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Found 8 results

  1. barrel

    Review: Lost Dimension

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

    Review: The Banner Saga

    Developer: Stoic Publisher: Versus Evil Platform: PC/Mac Release Date: Jaunary 14, 2014 ESRB: N/A (Mature Recommended) Shortly after Double-Fine made a huge impact on the gaming space through the use of crowdfunding, one of the developers to quickly follow-up on the kickstarter fever was Stoic, the people behind The Banner Saga. Thanks to a great premise and development talent that included a trio of ex-Bioware employees, The Banner Saga was very successful in its funding and also managed to rally up prolific figures like composer Austin Wintory to aid in its development. Even though it created some series identity confusion with The Banner Saga: Factions in early 2013, as a multiplayer and combat focused strategy-RPG title, The Banner Saga creates a grander scale, solitary adventure and is intended to be part one of a would-be trilogy. Does the final product hoist its banner high and proud, or does it fail to maintain the wind and morale that supported it through its original foundation? The Banner Saga paints a very ominous setting right from the get-go: the gods of the world are believed to be dead, the sun remains stagnant serving as a bad omen, and the end of the world is perceived to draw ever closer. In this harsh and decaying world a conflict between men, Varl (giants with horns, basically), and the terrifying resurgence of the Dredge (stone-like juggernauts) begins to unravel. I“ve heard this game pitched multiple times as "Oregon Trail mixed with Game of Thrones", but as one of two people who hasn“t seen the TV show or read the book, I can“t personally make or fully understand that comparison with complete confidence. What I can say, however, is that The Banner Saga does certainly have a Viking-influenced setting, with events that are in close comparison to something like Ragnarok (the death of the Gods in Norse mythology), despite having its own very distinct internal lore. The narrative also switches focus between different main character perspectives throughout. Because of the alternating focus, The Banner Saga has no problem emphasizing the mortality of the cast of characters through its gameplay and narrative systems. As strange as it may be to make a comparison to Oregon Trail for something that is displayed as an SRPG, it is actually quite accurate. You can certainly tell Oregon Trail's influence was very intentional to the game“s core design. Thankfully, things don“t seem as actively unfair and dice-roll based as that title, and you (probably?) won't die of dysentery, but the pace and unpredictability of narrative events and gameplay makes it feel very much the case. You have to manage food, morale, and make plenty of tough choices throughout that will alter the course of your adventure in order to have your caravan survive. Playable characters, regardless of narrative stature, will also live and die, or join and not join, based on your choices or by-products of unintentional consequences. One of the best things that the The Banner Saga outright nails is the harsh atmosphere and bleak feeling of circumstance throughout. It always feels like you are at a disadvantage in some way: you may be short of food, leading the caravan to starve, morale may be low and cause the caravan to act irrationally, or the choices you made at an earlier point in the narrative may come back later to haunt you. There were many times throughout the course of the game where I thought to myself: "Man, this situation is my fault and I have to live with it." Of course, there are also very brief moments of optimism that can easily turn your fortunes for the better. It is because of the very unpredictable nature throughout that makes The Banner Saga“s so very engrossing and definitely personalizes the experience from start to finish. Still, not everything is resolved through simply managing your caravan's well-being, or choices throughout the narrative, and you will be forced to sortie into battle for one reason or another. The combat system is turn-based based and is reminiscent of more traditional strategy-RPG staples of the genre, but also brings its own personal spin as well. One of the more unique mechanics in battle is how it handles armor/health as well as "willpower". Health dictates both attack strength and life, so the lower the health, the lower the maximum threshold a character can dish-out to damage their enemy. In addition to their health, characters also have an armor stat value, where the higher it becomes more difficult to even scratch or hit their actual health, and it becomes absolutely crucial to learn how to whittle sturdier foes or go straight for health for less defense-oriented foes. There is also willpower, which is sort of like a consumable resource for characters, which can be used to extend a character's attack power or movement range, but is hard to regain except when killing an enemy foe or waiting stationary for a turn. Despite its more unique nuances, the combat is surprisingly easy to learn as well as managing to be strategic too. That said, even if the combat is solid it doesn“t have enough depth and variety to its flow to keep it consistently engaging throughout. You fight a lot of the same enemy types throughout, primarily of the damage-sponge “dredge” variety, and there isn“t really any unique scenarios to most encounters. Generally what variety you do get is customizing a character's base stats when they level-up or maybe having to adjust to a new batch of characters you may not be familiar with. As a whole, the combat is also not particularly challenging, minus the huge difficulty spike for the final boss, for avid fans strategy-RPGs. Also, In contrast to games like Fire Emblem or XCOM:Enemy Unknown, your allies can“t permanently die in combat, which alleviates a lot of the tension the narrative brings (although they do sustain injuries if incapacitated in battle, putting you at an disadvantage in future battles and they can't fully recover until they rest while camping.). Even if the art direction may not be inherently my cup of tea, the visuals are quite well-done overall and definitely stand out with its hand-drawn animation. Backgrounds in particular are quite mesmerizing and it is a treat to see the many gorgeous snowscapes as well as the serene-appearing locales. The visual style is also pretty consistent throughout from the overhead view in battle to the character portraits in story conversations. Having said that, it does feel like it cuts a few corners with the character designs, and many characters seem to share a certain general body frame, despite their discrepancies in their visual appearance, instead of unique character portraits as well as in-game combat character models altogether, but that is a pretty minor thing to pick at. Austin Wintory of Journey fame composes the score for the title, and as you may have guessed, his work is quite excellent in The Banner Saga as well. His unique musical compositions are very powerful in helping pave the tone for the overall experience. The music primarily ranges from powerful percussion as well as the creative use of Icelandic vocals, and it goes an extremely long way in fleshing out the decaying viking-esque realm. I think one of the neater things it does with its audio is how it even dynamically changes, from tense to bombastic, in the midst of combat pending on how favorably, or unfavorably, it is going. Seriously, it's almost hard to believe this is an indie sort of title due to how high caliber and impactful the soundtrack is in service to the game from start to finish. For as well realized as most of the facets of The Banner Saga are, it does feel like it doesn“t raise itself to its full potential, at least narratively. Even if it is part of a planned trilogy, it does not completely shake the feeling that certain larger aspects of the narrative are completely danced around despite their deliberate presence in certain portions. This is probably further emphasized because of the slightly different tone of the ending portion, and short overall playtime of the title. Also, in regards to the multiple storytelling perspectives, the human side seems to stand out a fair bit more in contrast to the Varl perspective. Regardless of my slight dissatisfaction with the narrative arc, the storytelling is well-written overall. Furthermore, because of the game's ambiguous overall structure, it is also certainly enticing to try and replay the game after finishing it to see its various event permutations. It's heartwarming to see that despite whatever controversy seems to surround Kickstarter nowadays, it can still also bring truly great things like The Banner Saga to fruition. Of course, it isn't flawless, with both combat and narrative that could certainly be expanded upon, but even as a first endeavor it is very gripping on its own merits. The Banner Saga successfully weaves an unpredictable adventure full of rough trials and tribulations, an extremely powerful musical score, and has very engaging gameplay systems work together quite well. I can only hope to see that a future part two (and three) goes above and beyond the already very high bar that this first entry has established. Pros: + Very ambiguous gameplay/narrative structure that leads to a lot of unpredictable scenarios + Excellent, dynamic musical score + Easy to learn battle system that is also strategic + Very distinct and cohesive art direction + Enticing replay value and well-written storytelling Cons: - Combat doesn“t have enough depth and variety - Certain aspects of the storytelling could've been touched upon more so - Not very long Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great The Banner Saga presents a fresh, engaging take on strategy-RPGs through the clever use of its dark setting and unpredictable structure. A download code was provided by the publisher for this review
  3. barrel


    From the album: The Banner Saga