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  1. It's been a long time coming but the the third entry in the Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is finally making its way to North American territories. However, unlike the first two games, which were published by XSEED, Trails of Cold Steel III is being published by NIS America instead. While some might be put off by this change due to the translation issues with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (which NIS America also published in 2017), the publisher is attempting to nip this in the bud by mentioning that some of the localization staff that had worked on the previous two Cold Steel entries have returned for this one as well. Trails of Cold Steel III features a new Class VII led by "Ashen Chevalier" Rean Schwarzer, who is now an instructor at Thors Branch Campus. The story follows the cast as they journey into the Empire's recently acquired land and find themselves embroiled in another plot that could result in war or an even worse calamity. Also new to this installment is the "Break System"; expect to hear more about that in the lead up to the game's release. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is slated to release exclusively on PlayStation 4 in the Fall. Source: Press Release
  2. Fans of niche Japanese games publisher NIS America might be aware that the company had announced a console port of RPG Maker MV for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in 2019. Unfortunately, it looks like you won't be getting your hands on it anytime in the next few months. NIS America announced today that it is delaying the title due to ongoing issues with the development and that it won't release until later in 2019 now. No details have been given regarding the development issues, but suffice to say that porting a game to consoles isn't always a clear cut process. RPG Maker MV originally released on PC back in 2015 and features the ability to upload and share your RPG creations with others. This new console version is slated to have twice as many assets, including brand-new voices, music, and lyrics; making it the most comprehensive version of RPG Maker to date. We'll be sure to update you on a new release date as soon as it's announced. Source: Press Release
  3. If you've been wondering how much longer you'd have to wait to play SNK's all-female fighting throwdown known as SNK Heroines ~Tag Team Frenzy~, then wonder no more. NIS America has announced that the game will be making its way to a Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 near you in both North America and Europe on September 7. Also announced as joining the in-game roster is another fan-favorite female fighter from SNK's past: Shermie. First appearing in King of Fighters '97, Shermie is a grappler and one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Orochi. Also, fun fact: she's based on the character of Fujiko Mine from the anime, Lupin the 3rd. Check out the trailer below to see Shermie in action. Source: Press Release Are you interested in playing as Shermie in SNK Heroines ~Tag Team Frenzy~?
  4. When you think of SNK, you probably think of their classic titles for NEOGEO, like The King of Fighters or Metal Slug series. However, SNK's earliest games were arcade titles that have mostly stayed in the past. Now NIS America is re-releasing those arcade titles for a whole new generation of gamers in a compilation called SNK 40th Anniversary Collection. Every title will feature updated graphics at 1080p, a rewind functionality that will help you easily bypass any pesky mistakes you make, redesigned control schemes, and high definition artwork and original promotional assets from each game. The collection currently stands at just over a dozen titles with more to be announced, according to NIS America. Here's a look at the first 13 games that have been announced. Alpha Mission (Console/Arcade) Athena (Console/Arcade) Crystalis (Arcade) Ikari Warriors (Console/Arcade) Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road (Console/Arcade) Ikari Warriors III: The Rescue (Console/Arcade) Guerilla War (Console/Arcade) P.O.W. (Arcade) Prehistoric Isle (Arcade) Psycho Soldier (Arcade) Street Smart (Arcade) TNK III (Console/Arcade) Vanguard (Arcade) It's worth noting that some games, like Crystalis -- which was only recreated as a Game Boy Color game -- haven't been available to play on any other platform since its arcade debut, so this is a great way to finally collect and experience them. SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is currently slated for release on Nintendo Switch this Fall. A more detailed release date will be provided at a later date. Source: Press Release What are your thoughts on NIS bringing back some of SNK's older games?
  5. barrel

    Review: Demon Gaze II

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

    Review: Culdcept Revolt

    Developer: Omiya Soft Publisher: NIS America Platform: 3DS Release Date: October 3, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen If there is one thing that I have learned from various traditional card and board games, it's that they fail to hold my attention every single time. I have had Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh decks given to me by friends hoping that I share their costly paper cards addiction as well as after playing with them multiple times, but to no success on their end. I have also spent many rainy days playing Monopoly with family and... well, never want to play that game ever again. Strangely enough, what is basically Magic-meets-Monopoly: The Video Game Series, AKA Culdcept, has captivated me in each incarnation. Though, admittedly, the strategic card game series has not been released nearly as frequent as I would like considering the last title we even got from the series in English was Culdcept Saga back in 2008 on the Xbox 360. Nearly a decade later, publisher NIS America has decided to give the previously thought-to-be-dead franchise overseas another shot by localizing Culdcept Revolt on the Nintendo 3DS. With welcome portability and various refinements to the addictive core gameplay Culdcept Revolt makes for a worthy gem amongst the 3DS's library. For something that is clearly its own breed of card game, Culdcept Revolt eases the player into its systems quite nicely. Tutorials are plentiful as each new card mechanic and stage gimmick is introduced. To break it down into more layman terms, the basic ebb and flow is that players roll dice on a looping game board and try to collect tolls until reaching certain total of points (and then reaching specific goal posts). Sounds a whole lot like Monopoly, right? You would be right in assuming the similarities to the iconic board game, but the part which actually makes Culdcept Revolt fun is the card game component that bears many similarities to Magic: The Gathering. Throughout the match, players will put down different creatures to guard certain spots. If an enemy player lands on the square with a creature, they can either attempt to defeat it with one of their own or be forced to pay the toll. There are a lot of tricks to employ from smartly seizing territory, utilizing spell/item cards in and out of battle, or finding that right sense of creature card synergy too. And that is just the surface of it. Deck building in of itself is one big learning experience in Culdcept Revolt. Players will be getting plenty of random new card packs via the in-game shop and will face enough devious AI throughout the main story whom are not sympathetic toward those who don't change things up. To give one an idea of how much fine tuning I did, I started the game with the basic Air- and Water-themed deck that is strongly reliant on overwhelming the board with many monsters and gathering chain bonuses. By the end, however, my main deck primarily composed of only a handful of fire/earth monsters and whole lot of spell cards to quickly shuffle, gain extra money, and insanely buff those handful of creatures in the process. As with pretty much any game around dice rolls and shuffled cards, there is a fine line between it feeling fun and fair or cheap and annoying. Unfortunately for the player, the default AI difficulty in Culdcept Revolt is skewed towards getting more lucky dice rolls than they deserve. I will be honest and say that my loss ratio is easily higher than my win ratio, and a lot of it was oppressively bad luck and dice rolls early in (ok, the latter never got better for me). Still, there is no penalty for losing (aside from time) as you can not only forfeit mid-match at any time if it feels like a lost cause, but also still get points to purchase more cards via win or loss to encourage that much more player card experimentation. Win or lose, however, I was utterly absorbed in learning/employing the different strategies in matches and stealing many clever tricks that the AI used against me for myself. There is more than enough depth to the gameplay, and deck composition in general, to compensate for bad luck as I gleaned from overhauling my card decks more than a few times. It is genuinely rewarding to formulate a smarter overall play style, and I eventually got to the point where my current card deck pretty much never lost at all in the story mode at all because of how far removed from luck it became. Though, I certainly had to learn to understand the means in which I accomplished it. Believe it or not, there actually is a story in Culdcept Revolt. Not a good one, mind you, as it features the whole amnesiac lead trope and throwaway supporting characters, but it is there in some capacity. The storytelling is thankfully inoffensive and provides just enough context as well as excuses to see different creative applications of decks and the various game modes. It is also worth noting that the player can not even touch or see most modes and features until getting to a certain point within the campaign -- including online/offline multiplayer (which makes sense since you can only really get points to buy card packs early in by playing story mode matches). When you do unlock them, the player can create lobbies with specific rule types like team matches, card types limitations, or even turn animation speed, to cater to a more competitive spirit if one is so inclined. 2017 has been a curious year for the 3DS library. Nintendo has gone out of its way to bring many old-school Metroid and Fire Emblem fans exactly what they want. But if the player decides to stray off the beaten path of first-party titles, they will find gems like Culdcept Revolt this year as well that are more than worth keeping an eye on for existing 3DS owners. While its inherent focus is not likely to change the mind of those that detest card games in general, Culdcept Revolt should please those with an open mind towards strategic card/board games and is more than rewarding on that front. For a series that has a surprisingly long history, Culdcept Revolt manages to be a fun and fresh new addition to the 3DS's library. Pros + Addictive, strategic gameplay that somehow makes what is essentially Monopoly mixed with Magic: The Gathering much more fun than it should be + Many cards and types that allow players a lot of freedom in deck composition + With the addition a decently sized single player campaign, as local/online multiplayer mode options, gives players plenty of excuses to be occupied with the game Cons - Default AI difficulty seems to get a few too many lucky dice rolls, which can be rather frustrating at times -Inconsequential storytelling Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great If you're looking for a satisfying way to pass the time Culdcept Revolt is a rewarding, addictive take on card/board games that pleasantly surprise those willing to give it a shot Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher.
  7. Developer: Spike Chunsoft Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS4, PS Vita, and PC Release Date: September 26, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game Through its hyperactive blend of eccentric 'ultimate' high schoolers, murder mysteries, courtroom confrontations, and narrative mayhem the Danganronpa series has established a dominant visual novel presence. Densely pack all of that to the brim with personality and it is perhaps less surprising that many passionate fans have latched onto Spike Chunsoft's iconic property. Still, it is crazy to think that Danganronpa's perpetual battle of hope vs despair has not only raged across multiple games, spin-offs, and on different gaming hardware since its original PSP debut back in 2010 but even entirely different mediums such as anime and light novels. With so much material riding on what is believed to be the final installment, does Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony satisfy hope, despair, or really neither in between for its perceived audience? No matter what one's stance actually is, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony ultimately aim towards final truths that are likely to shock all those involved. As par for the series' course, the infamous Killing Game has returned once again. Sixteen students are trapped within the confines of a mysterious school and have very little recollection of their pasts. All they really know is that they each have the title of an "Ultimate Delinquent"('Ultimates' generally being individuals with exception talent towards a specific skill) and are quickly get thrown into battle royale-themed Killing Game via the monochromatic robotic bear named Monokuma if they want to escape. Well... somewhat quickly, in principle. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony has rather inconsistent pacing as an actual visual novel to the point where the game itself self-deprecatingly points out just how slow the intro portions are, and it does not absolve it of such crimes. It is the longest game in the entire series and the narrative's pacing does not necessarily justify it at times with the agonizing drip feed of important plot details. It certainly picks up later on, especially in the last couple of chapters, but -- in an incredibly morbid way -- players will find themselves looking forward to the next murder setup more frequently than anything else. Thankfully, Killing Harmony more than delivers on that front. As Danganronpa fans know, the rules are that one cannot simply kill someone else to win the Killing Game. To win, Ultimates need to kill someone else without being caught. And so, this is where the class trials come into play. After a murder occurs, it is up to the would-be survivors to conduct an investigation of the crime scene, and after gathering what evidence they can (...in a limited amount of time), they are then thrown into an Ace Attorney-styled courtroom case to try and pin down the culprit. The reason being that if they don't reach a correct majority vote by the end of the class trial they will all die while the killer gets to return home free (though, in the inverse, if they do nail down the correct culprit then only the killer is punished while everyone survives to see another day.) The murder mysteries themselves in Killing Harmony are easily the best of the entire series, with perhaps some one or two noteworthy arguments from Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. As a whole, murder cases feel far more nefarious, calculated, as well as just plain crazy in execution than that of the prior two main games, and it become that much more fascinating to uncover the underlying truth of all of them. This is absolutely vital since class trials themselves consistently last more than a couple hours, so they certainly need to be engaging. Unfortunately, as with previous titles, the mini games within these segments are more or less the worst aspect of the entire series. Some of the new mini games are neat conceptually, like being able to utilize perjury instead of just firing "truth bullets" to prove counterpoints, but most mini games are not that fun despite the context around them. Audible sighs were made every time I had to do a certain mini game that involved slowly 'driving' to the correct answers of different questions... There is more than just the despair of suspecting one's friends of murder in various class trials, however minor these extra features are to grander scope of the adventure. Similar to the likes of various point & click/adventure game titles, and the original Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc too, players can roam around the campus in a first person perspective to reach different locations for one reason or another or talk to the different students. Like prior entries, there are also intentional lulls in the storytelling, so it is fitting that players spend their free time attempting to build friendships... to, well, make it all the more cruel in their probable eventual death, or betrayal, after you attempt to do so. Which bears mentioning that although the overall cast does have some standouts (Danganronpa 2's Nagito still remains as my uncontested favorite), they don't feel quite as charismatic as they should be since the localization as well the general writing quality comes across as noticeably less sharp than that of earlier games. Much of the game waits excruciating long to talk about main plot details, so it feels fitting to deliberately wait on discussing Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony's actual narrative instead of just pacing as well. It's easily the biggest expectation fans will have going in and what I will say to them (without direct spoilers, of course) is that the overall story -- especially with how it ties into prior titles -- is likely to be extremely divisive. There is no real middle ground in reaction towards the conclusion and is very much a love it or hate it bargain in the truest sense. Even now I am left sorting through a whole lot of mixed thoughts, regardless of how exciting and extravagantly presented the many twists and turns are throughout V3, including the end. But I suppose for as familiar as much of the gameplay remains in the third entry, for better and for worse the long-awaited conclusion absolutely delivers on some insane narrative twists that many fans should not expect. With one foot firmly planted towards feeling familiar and the other towards completely shattering expectations Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony truly relishes in its chaotic order. It reprises its strengths in delivering exciting murder mysteries, an off-the-rails narrative with many crazy twists, and a completely strange cast of characters while also retaining old issues like awkward pacing and obnoxious mini games. As a finale, however, it spares no expense towards a resolution that will likely to be incredibly divisive regardless of whatever expectations one had going into it. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony deliberately aims to leave fans brimming with either hope or despair, and I find myself conflicted by both opposing forces in ultimately feeling just as appreciative in its intent as I do betrayed now that it is all over. Pros + Narrative goes through some truly insane narrative twists and turns + Incredibly nefarious murder mysteries that are often fascinating to uncover the truth of + Neat post-game modes unlocked after beating the game + 'Love it' or 'hate it' conclusion Cons - Noticeably weaker overall writing and localization compared to the previous titles - Glacial narrative pacing at times - Most minigames during class trials are still quite the chore to partake in - Hate it or love it conclusion Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony presents a stark contrast in showcasing more of the same, but often better, with its gameplay while the narrative conclusion itself firmly dividing what fans think they know and love. It is a bold conclusion that is extremely surprising in its execution and unsurprising in how likely divided it is to leave already existing fans of prior entries Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  8. Developer: Spike Chunsoft Publisher: NIS America Platform: Vita Release Date: September 1, 2015 ESRB: M for Mature Even with the Vita's ever-dwindling library of exclusive games, the Danganronpa series managed to catch many Vita owners by surprise last year. We not only got its first visual novel/adventure entry with Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc but also its sequel Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair in that same year. Eccentric characters, bizarre murder mysteries, a mix of both very dark and hilarious writing, and an intriguing narrative underpinning kept many fans gripped through both releases despite their quick successions. The newest entry, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, remains faithful to the series's spirit regardless of its spin-off label and different gameplay formula and hopes to make that loud and clear. Talking about Danganronpa: Ultra Despair Girls at all is a touchy subject for anyone who had not played the previous to visual novels to completion. It is a wholesale spoiler on Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc with its premise alone and can ruin several story revelations in its sequel as well. Still, I'll try to not cause despair and hope to avoid many easy spoiler trappings, even if some may not be possible to avoid as it is a title that directly takes place between both games. Another Episode starts off with the girl named Komaru being imprisoned for reasons that even she doesn't know. After almost being acclimated to her imprisoned life she finally gets a chance escape but... it comes at the cost of a Monokuma trying to lacerate her to death in the process. A chance encounter with a mysterious organization on her way out does grant her a hacking gun/megaphone to fight Monokumas but otherwise she is told to fend for herself in the meantime. But, even with a means to protect herself, she is captured by masterminds behind the Monokumas. These masterminds, or rather children that call themselves "The Warriors of Hope," force her to participate in a "Demon Hunt" game. This "Demon hunt," however, means the genocidal extermination of all who classify as adults, or "Demons," by the Warriors of Hope whom intend to create a paradise solely for children. At first glance the title gives off the feeling of a survival horror game — limited ammunition, shambling enemies, and features a very dark introduction sequence. But, despite its consistently grim tone, it starts to show off more and more of the series' signature personality and feels more like an action game that happens to have suspense elements as well. Maybe not too unlike recent Resident Evil games in that regard... Regardless, the series' weakest point has pretty much always been the disjointed gameplay, so to see a radical shift in styles actually works to Another Episode's benefit. Komaru's megaphone-like weapon has a variety of uses that are progressively unlocked over time. Some of the uses have rather typical gun-like implementations but the more creative ammunition brings a puzzle-like mindset to encounters and, well, actual puzzles. For instance, she can use dancing bullets on alarm-like foes to cause other enemies to literally follow their beat or using knockback shots to send Ball-Monokuma rolling into their friends. Battles are quite bizarre but can be fun as well. The game's biggest problem mainly has to do with balance. It is an incredibly easy game to the point that it honestly ruins some of its atmosphere in the process. Komaru's playable friend trivializes battles even more by outright by being invincible for a short period of time and can be activated instantly, like before you anticipate taking damage. The camera is an issue too by being too zoomed in, but ironically, the lack of difficulty makes it less prevalent. This carries over to pacing too like with some backtracking. Not only that but the puzzle rooms, which generally encourage the use of abilities in different ways, wear out their welcome by simply having too many of them, especially by the end which breaks up the narrative's pace unnecessarily. Still, the main draw of Another Episode is its narrative. Pacing issues aside, it is very engaging for fans of the series. The storytelling is unapologetic with callbacks to the visual novels, many of which are quite spoilery, and does seem to lay a fair amount of groundwork for a would-be Danganronpa 3 despite being a spin-off. There are not quite as many twists or humorous asides as those games, but Another Episode does savor its twisted atmosphere much more and it works. It's deceptively darker than even the visual novels with the many gruesome situations and implications that occur throughout the narrative, making the latter half in particular quite intriguing. The title oozes with style as well. It somehow blends the 2D Danganronpa's signature colorful quirkiness with its oppressive, dreary 3D setting. The 3D animations may not be consistent, like certain pre-rendered cutscenes, but the art direction masks many of production shortcomings and the animated cutscenes are well-done too. Certain visual flourishes like Komaru's friend's killing spree animations or... the vivid dreams she has are amusing too. The soundtrack meshes well with its presentation even more going from jazzy tunes to unsettling jubilant jingles. Though, like Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair there is a fair amount of recycled music tracks from the first game, unfortunately. In a lot of ways Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a spin-off title that many fans probably did not know they wanted. Despite however much it does different gameplay-wise from its predecessors, it ends up being a worthwhile diversion, especially with its narrative implications for a would-be Danganronpa 3. It is not without its share of gameplay quirks, but it is ultimately carried by its intriguing, dark storytelling and rich amount of personality. Pros + Very dark but fascinating storytelling + Creative implementations of its gameplay mechanics + Dense with both audio/visual personality Cons - Awkward camera that is too zoomed in - Some pacing issues with backtracking and a few too many puzzle rooms - Complete cakewalk difficulty Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good With an intriguing narrative and distinct gameplay style Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls ends up being a success even with its many blemishes. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  9. Developer: Kadokawa Games Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS Vita/PS4 Release Date: June 20, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game It's difficult to approach strategy role-playing games from Kadokawa Games without some degree of trepidation. One only needs to point to the incredibly unforgiving SRPG (strategy role-playing game) mess that was 2014's Natural Doctrine to reinforce that stance. But, in all fairness, it has been several years since that title and hopefully they learned a lot in between that and their newest foray in the subgenre, God Wars: Future Past. The main premise is one of that is heavily wrapped up in Japanese mythology; those of Shinto beliefs, in particular. A priestess named Kaguya escapes her confinement with the help of her childhood friend and goes on a big journey in search of her mother. From then on, Kaguya gets caught up in far more than she originally anticipated in a world so deeply rooted in the workings of various gods, those benevolent and those very much not. It's a pleasant shift in setting than the all too common medieval styled fantasy in subgenre (which I like, don't get me wrong) and is thankfully easier to parse than the overwhelmingly Japanese PS Vita title Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines. In a sharp sort of contrast to its storytelling, God Wars: Future Past does not have any unnecessary frills to the actual gameplay. It also boasts a pretty involved job system that is genuinely similar to Final Fantasy Tactics (and not in the blanket term way it is often used simply because it's grid-based), which I feel I haven't seen in earnest since the likes of Wild Arms: XF. There are tons of different jobs, skills, and passive skills to equipped (and if you are extra granular stat growths based on jobs to take into account as well) so there is plenty of incentive to mix and match abilities to be all that more effective in combat. It is easier to do so than most in the genre too since you can actually level two different jobs at once on a character because of how progression works, which is rather neat. As solid as the core mechanics are, God Wars: Future Past is noticeably rough in how it is presented. Vita version owners in particular will notice this quicker than most because of how abnormally long load times are for most aspects. For instance, it takes nearly a minute to simply hit the title screen of the game, and getting to the menu to change out equipment and skills takes over ten seconds. I need not say much more than how that really adds up over time considering just how much time one may find themselves buried in menus simply allocating new skills towards allies after each fight. What makes technical grievances more annoying is that they apply to combat as well. To be frank, the in-game 3D visuals are rather ugly. But the bigger annoyance is that the frame rate is rather iffy on top of weird pauses before a combat skills trigger too. The PS4 version is noticeably better based on what I have seen, but it got to a point where I turned off combat animations altogether just so there would be some semblance of smoothness while playing (plus, most attack animations are the same). It really feels like they only went for passable and avoided the means of an actual good port on the Vita hardware at the end of the day. And that's a real shame since it would otherwise be such a great fit for the game with the pick up and play nature. Underneath it all is the heart of a good strategy-RPG title, and one that grew on me over time despite making bad impressions early on. As stated before, it is a mechanically sound tactical game that only really gets better later on as more classes and skills open up. It does not really attempt to move the needle for the SRPG subgenre, as it borrows Tactics Ogre's approach to top-down grid-based gameplay and even MP management where ones start at none and gain more MP per turn. The more distinct mechanics are two gauges to keep track of such as Impurity and Secret Skill Gauge. Impurity is basically what is aggro in MMOs and it is quite practical to have a sturdy character built upon gaining impurity so your more fragile fighters are free from enemy ire. While the Secret Skill Gauge is accumulated over time and both unique character skills, and generally strong advanced classes, get access to that can change the tide of battle if used effectively. Still, there is more than meets the eye. Or rather, there is more to see outside of combat. The 2D character portraits are often pleasant to look at, and occasionally the story does cool comic panel-like transitions to progress the narrative. The less said about the English dub, the better, though the soundtrack does help convey the fun take on Shinto mythology with decidedly old-fashioned use of Japanese instrumentation too (though, it does have frequent audio repetition problems for how many battles use the same themes). God Wars: Future Past faces the dilemma of being a decent game but a bad port on the PS Vita hardware. Obtrusive load times and a rough 3D in-game presentation mar what would totally be a solid, if hardly amazing, tactical-RPG. For those hankering for strategy-RPGs more akin to Tactics Ogre than the popular likes of Fire Emblem, God Wars: Future Past does certainly scratch that rather specific subgenre itch. There is a rich job system, and neat take on Japanese folklore, that helps its case too. But really, unless you are like myself who is willing to suffer many technical inconveniences purely for portability, God Wars: Future Past is only worth one's time on PS4 in which it runs noticeably better on, and even that may be debatable. Pros + Very rich job system that allows quite a bit of freedom in how you mold your party and their abilities + Pleasant character portraits and setting Cons - Jarring load times on vitas - Hideous 3D visuals - Can feel like a mess of menus at times Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average God Wars: Future Past is sincere in its intentions of delivering a solid, if not rough around the edges, take on the strategy-RPG subgenre. And for the most part it does, but the rather poor port on PS Vita really makes it hard to recommend on that system in particular Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  10. barrel

    Review: Grand Kingdom

    Developer: Monochrome Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: June 21, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game I obnoxiously fought with recalling the name of Monochrome's newest tactical-RPG release, Grand Kingdom, on PS Vita/PS4 for quite a while. Not because it is exactly a hard title to remember, but I constantly got it confused with Grand Knights History; a former and almost localized Vanillaware PSP release. Apparently the confusion was not unwarranted as both Grand Kingdom and Grand Knights History share the same director, Tomohiko Deguchi, despite having completely different development teams behind them. Either way, Grand Kingdom managed to finally find a sticking point within my memory with its more unique take on tactical-RPGs. It is quite common for most Japanese strategy-RPGs to intimate the likes of either Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, but Grand Kingdom is not really similar to either of those even on a fundamental level. If I were to toss any particular loose comparisons, I would say that Grand Kingdom somewhat reminds me of a hybrid between RPGs like Valkyrie Profile with how it handles active, deep turn-based combat and the classic Ogre Battle with the importance of team composition. The entire premise of Grand Kingdom is the player assembling a mercenary troop and taking on various jobs. Mercenary works comes from either the somewhat brief main story that does just enough to convey the world's sense of character, or participating in large-scale battles with the surprisingly robust online functionality that involves making contracts between four key nations. Though it may be tempting to either go heavily into either single player or online, in reality, both aspects truly feel like two sides of the same coin in Grand Kingdom and the player is strongly encouraged to utilize both actively. The reason why both single-player and online are important is that neither is mutually exclusive and often play off of one another. For example, a huge component of Grand Kingdom is making squads. Even if you may only actively play one 4-person party at a time when it comes to moving your chess-like piece on a simplistic grid in normal missions, you can have entirely different parties getting other rewards for you in the mean time. I often found a routine is sending in dispatching new parties online to fight in a war simply so I could gain level ups and money while I was asleep. However, without a doubt the strongest facet of Grand Kingdom is its deep party customization and active combat. You can go as detailed as you want when it comes to creating unique character attack combos and maximizing their timing to deal the most hurt, almost akin to a fighting game, or set button-mashy preset attacks -- and that's just for melee classes. Grand Kingdom does a great job at making the handful of classes feel very unique, like perhaps having a trusty "Challenger" class place explosive barrels to impede enemy movement or spellcasters, like Arcanist, pelting foes from afar and juggling them in the air with well-timed button presses. There is a real satisfactions in creating your own party and finding out what works for you (or doesn't, in the case of accidental friendly fire). One of my biggest problems with Grand Kingdom is that there is simply not that much incentive to really change things up. The combat depth is there, but the level, mission, and enemy variety simply to utilize it simply is not. As one is chipping away at online missions or main story objectives it is real easy to create a huge disparity in levels and stats between different squads, which will likely lead most to sticking to one party and delegating other squads to get them free stuff online. This is a real shame because the combat has so much depth. Frankly, you will see a lot of the same enemies rather quickly as well as samey scenarios on maps. For me personally, party stats eventually mattered much more than me getting creative at eliminating them through actual strategy. I hate to say it, but I found a bread and butter routine for my main party and it would have been too much of a grind to make my five other squads catch up any time soon to purposely change it up. It is a shame, because aspects like online are surprisingly robust and, sadly, not really for me. Beyond dispatching party members to get you free stuff (....you can tell I used it for that a lot), there is a whole other layer involving the four factions. Players can plan out invasions, make treaties, gather resources to expand a war's effort, and plenty more when going online. There are even neat touches like being able to battle (AI-controlled) parties of other players during these section based on which faction you war against. It is clear that Grand Kingdom wants to become a title that one keeps returning to. And, in all honestly, after the main story, the online functionality is likely the biggest and best way to strengthen your party for those who want to go for a Disgaea-like meta game when it comes to re-leveling characters for better base stats. For me, however, all I saw was a grind without that much incentive despite the promise of added, faction specific, story missions for significantly higher party levels. One can tell Grand Kingdom has a lot of heart, however. In my case, it was not immediately easy to tell as the game has the unfortunate luck of being immediately compared Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir, which is simply unfair as both the 2D visuals and soundtrack are quite charming overall (just... not astounding like Vanillaware stuff.). That said, aside from the aesthetic, and eventually through the more-likable-than-you'd-expect main story, the Vita release is hindered by some technical foibles, specifically load times. It may seem minor, and it may very well be for people, but I found myself put off by having to often wait five or seconds when trying to get nitty gritty with slotting attack different abilities or transition between different menus rather often. It often feels like Grand Kingdom is at odds with what it intends to achieve. In one moment, the combat, party customization, and online functionality are surprisingly deep and have several creative ideas with their execution. However, it loses in a battle or attrition as it struggles to introduce much incentive, or actual enemy/map variety, to do much more than follow a formulaic grind after the brief main story. I appreciate Grand Kingdom's initial ideals, but I wish my morale in the long haul was simply higher justify a continued march at its side to proudly wave its banner. Pros + Pleasant 2D art direction and soundtrack + Tons of party customization for attack/combo slotting, group formations, and + Several creative ideas for online functionality through various warring factions that strongly encourage returning regularly for perks Cons - Simplistic battle maps and very few enemies types do not lend themselves to gameplay variety - The huge disparity in stats created through level-ups can easily create the temptation of simply using 'what works' at the sacrifice of actual gameplay strategy - If one does not get into the online aspects they may find themselves hard-pressed to do much beyond the short main story - Noticeable load times on Vita Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent Grand Kingdom is a creative take on Tactical-RPGs from its deep combat mechanics and many unique warlike online systems, yet, without a strong enough formation to several other gameplay components may unfairly cause it to be forgotten after its brief tale is told Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  11. Developer: Nippon Ichi Software Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS4 Release Date: October 6, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen After more than ten years since its initial debut it is very likely that most people know where they stand with Nippon Ichi Software's Disgaea series. The bizarre over-the-top antics of their main characters, near-endless item world grind, and 9999 level caps (with even higher damage counts) have helped cultivate its strong strategy-RPG following. That said, it is also apparent that the series has lost its vigor in many eyes as well. It has had its up and downs, from storytelling to gameplay mechanics, and most fans would probably have difficulty articulating why one entry is truly better than another beyond their first impressions. Generally speaking, however, 2013's very safe retread that was Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness was not the answer to renew interest for many despite the return of fan-favorite characters. But with new PS4 hardware it seems like NIS has to taken confidence in a proper numbered installment once more with Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance. Does its less safe rebellion prove fruitful or should its misplaced ambition be quelled? Rather than dealing with the life of “honor students” or an eccentric prinny instructor, Disgaea 5 has a more typical Japanese-RPG setup at the start with a universe enveloping threat. This threat, known the Demon Emperor Void Dark, is rapidly conquering netherworlds and increasing The Lost army along with it. The less typical motivations occur by mere happenstance when the temptress overlord, Seraphina, is saved by a mysterious blue-haired demon Killia whom single-handedly takes down a battalion of The Lost. Instead of feeling indebted to Killia, however, Seraphina decides to follow him with the intention to manipulating his power for her revenge against Void Dark. Revenge is hardly a subtle theme in Disgaea 5 if the title didn“t already give that away. Narrative-wise it will seem like the only driving force for most of the cast making the first half of it honestly quite slow, in addition to its early story parallels to Disgaea 4. What is surprising is how it actually breaks past its plodding start significantly with a more engaging second-half. The overall character development -- specifically for its lead cast -- ends up being surprisingly heartfelt, especially when compared to previous Disgaea games. For instance, the giant yellow prinny riding Usalia -- whom seems little more than mascot fodder at first glance -- ends up having a surprisingly grim backstory, and seeing her grow past that is done well. Though the game develops its characters better than you would expect, the main story does ends up being rather predictable as a whole. Where the most enthusiasm comes across is undoubtedly through its dense strategy-RPG gameplay. The mayhem of exponentially leveling up, diving into the item world, tossing allies across terrain, and smartly using geo panels are certainly all there and then some. However, the upfront new additions to the series come in the form of new classes, revenge mechanic, quest system, and several more quirky unlocks buried for more studious players. The most substantial to combat is probably the aptly named "revenge" gauge that increases when ally characters get hurt or killed and applies to enemies as well. When the gauge is maxed characters get a big combat advantage with a 100% critical rate, drastically lower skill cost, and lessened overall damage. In addition to this bonus, "overlord" characters in the story get access to unique skills called "Overloads". For example, Seraphina can charm all men characters to attack their own allies for a turn or Zeroken can create four duplicates of himself to use for several turns with the use of Overload. It is a cool new mechanic that can easily turn the tide of battle... or make certain boss characters quite menacing. Disgaea 5 does more than add a few mechanics and calls it a day. Sure, many appreciated refinements come from Disgaea D2 like cheat shop which allows you to drastically manipulate experience progression or class mechanics that makes strengthening a character's base stats far less grindy. Not only that, though, as Disgaea 5 also cherry-picks many of the previous entries best mechanics and then improves upon them with its own flair to it. Similar to Disgaea 3's classroom system, you can create different groups of characters to wildly different perks in Disgaea 5's. Squads require for less micromanaging than previous games despite their perks being great. You can recruit new characters through "interrogations", get significant experience/stat perks, use of unique squad only skills in combat. or the more absurd quirks in the hub world like assigning a curry cook or being able to punch characters... because, why not? The depth to Disgaea 5 is just crazy even for the most minute concepts. Probably the only real slight against the new additions is the necessity of quests. In the matter of fairness, they are generally inoffensive with the tasks and the rewards they unlock. The problem with quests is when it comes to unlocking specific characters. Though getting new human classes is more comprehensive (and actually explained) compared to previous games it is obtaining certain monster classes can be feel more restrictive than previous games since they require specific items that may be more luck based to obtain than they should be. Another issue is that Disgaea 5 goes overzealous with the DLC. It is not surprising because it is standard practice for the past few Disgaea console releases but after playing so much Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited on Vita last year one can't help but feel short changed when it comes to post-game stuff to work towards due to DLC segmentation. Despite its shortcomings, a lot of the Disgaea charm is certainly still intact with its presentation with the fifth. Questionable English dub quality not withstanding, Tenpei Saito's brings his goofy but whimsical music style and jazzy melodies to complement much of the game's setting. The music does unfortunately lack an insanely catchy hub theme like Extreme Outlaw King or Arcadian Vampire even though it has a good opening theme. Visually, Disgaea 5 has not seen much of an upgrade over Disgaea 4 but the 3D sprite-work is still quite a treat. The many extremely cool-looking attacks are still as crazy but fun to watch as ever, even if the blocky 3D backgrounds serve as a noticeable contrast at times. With the transition to new hardware one can certainly be weary if formally loved franchises can make it safely. Admittedly, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance does absolutely nothing to push PS4 hardware in the slightest, but what it does is make pretty much unquestionably the best actual game in the series. There is an insane of gameplay depth, smart additions, and retains most of the charm of the series. Fans will certainly stake their own claim on its story aspects, especially for how plodding and predictable it is at times, but -- like a lot of Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeace -- it has a lot more heart than you'd expect for a series that should be all too familiar by now. Pros + Cherry picks most of the series best gameplay mechanics and adds cool new ones + Charming sprite work and soundtrack + Develops its main characters better than previous Disgaea games + Tons of strategy-RPG depth Cons - New quest and character recruiting structure can feel limiting compared to previous games - Story is rather slow for the first half and quite predictable overall Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance undoubtedly bests its predecessors as a strategy-RPG but its quirks can bring contention to its storytelling and endgame content. Regardless, there is little doubt is my mind that Disgaea fans or even curious strategy-RPG fans should more than keep their eye on what is one of the very best RPGs on PS4. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.