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Found 13 results

  1. 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.
  2. barrel

    Stella Glow 5

    From the album: Stella Glow

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    Stella Glow 4

    From the album: Stella Glow

  4. barrel

    Stella Glow 3

    From the album: Stella Glow

  5. barrel

    Stella Glow 2

    From the album: Stella Glow

  6. barrel

    Stella Glow 1

    From the album: Stella Glow

  7. WildCardCorsair

    Review: Criminal Girls: Invite Only

    Developer: Imageepoch Publisher: NIS America Platform: PlayStation Vita Release Date: February 3, 2015 ESRB: M for Mature Has anyone ever told you to go to hell? Well, most of the time they *probably* don“t mean that literally but in Criminal Girls: Invite Only, you find yourself with a personal invitation to the fiery depths. This ain“t no vacation, though; you“re here to work! You have to escort the souls of seven pre-damned girls in hopes they can be redeemed and revived on earth. The catch is they don“t like you, and there“s no guarantee they“ll listen to a word you say, even if it means saving their own lives… Typically in an RPG you never have to worry about anyone downright refusing your commands (save for Pokemon, if you don“t have enough badges) so immediately my interest in how this game works shot up through the roof. Starting up the game for the first time, I wasn“t disappointed. Each of the girls that start your party downright hate you (if you were in hell for something you didn“t even do, wouldn“t you?). Only by properly motivating them (which we will discuss at length later, promise) will they begin to pull their weight. For example, on the first floor only one of them will even bother attacking! Shortly after some motivation you“ll have plenty of combat options for the girls to use, but smooth sailing it is not. The girls will let you know what they want to do, allowing you to choose one option from among them, and never the full repertoire of what they can do. Sure, it“ll feel like you“re babysitting a bunch of spoiled wicked stepsisters, but in a way what happens next makes it all worth it. So if you“ve ever wanted to torture someone… wait, let“s start this differently. Channel your inner Christian Grey…nope. If you“re into kinky...OK, I“m going to stop myself right there. Let“s face it—there“s no easy way to beat around the bush here, you are going to beat these girls. Most of them will even like it. Motivation is a very political way of describing the minigame that is essential to Criminal Girls“ progression system. In this minigame (accessible from save points) you can use a riding crop, cattle prod, massage oil, and a feather tickler to give these girls the incentive they need to pull out all the stops in combat. Doing this ensures they have plenty of new attacks to use in combat and their stats are always... heightened (I“m the worst). Proper motivation (please stop me) will also open the girls up to you, and occasionally they“ll share their desires with you... in the form of a quest that, when completed, will further increase their performance in combat. Motivation isn“t really optional either; you“re going to have to do it if you want to raise stats or learn abilities, many of which help greatly with bosses and tougher monsters. So basically, if the idea of sexually charged torture is a turn off for you then this game really is not for you. Hilariously enough, I encountered quite the controversy while researching this game. NIS America, while localizing this game made some minor changes that proved quite divisive. During these motivation minigames, a pink fog shrouds the ladies and their provocative poses. As you raise their motivation level with each of the devices, the pink fog becomes more scarce, and their poses even more suggestive (sometimes downright exposed). NISA ensured that none of these girls“...erm, "goodies" would be on full display by covering those particular parts with a permanent fog that never clears. The original Japanese audio for the girls during the motivation minigame was also removed entirely because some of it was downright pornographic (sexual gasps, moans, etc.). NISA explained they never enter such situations lightly and only after contacting ratings boards for multiple regions did they decide on what edits to perform to ensure the game wouldn“t land them an Adult Only rating. So whine if you want to but I for one think the game is far better off with the changes. What really set this game apart for me was the premise of never really being able to give orders. Basically you“re a terrible dom because these girls all do what they want. As you head to into combat each of the four girls that are currently in your party will all recommend a command, literally one of possibly anything they“ve learned through the motivation minigame. It can go from a single attack to a team attack from all four party members, to special attacks, to even special unlockable combo attacks. The problem (and the interesting part) is there is no guarantee any of the girls will suggest anything even remotely useful. There are a few healers to choose from, but there“s no guarantee they“ll feel like healing anyone when the time comes. You are allowed to switch out one girl per turn, and use one item per turn so you always have a chance to not suffer some terrible fate. Personally, I loved this aspect of the game with one exception. I expected the girls to feel a bit “temperamental” perhaps acting up because of how you choose to treat them, or certain things that happen in the story but I never got the impression that had any effect during my playthrough. It“s a shame, though a minor one admittedly, because I feel like it could have driven the concept behind the combat system home. The thing that will most likely drag this game down, though, is the fact that aside from combat there is so much about this game that just doesn“t stand out. Most of graphics look like they were lifted directly from a PSP game (which indeed they may have been since Invite Only is the enhanced port of Criminal Girls on PSP, which never came to North America) with only a select few effects reminding you that you are indeed playing on a Vita. And while I“m hardly a graphics snob, the fact the game is visually uninteresting just compounds the disappointment. Dungeons themselves are vibrant enough, but their layouts and fixed top down view make them seem far less like the eye candy they deserve to be. Combat suffers even greater problems in this respect, with nothing but a fade-to-black screen and 2D sprites for the girls and enemies alike, and limited animation for attacks. NISA was content to focus on the girls being the only eye candy here and that“s disappointing because you“d never guess combat was actually interesting by looking at it. So despite the highly (implied) sexual tones to the game, ultimately I left feeling pretty unsatisfied. And you should never be unsatisfied by climax! Between the very “holdover” graphics, a story that could have been fleshed out a bit more, and a combat system that can get periodically boring due to the irregular/infrequent addition of new combat elements, there are quite a few things that could have been changed to make this feel like a worthy addition to the Vita library. As it stands now, it really just feels like an overpriced PSP game with an interesting combat premise and a bunch of fan service. If that“s all you“re in it for then you won“t be let down; otherwise Criminal Girls: Invite Only can be a bit of a cold shower. Pros: + Highly unique combat system + Party variations are fun to experiment with Cons: - “Motivating” girls may creep out or offend players - Visually uninteresting - Graphics hardly better than a PSP game - Can get stale at times Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average Criminal Girls: Invite Only teases with interesting combat, but not much else to truly please players. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher
  8. barrel

    Review: Time & Eternity

    Developer: Imageepoch Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS3 Release Date: July 16, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A download code was provided by the publisher for this review It's a weird thing when I play a game I've been actively told to hate, even before the game was even released. I know for me personally, I'm a pretty stubborn fellow and my opinion tends to curve against popular consensus, so I usually to brush off most inflated criticisms when I'm curious enough about something. Actually, if I think a game shows off enough interesting ideas, I become that much more willing to approach it with an open-mind in spite of people's opinions. An example of such a game is Time & Eternity: an action-RPG that blends a time-traveling narrative with a romantic tale of a heroine with two souls and... her pet dragon? Wait, I should probably clarify this. The narrative in Time & Eternity starts off with the wedding ceremony between Zack, a blue haired knight, and Toki, a red-haired and kindhearted princess. Unfortunately for the pair, their ceremony is interrupted by surprise assassination attempt on the couple. Zack tries to protect Toki and becomes mortally wounded during the attack. Before Zack fades completely out of consciousness, he catches a glimpse of the secret alternate soul within Toki - the secret blonde-haired Towa, whom shares the same body as Toki - and helps fend off the assassin's attack. With the wedding in shambles, and the would-be husband nearly dead, Toki/Towa attempt to rewind time to 3 months past and change the future. Oh, and somehow Zack's soul gets transferred into Toki's pet dragon, Drake, when they rewind time to 3 months back. Don't ask me why. Time & Eternity's main storytelling tool is the contrast between the two heroines, Toki and Towa, who share the same body and constantly switch places throughout. What's interesting is that story events as well as sidequest conversations are actually altered based on which one of the two heroines are present, both of whom switch every time they level-up in combat. For example, red-haired Toki will be more polite and understanding in story scenes while blonde-haired Towa has no qualms about being cold or choosing a violent solution to most circumstances. It's presented as a cute contrast, and the game is dense with conversations as well as dating-sim-like scenes between Zack/Drake and either heroine, and that is present throughout the entirety of the experience. Unfortunately, a lot of the narrative“s charm ends there and is constantly broken up by the awkward writing. While it is appreciated in concept that Time & Eternity does not take itself too seriously, since the focus is on its characters rather than its main narrative, it doesn't pan out in the long run. The narrative frequently interjects poor attempts at humor at pretty much every step, and a lot of narrative context is pretty much ruined because of it. This is largely due to the constantly out-of-place, one-track perverted mindset that lead Zack/Drake tends to have as well as some really stale attempts at self-aware humor. There were so many moments where I felt the narrative had the potential to be endearing, only to have it randomly bogged down by the writing and just plain bad jokes. My biggest complaint with Time & Eternity's storytelling is that I don“t think Time & Eternity actually reasonably justifies the relationship between the male lead and the two heroines from start to finish. It is one thing that I find the male lead Zack immensely dislikable and immature, but it's another when the narrative claims he has positive traits that he doesn't really showcase in the main story and/or the dating-sim-like scenes to a significant degree. Seriously, Zack/Drake feels like a one-note, perverted joke during the entire game. Even beyond my qualms with the writing and character interactions, the narrative by itself does not carry a whole lot of weight by itself. Actually, aside from a very forced attempt at serious narrative near the end of the game, the main story just sort of meanders throughout without any real focus. The way Time & Eternity's structure plays out is actually rather straightforward and is pretty good at telling you what to do next. This goes from marking story objectives, quests, or a mix of the two for battles. Most of the time players will be traversing large field areas to hit the next story beat while slaying monsters in-between through random battles, or occasionally moving from a simple overhead map and accepting quests from local denizens. Speaking of quests, almost every quest has a surprising amount of exposition. It's appreciated in theory to give context to the most menial of tasks, but I must reiterate that the game's writing makes it more of a curse than a blessing; that and the quests are rather dull for the most part, usually focusing on simple item gathering or battles. Battles in Time & Eternity bear a lot of similarity to the PSP“s Black Rock Shooter: The Game, which I somewhat recently reviewed, and both also happen to be developed by Imageepoch. Combat is real-time and has Toki or Towa read and react to enemy attack patterns in simple 1 vs 1 skirmishes (with the occasional support attack from Drake). Toki and Towa play nearly identical despite the occasional deviation in their skill tree; Towa is slightly better/faster at attacking in close range, and Toki at long range. There are also spells (or later on, time magic), or chemistry, which can afflict certain status ailments if used in different combinations (some of which can easily destroy most bosses). Unlike Black Rock Shooter, though, I don“t think combat ever really hits a satisfying sweet spot in Time & Eternity. This is thanks in no small part to an insultingly sparse amount of enemy types, where even a good majority of the bosses are reskinned normal enemies, so the monotony of combat adds up very quickly. If there is one thing that stands out at the first glance of Time & Eternity, it's definitely its in-game visual style. It utilizes a rather nice traditional 2D animation visual presentation for characters and a 3D plane for environments. Now, it isn't completely successful, since the 2D animations can be rather jerky and have weird transitions, especially in combat, but I nonetheless appreciate the bold visual endeavor. It's a shame that the lifeless 3D environments generally tend to sharply contrast, without many noticeable attempts of a cohesive visual style with the 2D animation, but I find myself appreciating the ambition more so than looking down on its actual execution of its presentation. For the soundtrack, Yuzo Koshiro and Takeshi Yanagawa help forge Time & Eternity's score, which some may very well recognize their excellent musical composition work in the recent Etrian Odyssey IV. Unfortunately for Time & Eternity, the soundtrack doesn't seem to benefit from the ridiculous high standards that have been conducted by the duo, especially Koshiro. It's still a solid soundtrack, with some good field area themes and battle tracks, but it honestly lacks memorability, depth, and musical variety overall, especially considering the small track count and the composer's standards. In regards to the voice acting, I'm actually rather mixed on both the Japanese dub and the English dub, since neither are exactly bad but noticeably inconsistent in some areas. That said, I found myself favoring the English dub though, surprisingly, because of the VA's for Towa/Toki in particular which I felt were actually rather fitting and somehow made the narrative a fair bit more palatable for me personally, which is odd considering the awful script they had to work with in it. Time & Eternity is a strange game, it has a ton of crippling flaws from its storytelling and gameplay, but the end result is better than the sum of its parts, but not by much. While I do think the game has gotten a bit more hate than it deserves, especially when certain Idea Factory or Compile Heart games continue to make their strides without nearly as much flak, Time & Eternity is more than likely to be disappointing or a real test of willpower for most. Still, it's a shame that, in a year where so many RPGs play it safe with mostly iterative releases, one of the very few that happens to be a new IP is so very misguided. Pros: + Solid soundtrack and decent voice acting + Unique presentation that utilizes vibrant traditional 2D animation for characters + Main heroine with two different souls brings interesting ideas to the storytelling and how it is presented Cons: - Shallow combat system with no enemy variety whatsoever - Poor writing that makes a lot of the humor fall flat and narrative inane - Bland quest structure (if I have to get another "hammy", I swear...) - Stark 3D environments that contrast the 2D animation - ZACK Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10) Below Average Time & Eternity is an ambitious game that is largely bogged down by clumsy gameplay and even clumsier writing.
  9. barrel


    From the album: Time & Eternity Review

    © Eurogamer

  10. Developer: Imageepoch Publisher: NIS America Platform: PSP/Vita Release Date: April 23, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A download code was supplied by the publisher for this review As an aficionado of odd Japanese game titles, I have often been able to keenly guess at which games are likely to never see an overseas release. A simple glance at something like Black Rock Shooter: The Game on the seemingly forgotten PSP platform definitely seems like an easy example in this regard. One of several varying adaptations of the Black Rock Shooter franchise in Japan, from anime, manga, and in this example, videogames, it's a series that kicked-off in Japan based on concept art from a Hatsune Miku (very popular vocaloid software in Japan) rendition of the popular Japanese song: Black Rock Shooter. Chances are, if you aren't knee-deep in Japanese anime media then that made absolutely no sense to you, further proving my point. However, despite an unsteady release timeframe, NIS America has finally brought over this obscure PSP title for an overseas audience. Does Black Rock Shooter: The Game shine brightly or is it a faint blue ember? In the year 2032, mankind faces the brink of annihilation after a continuously losing battle with a mysterious alien invasion. The twelve remaining humans make a last stand and forcefully awaken a female humanoid weapon by the name of Black Rock Shooter to fight at their side. It is up to the young girl (her name shortened to BRS), to more or less single-handedly push back to alien invasion and keep humanity alive. Despite what sounds like a somewhat generic apocalyptic premise, the narrative is actually a little bit more interesting than it leads on to be early in. Storytelling gets surprisingly dark and there is some intrigue hidden as it progresses. Still, the delivery isn't particularly good, and certainly has some pacing issues like the main game. The main game is straightforward and broken up between various stages with separate missions to complete. Usually it has BRS go from point A to B while killing monsters in between, with the exception of the occasional motorcycle mission. This makes BRS feel mostly familiar from start to finish with very few exceptions, for better or worse. Combat is probably one of the game's strongest points. It is a pseudo real-time action RPG which has the player attack, dodge, and block based on enemy attack patterns. Timing is pretty crucial for evading attacks in particular and I would maybe draw a comparison to something like Punch-Out!!, but with a bit more depth. It takes some time to show its colors but as BRS acquires more abilities to play with as she levels-up it can have an engaging flow. At its best, some of the game's bosses show off some pretty varied tactics and combat skills. But at its worst, the frequency of normal encounters don't hesitate to recycle enemy types, and aren't nearly as varied. Outside of the main story missions, there are other missions to play through. 'Free missions' allow players to obtain unlockables like art, music, and the ability to rewatch in-game cutscenes while serving as an alternate means to level-up. Upon completing the game the 1st time, it also unlocks even more missions. These new missions can help progress towards an alternate ending as well as allowing much more challenging missions. Black Rock Shooter's main campaign isn't particularly long, and can take less than 10 hours to complete, but players can probably be held over by trying to gather optional content for a fair bit longer. Visual presentation of BRS is pretty unimpressive and I don't think it would be too far off to compare it to stuff I've seen back on the PS1. While the 3D character models aren't exactly terrible, animations arguable, some of the environments kind of are, with some of the worst examples appearing later on in the game. In terms of audio, BRS actually has some solid musical tracks with some catchy techno battle themes in particular. In terms of voice acting there is only the Japanese dub to work with, which is understandable. Despite having some Japanese VA's I like, none of them really seem to stand out, which probably goes hand in hand with how the story is paced. Unlike the unkind words I would use to describe different BRS's independent adaptations, like the anime, I didn't regret my time with Black Rock Shooter:The Game. Aside from certain character's disregard of clothing (BRS), it doesn't really offend and does some interesting stuff as a game. Storytelling plays somewhat intriguing but underutilized themes and the combat does have its fun highlights. Honestly, with better pacing and variety for both combat and storytelling, I think the experience could've easily been more noteworthy. Still, because of a very much samey feel throughout, I can't really think of too many reasons to recommend Black Rock Shooter: The Game to many others who didn't already have their fiery gaze upon this title Pros: + Unique real-time battle system that shines in certain boss fights + Various unlockables and extra content + Some solid musical tracks Cons: - Lackluster presentation, especially for environments - Standard battles and enemies will quickly become routine - Relatively short main game overall, lasting under 10hrs - Black Rock Shooter really should dress more conservatively... Overall Score: 6.0 (out of 10) Decent ImageEpoch created a solid template with the Black Shooter Licence, but in terms of actual execution it doesn't make for a very memorable action-rpg to recommend by itself.