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  1. barrel

    Review: Dragon's Crown Pro

    Developer: Vanillaware Publisher: Atlus USA/Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: May 15, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen With 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim being just beyond the horizon for a little while longer, Japanese developer Vanillaware seems content with putting out enhanced versions of their older projects these past few years. The first of these was the stellar 2016 remake Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir which was so impressively realized that it turned a severely flawed gem into the makings of a genuine gaming classic. In contrast, Dragon's Crown Pro will take a much higher level of scrutiny to notice its minimal changes on the newer PlayStation 4 hardware. For better or worse, it is still the same game it was five years ago. For those unaware, Dragon's Crown was a title that made its way onto the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita back in 2013. In spite of a lengthy and expensive development cycle, it ended up being a much-needed success for Vanilliaware, likely because of its rock-solid beat 'em up gameplay and distinct female character designs. Those with a more seasoned background in the subgenre were able to glean Dragon's Crown reverent (and hardly subtle) callbacks to classic titles such as Capcom's Dungeon & Dragons arcade games in particular. Considering how the game's art director, George Kamitani, had a hand in those D&D arcade games makes it all that much more clear he wanted Dragon's Crown to hearken back to beloved old school beat 'em ups, yet embrace it in a much more modern gameplay context. Being about four years removed since my last playthrough of the game I am surprised to have grown a stronger appreciation of it upon playing Dragon's Crown Pro. Just as it did five years ago, Dragon's Crown's near-timeless 2D art direction is immediately captivating and is dense with an absurd attention to detail, especially now that it has the benefit of a 4K resolution option as well. This is only complemented further by the fun, enthusiastic dungeon master-styled narration throughout (which can be changed to any of the playable character voices that also generally do a great job) which thankfully much more strongly resonates than the forgettable main plot itself involving -- surprise surprise -- dragons and a special crown of some sort. More important than the many striking presentational flourishes is, of course, the actual gameplay. Those comfortable with 2D fighting games, in particular, will likely find the controls of each of the six playable characters to feel like a dream. Layered on top of RPG-styled level progression and an addictive loot grind, this only makes finer character gameplay nuances that much more satisfying to uncover. As much as I enjoyed lifting enemies and tossing barrels as the Dwarf, or teleporting around and casting support spells as Sorceress, I decided to mess with around with the rest of the cast upon this revisit and found myself pleasantly surprised by all of their capability and multiplayer utility as well. But, admittedly, new players will likely still have to acclimate to control quirks like narrow foreground and background beat 'em up hitboxes or certain, clearly touchscreen-intended mechanics like opening treasure chests or using runes abilities (easily most intuitive on PS Vita, though the PS4 touchpad does work fine), if they are not already familiar with them. The issues that Dragon's Crown Pro unfortunately retains are more structural than anything else. The most common early complaint is that newcomers will still have to play a couple hours by themselves (potentially with AI companions) before they can even so much as touch the online multiplayer options. Ironically, after getting over that early slump, those same players will likely feel like they have "beaten" the game by themselves. To the game's credit, in spite of the poor story context of gathering nine talismans, they do a better job in a gameplay context to justify revisiting the familiar nine locations for "Path B" routes that provide distinctively more challenging and varied setpiece moments as well as entirely new bosses. Yet, even with the Path B routes, the repetition is likely to set in much more quickly without the help of other online/local players or the earned convenience of a save file that already played past the first nine bosses and allows them to play a level 15 character right away. The repetition problems are only exacerbated by rather dull quests that seem to conveniently pop immediately after the player likely completed their objectives mid-dungeon trek already. Though these quests are certainly optional (I never touched them until this release) they can be a good way to earn experience points, the occasional questionably lewd pictures, and, much more importantly, skill points which are vital for min/max reasoning to those who want to mess with the game's hardest content on higher difficulties or the randomly generated gauntlet Labyrinth of Chaos/Tower of Mirages modes. It really feels like a huge missed opportunity in general for Vanillaware to not add potentially new playable characters, stages, or modes regardless of how surprisingly well the game has aged. However, it says a lot about just how entertaining the core game is, glaring flaws and all, when I easily doubled my original thirty-hour playtime by trying out other characters or higher difficulties this time around. Even if it definitely missed its chance with sweeping changes, there are some small details that do help Dragon's Crown Pro to barely eke out its position as the best version of the title. Though it took me more time to notice than I care to admit, the entirely redone live orchestra soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakamoto is one such benefit, with richer vocals and instrumentation of the entire soundtrack. Much more granular details are appreciated too, like improved inventory interface, painless direct save transfer options from PS3 and PS Vita, or secretly most important of all, a much more stable PS4 online netcode, especially when playing with individuals overseas. Of course, I am reaching for straws because -- for as positive of a time I have had with the whole experience -- it is tough to make the argument for this re-release for those who did not already enjoy the game. After being spoiled by the excellent enhanced release of Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir not too long ago, it is more than a little disappointing at how little has been added to the PS4 release of Dragon's Crown Pro. Despite the passing of five years time, however, Dragon's Crown has aged remarkably well. It may retain its structural mishaps as well as repetition problems, but its stronger overall components also maintain its addictive moment-to-moment gameplay and superb visual and aural presentation. For those that did not exhaust themselves on the game the first time around, there is still good fun to be had with Dragon's Crown Pro in what is easily among one of the finest beat 'em ups available. It also serves as a good reminder as to why one should be excited for the upcoming next title Vanillaware has in store. Pros + Stunning visuals and incredibly tight beat 'em up gameplay that more than stand the test of a five years time + Charming choose-your-own-adventure styled narration and classic subgenre throwbacks that permeate throughout the experience + Great, addictive fun with fellow human players complemented by a smoother PS4 netcode Cons - Fairly repetitive design loop with no new gameplay additions in Dragon's Crown Pro can make it a tough sell for those that have already played the game on other consoles - Certain clearly touchscreen-focused mechanics like opening treasure chests or using runes are still most intuitive on the Vita hardware - Feels like a huge missed opportunity to not add new content such as extra levels or playable characters Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Vanillaware may have squandered its chance to significantly add upon and fine-tune Dragon's Crown Pro but, for an already high-quality beat 'em up, it does leave room for forgiveness for this minimal PS4 port, especially because of how enjoyable it is to play with others even now. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. Developer: Vanillaware Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS4, PS3, and PS Vita Release Date: June 7, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game It was often prophesied that 2D pixel art in gaming was going to meet its end. With the rise of HD fidelity and photo-realistic 3D aesthetics becoming the norm, a negative stigma started to become attached to 2D. However, as stubborn as the Playstation 2 was to call it quits before the next gaming generation, the same was true for 2D art in gaming. A strong testament to both notions was Vanillaware's 2007 action-RPG release: Odin Sphere. Odin Sphere was beautiful, both aurally and visually. It enticed many fans and critics alike with its excellent art direction in addition to its engaging take on Norse mythology as well. Even more impressive is that it proved that it could achieve all this in the two-dimensional plane and on dated PS2 hardware. Still, for as much as I respected what Odin Sphere achieved, it was a title I failed to love despite however much I attempted to do so. Simply put, Odin Sphere's biggest issues were within its gameplay. Not only was the combat and level design very one-note, the US release also happened to be plagued with near-unforgivable gameplay slowdown throughout. As if to hear my complaints nine years later, Vanillaware decided to revisit the cult classic and improve upon it. Rather than opting for a shallow HD port like many titles this console generation, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is pretty much a complete remake of the original release. The least dramatic change Leifthrasir makes is in regards to the setup. Though the English script has been made to have a slightly more Middle English flair, and the narrative dialogue re-dubbed to complement it, the five character perspective switching tale remains almost identical to the PS2 incarnation. This is by no means bad as the Norse-themed narrative that unfolds is actually rather engaging despite some pacing problems. I personally grew to appreciate the storytelling more so my second time around as it it is dense with foreshadowing before reaching the rather satisfying, and quite intense, narrative conclusion. Leifthrasir even makes certain lore complexities within it more comprehensive with short historical-like excerpts after each chapter, which is appreciated. After a few familiar introduction story scenes, however, I was shocked at how quickly Leifthrasir exponentially refines the whole experience. There are so many quality of life improvements from combat, level design, character progression, to even user interface that I was continuously impressed by the smart changes throughout. I'll say this here and now, there is literally no reason to play the original release because Leithrasir is better in every conceivable way. The most immediate example of improvement is in regards to combat. Each of the diverse five characters have been entirely revamped for the better. I could break down how obnoxious aspects like managing stamina used to be in the original release, but the end result is that the immense amount of changes to gameplay makes Leifthrasir feel far more fast-paced, mobile, and varied overall. It is extra cool to see combat flourishes like the witch Velvet basically weaving her psypher chains about like Spider-Man to the dark knight Oswald skewering his enemies and draining their life force to fill his berserk gauge. Vanillaware has learned a lot from their more recent Action-RPG efforts such as Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon's Crown, going as far as to homage both them with many new and useful skills, and it certainly shows. The leveling progression has also been changed quite a bit to give players control over the abilities and magic that they would prefer to power up to give it a more proper Action-RPG feel. Odin Sphere veterans themselves will likely just be happy to be hear that leveling itself is far less tedious now. Gone are the days where standing still mid-battle to absorb phozons was required level up attack power. Just the same, gone are also the unfortunate times of having to backtrack to the pooka village to level up health because of a new traveling chef and mid-dungeon teleporters. Another aspect that needed much-fixing in original Odin Sphere was the level design for dungeons. To be honest, the dungeon design in the original is best described as a series of monotonous circular battle arenas until hitting a boss room. Much worse, both dungeons and bosses were entirely recycled between the playable leads and they did almost zero to differentiate them for the lengthy adventure. Now, admittedly, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is not entirely immune to the sins of its former self. Like the original, Leifthrasir still unfortunately has you fight certain bosses a few too many times because of the main story. What it does do, however, is vary up the trek through areas considerably. Concepts that seem minor on paper like several new mini-bosses, the new sense of verticality/platforming to stages, and also adding Metroidvania gameplay elements truly enhance the game's overall flow in a way I really can not stress properly. They even go as far as to personalize even familiar locales based on the playable character. I remember being totally bewildered by the pleasant surprise that was when the flying fairy princess, Mercedes, had an entertaining side-scrolling shmup segment mid-dungeon specific to her, just because. Much of the other additions are of the quality of life variety: easier to understand tutorials, better interface (especially with item management), quick travel options to significantly cut down on backtracking, and plenty more. I think the biggest surprise, beyond the sheer quantity of enhancements, is how all these combined didn't just make me dramatically enjoy the title more, but... it even cut my total play time by almost ten hours on the normal difficulty. Though I did find Leifthrasir noticeably easier -- because characters are that much more capable (and I didn't have to grind at all) -- the option to challenge myself is certainly there during regular and New Game + playthroughs. If that wasn't enough content, there is also a toggle at the title screen to switch the original release (as if to remind you how Leifthrasir is so much better), though saves are incompatible between the two versions. Last, but certainly not least to mention, is the near timeless 2D art direction and excellent soundtrack. George Kamitani's 2D art style holds phenomenally well even nine years later. While the added backdrops to levels in Leifthrasir do not quite have that standard Kamitani visual polish, like most of the game they are treat to see in motion. And yes, for those wondering about the awful gameplay slowdown and load times that plagued the original PS2 release, they are basically entirely gone now. That said, the Vita version does have some minor technical hiccups in some spots. Also more than worthy to note, Hitoshi Sakamoto's classical music score is still a treat to listen to. Cooler than that, however, Sakamoto reprises his musical role to noticeably add more musical variety during Leifthrasir's gameplay as well as crafting a few arrangements of the memorable main theme. I had thought that Odin Sphere was simply one of those games I was never going to change my mind on. A title that, despite appreciating the storytelling and the eye candy of a presentation, it would ultimately leave me with the bitter taste of disappointment in nearly every other respect for years to come. However, the deceptively big remake Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir does not simply improve upon its former composition, it dramatically sweetens its severely flawed former gameplay composition to an unimaginable degree. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir awakens the dormant potential of the original and now proves itself as a worthy classic among many of the best action-RPGs. Pros + Entirely overhauled combat that is significantly faster and more fun to play + Goes a very long way towards refining the moment to moment gameplay with the hugely altered level design, interface, and character progression + Engaging storytelling + Both the captivating 2D art and impressive soundtrack more than stand the test of time Cons: - Main story remains exactly the same, which makes it not immune to noticeable pacing and boss repetition problems - Some minor technical hiccups on Vita in busier fights Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Going far above and beyond the call of typical enhanced releases, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir manages to not only become one of the best gaming remakes ever but it also truly turn its source material into a worthy RPG classic. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  3. Near the end of July, ATLUS & Vanillaware announced Odin Sphere: Leifdrasir, then teased a brand new project. Earlier this morning, at TGS 2015, they revealed what exactly this new project is. Not much is known about 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, but...it looks like PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita are getting a new sci-fi mecha title. Here“s the full trailer, for your viewing pleasure: The trailer didn“t come with a release window, so don't expect it to come out tomorrow. Localization news isn't confirmed either, but I never say never with ATLUS. I“m sure more information about this title will make its way to us, in time--if not later this week. For now, stay tuned to the project“s official website for more information. Are you excited to see another collaboration from ATLUS & Vanillaware? Be sure to let us know!
  4. Looks like the game that was teased a few days ago has been revealed a little earlier than planned. Those of you taking bets on something Odin Sphere-related: pat yourselves on the back. Odin Sphere: Leifdrasir is officially a thing. It's a remake of Odin Sphere for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita coming to Japan in 2016. It's got new graphics, new bosses and more. Regrettably, I have zero experience with Vanillaware outside of Dragon's Crown, their last big collaboration with ATLUS. Still, I know a handful of people who are attached to this game, despite issues concerning slowdown and load-times. If these flaws are fixed in the remake, I see no reason not to support the game and play something new. There's no word on a western localization yet, but is this tweet a hint? Never say never, right? Here's the official trailer for Odin Sphere: Leifdrasir. More information is sure to come. Stay tuned, or check out the official website. Are you excited for the Odin Sphere remake? Were you expecting something else entirely? Be sure to let us know!
  5. It's been two years since Dragon's Crown released, so what has Vanillaware been up to in the meantime? Well, we're about to find out, according to a new teaser website that just went up. The teaser site doesn't give a whole lot to go on, except that the reveal will be on July 20 (this coming Monday) at 7pm EST from Boston. Other than that, there's an interactive area on the page with a small sprout coming out of a shell where if you click it, the sprout grows taller. What could this be referencing? In any case, there's a possibility this could be Dragon's Crown 2 or even a brand new IP. Whatever it turns out to be, we'll have more info when Monday rolls around. Source: Atlus-vanillaware.jp What do you think Vanillaware's latest game could be?
  6. Developer: Vanillaware Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PS Vita Release Date: June 25, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A download code was provided by the publisher for this review The biggest appeal of Vanillaware games is obviously their art style. Exaggerated curves, muscles, and proportions run rampant in them. Muramasa isn“t a stranger to this. Of course, it“s also incredibly beautiful. Aksys decided to take this hack-and-slash, redesign it, and put it on the PlayStation Vita. This showcases Muramasa“s art at its full potential thanks to the system“s gorgeous OLED screen, but how do the other elements of this port compare? In Muramasa Rebirth, there are two main stories to play through. As Kisuke, you are an amnesiac ninja that is traveling in search of a certain katana. Momohime“s story is the focus of Muramasa, however, and it“s the one that everyone always talks about. As Momohime, you are a princess possessed by a demon. This demon, Jinkuro, will stop at nothing to find the blade that is needed to make a complete soul transfer. The full story is a bit convoluted when you first start playing, and you may be incredibly confused in the beginning, but you'll get a grasp on it eventually. For those that have played the Wii version of Muramasa, which was brought here by Ignition Entertainment, you may appreciate the completely redone script by Aksys. This localization stays much closer to what the original text conveyed. And yes, the original Japanese dub is still intact. Hack-and-slash games can definitely feel repetitive. Muramasa feels like the epitome of repetitive, however. All you“re doing throughout the whole game is going from point A to point B, where you battle enemies in-between and a big baddy at the end. Battling is not terribly complex, either. All you need to do is button-mash and occasionally switch your blades, which mends them and unleashes a special attack. The controls, at least, make all of that easy and enjoyable. Among other changes that Aksys has made, the remapping of buttons is one of them. You“re also now able to jump with the X button rather than having to push up on the control stick. And the best part… no unnecessary touchscreen or motion controls, despite being on Vita. Thank Amaterasu. Aside from battling and progressing the plot, there“s not much else to do. You can cook delicious looking foods that heal your character and craft new blades, but that doesn“t really add much. Muramasa Rebirth does add four new characters with their own playable scenarios, at least. They also all have their own unique playstyle. If you“ve grown tired of swordfighting, then this is a godsend for you. Muramasa“s art style is undeniably its saving grace. The 2D artwork is smooth, sharp, and colorful. When the characters and backgrounds form together into one scene, it is truly a remarkable sight. With such fluid animation, every battle feels like a new experience, especially with boss battles. Aksys made a wise decision to bring Muramasa Rebirth to Vita, where the OLED screen accentuates the art“s vibrancy and detail. Muramasa Rebirth may not be winning any awards in the gameplay or story departments, but it“s definitely worth a play to experience George Kamitani“s gorgeous artwork in motion. Honestly, I would recommend Muramasa for its art and animation alone. Don“t you need a new game to play on your Vita anyway? Pros: + High-quality artwork and animation + Better translation and controls over Wii version + Four new characters to play as along with Momohime and Kisuke Cons: - Gameplay can feel tedious and repetitive quickly - Story a bit too unnecessarily convoluted Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good This new and improved version of the aesthetically-pleasing Muramasa Rebirth will be sure to satisfy old and new fans alike.
  7. Leah

    Muramasa Rebirth - 3

    From the album: Leah's Review Images

    © Aksys Games

  8. Leah

    Muramasa Rebirth - 2

    From the album: Leah's Review Images

    © Aksys Games

  9. Leah

    Muramasa Rebirth - 1

    From the album: Leah's Review Images

    © Aksys Games

  10. Jason Clement

    Dragon's Crown Official Release Date Announced

    Just a few short weeks ago, Dragon's Crown was confirmed to be coming to North America this Summer, but Atlus now has an official release date pinned down for the upcoming Vanillaware title: August 6th. In addition, the game's official site is now live; you can get a look at some of the in-game artwork there as well as story info and more. It's also looking to be a bit more affordable than the usual priced game, at least on consoles. The PS3 version will be $49.99, and the PS Vita version will be $39.99. Unfortunately, there will be no cross-play between the two versions. Finally, Dragon's Crown is expected to receive a T rating, yet it remains unrated by the ESRB at this point. Are you excited for Dragon's Crown?
  11. Dragon's Crown was recently in the news as Atlus slated it for a Summer launch. Unfortunately, today's news doesn't reveal an actual date, but it does show off some of the game itself. Those who have yet to ever watch the game in motion definitely need to give it a look as Vanillaware has created quite the visual aesthetic. Of course, some of the character stylizations are incredibly unnerving, but there are also really neat monster designs to be found. If you've ever played a Vanillaware game before (such as Odin Sphere or GrimGrimoire) then you're probably aware of their skillful art. The game is a 2D beat 'em up and features six main characters to fight as. The hand-drawn art is animated in a lush environment and will arguably be the best looking game on Vita (well, alongside Vanillware's own Muramasa Rebirth). Dragon's Crown is set to hit both PS3 and Vita for launch.
  12. Marcus Estrada

    Muramasa Rebirth Gets Limited Edition

    Muramasa Rebirth was announced for US release by Aksys a few months ago in January. The game, which is an upgraded port of Wii's Muramasa, has upgraded graphics and other character scenarios. Although some Vita players have already been anticipating its release, they may want it more now that there is a Limited Edition. Amazon's product page shows this Limited Edition (which has otherwise not been discussed by Aksys). What comes with it? It contains a Vita skin, Vita pouch, and a lithograph drawn by a Vanillaware artist. This set of goodies comes at the higher cost of $60. In comparison, the normal game costs $40 like other Vita titles. Interest parties should note that Muramasa Rebirth is currently aiming for a launch in early Summer. Those who aren't intrigued by the special edition can buy the game at retail or as a download on PSN.
  13. Marcus Estrada

    Dragon's Crown Available This Summer

    If you're a fan of Vanillaware (Odin Sphere, GrimGrimoire, Murumasa) then chances are you've been anticipating their latest title. Dragon's Crown is a PS3 and Vita exclusive hack 'n slash best known (so far) for its somewhat disturbing character designs. We have known Atlus to be publishing it in North America for a while, but when will it be out? Atlus made the announcement today that Dragon's Crown will be out in time for Summer. Although the exact date isn't known yet, they have shared other definite information. For one, the game costs $50 on PS3 versus $40 on Vita. Also, it is seeing a simultaneous retail and PlayStation Network launch. The game supports four player co-op although the means of connection differ depending on which system you choose. PS3 players can engage in multiplayer adventures via PSN but Vita requires ad-hoc, or local, play. Also, the two systems are unable to initiate cross-platform play. Are you interested in Dragon's Crown?
  14. Leah

    Dragon's Crown Boxart

    From the album: Dragon's Crown

    © Atlus

  15. Leah

    Dragon's Crown Logo

    From the album: Dragon's Crown

    © Atlus