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  1. Developer: Gust Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games Platform: PlayStation 4, Switch, PC Release Date: October 24, 2017 ESRB: T Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game The original Nights of Azure, which released in the west in March of last year, marked a departure for Gust, the development studio best known for the Atelier RPG series. A hack-and-slash action RPG, it made its name on the PS4 outside of Japan. Its sequel, Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon, however, expands its reach to new hardware and is Gust’s first title to appear on the Nintendo Switch. Set decades after the first game, the set-up for the sequel requires no knowledge of the original to understand. Nights of Azure 2 is set in the same world overrun by demons infected by the Blue Blood, but the characters and circumstances are different. The protagonist 'Aluche' -- a young knight of the Curia tasked with fighting the demons -- is ordered to escort the Curia’s chosen Bride of Time to a place of sacrifice, where her death will seal away the Moon Queen. To Aluche’s dismay, the Bride of Time is her childhood friend Liliana, but she goes ahead with her mission. From that point, things quickly go sideways. On their way to the sacrifice site, Aluche is killed in a surprise premature encounter with the Moon Queen, only to be resurrected by a Curia scientist that infuses her with some of the Blue Blood of the legendary Arnice (the first game’s protagonist), turning the once human Aluche into a half-demon. Armed with new powers, Aluche makes it her mission to find the now-missing Liliana, as well as a way to stop the Moon Queen that won’t require her friend’s sacrifice. The story and characters in Nights of Azure 2 are among the game’s high points. With a cast that grows over time, Aluche meets a ragtag collection of allies along her journey, all of whom are beautiful young women like herself. The game isn’t shy about this fact at all, and in some ways, feels like a Japanese lesbian romance in the form of an action game. In fact, the game’s lighter interludes feature plenty of sexual humor, and at times it’s a little surprising that the game managed to avoid an M rating despite the lack of red blood or sexual content beyond some slinky costumes and innuendo. The core gameplay in Nights of Azure 2 is hack-and-slash action that’s simple to learn. By default, Aluche uses a sword she can swing for combos of light and heavy attacks, and she can jump, guard, and perform a quick dash as a dodge. However, she’s not alone in combat; she leads a party consisting of one CPU-controlled partner (of a number that the player can choose from), and two Servan, who act independently, or can be ordered to act with the shoulder triggers. For Aluche’s CPU partners (or “Lilies” as they’re called in-game), each partner has her own set of strengths and skills, including special attacks they can perform with Aluche once proper requirements are met, in addition to passive skills that will automatically trigger under the right conditions. On the Normal difficulty, they’re competent and aren’t a burden when acting on their own, but there are commands that let the player dictate their basic behavior. Servan, on the other hand, are little benevolent fiends Aluche can befriend after rescuing them from flower traps. There are several varieties, including those that can turn into alternative weapon types for Aluche to wield, those that protect the party, or that inflict elemental damage. A few key Servan also have the ability to clear away or surpass obstacles on maps that lead to shortcuts, treasure chests, or additional Servan. There’s no requirement that the player find them all, but each one has its own distinct personality and history, whether that be helpful, tragic, imposing, or eccentric. Collectively, they’re a delight. If there’s one big area in which Nights of Azure 2 falls short in its gameplay, it’s really in giving the Lilies and Servan enough to do. The Lilies all have side-stories with their own quest chains to accomplish, but these quests have the player visiting the same maps over and over, with little variation save for where a target enemy or objective is on a map. And while there are plenty of Servan to befriend and bring into the party, there were many that I simply never took into battle, and at least on the Normal difficulty, I never felt penalized for sticking with the same three or four for most of the game. There are also time limits to consider. Aluche’s half-demon body doesn’t have the stamina to fight forever, and each excursion, which represents one night, has a set time limit. This limit starts at a flat ten minutes, but grows gradually as she levels up, and as points are spent on skill tree nodes to give her more time. The other time limit has to do with a magical azure moon. With each passing night, the moon wanes more and more, and the player must defeat the boss at the end of each chapter before it wanes completely, or its game over. The game does offer an emergency option to restart from the beginning of the current chapter in a worst-case scenario, but I never needed to use it. In fact, the moon time limit was never an issue for me, and I never felt pressed by the threat of a new moon. The game’s boss fights are a mixed bag. Most them are well done and offer a decent challenge relative to the rest of the game’s difficulty. But then there are the outliers. One of them was comically easy in a way that, combined with his absurd presentation, I can only imagine was intentional. And one boss fight toward the end was marred by a second phase that was nothing but tedious and seemed designed only to eat away at the timer. There are some odd quirks in the Switch version that need to be noted. One is that the game is inconsistent with its use of the A and B buttons. The A button is used for environment interaction and talking to characters, while B is used as the confirmation button in the game’s menus. This leads to unintuitive moments like pressing A to open the Save menu, and once in the menu pressing B to select a file and save the game. There were many times when I accidentally backed out of menus I had just opened because the A button is also “cancel” when in a menu. On two occasions in the twenty-plus hours of playing prior to writing this review, the game crashed and returned to the Switch home menu. However, both times it occurred were just seconds after I had saved the game, and so no progress was lost. Hopefully, Koei Tecmo will release a patch to address this issue, but the crashes were, fortunately, minor inconveniences at best. Complaints about repetition, boss fights, and technical quirks aside, I feel the game is still worth playing. The characters and world of Nights of Azure 2 are consistently entertaining, and the combat is fun. While the game lacks elements of polish, the core of the experience still manages to shine. It’s recommended if you’re looking for a fun action RPG, but don’t expect the smoothest experience. Pros + Entertaining characters and story with multiple endings + Fun hack-and-slash gameplay + Full Japanese voice acting + Beautiful character designs and models Cons - Technical and design issues - Sidequests require visiting the same maps repeatedly - Inconsistent boss fight quality - The game offers no hints on how to earn the better endings Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Nights of Azure 2 is recommended if you’re looking for a fun action RPG, but don’t expect the smoothest experience. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  2. Hailinel

    Review: Samurai Warriors 4 Empires

    Developer: Omega Force Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Vita Release Date: March 15, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen Koei Tecmo“s long-standing Warriors franchise shows no signs of slowing down. With multiple releases per year across different franchises (Arslan: The Warriors of Legend released last month, and Hyrule Warriors Legends will reach the west soon), there are a lot to choose from. But in the long history of releases, the Empires spin-offs have always stood out, and Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is no exception. For the uninitiated, Empires titles are offshoots of entries in the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors series that add a heavy strategy element to the beat“em up action that the Warriors titles are known for. That in mind, there“s no true story mode in SW4E. The primary objective is kept simple; to take your chosen faction and lead them to the conquest of Warring States-era Japan. The game offers two basic modes of play, though at their core, they“re essentially the same. In Conquest Mode, you select a premade scenario that determines the clans in play and the territories they control at the start; the scenarios on offer are loosely based on how Japan was divided between warring factions at specific periods in history. The other game mode, Genesis Mode, allows you to create your own custom scenarios by using the Conquest Mode scenarios as a base. Entire clans can be customized, from their Daimyo, or clan head, to the individual officers serving under him or her. The player can also edit the clans“ ultimate scenario objectives, otherwise called ambitions. Regardless of the mode selected, the structure of the game is the same. Time in passes in turns, with each turn representing a season of the year, and individual turns are divided into two phases; Politics and Battle. The Politics Phase plays out like a simplified version of Koei Tecmo“s own Nobunaga“s Ambition strategy games. During this phase, the player can devote a set number of actions to cultivating resources and acquiring battle strategies, developing relationships between personnel, and taking political and strategic actions such as trading with allies or sabotaging defenses. The options given are generally simple to understand, but offer enough complexity that choices made have very visible ramifications in the Battle Phase. The Battle Phase, where combat takes place, plays out in standard Warriors hack-and-slash format, but with strategic twists. Battles themselves take two forms; invasion battles, where you invade an enemy“s territory in an attempt to claim it, and defensive battles where you fight off an enemy invasion. When on offense, the goal of the battle is always to take the enemy“s main camp or defeat their commanding officer, while defensive battles are won by either taking the enemy“s main camp or holding off the enemy until time expires. Battles are all relatively short; the longest they can be is fifteen minutes, and when on offense, you can adjust the length of a battle by choosing how many supplies to devote to it during battle preparations. As an additional layer of strategy, the player can set battle formations and choose from a variety of strategies to employ, with one strategy persisting throughout the battle and up to two others equipped to employ at the player“s call. Formations, meanwhile, fall into three basic categories (offense, defense, and speed), and share a rock-paper-scissors relationship. They also wear off over time, and the player can swap to new formations over the course of battle to either gain the advantage over or negate the enemy formation. When in battle, the flow is similar to that seen in other Warriors games. Control over bases is divided between you and the enemy, and as you claim bases, the defenses of other enemy bases will weaken, making them easier to capture. Capture enough bases, and you“ll be in a good position to take on the enemy“s main camp, but the enemy is also attempting the same against you. The actual combat uses the same battle system seen in Samurai Warriors 4 and 4-II, and it“s possible to play as any character in your army, whether they be one of the famous officers of the Samurai Warriors roster, a custom character created in the game“s character editor, or even one of the many standard officers that share common appearance templates and voices. Once the Battle Phase is over, the game moves on to the next season, at which point the player can begin making preparations for the next battle. This cycle makes up the meat of SW4E, with the scenario reaching its conclusion when you achieve your clan“s ambition, whether it“s claiming the capital for yourself, uniting a wider region of Japan under your clan“s banner, or destroying a rival clan outright. And once that ambition is achieved, the credits roll, and then you“re given the option to continue playing until all of Japan is yours. Outside of this, there“s little here to hold the player“s attention, but that shouldn“t come as a surprise given that SW4E is meant as a companion to SW4 and 4-II and recycles the vast majority of its visual and audio assets from these entries. As a stand-alone game, it“s light in its breadth of content, but its deeper strategic nature could still hold appeal for both series veterans and fans more interested in the Empires style of gameplay than a standard Warriors title. Pros: + Great mix of turn-based strategy and action game elements + Numerous customization options are offered when setting up a new campaign + Save import feature allows the player to easily transfer custom characters created in Samurai Warriors 4 and 4-II into Empires, and cosmetic DLC released for the previous games is also compatible + Amusing event scenes between officers help keep the pace of the game lively Cons - Some players may be turned away by the lack of an English voice audio option. - Some officer event scenes tend to repeat a lot, but can be skipped. Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great As a stand-alone game, it“s light in its breadth of content, but its deeper strategic nature could still hold appeal for both series veterans and fans more interested in the Empires style of gameplay than a standard Warriors title. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.
  3. Developer: Gust Corportaion Publisher: Tecmo Koei Platforms: PS Vita and PS3 Release Date: June 24, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the Vita version of the game As the resident Atelier series expert here at GP, I“ve been asked multiple times to tell people which recent Atelier games (on PS3 and PS Vita) that they should check out. No matter how many times I“d phrase it, however, I“d have a hard time recommending Atelier Rorona. Why, you ask? Well, the original Atelier Rorona had a lot of problems. Not only in comparison to its sequels, which largely improved upon the gameplay, visuals, and even storytelling/characters, but it was also chock-full of annoying design decisions and it even had significant technical problems as well which made it quite difficult to recommend, even as a prerequisite towards its sequels. Still, after many sequels with lessons learned, Gust decided to revisit the first PS3 title in the series just four years later and attempted to significantly overhaul it with Atelier Rorona Plus. Does it prove to be a much-needed improvement or is it little more than lip-service? The title starts off with the young apprentice, Rorona, who takes on the responsibilities of running an alchemy workshop because her master is too lazy to keep it running. Because of this, Rorona is pressured by the royal council and the local townsfolk of Arland to fulfill various tasks for three years, otherwise the workshop will be forced to close down for good. It is a simple setup that more or less dictates the entire flow and has been left largely left untouched from the original release minus a few new character events and endings. In part and parcel with the setting, Rorona has to wisely manage her time through the use of alchemy while supplementing the means to do it with both light-hearted RPG exploration and combat. Every three months or so, the fan-favorite character knight, Sterk, assigns new objectives to Rorona in which requires her talents in some form. As a bare minimum she needs to complete at least the primary task, but there are other optional objectives to work towards in the meantime for overachievers who want additional rewards. No part of Atelier Rorona Plus is terribly complex on its own, but it is generally how it is woven together that makes it and the other entries stand from the traditional RPG crowd. For example, its primary focus on alchemy, or rather item crafting, is a crucial component to the structure and has a deceptive amount of depth to it. Rorona may be inherently encouraged to be a hermit to fulfill most tasks despite the game's bursts of exploration to obtain new materials or see new character events, but it manages to avoid the laborious trappings associated with item crafting because of the quick and rewarding nature of it. This also applies to battles and exploration, which generally go by fast as well and helps feed into the simple but effective overall gameplay loop of fulfilling various tasks for the local denizens. With that said, the original Atelier Rorona was actually quite an unforgiving title at the time. For those who weren't following a guide and maximizing their in-game time, they were under the constant pressure of a bad ending because of its strict deadlines that left little room to do anything else. Thankfully, that has changed as well as many other aspects and it is crazy how many of the minor annoyances and oddities from the original release have been ironed out. Everything from streamlining inventory for turning in quests, being able to skip cutscenes, choosing specific endings, or even simply having an MP bar opposed to HP being the primary resource for combat skills and alchemy. The original game was full of very odd and annoying problems like these, not to mention how it also liked to crash a lot too. Honestly, I could spend all day talking about mechanics or subtle interface changes and how much better this is compared to the original. At the same time, though, there is the rub, there are a lot of changes and improvements from the original release but very little that is unique from the sequels it mimics. It borrows Atelier Meruru's combat system and gameplay engine, Atelier Escha & Logy's main mission design, and general interface enhancements from recent entries. These are all good aspects on paper, and unquestionably makes for a much better game than the original overall, but for those that actually played those titles (like myself), it noticeably doesn't handle most of those aspects quite as well those other entries. A lot of Rorona Plus's problems for existing fans is its been there, done that feel of it all. This is primarily because it does not quite have the same finesse/spirit as the games it copies. As mentioned earlier, most of the main campaign has been left unchanged and it only reminded me of how much better character interactions/storytelling are handled in later games like Atelier Totori and Atelier Ayesha. It's the same deal with the gameplay, like how it generally copies Atelier Meruru's combat system for the most part, but isn't as flashy or fun; or even Atelier Escha & Logy's main mission design, but with less incentive or reward. With all of these constant comparisons running through my mind, I wasn't really thinking about how much they have improved this game but rather how much I'd rather play those other sequels, especially with Atelier Meruru Plus and Atelier Escha & Logy fresh in my mind. In the matter of fairness, what is new beyond interface/mechanical changes is its enhanced visuals/environments and a new post main story chapter. I know what you may be thinking—"The visuals are enhanced?"—and yes, they actually are. It does away with its originally bizarre chibi-ish character models with new models altogether that are more faithful to their in-game portraits. Also, the environments have been expanded, quite literally, from the original release which had very claustrophobic locales. Of course, the blunt truth of it all is that the visuals are still pretty underwhelming, in particular the environments, and even the character models aren't as good as later iterations, but it is a mostly appreciated refinement from its original release. Perhaps the most substantial addition is the new chapter called "Overtime", which occurs after completing the main story and extends in-game time by one year. The context for it is that the main protagonists from Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru accidentally go back in time and need help from Rorona to get them back to their present. Admittedly, this new chapter is mostly fanservice either for those who have played the later games or so advanced players can go crazy with item crafting in preparation for the tough superbosses/dungeons. In spite of that, it does have some neat new additions like a time capsule mechanic that utilizes save files from previous titles to get new items, and even a few new cutscenes that make the narrative transition between the sequel, Atelier Totori, more cohesive. In all honesty, this mode was probably the most fun part of the entire game since progression is much less funneled than with the main scenario. For as numerous as the changes that are in this version, Atelier Rorona Plus does not manage to completely escape the groundwork from its original release, for better or worse. It borrows a ton of elements from its sequels, and adds a few neat additions of its own, but rarely achieves complete parity or even tries to creatively surpass its later iterations. As a whole, Atelier Rorona Plus merely cements itself as the least desirable recent entry in the series. It's certainly better than it has ever been, and it works itself up to being decent overall, but the series has simply seen better. Pros: + Big improvements to the gameplay and interface over the original + Huge in-game soundtrack to draw from + “Overtime” mode has some neat additions Cons: - In-game visuals are still unimpressive overall - Combat, alchemy, and gameplay structure still aren“t quite as good as other recent iterations - Doesn“t do enough of an overhaul for those who have played the original game Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent A very significant refinement from the original release, but Atelier Rorona Plus ultimately pales in comparison to its other recent iterations as a game overall. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  4. Basically, up until recent years, it seems that Tecmo Koei was basically just the Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden, and Dynasty Warriors (and its spin-offs) publisher, but now that the company bought Gust (developer of the Atelier, Ar Tonelico series) and is doing more beyond just those three other series with the recent releases of Deception IV and Toukiden, it really seems like they're trying to branch out and become more like XSEED, Atlus, and NIS. What do you guys think? Is Tecmo Koei more on your radar nowadays?
  5. Tecmo Koei recently announced that Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star will release on PlayStation 3 in North America this September. This title is actually a continuation of a Japanese-only release, Ciel nosurge, which was released in 2012. It also serves as a prequel to the Ar tonelico series, which is a trilogy of games in which the latest, Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel, was released in 2011. The game will be shown along several other titles such as Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland, Samurai Warriors 4, and Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate at Anime Expo in Los Angeles this weekend. Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star will be released on the PlayStation Store and via retail for $49.99 on September 26.
  6. Two new playable characters were revealed for Hyrule Warriors in this week's Famitsu magazine (via Siliconera), and the first is actually another from Twilight Princess! Well, maybe not someone you were expecting, however. In any case, the character in question is Agitha. Fans of Twilight Princess may remember that she was one of the more unorthodox characters in the game, being the self-proclaimed "Princess of Bugs" and living in her "castle" in Hyrule Town. It's unknown yet what her weapon or method of attack will be just yet but you can probably bet it might involve bugs. She'll likely also receive a slight redesign like some of the other already announced characters have (Link, Zelda, and Impa). The other announced playable character is a new character named Lana, who may presumably be the mystery girl with the silver hair on the right side of the game's box art. Also mentioned in Famitsu is the fact that Twilight Princess villain Zant and one of the game's bosses—the flying, dragon-like creature Argorok—will figure into the game somehow. Will Zant also be playable? We'll have to wait and see. Hyrule Warriors is slated for release on September 26th in North America on Wii U. Source: Siliconera What other playable characters would you like to see in the game?
  7. Famitsu magazine has released new information about the much anticipated, upcoming Zelda spin-off Hyrule Warriors today. Among the news announced was that of a two-player mode that will make use of both the TV and Wii U gamepad. Even more interesting, perhaps, was the announcement that there will be other characters you will be able to play as besides Link, including Impa, who will lead the Elite Guard in Hyrule Warriors and fights with a long sword. Fans of the Zelda series may remember Impa as Zelda's guardian and servant to the royal family of Hyrule in her many incarnations throughout the games, but perhaps her two most famous roles were in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time where she fled Hyrule Castle and hid Princess Zelda from Ganondorf, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, where she acted as Zelda's guide and protector from Ghirahim. While this is the first time we've been able to play as a character other than Link in a Zelda game (canonical or otherwise), the Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi series are known for incorporating many different characters, such as the most recent entry in the series, Dynasty Warriors 8, which features over 70 different playable characters. Additionally, Famitsu revealed that different weapons will change the way your character will fight, with one-handed swords emphasizing speed and heavier weapons highlighting damage instead. Weapons will also be upgradeable and there will be a character progression system as well. While no release date has been announced for North America or Europe yet, the Hyrule Warriors is announced to be 70% complete at the moment and will be releasing on August 16 in Japan. More news about the game is expected to come at E3 in just under a month where the game is said to be playable. Source: Famitsu (via Siliconera) Are you excited to play as other characters in Hyrule Warriors?
  8. The horror franchise Fatal Frame is making its way to the Wii U. Tecmo Koei announced that they are working with Nintendo on a new entry in the series but could not yet provide a release date or title. This is exciting news for Wii U fans who would like to see more from the struggling console. The survival horror game is a solid addition to the Wii U's lineup of exclusives. We will bring you more on Fatal Frame as it becomes available. Source: Gematsu via Famitsu Is this a promising announcment for Wii U owners?
  9. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Tecmo Koei Platform: PS3 Release Date: March 11, 2014 ESRB: E for Everyone It“s hard to believe that the Atelier series now celebrates its fifteenth main entry with the release of Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky. Even if fans in the West have seen a good majority of the most recent official Atelier titles, the series actually has a history dating as far back as 1997, back in the PS1 era. The Atelier series is a fickle breed. There are a few constants, like having a deep focus on item-crafting and annualized releases, but the series changes just enough to have fans not be entirely sure what to expect with each new entry. Last year“s Atelier Ayesha was one such example of trying something rather different with the franchise's name. Ayesha had a bigger emphasis on its entirely new setting and more serious overall storytelling, and it served as a part one of an entirely new trilogy (meaning it is independent from the previous PS3 Atelier "Arland" trilogy, which includes Atelier Rorona, Atelier Totori, and Atelier Meruru). As a game, however, I felt it took quite a few steps back from the actively engaging Atelier Meruru. Still, even if the series has the occasional disappointment, Gust has a habit of learning from their mistakes with their direct sequels if their previous “Arland” trilogy has taught me anything. I expected no less from part two of the Dusk trilogy with Atelier Escha & Logy. At the start, protagonists Logy and Escha are drafted to the R&D division of a small rural(-ish) town called Colseit due to their abilities as alchemists. The R&D division of Colseit is in a bad position, with dwindling government ratings and constant member dropouts, causing them to be severely understaffed. With promising abilities and different skillsets, Logy and Escha have to work together in order to strengthen the status of the division as well as trying to help improve the living conditions caused by the decaying region for those around them. With the focus on two main protagonists, this leads to both the main gameplay structure and narrative gimmick of the game. At the start, the player has the choice between either protagonist“s story. Escha has a bigger focus on item-crafting and her story feels more like traditional Atelier games due to its more light-hearted tone, while Logy“s story is slightly more serious and battle-centric in his mission objectives, making it more akin to entries like Mana Khemia or Atelier Iris. That said, even if the two protagonists have their occasional deviation for both gameplay and story scenarios (as well as their various narrative endings), there is a lot of overlap between them for the most part. Choosing one character will not be terribly different from the other as it is just a matter of personal preference. In actuality, the storytelling is pretty minimal in Escha & Logy, especially coming off of last year's Atelier Ayesha. Like almost any other Atelier game, what storytelling that there is is usually be conveyed through the many character interactions. There are returning characters and nods to the previous game, but as a whole it has surprisingly little expectation that people have played the previous game at all. This leaves newcomers rather free to check out this new title with next to no narrative hitches (minus one, rather significant, but passively delivered spoiler of Atelier Ayesha). Despite knowing that, it is disappointing that the setting/characters Atelier Ayesha tried its best to build up are almost entirely ignored in this new game.This is further emphasized because the new supporting cast of characters are not as interesting as earlier games although Logy and Escha themselves are handled better than main protagonists in most earlier games. Even more important than the storytelling in Atelier titles, though, is the gameplay. Logy and Escha are assigned new objectives from the R&D division in four-month in-game intervals. During these intervals the player has one primary task which is essentially required (at least to be on track for the good endings), and a bunch of optional secondary objectives which dictate their ratings, monthly stipend, and the amount of free time they have for other stuff. The objectives mostly require players to either synthesize, explore different parts of the region, or battle the occasional foes. A lot of the appeal of Atelier titles is actually through their seemingly carefree design. Atelier Escha & Logy is no different for the most part considering the ease of the main objectives and the flexibility in how you can approach them. Atelier entries tend to be charming in their simplicity and light-hearted tone, avoiding the grandiose narrative scale that so many RPGs have, but are also very pleasantly surprising in their depth and deceptively engaging structure. This especially applies to how they utilize item-crafting, or alchemy, which is a staple of the series. The main objectives do prod the player in trying out crafting, for obvious reasons, but little by little the player will notice that it is more than just a means of completing the story objectives. Crafting goes towards many important aspects like character equipment, healing/attack items to use in-battle, assigned narrative objectives, to even tools that can make traversing the region all the more convenient. Atelier Escha & Logy probably has the best implementation of crafting in the series that is less limiting than the previous game. Alchemy itself becomes kind of like an entertaining puzzle when trying to best utilize different materials and their properties during the process. It may sounds complicated on paper, but really it just means there is more purpose to forging individual items, doing it well, and learning the surprising amount of depth behind it. There is more to Atelier than just item-crafting, of course. The lead characters have to explore different parts of the region to obtain new materials for alchemy, battle monsters, or complete specific tasks assigned by the R&D division. Combat has seen a pretty big improvement over Atelier Ayesha (which was definitely a step back from Atelier Meruru), with faster/flashier animations, but also maintaining Ayesha's position-based battle system. What is really new, though, is you can switch party members in and out of battle at any time, similar to games like Final Fantasy X or Mana Khemia. This lays the groundwork to be able to not only be able to change between almost all party members mid-combat, but also have them protect fellow allies from damage, follow-up attacks, or use unique special skills. This aspect only gets cooler the further you get in the game, like using the combination skill "dual draw" where Logy and Escha use two attack items at once to create an entirely new attack of greater power. At the end of the day, however, it is unfortunately easy to not fully utilize the cool improvements done to the battle system, because of the game's lack of difficulty and most battles not requiring too much thought. The biggest problem I have with the game is that even if it may have the best mechanics in the series, from combat to synthesizing, it is not structured to be as actively engaging as earlier titles. The four-month deadline structure is rather restrictive because if you are able to complete all objectives ahead of time (which is very easy to do for veteran players), you can have next to nothing to do in-between until the next set of tasks. For most of the game I found myself with way too much in-game free time. I hate to bring the comparison up so often in this review, but Atelier Meruru actively fed you new goals to do even if you were essentially ahead of the main story objectives. In contrast, Escha & Logy deliberately limits where and when you can progress, including the rate where you can obtain new tasks and synthesizing recipes. It may be strangely specific complaint, but I believe that it is a crucial to why I think this game has more intermittent levels of enjoyment for more seasoned players, like myself. With every new Atelier game it seems like it“s the same story with the presentation. The environments are still rather bland overall and most have the detail of something you'd encounter from the PS2 era. However, the character models are vibrant and faithfully render the anime-esque style, even if they have sort of stiff animations. On the audio side, it seems like the localization team is getting better at handling the English dub casting. It isn't amazing or terribly noteworthy overall, but I found myself picking English since I much preferred the voice for Escha in particular over her Japanese counterpart, as well as certain other characters, and that's saying a lot for a person who normally defaults to Japanese when given the choice. The music maintains the relatively high bar Atelier Ayesha established, even I don't think it is as great as that soundtrack, but it has a more consistent musical style with the jazzy flair to a lot of the music tracks that stands out in particular. Atelier Escha & Logy takes another step towards making the series more approachable as well as making a lot of smart subtle refinements and changes to the gameplay. The structure is unfortunately more linear than past iterations due to a more controlled deadline system, which series veterans can find rather limiting. Looking past that, though, Atelier Escha & Logy makes for an easier recommendation than most Atelier entries since it remembers how to make an enjoyably light-hearted gameplay experience that still manages to sneak in a surprising amount of depth and gameplay substance. It doesn't quite hit as a master specimen of the series due to some narrative/structural issues, but it serves as a very promising example of the series moving forward and proves the series is still quite welcome even now. Pros: + Two different playable main characters, each with a different focus, and plenty to work towards + Combat and crafting aspects are the best in the series + Solid musical score with a jazzy flair + Lots of subtle mechanical refinements to the series“ quirks Cons: - Narrative is pretty minimal and the overall character interactions are less interesting than earlier games - Series veterans can easily find a significant lull in things to do between deadlines due to the more linear structure - Certain gameplay systems are underutilized Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Atelier Escha & Logy creatively experiments with its own newfound strengths and some lessons learned from games past. It doesn't make for the definite Atelier experience, but it's proof that it is moving close to it. A download code was provided by the publisher for this review
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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

    © www.siliconera.com

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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

    © www.siliconera.com

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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

    © www.siliconera.com

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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

    © www.siliconera.com

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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

    © www.siliconera.com

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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

    © www.siliconera.com

  16. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Tecmo Koei Platform: PlayStation 3 Release Date: March 5, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen For the past few years, the long-running Atelier franchise has been one of the very few series that I don't mind playing in annual doses. These strange RPG titles blend a focus on unconventional item-crafting with light-hearted character interactions, while also making very significant improvements with each PS3 release. As much as I enjoyed the previous PS3 games (well, minus Rorona), it was about time for Gust to break away from the Arland trilogy of games with a new setting and characters. Fortunately for me, Atelier Ayesha does just that by being a completely independent title and having a more approachable overall structure. The question is: Does it do enough to appeal to a wider audience as well as satiate fans of the most recent releases? Meet the young apothecary, Ayesha Altugle, who lives by herself crafting medicine after her grandfather and, more recently, sister passed away. Upon visiting her sister's grave, who was believed to be spirited away three years ago, Ayesha notices a silent phantom figure that resembled her sister, Nio, before it shortly disappears. An elderly alchemist who happened to nearby, Keithgriff, notices the strange occurrence and tells her that it was quite possibly no coincidence at all and her sister may very well still be alive. Ayesha fails to press too much information out of Keith, however, who only tells her vaguely that if she wants to possibly save her sister she must pursue alchemy and uncover the mystery behind special glowing flowers within three years time otherwise she will forever lose any chance of seeing Nio again. In contrast to the most recent PS3 Atelier games, which were usually overwhelming bubbly and energetic from the get-go, Atelier Ayesha starts with a surprisingly bleaker overall tone. In terms of setting, there are hints of constant decay across the region and the disappearance of Nio serve as lingering undertones throughout. Of course, the game doesn't get oppressively morbid by any means, and it is certainly more whimsical than most games with its character interactions alone, but it is an interesting, albeit subtle, tonal shift from the earlier games. Unfortunately, the storytelling itself isn't as intriguing as it is built up to be in the long run, and interesting aspects about the setting are not fully touched upon, possibly reserved for the upcoming Atelier Esha & Logy, but it does earn itself some endearing moments through its characters and interactions. As for the gameplay, the various events and character interactions Ayesha encounters meshes together to help structure the game. By gaining 'memories' they will open various benefits throughout the game, like stat increases, alchemy recipes exploration bonuses, and much more, and it serves as an interesting replacement for Atelier Meruru's kingdom development system. Ayesha can also chronicle these events in her diary through the use of 'memory points' to reap even more benefits. Memory points are generally gained through exploration, completing quests, synthesizing, and defeating monsters. In conjunction with storytelling and gameplay, this facet melds together rather cohesively, especially when working towards the many endings and narrative events. During Ayesha's journey she will also traverse across the region. Navigation is simple with a straightforward overworld map through the various locales, with time passing as Ayesha explores and travels to new areas. Contrary to the narrative, the game is also less pressing time-wise than previous Atelier games, due to its more ambiguous objectives and structure, which is probably rather welcoming for newcomers. In addition to expanding the narrative, traveling allows Ayesha to gather new items for synthesizing and to fight various monsters in a simple turn-based combat system. The combat system of Ayesha seems to utilize some familiar framework of the Arland trilogy, with support meters that build up through a battle: so party members can defend, follow-up attacks, status enhancing skills, and use devastating finishing moves during combat. New to Atelier Ayesha, however, is an extra layer of depth, with a positioning based system where allies can attack from behind, side, and, of course, the front of enemies. While it does sound like an improvement overall, I think it takes a couple steps back from the pace of Atelier Meruru. Battles and attack animations are quite noticeable slower (and less flashy) than Meruru's, and Ayesha herself feeling less useful in combat. Considering Atelier Ayesha's lack of difficulty and the relatively simple combat, the slower combat system feesl like one step forward, and two steps back, like much of the game in general. Through the use of Alchemy, or rather, the act of synthesizing, makes for an important aspect of the Atelier series and Atelier Ayesha isn't too different, in theory. Having said that, synthesizing is a bit more contrived and not as integral in this Atelier compared to the Arland trilogy. The quantity and quality of item forging isn't as important, that isn't necessarily a bad thing for newcomers who just want to meet the bare minimum for quests, but it is actually less intuitive than previous games for veteran synthesizers. Deeper nuances of crafting feel restricted until Ayesha raises her skills a fair bit and gains much better quality ingredients. A bigger problem is that, alchemy really feels like it is much less purposeful in general, since it mainly used for basic quest design for revenue, and its overall benefits feeling much more passive compared to what I found to be the much more actively rewarding Atelier Meruru. One of my bigger nitpicks is with the clumsy design for town based quests or 'delivery requests'. While the goal/task/log interface is intuitive for more story/character pertinent missions, or objectives in various other locations, the local quests or 'delivery requests' in towns are never marked. So the game pretty much expects you to remember what NPCs wanted what. I know I said alchemy doesn't feel as important, since it isn't exactly for anything beyond town requests, but it is the main means of obtaining specific items for the NPCs. Players will definitely want the funds from delivery requests since they are the game's most consistent source of revenue. Considering how there is quite a few delivery requests with deadlines and several towns, it seems like a needless annoyance to not have it noted when the general interface is done rather well. It's apparent that Atelier Ayesha isn't a very high budget title if you go by looks alone, with that in mind, I do appreciate the new shift in art direction. The prude in me appreciates the more conservatively dressed character designs who actually have pretty faithful character models to complement it. Though, almost to contrast, the environments are still very stark and bland throughout, with the few exceptions of the visual vibrancy with certain flowers motifs for presentation. On the audio front, Atelier Ayesha has an excellent musical score, and is almost in a different league comparison to the Arland trilogy, and it plays with a bunch of musical styles. The soundtrack is a real treat overall from whimsical waltz-like themes, toe-tapping worthy jazzy tracks, to the more stirring and foreboding choruses. Voice acting is also not bad, but has some drawbacks, primarily due to budget constraints. Compared to the Japanese release there is significantly less recorded voice acting overall, and the dub in general relegated to English-only with no Japanese alternative, which that alone incited some unfortunate internet controversy. Taken all into account, however, Atelier Ayesha does some seriously impressive stuff with the soundtrack, and even the English dub is decent too for the most part despite its constraints. Atelier Ayesha is both a pleasant diversion and also a disappointing departure from what the previous Arland trilogy established. While the change in tone, setting, characters, and presentation are most certainly welcome, I feel like it takes a noticeable step back as a game with a far less engaging and rewarding structure, especially in comparison to Atelier Meruru. It makes for a more approachable Atelier game, but not necessary the most entertaining. It's definitely a good game in its own right, but I can only hope that the upcoming Atelier Escha & Logy takes some cues from the Arland trilogy, while capitalizing and fully-expanding upon the things Atelier Ayesha tried to do different. Pros: + Likable characters and some endearing scenes + Pleasant new art direction + Plenty of things to do and is the most approachable PS3 game in the series + Excellent soundtrack and decent English voice acting Cons: - Battles are too slow considering their simplicity and game“s lack of difficulty - Narrative and setting are underutilized - Alchemy/Synthesizing is not very rewarding... for series built on it - Clumsy quest interface Overall Score: 7.0 (out of 10) Good Atelier Ayesha is both charming for what it tries to do different as well as disappointing for what it doesn't do quite as well. While it isn't necessarily the most engaging game in the series, it is the most approachable PS3 title and it will hopefully serve as a solid foundation for the upcoming Atelier Escha & Logy. A download code was provided by the publisher for this review
  17. Tecmo Koei has announced a release date for the latest release in the Atelier series, Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky. The game is expected to ship on March 11, 2014 and will be available on PS3. Atelier Escha & Logy focuses on the exploits of dual protagonists this time around - a young man named Logy and a girl named Escha - as they learn to make use of alchemy and lost alchemic technologies in order to survive the impending "Dusk End." New to this entry is the Imbuing system, which allows Logy to customize his weapons and armor, while Escha revised synthesis ability grows along with her. Also new is the ability to add up to 6 characters in battle which makes things a bit more strategic and fast-paced in fights. You can check out the intro for Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky below.
  18. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Tecmo Koei Platform: Vita Release Date: September 3, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A download code was provided by the publisher for this review It has been a little over a year since the original Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland arrived on PS3, which was easily one of my favorite games of last year and received a glowing review by myself as well. For the uninitiated, Atelier Meruru is the final part of the “Arland” trilogy under the Atelier series name, meaning it has various direct ties to the previous PS3 games: Atelier Rorona and Atelier Totori. The Atelier series itself is a long-running RPG franchise in Japan that generally blends a focus between item crafting and light-hearted RPG adventuring, while most often times having a cutesy female protagonist at the forefront. An underrated fact about the series is that the most recent entries, Atelier Meruru in particular, have also been known to cause long-term addiction due to prolonged exposure to the gameplay. Okay, I... may have completely made that last part up. In all sincerity, I have been a pretty unapologetic Atelier series fan after I found Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru to be such pleasant surprises. Still, my impressions of the series as a whole have fluctuated quite a bit, especially since I found the most recent English release, Atelier Ayesha, to be something of a disappointment. Even if Ayesha was by no means a bad title, it did not resonate with me a whole lot and it made me second guess my outlook as to why why I liked the previous games so much. As if to give me an excuse to reevaluate my opinion on the series, and to pry me away from my 3DS, Atelier Meruru Plus heads to Vita with new content while also featuring every bit of the PS3's dlc as well. Atelier Meruru's setting starts off with the restless princess by the name of Merurulince Rede Arl's, or simply "Meruru," as she's fortunately nicknamed throughout, who is given three years to prove her newfound passion of alchemy to benefit and expand the Kingdom of Arl“s. If she doesn“t prove the worth of alchemy to her father, King Dessier, within that time, she must give it up and continue to fulfill her royal obligations as a princess. The narrative backdrop is pretty simple and for the most part serves as a setup for both the gameplay and as a way to introduce plenty of familiar faces for fans of Atelier Totori and Rorona. Since Atelier Meruru specifically does not hesitate to play on the nostalgia of fans of the prior two entries, throwing constant references and inside jokes, and even some outright spoilers to Atelier Totori's narrative, it does run the risk of sort of alienating newcomers with its dense amount of bubbly character interactions. It is for this very reason that I'd encourage players to check out at least Atelier Totori Plus, which is known for its, erm, stealthy Vita release. Honestly, for as amused as I was by Atelier Meruru's character interactions, I could imagine them coming off as more than long-winded from an outsider's perspective, who aren't attuned fans. However, Atelier Meruru's greatest strength most certainly lies within how well its gameplay structure ties together. Which, for a game presented as something that is focused on cute characters and item crafting, is likely to be hard to believe initially. Like the narrative setup alludes to, Meruru is tasked towards expanding the kingdom if Arl's through the use of Alchemy. In order to expand Arl's, Meruru must explore, craft, and aid in the kingdom's development plans. At the very start, Meruru's butler, Rufus, provides an outline of things do for the kingdom's development: such as how to accomplish them, and the benefits of accomplishing them. These tasks usually don't amount to anything too complicated beyond killing monsters, delivering/gathering specific items, and exploring different regions. What is different is what order you can approach these various tasks and which benefits you choose to yield from them. Benefits from completing tasks range from building facilities to increase the population, gaining monthly revenue, obtain new alchemy recipes, increased shop inventory, direct stat increases, and more. Directly tying into the kingdom's development as well is the need to explore. Exploration brings the more traditional RPG aspects to the game, where Meruru can participate in rather quick turn-based battles as well as gather ingredients for synthesizing as she explores new areas. In addition, Meruru can have two bodyguards, or companions, who accompany her as she explores these different places. The more time Meruru spends exploring with her bodyguards, it also opens up plenty of character specific events and can even pave the way for the game's multiple endings. Even beyond that, as players continue work towards Arl's development, they will gradually notice some direct change to the areas they explored previously. It is rewarding to see what was originally as desolate wasteland transform into more habitual environment, or areas that were outright impassable, be changed through through the course of the player's action. Last, but certainly not least, is the ever important crux to the gameplay, which is synthesizing/alchemy, or crafting in more popular terms. While it's easy to associate crafting with not being fun in most games, Atelier Meruru more than proves it wrong and Gust proves their years of experience with it. If anything, due to the active benefits and the quick nature of alchemy, it is actually kind of hard to not turn Meruru into some sort of synthesizing hermit (and yourself as well). Since so many aspects feed into crafting like getting better equipment for exploring, doing requests to build up friendship with fellow party characters, working towards Arl's development, and more, it may be hard to actually stop and do something else instead. Not just that, despite it being easy to learn, there is a surprising amount of depth to crafting system and the properties of items can radically change based on which traits the player transfers over. In general, there is a lot going on with Atelier Meruru, even if it may seem a bit daunting initially, especially for newcomers. Still, once you ease into the active gameplay flow, the game never lets up on its enjoyment. What IS new with Atelier Meruru Plus mainly comes and other subtle additions and tweaks. The new additions include different outfits for the main protagonists, mechanical tweaks to the combat/synthesizing, the inclusion of every bit of free and paid DLC of the PS3 version in the game by default, and the most noteworthy of all, a new story ending. Actually, my great and unvoiced complaint about the original version is fixed in Meruru Plus by having the new ending. Without getting too specific, I found one narrative aspect regarding certain characters (Rorona) to be rather poorly resolved in the original release, regardless of ending, and actually sort of offended me as a fan of previous games. Thankfully, that is no longer the case due to the new ending which more or less wraps up a story element (that honestly didn't need to be there in the first place) to a satisfying conclusion. Also, since I never bought the DLC of the PS3 version, it was also neat to be able to play as the former, overpriced DLC characters such as the butler Rufus, energetic merchant Hanna, and slightly sadistic ghost Pamela. Which, in addition to being playable in combat, also sport in some new cutscenes as well. What is rather surprising, at least from a technical perspective, is how Meruru Plus even includes the 200+ musical track DLC that was in the PS3 version. The music DLC, originally called Meruru's Mix Pack, is used to change background themes and battle themes that play mid-gameplay. Even if Meruru's soundtrack is by no means bad, especially many of its battle themes, it will become all too tempting to utilize the varied musical content. The optional song selection includes some excellent tracks and arrangements from previous Atelier games, as well as some other really obscure tunes from other Gust titles, and is a neat feature to include. If there is anything that Meruru Plus makes any real sacrifices with, compared to the PS3 version, it's on a presentation level. While it looks solid and vibrant on the Vita overall (minus some bland environments), it is stuff like the load times and frame rate that can be rather off-putting at times. Seriously, in the most random places the game would pause mid-frame and lead me to believe the game froze, only to have the game continue to run three seconds later like nothing happened. Even if it doesn't ruin the experience, or change my mind in thinking that Meruru Plus is the best version to play, it is still a technical blemish that can't be entirely ignored. After playing Atelier Meruru again for something of the third time (without going into the semantics of collecting every ending), I“m reminded why I found the game so much fun the first, second, and now even third time through. It's a smartly crafted game that benefits even more in portable doses than its console counterpart. This version does make some odd technical comprises, and most of the new additions aren't terribly noteworthy but, if only for stuff like the new ending and incorporating the downloadable content of the original release in the game by default, Atelier Meruru Plus is the definitive version of an already extremely satisfying RPG experience. Pros: + Deceptively deep, addictive gameplay structure, and engaging RPG progression + Includes all of the PS3's DLC in the game by default (new dungeons, playable characters, and option to customize music) + Satisfying new ending + "Barrel~" (Editors note: ....>_>) Cons: - Occasionally erratic framerate as well as load times specific to Meruru Plus - Dialogue between characters may be a bit excessive for people who aren“t nostalgic towards previous entries. Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Even if the Vita version has some technical foibles, Atelier Meruru Plus is most certainly the best way to play this great title. By itself, I'd still highly recommend Atelier Meruru as an RPG, but for curious Vita owners, I'd recommend it even more so.
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    From the album: Atelier Meruru Plus