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  1. Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: October 2, 2018 ESRB: M for Mature For as immensely influential as Fist of the North Star is in the manga/anime space it is kind of surprising that it has so few remarkable video games. Sure, one can point to a certain Arc System Works fighter or various Musou titles under the Fist of the North Star name, but for pretty much all the wrong reasons. This is why is why a new Fist of the North Star title made by Sega's Yakuza development is an exciting prospect. The Yakuza series has hit an impressive stride the last couple years on PS4 and throwing such an iconic manga license into an already solid gameplay mold seems like a recipe for success. Much like any licensed game property, however, there is reason to have reservations before going into the PS4 exclusive Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, even if its head is in the right place. Where the least amount of concern is needed is wondering whether or not Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is approachable for those not already well-versed in the series lore (like me). The central plot of Lost Paradise is generally easy to grasp and is rarely more complicated than the main character Kenshiro trying to find his fiancee within an isolated city called Eden. Everything else is simply a matter of adjusting to the absurdity of its heavily-influenced-by Mad Max setting and accepting that disproportionate macho men are able to use over-the-top martial arts that can make peoples' heads literally explode. Those that do know a thing or two about the series will recognize its alternate narrative canon from the source material despite featuring plenty of familiar faces. Beyond that, it is very easy to treat Lost Paradise as if it was just another PS4 Yakuza game. Sega makes little attempt to hide its development pedigree from a shared emphasis on 3D beat 'em up gameplay, tons of playable sidequests/mini-games within a central town, to even going as far as to have many shared voice Japanese talents for the main cast (although, an English voice acting option is available for those that want it, unlike recent Yakuza games). It is honestly uncanny the many unapologetic nods that the game has to Yakuza games, but on the flip side, the distinctly different post-apocalyptic setting can make it a fresh contrast to those who have seen the bustling Japanese streets a few too many times lately. Still, because it so easily evokes the many similarities to recent Yakuza games it also begs the quality comparison between the two, and on that front Lost Paradise is far less consistent. It is a weird thing to say considering how crazy powerful the player often feels while controlling Kenshiro as he recites the iconic "You are already dead" line as enemies turn into gory mush in the background, but the combat does not flow well for the most of the game. There are a lot of minor annoyances with it, everything from Kenshiro's overall lack of AOE attacks (despite constantly throwing huge enemy mobs at him) to some overly long skill animations early in, and most of it stems from how slowly the game doles out new skills & level-ups to eventually remedy them. It is a real shame because there are some clever boss moments and very stylish ways to dispatch foes in context-sensitive QTEs and is hindered by the slow progression. This is the main recurring theme of Lost Paradise in that just about all progress is buried beneath a fair amount of unnecessary grind and padding. Want to progress the main story? Well, at a certain point you need to upgrade your buggy vehicle to explore new zones. Want to upgrade your buggy? Then you need to grind for resources/unlock treasure maps that appear randomly outside of town. Want to not have to rely on RNG for materials? You should do the bartending mini-game which requires a Mario Party level of controller mashing (despite being very amusing visually) but makes Eden merchants sell more materials. It is an obtuse process of Do A, but to do A you need to do B, and to do B you need to do C, etc. This design philosophy is very counterintuitive to the ways Yakuza styled games tend to be enjoyed where the side content can be engaged as much, or as little, as the player wants to and Lost Paradise does not offer that sort intrinsic gameplay flexibility. The weirdest part of all, however, is that there are genuinely cool moments when the gameplay all comes together. For example, there is a surprising amount of Sega fanfare throughout. This includes full-fledged arcade ports like Space Harrier, unlockable musical tracks that play while driving from Binary Domain to Phantasy Star Online 2, to the Sega Master version of Fist of the North Star (...which is not a good game, but it is the thought that counts). Even the sidequests have their neat moments like surprising earnest little substories to utterly bizarre objectives like playing "baseball" against oncoming motorcyclists. But because the game paces its many gameplay and campaign components so poorly it becomes difficult to appreciate the title as a whole when it is so eager to overstay its welcome. Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is title frequently torn between two identities despite having good intentions with both. As a licensed game, the Yakuza-gameplay-meets-Fist of the North Star-setting is so close to a working peanut butter & jelly combo, but does not quite take the best lessons from either franchise. Still, those willing to try out a new "Yakuza" game at the risk of a noticeable step back in overall gameplay quality (compared to recent entries; mostly pacing and production values) may be pleasantly surprised by the novel approach to the Fist of the North Star license, even if it may not necessarily make your head explode for the better in the long term. Pros + Hyperactive violence that makes Kenshiro feel genuinely powerful (flashy boss fights in particular) + Neat fanservice nods to various Sega properties such as unlockable arcade games + The absurd over-the-top setting can be a fresh contrast to who have gotten a little too used to familiar Yakuza series locales Cons - Combat and character progression are rather disjointed - The frequently slow (and grindy) gameplay pacing does not really fit the high octane world itself - Main story high points are few and far between Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is better treated as a licensed novelty rather than be held to the current standards of the Yakuza series gameplay it does not hesitate to borrow from. But, because the many gameplay components are eager to overstay their welcome it can be difficult to truly appreciate either the lessened Yakuza formula or alternate take on Fist of the North Star's world in the long run Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. barrel

    Review: Valkyria Chronicles 4

    Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4, Switch, and PC Release Date: September 25, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen As beloved as the original PS3 title Valkyria Chronicles has been, the series has since struggled to recapture the base of its former appeal. From smaller-scale PSP sequels, one of which remains unlocalized, to a spin-off that probably should not have existed in the first place, it was easy to draw the conclusion that the series was going to go out with an immensely disappointing whimper rather than a satisfying bang. Yet, Sega decided to bring out the big guns by recently announcing Valkyria Chronicles 4 on consoles as if the series' missteps had never happened. Revitalizing not only the captivating sketch-like art direction, the series also brings back its unique take on the part turn-based/part real-time militaristic action at a large scope without the limitations of underpowered Sony handhelds. If that was not enough to bolster the fandom morale once more, Sega has beaten the nearly impossible odds by leading Valkyria Chronicles 4 towards a victory so grand that it surpasses even the original. That may have sounded like a bold claim (because it is), but Valkyria Chronicles 4 takes an active command to prove its remarkable capability on a gameplay front. It is much more willing to treat players old and new like a skillful commander rather than an untrained cadet early on without being too daunting or heavy-handed. From a gameplay perspective, it only takes a couple missions before it reestablishes most returning mechanics and classes from the original before moving onto entirely new ones. One new addition is the incredibly welcome unit grenadier. Essentially, grenadiers are extremely powerful long-range units that can easily knock foes out of cover or destroy turrets/pillboxes at a safe range. However, to function properly they require more nimble units like scouts to serve as spotters so they can pick off problem targets without their severe lack of mobility holding them back. Even old units bring a freshened up mix to encounters, such as Engineers now being able to revive units mid-battle or assemble makeshift ladders to gain a different means of approach to a particular stage. There is a ton of care placed into just about every tweaked gameplay mechanic or distinct level. It is clear that Sega learned a lot while remastering the original game on PS4 a couple years ago. A lot of the old AI exploits or dirty tricks (like scout rushing) are mostly gone and the tactical options are greatly increased as it progresses. One mission will have the player take out descending paratroopers/buying time to protect an out of commission vehicle at the same time while another totally different stage is about helping a friend cheat on a target practice test behind the scenes. Admittedly, though, there are a few missions that seem to be made with enjoyable gameplay variety in mind first (rather than actually being logically plausible), like firing sniper bullets at wooden signs to wordlessly (and perfectly) coordinate an ally mortar strike, so some suspension of disbelief is required. Let there be no doubt, however, that there is a serious emphasis on storytelling in Valkyria Chronicles 4. Previous titles in the series would delve into uncomfortable subject matter with surprising tact (namely the original), like the racism allegories involving "Darcsens", but rarely dipped above a PG-rating vibe regarding the overall storytelling or particularly nuanced characters. In sharp contrast, the fourth main entry is much more willing to challenge both its characters and storytelling. The most impressive narrative feat of Valkyria Chronicles 4 is how it develops its characters. As likable of a goofball as Welkin Gunther was, he and most other older characters rarely changed beyond their initial first impressions. That is very much not the case with the characters of 4 to the point where it is quite possible to dislike a certain character early in (Raz) & totally feel the complete opposite way about them by the end because of how much they change and mature (also Raz). A similar level of respect towards development was even placed upon the many non-main story playable units. It is not simply encouraged to keep them alive to prevent a Fire Emblem-ish permadeath, but also because there are some really endearing optional "Squad Stories" chapters that unlock if certain allies fight alongside each other long enough and is a smart incentive to change things up. But perhaps the biggest means of change comes from the huge shifts regarding the main story's narrative tone. Early on, it has a lighthearted pace that is generally in line with Valkyria of the past, if not a little more juvenile due to a "friendly butt-tap between dudes!" scene, yet the latter half has story elements that are grim in a way that is almost unprecedented for the series. Despite not always being elegant in its execution it is as a whole much more grounded than earlier games when it comes to the storytelling. There is a greater emphasis on the mortality of its cast and the horrors/moral ambiguity during wartime that works much more often than it does not (complemented by some excellent English voice work)... even if aspects like main character Claude's ability to predict changes in weather veer into supernatural territory with their unbelievable accuracy. Outside of storytelling, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is very much an iterative game, which is perhaps its biggest detriment for those expecting more sweeping changes. Sure, the clever mission variety is really impressive, or how it smartly cherry picks features from Valkyria Chronicles 2 & 3 (that are barely referenced otherwise) like the ability to move multiple units at once, and it is even paced more briskly than prior games. Ultimately, though, it still operates within a very familiar overall framework in terms of leveling up units/tanks, gaining new weapons/skills, to how it utilizes the presentation (it is the same decade-old engine, after all) and the many re-used orchestral pieces. All things considered, though, these are minor nitpicks to an experience that otherwise more than satisfies what fans adore from the series, especially regarding the much more finely tuned and already excellent gameplay has become. After many pleadings for a proper, fully-fledged Valkyria Chronicles sequel went ignored for years, it is hard to believe that the series would ever regain proper footing. But, here we are, a decade later, and Sega yet again took a nearly Sonic Mania-styled approach by being keenly aware of what fans wanted through stylish visuals and extremely satisfying/varied tactical gameplay, yet also reminding many fans why they loved the franchise in the first place in terms of spirit. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a series return to form in the truest sense. Even with certain creaks in age -- mostly due to playing it a little too faithful to the first incarnation -- Valkyria Chronicles 4 is mitigated by not only meeting the lofty expectations from veterans but even going as far as to exceed their prior accomplishments in the series as the potential best entry as a whole. Pros + Completely nails what made people love the original Valkyria Chronicles so much from strategic, varied level design to the likable cast of characters + Paced more briskly than earlier iterations from storytelling to requiring next to no actual grinding + The Grenadier class is a great new addition to battle and the title also sports many welcome mechanical changes + Strong English localization that breaths nuance even characters that may not seem to have much of it initially (including the surprisingly charming optional "Squad Stories") Cons - The visuals/music are a little too faithful to the original Valkyria Chronicles, as it is very clearly using the same engine/most of the soundtrack from nearly ten years ago, making it feel somewhat antiquated - Some huge narrative tonal shifts in the storytelling that can be rather odd at times, especially in its darker moments Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Excellent Valkyria Chronicles 4 successfully reignites not just the endearing spirit and thoroughly engaging tactical gameplay the series is known for but excels in such a way that surpasses even the most beloved of its predecessors as a game Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  3. barrel

    Review: Yakuza Kiwami 2

    Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: August 28, 2018 ESRB: M for Mature Even though Yakuza 6: The Song of Life felt like an intended sendoff towards the series' beloved protagonist Kiryu earlier this year, the Yakuza series itself is showing no real intentions of slowing down. To continue the trend of putting basically every main entry Yakuza title on the PS4 in some form Sega has most recently shifted their sights onto revisiting yet another former PS2 relic by remaking Yakuza 2 from the ground up in Sega's "Dragon Engine" (introduced in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life) and slapping the word Kiwami on it. Considered by many fans to be the best entry in the series Yakuza Kiwami 2 has some rather lofty expectations to meet as a remake while also trying to be appetizing to series newcomers as well. Similar to the game's (literal) bombastic introduction, there is no denying that Yakuza Kiwami 2 is firing on all cylinders on a presentational front. By utilizing the familiar "Dragon Engine," Yakuza Kiwami 2's world often looks stunning in motion. From the bustling city streets, over-the-top special attacks in combat, to the facial details on the most menacing of yakuza scowls it does a ton to draw the player in its adventure. Which is good, because, like most Yakuza games, it is filled to the brim with stuff to do during the main story or absurdly robust side content. That said, Yakuza Kiwami 2 does more than just borrow pretty visuals from Yakuza 6 as a lot of the gameplay systems are directly carried over into this remake, and not necessarily for the better. For example, nearly all of Kiryu's bread & butter attack combos are the exact same as they were in The Song of Life just like the general level/stat progression too leading to an odd sense gameplay deja vu. Although, in the matter of fairness, the familiar combat engine is thankfully more enjoyable in Kiwami 2 than it was previously largely due to cleaned up hit detection, more responsive controls, and some really stylish context-specific moves (like during key boss fights). Even the returning RTS-esque "Clan Creator" mini-game from Yakuza 6 is fleshed out for the better by making it more strategic and tower-defense focused in Kiwami 2. Of course, at the end of the day, Kiwami 2 takes precedent as a remake and the story it tells is certainly among the most compelling parts of the overall package. Just like the original PS2 release, the crime-based storyline that delves into one of the most ruthless series antagonists, the Jingweon mafia, remains quite gripping, especially in its latter half. Even if, as a whole, 2's tale does not confidently take the top storytelling billing for the series like it once did (that mantle now belongs to Yakuza 0) and does have some hammy moments, like a forced love interest for Kiryu. Still, for those familiar with 2's tale should find the main story to be a treat even now, especially in how it is presented from much more dynamic combat encounters to revisiting cutscenes in much more impressive visual fidelity. As in-depth as the main story may be, one can easily double their total playtime if they dive into the game's copious amount of side content. Kiwami 2 introduces a lot of new sidequests, playable mini-games like karaoke or the goofy bathroom based "Toylet", full-fledged arcade ports of classic Sega games like Virtual-On, and even a brief campaign that focuses on the fan-favorite Majima. As usual with the series' current standard there are many easy rabbit holes for Kiryu to fall into especially with the often incredibly sharp, hilarious writing that accompanies them. In contrast, however, Majima's brief campaign very much feels like an afterthought in design. Although Majima is still fun to play for the couple hours it goes on for, it mostly comes across as shallow fanservice for Yakuza 0 fans than anything else (and I ADORE Yakuza 0, but still felt underwhelmed). For as deep of an experience Yakuza Kiwami 2 is as a whole, it actually makes some strange compromises over the original PS2 release. Some are negligible, like hit & miss mini-games (mostly miss) that don't make a return as well as certain sidequests. But perhaps the most controversial change of all is the removal of an entire explorable zone in the story (albeit a rather small one overall) where Kiwami 2 essentially re-purposes the story context associated with into the all too familiar in-game region of Sotenbori. While it is easy to guess it may have been done for budgeting reasons, it still is rather odd considering how faithful first Kiwami release was to the original PS2 title to an almost slavish degree. Odder still, the soundtrack of Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a noticeable step back from the original PS2 title and has very few returning musical pieces from it. Yakuza Kiwami 2 hits pretty much all the checkboxes that make for an engaging title in the series, from a thrilling story to an absurdly wide array of side content. As a remake, however, it does bring up some points of contention with a couple of odd compromises and some inherent gameplay flaws that are caused by reusing the engine from Yakuza 6. But, assuming one is not the too concerned about the sanctity of the original PS2 release, there is plenty of enjoyment to be had in revisiting one of the best games to series, especially for would-be newcomers. Pros + By refining the engine originally implemented in sixth main entry Kiwami 2 heavily benefits from tightened up gameplay & slick visuals as a remake + Sharp, witty localization that makes the already compelling main story and copious sidequest banter that much more entertaining + Tons of side content to delve into that can keep one occupied for quite a while Cons - Can create a bit too much gameplay Deja Vu because the combat, stat progression, and most minigames are directly lifted from Yakuza 6 - Some bizarre compromises over the original PS2 release, such as some removed content and the hugely altered soundtrack, and not exactly for the better Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a sleek remake that manages to capture much of the spirit of its original PS2 release that should give fans both old and new plenty to chew on Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  4. Developer: Sega/Media Vision Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC Release Date: July 10, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game The phrase "Shining" holds a very different connotation in the gaming space depending on who you ask. Ask an old school RPG fan what it means to them and they would likely mention its previous, tactical role-playing game form of the beloved Shining Force titles. If you were to ask developer Sega themselves, they would likely phrase it in a way that could be just about anything resembling an RPG, especially given the many games they have churned out under its banner. That said, the Shining series has most often shifted toward a more typical action-RPG template in Japan these past couple decades. Though it may be an enhanced release of a formerly Japanese-exclusive PlayStation 3 title, Shining Resonance Refrain should radiate as a curious new direction for the series after a long absence from English speakers specifically. Above nearly all else, Shining Resonance Refrain takes a keen interest in both dragons and music while very rarely separating either element. Everything from the usage of musical armaments (...called "Armonics") to the main character, Yuma, who bears the latent power of a powerful dragon, play pivotal roles in the overarching narrative. That said, ultimately, the story itself rarely boils down to being more than a handful of good guys fighting against an evil empire despite however much jargon it tries to throw at the player like "Diva Magica" or many phrases straight out of Norse mythology. The main story remains predictable to a fault and can be rather hokey in more than a few instances because of it. Gameplay-wise, Shining Resonance: Refrain takes more than a few notes from its action-RPG contemporaries (such as Namco's Tales of- series) but with a couple of minor twists. You have your real-time combat system in which normal attacks use a stamina gauge and it quickly becomes encouraged to use special MP skills right before one runs out of stamina to maintain a constant offense. To not so subtlety chime a reminder of the musical setup, there is also a BPM gauge that steadily builds up mid-battle which will provide a variety of buffs upon use depending on the song. Admittedly, battles are rather button-mashy, and quickly become routine, but are also easy to get into. The game also does a decent job at making each party member feel unique, such as the ranged grenadier, Marion, who can use support spells, and even the main character, Yuma, who quickly goes from using a standard longsword to transforming into the Shining Dragon mid-battle. There are more than a few battle system foibles than the simplicity of it, however. Some are amusing like the main character becoming overpowered to the point of trivializing most other attackers by literally only needing to mash the circle button from the halfway point and on. Less amusing, however, are the frequent slowdown for flashier spells and, what can be even more annoying, the sleepy ally AI especially in regards to healing/suicidal positioning. Unlike the frequent slowdown hiccups, thankfully some of the AI problems can get straightened out over time if one messes with 'traits' within the Bond Diagram mechanic, which affects AI tendencies like their increased inclination towards using healing or buffs/debuffs mid-fight. In sharp contrast to their unreliable combat usage, one of the surprising strengths of Shining Resonance Refrain's main playable cast is their likability in a story context. One the most obvious ways to see this is within the primary town, which features numerous interpersonal scenes as well as the opportunity to go on dates with party members (yes, guys included). It is clear that these affinity systems were mostly developed with the pretty lady characters in mind but the actual implementation comes across as far more wholesome than one would expect. In addition, there is a pretty earnest friendship that develops between everyone, and not just Yuma despite, well, the story having more than a few over-the-top anime antics moments in-between. Perhaps the biggest problem with the entire game (yes, even more than the very cliched main story) are the huge discrepancies caused by the level-up progression. Main story bosses spike in level at an absurd rate each chapter, and the means of gaining the experience to close the gap in a reasonable amount of time is quite limited. I had to go out of my way to look into items that made it so inactive party members would gain experience, and to increase the rate of seeing the in-game equivalent to Dragon Quest's Metal Slimes (called eggs) in specific, randomly generated Grimoire dungeons, because the experience obtained from normal enemies in regular environments was way too low (... just like in Dragon Quest). In spite of such glaring gameplay flaws, Shining Resonance Refrain still somehow manages to be better than the sum of its parts in charm alone. One of the key ways it does is in the sharp localization which makes an often predictable script somehow still entertaining to read, especially regarding character specific scenes in the central town. The underlying care also transfers to the audio, like how the instrumentation of BPM songs will change based on which character performs it; a nice touch to an already good soundtrack. Heck, even the English dub is solid as well, though I admit I gravitated towards the Japanese voices due to some top-notch talent and it having a more natural transition towards the Japanese-only vocal songs. Shining Resonance Resonance is one of those strange titles that is significantly flawed in both its gameplay progression and main storytelling yet manages to stumble onto the path of being enjoyable regardless. Its key flaws are quite difficult to ignore, especially if one has a low tolerance towards cliche storytelling (which it is dense with), and it requires a willingness to accept the genre stereotypes it so frequently leans on to see a more sincere, lighthearted underside. If one wants an easy to approach action-RPG that is as charming as it is predictable, Shining Resonance Refrain is a solid option. But those expecting anything deeper in their RPG experience would be much better served looking elsewhere than it. Pros + Easy to approach combat system that manages to make each playable character feel distinct + Likable main cast of characters with surprisingly wholesome vibe between them + Pleasant aesthetic from the sharp soundtrack to well-realized character models Cons - Very predictable storytelling that can be quite hokey with its anime tropes - Balancing party experience becomes cumbersome due to huge enemy level spikes between each main story chapter -Occasional slowdown and dumb ally AI unfortunately bog down combat - A bit too much backtracking between zones Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Shining Resonance Refrain does very little to veer from the course of many Japanese RPG stereotypes but for those willing to accept its often predictable nature can still find an earnest hidden charm underneath it all Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  5. This is not a drill. REPEAT, this is not a drill! SEGA's long-awaited Valkyria Chronicles 4 is finally set to release in late September! The first true sequel in the series since 2011, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is set in the same time period as the first game, but features an all-new cast as they brave the realities of war. Once again, the BLiTZ battle system makes its return, offering a mix of turn-based strategy, RPG, and real-time third-person shooter elements. You'll also be introduced to new additions such as the Grenadier class, offensive/defensive battleship support options, the chance for units to take a "Last Stand" action before their death, and much more. And, of course, Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII), makes his grand return here with a sweeping orchestral score for the fourth installment. Valkyria Chronicles is set to launch with two different versions at retail. One is the standard "Launch" version, which contains a Ragnarok (the adorable medic doggo) controller skin for whatever platform you chose, as well as the game itself. The other is the "Memoirs from Battle" Premium Edition ($99), which contains the following: Vinyl statue of the "Hafen" tank "Claude's Travel Journal" 100-paged themed artbook Two DLC adventures featuring Squad 7 characters (offers over 3 hours of content across 4 exclusive story missions and fully-voiced cutscenes) Valkyria Chronicles 4 is slated to release digitally and via retail on September 25 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam. Source: Press Release Will you be getting the game on launch? If so, which version will you get? Let us know in the comments below!
  6. Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: April 17, 2018 ESRB: M for Mature Over a decade after the series took Japan by storm, the West seems to have finally taken notice of Sega's intended spiritual child of Shenmue. Thanks to some highly memorable PS4 entries featuring the ex-yakuza with a heart of gold, Kiryu has suddenly become a recognizable gaming face alongside the Yakuza series itself. That's why it's more than a bit odd that we must bid Kiryu farewell just as the series is gaining momentum in 2018. Yet, with more than a half-dozen of his crime-centric stories etched upon the backs of various Sony console generations (including the highly recommended prequel: Yakuza 0) it does certainly have justification behind it. With the hopes telling one final tale deep into Kiryu's adulthood age does Yakuza 6: The Song of Life provide a worthy finale to the series' beloved main protagonist? Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a confusing beast much like the lead protagonist it is focused upon. For veterans of the series the gameplay framework will be more than recognizable, from punching in the faces of countless thugs to playing Puyo Puyo at a random Sega arcade cabinet but thematically it will likely feel quite foreign. This is most true when Kiryu bounces from the all too familiar bustling starting town of Kumurocho (which has been a staple for every single main entry game) to the entirely new and much more rural location of Onomichi for more than half the main game. To avoid being too specific for spoiler-ish reasoning, the very loose pretense being that Kiryu gets saddled with taking care of a child in a quest of finding the would-be father. Of course, like any Yakuza storyline it never ends up being quite that simple for the "Dragon of Dojima" Kiryu and his unlucky interwoven fate with the criminal underground. To strongly punctuate the distinctly new Onomichi backdrop is in no small part because of the series' entirely different gameplay engine as well as the surprising focal point on new characters. The advanced gameplay engine often makes Yakuza 6 gorgeous both visually and aurally. It is also the first time in a long while the series hasn't felt shackled by dated PS3 hardware. Through the smart use of furrowed brows, eye contact, and other nonverbal tics it goes a long way in making the fresh setting and cast captivating aesthetically, alongside some strong musical accompaniment, even when story scenes get a little too self-indulgent in terms of running time and occasionally eye roll worthy story twists. Perhaps the strangest aspect about Yakuza 6 is that the story it tries to tell often feels quite removed from almost every prior title. Many fan-favorite characters are barely anywhere to be seen, for example, despite doing an admirable job at making one warm up to the new cast like the hotheaded thug Nagumo or his nonchalant patriarch Hirose. The only real exceptions to this independent storytelling philosophy being the intro that immediately follows up Yakuza 5's conclusion and the emotionally charged and satisfying finale for returning fans. While I grew to appreciate the refreshing (and generally more focused theme around family) change in storytelling dynamic, especially since Yakuza 4 and 5 had plenty of narrative throwback fanfare, I can definitely see a knee-jerk reaction from other longstanding Yakuza players expecting much more familiar territory for Kiryu's final adventure. I may have grown to appreciate the differences in Yakuza 6's approach towards narrative the gameplay is not quite as consistently well-realized within the snazzy new engine. Like most Yakuza titles there is a strong focus on soaking in the sights of Japan to just as quickly settling fights--and there's plenty reasoning to do both. The combat, in particular, is where Yakuza 6 comes across almost like a groundwork for future games than what it should be as a culmination of the series. There are some smart changes like much smoother transitions both in and out of battle, whereas the previous titles often felt like random encounters in role-playing games you couldn't really run away from. But Kiryu's overall moveset is more simplified this time around with the lack of Yakuza 0's combat stances or the character variety in games like Yakuza 4 & 5. It also doesn't help combat itself is made less responsive than it should be with some really wonky hit detection and bizarre usable item physics-- like some faceless thug casually able to kick a bicycle as if it were a soccer ball across the street. Sure, battles are still fun in a mindless beat 'em up way with a whole lot of visual flair, scripted story battles especially, but a handful of welcome tweaks does not save it from coming off as an arguably more clumsy battle system overall. Yet, Yakuza is one of those series that can often get past the more hit & aspects with its core systems due to the sheer breadth of optional side activities. As per the series' standard, there are a whole lot of distractions from the main story and the game is better for it since it helps distract from some occasional main story pacing flaws. Kiryu can go around doing all sorts of stuff like working out at a gym, sing karaoke, feeding stray cats to have them become part of a cat cafe, gamble, go to hostess bars, and more. There are some obvious winners like excellent ports of Sega games via in-game arcade cabinets like Fantasy Zone or Outrun to straight-up most recent editions of Virtua Fighter 5 and Puyo Puyo. The biggest loser, unfortunately, in terms of being just plain annoying despite the clever name involves "Troublr", which are time-sensitive missions that love to pop up at the most inconvenient times and try and guilt trip you for not helping right away. Some sidequests in particular, however, run surprisingly deep. Easily the most in-depth mode of all involves an overhead real-time strategy game in which Kiryu commands and recruits various warriors in an attempt to stop the iconic Japanese wrestler Rainmaker and his clan called "Justis" from terrorizing the city. There is a surprising amount of nuance to it like connecting online to battle other clans or learning the synergy between certain recruits so they get better stats, even though you can easily over-level your way through it with exp bonuses. Aside from that there are also much more bite-sized side stories which are usually when the localization is at its sharpest because of their either heartwarming or totally bizarre scenarios, all of which are fully-voiced now. As entertaining as much of the side content is, it is disappointing that Yakuza 6 is scaled back in several regards. Quite literally, The main town of Kumurocho has several familiar locations straight up closed off because of in-game construction that never goes away making the adventure feel more claustrophobic than several games before it. Onomichi being even smaller with even less to do (aside from the main story) does not help its case. It is among one of the shortest adventures in the series, and while the game benefits from it story-wise, there is only about half as much to do compared to earlier releases outside of it. Much like Kiryu does as a person throughout his life, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life ends up stumbling in a lot of places despite having its heart in the right place. Everything from its remarkably different and self-contained main narrative structuring to the completely overhauled combat system will almost guarantee that it will rub returning series' fans the wrong way for one reason or another. But what Yakuza 6 does showcase is plenty of passion, like the surprisingly likable new cast to the entertaining (but somewhat more limited) side activities, which permeates throughout the experience and helps the game stand tall. Even though Yakuza 6: The Song of Life may not present the series at its peak performance (that'd be Yakuza 0), it is still a more than worthwhile adventure that does not simply rest on its former achievements to earn one's respect over time. Pros +Visually and aurally captivating presentation + Develops the entirely new cast of characters well like turning obnoxious goons into likable companions + Enticing side stories and mini games + Good quality of life additions like the series finally discovering auto-saving Cons - Some underwhelming reveals and the very self-contained main story arc can be disappointing for longstanding series fans - Despite being completely overworked the combat system actually controls less responsively due to some iffy hit detection - Closed off city spaces and less overall side activities than one has come to expect from the series Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Yakuza 6: The Song of Life strides to go in a remarkably different direction with its themes without abandoning much of the inherent charm the games have become known for showcasing. But at the cost of shedding some of its gameplay strengths in particular in the brand new engine leads to it not quite standing toe to toe with series' best entries. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  7. Nearly a year after its initial release, SEGA has announced today that Sonic Mania will be getting an all-new edition of the game called Sonic Mania Plus. This new version will not only be the first real physical version of the game, it also includes a SEGA Genesis reversible cover (for those nostalgic for old Genesis boxart covers), a 32-page art book, and two new characters: Ray the Flying Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo. The latter might be more familiar to longtime Sonic fans, since Mighty appeared in Knuckles' Chaotix on SEGA's short-lived 32X add-on for the Genesis. But both characters first appeared in a Japanese-only arcade game called SegaSonic the Hedgehog (no, I'm not making this up!). SEGA says there is "more" to the game as well, leading us to believe they'll reveal more info leading up to its release. In the meantime, you can look forward to playing Sonic Mania Plus when it releases this Summer on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. Source: SEGA (via Twitter) Are you interested in Sonic Mania Plus and its new additions?
  8. The Shining series is one we haven't seen in the West for nearly 11 years now (with the last game being Shining Force EXA on PS2 in 2007), but that will all change soon as SEGA announced today that it will be bringing Shining Resonance Refrain to North America this summer. Originally called Shining Resonance -- previously a Japanese-only release on PS3 in 2014 -- this remaster collects the original game, all of its DLC, features dual audio with Japanese and English tracks, and includes a new "Refrain Mode," which unlocks two characters (Imperial Princess Excella and Dragonslayer Jinas) for use in your party. Shining Resonance Refrain's story centers on a young man named Yuma whom has the soul of a Shining Dragon in him and can transform into one through use of his sword. However, this makes him the target of the Empire, who want to use his power against the Kingdom of Astoria. After a rescue effort by the latter and its princess, Sonia, Yuma is moved by the plight of their nation and joins the fight to save their land. The game's battle system features two interesting aspects -- one is the Resonance system (hence the game's title), in which characters can deepen their relationship and form a "Resonance" with each other through events and dates, thus providing a new level of support in battle. Another is the B.A.N.D. system, which your party will be able to play rune songs that can provide beneficial effects throughout the battle; certain characters might even perform the song in a different costume as well. Shining Resonance Refrain's launch edition will feature a collectible metal slipcase featuring artwork of Excella, Sonia, and Kirika, and will release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for $49.99 USD/$64.99 CAD this Summer. No specific date has been announced yet, but we'll let you know as soon as they announce it. Check out the game's official announcement trailer below, which shows off a segment with characters jamming to the B.A.N.D. system. Source: Press Release Are you excited that a new Shining title is headed to the West?
  9. Let's be honest: things weren't looking good for the Valkyria Chronicles series after the latest entry, Valkyria Chronicles Revolution, came out in June this year and underwhelmed, both critically and sales-wise (Barrel called it a "husk of a spin-off that is unlikely to really satisfy existing Valkyria fans" in his review). Luckily for us, SEGA isn't that quick to give up on the series. In fact, they've just announced a proper fourth game in the series, Valkyria Chronicles 4, and it's coming out sometime in 2018 in North America and Europe. This game will see the top-down, third-person strategy elements mixed with RPG and 3rd-person shooter elements make a return, along with larger scale maps with more units, a new class called the "Grenadier", numerous defensive and offensive battleship support options, units being able to make a "last stand" action before death, and more. Also making his return as composer is Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy Tactics), who is sure to provide more of his sweeping, epic tracks to accompany the World War II-inspired story. Most surprising of all? Not only is Valkyria Chronicles 4 coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One; it's also coming to Nintendo Switch -- a pretty big show of faith for the new console/handheld hybrid on SEGA's part. For now, check out the game's trailer below as we await more info in the coming months and year ahead. Source: Press Release Are you excited that Valkyria Chronicles is making a return with a brand new installment? And how about that Switch release?
  10. Jordan Haygood

    Review: Sonic Mania

    Developers: PagodaWest Games, Headcannon Publisher: Sega Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC Release Date(s): August 15th, 2017; August 29th, 2017 (PC) ESRB: E for Everyone Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game Let’s be real for a second; Sonic the Hedgehog hasn’t exactly had the best of luck over the years. Ever since he entered the 3D realm, our favorite supersonic hedgehog has stumbled a few too many times for his own good. That’s not to say that there aren’t any good 3D Sonic games, but… well, let’s just say the blue blur hasn’t exactly had the greatest track record (and I’m not talking about literal track records here, as I’m sure he breaks them all). Sonic the Hedgehog in 2D, however, has almost always been great, at least in my opinion. So, you can imagine my excitement when Sonic Mania was first announced. I’ve awaited a game like this for what feels like an eternity. In fact, I’d say I’ve been waiting for Sonic Mania ever since I beat Sonic 3 & Knuckles, I just didn’t know what it would be called. And once it was released, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the 90s again. Not only does it feel like a true entry in Sonic’s Genesis era, but with today’s technological advancements, Sonic Mania performs even better, too. Some extremely creative level designs, an insanely good soundtrack, and all the nostalgia you could ever ask for makes Sonic Mania one game no Sonic fan should miss. As with most of the classic Sonic games, Sonic Mania doesn’t really focus too much on story. There is a story being told, but it takes a back seat to just about every other aspect of the game. The gist is that, following the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, Sonic and Tails have noticed a strong energy reading similar to the Chaos Emeralds coming from Angel Island, so they head on over there. Of course, Dr. Eggman (who else?) and the Hard-Boiled Heavies – a group of robots created by the bad doctor – noticed the signal too, so they made sure to get there first. What they find is a gem known as the Phantom Ruby, which enables Eggman and the Heavies with immense power, including the ability to warp Sonic & co. through time and space. And thus, the possibility to replay old stages becomes possible. Sonic Mania is more than just a collection of old levels, of course. While the development team most definitely repurposed some of the old levels’ designs, they also made sure to change some things. For example, while the Act 1 stages of the classic zones are very reminiscent to the originals, Act 2 tends to be a brand-new level entirely. Aside from that, there are also some new zones you will only see in Sonic Mania (at least for now). And if I’m being honest here, I’d even wager that the newer stuff has the better level design (please don’t kill me…). As for how Sonic Mania controls, it’s exactly what you would expect. From the simple running, jumping, and spin-dashing mechanics to Tails flying and Knuckles gliding and climbing, the game really feels like you’re playing Sonic 3 & Knuckles again, but with a different lineup of levels. The power-ups from Sonic 3 & Knuckles even make a nice comeback. There is a new mechanic, however, that helps Sonic Mania stand out a bit more – the Drop Dash. Basically, while Tails can fly & Knuckles can glide, Sonic can now dash immediately after dropping to the ground after a jump. It can be very useful if you get the hang of it, although until I figured out how to use it, I sometimes found myself drop-dashing accidentally to unfortunate consequences. Speaking of things from Sonic 3 & Knuckles that have returned for Sonic Mania: love it or hate it, the blue sphere special stages are back. They don’t unlock Chaos Emeralds this time, however. Instead, upon clearing these special stages, you earn silver medals when hitting all blue spheres and gold for also collecting the rings. Collect enough medals and you start unlocking additional features, such as moves from previous games, Debug Mode and the much-needed “& Knuckles” Mode, a feature that allows you to have Knuckles tag along on your adventure, even if you’re playing as Knuckles. Because if there’s one team-up I always wanted to see, it’s Knuckles & Knuckles. While the blue sphere special stages don’t unlock Chaos Emeralds, they aren’t the only special stages in this game. Finding a giant ring hidden in each stage will warp you to a new type of special stage exclusive to Sonic Mania where you must catch a UFO and take the emerald from its grasp, collecting blue spheres to gain speed and rings to not run out of time. I actually found these special stages quite enjoyable, with a definite Sonic Jam/Sonic R vibe going on. And like with any type of special stage, they get harder and more frustrating, which can get annoying when you have to keep looking for the giant rings in order to retry the stages after failing. But it’s all worth it in the end, once you can become Super Sonic and fight the true final boss of the game. There’s not a ton to say about the graphics aside from it being like Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but better. And I found that delightful. As a long-time fan of the game (and the series in general, of course), I just love how similar it looks. Obviously, the resolution is higher and the overall quality is better since it can be. And I was impressed by how seamlessly the development team could create new levels that look exactly like something from Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Like, seriously, these levels don’t look out of place at all. If you’re a sucker for nostalgia, then Sonic Mania will have no trouble satisfying you. The music, though. THE MUSIC, THOUGH. Seriously, Sonic Mania not only lives up to the awesomeness of the classic games it borrows levels from by remastering certain songs we all remember from those games, but the remixes used in the Mania-exclusive Act 2 stages of some of those zones and the songs written for the brand-new zones are just pure gold. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that Sonic Mania has my all-time favorite soundtrack of any Sonic game ever. And that’s really saying something. Of course, it certainly helps that many of my favorite Sonic tunes have returned in Sonic Mania. I realize I haven’t said a whole lot about the negatives in Sonic Mania. But there’s a reason; I simply can’t think of that many. I remember one time when the game glitched on me and somehow replaced the jumping sound effect with the ring one, which was weird. I also ran into a glitch in a certain new stage right before the boss that kept the boss from showing up, thus keeping me from progressing until I either ran out of time or killed myself. Other than that, there are a few annoyances that carried over from the classics, such as abruptly and unfairly getting crushed to death. And if you’re one of those people who didn’t care too much for the stop-and-go style of classic Sonic games, this game probably won't change your mind. For the longest time, I’ve considered Sonic 3 & Knuckles to be my favorite Sonic game of all time. But now that I’ve played Sonic Mania, I’m not so sure anymore. The game has its share of glitches, but they are few and far between and takes nothing away from what makes the game so good. With some level designs so good I might even consider them the series’ best, graphics that make the game look like a Genesis game with higher resolution, and possibly my favorite soundtrack of any Sonic game ever, Sonic Mania is one hell of a comeback. If you’re a fan of the classic Sonic games, you owe it to yourself to get this game. You won’t regret it. I promise. Pros + Incredible level design that might even top the classics + Fun special stages with plenty to unlock + Delightfully retro graphics style + Amazing soundtrack that is hard to stop listening to Cons - A few minor glitches - Some frustrations passed down from the classics Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic A wonderful throwback to Sonic's Genesis days, Sonic Mania is a fantastic game and a strong contender for best Sonic game of all time, thanks to some incredible level design, a delightfully retro graphics style, and an amazing soundtrack. This is one game no Sonic fan should miss out on.
  11. 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.
  12. Alien: Isolation was easily one of the best new entries the series had seen when it came out a few years back, and now we're finally hearing the first rumblings of a sequel that may be in the works. Creative Assembly is the studio that developed the game, but they've had their hands full with Halo Wars 2 until that title shipped in February. Now the studio is rumored to be turning its attention to a follow-up Alien title according to Official PlayStation Magazine's sources, though it's too early to say whether it would be a full-blown sequel or a new Alien project with a different title. Though Alien: Isolation sold some 2.1 million units sold across the US and Europe as of May 2015, SEGA is said to have been not entirely satisfied with sales, so whether a new Alien game could be profitable enough or not is a big factor for them. However, the topic of making another title is said to be almost a daily topic at times at Creative Assembly (according to an interview from AVP Galaxy), so the desire is definitely still here. Whether the rumor pans out or not, it'll likely be another year or two before we find out for sure. Source: Official PlayStation Magazine (via PlayStation Universe) Would you be excited for a sequel to Alien: Isolation?
  13. While the recently-named Sonic Forces will be bookending 2017, fans of a more classic, 2D Sonic will be able to get their hands on the upcoming Sonic Mania much sooner. Just... maybe not as soon as you were initially expecting. Sega announced at SXSW 2017 that Sonic Mania will now be releasing sometime in the Summer instead of its original Spring 2017 release date. It's unfortunate for sure, especially considering that many fans are more excited for this one over Sonic Forces due to it being a compilation/remix of levels from the classic 2D Sonic titles, but the good news is the delay isn't too long. Also good news -- Sega announced another classic Sonic stage that would be returning in Sonic Mania: Flying Battery Zone. Fans will likely remember playing the stage from Sonic & Knuckles, along with its catchy theme. Check out footage of the remade Flying Battery Zone below. Hopefully this isn't the last we hear about Sonic Mania for a while. If Sega is following the Super Smash Bros. method of drip-feeding announcements, perhaps it won't be too long before we hear more about the game and its remaining levels. Sonic Mania is coming to PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch this Summer. Source: Polygon Are you disappointed to hear about Sonic Mania's delay?
  14. Project Sonic 2017 was initially announced last year as the next new 3D Sonic game in the works, but little else was revealed beyond a short trailer that didn't include any gameplay. That is, until yesterday. Sega has now announced that the game's title will be Sonic Forces. The reasoning for the name has yet to be revealed, but it seems to imply that Sonic may team up and unite with other characters to stand against Eggman's latest machinations; we'll have to wait for the official synopsis from Sega to be sure. Also, the first gameplay footage for the game was revealed at SXSW, where it shows Sonic racing through a city that appears to be under siege by Eggman's robots. We'll likely have to wait just a bit longer for Sega to completely spill the [chili] beans on this one, so you can probably expect to hear more at E3 2017 in just a few short months. In the meantime, Sonic Forces is currently slated to launch during Holiday 2017 for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. What do you think of Sonic Forces' name and first footage?
  15. barrel

    Review: Yakuza 0

    Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: January 24, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature As a certain character would put it: "The Yakuza game, it's not like boxing. The man who gets beat down isn't the loser. The guy who can't tough it out to the end, he's the loser." This statement somewhat describes the tenacity that overseas Yakuza fans have needed over the years. Years of getting their hopes pummeled out of them after many commercial failures and the business reality of localization simply being too high to justify bringing more Yakuza games over. Yet, slowly but surely, the series kept getting back up again and again due to fervent fandom. And bless them and Sega, really. Because English speakers are now fortunate enough to play what is secretly a quintessential Yakuza entry for series fans and at the same time a fantastic starting point for would-be newcomers through the newest release of Yakuza 0 on PS4. Once you truly step into the criminal underworld it becomes pretty much impossible to leave it. And in the case of Yakuza 0, you won't really want to. In a lot of ways Yakuza 0 is a blast from the past. Disco is not dead just yet, pagers are the main means of portable electronic communication, and money is anything but difficult to come by in 1988 Japan. More than just the times, however, the title does a wonderful job of showing the contrasts in familiar characters as well with their distinctly different younger selves. Kazama Kiryu, for example, is not exactly the well-natured man we've come to know in later entries. He's a fresh and upcoming Yakuza with a naive outlook of the criminal underground. Which, well, frankly gets him into the mess he quickly finds himself upon starting out when Kiryu is framed for the murder of a guy he beat up just hours before on shady loan shark's payroll. Now, Yakuza 0's main narrative is far more complicated than that, especially when the perspective of the other playable main character Majima Goro comes into play. What I will say though is that it is pretty much without a doubt the best, as well as the darkest, story in the series. It is truly impressive how much Yakuza 0 retroactively makes its source material significantly better because of how brilliantly it tells an independent story while also cleverly making plenty of throwbacks to its would-be "sequels". I really enjoyed seeing the character development that Majima in particular sees because of how radically different he is in latter entries. Those that get a kick out of crime-based thrillers should be more than pleased with the exciting storytelling present in Yakuza 0. The series is far more than a crime-based narrative, however. If anything, it's surprising that the storytelling is as noteworthy as it is when the main stay of the series has mostly been within its open-world design and fun beat 'em up gameplay, as with more recent entries. In terms of actual scale the two primary towns are hardly anywhere near as big as many would come to expect from somewhat excessively huge open-world games as of late like The Witcher 3. However, Yakuza 0 compensates for this through the absurd breadth of side activities you can partake in. It is not an overstatement at all to say there is pretty much something unique to do in every block in either towns of Kamurocho and Sotenbori. Money is hardly a subtle theme in Yakuza 0. Whether it be in the grim main story or when punching in the face of random street thugs in a goofy way and having cash quite visibly fly out of them it is pretty obvious about it. Cash, or rather yen, is the life blood of the game and it is a tangible means of progression in more ways than one. For example, Kiryu and Majima use yen on themselves to strengthen their battle prowess -- literally. Speaking of which, the beat 'em up styled combat is quite enjoyable in Yakuza 0. Although it isn't dramatically different from prior entries, it does rather notably change it up with new fighting styles. There are four different fighting styles for each protagonist which can be toggled between mid-battle by tapping the d-pad. For example, Kiryu's "Beast" style is more about crowd-control while ruthlessly swinging heavy objects in the environment and his "Rush" style is better suited for bobbing and weaving singular targets. Other than that, it follows the general beat 'em up rules of prior entries where characters try to accumulate "heat" gained from various means (like landing hits or taunting) to perform over-the-top and context specific actions. Grabbing a salt shaker on the ground and pouring it into some poor goon's eyes or smashing their head with a street sign is all fair game in Yakuza 0. The Yakuza series has always struck a weird balance between being very self-serious with its main storytelling to extremely hokey with lots of the side content. And boy is there a lot of side content. I spent fifty hours taking my time with the title only to have it tell me I only saw about 30% of it after beating the lengthy main story. Both protagonists have lots of optional activities that are specific to them when roaming between the two primary towns (even if Kiryu has a bit more). Sure, there exists some overlap, like how both can participate in sing/dance mini-games, or that they can both spend time at a local Sega arcade playing stuff like Outrun too, but an overwhelming majority of sidequests and their short story lines are not. Some sidequests are oddly heartwarming, like trying to help a mother get her daughter back from a dangerous religious cult, while many more are amusing in concept, like helping "Miracle Johnson" shoot what is basically a Thriller music video as zombies try and attack him. The great, and often witty localization helps sell the exposition regardless of context. Which certainly helps a lot for a game that can be as dialogue and cutscene-heavy as various RPGs at times. What is actually really impressive is how many seemingly self-contained sidequests also feed back into other content as well. After a certain point both leads get control of the own businesses, such as Kiryu with a real estate agency and Majima with a hostess cabaret, each with their own unique and surprisingly nuanced mini-games associated with them. So that rude old lady that cut in front of you to buy takoyaki could be a potential recruitable hostess for Majima's cabaret, or maybe even that chicken you got from bowling more than a few times in a sidequest may just be the perfect real estate manger for certain areas in Kiryu's real estate business. Did I mention that Yakuza 0 gets really weird at times? It is a massive game to say the least and dense with quirky charm. It is weird to reach the end of a game review and feel like one has only just begun describing the title. But that is just it. Yakuza 0 is terrific in the sheer variety of its overall strengths. To say it is the best entry in the series in both gameplay and storytelling honestly feels like it is selling it short. The storytelling is enthralling, gameplay is as crazy as it is fun (it is very, very crazy), and the worthwhile side content is massive to the point of being overwhelming. Without aimlessly rambling for much longer, the last thing that I will say is that if the Yakuza series has ever piqued your interests in the slightest there is literally no better starting point than the excellent PS4 title that is Yakuza 0. And for existing fans -- well, they should pride themselves while basking the richness that is playing the best game in the series. Pros + Thrilling and dark crime-based storytelling that is the best in the series + Phenomenal sense of atmosphere that almost feels tangible + Flashy, vicious combat system that differentiates the fighting styles of both playable leads quite well + Sidequests range wonderfully from being bizarrely touching to downright hilarious in their writing and execution, more so hilarious + To say there is so much worthwhile content to see and do is a severe understatement Cons - Combat gets repetitive over time outside of certain intense scripted story events - Exposition may be overwhelming at times for those not expecting it to be so verbose - Some backtracking problems Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Yakuza 0 is very much a stellar prequel through the lens of the future. But rather than excluding those without an established history, it embraces pretty much anybody with so much as a passing curiosity in the Yakuza series as what is essentially the perfect starting point for it in general. And, arguably, the current best game in the series as well. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  16. Puyo Puyo is a puzzle game series that hasn't been quite that huge in North America for a while, but we've seen it disguised as a variety of games over the years. Most notably, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine and Kirby's Avalanche -- both of which were reskins of Puyo Puyo titles for the Western markets. At any rate, SEGA's Puyo Puyo Tetris will offer a slew of unique game modes, including an Adventure mode that acts as a single-player campaign and features a number of characters and challenges from the Puyo Puyo/Tetris universe. Of course, Solo mode will also allow you to play against the CPU. Other modes include: Versus - In which you compete against another player in either Puyo Puyo or Tetris modes. Swap - Which switches between Puyo Puyo and Tetris boards at certain intervals. Fusion - Combines Puyo Puyo and Tetris together on the same board to make the experience require more thought into each move. Big Bang - Players race to complete challenge boards as fast as possible Party - Special items are thrown into the mix which, when activated, will either help players or harm their opponents Puyo Puyo Tetris will be coming to PS4 only in the physical format for $29.99, but will be available on Nintendo Switch digitally for the same price, as well as a limited physical edition that includes two Puyo Puyo- and Tetris-themed keychains for $39.99. It will be available on April 25 in the Americas and April 28 in Europe. Source: Press Release Will you be getting Puyo Puyo Tetris when it releases?
  17. Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: January 10, 2017 ESRB: T For the past several years, the virtual idol Hatsune Miku has made huge strides in popularity outside of Japan. She and her fellow Vocaloids -- Megurine Luka, Kagamine Rin and Len, KAITO, and MEIKO -- have appeared in live concerts across North America and Asia, and Sega began localizing rhythm games featuring the characters with Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F. And now Sega has taken Miku and company once step further with a newly localized release of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone. Future Tone is a home console adaptation of the Japan-only Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Arcade Future Tone. The game is sold digitally in two primary content packs, Future Sound and Colorful Tone, and together, the entire collection of songs dials in at a whopping 224 individual tracks. The full song library is available for play without having to unlock any tracks via gameplay progression, though a subset of songs are only playable on the game“s higher difficulty levels. The basic rhythm gameplay in Future Tone should be familiar to anyone that played previous home console or handheld Project Diva titles. As a song plays, icons denoting buttons on the controller will fly across the screen, and button presses need to be timed with when the icons line up with their markers to the rhythm and beat of the music. Twists that Future Tone adds to this formula include hold markers, where one or more buttons must be pressed and then held for a score bonus, and sliders, which are triggered either with the shoulder buttons or analogue sticks. Veterans of the series should have no trouble jumping into the gameplay, but for newcomers, there“s also a handy practice mode. Songs can be practiced from start to finish, or from a specific time of the player“s choosing, without the distractions of the animated song videos that play in the background. And as in other Project Diva titles, song videos can optionally be viewed on their own without gameplay. Comparatively, when using games like Project Diva F or Project Diva X as a reference, Future Tone is a noticeably more challenging game. This isn“t a bad thing, as the game encourages and offers the aforementioned tools to practice freely, but it should be noted that the game can pose a challenge, even on Normal. Of course, difficulty will also vary from song to song, as well, with some offering a significantly steeper challenge to earn a high accuracy percentage, much less simply clear. The rhythm game itself is solid, but the star of the show is the aforementioned track list; a massive catalogue of songs performed by Hatsune Miku and the other Crypton Future Media Vocaloids that covers a broad range of styles, genres, themes, and imagery. Any fan of Miku and company is bound to find a long list of songs they enjoy, even if some personal favorites didn“t make the cut. The game even includes some wonderful lyrical remixes of theme songs from the classic Sega arcade titles After Burner, Out Run, and Power Drift. The videos that accompany each track are of a high quality as well, with visuals that match the songs“ themes and tones. Some, like the angelic “Innocence” or the whimsical “Clover Club” take place on elaborate stages and focus on the Vocaloids as they sing and dance. Others, like the hopeful “God-Tier Tune” and the tragic “Rolling Girl” eschew the stage for using the song to tell a short story. The Vocaloids can be customized with modules, or costumes, that change their appearance, and each song has a recommended module that that was either designed for it or serves as an ideal fit, though any module can be used for any song no matter how out of place. If there are true flaws in Future Tone, they“re minor, at best. None of the songs in the game feature English subtitles, with romaji (romanized Japanese) being the only lyric display option. And song videos shared online via the PS4“s Share functionality have the music muted to avoid legal issues. Both of these points, while disappointing, are understandable, however. To its core, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone is a game made for fans of Hatsune Miku. From the track list to the inside jokes present in everything from the videos, to the accessories, and even the trophy requirements, the game knows its audience. And while audiences unfamiliar with Miku may not understand what the songs are all about, who the Vocaloids are, or why Miku loves waving leeks around, the rhythm gameplay is addicting and could hook newcomers with an ear for J-Pop. Pros A massive song list of 224 tracks split between Future Sound and Colorful Tone. High-quality rhythm gameplay adapted from the arcade version. Fully customizable controls. Cons The localization does not include English lyric subtitles, even for songs that had them in previous releases. The PS4 Share function mutes the music in videos shared online. Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone is a game made for fans of Hatsune Miku but could hook newcomers with an ear for J-Pop.
  18. Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: Vita/PS4 Release Date: August 30, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen It is hard to believe that Japan's sensational virtual popstar, Hatsune Miku, has reached nine years in age. Literally. She is supposed to perpetually be of age sixteen, but that's another discussion altogether. The point is, the popular, green-haired, synthesized popstar has been around for a while. I only really became aware of her through her series of surprisingly solid rhythm game releases under the Project Diva name that seemingly release every other year. Though I have enjoyed my time with basically each release (even former import only PSP titles), they have more or less played it a little too safe over time. If anything, 2014's Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd likely alienated newcomers altogether with its absurdly high standard difficulty. This is why the newest release, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X, serves as a curious contrast to prior games, as if it has hit a more impressionable age with the apparent changes to its personality. The most bizarre addition that is introduced right at the very start of Project Diva X is an actual story mode. Yes, Hatsune Miku talks to you. More accurately, Miku talks to the player character and asks them to help guide her and her friends in revitalizing her digital world through music. Admittedly, the storytelling is not very deep, or particularly engaging with a shallow script and characters, but at the very least it is inoffensive and creates an interesting setup for its various gameplay structure changes. That said, it does lock players into either normal or easy songs until nearly completing it after a couple hours, which can potentially turn off more hardcore players. Beyond the strangely included story mode, Miku changes the rules to her newest game. The inherent rhythm gameplay is mostly the same with note inputs moving from the outer screen to their corresponding face button note. Honestly, the only truly new thing to the pure rhythm gameplay is basically the added button spamming "Rush" note. Still, I suppose there is little reason to change an already addictive and fun formula and I was reminded that even when I should probably be fatigued of the series at this point. The progression, however, has changed quite a lot and is easily the most accessible entry because of it. This is generally a good thing, as I'm still recovering from my trauma of failing songs like "2D Dream Fever" too many times in Project Diva F 2nd. Through loose narrative context, Project Diva X much more directly weaves elements like changing costumes/accessories or participating in its sim-esque friendship feature (formally called "My Room") to have functional gameplay benefits in the main rhythm game. Actually, they're sort of indistinguishable in Project Diva X because of how closely linked they are. For example, wearing a costume or accessories that fits with a song's theme will give you more "voltage", which are required to pass a song in the Cloud Mode (aka story mode.). This new scoring system also makes sure the entire song will play from start to finish and you are not kicked out of a song if you miss too many notes consecutively like prior games. The same rules apply towards raising a friendship rating through gifting the vocaloid cast items they like or changing up their room's aesthetic, which also grants you extra voltage. In prior games I actively avoided cosmetic aspects associated with the "My Room" feature, because I have always thought it had a creepy edge to it and caused me to never touch it (....like a pointless petting game, for example). In Project Diva X, however, it feels much more tastefully handled. You are rewarded for unlocking and applying as much goofy or cute stuff you want to your character for either practical reasons or fun. And yes, you are literally bribing vocaloids or somewhat randomly changing their clothing to make passing songs easier for you. Who knew that giving Miku a fake mustache would have given her extra bit of confidence to pass that "cool" song. I may be able to appreciate the changes that Project Diva X makes, but it does feel like it is at the sacrifice of other former components. The most primary step down is that the song selection is noticeably smaller, and I personally think much weaker in song quality as well. Project Diva F 2nd had forty tracks in the game by default (not including) and Project Diva X only has thirty total. And, for what song compositions I did find myself liking, they either felt very few and far between or were just outright medley compositions of familiar songs from the prior games that, while neat, only serve to remind me of games I preferred more overall. . The other is that the production values also feel noticeably lower than the previous games for the actual music videos. Though the videos certainly have a lot more character than most other rhythm game releases, comparatively there is far less visual and choreography variety than the previous two games that makes unlocking the next song less satisfying. This is all the more apparent when the player has to use the "concert" mode for either the main story mode or "requests", which has multiple songs play back to back and can easily cause many of them blur together with their interchangeable stages and visual themes. Miku's newest rhythm game feels like the foundation for appreciated change in direction, but at an unnecessary expense of certain other aspects at times. Without a doubt, Project Diva X's most appreciated alteration to the familiar gameplay formula is that it is far more approachable than previous games from the standard rhythm game difficulty to even justifying cosmetic features in both a fun and practical manner. In the same breath is also likely disappointing for returning fans with its weaker, and smaller, song selection Project Diva X and the less zealous approach to the presentation. At the end of the day Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X is easily the most accessible entry, but it is not likely well-rounded enough to satisfy many returning fans that were hoping for improvement in addition to the seemingly random changes it presents. Pros + Simple, yet addictive, core rhythm gameplay remains fun even now + More approachable progression that smartly encourages dabbling with both the main rhythm game as well as the various cosmetic features simultaneously + Medley compositions are a neat take on older songs Cons -Significantly less total songs than prior games, and the ones that are there feel less noteworthy overall - Though mostly inoffensive, the newly included "storytelling" is not particularly good - Cuts corners on the music videos Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Project Diva X makes a concentrated effort in making the series more approachable, from actual difficulty to even a newly story mode, but with it being a far less consistent overall rhythm game package will likely make existing fans be forced to overlook some rather apparent shortcomings. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  19. If you haven't gotten it yet, today is the very last day to grab Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse since it's being delisted from digital services. Presumably, this is due to the license expiring and SEGA opting not to renew it. In lieu of this, the game is going for super cheap right now, just $2.24 on Steam and $3.74 on PSN and XBLA. If you're unsure about it, it's a pretty great little platformer; you can check out my review for it by clicking here. P.S. I would recommend buying it on Steam over PSN, if only because your PS3 might break down at some point in the future, where it'll be much harder to play it then (unless you buy a new one or are able to fix it).
  20. Developer: SEGA Publisher: SEGA Platform: 3DS Release Date: June 21, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen 'Damn dragons' -- a phrase often murmured in the mouthful of a dungeon crawler RPG title: 7th Dragon III: Code VFD. Apparently dragons have been a problem for quite a while, according to SEGA. The first 7th Dragon release appeared on the original DS and eventually got two sequels on PSP called 7th Dragon 2020 and 7th Dragon 2020-II, but only in Japan. For better or worse, the dragon apocalypse draws to its conclusion outside of Japan with its newest and final release of the dungeon crawling series. As often the case with dragon invasions, they start in Japan [citation needed]. Well, technically they wiped out the people in Atlantis first, but that's more reserved within the unnecessarily verbose main narrative. The storytelling itself is hodgepodge of completely random and cliched story devices that find a way to be presented in the most dull way possible further emphasized by the flat one-note supporting cast. Basically, some company by the name of "Nodens" scouts the player-created character after they do abnormally well in a public video game beta. Of course, being much more than a video game company, Nodens is actually driven to stop dragons from entirely destroying the world. In order to do so, however, Nodens needs the player-created party to visit different time periods in order for them to literally craft the means to do so. At its heart, 7th Dragon III: Code VFD is about traversing dungeons and killing lots of dragons. The dungeon-crawling itself is nothing to write home about (especially having personally played better examples recently) as the labyrinths are quite basic in design and enemies are frequently copy and pasted. You go from one time period to another and frankly they blur together in their lifelessness. Mechanically, however, Code VFD does truly stand out and is easily its best component. I had thought Bravely Second would be the obvious choice for coolest take on RPG classes in turn-based combat during 2016, but I think 7th Dragon may actually claim that mantle. None of the characters behave in a way you would expect from any of them at a first glance. For example, the most straightforward-appearing class, Samurai, actually has entirely different movesets based on whether they have a long sword of two short swords equipped. The game quickly gets into much stranger territory in regards to character movesets, such as the part magician and Yu-Gi-Oh card-flinging Duelist class, which is less about casting spells and more about setting up trap cards and debuffing enemies to heck based on randomly drawn elemental card combinations. Eventually players get access to the likes of Fortuner, which places over many heal over time effects on allies and adsorbs the life force of status afflicted enemies, or rocket-launcher/lance wielding Banisher with an entire ammunition mechanic, which are creatively implemented as well. Though there are technically only eight classes total (nine arguably with Samurai) their skill sets are quite rich and there is a real strong emphasis on group synergy, especially as the story tries to encourage separating parties, using follow-up attacks, and eventually flashy nine-person Unison Skills. Code VFD makes it all the more satisfying when composing the various teams because not only is it necessary, but it is enjoyable as well. Other than the basic dungeons, dull storytelling, and great combat mechanics, Code VFD tries to occupy the player by having them build various facilities within Nodens. The currency needed for construction is gained from killing many palette-swapped mini-boss dragons during dungeon treks, but are thankfully worth it for the unlocks. Some are mostly frivolous, yet somewhat amusing, such as a romantic Skylounge or a cat cafe in which you pet, well, cats for bonus skill points. The more substantial unlocks involve getting access to more character skills (which eventually becomes sort of overkill late game which already feel more than capable by then) or get many new items in shops. Players can also partake in quests too, but, much like the main storytelling, are often quite boring and not usually worth doing despite some minor attempts at fleshing out its world. I may sound excessively harsh about the storytelling, but it honestly made me put the game down several times because how apathetic I was in continuing to see more of it. Probably the last aspect worth mentioning is the presentation. I mean, the in-game visuals themselves are not that special even if I like some of the character designs, and, as mentioned before, basic dungeons as well. That said, many of the combat abilities look flashy in motion and sort of have a Dragon Quest VIII approach in which you make player commands in first person, like Etrian Odyssey, but see characters execute them in more traditional 3rd-person fashion. More importantly, however, is that legendary composer, Yuzo Koshiro, from classic compositions like Streets of Rage to more modern Etrian Odyssey, sneaks in to compose the techno themed score. It is not Yuzo's best work, but it is a well done soundtrack none the less. In most regards, 7th Dragon III: Code VFD feels like a thoroughly average dungeon-crawler that barely manages to escape such status through its excellent character classes and mechanics in combat. I often found myself falling off the game because of the completely underwhelming storytelling, recycled enemy content, and uninteresting actual dungeons to traverse through over time. It is fun in short burst, but over time shows that dragons don't actually have that many tricks up their sleeves, contrary to what the main narrative would lead you to believe. Pros + Unique character classes with often creative and fun skill sets + It is rewarding to create new facilities within the main hub due to the perks they unlock + Good soundtrack with a distinct techno flair Cons - Dungeon design is too basic and bland to justify their length - A few too many palette swaps and repeated bosses -Inconsequential storytelling that is more verbose than it needs be considering how boring the supporting cast is Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent 7th Dragon III: Code VFD does little to stand outside of its great character classes and satisfying combat mechanics. But unfortunately, players will have to put up with most of its other underwhelming aspects, from storytelling to uninspired level design, in order to do so. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher.
  21. For those who weren't watching the Sonic 25th Anniversary party last night and somehow didn't catch the news elsewhere, we're getting a new 2D Sonic game in the form of Sonic Mania, and...IT LOOKS FANTASTIC!! From what they talked about, it basically has remixed/reimagined levels from the original Genesis trilogy along with brand new levels. More importantly, it actually looks like a Genesis Sonic game, and I don't mean the graphics. The brief looks at the stage design and physics all point to this being the real Sonic the Hedgehog 4, because it looks like it will play and feel like a classic 2D Sonic game and not a cheap imitation. I'm super excited to play the game when it comes out in Spring 2017, but what about the rest of you? Looking forward to what could be the best Sonic game in years? Not interested because you've been burned by Sonic too many times? Or just don't care either way? Speed down to that reply box to let me know what you think.
  22. There's been an awakening... have you felt it? If not, you probably missed the biggest news of the day - Star Wars: The Force Awakens is getting the LEGO treatment! Read on to find out more about it as well as news on a new Humble Bundle, the weekly PlayStation Store update, and more. The Force Awakens within LEGO Star Wars in June Although it technically leaked last night, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment revealed today that a new LEGO Star Wars is indeed in development and will chronicle the events in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Interestingly enough, it will also contain material that bridges the gap between Return of the Jedi and TFA. Perhaps they'll be adapting material from the Star Wars Aftermath book? We'll see when the game releases on every video game platform on June 28. SEGA bringing 7th Dragon III Code: VFD to 3DS in North America SEGA seems to be on fire as of late with their announcements. Not only are they bringing over SEGA 3D Classics Collection and Valkyria Chronicles Remaster, but they just announced that 7th Dragon III Code: VFD will be coming to 3DS in North America this Summer. If you follow the RPG scene pretty closely, this is a pretty big one that many North American fans did not think would ever get localized, so this is definitely exciting news. For more details about the game, hit the source link below. Source: SEGA Blog New Humble Bundle Offers Ubisoft Games The Humble Bundle is back and this time it's offering... Ubisoft games? Actually, this is easily one of the strongest Humble Bundle offerings so far, with the initial tier offering some pretty good games. I can't even imagine what they'll still add to that list as well. Here's what's in the bundle so far: $1+ Tier Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Grow Home Rayman Origins Beat the Average ($6.69 as of this writing) Far Cry 3 Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China (additional unannounced titles) $15+ Tier Assassin's Creed: Rogue The Crew $75+ Tier Tom Clancy's The Division (pre-order) Exclusive Tom Clancy's The Division T-shirt Coupon for 66% off up to any three Ubisoft titles in the Humble Store Source: Humble Bundle PlayStation Store Update 2/2/16 Edition Some fairly notable titles debuting today, not the least of which is Gravity Rush Remastered, the PS4 version of the previously Vita-only exclusive. Other fairly big titles include Bandai Namco's Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, Idea Factory's Megadimension Neptunia VII, and indie hit Crypt of the Necrodancer. Here's the full list of games out on PSN this week: PS4 AIPD - $9.99 Albedo: Eyes from Outer Space - $14.99 Amazing Discovers In Outer Space - $11.99 Crypt of the Necrodancer - $14.99 Gravity Rush Remastered - $29.99 Gravity Rush Remastered Original Soundtrack - $11.99 Megadimension Neptunia VII - $59.99 Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel - $39.99 Not a Hero - $12.99 PS3 Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel - $29.99 PS Vita Crypt of the Necrodancer - $14.99 Letter Quest Remastered - $8.99 Royal Defense - $5.99 Some fairly decent sales are going on right now as well. Check out the full list over at the PlayStation Blog source link below. Source: PlayStation Blog What are your thoughts on LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 7th Dragon III Code: VFD? And will you be buying the newest Humble Bundle or any games on the PlayStation Store this week? Let us know in the comments below!
  23. In today's news, more NX rumors surface, SEGA teases Sonic news soon, we get some more information on Dragon Quest VII, and more! Read on below for the full scoops. New NX Rumors Surface Still no official word on what Nintendo's next platform codenamed 'NX' will be, but new rumors are circulating about the console's technical specs. A survey from GFK (a client of Nintendo) which was leaked from Liam Robertson (who has ties to Unseen64, a site about unreleased and cancelled video games) seems to add further fuel to the fire about connectivity between a handheld and console unit. Furthermore, it makes mention that video calls will be able to be made through your TV through the NX and it will support 4K/60fps video streaming and gameplay graphics at 900p/60fps. Finally, a sensor bar is also reportedly supposed to be bundled with the system; an interesting tidbit for sure, if true. As usual, take this all with a grain of salt until we get actual confirmation from Nintendo, which will hopefully come sometime before E3 (if not at the trade show itself). Source: Nintendo Inquirer SEGA teases Sonic news in February If you're a Sonic fan, good news -- you might be hearing more Sonic game news very soon. Apparently SEGA's teased an announcement of... some announcements to come in February on their Tumblr page. Might they reveal a new Sonic game or two? It's possible considering that this year is the 25th anniversary. Stay tuned... Source: Sonicthehedgehog.tumblr.com New Info on Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past Many fans have long been awaiting Dragon Quest VII remake here in the US, and yesterday brought a slew of new info on the localization. Namely, Dragon Quest VII is basically a brand new game with all new writing and no random encounters (you'll see the enemies on the map). Also being implemented are a story summary feature and Streetpass feature that will net you tablets. Keep an eye out for more Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past news leading up to its release later this Summer. Source: Siliconera https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuzx7OKR40Y&feature=youtu.be&t=6m10s Aryll speaks for Toon Link in Hyrule Warriors Legends Hyrule Warriors Legends on 3DS is slated to include a few new characters that weren't present in the Wii U version of the game. Chief among them is Toon Link, and recent information has revealed an interesting tidbit about him. Other incarnations of Link usually have a fairy speaking in behalf of him throughout the game but Toon Link will have none other than his kid sister Aryll speaking on his behalf, which should be a nice change. She'll be speaking to him through the power of the Pirate's Charm, the same item that Tetra and The King of Red Lions used to communicate with Link in The Wind Waker. You can hear her talking at the 6:10 point in the video above! Of course, you'll also be able to hear her for yourself when the game launches on March 25 in North America. Source: Zelda Informer Twilight Princess HD amiibo functionality detailed Wondering what the Wolf Link amiibo will do when used with the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD? Well, we finally have an answer. According to this week's Famitsu magazine, using the amiibo at a certain location will allow the player to experience "Thorough Battle: Trial of the Beast." Clearing it will net you a "Bottomless Wallet," which can carry up to 9,999 rupees (the max amount, safe to say). Also, the amiibo will allow you to import data from Twilight Princess HD into the upcoming Legend of Zelda Wii U game. What the data is is currently unknown still; expect to hear more leading up to the game's release. Finally, other Zelda-related amiibo will be able to be used once a day for different effects, such as replenishing arrows, hearts, and even making enemies dish out twice as much damage (thanks, Ganondorf... I guess). Source: Nintendo Everything Knuckle Sandwich is a visually stunning, upcoming Earthbound-inspired indie RPG Who doesn't love Earthbound (am I right)? 2015 saw a slew of indie games inspired by it, such as Citizens of Earth and the ever-popular Undertale (which I hear may have won our Game of the Year 2015 honor). Anyhoo, an upcoming indie RPG from Andrew Brophy called Knuckle Sandwich looks to be inspired by the SNES classic as well. The game stars a boy who's living on his own for the first time, and gets caught up in a mystery where people are disappearing from town. No release date has been detailed just yet, but Knuckle Sandwich will be coming to PC at some point. Be sure to check out the game's trailer above. Source: Polygon What news stood out to you today? Do you think the new NX rumors have any merit? And will SEGA announce something exciting for Sonic?
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    Review: Stella Glow

    Developer: Imageepoch/Sega Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: 3DS Release Date: November 17, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen Seeing the developer name Imageepoch does not automatically inspire confidence within me. It could be because of the very unfortunate RPG mess that was Time & Eternity or my various loose recollections of the wholly forgettable Black Rock Shooter: The Game. Regardless, my recent memory of Imageepoch titles is not exactly glowing. However, rewinding my memories further back, I actually recall liking the strategy-RPG Luminous Arc 2 on the original Nintendo DS. It was hardly the first title you would recommend on the system but there was a certain charm to it that is difficult for me to articulate now. That said, as of this year Imageepoch filed for bankruptcy. As a possible last hurrah, Imageepoch conducted a spiritual successor to their very first developed game, Luminous Arc, with new turn-based strategy-RPG Stella Glow on the 3DS. One can only hope that Stella Glow leaves their name on a good note. Unfortunately, the early goings of Stella Glow do not make a strong first impression. The storytelling in particular is derivative to a noticeable fault. Lead character whom may-or-may-not be an amnesiac? Check. Romantic interests for the lead fulfilling pretty apparent anime archetypes? Check. A possibly misunderstood villain figure out to destroy the world? Check. Pretty much every aspect of it feels like a checklist of Japanese-RPG cliches. It also didn't help that the intentionally nostalgic character designs of the lead character Alto and the witch Hilda made them blur together with previous Luminous Arc leads for me longer than they should have. That said, I warmed up to Stella Glow far quicker than I would have expected. For as stereotypical as the storytelling is, it somehow feels much more charming and cute than cringe-worthy. The cast of characters end up being generally likable (more so through the "free time" events) and Atlus USA“s clever localization knows when to sneak in plenty of tongue-in-cheek quips to give everything a more entertaining flair than it has any right being. What caught me off-guard more than anything else is how surprisingly polished Stella Glow is as an actual game. Imageepoch has come a long way from the many clunky, mediocre-at-best RPGs that plagued of their entire existence, and it really shows in Stella Glow. The basic turn-based strategy-RPG gameplay actually reminds me a fair bit level-5's PSP title Jeanne D'Arc, but as a game it is structured a lot better. It does nothing new for the subgenre with its grid-based gameplay at large but it borrows pretty much all of the right things.The main story regularly introduces new battle scenarios that play upon different terrain, varying objectives, orbs skills to personalize characters, and tossing new playable fresh faces in addition. More distinctly, each character has at least a few unique mechanics to differentiate themselves: The witch Sakuya goes between different attack stances that change both her movement and attack skills, the ninja Nonoka can conceal herself from enemies, the merchant Ewan has an infinite supply of healing items (but... you'll have to pay him upfront mid-battle to use them), and so on. It's fun to go into battle to employ different strategies with the varied cast and the skill animations in particular have quite a lot of personality to complement them (though, the overhead visuals are admittedly far more basic). Additionally, the witch characters can use song magic to quickly turn the tides of battle, adding an extra layer to the combat. After building up the song gauge by characters dealing and/or taking damage mid-battle, Alto can "conduct" the witch heroines (which... looks like him stabbing them in the heart with knife) to unleash powerful song magic to debilitate foes or buff allies as long as it is active, and varies from witch to witch. The songs themselves are usually of the J-pop variety but end up being catchy regardless. Actually, the soundtrack in general is shockingly good, but maybe less so when legendary video game composer Yasunori Mitsuda is the one behind it (with RPG fame that extends to Chrono Trigger/Cross, Xenosaga, and even Soul Sacrifice). It certainly is not Mitsuda's best work but there is quite a lot of variety in the score with battle themes in particular. Going back to combat, though, there are a few issues. For one, it can be annoying to balance the levels of party members because inactive party members gain no experience whatsoever. This may not sound like a big deal at first until you realize how many scripted story battles there are that require certain characters to be in the group and how you generally can only sortie 6 characters per battle (when there are about 15 playable characters by the end of the game). Another qualm is that gameplay will be on the easier side for many strategy-RPG veterans without any option to change. Outside of combat, Stella Glow also apologetically borrows a Persona 3/4's social link mechanic in the form of "Free time" between the main missions. Alto can take jobs from the Red Bear Tavern for easy cash, explore outside of town on his own to get free items, but the most substantial is without a doubt spending time with fellow party members. In addition to fleshing out most characters, even those not immediately likable in the main story, you get very tangible gameplay benefits in combat as you build up their friendship. Again, very much like Persona 3 and 4. An extension to the Free Time concept for character relationships is "tuning", which is kind of reminiscent of Ar Tonelico/Ar NoSurge's diving mechanic. Basically, Alto can go into the psyche of the various witch heroines for both character development reasons and to enhance their song magic. It is not as in-depth as something like Ar NoSurge, with literal hours of exposition, but it's a cool addition regardless like most of Free Time events. There are also a multitude of character endings caused by these character events so Stella Glow very much rewards picking favorites, from romances to bromances, the first time through in its lengthy 40+ hour adventure. Even if players happen to miss out on most of them the first time the New Game+ is fairly thoughtful in dramatically extending the amount of Free Time and combat experience rate for would-be thorough players to see all of the endings. It is unlikely that Stella Glow will outshine the likes of Fire Emblem: Awakening or Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker in most 3DS owner's eyes. Just the same, however, Stella Glow unassumingly earns its place as one of the best RPGs on 3DS and is pretty much without a doubt the best title from Imageepoch outright. Stella Glow does not attempt to reinvent the wheel amongst strategy-RPGs but, narrative cliches aside, it will likely remind fans why they like the subgenre in the first place because of the deceptive amount of charm and great gameplay fundamentals it has hidden underneath. Pros: + Generally charming characters and writing + Combat animations have quite a bit of personality + Fun, if hardly original, turn-based SRPG gameplay with varied characters + "Free Time" events are a cool break from combat + Great soundtrack Cons: - Main story is nothing to write home about and is incredibly predictable - Balancing party levels can be needlessly annoying due to no shared EXP between inactive members - Easier than many SRPGs Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Stella Glow does not reinvent the wheel for turn-based strategy-RPGs, nor does it attempt to, but it can easily remind fans why they like it in the first place with its deceptive amount of charm and polish. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher.
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    Stella Glow 5

    From the album: Stella Glow

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