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Found 29 results

  1. barrel

    Review: Collar X Malice

    Developer: Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PS Vita Release Date: July 28, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature With the likes of distorted camera footage showcasing ruthless murders in the name of "justice," the PS Vita's newest visual novel Collar x Malice quickly sets the tone of its tense setting. One would be hard-pressed to find any trace of Idea Factory's romantic otome underpinnings until at least an hour in, if that. At least until a group of pretty males that were former officers join the fray to help you solve various murder mysteries. But even that does not bring much comfort considering just how cold they all are at the outset. At the start of the game, it's bad news all around. An extremist terrorist group named Adonis has been publicly announcing systemic "X-Day" killings to judge various "sinners" that the law has apparently failed to reach. After months of failing to apprehend these suspects, the Japanese government has grown so desperate that they decide to quarantine Shinjuku entirely to help contain the terrorists' influence. Trust in law enforcement is at an all-time low and public unrest at an all-time high. Just when things could not seem to get any worse, Ichika Hoshino -- the main heroine, and a fresh and upcoming officer -- gets kidnapped. The next moment she wakes up, she learns she is saddled with a deadly collar around her neck. Though she is temporarily saved by a group of mysterious former police officers rather quickly, she is told by the leader of Adonis, via her collar, that she needs to uncover the truth behind the "X-Day incidents" alongside these men or she will be poisoned to death at the end of the year. And so, that becomes the player's primary objective Collar X Malice is a visual novel structured around five different character routes (the last of which is locked until one completes the four others) with each tale standing well enough on their own. What is intriguing in how it is told is each story route has an entirely different focus and the many pieces to the overarching storytelling only really make sense upon finishing all of them due to their complex subplots. Though, one will have to be able to overlook a hokey story element or two to see it through (like how the Japanese government apparently thought it was a good idea to issue guns to all citizens during the Shinjuku quarantine?). Collar X Malice is largely about investigating murder mysteries and conspiracies with a dash of romance interspaced between it all. Flowery otome fanservice is present, but generally speaking, it is the furthest thought from the primary cast early in. Each of the male leads has rather distinct personal objectives that give them plenty of reason to act cold to the main heroine (the same also applies in inverse). Because of this pretense, the trust that is gained between what is initially a business-only relationship feels much more organic than one would expect. My favorite of these character developments is the incredibly brash former officer of the cyber crimes division, Takeru. Though he is more than a bit haughty (aggressively so usually), his route is far more personal focused than most others in the entire game (except for maybe the eyepatch-wearing Mineo perhaps). For as prideful as Takeru may be, his side of the storytelling does a wonderful job of making him feel down to earth during the course of it. Also, he has some hilariously sassy quips at times, so that's a plus for me too. Some routes are certainly better than others, however. The one that personally took me the longest to shoulder on through, purely for thematic reasoning, was that of the Special Protections officer, Kei. Now, I like Kei enough as a character but I found his character route to be rather obnoxious. It encroached upon a trope that I dislike in otome games especially, which is the fixation of protecting the main heroine. Admittedly, the context behind Okazaki's seemingly selfless motivations unravels to have much darker implications over time. Still, one will hear some variation of the phrase "I will protect you" a nauseating amount of times. Of course, reminiscent of Code Realize: Guardians of Rebirth in this small regard, both characters and their narrative arc focus are extremely subject to taste and, occasional narrative grips aside, are told well overall in spite of excessively long banter at times. That said, there is actually more that goes on in Collar X Malice than thumbing through walls of story text and earning the hearts and minds of one's eventual male suitors as a game. Without a doubt, most of the progression stems from picking correct dialogue choices to properly reach a tale's conclusion and hoping they don't die in doing so. There are also instances of basic point & click-styled detective work and, surprisingly, an occasional gun-based quick-time-event to shoot down a prospective criminal. Speaking of which, there is an alarming amount of bad endings. Most bad endings usually not-so-subtlety apply the expression "curiosity killed the cat", but there are a few bad ends that are surprisingly meaningful to the overarching story despite not technically being required to see. For as much as the player is likely to stumble to their doom before reaching their desired conclusion(s), Collar X Malice is usually quite slick in how it is presented. The beautifully drawn character art is but one clear perk of it (unless one is uncomfortable with the occasional otome-styled fanservice scene. I'm not). The Japanese-only voice-acting is also really impressive, making each main character have a distinct presence throughout, though the main heroine herself is unfortunately unvoiced. Idea Factory proves yet again they have the visual novel interface thing down pat, for the most part. Godsends to the subgenre like fast-forwarding until reaching unread text, instant story scene rewinding, and various save options are all there and then some. However, the biggest replay tool of all, that being the chapter select, is not available until reaching a character's "true end". This is very important to keep in mind as I personally almost locked myself into a bad ending right before the finale of the last character route and was really close to a redundant VN fast-forwarding nightmare to fix it. While Collar x Malice is pretty good at implying that you are on the right path "for the most part" I'd recommend other's veer on the side of safety and follow a dialogue choice guide when they can just to get those true ends out of the way first. This is especially true since character routes themselves are only triggered through rigid and specific dialogue choices early in. Of Idea Factory's many otome visual novel offerings, Collar x Malice comes across as their most well-rounded. A fascinating, crime-based storytelling setup and a nuanced lead cast of characters make it easy to be drawn into its world, though various pacing mishaps and an inconsistent overarching storytelling emphasis placed upon certain leads do hold the game back from its full potential. But, all in all, Collar x Malice stands tall on its own and has the heart of a genuinely good visual novel, and it becomes quite rewarding to uncover the larger truth buried beneath its lengthy adventure. Pros + Intriguing storytelling with a heavy emphasis on murder mystery and crime-solving + Gorgeous character art and often slick visual novel interface + Healthy mix of very serious storytelling and lighthearted moments throughout + Takeru is the best boy Cons - Triggering specific story routes or right dialogue choices can feel redundant at times - Varying significance of overarching storytelling between routes can make some character's tales feel longer than others - Localization hiccups Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good A gripping premise and cast of characters make it quite easy to forget Collar x Malice's occasional foibles in how it is told as a visual novel. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. Developer: Tamsoft Publisher: Idea Factory International Platform: PlayStation Vita Release Date: May 19, 2015 ESRB: T Remember when Jay-Z and Linkin Park had that awesome mash-up CD? If you somehow haven“t (what“s wrong with you?) there are plenty of times when you might have discovered two things that you never knew you needed together, and — once combined — just make perfect sense. Stuff like french fries and chocolate shakes, eggs and ketchup, or Baloo and an airplane. Much in the same way, Compile Heart collides with Tamsoft at break neck speed for a Senran Kagura-style game set in the Hyperdimension Neptunia universe. The result is something both beautiful and frightening. This time Neptune and the girls team up with journalists Dengekiko and Famitsu (both based on prominent Japanese gaming publications) to get to the bottom of a series of odd quests being filed with the Basilicom. If it sounds pretty inconsequential... it is, which is funny because the game actually breaks the fourth wall and tells you as much very early on. Despite this, the game still features walls and walls of text at times, giving you that trademark Neptunia humor that isn“t bad, but feels sometimes like you“re getting nowhere fast. Without the plot to drive the puns, much of it ends up feeling forced, something rarely encountered in other Neptunia games. For those of you who have never played a Senran Kagura game, the premise is simple. You choose a girl and battle your way through hordes of enemies. The victory conditions may vary from time to time but ultimately mashing that attack button with the occasional well timed special attack or activating Hard Drive Divinity mode is the key to victory. You“ll want to keep on your toes too…because taking too much damage can ultimately lead to some wardrobe malfunction. Basically, be prepared to experience the bare necessities (or not, since you can actually disable clothing damage if that sort of thing is not your cup of tea) if you don“t watch yourself! And of course there“s plenty from the Neptunia side too, as this time you get to pair two characters of your choice and switch between them during battle. This opens up the use of Neptunia“s Lily system as well as giving the player the ability to occasionally shake things up during a mission. Even EXE Drives can be used, bringing plenty of core elements from Neptunia“s core franchise here to play. So when it comes to Action Unleashed, the premise is simple but the problem is the game doesn't really communicate exactly what you need to do to advance the chapters, so you“re left feeling pretty lost among a sea of monsters that just won“t quit. In a way this game falls into the same trappings as "Musou games," a very mindless mashing of a couple buttons to kill literally hundreds of enemies before the boss appears, wherein you will mash a couple buttons until he“s dispatched and you can finally go home, only to do it again in a new area. Many times I found myself hoping for something, anything, to get me to want to kill a few hundred more dogoo in the next quest. Even the promise of randomly dropped items, gear, collectibles, anything could make the next go a little brighter, but none of that exists. And unlike the core Neptunia series (especially the Re;Birth games), leveling up characters doesn“t periodically add new moves and mechanics to play around with (they“re usually only added between chapters). Even more baffling is the fact that unlike other Tamsoft games, combos don“t get any more intricate by leveling up either. But that isn“t to say this game is all bad. In fact, there are a few things I feel like Action Unleashed does well. First of all, it looks fantastic. Character models have been improved from the core Neptunia games, and it“s pretty easy to tell. Dungeons themselves also feel like they benefit from more attention, and the ability to look around more than ever before is probably the reason for their collective facelifts. You can even see the action from any vantage point by pausing the game and using the viewer. While it“s pretty inconsequential in the long run it“s a pretty neat feature to have. And not just for the pantsu. Another credit to Action Unleashed is the fact that characters vary from one and other. Each character has their own speed and method of attacking, making switching girls at least a little interesting. Lily ranks also help a lot, which means combining certain girls often makes them work even better together as time goes on (not to mention getting you closer to the game“s hardest trophy, reaching max lily rank between every girl). But the best this game has to offer comes after the credits roll. First off you“ll get access to Gamindustri Gauntlet, which is a bracketed tournament that will see each CPU fight each other, and not the same horde of dogoo that you“ve been decimating since the first mission. This is more akin to Tamsoft“s Senran Kagura series wherein the goal of most missions is to fight another ninja, and nameless lackeys serve as fodder up until that point. I kinda wish this would have been implemented in some fashion prior to beating the main story, but at least you“ll get to experience it at some point. And make no mistake, the easy setting may be a pillow fight (like some cheesy sorority cliche), but the higher difficulties will make use of all your skill. After you beat your first tournament you“ll unlock Neptral tower, a slaughter fest where you can try to reach ever higher and higher floors in Gamindustri“s worst kept dungeon (seriously, who let“s this many monsters roam around?). Both this and the Gamindustri Gauntlet mode really help the game in an area where for so long it kinda flounders… monotony. Both of these modes could have been parsed out earlier to really help but rest assured, they are there. It“s unfair to say the game doesn“t really start until after you beat it since there“s plenty to experience before the credits roll, but it can get repetitive. Even so, the game does still have plenty of shine to it — polished graphics, a collection of neat in-game options, and a whole new take on the Neptunia franchise“s characters. But when you have finally cleared it, the game gets some much needed change of pace, and is much easier to enjoy. Ultimately though, Action Unleashed feels exactly what it sounds like — Neptunia stretched over Senran Kagura“s skin. That isn“t necessarily a bad thing though, since it can serve as a flawed but enjoyable palate cleanser for Neptunia fans coming hot off Re;Birth1 and Re;Birth2, before playing the recently released Re;Birth3. But for people curious about the franchise? Well, this probably isn“t the best jumping on point. Pros: + Humorous plot Neptunia is known for + Great graphics make familiar areas seen new again + Additional game modes after the main story mode Cons: - Undefined chapter requirements can be frustrating - Repetitive gameplay until you beat the main story mode - Story is surprisingly anticlimactic/inconsequential Overall Score: 6.5 (Out of 10) Decent Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed scratches a very specific itch, but may cause irritation for players not already invested in the world of Gamindustri Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher
  6. 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.
  7. Today, Idea Factory International announced that their next game, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart would be coming to North America and Europe on PlayStation Vita in early 2015. Although the title is slightly similar and yet different, Hyperdevotion Noire is a part of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series and serves as its very first SRPG. However, the world within is not set in Gamindustri (as is the case for Hyperdimension games) but features a new, separate world called Gamarket. In the story, CPUs of the four different nations are locked in a battle for supremacy, but a mysterious, unknown force robs the CPUs of their powers just as Noire is about to seize victory. The four CPUs must now unite Gamarket in order to stand against and defeat this new force. Adding to the turn-based gameplay is a "Sim Noire" mode where you'll be able to buy accessories, furniture, and more for Noire's home and have her go out with friends and such to build her social level as well. We'll have more on the game in the lead-up to its release early next game. Source: Press Release Are you interested in Hyperdevotion Noire and the fact that it will be an SRPG?
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Developer: Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PlayStation 3 Release Date: May 6 ESRB: M (for Mature) Visual novels have certainly hit their stride in the Western world lately. More publishers are willing to bring the genre that used to be seen as uncouth and shallow dating sims over to a small, but steadily growing fanbase. As exciting adventures like Steins;Gate thrill players and hybrid experiences like Virtue's Last Reward give players a bit of gameplay with their text dumps, more gamers come to learn the value of visual novels amongst the many other games and genres available. Even so, while visual novels are in more of a demand, the otome game--essentially a visual novel where you play as the girl as you build relationships with boys--is widely ignored. While Sweet Fuse seemed to make some waves amongst the fanbase, there are very few otome choices out there... and though the Hakuoki series has actually seen a few titles released Stateside, Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi hopes to win a new audience by being on the PlayStation 3. Will this enhanced port of the PSP and 3DS title Demon of the Fleeting Blossom hold a bright torch for the console visual novel and otome game, or will that torch fizzle out? In Stories of the Shinsengumi, you are Chizuru (whose name can be changed), a young girl who came to Kyoto to look for for her father, who had gone missing a few months before. Upon reaching Kyoto, though, she is accosted by rogue ronin (despite being disguised as a boy to deter that very thing). One thing quickly leads to another, and the girl stumbles upon a dark secret of the Shinsengumi, a group responsible for upholding the peace in Kyoto. After learning of Chizuru's search for her father, who happened to also work with the Shinsengumi, they decide not to kill her to keep their secrets, and instead take her under their (mostly begrudging) care to help find the doctor. Stories of the Shinsengumi follows the path of the force through the entirety of its historical life, from 1864 to 1869. As you might expect, the characters you meet and can eventually build relationships with are actual Japanese historical figures; of course, they have been prettied up a bit to appeal to audience. However, the game isn't purely historical; fantastical sub-plots involving demons and "furies" (which are best described as a form of vampires) add an extra layer of tension to the wars and battles and more weight to the protagonist herself. Granted, these sub-plots are better written into some character paths than others, but for the most part they're a decent, though not particularly great, part of the story. As for the title's overall writing, it usually stays on a pretty high mark. All of the eligible relationship interests and even some of supporting cast get a fair amount of depth to them, mostly avoiding the typical tropes of the genre and giving an interesting plot to work through. Since the men are all loyal members of the Shinsengumi as well, it adds the perspective loyalty, and what everyone does when things take a turn for the worse. The more interesting conversations of the game are between the different captains themselves rather than their relationship with Chizuru, and while it can be questionable why the members of the Shinsengumi would allow a random girl to be privy to all their private conversations, it's an excusable offense to really get a glimpse at the depth these characters have to offer. Due to the fact that this 8- to 10-hour visual novel covers a fiveyear span, the action moves by at a pretty brisk pace. Stories of the Shinsengumi will skip months at the time, and mostly only focus on the major battles of the group, and their eventual downfall. As such, while you get an interesting amount of growth and changes amongst the characters, there isn't too much time for romance. Thankfully, the Hakouki Stories help a little with that, with the Memories of Love offering more tender moments with the eligible bachelors, and the Shinsengumi Adventures are more comical, light-hearted affairs. It's a bit of a shame that these stories aren't integrated into the game proper, but it also makes sense as the small stories would have probably interrupted the flow of the overall story. As you play through these extra Stories, you can bloom your cherry blossom in the Eupherma mode; and as you do so, you'll unlock even more little pieces of content, which is new to the PS3 version from the portable releases. These little bits include random conversations in the Hakuoki world, as well as stints where the the characters are cast into a modern school setting. Honestly, these bits are mostly throwaway, but as you'll likely want to play through the Stories for the extra characterization anyway, it's a nice, but ultimately unneeded, little bonus. Whether or not you'll enjoy Stories of the Shinsengumi depends more on your interest of Japanese culture; obviously, a title involving a historical police force is going to be steeped in Japanese lore. For those not heavily educated on the subject, the game's Encyclopedia helps to explain some of the less known terms, but if you have no interest in Japanese lore, historically accurate or otherwise, it will seem plodding and boring even if it is well-written. Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi is a good otome game, but it will not be everyone's cup of tea. Those that are willing the take the plunge into a game steeped in Japanese history and sometimes strange demon plots will find deep and multifaceted characters and stories that are worth experiencing. Pros: + The potential relationship paths go beyond simple tropes, giving characters with depth + The graphics are surprisingly nice looking on the big screen Cons: - Some character paths have awkward writing or poorly implemented plot threads - The title's setting isn't for everyone Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Stories of the Shinsengumi provides a good story for those that bring an interest in Japanese history and just a bit of tolerance for demons and vampires. Disclosure: A download code was provided by the publisher for this review.
  11. Marcus Estrada

    Monster Monpiece Screenshot 4

    From the album: Review Images

  12. Marcus Estrada

    Monster Monpiece Screenshot 2

    From the album: Review Images

  13. Marcus Estrada

    Monster Monpiece Screenshot 1

    From the album: Review Images

  14. Developer: Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: 3DS Release Date: September 19, 2013 ESRB: M for Mature A download code was provided by the publisher for this review Before Aksys brought Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom to the West last year, otome games were largely unheard of here. Since they took the plunge, we've been getting more and more games in the genre. Now, Aksys's efforts have brought the samurai romancing visual novel to 3DS owners with Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi. Memories of the Shinsengumi can be described as a port of the original PSP game with some new bonus features. On top of the riveting main game that includes many routes and endings, Memories of the Shinsengumi also totes six new stories and a photo booth mode. Those that have already played Demon of the Fleeting Blossom already know what goes on in the Hakuoki universe. This may be an intimidating title to others, however, especially because it“s an otome game. True, there is some romancing going on from the view of a female protagonist, but the game is largely focused on Japanese history, politics, action, and violence. The point in time that Memories of the Shinsengumi takes place in is during the late Edo Period. As the game“s title implies, the game follows the exploits of the legendary Shinsengumi – a special police force. Much of the game retells the history surrounding the Shinsengumi, of course. However, not everything is as it seems… Supernatural beings such as bloodthirsty “furies†and demons cause strife throughout the story and make for an interesting twist. The protagonist, Chizuru, still manages to find love during these troubling times. Those interested in the romancing aspect might be a little disappointed that there isn“t much of it throughout Memories of the Shinsengumi, but there“s still just enough to satisfy that sweet tooth. All of the characters are quite well developed and have some great backstories. It“s very much worth it to go through each guy“s route and get all the endings. Be careful, though! You just might fall in love with these handsome men and won“t know what to do with yourself. Now, unless you“re very well-versed in Japanese history, you may have a bit of trouble understanding what“s going on through Memories of the Shinsengumi. There are many people, landmarks, and battles you will not know and have to remember during the course of the game if you wish to comprehend what“s going on. Thankfully, there“s an encyclopedia provided for you in the game menu that is filled out each time you come across a new term. The art of Hakuoki is very beautiful, especially when it“s displayed at its best in the special CG scenes. My problem with the art in Memories of the Shinsengumi, however, is simply because it“s on the 3DS. Because the system“s screen is small, portraits and whatnot have been sized down and look very low quality when compared to Demon of the Fleeting Blossom on PSP. It“s a shame to do such a thing to such pretty artwork, but what can you do? What about those new modes that Memories of the Shinsengumi boasts over Demon of the Fleeting Blossom? Well, the “Hakuoki Memories†mode (the six new stories I mentioned earlier) doesn“t offer much. The stories are extremely short, even if they do offer a little insight into the lives of the men of the Shinsengumi. There“s some very lovely pieces of artwork at the end of each story, though. The Photo Booth mode does offer some silly fun, but perhaps only for a few minutes or so. So, is it worth it to get Memories of the Shinsengumi over Demon of the Fleeting Blossom? If you have a PSP or Vita, you should probably get the latter. Those that just have a 3DS, however, should definitely pick up Memories of the Shinsengumi. As for me, I got the limited editions for both versions anyway! I love Memories of the Shinsengumi and the Hakuoki universe. Not only is it an otome game, but it“s a great game for those looking for something different (or for some hot samurai boyfriends). Pros: + Lots of routes and endings + Encyclopedia to help you learn important historical terms + A focus on history and action for those not interested in romancing aspect Cons: - New features aren“t very exciting - Art quality is lowered from original game Overall Score: 8.0 (out of 10) Great Those that have already played Demon of the Fleeting Blossom might want to skip Memories of the Shinsengumi (unless you want to support otome releases in the West!). Definitely pick this up if you haven“t played the original, though.
  15. 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.