - Stopgap pacing that does not allow many of the gamelay systems to really shine on their own Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana plays with the series formula in a lot of ways and while it is not entirely successful in its execution, nor pacing, it still manages to be a fun action-RPG Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  4. Developer: Falcom Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PC Release Date: May 3, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen The wait to finally see Falcom's The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky trilogy in English feels as emotionally charged as the storytelling within them for just about everyone involved. Publisher XSEED took it upon themselves to localize the nightmare level of difficulty role-playing game series despite their beyond massive in-game word counts, and underwhelming overseas sales, out what seems like an intense labor of love for the source material and their fan base. Fans themselves were left with nearly a half decade of indecisiveness about simply getting the second title alone after a rather cruel cliffhanger in the first Trails in the Sky. So, following-up the localization miracle that was the second entry in 2015, and even the time passing between console generations, it is beyond surreal to see Trails in the Sky: The Third exist in any English form from its ten year old Japanese counterpart. To add just one more blessing to the whole ordeal, which I will attribute to the Goddess Aidios, I am surprised to count it among one of my favorite RPGs this year which already has such fierce competition. Now, I would not be surprised if Trails in the Sky: The Third is viewed as a sort of black sheep for the franchise. It is quite odd for a game I originally thought would simply be more of the same -- and it's really not... well, mostly. It is complicated. Recent The Legend of Heroes releases absolutely thrived upon their world-building and character development to the point where they felt like visual novels in how verbose they were about at times. It was not uncommon to go over an hour without facing so much as a single combat encounter; The Third being no exception. They earned it, however, despite it being quite traditional at times, as the interpersonal moments in particular were far and away the best aspects of the whole experience. It was wonderful to see the energetic tomboy lead, Estelle Bright, eventually evolve into easily one of my favorite gaming heroines outright with her powerful development as a character (as well as those around her) through the course of two games. Except, oddly enough, Trails in the Sky: The Third is not really about Estelle at all. Her narrative arc was actually pretty thoroughly resolved in Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter. Instead the main character mantle has shifted to the green-haired, holy man of the church Kevin Graham, whom had a brief presence in the previous game, and his newcomer assistant Sister Ries that has a bit of history with the questionable 'Father' as well. Beyond the big shift in main protagonists, Trails in the Sky: The Third is structured quite differently as a game as well. Whereas previous Trails in the Sky titles had an on-the-road sense of adventure, as you traveled pretty much an entire continent on-foot, The Third is technically isolated inside a single massive dungeon known as the Phantasma. There are not really towns, NPCs to prod for new lines of text each story beat, and barely any sidequests. On paper this probably sounds quite off-putting to returning fans in nearly way possible. By the end of it, however, I think it actually makes a strong case when it comes to improving the gameplay of its predecessors while somehow managing to retain the best aspects of them, that being the storytelling, by simply presenting them differently. Admittedly, Trails in the Sky: The Third can certainly feel like an the entire game built upon fanservice. Many familiar faces are conveniently whisked in Phantasma only to join your party immediately right after (with a few that would be somewhat unconscionable through the course of the main narrative in the prior two games). Of course, I'll take any excuse to see the goofy bard, Olivier, attempt to spout sweet nothings to any lady or gentlemen of the cast he finds attractive once more. It also conveniently gives the developers quite a few liberties in how to structure the game as well. Phantasma allows players the means to purchase goods/gear, forge Quartz and strengthen Orbament slots (the series' means of magic-like skills) all at various recovery points placed mid-dungeon without much narrative conceit behind it. Most importantly of all, there is an honest-to-goodness fast-travel to warp both in and out dungeon. This is a total game changer as backtracking was far and away my biggest annoyance with earlier releases. It is also structured more linearly because players are constantly moving up in Phantasma at a pretty steady clip, which I think is to it's benefit compared to the stopgap pacing of previous releases. Alongside the list of conveniences are plenty of recycled assets, however. Most of the in-game mechanics are the exact same as its predecessors: such as the exact same combat and same skill progression. They're fine, but I admit I found myself flipping the switch to easy mode to save time. That said, for me personally, the presentation did feel like a leap forward simply because I moved from playing previous entries on PSP to the PC just for The Third. So the cleaned up HD assets, higher framerate, faster load times, and the likes specific to the PC release did make it feel like a bigger jump than it actually was. Also, I was able to play with an Xbox 360 controller (or rather, a PS2 controller converter) without any hitches either. I would guess that if one were to focus purely on the main story it is entirely plausible to see Kevin's journey through Phantasma to its conclusion in less than twenty hours. Heck, one may even arguably not need to play previous two games to appreciate it either (although, one really shouldn't.). It takes a while to uncover but Kevin himself serves an intriguing contrast to light-hearted Estelle as he is far more morally ambiguous in nature despite coming off as a friendly enough guy. Turns out, Kevin's been through a lot and his backstory really does not hesitate to delve into some incredibly dark subject matter that is downright fascinating. I adored learning more about his past, as well as seeing both his and sister Reis's development as characters. Despite all of that, though, one would still be missing out on essentially half the game if they did only that for one key reason: Doors. Throughout Phantasma there are various suspicious doors mid-dungeon with either a Moon, Star, or Sun symbol on them. Each one, most often enough, will only open based on members in your current party composition. If one meets the requirements to open it they are rewarded with either a mini game to play or a lengthy narrative flashback. For fans of the previous two games the latter, that being narrative flashbacks, are an incredibly big deal despite being entirely optional to uncover. Both Moon and Star doors are basically the main means of extra narrative closure for the huge cast of characters that aren't Kevin or Reis. There are plenty of details about the aftermath of the previous games like the plans for many characters going forward (one of which hugely sets up Trails of Cold Steel), or certain events to predate even the original Trails in the Sky, so having exposure to the previous titles is basically mandatory to get much enjoyment out of them. As much as I liked Kevin's story, I'd say I probably got the most satisfaction in uncovering the various optional narrative scenes. Oh, and I should mention that some of these flashbacks are quite long, with the bigger ones taking nearly two hours to complete. That's why it's quite possible to double a normal playtime in simply trying to see them all -- and they're totally worth it. Certain events behind these doors are among the absolute best interpersonal moments in the entire series. As usual, of course, XSEED's top-notch localization really makes it so these numerous event are all the more satisfying to discover. I did not know I wanted Trails in the Sky: The Third as much I did prior to playing it. A cursory impression can make it feel like an unnecessary follow-up to the previous title that did not seem to need it at all, and it cutting quite a few corners with recycled assets does not help its initial case either. However, it somehow manages to feel fresh with its entirely revised gameplay structure and distinctly wonderful new lead characters. The excellent overall storytelling, writing, and incredibly meticulous world-building alone does more than right with the best the series has to offer. Falcom and XSEED clearly put plenty love in Trails in the Sky: The Third to make sure the final chapter in the Liberl arc was a delightful one. Pros + Wonderful character development with "Father Kevin" being the key standout + Entirely revised gameplay structure eliminates most backtracking that plagued the previous two entries and feels more focused because of it + Optional Moon/Sun events have excellent interpersonal events that both add much closure, as well as clever setup for would-be sequel, for the series in general Cons - Thoroughly underwhelming presentation that directly lifts a lot of visual and gameplay assets from the previous game - One should really have a frame of reference of the previous two games before even considering touching Trails in the Sky: The Third Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great There is no doubt in my mind that Trails in the Sky: The Third is a must-play for series veterans and a satisfying conclusion to such a lovingly-crafted trilogy Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PC code provided by the publisher.