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Found 22 results

  1. Developer: Nihon Falcom Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PS Vita, PS3 Release Date: December 22, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen To say it is surprising that not one -- but two -- The Legend of Heroes games got localized in 2015 is more than an understatement. It was a miracle in itself that extremely patient RPG fans of the original 2011 PSP release, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, got its nightmarishly hard-to-localize sequel, Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter, after a four-year wait from its original debut. But then XSEED managed to pleasantly surprise series fans even more by starting to localize Japan's most current trilogy to the series: Trails of Cold Steel (which I actually imported because of how convinced I was we wouldn't see it localized anytime soon). The point is, XSEED Games paved the path for Trails of Cold Steel despite all likely expectations. Trails of Cold Steel diverges from its The Legend of Heroes predecessors in a lot of ways. For one, it completely omits 2D sprite work in favor of complete 3D. Another key difference is the setting. Opposed to the mercenary-ish and on-the-road "Bracer" lifestyle that was featured in Trails in the Sky, Trails of Cold Steel often takes place in a military academy... that is basically a high school. It technically resides within the same world as Trails in the Sky (and the unlocalized Zero/Ao no Kiseki), however, both the main story and primary cast of Trails of Cold Steel are quite self-contained from previous games, minus a few noteworthy cameos here and there. The narrative itself starts off on the first day of school at the prestigious Thors Military Academy. Opposed to a normal first day of classes, the lead character Rean, and other distinctly red-uniformed individuals, are dropped into Class VII. Quite literally, as a brief introduction turns into a trial-by-fire and surprise trip through a monster-infested underground facility. After some begrudging alliances through the ordeal, and awkward introductions, the students learn that Class VII was made to test the combat aptitude of "ARCUS" units, and does not divide it members by social class or background. Though given the option to back out, Rean and the others decide stick around to see what Class VII has in store. The actual curriculum of Class VII tends to be divided between school life and the "field studies" to other towns and cities every month. As for the school life in Trails of Cold Steel, it's very reminiscent of titles like Persona 3 & 4, as it was clearly influenced by them. There are "bonds", which are basically P3/P4 social links, that flesh out party members in addition to progressing combat perk unlocks. Even beyond bonds, the great localization helps make the members of Class VII stand out throughout and become surprisingly likable in the long haul, though their early narrative moments may suggest otherwise. Rean can also do odd jobs for the student council that are basically sidequests within the town of Trista. The sidequests themselves tend to be nothing too special but there is an oddly homely sense of world-building that it creates for its denizens by doing unique, but minor tasks. Then there are field studies which are when the rest of the gameplay elements usually come into play. Day to day Class VII gets a set of tasks to complete during their trip, somewhat similar to Rean's student council stuff, that range from investigation, simple monster slaying, or hearing out the woes of random citizens. Exposition may often be at the forefront of Trail of Cold Steel but the combat, character customization, heck, even the occasional mini game are rock solid. Much of the basic combat refines upon systems that were introduced in previous The Legend of Heroes titles, yet are frankly more enjoyable in Cold Steel. The turn-based combat is smart and relies on both positioning and learning to manipulate turn phases to one's advantage. The flexible "Orbament" system also returns and allows players to slot "quartz" skills to grant a character many different abilities and stat bonuses primarily in combat, and lends to fairly versatile party compositions. What unfortunately cripples Trails of Cold Steel the most is its pacing. Trails in the Sky fans likely know it comes with the territory for a series that loves its character development and world-building (going as far as to place multiple optional short novels to causally read about some of it). However, there is an unnecessary slowness for even that. As much as I like the writing, which is outright dense with personality, it can certainly feel unnecessarily long-winded in most contexts. There are plenty of main story scenes that have no problem with going at-length for casual character banter or in-depth about the current political landscape. Which would be fine if the overarching main story did not basically take more than half the game to kick in to actually justify it. The presentation also faces growing pains with this newest entry. Neither the environments or character models look particularly impressive. The characters models in particular are disappointing compared to their key concept art, with their stiff animations and awkward mouth flaps, making me wish me wish they took the Atelier Shalie route with models that complement it. Though, Falcom does tend to prefer being functional gameplay-wise over showing off visually, the Vita release in particular suffers from noticeable technical quirks. There is an occasionally erratic framerate that rears its ugly head when traversing certain towns and noticeable frequent load times for Vita. To go back to pacing, there is also an odd obsession with lengthy environment pans that bogs down the presentation too. As with Falcom tradition the soundtrack the JDK band whips up has some awesome rock battle themes, though admittedly, most other parts of the soundtrack don't particularly stand out. The more pleasant surprise about the audio is actually the surprisingly fitting English dub. It is honestly a shame that more of the game is not dubbed, because of how noticeably absent it is during certain story scenes (very likely because of budget). This is coming from someone whom often times turns off the dub outright in many Japanese RPGs. As numerous as its changes may be, Trails of Cold Steel certainly has the heart of recent The Legend of Heroes titles. The military academy setting did seem like a recipe for disappointment (and shameless pandering), but the charming script and surprisingly likable cast defy initial expectations over time. Unfortunately, at the same time, the unnecessarily slow pace for both its gameplay and storytelling, and occasional technical grievance on Vita, prevent Trails of Cold Steel from reaching greatness. Though it is a promising debut for Class VII, one can only hope that the upcoming sequel capitalizes upon what is built up so strongly in Trails of Cold Steel. Pros: + Well-written script and cast of characters that have a lot of personality + Good turn-based combat system with flexible mechanics + Lots of detail towards its world-building + Sweet battle themes and solid English dub Cons: - Pacing is very slow at times - Rather underwhelming 3D visuals overall - Occasional technical problems on Vita Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Trails of Cold Steel is a promising debut for the newest The Legend of Heroes series from its characters and in-depth world, but remains just shy of greatness during the inconsistently paced path towards it. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher
  2. Marcus Estrada

    Review: Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure

    Developer: Nihon Falcom Publisher: Mastiff Platform: PC (Steam, GOG) Release Date: March 30, 2015 ESRB: E10+ Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure is the kind of game that is easily thrown by the wayside. When it launched in the US on PSP in 2007, well, the existing interest in the platform wasn“t exactly booming. Many unique titles failed to make a splash and Gurumin was one of them. Now it“s being given a second chance via a digital PC release on Steam and GOG. I“ll admit to having never played the game on PSP, but now I wish I really had. As it turns out, the game is 100% classifiable as a “hidden gem” which is finally getting its much-deserved chance in the spotlight. So, what the heck is Gurumin? The game stars a young girl named Parin who has just moved in with her heavily-bearded grandfather. Unfortunately, this town is completely deprived of children! What the heck is Parin supposed to do with her time? Well, luckily for her she just so happens to discover that a group of monsters live right outside of town. Because adults cannot see them, she is totally free to goof around with her new buddies. This excitement is short-lived, though, when the monster village is decimated by other, crueler monsters known as Phantoms shortly after their meeting. Parin takes arms against them with an ancient monster weapon—a drill. From there, players must adventure through tons of levels to defeat Phantoms and collect items stolen from her monster buddies. Gameplay feels pretty standard with its 3D action-platforming style. After selecting an area from a world map, you enter into a level—drill in hand—and beat up basically anything in your path. Alongside Phantoms, this also includes rocks, pillars, and walls which tend to crumble under the drill“s power. Breaking stuff yields coins and sometimes even unveils secret items or areas. Basically, you want to cause as much damage as possible on every stage, but it“s not that hard to do. Phantoms start off pretty easy but after a while you“ll definitely want to upgrade weapons and items for an easier time. After the first few hours with Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure you“ll also settle into the basic pattern of gameplay. You“ll visit a level, complete it to collect an item at the end, bring the item to the monsters, and then see a new area unlock. Sometimes more puzzling elements are added in, but for the most part the same pattern repeats itself throughout much of the game. It“s not a bad thing, as the gameplay is enjoyable, just that it might feel a little too obvious at times. There are boss battles thrown in between as well as story segments which help keep things fresh. And really, it“s that storyline which turns the game from simply an enjoyable action-based time into something truly special. You see, despite (or because of) having played so many games over my lifetime, it“s rare to find one that feels endearing and honest. Gurumin provides a wonderfully adorable world with goofy monsters peppered throughout. All of Parin“s friends are unusual, such as a gigantic cat who has a deep voice and shy demeanor. Then there is a fellow who dances continuously for no apparent reason. Every single character is charming in their own strange ways and these quirks help the game stand out against its contemporaries. Even now, the humor still (mostly) hits as cutely irreverent. After hours of play there were just a few facets which caused caused annoyance. The biggest is the default camera“s problem following Parin in an intelligent fashion. Of course, you can manipulate it on your own to fix its issues. The controls display for PC keyboard users, but unfortunately don“t change if you swap to gamepad controls. Because control instructions sometimes focus on “mouse cursor” location, though, it becomes slightly confusing to figure out how exactly to pull a special move off via controller. In all, these complaints are minimal and pale in comparison to the pure joy of playing. It“s rare for a game to provide such a simple, wonderful experience like Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure. Many 3D games in general tend to age poorly, but this one still manages to be a highly enjoyable experience. Without the charming storyline and cast, it probably wouldn“t work so well, but their inclusion makes it stand out. If you missed out (like many of us did) on the PSP release back in the day, then make up for it by grabbing the PC release now. Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure is a wonderful title which deserves all the attention it can get. Pros: + Adorably weird cast of characters + Mostly simple, enjoyable action and platformer gameplay + Bright, cartoony world that is fun to explore Cons: - Default camera movement is iffy - Button prompts aren“t tailored for gamepad players Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic It's rare for a game to provide such an overwhelmingly charming experience as Gurumin. More players simply must give it a try! Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Steam code provided by the publisher.
  3. Nihon Falcom is largely known for their Ys and Legend of Heroes franchises, but they do occasionally experiment with other one-off games. Such was the case with Gurumin, a 3D platform game that originally released on PC some 11 years ago in Japan (and then was later released on PSP). Now, the title is being released as Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure here in the West. The story focuses on a young girl who can see and make friends with monsters (but who are also invisible to everyone else) and must find a legendary drill that can drive away evil monsters known as Phantoms, who "monsternapped" most of the inhabitants in Monster Village. There are a number of features in this version of the game including updated HD graphics, hidden characters/items, non-linear gameplay set in over 30 stages within a variety of environments, and more. Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure is slated for release on Steam and other PC digital download services on March 30th. Source: Press Release Are you interested in checking out Gurumin?
  4. Developer: Falcom Publisher: XSEED Games Platforms: PSP, PS Vita, PS TV Release Date: January 13, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen I thought we had seen the last of localized PSP games years ago. After playing Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time back in 2012, which I found to be the RPG swan song of the system, I had firmly resigned any hope of seeing anything beyond that (even if we have technically seen Sting“s Generation of Chaos and Imageepoch“s Black Rock Shooter: The Game since then, but shh!). But, both Japanese developer Nihon Falcom and publisher XSEED Games attempt to prove otherwise. Pretty much unthinkable in today“s market, not only do we get to see yet another RPG on the randomly resuscitated PSP hardware with Brandish: The Dark Revenant, but surprisingly, one that is also actually pretty good. Admittedly, I have no real history with the obscure, mostly Japan-only (with the exception of a localized SNES port) PC-98 Brandish series, so Brandish: The Dark Revenant is my first real exposure to the name. This is fine, however, especially considering it is a completely overhauled remake of the first entry in the series. As a game, Brandish: The Dark Revenant is interesting in that it evokes the feeling of a dungeon-crawling roguelike (though, it isn't procedurally generated, nor is as punishing), but it also has loose similarities to older 2D Legend of Zelda games with its real-time action elements. Yet, it doesn't fall too heavily in either of those camps because of its more distinct nuances to its action-RPG gameplay and setting. The player takes control of a mysterious swordsman named Ares. Both Ares and a scantily-clad sorceress out for his blood (by the name of Dela Delon) are sent plummeting underground after a duel between the two goes wrong and breaks the ground underneath them. With little hope for an easy way out, Ares has to navigate a cursed kingdom of legend, Vittoria, while also having the spiteful sorceress after his head as well. Like a lot of dungeon-crawlers, Brandish: The Dark Revenant is most certainly not an easy game. I do not want to build up the expectation that it is old-school hard, since it isn't, but it is a title where you have to learn how to play by its rules or you will be punished for it. There is a wide-array of devious traps, tough enemies, surprisingly intense bosses, or the occasionally tricky labyrinth design/puzzles that the player has to overcome, all in the hopes of escaping the ruins. Initially, the title will probably seem clunky because of its strange control scheme, like a camera that also turns the player character, or a limited inventory in which management occurs in real-time. In all honesty, though, it is clear that this is more of a deliberate design choice and it is easy enough to adjust to in no time. Despite this, it fully expects you to learns its various gameplay nuances the further you delve into the dungeons: everything from being aware that (most) weapons will break in a Fire Emblem-ish fashion, knowing when to prop your shield up to block oncoming attacks/projectiles, jumping for your life when being chased by a boulder when accidentally triggering a trap, and many more situations that the player will have to smartly learn how to deal with over time. What I like the most about Brandish: The Dark Revenant's structure is that it gives you all of the tools to succeed, yet isn“t heavy-handed about it. Pretty much every death is the player“s own careless mistake with its generally fair challenge. Whether one learns this from carefully analyzing their environment for traps/obstacles and maybe taking their time to trying to thoroughly explore, it is very methodical in that once you learn the inner-workings pretty much everything else falls into place, one cautious step—or learned mistake—at a time. The dungeon-crawling gameplay lends itself to being quite addictive because of how rewarding it is to play. Thorough exploration can not only yield very significant rewards with the game“s many secrets, but also because you simply get stronger in the process, both figuratively and literally. The primary aspect that I find particularly questionable about the design is how oddly it handles certain stats. Most of it makes sense; the more you swing your sword, the higher your physical strength; the more you use magic, the higher your magic power; and generally the more enemies you kill, the higher your HP/MP are when you level-up. My main nitpick is that magic resistance is increased with how much you get hit by magic, which I find counter-intuitive to the game“s inherent design. That, and the hidden luck stat that occasionally dictates your damage output or damage taken, which is also strange. Still, the least impressive aspect overall is its presentation. In the matter of fairness, part of the reason for that is because I have no nostalgia for the source material, so the completely redesigned visuals and rearranged soundtrack are lost on me. That said, aside from a decent sense of atmosphere, like with retro-styled character portraits, the in-game 3D visuals are not likely to impress even among the PSP library. It's a similar deal with the soundtrack; while it is by no means bad, the overall soundtrack is nowhere near as varied, or as memorable, as I've come to expect from the excellent Falcom JDK Band, like with recent Ys and Legend of Heroes entries. Minor nitpicks aside, completing the main campaign for Ares is not particularly long for RPG standards since you can finish it in under 20 hours. That may seem relatively short, but those who pride themselves in taking on more challenging ordeals and increased playtime can easily get that with unlockable Dela Delon “expert” mode. Dela“s added mode is quite enjoyable because it fully expects you to employ all of the skills you have obtained from Ares“s scenario right from the get-go with its unapologetically high difficultly level and a totally remapped, and more complex, dungeon design. Despite being considerably shorter than Ares's scenario, I found it be a very neat addition because of how much it plays on the player's expectations. Perhaps in some overly-complicated analogy, XSEED Games was trying to teach of us all that, much like Ares“s taxing ordeal through the forgotten kingdom, there is still hope for good RPG games to be localized even now on the PSP. Okay, probably not, but my fingers are still crossed for Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter. That said, however unexpected the arrival of Brandish: The Dark Revenant was for the seemingly-deceased PSP system, it serves as a pleasant addition to its library with its challenging, rewarding, and deceptively intricate dungeon-crawling, action-RPG design. As long as you tread carefully and give it a fair chance, there is plenty of addictive dungeon-crawling fun to be had with this decidedly old-school remake gem. Pros: + Elaborate dungeon design with many varying traps, enemies, and scenarios that provide a satisfying challenge + Rewards smart, thorough, and methodical play + Dela Delon's campaign is a neat unlockable that is also unapologetically difficult right from the get-go Cons: - Bland 3D visuals and the soundtrack pales in comparison to Falcom's (very high) recent standards - Some oddly handled mechanics Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good While it is certainly an enigma that we get to see any sort of localized PSP RPG in 2015, Brandish: The Dark Revenant proves itself, even beyond that initial novelty, as an action-RPG with its challenging and rewarding dungeon-crawling structure that is quite good on its own merits. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PSP code provided by the publisher.
  5. Developer: Nihon Falcom Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PS Vita Release Date: November 26, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A download code was provided by the publisher for this review Founded way back in 1981, developer Falcom has a gaming influence so strong that they published one of the very first, if not arguably the very first, Japanese RPG ever with Dragon Slayer back in 1983. Of course, being the plebeian that I am, I barely found out about them only after diving into their most recent iterations and remakes of the long-running Ys series on PSP, which embodied some of the most pure action-RPGs I“ve experienced in recent memory. Continuing Falcom“s recent trend of Ys remakes, they decide to completely overhaul what is sort of the black sheep of the series, Ys IV, with the Vita release: Ys: Memories of Celceta. Bearing very little similarity to its two different and non-canonical incarnations of Ys IV, Ys: Memories of Celceta brings the core gameplay spirit of the PSP release, Ys Seven, but with a new story, setting, and characters. Ys: Memories of Celceta yet again brings the main character spotlight on Adol Christin, or the aptly nicknamed “Adol the Red". To the dismay of Adol, however, he has lost all of his memories at the game“s start after what is believed to be due to venturing too far into the forests of Celceta. In spite of that, by unconditionally helping to protect the local townsfolk, Adol proves that his combat skills aren“t nearly as rusty as his memory, and shortly thereafter is scouted by the Romun military to help out. After a short explanation, Adol is encouraged to chart and explore Celceta“s mysterious “sea of trees” for both his insatiable thrill for adventure and to help recall his lost memories, while his traveling partner, Durren, simply intends to line his pockets with gold in the process. What is particularly interesting about Memories of Celceta is that Adol feels like he has a more deliberate presence in this game through the use simple dialogue choices as well as some as some background flashbacks, rather than entirely being a mute protagonist like in most previous games. Granted, it would still be stretching it to say Adol is a defined character even in Memories of Celceta. Like a lot of Ys games, the overall storytelling will probably fade from the subconscious of most players beyond some light-hearted character exchanges and nods to other entries in the series for fans. The storytelling has some interesting ideas, but, as in Seven, the narrative scenes are more bloated than they should be, particularly early in, for both a narrative and cast that don't make a particularly lasting impression. That said, if you want in-depth storytelling from a Falcom title, you can easily turn to something like Trails in the Sky, or its wealth of currently unlocalized sequels, but when you want fun and fast-paced action-RPG gameplay- that's where Ys delivers. Celceta maintains the three-person party structure system of Ys Seven, but with minor refinements to the controls and additional skills. Combat is easy to learn, with one button relegated to normal attacks and many others for special attack shortcuts and defensive maneuvers. In addition, each character has strengths against different enemy types: like Adol with his slash attacks for grounded enemies, Durren against sturdier enemies with his blunt attacks, and Karna with her piercing attacks for aerial foes. Despite its simplicity, the tight controls, playable characters, varied enemy types, and constant progression of new skills make the general combat pretty engaging. Bosses in particular are quite a treat, due to their variety in attack patterns ,which encourage mastery of the game's mechanics, and they become quite the force to be reckoned with on higher difficulties. My favorite combat mechanics in Celceta have to be the 'Flash Guard' and 'Flash Dodge' skills. Flash guard is a perfectly timed block which completely negates enemy damage while also turning all player attacks into critical hits for a short-time, and while it is not new, it is way more functional control-wise than it was in Ys Seven. Flash Dodge is new to Ys, however, where a perfectly timed dodge makes enemies move slower and the characters temporarily invulnerable to attacks, reminiscent of Bayonetta's 'Witch Time.' You can probably get by without intentionally mastering either on the Normal or Easy difficulties but they become an absolute necessity on higher difficulties, especially against bosses, and when successfully utilized they are super satisfying to pull off. As much as I enjoy the core gameplay of Celceta, I don't feel completely the same about the structure. Since Adol needs to chart a map of Celceta, the game tries to present an open-ended structure by making it more akin to earlier Ys games, like 1/2. This doesn't completely work in Celceta, unfortunately, because progress is made in a linear fashion, like gaining new skills or obtaining party members to open-up parts of the world. This in turn, leads to some pacing issues, early in especially, because it's very easy to wander around aimlessly into one road block after another. After you get past that awkward initial hump, primarily after you gain a couple new party members, the title definitely has a more natural progression. Later on, it certainly does become tempting to check every nook and cranny for that extra treasure chest, or find Adol's optional memory cutscenes, or report to the Romun general for a lucrative reward, and the game only rewards you even more as it progresses. Still, because the meatiest game of the series, it's hard to not overlook the parts where it sort of drags it feet in terms of pacing. On a technical level, Memories of Celceta is pretty underwhelming. While it isn't offensively bad (like Valhalla Knight 3), I'd say it's less pleasing to look at than even Ys Seven. I'm sure sheer polycount will easily point towards Celceta being technically superior, with less deformed character models than Seven, but the environments and overall aesthetic are generally rather drab and usually just not interesting to look at regardless on the OLED screen. Thankfully the visuals don't really hinder the gameplay aside from when using certain equipment that allows for extremely fast traversal that causes the framerate to chug down. I'd say the same goes for the soundtrack, in comparison to the very high-caliber score of the more recent Ys remakes or Seven, which is less consistent and varied, despite its attempted musical throwbacks to IV. It's a solid score with some definite standouts, but maybe I've been too spoiled by other recent Falcom titles. Ys: Memories of Celceta is definitely a fun game as it marries tight, fast-paced Action-RPG combat, engaging design choices, and is very approachable for newcomers as well as fans. Vita owners would certainly be doing themselves quite a disservice by not at least checking it out, especially as it is unquestionably the strongest Action-RPG on the system. As a whole, however, it doesn't really move the series forward in too many meaningful ways, making it feel like a rather safe sequel without quite the heart of other recent titles. It does not represent the series at its best, but it serves it pretty well all the same. Pros: + Fun, fast-paced combat with very tight controls + Great boss fights + Flash guard and dodge mechanics are super satisfying to pull off + Biggest game in the series +Solid soundtrack Cons: - Forgettable storytelling - Lackluster presentation - Rather slow start and has some pacing issues Overall Score: 8.0 (out of 10) Great Without a doubt the best and most fun Action-RPG on Vita, but as a sequel it does little to try to overachieve its fellow brethren.
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