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Found 182 results

  1. barrel

    Review: Muv-Luv

    Developer: Age Publisher: PQube Platform: PS Vita and PC Release Date: June 12, 2018 ESRB: M for Mature The Muv-Luv series may be one of the more surprising success stories on Kickstarter. Gathering over one million dollars in Kickstarter donations for an official localization is more than enough proof that the two-decade-old visual novel series certainly has a passionate fandom behind it. Yet, those that did already have a preexisting attachment to Muv-Luv had to wait until 2016 for the official PQube PC release. This year, Sony's PlayStation Vita has seemingly been resuscitated for the same reason, but before getting to the highly acclaimed finale that is Muv-Luv Alternative (which will be reviewed separately), series newcomers are best served by playing the original and separate retail release that is simply called Muv-Luv for reasoning that may not pop into one's brain right away. The first game, commonly referred to as "Muv-Luv Extra", has a setup that frankly feels like it was ripped out of a time capsule contributed by nearly every early 2000's era romantic comedy anime. You have your high school setting backdrop full of romantic interests like the childhood friend, Sumika, to the incredibly rich yet socially awkward, Meiya, that attempt to vie for the affection of the completely oblivious main guy. Muv-Luv Extra absolutely thrives on its often lighthearted enthusiasm above all else. The humor is frequently slapstick and is complemented by very expressive anime character portraits that are honestly much more lively than most visual novels nowadays, which is impressive. It will easily go from the typical mouth flaps and blinking eyes of many visual novels, exaggerated camera panning, to random chibi expressions at the drop of a hat to emphasize the punchline to nearly every joke. Even when not all of the jokes hit their mark (some, uh... out of touch heteronormative perspectives/perverted gags from the obnoxious main dude included), there is a genuine energy to it that makes it entertaining to go through it regardless. That said, Muv-Luv Extra is pretty simple for visual novel standards. Narrative choices are rarely more complex than picking whose bento you want to eat for lunch and staying committed to one of the five wooable heroines to reach their potential ending. Even then, though, there is a clear discrepancy in importance (and likability) with Meiya and Sumika versus nearly everyone else, despite me being a fan of Kei's deadpan humor. Most characters also do not necessarily have much depth to them beyond their apparent anime character tropes making it difficult to justify going beyond seeing the ends of the primary two heroines. It is almost hard to believe that one can really do much with this simple cast of characters for more than one game despite them being likable enough in Muv-Luv Extra. Well, as it turns out, all you need to freshen up the experience is a dramatically different setting in which mankind is on the brink of extinction due to an alien race called the "BETA" in an alternate sci-fi Japan. This is where Muv-Luv Unlimited comes into play which is a separate game despite featuring many familiar faces. And, believe it or not, it is actually a direct sequel to Muv-Luv Extra as well. The reasoning to this, of course, is a spoiler but is partially made clear to the player immediately upon starting up Muv-Luv Unlimited's tale. Muv-Luv Unlimited is the starting point of why the Muv-Luv series was so subversive back in 2003 and gives people a taste of why the series is so beloved. Players immediately question everything they thought they knew in Muv-Luv Extra from the entirely new world to characters. It is compelling to see much more in-depth world-building like the eerie alternate timeline of World War II, the inner-workings of its many sci-fi elements, to higher-brow story concepts for a cast that once cared about little more than high school romance. The biggest problem, however, is that the storytelling itself is very incomplete. There is a lot meandering day to day (under the guise of team building) which was fine in Muv-Luv Extra but feels tonally dissonant with the apocalyptic pretense of Muv-Luv Unlimited. In addition to this are many clearly important story devices that are kept an incredibly tight lip on and frankly will not be answered for players until Muv-Luv Alternative. To rub the most salt on the wound in regards to pacing are, undoubtedly, the many fanservice scenes that stem from its original erotic game roots despite being the "All-Ages" version. Maybe it is just me but when five billion humans have been killed by the BETA I have a difficult time finding an anime beach scene appropriate in the slightest for these lead military cadets training to combat them. The original Muv-Luv is a tricky visual novel to judge. By themselves, both Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited are decent enough visual novels, but neither are nuanced enough to be all that remarkable. Muv-Luv Extra being a perky romantic comedy full of charm while Muv-Luv Unlimited is a subversive take on the once familiar cast of characters and sets the stage for a far more intriguing sci-fi setup. Unfortunately, both titles are rife with rough edges regarding pacing, anime tropes, and lack of story resolution. As parts of a grander tale, however, both games do just enough to trigger one's curiosity and, hopefully, such patience is rewarded whenever one gets around to playing the highly regarded trilogy finale of Muv-Luv Alternative. Pros + Very expressive character portraits that feel more active than a lot of modern visual novels + Intriguing setting shift between the two games that presents familiar faces in a dramatically different context + A bizarre, antiquated anime charm with memorable characters Cons - Many rather cliche story beats throughout - Recycled music between both games is disappointing - Really out of place fanservice scenes with Muv-Luv Unlimited in particular despite attempting to be much more serious - A lot of storytelling is clearly left open for the would-be finale Muv-Luv Alternative Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent Muv-Luv gives players a taste of why the visual novel series is so iconic but without the resolution of Muv-Luv Alternative to wrap the experience up makes the original release feel more disjointed than it should be Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. Developer: Aquria Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS Vita Release Date: May 2, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen It has been only one month since the release of Persona 5 and Atlus USA is already eager to publish another role-playing game full of traumatized high schoolers. The Vita exclusive RPG: The Caligula Effect is a bit different than the countless knockoffs of Atlus's flagship series, however. For one, it actually has the writer behind the first three Persona games behind it (Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin & Persona 2: Eternal Punishment), Tadashi Satomi, which should imply a more bleak tone to storytelling akin to older Shin Megami Tensei games, so that immediately piqued my interest it. I think it would have been warranted too if what narrative potential it has was not squandered in the mobius loop of disappointment with the gameplay's pacing. The intro to The Caligula Effect feels rather distorted, with some of it being intentional. Something along the lines that the mostly mute main character learns that he's trapped in what was supposed to be a digital utopia called "Mobius". Of course, something is not quite right with the digital world which causes the lead to accidently get magical powers based on unstable human psyche (NOT-Persona), and meeting like-minded individuals of the "Go-Home" club who want to Go H-- um, return to reality. So, the lead, and his eventual and slightly crazy posse, decide to confront the famous digital idol "Mu" (Technically "μ"), whom (partially) created Mobius, about their desire to escape from it. The premise made more sense in my head. The early portions in The Caligula Effect feels like an bigger mess of systems it does not really know what to do with. There are functions like being able to recruit over five hundred party members from random 'classmates' wandering dungeons, text messaging system called "Wire", and a nightmare of an ability tree called the "Causality Link" if you earn friendship points with the five hundred non-main story party members. However, most just feels superfluous in the monotonous dungeon crawler grind that is the overall experience that I avoided dabbling with it entirely except for when I was forced to in the main story. The bulk of the experience (about 80%, I'd wager) is primarily within its clumsy dungeon design and repetitive combat system. It is all the more unappealing to behold when it is presented so ruggedly with a choppy frame rate (battles primarily), messy animations, long load times between the lifeless environments, and the like. Before I get too critical, however, the most promising of the two main gameplay facets is the combat system. Battles are kind of like a weird hybrid between turn-based with real time elements (think Final Fantasy IX's ATB system), a juggling based combo system, and random MMO styled cooldowns tossed in. There are bit and pieces of the combat system that truly I like. For one, before inputting any action you see a sort of general playback of how both enemies and allies will react if you do it in the small time frame it is playing (...assuming the attack doesn't miss, or the character gets interrupted by the geometry). I also like that you can get pretty granular to potentially optimize combos or perfectly time a guard break/counter skill, which is neat. ...Until the repetition sets in, which is very quick. The Caligula Effect really does not reward creativity in combat -- just efficiency (even that being debatable). The enemies that would survive long enough to weave fancy party combos around them you frankly should not be fighting. It is often best to have a bread & butter combo of using your most powerful skills at the offset so you can get the experience bonus and save time. If enemies don't die from that initial barrage the pacing slows down quite a lot. Early in I would try to fight foes several levels higher and... that's a bad idea. Basically, the player's stat disadvantage against foes a few levels or higher gets pretty huge, to the point where allies will even miss more than half of their attacks in addition to paltry damage, and the game just kind of throws such overpowered foes around every other corner despite the player not needing to be that high complete the dungeon. Oh, and if the main character dies it's an instant game over. You can imagine how pleased I was to learn that after being in a single battle for over thirty minutes, try to extrapolate what combat depth I could, and randomly getting one-shotted. Now, admittedly, the main reason I put up with the frustrating gameplay was to witness the sporadic storytelling and listen to more of the soundtrack, which I would say it is more intriguing than it is actually good. Well, okay, the music is actually quite good despite its J-pop styled flair. Though not quite as masterful, it does a similarly neat trick as something like Nier Automata where the audio will dynamically shift based on whether you are in combat, waltzing around the obnoxious dungeons, or facing the main boss of the level. That said, as good as the dungeon/battle tracks are, you can only be entertained by the short music loops in such lengthy, and often more than several hours, treks through dungeons for so long. Each of the main story dungeons felt like they gave me just one more reason to dislike the title with its shameless backtracking to trigger scripted events, countless copy & pasted corridors, and mashing the X button to talk to, or recruit, for one reason or another. As for the main storytelling in The Caligula Effect, it is intriguing, but hardly paced well because of the game's design. Despite the setup that easily paints the Go-Home club as the good guys, one of the more curious aspects about the storytelling is that the members that follow you around are actually deeply flawed individuals, to the point of being quite unlikable at times (even if a few are somewhat redeemed in their optional character events, I think), that becomes much apparent each new dungeon. This is where "The Caligula Effect" name pretty directly comes into play because it touches upon various taboos. And it does not really shy away from uncomfortable subject matters like various forms of depression or a desire for escapism. Still, for as much as it drummed up my curiosity, the dark storytelling overall is simply not good enough to really warrant a playthrough because of all of the frustrations around the entire experience (despite not being all that long for RPG standards). The Caligula Effect is a real strange case study where I was quite intrigued to see what it'd have to offer going forward but every time I picked it up I could not have been more eager to stop playing because of the actual gameplay. I know Aquiria is capable of making of making decent games after playing Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization not too long ago (despite how much I hate the source material.) but The Caligula Effect is a gameplay-oppressive mess despite its good intentions. I suppose I was not too unlike the main characters in the story where I was saw promise of a digital utopia and ended up in a nightmare that I, and others as well, should desperately try and escape from instead. Pros + Some intriguing, darker themes that are brought up with each character's arc + Great soundtrack that dynamically transitions from vocals to instrumental compositions mid-gameplay + Being able to see how combat skills are likely to play out in advance before inputting them to is a nice touch + I like the character portraits? Cons - Obnoxious, lifeless dungeon design that makes a big habit of backtracking and fetch quests - Combat system is incredibly repetitive even with over 500 playable characters - Several inconsequential gameplay systems that next to nothing overall aside from another number value to grind - Long load times and choppy framerate throughout - Main character KO = immediate Game Over to title screen - Several main party members remain quite unlikable despite some intended moments of redemption, which can be offputting Overall Score: 4 (out of 10) Below Average For as much morbid curiosity as I bore towards the grim storytelling The Caligula Effect excels at so little as an actual game to really be worth breaking the taboo of actually playing it. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  3. After a successful Kickstarter run while supporting the game for nearly 2 years after its release, the long road for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is finally winding down, but not before some final surprises. Today, WayForward revealed that all versions of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (both the base and Ultimate edition) will receive a free content update that will include Jammies Mode and a brand new transformation. Jammies Mode will let you play through the campaign in Shantae's pajamas as well as pillow fight enemies, float on a dream-like cloud, and use sleepy sheep as projectiles. As for the new transformation, Shantae will be able to transform into Sophia III from Blaster Master Zero and blast enemies away. Interestingly enough, this isn't Shantae's first crossover with Blaster Master Zero. Last year, developer Inti Creates added Shantae as a playable DLC character in Blaster Master Zero, so it looks like WayForward is repaying the favor with the appearance of the latter title's Sophie III vehicle in Half-Genie Hero this time around. Check out both new additions in the trailer for the new update below! Source: Press Release Will you be checking out Jammies Mode or the Blaster Master transformation in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero?
  4. barrel

    Review: Reverie

    Developer: Rainbite Limited Publisher: EastAsiaSoft Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: May 10, 2018 ESRB: E for Everyone Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game There is a fine line between taking inspiration from iconic games and simply being derivative of them, with the latter being far more difficult to escape from. That does not stop many from attempting the inspiration balancing act, such as Rainbite Limited's newest adventure game Reverie. By basking within a familiar framework of two beloved Nintendo series (such as Earthbound's style and The Legend of Zelda's gameplay structure), one can only hope it stands out enough on its own without using 2D nostalgia as a crutch. Despite a bizarrely eerie intro involving treacherous brothers throwing one of their own overboard and then being cursed for an eternity as wrathful spirits, Reverie is nearly devoid of storytelling otherwise. The player is more or less told to spend their vacation on Toromi Island, which apparently means going on a The Legend of Zelda-styled adventure and putting vengeful spirits to rest, I guess. The character's impetus to go from one place to another is not exactly the most cohesive in Reverie. If there is one facet in Reverie that does flow together rather well at times, it's the 2D Earthbound-inspired presentation. There are a lot of neat little flourishes, such as the rustling of foliage, denizens that fidget around as well as turn to face you, and characters leaving imprints in the sand. It creates a homely feel to the starting town of Harikoa in particular, especially when using spare change to play a surprisingly solid shoot 'em up mini-game, or when encountering a nest of kiwi birds in its faux New Zealand. Honestly, if more of Reverie reflected this sort of localized quirk it would likely have been a better game, so it's a real shame that it accounts for so little of the overall experience. The fact of the matter is that Reverie eventually boils down into a wholly forgettable and derivative Zelda-like adventure. Most of your time will be spent in dungeons, which are -- ironically -- the least appealing part of the game, both from an aesthetic and gameplay perspective. If you have played just about any Zelda game, you already know the routine of gathering small/boss room keys in various rooms; which wouldn't be such a bad thing if the dungeons themselves weren't so bland and lifeless. Unfortunately, the frequent combat encounters -- easily the weakest aspect of the gameplay -- only adds insult to injury. Most of the key skills that are usually acquired through dungeons are just renamed Zelda abilities as well, further compounding its derivative nature. For example, instead of using a bow you will instead use a dart gun to hit targets on the wall, just like in a million Zelda games. Instead of Zora-themed swimming gear, you use a snorkel; and so on and so forth. Despite their predictable usage, most key items are thankfully quite responsive in their puzzle and combat implementation, like the cricket bat feeling nearly one to one with 2D Link's sword swing in its immediate timing. Well, pretty much everything except for the final key item ability, at least. What happens to be the most creative ability in the entire game turns out to have poorly implemented physics. This is especially a shame since it also adds much-needed level design variety to the last main dungeon. Basically, the last story item is positional-based and if it drifts a tiny bit off it can leave several puzzle rooms in an unwinnable state. I found myself resetting it by killing the main character and... returning to the start of the dungeon. I originally thought it was poor execution on my end until I saw a couple walkthroughs online that had the same exact issue regarding necessary teleporting in what is otherwise a fairly easy game overall. And with nearly a quarter of my entire playtime spent in that dungeon around that mechanic made it have a significantly longer and more negative impact than it really should have. There are kernels of a much better game in Reverie that the pleasant visuals occasionally remind the player of that are, unfortunately, lost in such a shallow overall Zelda-like adventure. Sure, there are side activities outside of the main campaign's dungeon slog like collecting feather based unlockables but only a small handful of them are rewarding enough to even bother with like a couple off-the-beaten-path mini-games. But even then there is so little driving force to completion beyond the game just being short overall where even the dungeon unlocked after beating the main game is nothing but monster rooms for a game that already has so few enemy variety. There are plenty of games out there that take inspiration from older ones but very few of them that go beyond poorly shadowing significantly better games. Unfortunately, Reverie serves as yet another example as this longstanding trend torn between its clear influences of Earthbound and, even more so, The Legend of Zelda, without a firm grasp on their actual strengths beyond a clean well-realized aesthetic. Reverie does little to offend but even less to really stimulate the player's memory of it because of its lackluster series of dungeons despite hints of a sweeter kiwi spirit. Pros + Clean 2D aesthetic with a welcome New Zealand vibe in spite of its very clear visual inspiration + Bite-sized adventure that is not too demanding of the player Cons - Most of the time is spent in dungeons which are rarely all that clever in their design - Barely anything resembling storytelling or characters makes it quite forgettable overall alongside its derivative gameplay - While the game generally controls well the last usable key item, which is vital in the final dungeon, has very unreliable physics Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average Reverie may be pleasant to look in terms of aesthetic at but as an actual game it has so little to offer than being a totally forgettable, yet generally inoffensive, Zelda-like that simply exists Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4/PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  5. Developer: Soft Circle French Bread Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PS4, PS3, and PS Vita Release Date: February 8, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Clearly, the Japanese developer French Bread has given up any attempt at a coherent title with their newest fighting game rerelease, Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late(st). In spite of its self-inflicted and unfortunate naming choice, the newest Under Night In-Birth iteration remains steadfast as a fighting game gem amongst some pretty fierce competition. It is just a shame that it is highly likely to be buried by the recent Dragon Ball FighterZ (for a multitude of reasons) and possibly even redundant due to many serious fans having already imported this version of the series half a year ago. Those who are still curious as to what Under Night's second console release has to offer may notice its handful of new bells and whistles as it tries to justify its additional retail price tag. I would define the original PS3 release of Under Night In-Birth as having no unnecessary frills, yet also quite entertaining, and that it was only really held back by simply not explaining its nuanced fighting game system mechanics (such as "Chain Shift", "Veil off", and the likes). The lack of tutorials would essentially force one who wanted to give the prior game a fair shot to dig into online guides or wikis to understand the gameplay systems. This is no longer the case with Exe: Late(st) with many, many tutorials that are willing to teach in a very beginner-friendly manner, which range from simply moving around or looking at the health bar to going as deep as explaining concepts like "fuzzy guarding" in high-level play. It is a rather dry text dump based approach compared to Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator's tutorial but the in-game insight is more than welcome nonetheless. It is all well and good that they added tutorials; however, features beyond that should be more enticing for returning players, such as new playable characters and modes. In addition to adding much-needed re-balancing from the prior game (Seth and Chaos are finally viable competitively!), the four new playable characters themselves are all quite enjoyable and generally easy to pick up & play like the rest of the roster. Some are straightforward enough, like Enkidu, who is a close ranged fighter with various parrying skills to Phonon who keeps foes at bay with long-range whipping abilities. The more intriguing newcomers design-wise, however, are Mika -- who is a deceptively mobile fighter despite wielding two huge gauntlets -- and the lady Wagner, who has a fiery and hyper aggressive playstyle that is similar to her presence in the main story. Speaking of which, the newly added story mode may just be the worst part of the whole game. One could tell that the storytelling was not particularly noteworthy in the arcade mode of the earlier release; having an exhausting ten hour-plus visual novel story mode could not do this game fewer favors. As someone who tolerated the extensive visual novel narratives in various Blazblue games, it says a lot about just how dull and uneventful the Chronicles story mode in EXE Late(st) ends up being. At best, players will see some halfway interesting backstory regarding the playable cast. Yet, the far more prevalent theme is that it'll likely bore them out of their mind with incredibly mundane and redundant exposition that can stretch the course of five minutes into feeling like several hours. The worst part about the storytelling is that there is very little resembling a central narrative as whole making it feel that much more pointless to endure. The rest of the gameplay mode feature set is a matter of taking the good with the bad. For example, the "Mission" mode is neat in that it has players be able to learn actual viable bread & butter combos to more advanced techniques. Then there is the training mode which, despite being a total user interface nightmare, allows somewhat granular options in finding out which actions can easily be countered. The Network features remain to be much more mixed, however. In addition to being close to dead in terms of online presence (one of many reasons why the release date timing was unfortunate...), the online netcode itself is kind of dodgy and bare bones. There are the standard lobbies and ranked matchmaking, sure, but good luck finding fellow opponents or matches without noticeable lag. Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late(st) makes for a tricky recommendation in the modern fighting game climate. It's a criminally overlooked, and surprisingly approachable fighting game series though I find myself quite conflicted in how underwhelming Exe: Late(st) is as a re-release. The story mode is downright awful and whatever potential for longevity it has is sapped away by a weak online interface and an even worse release date timing thanks to the recent Dragon Ball FighterZ. What is left are a few neat additions such as the four entertaining new characters and the smart training mode options, as well as the solace in that would-be fans no longer have to go out of their to import the title, but little else. Pros + Rock solid fighting game fundamentals that is surprisingly approachable in terms of controls + The four new playable characters are diverse and entertaining + Nice tutorials and training mode options Cons - Utterly boring visual novel story mode - Wonky versus netcode with the online presence of a ghost town -Interface and UI is clumsy Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late(st) is stuck in the unfortunate position of being a really good fighter that is held back by an underwhelming overall re-release and terrible release date timing. But for those willing to accept Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late(st) as the diamond in the rough that it is should still have fun playing it. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  6. UPDATE: According to Polygon, Sony provided a comment clarifying that only two PS4 games will be offered for free in 2019. It was only a matter of time before this happened but today PlayStation finally announced that it will be dropping PlayStation 3 and PS Vita titles from the monthly PlayStation Plus free game lineup in 2019. Both platforms have continually seen an audience decline ever since the PlayStation 4 launched and neither can be widely bought at retail stores now either. However, the good news is that you'll still retain the ability to download any PS3 and PS Vita games that you've already gotten for free through the PlayStation Plus service. With PlayStation Plus pivoting to PS4-only games, the real question is whether the selection will expand from the current two free games to encompass the other four empty game slots that will be left vacant by PS3 and PS Vita or whether we'll only get two games from 2019 on. The official post on The PlayStation Blog doesn't give any indication, so we'll have to wait and see, though it's a good bet Sony doesn't feel the need to offer so many free games now since the PS4 is (and has been) selling like hotcakes for some time. Source: PlayStation Blog What are your thoughts on PlayStation dropping PS3 and PS Vita games from PlayStation Plus?
  7. It's only February but this year is already off to a great start with game releases, and it's only going to get better this week as one of gaming's most classic RPGs gets a makeover -- Secret of Mana, that is. What is it? Originally releasing on Nintendo's SNES in 1993, Secret of Mana is the second entry in the Mana series (known as Seiken Densetsu in Japan), and the first to reach widespread acclaim. As an Action RPG, Secret of Mana was a sharp contrast to Square's more popular series, Final Fantasy. Instead of selecting and choosing your options in battle and then watching it play out, all of the action in Secret of Mana unfolded in real-time. Enemies bounced around the screen and lunged at your character while he (or she, depending on who your lead character was) brandished his sword to defend himself or dodge the attack. It was an approach not unlike the Legend of Zelda series, and one that was less common for its time. Why is it so beloved? It hits on almost everything any gamer wants out of a game. The visuals are bright, colorful, and appealing, and its sprite work and character design are among Square's most memorable from that time period. Its story -- about a boy who is unwittingly chosen to bear a legendary sword and then gets caught up in a war that decides the fate of the world -- has its share of great moments and twists and is generally evocative of the classic hero's journey. The streamlined battle system -- which made use of a circle of options that surrounded the character to select different options -- was fast-paced, fun, and intuitive. Last but not least, its soundtrack -- composed by Hiroki Kikuta -- is considered one of the best musical game scores to date. Also of note -- in the original SNES version, Secret of Mana was also one of the first big RPGs to let your friends play cooperatively with you. Traditionally, two players could control two of the game's characters as you played through the game, but if you had a special Multitap connected, up to three players could play together -- a revolutionary feat for an RPG at the time. What's new in this remake? Much like the recently released Shadow of the Colossus remake, Secret of Mana's visuals has been entirely redone, bringing the game into HD for the first time and using the same 3D engine that 2016's Adventures of Mana was built on. Also new to this version are added voice-overs, a newly arranged musical score, and upgraded gameplay improvements such as new Interlude Episodes that showcase new scenes between Randi and the various characters he encounters throughout the game. Where can I buy it, and what platforms is it coming out on? The game will be out digitally on PlayStation Network for both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, as well as on Steam for PC users on February 15 for $39.99. However, if you want to buy a physical copy, boxed versions are being sold exclusively at Gamestop for all three platforms. Also, if you pre-order the game in either format (digitally or physically), you'll get access to special costumes for all three characters. Are you interested in buying the Secret of Mana remake?
  8. barrel

    Review: Demon Gaze II

    Developer: Experience Inc. Publisher: Nis America Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: November 14, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game Most handheld role-playing game fans are likely more than aware of the critically acclaimed Etrian Odyssey series on 3DS. What is less common knowledge is that the not-quite-as-popular PlayStation Vita handheld has also had an abundant selection of dungeon crawling RPGs as well. Granted, the gem offerings within Vita's handheld circle are far more inconsistent in comparison. One of the standouts of Vita's batch of dungeon crawlers was the original DRPG Demon Gaze. Though it was certainly not flawless, it was an incredibly colorful title that also made several strides to its game design that caused it to be easier to approach than most in the subgenre. Three years later, players are now able to play its direct sequel, which is plainly named Demon Gaze II. Does the exuberant successor have the heart that could charm a demon or should one avoid its memorizing gaze the second time around? After one quick glance, it becomes rather clear that Demon Gaze II doubles down on its anime influence. With the loose narrative setup predicated upon revolutionists trying to save the region (Asteria) through the power of music, it will likely feel like you have seen this story in some anime before. Chances are you probably have. Couple it further with the JRPG amnesiac lead trope and the main villain Magnastar, whom may-or-may-not-be misunderstood, will only solidify this strong sense of narrative Deja Vu. However predictable it may be, Demon Gaze II is presented with more than enough personality for its world and characters to have it be entertaining enough to see it through to the end (post-game aside). Well... so long as the far and away worst character from the original game (Lezerem) -- who, unfortunately, makes a return in II -- is not on-screen. In several ways, Demon Gaze II tries to be more approachable than its predecessor -- or even most DRPGs, to be honest. Most applications to this mindset tend to be more subtle instead of simply being easier/having faster turn-based battles than most in the subgenre on the default difficulty. One of the quickest changes that returning players will notice is that they will no longer bleed financially every time they return to the main inn like various Etrian Odyssey games (in which the original Demon Gaze poked fun at by having a financially shrewd innkeeper) and upon returning from a dungeon the party's full recovery is free with no real strings attached. Another welcome change, specifically for lower difficulties, is the incredibly generous option outright retry battles after a party wipe. Instead of simply restarting the battle the player returns with full health/MP, star gauge (which is needed for certain mechanics like fusion or party-wide buffs) and, most surprising of all, all inflicted damage upon foes and bosses too. Demon Gaze II certainly takes initiative to be all the more inviting to newcomers to DRPGs. For hardcore players, they should be plenty fine with the higher difficulty options available. There's also an entire extra story mode after the main campaign which dramatically raises the level cap(/challenge) and it even forces players to play on the second highest difficulty in order to see it through. Unlike the main story, which is mostly self-contained, the post-game narrative is also full of direct callbacks to the first Demon Gaze and can easily double the standard playtime too, which is a neat addition. At the same time, Demon Gaze II is willing to sever some tried and true approaches to traditional dungeon crawlers as well. Subgenre staples like being able to create customized party members are nearly entirely absent in Demon Gaze II, for example. Players are only really able to alter the look of the main male protagonist and choose between one of three "alignments" (which apparently slightly modifies the tone of inconsequential dialogue choice options in the story and learned abilities at specific leveling thresholds). Otherwise, all (demon) party members that join the player, either via the main story or optional sidequests, are preset in their appearance and abilities with the exception being to choose where to allocate stats per level up or their occasional "Liberty Skill". It may be tough for subgenre purists to adjust to but the preset allies do tend to be far more well-rounded in the vital skills that they acquire naturally than what was formerly separate classes were in the original. The one huge shame, however, is that most party members start at level 1 regardless of how late they may be unlocked (with only three exceptions). Like the original Demon Gaze, though, gear tends to matter far more than regular base stats, so someone that starts at level one is not entirely hopeless when attempting to catch up. That and some late-game party members are really strong. Speaking of which, there are some other new mechanics in Demon Gaze II, though they are hit & miss in their execution. In battle, the main character will eventually obtain the ability to fuse with another party member. While this is fairly cool conceptually, I did not once find it that practical to actually use because you essentially sacrifice the use of a party member for several turns in the exchange of quick burst damage. The other mechanic that isn't fully fleshed out is the ability to perform "maintenance" on demons... which basically involves going on dates and doing a touchscreen mini-game. Thankfully, the mini-game itself is not nearly as tasteless as some other Vita games (looking at you, Monster Monpiece), but it is clear that this mechanic is tacked on purely because most of your potential party members are cutesy anime ladies (even if it has more tangible rewards like unlocking strong passive abilities, direct stat increases, and giving some spotlight to otherwise entirely overlooked characters in the main narrative.) Aside from those new additions, Demon Gaze II should otherwise feel fairly familiar and not always for the better. Developer Experience Inc. has a bad habit of directly lifting certain dungeon themes from their prior games (including non-sequels like Stranger of Sword City) and this issue surfaces yet again in Demon Gaze II. On the positive side, players are rarely in any one dungeon for all that long so the fatigue in certain mechanics or themes does not last too long *shakes fist at the underwater dungeons that do not allow players to use magic*. The other returning mixed key feature is the loot system that is incredibly reliant on RNG. Because, like the original, pretty much all useful gear is obtained via specific summoning circles in dungeons and hoping to get what you want upon defeating the enemies that appear. Last, but certainly not least, to mention is the presentation, which remains incredibly vibrant regardless of its admittedly low production values. All the characters have really distinct 2D portraits and they have made little touches like how the enemies in combat now move so battles feel more lively. The bigger step up seems to be the soundtrack, which has more musical variety than the first title. Going from catchy swing-like themes in the main tavern to some unobtrusive vocaloid accompaniment to other tracks really works well with the game's hyper personality. That said, the clear standout of the entire soundtrack is without a doubt the piece "Starllica", which would feel right at in some sort of Ar Tonelico game (even if it lacks the made-up language of hymnos.). Demon Gaze II is ultimately a better game than its predecessor. It takes the initiative to become more approachable for newcomers, has nearly twice as much content than the original for serious players, and introduces plenty of subtle refinements and mechanics. Even the storytelling itself, while still really predictable, has seen an improvement too. What Demon Gaze II truly lacks is much to make it feel genuinely fresh and can come across as a bit too familiar at times for players of the original. If one is fine with the prospect of more of the same, but generally better, then Demon Gaze II is better viewed as an extremely solid DRPG offering on Vita (and one of the very few on PS4) instead of the revolution the narrative tries to embark on. Pros + Energetic presentation with an equally eccentric cast of characters + Makes quite a few strides to be more approachable, such as very generous retry options on lower difficulties + Addictive dungeon crawling gameplay and speedy combat + Nearly twice as much content as the original including a meaty post-game story mode Cons - Most character customization in combat has been replaced with preset party members. Which becomes a bit more glaring as almost all of them start at level one... - Experience Inc. is still recycling dungeon themes from their previous games - Incredibly reliant on RNG for good gear Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good While it is unlikely to capture the minds of those who did not enjoy its predecessor Demon Gaze II is a proud follow-up as well as a worthy DRPG performance Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  9. 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.
  10. barrel

    Review: Tokyo Xanadu

    Developer: Falcom Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PS Vita Release Date: June 30, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game Falcom has gradually been winning over the hearts and minds of Japanese role-playing game fans overseas these past several years. With the Ys series, they have hit a sweet spot with action-RPG fans due to the purity of their fast-paced and fun combat design (their sweet soundtracks helped too). On the other end there are The Legend of Heroes titles where, despite having quite the troubled localization history, they have enticed fans with their incredibly meticulous world-building and character development with such releases as the fashionably late Trails in the Sky: The Third earlier this year. Now arrives a rather loose spiritual successor to one of Falcom's oldest dungeon crawler series, Xanadu, under the newest entry called Tokyo Xanadu. With a far more modern setting and gaming influences does Falcom continue to hit their stride or does Tokyo Xanadu just feel out of touch at what they do best? Right out of the gate Tokyo Xanadu feels dense with anime tropes and a modern Tokyo flair. So you'll see no shortage of anime cliches like idols, a super hacker, a bancho-esque delinquent, and plenty of high school life. This can totally be fine if well-written enough, or they subvert such tropes in clever ways, as titles like Persona 3 and 4 have certainly proven. And, well, Tokyo Xanadu kind of does that and... kind of does not; it's weird. It also wears the influence of recent Persona games on its sleeve too, which is all the more strange after having played Persona 5 released just this year. The basic premise is something along the lines that the lead character, Kou, stumbles upon a rather odd scene returning home after working late at his part-time job. Just before he attempts to play the hero in order to stop thugs from harassing a female classmate of his, a dangerous portal to another world randomly opens up and sucks everyone into it. Turns out, "Eclipse" portals are a common occurrence outside of the public eye that an underground organization, known as "Nemesis" (that his female classmate, Hiragi, happens to be a part of too) has to deal with to protect normal people from otherworldly monsters. So, after the Eclipse phenomenon impedes upon Kou's personal life a few too many times, he decides to help Hiragi with dealing with the eclipse to protect his friends and family. Oh, and Kou can manifest a magical weapon in the other realm too, because anime. As a game, Tokyo Xanadu is a hodgepodge of a lot of ideas, but most of all it is a dungeon-crawler action-RPG with social elements. It's like a mix of both Falcom's recent Ys and The Legend of Heroes releases but in a lite sort of way. It doesn't exactly satisfy when it comes to either their strengths, but it does evoke the feeling of both. Throughout the story, as well as optionally, players will come across different Eclipse dungeons. In these moments one will gain control of three different party members to play as and can switch between them on the fly in an action-RPG fashion. Tokyo Xanadu attempts to justify this through the use of strengths/weaknesses affinities, very much like recent Ys, but the normal difficulty is not skewed in a way that makes it feel all that necessary. I only really tried to exploit enemy weaknesses to get higher completion ratings and what I believe to be increased drop rates on items, but the practicality of it rarely surfaces for anything other than a player-imposed sense of changing it up. Which, well, the game doesn't do all that well to justify. The dungeon and enemy design are not particularly varied outside of bosses, but combat is entertaining enough despite not quite getting as frantic as Ys does. The rest of the experience feels more closely linked to like Trails of Cold Steel, which, by further extension, were influenced by Persona 3 & 4. So plenty of optional friendship events to uncover both in and out of school, sidequests and side activities to undertake from skateboarding to arcade games, and main character traits to increase based on specific actions (though, the stats feel pretty superfluous in this title beyond fairly minor bonuses). These tried and true systems work fine, and in pure presentation improves upon Trails of Cold Steel a noticeable amount, but the underlying story and cast of characters it's centered around makes these systems come off more like fluff as neither are all that compelling. As stated before, the anime influence is incredibly strong in Tokyo Xanadu (outside of obvious character art). And not exactly in a good way. It feels very much like a weekly show with the opening song to start it off, and a new companion by the end to conclude most chapter arcs. Plus, it is pretty aggressive with anime tropes like going pro hacker to a "bancho" like figure so shortly after. While none of the characters are particularly obnoxious (except maybe the "pro hacker" guy.), they are also not all that interesting either and barely subvert the apparent anime character trope they are based on, if at all. This stands out even more because there are fairly long stretches of storytelling where you will do little more than move to different parts of town to trigger new cutscenes. It's weird because Tokyo Xanadu is quite well made from a production standpoint. They clearly made it with the Vita hardware in mind and it plays and runs smooth both in and out of combat for the most part. The soundtrack is fairly catchy, and it is respectable how much (and how well) Japanese-only voice acting is prevalent throughout. Little details like how it is presented fairly stylishly as well are cool too (not Persona 5 stylish, but no other game really is). Facets like the NiAR phone interface make it easy to keep track of storytelling to sidequests to in-game UI and conveys a lot of information quite well. Despite all of this, however, Tokyo Xanadu feels somewhat hollow and it hugely boils down to its storytelling and cast it revolves around. The strangest part of Tokyo Xanadu is that it is a fairly well-made game but rarely excels at any one thing (except maybe music). Its storytelling straddles the line of inoffensive and also dense with anime tropes. Combat is entertaining but is not varied or challenging enough because of the dungeons and enemies themselves. I find myself thinking that I would sooner recommend the likes Falcom's other properties that one can also play on the Vita instead. Like, if one wanted a fun action-RPG I would suggest Ys Seven on PSP. If one wanted to see very intricate world-building, smart writing, and good character development I would suggest Trails in the Sky on PSP or Trails of Cold Steel on Vita. Tokyo Xanadu is a solid title but it feels like a half step in both gameplay and storytelling when Falcom has clearly proven better when they are focused on either one. Pros + Has several cool gameplay ideas, if shamelessly similar to Persona, that mixes school sim and dungeon crawling + Catchy soundtrack + Slick presentation and gameplay interface Cons - Neither the storytelling or characters are compelling enough for how much of a focus is placed upon them - A few too many anime tropes with the inherent setting can get annoying (idols, super hackers, and banchos-- oh my) - Dungeon design gets repetitive Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent Tokyo Xanadu is Falcom's attempt of blending two of their best franchises (Ys and The Legend of Heroes), but rather than feeling like a perfect combination of both it comes off as a half-hearted attempt at their individual strengths Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  11. Developer: Spike Chunsoft Publisher: NIS America Platform: Vita Release Date: September 1, 2015 ESRB: M for Mature Even with the Vita's ever-dwindling library of exclusive games, the Danganronpa series managed to catch many Vita owners by surprise last year. We not only got its first visual novel/adventure entry with Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc but also its sequel Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair in that same year. Eccentric characters, bizarre murder mysteries, a mix of both very dark and hilarious writing, and an intriguing narrative underpinning kept many fans gripped through both releases despite their quick successions. The newest entry, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, remains faithful to the series's spirit regardless of its spin-off label and different gameplay formula and hopes to make that loud and clear. Talking about Danganronpa: Ultra Despair Girls at all is a touchy subject for anyone who had not played the previous to visual novels to completion. It is a wholesale spoiler on Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc with its premise alone and can ruin several story revelations in its sequel as well. Still, I'll try to not cause despair and hope to avoid many easy spoiler trappings, even if some may not be possible to avoid as it is a title that directly takes place between both games. Another Episode starts off with the girl named Komaru being imprisoned for reasons that even she doesn't know. After almost being acclimated to her imprisoned life she finally gets a chance escape but... it comes at the cost of a Monokuma trying to lacerate her to death in the process. A chance encounter with a mysterious organization on her way out does grant her a hacking gun/megaphone to fight Monokumas but otherwise she is told to fend for herself in the meantime. But, even with a means to protect herself, she is captured by masterminds behind the Monokumas. These masterminds, or rather children that call themselves "The Warriors of Hope," force her to participate in a "Demon Hunt" game. This "Demon hunt," however, means the genocidal extermination of all who classify as adults, or "Demons," by the Warriors of Hope whom intend to create a paradise solely for children. At first glance the title gives off the feeling of a survival horror game — limited ammunition, shambling enemies, and features a very dark introduction sequence. But, despite its consistently grim tone, it starts to show off more and more of the series' signature personality and feels more like an action game that happens to have suspense elements as well. Maybe not too unlike recent Resident Evil games in that regard... Regardless, the series' weakest point has pretty much always been the disjointed gameplay, so to see a radical shift in styles actually works to Another Episode's benefit. Komaru's megaphone-like weapon has a variety of uses that are progressively unlocked over time. Some of the uses have rather typical gun-like implementations but the more creative ammunition brings a puzzle-like mindset to encounters and, well, actual puzzles. For instance, she can use dancing bullets on alarm-like foes to cause other enemies to literally follow their beat or using knockback shots to send Ball-Monokuma rolling into their friends. Battles are quite bizarre but can be fun as well. The game's biggest problem mainly has to do with balance. It is an incredibly easy game to the point that it honestly ruins some of its atmosphere in the process. Komaru's playable friend trivializes battles even more by outright by being invincible for a short period of time and can be activated instantly, like before you anticipate taking damage. The camera is an issue too by being too zoomed in, but ironically, the lack of difficulty makes it less prevalent. This carries over to pacing too like with some backtracking. Not only that but the puzzle rooms, which generally encourage the use of abilities in different ways, wear out their welcome by simply having too many of them, especially by the end which breaks up the narrative's pace unnecessarily. Still, the main draw of Another Episode is its narrative. Pacing issues aside, it is very engaging for fans of the series. The storytelling is unapologetic with callbacks to the visual novels, many of which are quite spoilery, and does seem to lay a fair amount of groundwork for a would-be Danganronpa 3 despite being a spin-off. There are not quite as many twists or humorous asides as those games, but Another Episode does savor its twisted atmosphere much more and it works. It's deceptively darker than even the visual novels with the many gruesome situations and implications that occur throughout the narrative, making the latter half in particular quite intriguing. The title oozes with style as well. It somehow blends the 2D Danganronpa's signature colorful quirkiness with its oppressive, dreary 3D setting. The 3D animations may not be consistent, like certain pre-rendered cutscenes, but the art direction masks many of production shortcomings and the animated cutscenes are well-done too. Certain visual flourishes like Komaru's friend's killing spree animations or... the vivid dreams she has are amusing too. The soundtrack meshes well with its presentation even more going from jazzy tunes to unsettling jubilant jingles. Though, like Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair there is a fair amount of recycled music tracks from the first game, unfortunately. In a lot of ways Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a spin-off title that many fans probably did not know they wanted. Despite however much it does different gameplay-wise from its predecessors, it ends up being a worthwhile diversion, especially with its narrative implications for a would-be Danganronpa 3. It is not without its share of gameplay quirks, but it is ultimately carried by its intriguing, dark storytelling and rich amount of personality. Pros + Very dark but fascinating storytelling + Creative implementations of its gameplay mechanics + Dense with both audio/visual personality Cons - Awkward camera that is too zoomed in - Some pacing issues with backtracking and a few too many puzzle rooms - Complete cakewalk difficulty Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good With an intriguing narrative and distinct gameplay style Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls ends up being a success even with its many blemishes. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  12. Jason Clement

    Review: SteamWorld Dig 2

    Developer: Image & Form International AB Publisher: Image & Form International AB Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PS Vita Release Date: September 21, 2017 (Switch), September 22 (PC), September 26 (PS4, PS Vita) ESRB: E for Everyone Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game Four years ago, SteamWorld Dig propelled Swedish studio Image & Form to indie game developer stardom. Given its breakout success, it only makes sense that they'd return to it at some point. In many ways, however, making a direct sequel was just about as risky as it was for them to pivot to a completely different genre with their last game, SteamWorld Heist. Why? Offhand, it's difficult to imagine where they could go further with the Dig formula, and a sequel could easily have been too much of the same with not enough new content added to justify it, and thus seem unnecessary in the end. The good news? This isn't at all the case with SteamWorld Dig 2, and -- against all odds -- Image & Form have created a fantastic sequel that improves on its predecessor in just about every way, delivering something truly memorable as a result. This time around, you play as Dorothy (aka 'Dot') -- the young, female steambot who was an NPC merchant in town in the original title -- who is on a journey to find Rusty, the original protagonist, whom has vanished following the events at the end of the first game. Dot's travels take her to a mining town called El Machino, where rumors report that a steambot wearing a red scarf has descended into the mines there. Also along for the ride this time around is new supporting character "Fen" -- a digital sprite with snarky, condescending humor who serves as a sort of guide for Dot. At the start, SteamWorld Dig 2 does feel an awful lot like the first game, especially for the first third or so. The main gameplay cycle -- digging down into the mine, recovering ore, selling it in town, and upgrading your character -- remains intact here and forms the core of the design. However, the game manages to retread similar ground while greatly improving the formula and overall experience at the same time. For example, whereas Dig 1 is entirely a vertical descent, Dig 2 features a certain amount of horizontal exploration as well. As a result, the in-game world is considerably larger and more fleshed out than the one found in the first game. Dig 2 also features a slew of nifty new enhancements Dot will acquire (ala Metroid) as she progresses that help expand her means of exploration. Some enhancements may be familiar, but others are actually different altogether from what Rusty received in the last game, which is something I appreciated. In addition to upgrades you can buy for the different items and modifications you acquire throughout the game, SteamWorld Dig 2 introduces 'Cog Mods,' in which you use various cogs you acquire to unlock new augmentations and skills that make things more efficient for Dot. For example, one mod causes enemies to be pushed back on impact when using the pickaxe to attack them while another might reduce any fall damage you receive. It's a neat way of letting players further customize their own game experience. Also making a return from the first game are individual caverns that you'll come across; each of which have a certain theme to them, where they either reward you by completing a challenging platforming exercise, or puzzles that must be solved using platforming elements. And coming off of the last game, Image & Form have really upped their game design skills with these, as they offer some of the most challenging yet rewarding gameplay in the game. Many of the caverns' designs toward the end are absolutely brilliant. Not to be outdone, it must be said that the story in SteamWorld Dig 2 is leaps and bounds above the original's. While the overall narrative of Dot searching for Rusty stays intact, there are a number of twists and turns that fans of the first game will especially appreciate. There were moments I certainly didn't see coming, and a number that really stand out due to how off the beaten path the story goes at certain points. Even the relationship between Dot and Fen evolves over the course of the game and becomes one of its best highlights toward the end. Without spoiling anything, the story is utterly fantastic and plays nearly as big a reason as the gameplay as to why I'm so ecstatic about the game. Finally, both the visuals and soundtrack are outstanding. Image & Form solidified the colorful, cartoonish look they were going for with their last game, SteamWorld Heist, and it carries over nicely into Dig 2. The graphics look especially vibrant on the Switch's handheld screen; if you own one, that's the way to play it. El Huervo of Hotline Miami 2 fame was tapped for the music this time around, and -- no hyperbole -- this is absolutely one of my favorite soundtracks of the year. Part of what makes it succeed is a lesser reliance on the typical "Steampunk/Western-sounding themes" and more of a focus on electronic and general video gamey-sounding beats. It's extremely catchy stuff, and while there a few different musical styles represented, they all work well together. There's so much more I want to say about the game yet can't because of spoilers, but suffice it to say that SteamWorld Dig 2 blew my expectations out of the water with this sequel. Dot's quest to discover what happened to Rusty leads to some fascinating and unexpected moments throughout the game, and you can really feel that the larger SteamWorld lore is being added to in significant ways with this title. Tie that all up with some of the most compelling Metroidvania gameplay, great puzzles, colorful visuals, and a serious contender for soundtrack of the year, and you've got yourself one amazing game. Go play SteamWorld Dig 2. You won't regret it. Pros + Fantastic story that will keep you guessing + Large game world to explore with plenty of secrets + Level design is greatly improved and offers a good amount of challenge + Visuals are attractive and vibrant; production value is through the roof + One of the best soundtracks of the year Cons - No placeable items (such as ladders and torches) such as the first game had. This is not a big deal in any way, but I did enjoy that option. Overall Score: 9.5 (out of 10) Fantastic Once again, Image & Form has created something so incredibly polished and special that you could make the argument it's their best game to date. They've upped the ante in almost every way with SteamWorld Dig 2, from expanding the game world, adding great new features, and tying it all up with an excellent story. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a downloadable code provided by the publisher
  13. 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.
  14. Developer: Falcom Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: September 12, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game For as many adventures as the crimson-haired Adol Christian has been on it is becoming less obvious as to what exactly constitutes as an Ys game nowadays. Classic prior entries such as Ys: Oath of Felgnana or Ys Seven are drastically different in their design philosophies, for example. The only safe assumption one can make about the Ys series nowadays is a fun action-RPG combat system and awesome music. In this simple regard, Falcom's newest entry in the flagship series -- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana -- very much succeeds on that front, despite continuing to isolate itself from many of Adol's former adventures. In pure setup, Lacrimosa of Dana is absolutely faithful to Ys tradition. Adol starts his adventure on a boat... only for it to capsize and leave him stranded on the supposedly cursed location of Seiren Island. Where it quickly deviates, however, is that Adol is not alone during his adventurer this time around. I'm not just referring to eventual playable companions either, like Ys Seven or Ys Memories of Celceta have done years ago, but rescuing fellow shipwreck survivors quickly becomes the focal point of Adol's new debut. After a fairly slow introduction, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana gets into a groove of exploring the mysterious island and creating a safe haven for other survivors to gather the means to eventually escape the island. The more you explore, the more survivors you will likely uncover and eventually -- as a byproduct of doing both -- unlock more gameplay features in the central hub. For example, uncovering a blacksmith to help strengthen your weapons or a tailor to give your new accessories and outfits. At certain points players even have to defend the town from waves of monsters. It is an intriguing ebb and flow when it is done right that is not quite like any Ys title before it. Of course, many recent Ys stables are present and accounted for. The combat system is fast-paced and fun while retaining the three type of attack affinities of Slash, Strike, and Pierce to encourage swapping between allies on the fly in order to exploit enemy weaknesses (as introduced in Ys Seven). What is disappointing, however, is that combat feels considerably more easy, and generally less skillful, than most traditional Ys titles even on higher difficulties. While some bosses have neat tricks up their sleeve the less health they have you can pretty easily brute force most fights through the game's rather generous approach to healing items. It almost feels like overkill to have access to tools like a Bayonetta-styled dodge or a ''Flash Guard' that completely medicates damage, though I am sure it can be argued for the previous two games as well. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana clearly puts a bigger emphasis on exploration, town-building, and storytelling while combat is a means to an end while doing so. Very much like Ys VIII: Memories of Celceta there's a slight Metroid-ish approach to exploration as you gain new traversal skills, like double-jumping or the ability climbs vines, or by removing obstacles in environment based on the more survivors you find. It is neat, though; after a certain amount of time exploration feels more like an act of compulsion than genuine wonderment, like one would experience in likes of something like Xenoblade Chronicles, because of how little variability there actually is to the terrain. This is further devalued by stopgap moments like excessive storytelling scenes as well. Strangely enough, there is abnormally large emphasis on storytelling and it is not, well... particularly good. I am not sure why Falcom continues to put in long-winded stories into Ys games that also manage to be so totally underwhelming and forgettable as well. It is made worse by much of the awkward script where phrases like 'Evolution' and 'Energy' are treated like high level concepts among the cast. No, I get it: Dinosaurs. No, I get it: the ancient civilization had special powers. We don't need to be talking about this for half an hour. Less would certainly be more in the case of the storytelling for Lacrimosa of Dana, although ironically the PS4 version apparently adds even more cutscenes to it... As one may guess, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is not really a cohesive game. I'm not necessarily talking about the presentation either, which runs well enough on the portable despite noticeable slowdown. I simply mean there are a lot of concepts, ideas, and gameplay systems but none of them really excel enough to detract from what should be the series that is at its best when it has focused and fast-paced action-RPG gameplay. There is simply random feature creep for just the sake of it. Sure, you can do fetch-quests, catch fish, or keep hoping the main story will get better over time but... why? Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana explores a new direction for Falcom's beloved series. With its satisfying combat, and rewarding sense of exploration, it could have easily succeeded just on that front. And yet, it is bogged down at its attempt to add more with consistently dull storytelling that remains way too long-winded throughout as well other not fully-fleshed gameplay systems, like a certain town-defense mini game, that surface many unnecessary stopgaps to the game's sense of a exploratory flow. It is certainly fun to play but one can not help but feel it would have been better off if its goals of exploring Seiren Island were simply more focused. Pros + Fun, zippy combat system + Town-building and exploration aspects are neat + Amazing soundtrack Cons - Storytelling and cast are quite dull - Not a whole lot of variation in the actual environments - General difficulty feels more tuned for attrition than actual skill - Stopgap pacing that does not allow many of the gamelay systems to really shine on their own Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana plays with the series formula in a lot of ways and while it is not entirely successful in its execution, nor pacing, it still manages to be a fun action-RPG Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  15. Image & Form has announced that its upcoming SteamWorld Dig 2 will not only release on Switch later this month, but also on the PS4 and PS Vita as well. While the game will release on Switch first, the latter versions will launch nearly a week later. As for what you can expect from this sequel, Image & Form laid out five new things on the PlayStation Blog. Namely, a new protagonist in the form of Dorothy McCrank, a supporting NPC from the original game; new companions, of which Image & Form mentioned you won't be digging on your own this time; new upgrades, such as the jet engine and hookshot; a big sprawling world to explore (Image & Form says it's much bigger than the first game; expect to spend 10+ hours exploring it); and a new musical composer in the form of El Huervo (of Hotline Miami Fame). You'll be able to experience it for yourself when SteamWorld Dig 2 releases on Switch on September 21, and then on PlayStation 4 and PS Vita on September 26 (in North America) and September 27 (in Europe). All versions will run $19.99. Source: Press Release, PlayStation Blog Are you excited to play SteamWorld Dig 2?
  16. Developer: Kadokawa Games Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS Vita/PS4 Release Date: June 20, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game It's difficult to approach strategy role-playing games from Kadokawa Games without some degree of trepidation. One only needs to point to the incredibly unforgiving SRPG (strategy role-playing game) mess that was 2014's Natural Doctrine to reinforce that stance. But, in all fairness, it has been several years since that title and hopefully they learned a lot in between that and their newest foray in the subgenre, God Wars: Future Past. The main premise is one of that is heavily wrapped up in Japanese mythology; those of Shinto beliefs, in particular. A priestess named Kaguya escapes her confinement with the help of her childhood friend and goes on a big journey in search of her mother. From then on, Kaguya gets caught up in far more than she originally anticipated in a world so deeply rooted in the workings of various gods, those benevolent and those very much not. It's a pleasant shift in setting than the all too common medieval styled fantasy in subgenre (which I like, don't get me wrong) and is thankfully easier to parse than the overwhelmingly Japanese PS Vita title Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines. In a sharp sort of contrast to its storytelling, God Wars: Future Past does not have any unnecessary frills to the actual gameplay. It also boasts a pretty involved job system that is genuinely similar to Final Fantasy Tactics (and not in the blanket term way it is often used simply because it's grid-based), which I feel I haven't seen in earnest since the likes of Wild Arms: XF. There are tons of different jobs, skills, and passive skills to equipped (and if you are extra granular stat growths based on jobs to take into account as well) so there is plenty of incentive to mix and match abilities to be all that more effective in combat. It is easier to do so than most in the genre too since you can actually level two different jobs at once on a character because of how progression works, which is rather neat. As solid as the core mechanics are, God Wars: Future Past is noticeably rough in how it is presented. Vita version owners in particular will notice this quicker than most because of how abnormally long load times are for most aspects. For instance, it takes nearly a minute to simply hit the title screen of the game, and getting to the menu to change out equipment and skills takes over ten seconds. I need not say much more than how that really adds up over time considering just how much time one may find themselves buried in menus simply allocating new skills towards allies after each fight. What makes technical grievances more annoying is that they apply to combat as well. To be frank, the in-game 3D visuals are rather ugly. But the bigger annoyance is that the frame rate is rather iffy on top of weird pauses before a combat skills trigger too. The PS4 version is noticeably better based on what I have seen, but it got to a point where I turned off combat animations altogether just so there would be some semblance of smoothness while playing (plus, most attack animations are the same). It really feels like they only went for passable and avoided the means of an actual good port on the Vita hardware at the end of the day. And that's a real shame since it would otherwise be such a great fit for the game with the pick up and play nature. Underneath it all is the heart of a good strategy-RPG title, and one that grew on me over time despite making bad impressions early on. As stated before, it is a mechanically sound tactical game that only really gets better later on as more classes and skills open up. It does not really attempt to move the needle for the SRPG subgenre, as it borrows Tactics Ogre's approach to top-down grid-based gameplay and even MP management where ones start at none and gain more MP per turn. The more distinct mechanics are two gauges to keep track of such as Impurity and Secret Skill Gauge. Impurity is basically what is aggro in MMOs and it is quite practical to have a sturdy character built upon gaining impurity so your more fragile fighters are free from enemy ire. While the Secret Skill Gauge is accumulated over time and both unique character skills, and generally strong advanced classes, get access to that can change the tide of battle if used effectively. Still, there is more than meets the eye. Or rather, there is more to see outside of combat. The 2D character portraits are often pleasant to look at, and occasionally the story does cool comic panel-like transitions to progress the narrative. The less said about the English dub, the better, though the soundtrack does help convey the fun take on Shinto mythology with decidedly old-fashioned use of Japanese instrumentation too (though, it does have frequent audio repetition problems for how many battles use the same themes). God Wars: Future Past faces the dilemma of being a decent game but a bad port on the PS Vita hardware. Obtrusive load times and a rough 3D in-game presentation mar what would totally be a solid, if hardly amazing, tactical-RPG. For those hankering for strategy-RPGs more akin to Tactics Ogre than the popular likes of Fire Emblem, God Wars: Future Past does certainly scratch that rather specific subgenre itch. There is a rich job system, and neat take on Japanese folklore, that helps its case too. But really, unless you are like myself who is willing to suffer many technical inconveniences purely for portability, God Wars: Future Past is only worth one's time on PS4 in which it runs noticeably better on, and even that may be debatable. Pros + Very rich job system that allows quite a bit of freedom in how you mold your party and their abilities + Pleasant character portraits and setting Cons - Jarring load times on vitas - Hideous 3D visuals - Can feel like a mess of menus at times Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average God Wars: Future Past is sincere in its intentions of delivering a solid, if not rough around the edges, take on the strategy-RPG subgenre. And for the most part it does, but the rather poor port on PS Vita really makes it hard to recommend on that system in particular Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  17. barrel

    Review: Valkyria Revolution

    Developer: Media Vision Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PS Vita Release Date: June 27, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS4 version of the game Few games from the last console generation command such fervent respect from me than that of the original Valkyria Chronicles on PS3 back in 2008. It was so beautifully executed for such a fresh take on the strategy-RPG subgenre and featurded highly-rewarding yet challenging third-person tactical gameplay, a triumphant Hitoshi Sakamoto soundtrack -- all this and more while bannered in an absolutely gorgeous visual style that gave Valkyria Chronicles a real storybook-like flair that caused it to be lauded for years to come. And... no one bought it at the time. It was after this that the series gradually descended in ranks to approach a different audience. To cater to specific Japanese gaming tastes they made two handheld sequels to the original Valkyria Chronicles. Both were good games in their own right, despite the mixed reception that II“s high school setting brought in particular, but clearly made compromises in scope for the weaker PSP hardware. To rekindle the fires of war in what is easily the most divisive Valkyria release to date comes the entirely new action-RPG spin-off: Valkyria Revolution. With a negative Japanese reception, and it forgoing most of the series' signature SRPG elements, it begins to bring into question what merits that Valkyria Revolution has to rally existing veterans of the series. What is likely to feel like a first traitorous act to the beloved franchise is simply in how Valkyria Revolution looks. Characters move stiffly and have doll-like facial expressions, environments are lifeless as well as frequently recycled, and at times the title has the gall to not be animated at all during certain story scenes using only still frames and voice acting to propel it. There are moments where it does try to utilize visual filtering tricks to evoke the storybook-esque effect of the prior titles, but hardly comes close to parity with the original. Really, just about everything about its look feels a step back from its nearly decade old influential forefather, which only adds insult to injury. It may be clear the game was largely hamstrung by the PS Vita hardware but it is still a real shame that Valkyria Revolution has failed to really imitate Valkyria Chronicles' visual charm on even the most basic level. Valkyria Revolution tries to gain its bearing by other means, however. And as a spin-off it does technically have leeway in doing so despite many creative liberties it tries to take in its departure. First and foremost Valkyria Revolution is a four-person squad-based action-RPG. There are certainly elements of the previous strategy titles like the ability to take cover, how action pauses when lining up shots, or issuing orders to allies, but their practical use is next to non-existent on the standard difficulty. Gameplay rarely feels more complicated than running up to enemies, often rather mindlessly, to hopefully exploit their weakness in the process from doing actions like a rocket launcher on a mechanical foe or a well-timed spell (or "ragnite") in a mob of foes. But I would struggle to say if even that much forethought is really necessary depending on how much time you are willing to spend during a skirmish. Most of the inherent difficulty feels dictated by how much time you are willing to spend upgrading your character's abilities and gear than actually making calls of the battlefield, in all honesty. For example, early in the game it felt like it was taking me forever to kill certain mechanized spider-like foes. I decided to then update a character's weapon via a node-based skill tree (which is essentially progressed by using leftover "ragnite" item drops) and was able to shred through that same enemy in far less time. I also found a more satisfying flow the more creative I got with using different ragnite skills by playing upon each of the squad members affinities. The four primary classes bring a sort of MMO mindset to character builds, like shielders being a tank equivalent while sappers on the other hand have a higher affinity towards long range attacks or healing abilities. Depending on if one plays upon a character's strengths well enough can make them feel nigh invincible based on if certain unique character traits of theirs are triggered mid-battle (which are gained either through story or optional character events in the certain town hub). Weirdly enough, the gameplay and the systems around Valkyria Revolution aren't particularly bad overall but rather they are hardly remarkable in the long run. This is largely due to how little variety there is to combat. Enemies are frequently recycled as well as levels. Plus there is an encouraged grind to get new ragnite, or to enhance a character's weapons, which makes it drag its feet more so. Plus, when it has such a strong source material to serve as contrast, as Valkyria Chronicles had wildly varying objectives each story mission, only makes the squandered potential that much more depressing. What is actually Valkyria Revolution's stronger annoyance is not its generally average gameplay but rather the storytelling--and not in the way you would expect. The main story itself would make a good case for the best in the series, spin-off or otherwise, were it not for how terribly it is paced. Cutscenes are abnormally long, redundant, and often last around thirty minutes after each story mission. Every bit of political intrigue, or darker narrative implications, are entirely drowned out by either pointless slice-of-life fluff of squadmates or how much they pound you over the head with things you already know by now. I get it, game, "The Traitors" instigated a war for their revenge under the guise of a liberation. You don't need to tell me the same thing for twenty hours from both the characters themselves and the historians attempting to tell me the truth of that same history as well. There is one aspect that Valkyria Revolution absolutely nails, however -- and that's Yasunori Mitsuda's phenomenal soundtrack. To empowering shifts in the soundtrack in the midst of battle, or more joyful beats when walking around the central town, really stands the musical score out in sharp contrast to the rest of the game. Other than that the trend of mediocrity carries over to other departments such as the voice acting as well. Yet, the generally well-written localization makes whatever awkward narrative scenes more palatable in spite of it and the iffy dub. As tempting as it is to forever compare what it does not do as well as its original legacy, Valkyria Revolution's biggest problem really is that it is thoroughly average for the most part. One can glean instances of potential from it here and there, from storytelling intrigue and gameplay systems, but they are dragged out for way too long to be compelling (story scenes in particular). What is left is a husk of a spin-off that is unlikely to really satisfy existing Valkyria fans, and is not built sturdy enough to stand on its own feet either in a year where one has so many better RPG alternatives. Although, one should give the soundtrack of Valkyria Revolution a listen at the very least. Pros + Storytelling is intriguing when it doesn't drag its feet (which is rare) + Battle Palletes allow for solid party customization in the wide array of skills that can be applied + Mitsuda's soundtrack is phenomenal Cons - Why are the cutscenes so dang long?! -Extremely repetitive and often bland combat/level design - Clearly made with the Vita's hardware limitations in mind and the presentation really suffers for it on the big screen - Those expecting strategic gameplay, like that of mainline Valkyria Chronicles, will be bitterly disappointed Overall Score: 5 (out of 10) Average For a spin-off meant to breathe new life into a beloved series, Valkyria Revolution only serves to lower morale amidst a year of far more capable gaming options to recruit from Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  18. Sony just revealed the Playstation Plus lineup for June, giving you some new games to play while you wait for all the awesome new games that will be shown at E3. Here's the full lineup: Killing Floor 2, PS4 Life is Strange, PS4 Abyss Odyssey, PS3 WRC 5: World Rally Championship, PS3 Neon Chrome, PS Vita (crossbuy with PS4) Spy Chameleon, PS Vita (crossbuy on PS4) Killing Floor 2 and Life Be Strange are the obvious standouts here. I haven't played either one (I've had Life is Strange on Steam forever and still haven't gotten around to it...) but compared to the rest of the lineup they're relatively big-name games. Abyss Odyssey is pretty cool, though it's a shame it's not cross-buy with the enhanced PS4 version. Spy Chameleon is kinda fun, I dunno anything about WRC or Neon Chrome though. Anyway, what do you all think about the lineup? If nothing else maybe we could all get together for some Killing Floor 2 matches sometime.
  19. Developer: Aquaplus and Sting Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: May 23, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game Developer Aquaplus is at it once again by mixing two unlikely gameplay genres into one mysterious form. Their newest culmination of this concept is that of part visual novel and part turn-based strategy-RPG game titled Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception on PS4/Vita. Despite technically being a sequel to a fairly old Japan-only PC game back in 2002 plainly named "Utawarerumono", Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception still somehow strongly feels like first entry in spite of it. Character relationships and backstories have been rebuilt from scratch, so whatever memory I thought I had of the original series (after seeing the 2006 anime adaption) feels like a deception despite wearing a mask of familiar themes and names. Which is perfectly fine by me, and likely a would-be broader audience as well. Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is more than willing to replace whatever gaps in knowledge one may have about its original source material by slowly filling it in with a whole new legend. Admittedly I had a general gist of what I signed up for after having played the overlooked PS3 gem, Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord, a few years ago by the same developer. Yet, even I still underestimated just how Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is far more of a visual novel than it is a tactical-RPG. What is more bizarre is that SRPG portions aren't even half bad, actually. But whatever strategic gameplay it has can feel like a huge afterthought when it is buried in what is occasionally around four hours of uninterrupted visual novel exposition. As a visual novel first and foremost Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is incredibly meticulously paced with its storytelling. It uses the time-worn amnesiac trope with its lead protagonist who starts off without any memories of his past in the middle of a random snowfield. Saved from a near-death experience by an animal-eared (and tailed) lady apothecary named Kuon, she decides to adopt the amnesiac lead on a whim as a sort of parental figure and bestow upon him the name "Haku". From then on it gets into a disjointed rhythm of having Haku slowly but surely learn more about the world around him as he accompanies the mysterious apothecary, and his newfound guardian, on her journey throughout the region. When it comes to storytelling Utawaremono: Mask of Deception does a lot really well, and in nearly equal parts extremely poorly too. It all pretty much has to do with the narrative's pacing. By far the worst of it is in its first half. The storytelling is intriguing enough starting out, but is a rather noticeable slow burn. Kuon keeps the habitually lazy Haku in check by subtly imposing upon him the mentality of "He who doesn't work doesn't eat", and there is strong world-building that is thoroughly steeped in an own sense of internal culture all the while (despite some clear feudal Japan influence). As soon as the storytelling moves to the royal city of Mikato the narrative's pace quickly grinds to a halt, however. Serving as a sort of quick and unfortunate tone setter, player's are almost immediately greeted to a random anime "fanservice" hot springs scene right when they arrive in Mikado. And... it's kind of like that for the next ten hours. There is a lot of intended levity from then on out. Sure, it has plenty of world-building and character introductions during this time too. More often than not, it feels like a shameless excuse to throw in perverted wardrobe malfunction moments, Fujoshi gags, and rampant drunken shenanigans for quite some time. It is very frustrating to see such a promising world and cast be bogged down by back to back slice-of-life styled anime pandering. Surprisingly, the written localization and fully-dubbed Japanese voice work are actually quite good and often reads well in spite of this, so several jokes and quips hit their mark despite me not being enchanted by the general context. By and large, though, it feels as if the first half is really dragged out by wholly unnecessary fluff when faced with its larger and far more engaging overarching storytelling. No better proof of concept than that of when second half of the narrative kicks in and is far better. Seriously, it's really good. The pervading narrative tone becomes darker and more mature. This is no small thanks due to a bigger emphasis on wartime conflict and political intrigue styled storytelling. It is a real stark contrast to what was hours upon hours of regurgitated alcoholism jokes and skeezy fanservice scenes not too long before. For as much as I may complain about the first half, Utawarerumono does also thrive on interpersonal storytelling as well and that's prevalent throughout. Kuon in particular is a very fascinating character and is a clear standout amongst a majority of the cast. While most others, being generally (or eventually) likable, they more or less adhere to a set of familiar character traits throughout, almost regardless of whatever tone the main narrative decides to take the form of. Also around the second half the title is more willing to remind the player (all be it, still infrequently) that it is an strategy-RPG too. Co-developer Sting is certainly no stranger to solid tactical RPGs and the gameplay of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is no exception. Compared to Sting's usually enigmatic take on the subgenre combat is mostly standard fare for turn-based strategy-RPGs standards. Most mission objectives are not anything more complex than defeating one or more enemies on small maps. That said, it is usually good about making each player character have their own pretty unique skillsets and applications in battles. Haku for instance is fairly weak in traditional combat (just like in the main narrative), and is more about passively supporting nearby allies and debuffing enemies. On the other end, the close-ranged fighter Atuy can forcibly stop enemies from moving with her mere presence and potentially get a bonus action upon defeating a foe. The gameplay also applies a few more distinct spins with the general flow to help make it more feel more active. Most attack or support actions can be followed with chains skills where depending on if the player presses, or holds, the X button at the right time they can eek out just a bit more potency or special properties out of their skills. This applies to defensive skills as well and it's real satisfying to prevent what would've been fatal damage by timing a good block or dodge. If one finds that to be too much work regardless players can simply toggle 'auto-chain' at any time, even if they miss out on the chance to pull off criticals. Speaking of such conveniences, the game also has a few nice interface touches like being able to rewind turns, see predicted damage/counter outcomes, or participate in free battles. Going briefly back to storytelling, there is more that bears mentioning during the second act. Most importantly of note is that the finale does in-fact end on a cliffhanger -- and a mean one at that. It is certainly exciting leading up that point but it is more than abundantly clear it serves as groundwork for its sequel Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth that comes out later this September. With a standard playthrough of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception taking a bit under forty hours can make it seem all the more cruel. But I suppose during that wait players can occupy themselves with several optional, and challenging, post-main story battles that give the underutilized combat more time to stretch its legs. For as many criticisms I can easily level against it, specifically the terribly paced first half, I feel much more positive than not about Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception as a whole. I think much of that can be attributed to a sort of indecipherable sincerity that is buried underneath the intricate world-building and likable characters that it all takes place around. Plus, while very underutilized, strategy-RPG portions are enjoyable too. Regardless, it demands an unreasonable amount of patience out of most players to overlook such glaring shortcomings as a visual novel. Which, frankly, I doubt most are willing to spare. It is also difficult tell if even such persistence will be rewarded during the upcoming sequel Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth that is being released September of this year. Despite Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception running the gamut of emotions and testing my patience more than a few times, however, I think it says a lot that I am still quite eagerly looking forward to playing its sequel despite all odds of the experience being stacked against it. Pros + Storytelling gets quite good and rather dark in its latter portions + Highly thorough sense of world-building that creates a vivid sense of various cultures + Well-drawn character art + Kuon is an excellent character and keeps the whiny lead in check + SRPG battles are actually rather solid and don't really force grinding Cons - Terrible narrative pacing. The first half especially which is incredibly obnoxious with anime "fanservice" moments - Is far more of a visual novel than an SRPG, which is likely off-putting for those expecting more traditional gameplay -3D visuals are real underwhelming - Ends with a pretty mean cliffhanger: AKA wait until Utawarerumono: The Mask of Truth in September Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good In some moments engrossing, and in equal parts a frustrating slog, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception demands an immense amount of patience to see it through to completion for more reasons than one. For those willing to undergo such tall demands may uncover a heartfelt adventure that is better than the sum of its parts Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  20. Harrison Lee

    Review: Full Throttle Remastered

    Developer: Double Fine Productions, Shiny Shoe Publisher: Double Fine Productions Platform: PC, PS4, PS Vita Release Date: April 18, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PC version of the game A few years ago, I was at a yard sale digging through a box of old PC games when I hit upon a floppy disk copy of Day of the Tentacle. I was born in the mid-90“s and had missed out on this LucasArts gem of point-and-click adventure mayhem. To be honest, I still haven“t popped the game in. No one uses floppy disks anymore and I don“t have the hardware to run it. Funny, right? Someone at Double Fine must have heard my groans over not getting to experience the classics because we“ve been graced with Full Throttle Remastered, a spruced-up version of Tim Schafer“s darkly-comedic bikerthon. Does the updated version do the original game justice, or is this remaster out of gas? Above: Original Release Below: Remastered Version I didn“t get to play the original Full Throttle, but Double Fine has included the unedited version of the game alongside the remaster. At any point, you can toggle between the gorgeous original pixel art and the new hand-drawn look. The audio has also been given a proper makeover, with voice-overs sounding crystal clear and the rockin“ soundtrack popping in the background. While the remaster does a good job updating the look and feel of the game, I prefer the original pixel art to the remastered version. The new art just doesn“t feel quite right, though it“s definitely respectful of the original game. The remixed audio, however, is blissfully pleasant to listen to. Full Throttle follows the exploits of the rough-and-tumble Ben and his biker-gang, the Polecats, in a dystopic post-apocalypse world. Only one company builds road hogs in this desolate era, and the Polecats are front and center in a plot to reconfigure the company to build… mini-vans. Ben becomes the fall-guy in a murder conspiracy and has to battle numerous obstacles to save the company, the Polecats, and the spirit of motorcycling. Along the way, he befriends a well-characterized supporting cast and solves a host of entertaining puzzles. Few challenges stand in Ben“s way for more than a few minutes, and the ride is over before you know it. But what a ride Full Throttle is. Tim Schafer“s ode to biker gangs won“t last you more than the average Call of Duty game, but it“s a well-paced, entertaining dramedy all the same. That said, there are a few speed-bumps in the experience. Some noticeably unsmooth transitions rear their heads in cut-scenes, and audio occasionally drops out completely as a new scene is loaded. The bike combat, maligned when the game originally came out, also hasn“t aged well. It“s a bit clunky, but is mercifully over in short order. An object-highlighting feature has also been added to help you find solutions to the puzzles faster. I noticed it rarely highlighted the objects I needed to pick up and use, so I“m not sure how much time it really saved me. Not that Full Throttle needs to go any faster, mind you. I“m a bit ashamed to admit Full Throttle occasionally tested my wits. I don“t often play point-and-click adventures (barring the Sherlock Holmes series), and there were a few moments where the puzzle solutions had me a little baffled. In the context of the scenario, the solutions made sense. I just didn“t pick up on them in time. It“s refreshing to see a game that moves at a brisk pace, yet isn“t afraid to apply the brakes and force you to think. Full Throttle isn“t terribly difficult, but there are a few puzzles that might have you consulting a walkthrough. Full Throttle is LucasArts“s often-overlooked adventuring gem. While I missed it the first time, I“m happy to report it“s absolutely worth playing, even in this day age. The quippy one-liners, entertaining plot, well-defined character archetypes, and occasionally challenging puzzles all add up to a fun ride. Full Throttle never overstays its welcome and is a little shorter than I“d like, but you“ll enjoy the rush while it“s there. Don“t miss this great update to a classic. Pros + A unique sense of humor and place + Entertaining, well-written plot + The original pixel art is as beautiful as ever + The remastered audio is excellent Cons - The combat sequences are still rough - A few awkward scene transitions here and there Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Full Throttle is a fast-paced, enjoyable point-and-click adventure that will inspire nostalgia in the most devoted LucasArts fans, while welcoming genre newcomers with beefy, grease-covered arms. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.
  21. Developer: Spike Chunsoft Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PC, PS4, and PS Vita Release Date: March 24, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game To think that not too long ago it was nearly unconscionable to believe that the visual novel adventure game series Zero Escape would reach its third game conclusion. Nowadays, it just pops in one's brain as a matter of fact. Still, with each game's naming subtitle being harder to discern than the last it can be difficult to know where to start if one has so much as a passing interest in the Zero Escape series and was not already an established fan. Fortunately, Spike Chunsoft has read everyone's mind and got you covered. Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is a collection of the first two games of the Zero Escape trilogy: Featuring Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (usually abbreviated as 999) and its direct sequel Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. Both well known for their engaging, thought-provoking storytelling and copious amounts of puzzles to solve. Two beloved games: one retail package. Though, it is unfortunate that it does not also include last year's final release in the trilogy, Zero Time Dilemma, but I suppose as someone from that title would say: "Life is simply unfair" in that regard. What is totally fair is just how much of an overhaul that the first title in the series, 999, received specifically for The Nonary Games collection. I am pleased to report that those curious about the first release in the Zero Escape series will find no better place to play it than in the The Nonary Games collection. While 999's revised script does have a penchant towards more profanity it generally reads more naturally than that of the original release and the newly added, and great overall, English dub that only heightens the most of the storytelling. More importantly than either of those are the fairly huge quality of life changes: primarily being the narrative flowchart (formally only available in Virtue's Last Reward and on). The flowchart alone nearly entirely removes the monotony of trying to obtain the narrative's many branching endings and I can not stress at how it saved me from losing nearly eight hours of progress because I attempted to get the true ending a little too early and led myself to a bad ending on accident. Then there are more minor touches like making the game entirely playable via button controls, which honestly are more responsive than either of its sequels and I am surprised I did not find myself compelled to use a capacitive stylus by the end of it. The only real disappointment, when compared to the original Nintendo DS version, is that an iconic final puzzle sequence that cleverly utilized both screens of that system is not quite as well realized in The Nonary Games release. While they find a very smart way to convey the same storytelling themes, even without the use of dual screens, they unfortunately changed the entire final puzzle itself and it comes off as less satisfying because of it. The second half of the collection, that being Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, I have far less to say about. Don't get me wrong: Virtue's Last Reward is an brilliant title with its crafty puzzles to its fairly nuanced storytelling that range from occult to metaphysical themes. There was absolutely a reason fans begged so hard for a follow-up to it during years to come. But-- it is also the same exact game in The Nonary Games collection with virtually no changes on the Vita hardware specifically, for better or worse. Plus, I don't want to retread familiar ground that a former GP review more than faithfully covered many years back (except that I may disagree about it being best on 3DS. That save-corrupting bug never went away on that system. Play Virtue's Last Reward just about anywhere else now that this collection is out...). The Nonary Games provides an excellent excuse to play what are not only the first entries in "Zero Escape", but are also arguably the best titles in the series as well. Yet, The Nonary Games it has two key caveats. The first caveat being that the collection completely omits the third and final release in the collection, making it feel hardly complete. The other caveat is that the only game to truly see any refinements is the first title in the series by the name of 999, and its sequel Virtue's Last Reward remains entirely unchanged. It is a perfect stepping stone into the beloved Zero Escape series, though it bizarrely lacks the final piece to safely journey through it to its conclusion. Pros + The two best games in the Zero Escape series in one convenient collection + Easily the most intuitive way to play 999 to date with wonderful design changes to alleviate much of its former gameplay tedium + Gripping storytelling in both with plenty of very thought provoking moments + Great English dub in both games + Solid puzzles Cons - A certain key scene at the end of 999 is not depicted quite as well as the original Nintendo DS version - Virtue's Last Reward controls are finicky if you aren't playing with a capacitive stylus - Some puzzle rooms can feel like a pixel hunt to progress at times - Does not include the final game in the trilogy: Zero Time Dilemma Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Providing a wonderful start towards the "Zero Escape" series, The Nonary Games prides itself on offering the best, and most convenient, way to the first two releases within it. It is just a shame that the last year's title: Zero Time Dilemma, and also final game within the trilogy, is not included in this collection to top it all off. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  22. Sony has revealed next month's lineup of free games for PS Plus members, and, well, just have a look for yourself and decide if you're excited! Full lineup: Tales from the Borderlands, PS4 Abzu, PS4 Blood Knights, PS3 Port Royale 3: Pirates and Merchants, PS3 Laser Disco Defenders, PS Vita (Cross Buy with PS4) Type:Rider, PS Vita (Cross Buy on PS4) So, from me, Tales from the Borderlands is hilarious and worth playing even if you know nothing about the Borderlands series, so that's a big plus for next month's selection. Of course it was also on sale for like $3 a while back so anyone interested probably already has it now. I know Abzu will be interesting to some people, so I'll leave my personal feelings on it aside. Blood Knights is an okay-ish hack 'n slash and I don't really know anything about the other games, so it doesn't seem like an amazing month but I guess it's not the worst month ever either. What do you all think?
  23. Hailinel

    Review: Toukiden 2

    Developer: Omega Force Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games Platform: PlayStation 4, PS Vita, PC Release Date: March 21, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS4 version of the game After the Monster Hunter series jumped from the PSP to the 3DS as the franchise“s platform of choice, several companies tried their hands at the format to fill in the hunting gap on the Vita. One such game was Koei Tecmo“s Toukiden: The Age of Demons -- a game that, while it held very close to the gameplay structure of Monster Hunter, distinguished itself with a creative historical setting and gameplay elements that made it more than a simple clone. After following the initial release with an enhanced PS4 version in Toukiden Kiwami, the developer Omega Force has brought about its first true sequel in Toukiden 2. Set after the events of the first game, Toukiden 2 returns to the Midlands; the last remaining region of what was once Meiji-era Japan where humans live in a world overrun with demons, or oni. As in the first game, the player takes on the role of a slayer whose name and appearance can be customized, and whose job is to leave the confines of Mahoroba Village and protect it from the relentless hordes. There are a few callbacks to the original game, as well as returning faces, but the story doesn“t require knowledge of the first Toukiden in order to follow along. The storyline is surprisingly strong, with characters that start off as one-note showing more depth over time. A stark factional split keeps the village divided politically to a seemingly irreparable degree, which at times leads to some surprising but effective moments of drama and tragedy. The conflict is exacerbated by both human faults and oni attacks, but the narrative is kept light enough with plenty of humorous moments, as well. As a hunting game, Toukiden 2 strays from the first game“s formula in a significant way with the introduction of an open world. Unlike the first game, which used Monster Hunter-style maps of segmented zones, the map in Toukiden 2 is one large landmass populated with oni, side quests, and hidden secrets. What“s more, the world can be explored freely at will without a time limit; instead, a restriction is placed on the player in the form of the miasma gauge, which measures the player“s exposure to a toxic atmosphere created by oni. In regions of the map where miasma is thicker, the gauge will fill at a faster clip, though making progress in the story and by clearing map waypoints will reduce the miasma and make it easier to explore more of the map over time. The new map indeed goes a long way in giving the game“s world a sense of place. In the original game, the player visited different maps referred to as ages, such as the Age of Grace, Age of War, or Age of Chaos. Each of these maps was thematically based on an era of Japanese history, but there wasn“t anything to link them, other than they“re all accessible by leaving the village through its lone gate. Toukiden 2 reintroduces the ages as regions of the map, interconnected with each other and the outskirts of Mahoroba. In sum, the world feels vast, with a lot to explore, and only a small portion is seen while sticking close to the main story. The combat in Toukiden 2 also receives an upgrade in the Demon Hand. This new tool, which is essentially a spectral grappling arm, lets the player grab on to oni from a distance to close the gap or trip them up. When a special gauge is filled, using the arm on a giant oni will instantly tear off one of its limbs, weakening the demon while dealing heavy damage. The Demon Hand also has its uses outside of combat, allowing for some light traversal as well as destroying barriers that blockade select routes. It“s a little unwieldy to use at first, as it takes some time to get used to aiming, and in single-player, the AI partners tend to be much faster in using their own Demon Hands, getting into the fray before the player. It doesn“t take long to get used to, however. Toukiden 2 offers multiplayer that lets four players team up on oni-slaying missions together. These missions, also available in single-player, are analogous to the missions that the first game was structured around. In general, they“re short, sweet, and quick to jump into. After accepting a mission and heading for the gate, the game will take the players straight to a portion of the world map that has been cordoned off as the mission area. And once the target oni are slain, the mission ends, and it“s easy enough to jump right into another. The Mitama system from the original game also returns with some upgrades, allowing the player to equip Mitama for offense, defense, and the Demon Hand, with effects that vary based on the type of Mitama equipped. The Mitama equipped also determine what skills can be activated during battle, which can have a major effect on your play style and your role in a group, whether that be as an offense-focused attacker or a more support-oriented slayer with team-healing abilities. The system is of limited use in single-player (I made it through the story largely with the earliest acquired Mitama), but it offers more key significance in multiplayer. The vast majority of the game“s Mitama are based on figures from Japanese history and folklore, dating from the nation“s prehistoric era through the Meiji era and early twentieth century. Collecting these Mitama is one of the game“s more prominent side-tasks, and it“s worth it, not only for the varying abilities provided by them, but in learning their historical context, as each Mitama has its own accompanying biographical text. Certain Mitama that are historically associated, such as spouses, also provide extra boosts when equipped together. In terms of presentation, Toukiden 2 is on par with Kiwami in a technical sense, and shares the same art style, but with a greater sense of cohesion to its unified map. Many of the oni are distinctive and diverse in their design as well, with the giant oni standing out in particular. On the audio side, the game features well-done Japanese voice acting, though there aren“t any subtitles for incidental flavor dialogue party members may chatter in the field. The music, largely reminiscent of the original game, is of high quality and fits the mood and setting. But beyond those presentation checkmarks, Toukiden 2 is very much a sea-change in terms of being a sequel. While the original Toukiden and similar titles have been referred to as Monster Hunter clones for their not-too-subtle attempts at mimicking that franchise“s formula, the sequel takes great strides in furthering its own identity and creating a more unique experience as a result. It“s refreshing, and it makes for an easy recommendation. Pros + Open world structure gives the sequel a fresh take over the original + An entertaining story with fun characters + A great range of weapon types, as well as tutorials for each + Gameplay styles can be customized through equipping Mitama Cons - The camera can be obstructed at times when fighting giant oni in tight spaces - The game doesn“t do a perfect job of teaching all of its mechanics up front - The number of quests available in the open world feels somewhat sparse compared to the map“s size Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Toukiden 2 takes great strides in furthering its own identity and creating a more unique experience as a result, making it a refreshing and easy recommendation. Disclosure: A downloadable PS4 code was provided by the publisher for this review
  24. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Tecmo-Koei Platform: PS Vita Release Date: January 17, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen It is the first quarter of 2017 -- know what that means? Trying to fulfill New Years resolutions with a newfound optimism? C'mon. Let's be real. No! Everyone knows the beginning of every year has to be kicked off with some sort of Atelier game. Well.... technically two in the case of 2017. Rather than talking about the recently released Atelier Firis, however, I'm here to talk about the enhanced PS Vita port, called Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea. Which was also a former PS3 release that I actually reviewed exhaustively back in 2015. I know, I am just as shocked as you all that the Vita has at least one video game in 2017. Now, I'm not going to beat around to bush. I liked Atelier Shallie on PS3 quite a bit, actually. Almost in spite of itself at times. By that I mean that it was a very enjoyable game to play mechanically with its fiendishly addictive take on item crafting and surprising entertaining turn-based RPG combat. The "in spite of itself" part had to do with it having thoroughly underwhelming storytelling and, uh, somewhat close to game-breaking bugs at launch that literally had to be fixed through a patch. Thankfully the latter issue is nowhere to be seen in this Plus release. It may not sound like a big deal for the outside in, but in terms of narrative Atelier Shallie was supposed to be the end of the "Dusk" Trilogy, which included Atelier Ayesha and Atelier Escha & Logy. Its main problem, however, is that it felt like it honestly mostly ignored its predecessors altogether even though both left a lot open regarding their promising settings and futures for their cast. The main heroine of the first game of the trilogy, Ayesha, was basically nowhere to be seen in the original Atelier Shallie, for example. This is why Atelier Shallie Plus is rather intriguing for series fans. Atelier Shallie Plus basically adds, and re-writes, quite a few new cutscenes during the second half of the game to provide more narrative resolution as well as added justification of the returning protagonists: those being heroine Ayesha of the first "Dusk" game and protagonist Logy of the second. Though you essentially have to play through roughly half of the game to see them it is actually kind of shocking how much of the main story was altered to accompany the new characters. Even if, ultimately, you are still revisiting the same areas and bosses in the original PS3 release. This kind of gets to the point where the likes of Logy and especially Ayesha sort of overshadow the two playable main "Shallie" heroines whom you choose to primarily play as at the start (though, it doesn't matter much.), Shallotte and Shalistera, in terms of actual narrative importance. Still, for as much as Atelier Shallie Plus tries to bandage up its severely disjointed narrative, with many direct callbacks and references that frankly weren't in the original release, it is still unfortunately not all that compelling as a whole with its storytelling and still remains as the game's greatest weakness. More than just narrative fanservice, both Ayesha and Logy -- as well as former DLC only characters like pink-haired heroine Escha and stern manager Solle -- join the fray in the midst of gameplay too. The newcomers are generally fun to use, if not a bit overpowered with some of their incredibly useful skills, such as reviving an entire team in addition to putting auto-revive on those that aren't incapacitated (really Ayesha?). Of course, some minor nitpicks aside, the flashy combat system (made more rewarding through alchemy progression) remains as one of the game's greatest assets. As with the original release, the primary gameplay is centered exploring environments in order to fulfill requests/story progression as well as crafting generally at your leisure. And thanks to the placement of "life tasks," many varying objectives that allow you to pick and choose what progresses the main story, there is no real rush to do so. However, because it is a final game in the trilogy, it does feel like the game's overall difficulty is honed to series veterans who more than know how to extrapolate the depth out of the alchemy system. Like I am almost positive they made the final boss more difficult in Plus, for example. Considering how much alchemy feeds into every other aspect of the game, I do think even now established Atelier fans will mechanically find it to be one of the very best entries. Other than that, Atelier Shallie Plus is mostly familiar minus some slight additions. Storytelling and playable characters aside, there are new costumes, songs, and superbosses as well. Which, to reiterate from my former review, the soundtrack of Atelier Shallie is absolutely stellar. Even the couple of new song additions to the Plus release, like new boss and character themes, are a total delight and continue to maintain the very high bar. The only compromise the Plus release really makes in general is with the visual fidelity. Frame rate does quite noticeably chug in bigger areas and it does become a bit apparent that lower res environments and character models were made to accompany the weaker portable hardware. Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is probably one of the strangest enhanced ports for the series. It does not quite go into remake territory like Atelier Rorona Plus, but it does somewhat render its original PS3 release obsolete by feeling like a more complete gaming package, regardless of its apparent technical compromises. Not only does it rather significantly alter the storytelling in the game's second half with more fanfare, but it includes entirely new playable characters and all former DLC in the game by default as well. It also cements my thoughts on it still being one of the best entries mechanically. However, despite all that, I can't help feeling like Atelier Shallie Plus it tries to more neatly close the book on a disjointed trilogy than meaningfully doing anything else. Pros + Combat and crafting gameplay are still very entertaining + Many added story scenes and added playable characters provide much-needed additions to a former release that frankly should've had them + Soundtrack is truly fantastic, and the few new tracks are also a treat too Cons - Technical hitches in the midst of exploration and combat can be rather off-putting - Have to go through basically half the game to see the new content -Storytelling and character interactions are still quite underwhelming - Not a good entry for newcomers due to the higher than average difficulty Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good For those invested enough in the series, or those that haven't played the original PS3 release altogether, should be pleased to know that Atelier Shallie Plus release does stand above as the definitive release for the title. Even if, ultimately, the game underneath is not all too too different outside of storytelling. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  25. Developer: Marvelous Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: January 17, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS4 version of the game I am by no means a world history buff. But, I am pretty sure that the Roman emperor Nero Claudius was not an eccentric blonde haired woman whom murdered thousands digital soldiers with a few swings of her sword while flower petals fall all around her. At the same time I am not necessarily raring to explain the history of the “Nasuverse,” the complicated setup behind the popular Japanese visual novel Fate/Stay Night, and the various spin-offs it accumulated over time. Thankfully, the newest spin-off on PS4/PS Vita called Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is a musou game. So, technically, the main prerequisite before jumping into it is knowing how much one enjoys slashing up thousands of foes with Fate/Stay Night series fanservice sprinkled throughout. Similar to the likes of Dynasty Warriors, Fate/Extella“s main gameplay is structured around somewhat strategically seizing territory and slashing up hordes of foes. Often boiling down to moving/warping to one short area and selectively killing one or multiple specific targets within it. How it tries to somewhat differentiate itself up is through some of the mechanics and the sort of tug of war nature of its main objective. Basically, capturing different points of the map have varying point values in order the finish primary objective of completing the "Regime Matrix." If the enemy completes it, you lose. If you complete it, you win and can usually face the boss of the stage in order to beat the level. What is also used to loosely change gameplay up from its contemporaries are through some of the combat abilities. Sure, pretty much much every character has more than their share of crowd juggling skills full of Fate/Stay Night fanservice. "Nameless" Archer has the classic ability Unlimited Blade Works, Artoria with Excalibur, and so forth. Every character gets access to more light/heavy attack combos over time through level-ups as standard with the subgenre as well. But, more universal skills like Extella Maneuver and Moon Drive sort of dictate the general flow. For example, by tapping the circle button allows any character to slash up all nearby foes depending on how many stocks the Extella Maneuver gauge has. If one were were speaking in Marvel vs Capcom 3 terms, it's like using "Maximum Spider" on hundreds of foes. Moon Drive on the other spectrum powers-up attack moves and for specific characters like Nero and Tamamo, they get entirely different movesets in this strengthened form, which is neat. Though, admittedly, it is disappointing that most others did not get the same treatment as Nero and Tamamo with the Moon Crux mode. I will be honest here and say Fate/Extella will likely be disappoint those who come off of recent Musou releases otherwise. It hardly has anywhere near the polish of titles like Hyrule Warriors, and outside of the lengthy visual novel-like story mode, it will underwhelm those with its sparse variety in single player content in regards to playable characters or gameplay maps. With the exception of one needlessly obtuse character to obtain (Artoria), most players will struggle to see any longevity after the main campaign unless they actively seek to prove themselves on higher difficulties. Sure, I had fun at times at first with the flashy over-the-top nature and Fate/Extella, but I found myself quickly over it because of how little variety there was to gameplay. That said, Fate/Extella actually has a very sizable chunk of storytelling and is arguably the most important component of it. By that I mean I quite literally spent more time reading walls of text than fighting during the main campaign. Heck, you can't even really touch the hack and slash part until you engage with what feels like twenty minutes of visual novel styled exposition. Which is fine by me, as it is secretly why I originally played the title, but can be off-putting for those not expecting it. Which, from that perspective, Fate/Extella is rather curious. For one, it is technically a direct narrative sequel to a PSP RPG that most people did not touch called Fate/Extra. Also, the story mode itself is actually significantly longer than you'd expect with 3 story arcs centered around the three leads of Nero, Tamamo, and Altera, as well as one final closing one to resolve the convoluted overarching story. Storytelling itself is inconsistent to say the least. Often times trying to throw complicated narrative jargon to mask an overall story and cast of characters that are not nearly as complex as they pretend to be. And frankly, it can be a slog at times, despite how it sneaks in some good moments. This is either due to pacing, many pointless harem fanservice anime-like scenes (so blatant that they don't even stop to calling you "husband" when you pick a woman), or some story modes clearly being much better than others. Altera's part of the story, for instance, pretty easily has the most substantial amount of storytelling overall. It addresses most of the main narrative threads and intrigue, and she herself sees the most character development. Though, I admit, I do love Nero's overzealous antics, despite not being as fleshed out, which were made more entertaining through the lively localization. Basically, while I appreciate the storytelling being there, I don't think Fate/Extella really satisfies either niche that would want engaging storytelling or entertaining gameplay except in rather sparse instances. Other than that, the presentation makes the rough edges of the title quite apparent as well. Clearly many compromises for the Vita hardware were made. Most jarring of which is when playing on the PS4 and seeing the enemies would pop out of thin air from a very short draw distance. The compartmentalized battle zones makes it pretty obvious as well. The audio is actually rather solid, however. They managed to retain what seems like pretty much all of the Japanese voice actors for familiar characters, despite how Fate/Stay Night is more than ten years old at this point. Music is also pretty decent as well, with some good remixes like to the remix of the classic fan-favorite "Emiya"'s theme. At the end of the day Fate/Extella feels like it was made more to satiate Fate/Stay Night rampant fandom than anything else. It is not exactly noteworthy enough as a hack-and-slash to stand out against what feels like countless other musou games. The most substantial part to the entire game -- its surprisingly huge visual novel story mode -- is not consistent enough to stand on its own either despite having some good moments. While I don't regret my time with it as a fan, I can not say I would go very far to advise those that aren't already interested in the series to check this title out. Well, unless they really want to try a passable "Musou" styled game that isn't actually made by Omega Force. Pros + Eclectic, albeit small, playable cast with very flashy special moves chock full of Fate/Stay Night series fanservice. +Decent soundtrack. Cool remix of Emiya's theme? Check. + Lively localization makes the script more entertaining than it should be at times. Altera's campaign in particular has some standout moments too. Cons - Very, very repetitive. Small list of playable characters and even fewer stages does not help its case either. -Characters have smaller movesets than even typical Musou games - Draw distance is incredibly small to the point enemies will literally spawn in front of you out of basically nowhere - Storytelling is very inconsistent. Often facing problems with poor pacing and awkward fanservice scenes Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average Existing more for fanfare than anything else, Fate/Extella is a passable hack and slash that barely escapes total mediocrity through its surprisingly substantial, though flawed, story mode Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
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