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  1. Developer: Compile Heart Publisher: Idea Factory International Platform: PS4 (PS VR enabled) Release Date: May 8, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Developer Compile Heart is seemingly never fully satisfied with any of their mainline Neptunia games. While there is certainly precedent for it regarding the technical and gameplay mess that was the original PS3 Hyperdimension Neptunia title and its significantly improved (and formerly exclusive) Vita remake Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth several years after, the necessity of all the remakes afterward becomes murky at best. Contrary to its confusing original name, and even more misleading VR pun, Megadimension Neptunia: VIIR is neither exclusively a VR game nor magically the seventh main entry with a roman numeral styled naming convention (despite how it may feel like so at this point) but rather a remake of Neptunia's fourth mainline entry that debuted on PS4 back in 2016. Promising dramatically overhauled gameplay systems, improved visuals, and other fine-tuning, does Megadimension Neptunia VIIR provide a happy ending to one of the series' more divisive entries or should one simply give up daydreaming on the prospect? Weirdly enough, the very first thing one views in the game is actually a VR headset-intended-- but still fully playable without--- series of cutscenes which are completely new to this remake. Through this it essentially establishes, in an unapologetic shattering of the fourth wall, that the "player" themselves is able to choose between going through the main role-playing game itself or the much more mundane VR-encouraged features in which you can optionally subjugate yourself to listen to the ramblings of CPU goddesses Neptune, Noire, Blanc, or Vert with the occasional "yes" or "no" affirmations from the player. You can probably guess how much time I spent with the latter... (very little). As for the main RPG itself, it is obviously the most substantial portion of the experience that even breathes a somewhat intriguing change in context with the VR features as the main story progresses. Admittedly, I never played the original version of Megadimension Neptunia VII but reportedly its biggest annoyances were that the gameplay systems were not very intuitive; like an overly complicated combo system in battle or other grating annoyances over time like constant random encounters on the world map. Anyone that played it in its original incarnation may be pleased to hear that neither of these features is a factor this time around in Megadimension Neptunia VIIR. That said, for better or worse, the series is seemingly back to being quite mindless with its more menu-driven battle system, which is also very easy to exploit. I found a very quick routine in abusing the newly added counter abilities (which basically wastes an enemy's entire turn) or spamming strong special moves rather than doing anything particularly strategic or creative regarding its combo mechanics. This is only emphasized further by the main story's cakewalk difficulty and how little effort it requires to be overleveled throughout since normal equipment can have generous experience multipliers applied to them. It is honestly a good thing the difficulty is so breezy (yet for the wrong reasons) considering the aggressive amount of gameplay monotony it has throughout. Everything from bosses to dungeon layouts are recycled constantly throughout and this pretense, unfortunately, goes into hyperdrive during the game's true end in particular. For reference, the final boss is reused twice... and it's basically a palette swap of a boss enemy that is regurgitated nearly five times earlier in the story. Don't get me started on the dungeon recycling that somehow sets a much worse reuse precedent. The series has always had glaring repetition issues but, for some reason, it becomes even more insulting when the main characters themselves point out how tired they become of it. Here's a pro tip about self-aware gameplay humor -- It doesn't work when you handle your own gameplay recycling worse than the games you attempt to poke fun at. Megadimension Neptunia VIIR unsuccessfully tries to disguise this blatant padding in the form of three bizarre, disjointed story arcs. The first story arc is easy enough to follow with a (deserved) emphasis on the newcomer Uzume, however, the storytelling takes an especially weird turn in its second act, which re-contextualizes the world itself. Basically, the player switches between the CPU Goddess leads of Neptune, Noire, Blanc, & Vert; all of whom have self-contained story arcs that focus on eventually confronting the parody characters that represent Square-Enix, Capcom, Bandai, and Konami. While this leads to some occasionally humorous quips in the script, in a gameplay context, however, this means that the goddesses pretty much never have more than one to two party members with them at any one time. As an extension to this problem, the bland reused dungeon treks become much more obvious and the combat system itself comes across as very limited until very late in the third and final story act that finally gives access to its huge playable cast. Even though I would certainly struggle to say the storytelling approaches being anywhere near cohesive, or particularly decent for that matter-- Megadimension Neptunia VIIR's storytelling does manage to be a fair amount more endearing than the sum of its many rough, plodding parts. It mostly achieves this, despite all odds, narrative feat through its approach to characters. Because the storytelling so frequently splits up the party it actually gives individuals who barely justified their existences in prior games, like the CPU Candidates in particular (or little sisters of Neptune, Noire, & Blanc), the surprise opportunity to become much more likable. The several new VR segments also give a formally underutilized character, who is somewhat of an early spoiler, in original VII a more prominent role (despite how vapid many of the early scenes are), which is a nice touch as well. Yet, far and away the biggest character standout is certainly Uzume, who almost feels out of place because of it. In a series where most of its heroines are defined by their tropes like Neptune and her fourth wall breaking jokes or Noire and her tsundere attitude, Uzume is far more thoughtfully handled as a character who sees a lot of genuine development. Of course, it can be more than difficult to recognize this considering how Megadimension Neptunia VIIR not only has several shallow "fanservice" bathing scenes but an incredibly obnoxious amount of breast size jokes throughout which makes it more than safe to say the writing frequently misses its mark for humor in spite of some earnest attempts at character development it sneaks in every now and then. Megadimension Neptunia VIIR seems to struggle giving much incentive to long-standing fans or even newcomers to really try it out. It is an enhanced release that had the misplaced focus of streamlining certain gameplay and cosmetic rough edges rather than taking a stern look at fundamentally fixes the core game itself, especially story-wise. Though there are glimpses of fairly earnest character moments sprinkled about, the majority of the time the player is left with an incredibly subpar RPG that tries to poke fun at its genre contemporaries without either the wit or the understanding as to what makes them actually good to earn it. Frankly, with so many better Japanese RPGs that have appeared since 2016, Megadimension Neptunia VIIR feels that much more stuck in the past and tough to justify paying attention to it at all, no matter one how many dimensions it claims to have warped between. Pros + Does a decent job at giving its huge cast of playable characters a proper individual spotlight, even if Uzume easily has the biggest role (as she should because she is far and away the best character) + Big combat gameplay changes and generous auto-saving make it more approachable than its former incantation Cons - Why are there so many re-skinned enemies/bosses and recycled dungeon motifs throughout?! - Cakewalk difficulty and frequently limited character parties make already extremely repetitive gameplay that much more mindnumbing - Lots of jokes miss their mark because of the often trite (and repeated!) fanservice jokes and poor game design decisions they attempt to poke fun at while doing it even worse themselves - Outside of some late main story events, the VR-intended features add very little to the overall package Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10) Below Average Megadimension Neptunia VIIR proves that even with many gameplay adjustments that players both new and old will struggle to justify giving it any time at all among many better recent RPG options on the PS4 alone Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. Developer: Compile Heart Publisher: Idea Factory International Platform: PS Vita Release Date: September 19, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature I have come to realize that there is a small subset of Compile Heart titles that I actually don't mind. While I have grown more than weary of a certain flagship franchise of theirs' around gaming-themed goddesses that use referential humor as subtlety as a punch to the face, last year's Trillion: God of Destruction proved to me that there is an earnest part of Compile Heart that is also willing to boldly try out new ideas as well in an intriguing RPG framework. Following suit towards this philosophy is their newest dungeon role-playing game release named Mary Skelter: Nightmares on Sony's PlayStation Vita. Should one boldly climb through its bizarre depths or immediately point their feet towards the exit? Mary Skelker. Nightmares starts off in an deep underground crater of a once Japan city that is now bequeathed the more fitting title of something that is now a living prison/tower called 'Jail'. Day in and day out humans are tortured by demonic beings named 'Marchens' in Jail until one day the main protagonist Jack is rescued by a woman that goes by the moniker of 'Red Riding Hood.' His escape was not unconditional, however, as it was actually his close friend Alice that was scouted to become a Blood Maiden -- those with a special aptitude to fight Marchen -- for a special resistance group and he was taken along as Alice request. So after escaping the tower both Alice and Jack eventually agree to help this resistance group called the 'Blood Team', which primarily fight Marchen with Blood Maidens as well as try to explore Jail, to discover a means in which mankind can truly escape the underground hell. But it is the mechanics, not the dramatics, that mostly define the game's identity. And there are a whole lot of gameplay mechanics within Mary Skelter: Nightmares, even if the moment to moment gameplay is not all that complicated. On the most basic level it borrows a lot of elements of more recent first person dungeon crawlers on handhelds as you explore various new areas and battle foes in random turn-based combat. To make more direct comparisons, it is sort of an amalgamation of something like Persona Q and Experience Inc. dungeon crawlers like Demon Gaze -- except with a huge obsession towards blood. Lots and lots of blood. Blood is a lot more than just a theme and goes into nearly every facet of the gameplay. For example, the turn-based combat starts out straightforward enough with a heavy emphasis on exploiting enemy weaknesses. The twist is that blood will literally splatter on the heroines after exploiting an enemy's weakness, or 'overkilling' them. If enough enemy blood splatters onto them they go into a 'Massacre' form which powers-up skills, gives them access to new ones, as well as regen their HP/SP if even more blood splatters onto them during this form. It is a neat system albeit one that is heavily momentum based. Though, I do find myself wishing the UI showed what weaknesses players have already exploited, ala recent Persona games, instead of forcing players to remember every time a battle pops up. But there are drawbacks to this system as well depending on the circumstance. Basically, if heroines get KO'd too many times, or consistently takes heavy damage, they run the risk of becoming corrupted. So instead of going into the Massacre form they go into the uncontrollable 'Blood Skelter' mode instead which causes them to randomly attacks friends and foes alike. This is where the formally useless main character comes into play by... also splattering blood onto the heroines. Except his blood is good, I guess? Anyway, he eventually uses a 'Mary Gun' that shoots his own blood to gradually remove the Blood Maiden's corruption. He can occasionally shield the Blood Maidens from harm too, so I guess he can be somewhat helpful, um, every now and then. The game probably would have been okay without Jack's whole maintenance mechanic, to be honest, but it does add an extra layer of strategy especially during bosses. Speaking of which, there are creative aspects to the first person dungeon crawling too. Most dungeons have unique visual themes and occasional puzzles, and even the Blood Maidens themselves also bring a distinct flavor to the methodical dungeon crawl throughout. Alice can essentially create a portable save point/means of escape while the member 'Snow White' on the other hand can literally drop a bomb to open up new areas. To add a sense of tension during dungeons, much like that of the main narrative, there is even an invincible boss (until certain parts in the story) that can occasionally stalk the player mid-dungeon and the player is encouraged to run away or turn and fight enough to temporarily disable them. With tons to explore, player beneficial roulette triggering left and right (which would require an explanation onto itself), and occasionally a sense of dread, the standard dungeon crawl rarely feels dull in Mary Skelter (though, if you are too thorough, you may find certain dungeons to be quite long). To feed into both the dungeon crawling and combat, the central hub outside of Jail also hosts a wide range of mechanical benefits. One of the most important is that it is where the player can change jobs for the Blood Maidens, which are basically as big (if not bigger) of a deal as subclasses are to Etrian Odyssey, because you can carry over pretty much all skills of any former jobs into your new one (well, skill slots permitting; but those can be increased). Other facilities exist including shops, places to upgrade gear, the ability to de-level heroines for higher base stats like various Disgaea titles, and a place to take requests for various rewards. Players can also give gifts to the Blood Maidens to shallowly increase their affection, though it is only really noteworthy because it influences the ending sequences and the frequency of optional events that feature them. Oh yeah, there is also an awful, perverted gameplay system called 'purge' in which I try and pretend does not exist at all. Especially since Jack can essentially get mostly the same effect as the Purge mini game from his Mary Gun instantly in combat without a creepy rubbing mini game with the generally underage looking cast associated with it. But considering Compile Heart is the developer that also brought Monster Monpiece, I guess should not have been too surprised it exists, and thankfully it is not quite as bad as that (but, that's not saying much). Aside from that very unfortunate feature, no other aspect of the presentation really offends with its visual novel styled cutscenes, varied 3D dungeon motifs, and some solid whimsical musical tracks. This far into the Vita's life cycle, one is not really pressed for first-person dungeon-crawler options. In spite of this fact, Compile Heart has exceeded expectations at crafting a worthwhile and unique take among the subgenre. With plenty of variety to the moment-to-moment gameplay, and surprising depth to its systems, it is worth checking out Mary Skelter: Nightmares in spite of occasional rough edges (why does that gross 'purge' mini game exist?). Pros + Intriguing setup that creatively influences a lot of gameplay systems + Lots of variety in the dungeon themes and the means of go about them + Robust job system that is quite rewarding over time Cons - If you are thorough certain dungeons can last really long - Combat UI could have been improved, especially for a system that is all about exploiting weaknesses - Why is the 'purge' mini game even a thing? Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Mary Skelter: Nightmares succeeds in making a fresh, fun take on first person dungeon crawler RPGs despite taking an occasional toll with its over-obsession towards blood in more ways than one Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  3. Hailinel

    Review: Dark Rose Valkyrie

    Developer: Compile Heart Publisher: Idea Factory International Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: June 6, 2017 ESRB: T Basing the narrative of a story around a gimmick can be a risky proposition. In the best cases, a well-timed twist or a key plot element can lift an otherwise pedestrian story into something memorable and beloved. But in the worst cases, reliance on a gimmick can expose the plot“s lack of depth and character, leaving it as a cautionary tale. The new Compile Heart RPG Dark Rose Valkyrie strives to live off of its own memorable gimmick, but is the game strong enough to support it? Dark Rose Valkyrie is set in an alternate history version of Japan where Earth has become overrun by victims of the Chimera Virus; a mysterious disease that twists and corrupts people and animals into monsters. The lead character Asahi is an inexperienced young officer assigned to lead an experimental squadron equipped to take on the Chimera in battle, but when he and his team aren“t out in the field fighting, Asahi has to spend time with his squad members in order to build their trust in him and help them out. In terms of its basic structure, Dark Rose Valkyrie isn“t too unlike other JRPGs that have blended dungeon exploration and combat with social elements. There“s a clear divide between embarking on missions that take the player out onto the world map and in dungeons to fight Chimera, and more quiet one-on-one interactions between Asahi and the members of his team back at the Command HQ. The social aspect, in which dialogue is handled in the manner of a visual novel, is loaded with entertaining writing, though Asahi“s squad mates are very heavily defined by predictable tropes. Unfortunately, the game falters elsewhere. The combat system in Dark Rose Valkyrie attempts a degree of complexity that“s undercut by what could be best described as design bloat. The basic idea behind the combat system, which is turn-based and gives all party members various melee, ranged, and special art attacks, is interesting on paper, but for as many commands as the battle menu lists, a good chunk of them don“t feel necessary, if not useless. I stopped using the Charge command, the second command in the menu listed right under the basic “Attack”, because it did little to nothing any time I used it and the game was terrible at explaining its function. This bloat extends outside of battles, as well. The party members can all be outfitted with a wide range of equipment to boost their parameters, and unlocking new equipment in the shop requires the player retrieve items out in the field that can be used to make this new gear, in addition to spending money. But money is also required to repair and enhance the party“s outfits, which take battle damage and can be destroyed if the enemies deal enough damage. On top of this, money is also necessary to spend at the infirmary to help party members recover from fatigue that only accumulates when the Ignition command is used to enhance their power in battle. The design is certainly ambitious, and it“s not without its share of successes. But the volume of concepts that the game throws at the player, many of which I haven“t even begun to outline, make it feel as though the designers threw all of their ideas into a pot without being mindful of how well they would all mesh together. There are multiple levels of attack strength that determine how long it takes for an attack to trigger after selection, and each character has multiple basic attack combos under the Attack command to choose from with different properties. The reserve party members can jump in and deal damage as a team, or individual reserves can assist a specific character on offense or defense, but their participation is entirely random. Another point where the game falls short is in its side missions. While there is a decent variety in the types of missions available, the game does not do a good job of explaining where you need to go to complete them. A mission may require hunting a specific monster in a dungeon, but rather than mark that monster“s location on the minimap, the game“s only indication of where to find the creature is a small screenshot in the mission description. At one point, I wandered in circles for an hour trying to figure out where a particular Chimera I needed to hunt was without success, only to stumble across it when in a corner of the map. I might have given up on it had it not been one of the side missions required to progress the story. In the introduction, I alluded to the presence of a gimmick at the heart of the plot of Dark Rose Valkyrie. As the game“s marketing has made a point of this, it“s fair to at least provide this spoiler: One of Asahi“s party members will become a traitor. While such a plot twist isn“t novel in and of itself, it“s the manner in which the game handles this twist that stands out. The identity of the traitor is not a fixed point in the narrative. Different players will see a different character turn traitor, and while I“m not knowledgeable of all of the mechanisms in play that determine who, the game begins with a personality test that undoubtedly plays a role in this decision. Primary gimmick aside, the game“s presentation is kind of a mixed bag. The music is suitable, but doesn“t really stand out, and the dungeon and overworld environments feel simplistic and bland. On the other hand, the game“s character designs, created by manga illustrator and Tales of character designer Kousuke Fujishima, are excellent. And in lieu of traditional static character portraits, the game uses a technique that gives the portrait figures an eye-catching degree of animation. As much as I“d like to enjoy Dark Rose Valkyrie, it“s held back by obtuse and unnecessary mechanics and systems. My time with it has been a rollercoaster; there are high points, mostly in the social aspects, that I honestly like, but then the more frustrating aspects rear their head and the game becomes a slog. The game isn“t entirely without merit, and fans of Idea Factory games will probably get their money“s worth, but anyone looking for a more polished experience should look elsewhere. Pros + The plot is structured around an interesting premise of betrayal + Great character designs by Kousuke Fujishima + The leveling system allows for customizing party member growth + Entertaining visual novel-style interactions with party members Cons - Bloated gameplay systems make the game more convoluted than complex - Side mission objective information can be obtuse and unclear - Bland dungeon environments and enemy designs - Difficulty is strangely tuned, with the only options being Easy, Hard, and Very Hard Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent Fans of Idea Factory games will probably get their money“s worth, but anyone looking for a more polished experience should look elsewhere. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher
  4. Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, Felistella Publisher: Idea Factory International Platform: PS Vita (PS TV compatible) Release Date: October 18, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen The Neptunia series has had its fair share of games that feature fictional characters and environments that sound somewhat like actual gaming hardware without alerting any legal departments. Well, that's not the case in the first crossover game in the series, where they'll have to share the screen with the Sega Hard Girls. My love for this series often comes and goes with me falling in love with one particular game and not enjoying the next. Perhaps the Sega hardware fanboy in me will enjoy the inclusion of these personified characters and I'll come to appreciate this entry. This time around, our ladies' adventure takes place in an alternative universe from the Re;Birth series where they haven't been properly been introduced to each other. However, in classic Neptunia fashion, they'll continuously poke fun at previous encounters in the series' past. IF is the star of the show and she has been entrusted by Histoire with traveling through time in an attempt to figure out what is causing the Grand Library's history books to disappear. Joining IF on this adventure is Hatsume Sega, a new amnesiac heroine who is in for the ride to recover her lost memories and everyone's favorite protagonist, Neptune — who has unfortunately been fused with a motorcycle. Our ragtag group of adventurers will travel through history and encounter some of the mainstay Gameindustri Goddesses along with the Sega Hard Girls in hopes of discovering what has caused them to feud with each other. This game plays slightly different than other entries in the series in that it's purely about accepting and completing various missions throughout time. Our heroines will report to Histoire in the Grand Library, where they'll receive missions relative to each Sega hardware era in the past that is being erased. As you progress through certain missions, you'll slowly unravel the mysteries of both the past and present, although you'll need to do this with a sense of urgency. You see, each mission has a counter displayed beside the title and as you complete other missions that number will decrease. If that number happens to reach zero or you abandon it after accepting it, it will be devoured by the Time Eater. The Neptunia series is known for constantly recycling assets from previous entries in the series, so I found this new feature to be quite refreshing. It truly gives the player the freedom to decide the fate of the world and how they approach each situation. However, one problem that I found during gameplay was that some missions contained boss battles that spiked the difficulty curve high — which I don't mind, but some sort of indication for this type of battle would have been helpful. Luckily, the changes to the battle system helped alleviate this problem. Your team is comprised of four characters and they all utilize an action gauge that fills up as they move around the field, attack, or use items or skills. Once the gauge exceeds its limit, the character's turn will end. So you're given a number of options for how you can approach each situation in battle. For example, you could heal your entire party then go on the offensive, or you could even use up the majority of the gauge with a string of attacks then finish with a charged attack for added damage. As you progress through battles, another gauge, known as the fever gauge will slowly increase with each attack that is performed. Once the gauge is full, fever time can then be activated and your party's stats will be increased by ten percent, EXE drive skills can be utilized, and all enemy turns are skipped while it's activated. Think of it as either a desperate attempt to survive in a dire situation or to quickly gain the advantage on the enemy. One of its best aspects is that it can be carried over to the next battle if it is not used, which makes it a wonderful tool to use on a impending boss. As you jump from mission to mission, you'll constantly revisit areas from previous Neptunia games. This should be to no surprise since it's a common practice in this series. IF can now dash, climb walls or ropes, and crawl through small spaces to reach different areas on the field. However, these new actions are all used to gain access to areas that were only accessible through teleportation in previous games. In comparison to the battle system changes, these new field actions feel lackluster and somewhat lazy, often being more of a hindrance instead of helpful; especially for what you gain in the process. Generally, you'll receive helpful items that aid in completing a mission, but the majority of the time you'll find medals that can later be exchanged for credits. Or, if you're lucky, you'll stumble upon a baseball, which can be returned to the owner for rewards. Of the baseballs that I was able to find, they were usually discovered while failing to successfully jump across platforms. It felt as if the game was aware of its poor jumping mechanics and graciously apologized each time by rewarding me with a baseball. Fortunately, the dash action proved to be a valuable asset and it helped with completing certain missions quickly. If a mission took place in an area with weak enemies, I could easily dash past all of them, fulfill my goal, and head back to the exit with ease. Superdimension Neptune vs. Sega Hard Girls makes some smart moves that push the series forward in the right direction, but it continues to be plagued by poor design choices that slow down that progress. The time traveling missions, modified battle mechanics, and the fever gauge are a welcome addition to the series. However, the substandard field actions, the re-usage of series assets, and the uninteresting inclusions of medals and baseballs leave a bad taste in my mouth. The Neptunia series is one that I repeatedly visit because I love the world and the characters that inhabit it and each time I return in hopes that I'll discover something new. Unfortunately, that's not the case with this game and I returned to more of the same. If you're an absolute fan of the series then there should be plenty for you to enjoy, but Superdimension Neptune vs. Sega Hard Girls has me still believing that if you've played one Neptunia game, you've probably played them all. Pros + The action gauge tend to make battles satisfying + Fever time adds a new layer of strategy to the gameplay + The mission system made completing quests enjoyable and somewhat addicting Cons - Recycled assets return once again - The new field actions are clunky and need refinement - Collectables (i.e. medals and baseballs) are lazy additions to make the familiar environments feel fresh Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent Superdimension Neptune vs. Sega Hard Girls makes some smart moves that push the series forward in the right direction, but it continues to be plagued by poor design choices that slow down that progress. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher
  5. WildCardCorsair

    Review: Megadimension Neptunia VII

    Developer: Compile Heart, Idea Factory Publisher: Idea Factory International Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: February 2, 2016 ESRB: Teen Megadimension… that isn“t right, is it? It“s some strange error on the box, much like Resident Evil Revelaitons (sic)? Well as much as it might seem like that, it actually isn“t. The longstanding ”Hyperdimension“ moniker is dropped for the first time in the series (no, Hyperdevotion Noire, you loner, you don“t count.) I guess it kinda makes sense, though? Like those mega bundles, Megadimension Neptunia is sorta three games in one. Why sorta? Well, all the different worlds are connected plot wise, but they are also not immediately connected to each other, meaning you can“t travel between them as you see fit. On one hand, I feel like Megadimension Neptunia VII tries to give us the series“s most complex plot yet. Which hey, I can totally appreciate. The first “game” takes us to the Zerodimension. A world on the brink of collapse, populated by a sole CPU. So naturally most of the game“s chief characters aren“t available. Thankfully this amounts to basically a prologue of sorts, but the problem of having access to the characters we“ve come to know and love. However, once the Zerodimension prologue is over, the problem is hardly fixed, cause immediately after you“re thrust into one of four “mini episodes” that limits you to certain small groups of characters. So yeah, we have a more complex plot that revolves around something other than an allegory about how piracy ruins video games, but at the cost of 40+ hours of the game limiting you to three characters at most at a time. In a game that revolves around personified video game consoles, was anyone looking for that kind of depth, especially at the cost of running around Gamindustri having to repeat the same levels among different groups of characters? Indeed they were not, says I. Other than that, the new characters from Gold Third, B-sha (Bandai Namco), C-sha (Capcom), S-sha (Square/Square Enix), and K-sha (Konami), are all cool additions with hilarious side stories based on the history of the companies they represent. So, like the plot, the combat system sees some added complexity as well. Mechanics that have evolved slowly in the Re:Birth games are all but turned on their head here. The previous title, Re;birth 3: V Generation ditched SP, adding it to the EXE gauge. Well the two are separate once again, but that isn“t the only change. This time around the EXE gauge actually resets between battles, meaning that you can“t spam attacks until it“s full and save that bad boy and say “Make my day.” All Clint Eastwood style when a wannabe tough guy rolls around. The basic nature of attack chains have also changed, somewhat for the better, somewhat for worse. Megadimension still features three different attack types, but because enemies no longer have a guard gauge, “Break,” as it existed previously, is replaced with an attack type that“s simply a mix of the other two. How you set combo attacks has changed as well. Before, each attack in the combo had a point value, but this time around weapons determine how many combo attacks can be set for characters. It“s a confusing change as the original combo system remained largely the same for many of the previous titles, and quite frankly I felt like I“d just woken up in an alternate dimension after seeing it. As time went on I started to like it more though, as choosing a weapon based not only on its damage value and attack area, but how it affects the combo system, injects more strategy into the game at the cost of the set-it-and-forget-it ease of combos in games past. Furthering the changes to combat system, Combo Traits make the order of attacks in the combo matter as each attack has criteria for additional damage based on your previous attacks. This makes certain attacks more useful in conjunction with others so you are encouraged to experiment and change them often, which certainly beats the old strategy of “find the one that hurts the bad dude the most and use it three/four times in a row.” But the changes hardly stop there. A key feature added to the game revolves around the ability to break parts off bad dudes like Beatrix Kiddo at the House of Blue Leaves. Early on it isn“t explained much but most tougher enemies and bosses have destructible bits that can break off if you attack them from a certain angle. You“ll want to experiment with this anyway since in this game characters“ positions actually affect how much damage you deal, but hitting them just right can actually net you cool stuff, and in some cases is even required if you don“t want to spend all day on a boss that might as well be a 'Sham Wow.' I“m pretty sure this was meant to replace enemies“ guard gauges but it ends up being more practical and rewarding than the old system ever was. The Formation system has also seen big changes. Just like positioning can enhance damage and break parks, you“ll also have to specifically position your team to unleash an F-Skill. Basically all these changes make for the most strategic combat in a Neptunia game yet, which I personally appreciate, for for plot reasons mentioned above, you won“t get to experience much of it until much later in game. Oh, and there“s this new thing called NEXT forms for the main CPUs, which are about as much of an afterthought mechanically as this mention of them is. On the subject of what hasn“t changed. Well. There“s no easy way to say this. Get ready to see the same areas that have inexplicably been around forever. Again. And again. And again. You get the idea. The Re;Birth games have received a lot of flak (from myself included) for reusing so many assets but those were developed back-to-back with little time for implementing feedback, and even if they hadn“t been, their status as remakes don“t lend themselves much to the possibility for drastic changes anyway. With Megadimension Neptunia VII that excuse simply does not exist. While there are plenty of new enemy models, the same old repeat offenders rear their tired faces yet again in this title. The running gags surrounding Arfoire“s frequent opposition are as tired at this point as actually fighting Arfoire several times a game for the last 145,179 games. Ok, maybe it only feels like there“s been that many, but seriously. Can we give Arfoire a break? For the love of all that is holy? Even a self aware joke about how tedious your mid-boss fights are don“t excuse them after this many games. Hashtag sadface. Look, I“ve been asking for change in these games since I started reviewing them, but this is like one of those freaky Twilight Zone, Stephen King, M. Night Shyamalan type things where I have all the time in the world but my glasses break while I come home and my family is eating the pie meant to curse an old gypsy and it turns out I was dead the whole time. Basically, "be careful what you wish for" should be a huge sticker on the front of this box because reviewers and fans alike have been asking for changes and we got them… but not for what we“d hoped. Done-to-death elements like much of the music, dungeons, and recurring boss battles are still beating that same dead horsebird. I“m surprised there“s anything left of that poor horse-birdy to be honest. And breaking up the game into a series of “episodes” with limited character selection for much of the game is a pretty baffling decision if you ask me. The changes that have been made though, actually make this title the most strategic and challenging that the series has seen in a long time. And let“s face it, if your game is known for 1) self referential, third-wall-breaking, and gaming industry humor, and 2) gameplay, there is absolutely nothing wrong with strengthening the weaker of the two. Just be careful what you lose along the way, and more importantly the changes maybe you should be focusing on a little more. Pros: + Trademark Neptunia series humor is back! + Huge overhauls to equipment and combat greatly reward players for strategy and planning Cons: - Still many repetitive boss fights and reused dungeons - Disjointed narrative removes many of the characters from use for too much of the game - Bath scenes. Plural. Why? That“s all I“m saying. Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent Megadimension Neptunia VII may have the least confusing title in the series, but changes to combat and lack of changes in other areas may still confuse players. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  6. Developer: Compile Heart Publisher: Compile Heart International Platform: Vita Release Date: March 29, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen I tend to forget that Compile Heart now has a lot of former Nippon Ichi Software staff. A large part of that was because of some big business scandal inside of Nippon Ichi Software in Japan (known for Disgaea) that involved not paying for a lot of overtime hours a few years ago. So, after many of them justifiably transitioned to Compile Heart, the first project for much of that former staff became Trillion: God of Destruction. Though it is directed by Masashiro Yamamoto, who led such projects as Disgaea 4 and also a certain roguelike that I adored called The Guided Fate Paradox, Trillion: God of Destruction does feel very much like its own beast. As you may have guessed, the setup is based around the titular villain, Trillion- The God of Destruction. What is less apparent is how grim and ominous of a presence Trillion ends up being. Trillion not only kills the main character, the "Great Overlord Zeabolos" right at the start, but also destroys most of the netherworld army and even eats Zeabolos's own brother alive in front of him just beforehand. Of course, the game doesn't end there. Zeabolos is given a chance at revenge after being revived in a weakened zombified state by a girl named Faust, so long as he agrees to give up his soul to her after his fight against Trillion. Little surprise that Zeabolos agrees to the sketchy terms of service for any chance of revenge. However, Zeabolos himself is no longer capable of fighting and he has to turn to the fellow "Overlords" whom work under him to continue the fight. He promises these Overlord women that they can claim the title of Great Overlord, and rule the netherworld, if they defeat Trillion before he utterly destroys the netherworld and everyone within it. As Faust would say: "You are not powerless as long as you are alive", so Zeabolos takes it upon himself to help train the other Overlords to pick up for where he failed. Trillion: God of Destruction has a pretty unique structure as a game. I would use the comparison to Princess Maker but I doubt most people would even recognize the name. Instead of saying that then, I'll just say that Trillion uses elements of turn-based roguelike, time management, and even some light dating sim elements (which can occasionally be rather questionable considering Zeabolos's relationship with certain characters...) in preparation for the big fight against Trillion himself. A deceptively big, and likely very divisive, portion of the title is how you utilize your time. After Trillion destroys a portion of the netherworld he will also rest a few weeks because of the previous battle or a full stomach. During this time you can strengthen the heroine's stats through training, recover fatigue, collect taxes, participate in a brief roguelike dungeon called the "Valley of Swords", and see many random events through various menu options. How effective or not in the pending fight(s) against Trillion will hugely be based on how you spend your time, and also how fortunate, or not, you are during random events. Occasionally it can be tedious with a few too many practice battles, but, for the most part, the basic day to day loop is surprisingly addictive since time moves fairly quick and the storytelling itself is intriguing. The actual fight against Trillion is one of immense turn-based attrition. He is the first, and last, boss of the game and only gets stronger as you try to whittle him down. Trillion literally has one trillion health points and you'll be lucky to see a small portion of it disappear before the first Overlord meets their gruesome demise. This makes the game's setup all the more somber as you will knowingly send much of the cast to their doom. To be frank, it is very possible to have none of them actually be capable of defeating it. Even if I managed to beat Trillion, it is very difficult to do so on the first playthrough and I certainly save-scummed random events (to get better results or pick the right dialogue choice) and retried many battles in order to do so. It honestly feels as if both narrative and gameplay are designed with the intent that you'll fail during the first time around. With this clearly in mind, even the gameplay is built upon the concept of sacrifice. Just before characters die, or retreats too many times, they can either cripple Trillion or help make the next Overlord that much more effective with their parting by supporting them. This can make a world of difference towards making Trillion less terrifying or helping the next Overlord's training become much more fruitful. For instance, with my first character sacrifice I had her enhance the weapons of the next overlord, which also happened to turn her default weapon absurdly huge. This in turn lead her to be able to one-shot enemies in the roguelike portion called "Valley of Swords" and also noticeably hurt Trillion, whereas the previous overlord couldn't. Admittedly, the roguelike portions are not very deep, or polished (with its choppy 3D presentation), since you can only climb one randomly generated floor (likely to prevent grinding), and a limited amount of times at that. Still, it utilizes the combat in a different light and the loot within dungeons can be fairly rewarding. Because of the inherent despair that the narrative tends to leans towards, it is also quite likely to bring mixed outlooks on the title. A bulk of the storytelling, and character-development, is written under the assumption that you are contentiously losing the battle in order to encounter most of it. This makes aspects like the many more optimistic character endings, and especially the "best ending", almost strictly reserved for New Game+, which allows you to carry over a portion of stats each playthrough. It is not even that Trillion is always doom and gloom. There are plenty of quirky moments and humorous writing throughout. Honestly, the depiction of the "Netherworld" concept would feel right at home among Nippon Ichi properties, despite not breaking the fourth wall nearly as much. The thing is that when the narrative is cruel, it's downright merciless. I fully expected to not like many of the characters based on their bad first impressions and apparent anime archetypes, going as far to pick the ones that I liked the least first to get them out of the way. Before I knew it, much of the cast grew on me since they actually deeper backgrounds than you would expect, and the storytelling succeeds in making their likely parting that much more harsh. I fully expect Trillion: God of Destruction to be a divisive experience. It is a unique title in a lot of ways: everything from the battle of attrition with Trillion to gameplay elements that range from roguelike to time management. For what I found to be an addictive gameplay formula with a lot of creative components that work well together I could just as easily see another being put off by them individually by their possible lack of polish or depth. To further cement its love it or hate it nature, the narrative and gameplay tone manage to be surprisingly bleak throughout despite its deceptively its colorful setting. You will knowingly send much of the cast to their doom in order to hopefully defeat Trillion, and even then you are not even close to guaranteed to succeed at it on the first playthrough. It is all the more cruel since it actually does a decent job at making you warm up to many its characters over time despite their questionable first impressions. Still, I consider Trillion: God of Destruction to be fascinating title and for its many rough patches, both intentionally and not, I found myself fairly engrossed throughout and it has become my favorite title from Compile Heart thus far. Pros: + Deceptively grim, but engaging, setup where you knowingly send much, if not all, of the cast to their doom to hopefully succeed + Addictive structure that plays upon a lot of systems from time management to roguelike + Develops its characters and setting well + Creative sacrificial mechanics that allow you to debilitate Trillion or help make a successor become that much stronger Cons: - The combat portions are not very deep and sometimes become tedious - Random events sort of encourage save-scumming because of how rewarding, and punishing, they can be at times. - Game fully expects most to fail at defeating Trillion on the first playthrough, which can be pretty disheartening Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good For a concept that could've easily missed its mark, Trillion: God of Destruction is an intriguing title with a lot of cool ideas. It is likely to be lost on many with its intentionally bleak circumstance, and noticeable lack of polish in several areas, but for those who can overlook that will find a unique, and possibly addictive, RPG experience that is really unlike most others Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
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    Review: Omega Quintet

    Developer: Idea Factory/Compile Heart Publisher:Idea Factory International Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: April 28, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen Japan's obsession with musical idols is hardly a well-kept secret. Virtual idols from Hatsune Miku to Idolm@ster alone seem to have more influence than any of their real life counterparts in various media forms in Japan. Be that as it may, developer Compile Heart have decided to temporarily take their attention off of the Goddesses of Gameindustri, and the legion of Hyperdimension Neptunia sequels and spin-offs, with their newest idol-focused RPG called Omega Quintet. Does this new PS4 RPG sing in perfect harmony, or does it deserve to be pelted by rotten produce for its lack of talent? Unlike many anime idols where the worst that they have to worry about is school drama, idols in Omega Quintet basically have to worry about the end of the world. You see, monsters known as the "Blare" are wrecking havoc and mankind is essentially reduced to just one surviving town (apparently full of idol-obsessed idiots). The only ones that can actually fight these monsters are those with a certain innate singing ability, referred to as "Verse Maidens." So, after a former Verse Maiden is too old to continue her work, she decides to retire and recruit an entirely new ensemble to continue the fight against the Blare. Despite the oddly bleak setting, Omega Quintet straddles the line between goofy and kind of dark, like some weird middle ground between Compile Heart's Hyperdimension Neptunia and Fairy Fencer F. In one moment, a character may be fretting over the quality of their singing voice, and another moment an entirely different character will casually talk about how much they prefer fighting with guns because they don't have to worry about blood getting on them. Though occasionally humorous, the cutesy—and sometimes rather mean—dialogue does end up being rather bloated to the point where it actually feels like a whole lot of nothing is being discussed a good majority of the time. This problem is further expounded upon because of its rather weak cast of characters and a main story that is made even less satisfying for those who fail to obtain its incredibly obtuse "true ending"... which will be most people. Yet, even with so much at stake, the eventually formed idol group, the "Omega Quintet," spend a lot of their time doing rather monotonous tasks. The entire title is basically structured in a way where you either pick up main story missions from the central hub (or studio) or sidequests from faceless town denizens. And, regardless of where you obtain the quests, they are all kind of the same where you either kill specific monsters, bring specific items, or initiate a special attack in combat. It there is one thing that Omega Quintet is, it's incredibly inconsistent. There are parts to it that are actually halfway decent or are abnormally polished for something made by Compile Heart. For example, the flashy turn-based combat system seems promising with its regular introduction to new abilities/skills or the title's surprisingly in-depth side feature where you can customize music videos. Also, the game runs at what seems like a near 60 frames-per-second during combat and exploration when most previous PS3 Compile Heart RPGs would struggle to be even one-third of that, despite its fairly unimpressive visuals and extremely drab environments. But that is about all that it gets right. It's incredibly inconsistent to the point of ruining the entire experience. The main reason for this is how it handles quests which directly ties into progression and also glaringly highlights the game's worst aspect over time. It attempts a sort of Metroidvania approach to environments where you can explore more areas after you upgrade new skills, like higher jumping or interacting with the environment. Yet, new skills are acquired through quests, which—in addition to the lifeless environments that you constantly have to revisit—are incredibly bland. Some sidequests are so obnoxious that they are tied to rare enemy spawns which need to be "overkilled," meaning if you don't do enough damage to get their item drop the first time... well, have fun running through the area and hoping they will appear again. You can't ignore this either because sidequests are anything but optional as you'll learn over time. Did I mention that sidequests are not only missable per chapter but are also tied to even completing the main story? Many "sidequests" are tied to a obfuscated number value called "support" which is primary obtained through battles. So, you literally have to grind the "support" number up to make many sidequests even appear just to be able to use more field skills in environments to even progress the main story. This is made worse because of how slow and easy battles are, which makes the padding even more grading throughout. This leaves the basic loop of Omega Quintet to feeling like you do one monotonous, boring task to unlock more monotonous... boring tasks. Oh, and if you miss a single quest, which is exactly what I did, you are automatically thrown towards a bad ending that basically tells you everything you did was pointless—an apt description of the entire game. To leave an even worse taste about the whole experience are the unapologetic fanservice moments. It may be halfway amusing at first to see one of the leads get angry at you for tilting the in-game camera a bit too low for an accidental (or not?) upskirt until you realize it is basically unavoidable and it is more annoying than funny. The perverted mindset carries over to its frequent "fanservice" pictures during story scenes or disintegrating clothing in combat, making the purveying attitude feel more creepy than funny especially with its underage cast. It seems like even the characters are treated with as much respect as the player playing it, which is to say none at all. Though it seemed groomed to possibly be Compile Heart's best RPG in recent memory, Omega Quintet actively ruins any promise it has with its debut. With its incredibly obnoxious gameplay structure, poor storytelling, and wealth of design issues that creep up the further you progress, it can only be overlooked by the most forgiving of fans of Compile Heart. For everyone else, regardless of how paltry the current offering is for Japanese RPGs on PS4, you deserve far better than to waste any of your time with an admission to Omega Quintet. Pros + Goes all the way with the idol theme from story events to even being able to choreograph music videos + Interesting combat system with a really solid framerate + Some humorous character interactions Cons - Banal, obnoxious quest design - Really limiting environment exploration that constantly forces you to retread bland old environments -Battle take needlessly long considering their lack of difficulty - True end requirements (aka the non-bad ending) are needlessly obtuse and strict - Some really dumb story points -Creepy "fanservice" moments abound Overall Score: 3.5 (out of 10) Poor With little in the way of respect for its potential RPG audience, from countless frustrating gameplay design choices to its poor storytelling, Omega Quintet is not worthy to have anyone gaze upon its performance. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
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  13. Developer: Compile Heart/Sting Publisher: Idea Factory International Platforms: PS Vita Release Date:February 24, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen I am pretty sure new Hyperdimension Neptunia games and spin-offs have become something of a semiannual (or more) tradition. There have been three PS3 games, three Re;Birth remakes of those same games on Vita, multiple upcoming as well as older spin-offs like Hyperdimension: Producing Perfection, and now a newly announced sequel to Hyperdimension Victory called Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory II within the span of five years. Except, Hyperdimension V (or Victory) wasn't the fifth game, it's actually the third main entry, so I guess the sequel would be the fourth main entry? Frankly, it's confusing to everyone but hyper-devoted fans. But, I gave up on following the chronology ages ago, and apparently developer Compile Heart did too since they constantly re-write their own fiction. What I do know is that Compile Heart has decided to give the (2nd best) "GamIndustri Goddess", Noire, her own video game based on pure popularity alone. Not just her own game, but a completely different turn-based strategy-RPG by the name of Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart. Far more interesting to me, however, is that this title was developed by Sting. Sting was the developer behind enigmatic SRPGs like Knights in the Nightmare, Yggdra Union, Generation of Chaos: Pandora's Reflection, and the admittedly far less crazy mechanically, Gungnir. Should both Hyperdimension Neptunia fans as well as those of SRPGs unite under Noire's banner or should it be the Lastation for future spin-offs? The basic preface is that the four nations of Gamindustri are in constant conflict because the goddesses ruling each one wants to spread their influence. The tsundere goddess of Lastation, Noire, attempts to seek a peaceful solution to these battles despite having the upper hand in both power and shares (aka influence). Unfortunately for her, and the rest of Gamindustri, she is inadvertently manipulated by Arfoire, the baddie bad of like every Neptunia title ever, by reducing Gamindustri into a decaying state and destroying the goddesses's power along with it. So, Noire sets off to regain her shares, as well as her former generals, to restore Gamindustri while also trying to stop Arfoire's ambitions. And that is kind of the setup for the entire game. I am missing a nuance or two about a very awkward player insert character [assumed to be male], and how he kind of helps Noire (but not really), but it is so bad that it is not even worth talking about except in a gameplay context. Like most Neptunia releases, you will get more millage out of the occasionally funny dialogue quips than anything else. Certain people may also get a kick out of the shameless video game themed generals as well, which reference known series like Metal Gear Solid and Street Fighter to far more obscure stuff like Sakura Wars and Little Queen Snow. Otherwise, beyond conceptual jokes, I found the actual characters and storytelling around them to be rather shallow, and the self-aware nature of its setting does not really save its overly bloated, and poorly-told script (despite its solid localization). That, and the flagrant "fanservice" scenes that seem to really push the T rating at times. Bad storytelling aside, however, Hyperdevotion Noire is a surprisingly competent strategy-RPG. So much so, I may be (more than) willing to argue that it is better than any other title in the series on gameplay alone. Sting is known to make unnecessary obtuse strategy-RPGs. For example, Yggdra Union alone had a strength/weakness list that would make even Pokemon's look simple and intuitive, and Knights in the Nightmare had tutorials that could take literal hours to comprehend. Yet, Hyperdevotion Noire was clearly made for fans who are not well-versed in SRPGs, but it is also distinct and polished enough that it could interest Strategy-RPG fans too. As with a lot of Strategy-RPGs, combat is turn-based and takes place on a grid. Mechanically speaking, it actually reminds me of Level-5's PSP SRPG, Jeanne D'Arc, a fair bit. Both are simple, straightforward SRPGs (and heavy-handed with tutorials) but also share similar gameplay systems, like slotting elemental attributes to characters or key story characters having powered-up forms. One of Hyperdervotion's strengths is how much it tries to change it up during most main story missions despite its lack of mechanical depth. There are plenty of varying scenarios, such as unique, trap laden environments, different objectives, or perhaps having the player navigate the terrain in a different way. Unsurprisingly, not all of the themes successful, and there are a few too many maps that want you to toss boxes/crates around to reach higher ground (which can be rather annoying since some characters can throw significantly further than others). While main story missions may work to your disadvantage, most gameplay mechanics are not. Hyperdimension Nepunia MK2's lily rank system makes a return (which might as well be re-named to "yuri rank" because of its lack of subtlety in this game) and is significantly to the player's advantage. It is loosely similar to Fire Emblem: Awakening's support system where you get passive bonuses when you place allies next to each other and also unlock more character-specific cutscenes if you do it enough. Far more important, however, is that it strengthens attacks, cheapens Special Move cost, as well lowering Lily point usage (if not eliminating the cost entirely) which pertains to really powerful, flashy abilities mid-battle. Even if the player were to fall during battle the game is pretty generous in allowing you to re-deploy allies, retrying maps while keeping whatever experience you gained, or lowering the difficulty altogether. However, the are a few instances where even such perks are not particularly helpful, for example, the huge level gap during the last two chapters or maps that more or less require specific characters to save a lot of time. Outside of combat, there is "Sim Noire," which sort of doubles as a reward for buying items in shops while also supporting the idea of Noire as a leader. Noire will answer (or not answer) multiple choice requests from Lastation denizens each chapter, and generally the context of each request is rather ridiculous. Just the same, Noire will transition from rags to riches based on "Amazoo.nep" reward points you get from buying stuff from item shops. Even if neither aspect amounts to much functionally, beyond very specific ending requirements, it is a neat little touch to the setting. That said, these systems do unfortunately give the player insert character more screen time with its cliche, romantic interest undertones. I am not even beholden to the source material, but the "secretary" (aka player insert character) just feels out of place since he doesn't even have a character portrait. Speaking of cutting corners, Hyperdevotion is also no stranger to re-using familiar art assets for story scenes and audio too. Despite being well-drawn, the series has been more are less using the same character portraits since the first PS3 release. Same deal with the soundtrack, which is still being recycled with some barely noticeable alterations to certain tracks from earlier games... which, honestly, were never particularly good. In the matter of fairness, the actual SRPG gameplay doesn't do the same, thankfully. There is a lot of personality in the midst of the actual combat with the special attack animations, in particular. Many of the "general" characters have a lot of visual fanfare of their respective parody. The Final Fantasy-themed character Ein unapologetically summons Bahamut or the conceptual Pac-Man character, Lady Wac, literally devours enemies with her skills. It isn't technically flawless, since slowdown does occur time to time on certain bigger maps, or areas with lots of enemies, but it is generally negligible otherwise during actual gameplay. After the not-so-great spin-off release of Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection, Sting significantly raises the series' bar for would-be spin-offs. This title is by no means Sting's best SRPG outing, but for a game that has no real right to manage being decent, it manages to achieve just that. And—for a handheld system that has very few Strategy-RPG offerings beyond great Disgaea 3 & 4 ports—you could do far worse than playing Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart for an acceptable, though noticeably flawed, SRPG and Hyperdimension Neptunia fix. Pros: + Decent amount of variety in main mission design + Easy to learn SRPG systems with convenient gameplay options + Occasionally funny dialogue and video game themed character designs Cons: - Wholly uninteresting storytelling and completely shallow characters - Recycled music that wasn't particularly good to begin with... - Certain map themes are rather hit and miss - Some general slowdown for certain levels Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent While it is no means Sting's best Strategy-RPG outing, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart brings a much higher grade of spin-off to the current series' standard that it could pique the interest of both Hyperdimension Neptunia and SRPG fans despite its noticeable flaws. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  14. Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, Felistella Publisher: Idea Factory International Platform: PlayStation Vita Release Date: August 26, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen Some things are not meant to be taken seriously. This goes for pretty much any medium. Sure you have films like Citizen Kane, but then you also have stuff like Disney“s The Three Amigos. Then there“s basically anything with Channing Tatum in it. My point is you don“t have to be making a statement about the social or economic climate of a chippendales strip club in order to sell tickets. Sometimes a wafer thin plot and well oiled chests are enough. Not that there are any oiled chests in Hyperdimension Neptunia Re:Birth1 (though there are some close calls), a remake of the PlayStation 3 title Hyperdimension Neptunia, but the previous metaphor still applies. This isn“t the grand narrative usually synonymous with RPGs, but that doesn“t mean there isn“t something enjoyable about this hilarious take on the video game industry. So if you“re new here let me explain that last statement. The world within Neptunia is a literal representation of the world of video games. The world of Gameindustri houses four nations, each representing a heavy hitter in our own world. Leanbox (Xbox), Lastation (PlayStation), Lowee (Wii), and Planeptune (a take on a seventh generation Sega console, as if the company had survived the Dreamcast) are all locked in a struggle known to all as The Console Wars. Yep, it“s about as campy as you can imagine with references to not only each console“s individual quirks, but the world of Gameindustri seems to be populated with folk that represent a bunch of different developers. For instance, Falcom is a character in the game that sports a mop of Adol-like red hair and is obsessed with adventuring. Anyone who is invested as much in the world behind video games as much as they are in the games themselves will be chuckling ridiculously at the sight of enemies such as "Tokimeki Sister", a monster that is literally a floating screencap of a visual novel game that is an homage to Tokimeki Memorial, a Konami dating sim that came out in 1994. The references are literally everywhere, especially in Neptune's fourth-wall breaking antics. Though I absolutely adore the game's about-as-serious-as-a-hula-dancing-meerkat plot, that isn't the only thing I liked. Since the original's release, the game's combat and other in-game systems have been overhauled to resemble Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. Basic combat takes place in a small three-dimensional space, allowing you to move your characters to meet the enemy head on, retreat to a safe distance, or anything in between. This is further enhanced by the variety of combat options such as the EXE Drive, SP attacks, Lily Partner combination attacks and shared skills, and Hard Drive Divinity, a powerful transportation move available to certain characters. Even regular attacks are broken up into several categories that you can customize, swap, and use to exploit certain advantages in battle. It's anything but simple but by spacing out the introduction of some of these mechanics (some even up to the halfway point in the game!), it keeps from being too confusing while also ensuring combat remains fresh throughout the game. MAGES., a party member you recruit about halfway into the game, even has a completely different method of attack. Outside of battle there is still plenty of additions to this game. The "Remake System" allows you to craft new experiences within the game. Anything from unlocking optional dungeons to new weapons can be created using it. The Remake system even allows you to tune the difficulty a bit, a nice addition considering there is otherwise no difficulty options. Other options include a variety of repeatable side quests that raise and lower the "shares" between Gameindustri's major players, burning "discs" that allow you to further customize characters, and even events with bit characters that will usually yield more plans for the Remake System or useful tips. Basically there is really too much to this game to talk about it all at length, which is exactly why I haven't even tried! But all is not well in the land of Gameindustri. While there are plenty of things well worth praising, there are a few hang ups that keep the game from being even better. For one, level designs tend to repeat themselves often, especially when you partake in the optional dungeons as well. I'm not just talking about textures and objects that tend to populate multiple dungeons; I'm talking even the exact layouts and item/monster spawn placement of these dungeons are complete copy and pastes from other dungeons. It doesn't happen too often, but enough that it'll make you wonder if you clicked on the wrong dungeon from the overworld map, with only the difference in enemies to tip you off otherwise. Another bummer, at least to yours truly, is the overall lack of voice over. I certainly don't expect any game to be fully voiced, but this one is odd with less than half of the game's main story featuring voice overs for the characters. You can literally move from a voiced scene to a non-voiced scene without any real transition by the player. Frankly, it's a little jarring. Now, this is really only disappointing because I think the voice cast is pretty spot on. Players will definitely recognize most of the voice actors for the English dub, and players who don't care for English dubs can switch to the Japanese language track at any time from the menu too. Also, I'm not going to speculate on your personal line of decency, but yes, there is some fan service in this game. Thankfully it isn't overwhelming and occurs half as often as you'd expect, but you were warned. Personally, also had a hard time taking full advantage of the Lily system. This mechanic allows you to pair party members up, providing passive bonuses as well as exclusive attack options, provided their affection level is high enough. Sounds great right? Well, unfortunately I couldn't seem to figure out how to raise affection levels for my characters. Keeping certain members paired should do it from what I understand, but all through my time with the game the rank never seemed to go up. Not to mention there isn't any sort of visual indicator for when they might level up their affection. It's like tying these girls up at the ankle for a three-legged race, only they are blind and in the middle of some long-forgotten African mine field. You are very welcome for that visual, by the way. So what have we got so far? Funny, never serious story? Yep. Deep and involved combat that rewards strategic use of its features? Got that too! Well, there are a few more things to add to the pile. The music is equal parts kitschy and catchy... but in the best ways possible. These aren't "Journey" level songs by any means (Austin Wintory; not the "Loving, Touching, Squeezing" guys), but I will say every song suits Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 perfectly. The art is quite adorable too. Even without ties to real life references, each character's design stands out just like their respective personalities. There are even a few all new characters to replace those removed in this version of the game. All of Hyperdimension Neptunia's features made my time in Gameindustri an irreverent romp through a highly idealized world populated by wacky characters and campy dialogue. And honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. The flashy designs, immersive combat and pure hilarity made this game a joy to play. Even the lack of consistent voice-acting and other flaws couldn't ruin the experience for me. Heck, there's even enough changes to make Re;Birth1 seem like more of a reboot than a remake; something I think Acquire was aiming for from the start. So if you have a Vita and love you some RPG goodness, this comes as definitely recommended. I mean, most gamers are more than willing to wage the console wars on the eternal battlefield that is the internet, so why not do it where you can actually see results?! Pros: + Vibrant graphics look great on the Vita + Hilarious dialogue and premise + Combat stays fresh and interesting + Heaps of mechanics to play with Cons: - Repetitive dungeons designs - Not as many voiced scenes as I'd like - Lily system isn't quite user friendly Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great It's far from typical, but Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 is an energetic reboot that is sure to please with both its humor and overhauled mechanics. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.
  15. Marcus Estrada

    Review: Monster Monpiece

    Developer: Compile Heart Publisher: Idea Factory Platform: Vita (PSN) Release Date: May 27, 2014 ESRB: M for Mature Card games are a ton of fun and even precede video games. Of course, basically any card game out there has been at some point garnered a digital rendition. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokemon, and Magic the Gathering are some of the biggest names, but brand new card games have been created as well. The latest in this is Monster Monpiece for Vita. It casts players into a magical world where “monster girls” exist. Students learn to control these monsters with magical abilities which take the form of card battles. Sounds fun, right? The card gameplay is certainly fun! It pulls from existing games such as Magic but expands in its own directions. Basically, each player has a certain amount of health, so your goal is to whittle the opponent“s down first. This is done by placing cards on a grid and, turn by turn, closing in on their home base. There are three rows to place creatures on and (most) will proceed forward until running into an enemy, at which point a battle is engaged. Of course, there are some instances where battles occur sooner, such as with long-range weaponry. Each card has stats for attack, health, and intelligence. When two monster girls go to battle they both get a chance at attacking (unless one is killed instantly) and damage each others“ health. Of course, there are ways to boost some or all of their respective stats. For example, there are magical types that will boost health of a card placed directly in front of them. This uses up intelligence points, however. The same holds true for buffing monsters which offer up increased attack. A few other ways to increase card stats exist. One way is by fusing two cards of the same type, creating a new, more powerful card. Another method is based simply on placing up to three of the same type card in a row. As you can only place one card a turn this takes up to three turns but will provide a boost to every one of your monsters on the field. It“s incredibly helpful, and means you“ll want to restrict how many colors of cards exist in your deck. Magic players will probably find this aspect of Monster Monpiece especially familiar. So, there“s a lot of strategy required to play well and a lot of it lies with creating a workable deck. Honestly, all this was surprising considering the most obvious aspect of the game, which has nothing to do with card games. Yes, it“s the monster girls themselves. Every card is graced with an image of a scantily clad anime character. As is common of modern anime, most of the girls follow a “moe” design aesthetic which means they are drawn to be incredibly youthful looking. Most games that have to rely on heavily “erotic” designs do so because they have little to actually offer players. Hence, it“s a shock that Monster Monpiece actually has good gameplay. If you“re not particularly interested in the monster girls then unfortunately there“s no way to escape them. They“re present on every card, but that's not all. You see, in order to create more powerful cards you must engage in a ridiculous minigame. You might have seen it featured as part of the game“s advertising. The minigame has players turn their Vita so it is held vertically at which point a monster girl appears on screen. You must then navigate around the screen (the characters are too large to fit squarely in one “screen”) and find their sensitive locations. This might be their ears, tails, thighs, or more obvious body parts. Once found you must tap madly at the spot to raise a meter high enough. At that point you might enter a special rubbing mode where you pinch the Vita to touch both front and rear touch pads and stroke the system vigorously. It“s an incredibly childish minigame and awkward to actually complete. Although this minigame is never required beyond the tutorial, it is useful if you want to increase the strength of your cards. Yes, there“s a store option but you can only buy blind packs of cards which means there“s no assurance of getting anything good. Well, you can buy rare packs but those cost real money. It's likely too frustrating for people who like this sort of stuff to even enjoy it, either. Am I condemning the game for its eroticism? No, not in and of itself. In fact there should be more games out there which put a focus on human sexuality and sexiness. Of course, in the gaming realm any attempt at sexiness is usually tied to women characters and rarely focused on men. My main issue with Monster Monpiece“s sexualized characters is that it is a drain on the competent core mechanics. Many card players will avoid it because of its visuals. Those who are not fans of the art but play anyway will roll their eyes far too often. Finally, those who are excited to put money down on a product purely for its supposed sexy characters would likely do so for any similar game. Therefore, the actual quality is of little importance for this group. Then there are the players willing to accept any visual presentation in the presence of a good story. I'm sorry to report there's not one to be found here. Sure, it helps tie together things from battle to battle but it's fairly average and predictable. There's also a handful of weird writing and typos which further hinder the translation's quality. Of course, the main reason to play is to enjoy the card-based combat and not become enthralled in an epic storyline. It wouldn't hurt, though. After a while, I started to tune out the art on every card. My mind honed in on what is the most compelling aspect of the game - card battling! Of course, this only would last as long as I was deep in strategic thought. The minute I needed stronger cards and had to do a few rounds of the minigame it all came flooding back. It“s hard to recall the last time I ever had such a love/hate relationship with a game. Every gamer is aware of their own tastes and know if they“ll like, dislike, or plain not care about Monster Monpiece“s presentation. It“s impossible for me to recommend but hopefully, as more informed readers, you now know whether the game is right for you. Pros: + Great deal of strategy involved in matches + Ton of freedom to create deck(s) to fit your play style + Online multiplayer Cons: - Sexualized, child-like characters completely overwhelm the game - Card upgrade minigame is cumbersome - Unfortunately, “good” card packs cost real money - Ho-hum storyline Overall Score: 5 (out of 10) Average Monster Monpiece has some fun, strategic gameplay buried underneath its pubescent exterior for those willing to try it out. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  16. Marcus Estrada

    Review: Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory

    Developer: Compile Heart, Idea Factory Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS3 Release Date: March 21, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A review copy was provided by the publisher for this review Although the cover of the game makes it appear as if this is the fifth (“V”) game in the series, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is but the third in a line of PS3-exclusive JRPGs. First came Hyperdimension Neptunia in 2010, which was continued a year later under the name Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2. Despite this being the third game in a series, it isn“t required to play any of the others first. Still, is it a game worthy getting in on now or should it be ignored? The answer to this question depends completely on the kind of games you wish to spend your time with. RPG fans tend to track down more obscure titles and it“s fair to say that the Neptunia series is one of them. As these gamers are probably aware, many titles lack the polish of more popular ones. Still, if there are good mechanics to be found, then they“re worth playing. Other times, truly intriguing stories are available only by reaching for less known games. Victory is definitely a game with low production values. This is readily apparent by simply running the introductory cutscene of the game. It begins with characters engaging in an apparently important battle. As one character is attacked repeatedly, the same pained voice clip plays each and every time. Although other battles in game show a bit more variety, it“s an incredibly simple way to showcase that the game isn“t fussed with trying to be something it“s not. Basically, do not waltz into any Neptunia game expecting Final Fantasy levels of polish. When viewing it from this perspective, Victory seems to be a pretty decent game. You begin by simply seeing a lot of exposition about the world of Gamindustri and the characters that inhabit it. This should get new players accustomed to the world without ever having to have played the previous titles. From there, Neptune is magically transported back in time - to the 80s. She must meet characters over again in this alternate past, which again acclimates new players, as well as gives the series narrative a new twist. One reason that Victory, or the series in general, is worth a look is due to the world. Instead of simply being in a medieval, fantasy past or some some space age future, it takes place in a modern/current age fueled by video games. Each of the main characters is herself a personification of a video game home and handheld systems, called CPUs and CPU Candidates respectively. PlayStation, Microsoft, Nintendo, and even Sega are represented. Fans of gaming will definitely appreciate jokes made between the characters that reference the history of these consoles. Unfortunately, some characterizations don“t seem to make much sense, such as Nintendo“s propensity toward being a potty mouth. At this point both new and old players alike must wade through a fair lot of tutorial screens. Thankfully (or not, depending on your JRPG skill level) these are shown only as still information screens. Most of the game“s complexities are described in simple terms and can be referred back to at any time. Some systems though are left up to players to experiment with to understand fully. Most of the important game elements, such as battles, are easy enough to grasp even with ignoring in-game tutorials. Battles are taken care of in a turn-based fashion but where you control each character directly on the field. During fights, an enclosed area appears which players move their characters around on. Movement is freeform, although you can“t necessarily move one character tremendously far away in one turn. This element attempts to bring strategy into battles, although often ends up playing out in the same way when you“re only grinding. Some simple strategy examples are keeping characters spaced so they can“t be hit by a wide attack, or positioning a healer in a safe spot. It“s not that deep. Although your party begins small, players soon acquire a team of up to four characters. Each have their own talents, and in particular, special ultra-powerful moves. One way in which battles attempt to be more complex is that each character has a meter (after it is unlocked). These meters are charged through fighting and once at a certain amount, allow them to take more attacks and make use of a finishing move of sorts. While using extra attacks doesn“t drain the meter, using the special attack sure does. Of course, these moves are such powerhouses that it sometimes becomes less fun to use them even when they“re charged. Playing through the first few hours of the game is quite easy. It almost leads the player to believe that this may be a rare example of a JRPG that doesn“t require much grinding. Basically, as long as you“re doing what“s required of you quest-wise, everything seems to work out. Of course, this changes the further in you get. Before the halfway point, players will have come across one hit (or close to it) kill creatures which make things quite troublesome. There are even special higher level enemies, but at least they won“t try to attack you. This is possible because players initiate battles through running toward enemies wandering about levels, instead of randomly. After a while, you“re going to have to grind to survive. Grinding proves the battle system to be a bit more trouble than it“s worth. Despite the bit of fun it does provide, it in no way speeds up the process of grinding. Instead of just hitting a menu in a pattern for each battle, you have to of course move each character into positions for each one, and then commence attacking. The result isn“t hugely damaging, but does make things longer than they have to be. Also, if you intend to get rewarded for playing well, you“ll have to spend a lot of time battling. Victory isn“t all about the battles, though. In fact, players might be surprised by how much of the game is filled with story as opposed to fighting. As new places to explore open up, so too do new “events”. These events typically trigger a fairly long round of exposition continuing the story along. Sometimes they are silly, other times they are important plot elements. Regardless, there are a heaping bunch of them. Usually these scenes are depicted with still images of characters. On occasion they are voiced, but most aren“t. This is another way which the budget nature of the game“s development is made apparent. Although I am unaware as to how the original game story progressed, there was a lot of work put in by NIS America to localize it successfully. For the most part, they have done a commendable job. Characters have distinct personalities and say some seriously funny stuff. However, there are points where characters step over the line of what would be expected in a game rated T. Mainly, there are very obvious references to rape and sexual sadism. While these are not inherently things which games cannot discuss, they aren“t handled with much tact here. This sort of humor is probably not set to phase devoted anime fans, but it certainly bothered me. Similarly, character designs may also be offputting to non-anime fans. The majority of characters in the game are female and depicted in revealing attire. Thankfully, most of the young-looking characters are dressed in cute, but “normal” clothes. It“s when they transform into older-looking versions that their bodies are more obviously put on display. Those who have a distaste for sexualized characters should definitely stay away, but it“s likely that the box art itself works as an excellent deterrent. As far as anyone is concerned, Victory is a playable game even with its budget status. However, those who played mk2 will recognize that assets were directly lifted from that game and placed here. Many enemies are the same as well as certain songs on the soundtrack. This means visuals were not upgraded from previous versions and still are mechanically the same. The graphics weren“t special in 2010, so you can imagine how underwhelming they look now, even in their anime style. What has been added here is the new story. Because of this, newbies to the series should probably stick with the latest game though instead of going back. If you“re willing to play an ultimately average JRPG, then Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is as good a choice as any. Thanks to its humorous take on the video game industry, it manages to be far more interesting than some of its contemporaries. The experience is only marred by standard play, average graphics, and some questionable localization choices. Regardless, there are worse games on the market and Victory deserves some attention for its tongue in cheek depiction of gaming. Pros: + Amusing take on video game console wars + Variety of character-specific moves + Good deal of extra content Cons: - Real-time battle mechanics cause battles to drag on - Graphics do the game no favors - Sometimes questionable localization decisions Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is primarily an average game but is definitely set to appeal to certain audiences.
  17. Number 905

    Review: Mugen Souls

    Developer: Compile Heart Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS3 Release Date: Out Now ESRB: T for Teen No matter how big the gaming industry grows and how commonplace multi-million dollar budgets become, one of the most wonderful aspects of the market is that there is always room for small titles. Some companies have forgotten this, but if there“s one thing the medium is, it“s diverse. Unfortunately, niche appeal only goes so far if the game can“t deliver a quality experience. Mugen Souls is the latest in the ever growing genre of anime-inspired JRPGs designed for a niche market. Conceptually, the game has a lot going for it. The story focuses on a girl named Chou-Chou, a self-proclaimed undisputed god, and her conquest of the universe. Her grand plan is to subjugate the hero and demon lord of each world by transforming into their specific desire and performing a moe kill. It“s definitely an over-the-top premise, but it“s a fun idea and the different moe forms are interesting. The combat isn't groundbreaking, featuring turn-based gameplay with free movement, but it spices things up by allowing you to knock enemies around the field and into other objects to increase the damage you do. It can be a little hectic at times, but it is satisfying to send a foe bouncing around the field with a well placed attack. The make-or-break feature of Mugen Souls is the grind. In addition to the standard level grind, Mugen Souls also lets you level up spells and equipment to varying degrees, with level caps to unlock and a peon subjugation system that lets you teach different moves to characters. Like most RPGs, there are optimal ways to gain the points and money you need, but the sheer number of stats you can grind is staggering. If you“re a fan of min/maxing, there“s a lot of content for you and the optional dungeons will keep you challenged even as you reach for omnipotence. If you don“t like grinding, you“ll become quickly frustrated when you hit a grind wall and realize progressing will require more than raw levels to advance. Unfortunately, the game“s level progression is poor. As mentioned, raw levels aren't a huge advantage; you“re going to need to level up equipment and spells at some point to stay ahead of the curve. My biggest issue is that the best way to grind is in the form of an optional dungeon on your ship, the Mugen Field. Because of how small the planets are, there isn't a solid sense of enemy progression, so it“s easy to find yourself outclassed by a boss if you don“t grind like a fiend in the field or spend a little time in the Mugen Field. On a technical level, Mugen Souls is a mess. Movement on the field is hampered by a poor camera and a framerate that, while not choppy, is definitely struggling. The loading times are ridiculously long, even with the game“s data installed, with some taking longer than a minute. Viewing skits also requires the area to reload, making multiple scenes a chore to watch. The real killer comes in battle. With battle animations turned on, loading isn't bad as the animation covers most, if not all, of it. You can turn the animations off in an effort to speed up the game, but you may find that it only makes things worse. With the animations off, the attacks still have to load, sometimes taking as much as five seconds for each turn. In addition to this, turning off animations results in more hectic battles, as the camera doesn't focus on the target of attacks. It makes it hard to keep track of how much damage has been done without manually checking at the end of every turn. I have heard that changing the PS3 to output at 720p can improve performance, but I noticed no significant benefit while playing. Although the concept behind the story is interesting, the actual content is dull and rife with generic cliches. Most of the game“s humor comes from breaking the fourth wall and low-brow sexual jokes and situations, which isn't inherently terrible, but it does become grating over the course of the game. While most of the situations are pretty tame, with things like bloody noses from arousal being commonplace, Mugen Souls holds the unique honor of being one of the few games to actually repulse me with its content. Even with the content that“s been cut from the Japanese version, the game still manages to cross the line by applying sexual situations to young characters. The story itself is fairly predictable and not very compelling, so if you“re not head-over-heels for ecchi and perverted situations, Mugen Souls won“t offer much outside of gameplay. As is the fate of games targeting a niche audience, you probably already know if Mugen Souls is in your wheelhouse or not. If you“re on the fence because you like the anime style but are concerned about depth and content, there still might be something for you if you love grinding. For those of us that aren't number crunchers though, Mugen Souls just doesn't offer a compelling reason to be played. Pros: + The moe kill system is a fresh concept + Solid soundtrack with Japanese and English voices + Tons of levels to grind Cons: - Tons of levels to grind - Poor framerate and even poorer load times - Low-brow humor ranging from cliched to offense Overall Score: 3.5 (out of 10) Poor Mugen Souls will appeal to very small audience that likes ecchi humor and grinding. If that isn't you, chances are it just isn't your game.