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  1. Jordan Haygood

    Dead or Alive Xtreme 3

    From the album: Kaptain's Gallery

    Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 artwork.

    © Team Ninja, Koei Tecmo

  2. Developer: Spike Chunsoft Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PS Vita Release Date: July 26, 2016 ESRB: E for Everyone Shiren the Wanderer is sort of like the great granddaddy of roguelike dungeon crawlers that only a select few actually remember by name. I imagine people are likely aware of its many "Mystery Dungeon" offshoots, such as Pokemon: Super Mystery Dungeon, or maybe even the Final Fantasy-themed Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon, but not poor ol' Shiren himself. I can't really blame people either as actual localized Shiren titles have been far and few between over the years. Either way, out of seemingly sheer randomness, we are blessed by Aksys with Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate on Vita. Though originally a former (and Japan-only) Nintendo DS title, the enhanced Vita release of the fifth main entry proves that the time-worn adventurer still has more than a few worthwhile tricks to survive even now. The pretense in this title is rather brief, but to the point -- refreshingly so. Veteran wanderer, Shiren, and his talking ferret companion wind up in a foreign land with whole new problems. In his newest adventure, Shiren finds himself wanting to help a local townsfolk, Jirokichi, who is adamant on changing the cruel fate of his dying friend. In order to do so, however, Shiren and Jirokichi have to literally challenge the god of destiny by climbing the Tower of Fortune and collecting the dice of fate. Hence the wordy, but surprisingly accurate, game title. Right at the start, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate comes off immediately as charming. It pulls off an old-school RPG charm and feels completely earnest about it. Everything from the simple, but well-realized, 2D aesthetic to the brief, but cute, main story just feels right at home with releases many console generations past. This certainly helps as Tower of Fortune has no problem being quite mean and "old school" in regards to challenging gameplay as well. As the case goes for Mystery Dungeon releases, specifically Shiren, combat is turn-based and dungeons are random. Basically every action, or step, Shiren takes constitutes as a turn making the entire roguelike flow feel very methodical. Also part of the signature roguelike formula is a rule where when Shiren dies, all of the money and held items he had are lost. It is a very harsh consequence, and honestly, you will die more than you succeed, especially early in. That said, Shiren does quite a few things to help you mitigate it. Roguelike shenanigans will occasionally deal an unfair hand (...or many consecutively), but most of it can actually be offset by preparation or coming to understand the many small nuances within its gameplay. And I do truly mean many. Thankfully, most key gameplay naunces are explained rather well through the many optional, but insightful, tutorials. Aspects like knowing matching gear sets give you buffs, how to synthesize gear to carry over valuable skills from various items, learning how to deal with many tricky enemy types, or that you can't read helpful ability scrolls at night time without proper lighting seem small but can make all the difference when trying survive. And, contrary to the series' standard rules, you can even prevent the loss of gear if you cough up some cash "plate" them in advance, which will have them appear in a Lost and Found after death. Tower of Fortune is also one of those games that starts out very basic, yet continues and continues to open up as you uncover its many layers. Beyond standard dungeon exploration, just taking a stroll around the various towns throughout will lead to unraveling the surprisingly breadth to the game: such as a point based shop that rewards players for stepping on switches mid-dungeon, finding companions to fight at your side, the ability craft/name entirely new items, heck, there are even several minigames -- one of which is essentially Minesweeper. Players can also dabble with online functionality as well, like requesting revives from other players or being one to help those in need. Though, I think it is an absolute crime that co-op multiplayer is delegated to local ad-hoc only. Still, the gameplay is just dense in ways one would not expect. This applies the most in the post-main story content. I personally beat the main story in about twenty hours (I feel like it would have been a fair bit less if it were not for some harsh lessons...), and the post game is more than likely to double that for more hardcore adventurers. There are so many optional sidequests and dungeons that unlock after the main story that it is honestly absurd in both the amount of time you can throw at it and difficulty in trying to surpass them. Granted, for as much fun as I have had with the main story, I did get discouraged considering how strict certain optional dungeons were, such as increased hunger rates and lack of recruitable companions, and how much more reliant the were on luck they felt like. But I'm sure more seasoned adventures can prove me wrong with the right setup. So, what is one to make of a of Mystery Dungeon series? Let alone the fifth entry? Well, if anything, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate absolutely relishes in series' pedigree. It embraces the harsher, yet addictive, qualities of roguelikes and goes above and beyond.with its surprisingly charm and gameplay nuance. All in all, while it does not deviate from too far from an established formula, it makes a fine example of why it does not need to. Pros + Genuine old school RPG charm from the ground up + Simple, yet quite addictive, dungeon-crawling formula with a very deceptive amount of depth underneath + Rewarding structure that allows players to mitagate most of the harsher gameplay aspects with smart preparation + Absurdly huge amount of post game content that can keep players occupied for quite a while Cons - Roguelike shenanigans is certainly in place and skill can not always compensate for really bad luck - The consequence of dying is still quite harsh and can be rather off putting for those not used to the "Mystery Dungeon" formula Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Rich with charm and surprising depth Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is likely to captivate many fans of roguelike dungeon crawlers Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  3. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Koei-Tecmo Platform: Vita Release Date: January 19, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen Another year, another Atelier game. Except... not exactly. It was not until fairly recently that Atelier Sophie was announced (and with a June release date as well). So, before Atelier Sophie was confirmed, I was facing a very serious existential problem as an Atelier fan. Much like an alchemist needs a cauldron to start crafting, I need a new Atelier game to start my year otherwise everything feels off (maybe not true, but I was not about to find out). In order to avoid such a tragic fate, I decided to shift my gaze towards the enhanced port of a former PS3 release with Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky on Vita, purely in the hopes of satiating my yearly Atelier fix. Now, admittedly, I have already reviewed the original release of Atelier Escha & Logy back on PS3. Quite in-depth, I might add (maybe too in-depth...). Because of this, rather than inadvertently writing the same review twice, I will focus on what is new to Atelier Escha & Logy Plus and with the context of having played its sequel (and the final part of the "Dusk" trilogy) Atelier Shallie last year. Next to nothing has changed in regards to storytelling. The player still chooses between two alchemist protagonists at the start with either Escha (pink-hair) or Logy (white-hair) as they work together to bring the dwindling R&D division of the town Colseit back on track. Since I chose Escha my prior playthrough I decided to try out Logy's side for Plus. Which, despite some minor variations in cutscenes, endings, and in-game objectives, are quite similar overall. Even my opinion of the gameplay systems remain just about the same. The combat and deep alchemy mechanics are still fun and addictive, but a second playthrough easily solidified my thoughts on the game's overall limiting mission progression and lackluster storytelling events that propel them. What is new to the Plus version primarily comes in the form of new character events, costumes, and including all former DLC in the game by default. Most are not substantial on their own but add minor variety to the moment to moment gameplay. For instance, you can play dress-up by tossing cat ears on Logy, play former DLC only party members (as well as one entirely new character unique to Plus), and swap between (almost) any of the in-game music with tracks from many Gust games, which I certainly welcomed on my second playthrough... especially the cat ears on Logy part. I think the bullet point feature that they added specifically for Plus is how you can change the context of Escha and Logy's relationship. In the original their relationship was completely platonic, almost strangely so, and now there are scenes that give the player a choice to add more romantic undertones over time or remain the same. These scenes are very inconsequential at large (and don't really change any of the endings either), but I suppose the option is there for those that found their prior relationship weird and want more cutscenes between the two. Generally minor additions aside, the more pressing question is probably comtemplating how well does this port hold up compared to it on PS3. And, for the most part, the answer is decently well. It sacrifices a stable framerate in combat (which can be pretty choppy for flashier attack animations), however both the visuals and generally quick load times are faithful to its PS3 counterpart. There are a couple of oddities specific to Plus however. For example, some formally dubbed scenes on PS3 are not dubbed in the Vita version, while at the same time some of the new scenes are actually dubbed, which is kind of surprising. My best bet is that this was probably some file size balancing act (since the Japanese dub is a free separate download altogether), even if it came off as strange to me nonetheless. At the end of the day, Atelier Escha & Logy Plus does very little to change its inherent identity. Everything from the strength in its gameplay mechanics to its weaknesses in the awkward structure and flat storytelling/characters. There is certainly more content-wise in Atelier Escha & Logy Plus, but on the technical spectrum it may also be less desirable if one is particularly picky about framerate. Which, in all honesty, will only bring the question of which platform one would prefer to play it on since the new content is not that substantial (though generally welcome), and both versions being comparable enough. I still feel just about the exact same about Atelier Escha & Logy overall even with the Plus iteration. It is certainly a good title, with a solid port to boot, but it also has become that much more apparent to me that Atelier Escha & Logy is a stepping stone for what I found to be an ultimately better game, which is Atelier Shallie. Pros + Fairly faithful port of the original game + Includes all of the DLC by default from extra playable characters to the modifiable in-game soundtrack(s) + Lots of costumes and a few new story events Cons: - Framerate issues are quite noticeable in combat - Odd removal of English dub in previously voiced scenes - Still basically the same game, so... I stick by most of my original criticisms Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good A faithful port with a couple of neat perks included, but as a whole Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky serves as little more than another means to play the title than an actual genuine refinement. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  4. barrel

    Review: Ray Gigant

    Developer: Experience Inc./ Bandai-Namco Games Publisher: Acttil, llc Platform: Vita Release Date: May 3, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen Within just one month, the Vita has gotten two dungeon crawler role-playing games from Experience Inc. The first title was Stranger of Sword City; a challenging, but polished, DRPG that bears a rather traditional overall mindset for the subgenre. Following shortly after (in terms of US release) is Experience Inc's newest DRPG title, Ray Gigant, which feels like a sharp contrast from Stranger of Sword City in a lot of ways. Rather than applying a strong old-school mentality to its core design, Ray Gigant actually makes many aspects associated with DRPGs more approachable and even has a noticeably bigger emphasis on storytelling. When I say storytelling, I do actually mean anime-like storytelling as Ray Gigant borderlines visual novel territory with its early exposition. Honestly, you could probably replace a lot of the terminology with phrases from Neon Genesis Evangelion and it will sound like you are talking about the same thing. Powerful monsters known as Gigants have laid siege upon the world and crippled most of mankind in the process. The current line of defense against Gigants are within Tokyo, aka the Outer Academy, whom are training (generally) young adults because of their aptitude to wield special weapons. Though there may not be any mecha involved (or trippy mind games), Ray Gigant does certainly start off with a particularly unlikable main protagonist. Thankfully, the smug-faced Ichiya with a slight "Get in the robot, Shinji!" complex is but one of three main leads for the title. Each of the three protagonists create a fairly sharp narrative contrast between one another which is intriguing. Of course, you have to actually get to that point, which can be a lot to ask for when it comes to the very slow, and predictable, first arc with Ichiya and the many heavy-handed tutorials throughout. Still, because there was so much early exposition, I almost had doubts that it even was a DRPG. But, Ray Gigant certainly is, and an odd DRPG at that. Ray Gigant deviates from the traditional DRPG mold in a lot of ways. To use a cliched reviewers phrase, it feels very "streamlined" compared to most of its contemporaries or even recent Experience Inc RPGs. There are no party members you essentially have to create for scratch, necessity to manually heal after battles, or even random encounters to deal with in dungeons as almost all of it is predefined throughout the story. Heck, there aren't really even levels you have to grind as stat boosts are entirely dictated by item drops which feed into small player skill trees. Instead, the main concept that players will have to keep in mind while traversing dungeons is the AP gauge and, of course, winning battles. If you have no AP you simply can't attack, defend, heal, or whatever, and this concept carries throughout the entire dungeon. On the same spectrum, if you have a lot of AP (up to 100) you can technically take as many as 5 turns per character. So, from dungeon crawling to battles Ray Gigant becomes one strange AP balancing act, which is primarily gained from either waiting turns, taking hits, or finishing battles quickly. It's a unique approach for the subgenre, to say the least. To add even more strange variables to gameplay are mechanics such as Parasitism, Apotheosis, and... uh, weight . Parasitism is basically a gauge that ticks up by ten percent per battle turn and nullifies the need for AP at the cost of using a character's own HP at 100%. As you may be able guess, this is very dangerous in tougher battles though it has a few small perks. Apotheosis, on the other end, is... uh, basically a rhythm game that does a ton of damage to enemies based on how well you complete it, and will be pretty much only be seen on bosses (or to cancel out Parasitism). Compared to the other two systems, "weight" is much more inconsequential in comparison (...unlike real life). Basically, a character's stats will minorly fluctuate towards either agility or sturdiness based on eating in combat or certain story scenes. There is a lot to the systems but they do not necessarily lend to much actual variety once you adjust, oddly enough. For as many concepts as Ray Gigant plays around with, it stumbles with rather fundamental DRPG gameplay components. Some changes are totally welcome (no random battles!) and others... very much not. While isn't common (just often enough), one very strange design detail is that you can not target foes separately in combat. You see, the entire party has to focus on the same target before moving onto the next during a turn. For example, if you overestimate, or underestimate, how much HP an enemy has you can easily waste AP, which is downright counter-intuitive to its inherent dungeon design. I can't tell you how many times I've queued up multiple attacks strong against undead enemies, for example, only to have my ally attack a non-undead type for only 1 HP of damage right after, essentially wasting AP. Another pretty core issue that Ray Gigant has is that it is not particularly deep or varied. In combat you basically have three skills (eventually six) that you can slot in for each character at once and the character parties themselves are fairly homogenized. There will always be one tank equivalent, one long range support character, and a magic user of some sort in groups going as far as to have eerily similar skill trees too. This in turn led me to play multiple groups, and even boss fights, basically the same. It also does not help that there is very little dungeon variety as each party will pretty much only see one unique dungeon theme before transitioning to another group like ten or so hours later. Which, coupled with the quickly recycled enemy types, and canned animation loops for enemies and allies (despite their initial novelty), leads Ray Gigant feeling very samey throughout outside of the storytelling. It is quite odd to play two games by a shared developer, and within the same exact subgenre, so close together and feel totally different about them. But, Ray Gigant embodies both ambition with its several solid DRPG ideas but at the same time is also clearly lacking in execution with most of its components. For every one welcome aspect Ray Gigant takes towards making DRPGs more approachable it takes two steps back with its oddly implemented gameplay systems and overall lack of depth. At best the title is an "interesting enough" diversion for both its distinct storytelling and gameplay concepts, but is not terribly remarkable about either as a whole. Pros: + Multiple character perspectives creates interesting tonal shifts as the story progresses + Streamlines many DRPG elements from having no random battles to being able to easily escape dungeons Cons: - Why is the party only able to target the same enemy in combat? - Fairly slow start due to heavy-handed tutorials and very predictable anime storytelling - Little dungeon variety - Character customization isn“t very deep Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average While I can not simply fault Experience Inc. for trying something different with Ray Gigant when compared to more traditional dungeon-crawlers like Stranger of Sword City, it ultimately does not go far enough to really make any one part of it that compelling. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  5. barrel

    Ray Gigant 5

    From the album: Ray Gigant

  6. barrel

    Ray Gigant 4

    From the album: Ray Gigant

  7. barrel

    Ray Gigant 3

    From the album: Ray Gigant

  8. barrel

    Ray Gigant 2

    From the album: Ray Gigant

  9. barrel

    Ray Gigant 1

    From the album: Ray Gigant

  10. barrel

    Review: Norn9: Var Commons

    Developer: Otomate/Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: Vita Release Date: November 3, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen I have become increasingly fascinated with playing otome visual novels as of late. A lot of the blame for that is due to the game Code: Realize:Guardians of Rebirth, which I found to be a pretty pleasant surprise. So, upon seeing that new otome Norn9: Var Commons was made by the same developer (and on the Vita handheld) as Code: Realize so shortly after piqued my curiosity. But, surpassing that, otomes can be a pretty refreshing contrast to most standard visual novels. If oddly sincere pigeon dating sims or romances at a themepark made by Keiji Infafune are any indicator, they are also willing to take risks with how their stories are told as well. Fortunately, Norn9 seems to be trying out some unique ideas too even if, well, you'll ultimately be seeing a lot of effeminate anime men, like most otomes. Still, Norn9 starts in a pretty unconventional way. Opposed to focusing on the main cast of heroines and their would-be love interests right away, it actually starts from the perspective of a young boy named Sorata. Sorata himself being what he assumed to be a normal boy from the modern era who unwittingly time-travels back to the 1920's Taisho Era of Japan. Utterly baffled by his current predicament, with likely no way to get home anytime soon, Sorata decides to eventually accompany a kindly "weird girl" (which is revealed somewhat early as Koharu) on a ship, or rather an airship, that may very well be the key to get him back home. The story sort of clumsily stumbles about until it ultimately decides to focus on the daily lives of the inhabitants on the airship. Both the airship and most of the inhabitants themselves, of course, being far from normal... probably because most of them are espers. Also not normal is how the main story is actually told through the perspective of three completely different heroines, each with their unique narrative routes, leading to nine in total. Because the prospect of nine different story routes sounded sort of daunting to me, I decided to follow the game's "recommended" route order. There are three locked routes but the first character paths the title recommends are to play the pink-haired heroine "Koharu" and pursue either the sadist Kakeru or the hermit Senri. After completing both story routes I was quickly led to wonder if I would like the game at all after completing them, because of how little I cared for either of them. Now, I don“t mind either Kakeru or Koharu separately as characters (Senri perhaps less so...), but their story route teetered on badly written fanfiction territory. The character relationships and eventual character "development" within them felt very unearned and clearly important narrative devices were brushed aside for a cavity-inducing romance. Honestly, I was close to wrapping up the review right there after being burned by two of the stories (Kind of ironic considering Koharu's esper ability is actually fire...). But, despite my weary first impressions, I decided to give the title one more chance -- and I'm glad I did. You see, there is a huge disparity in terms of quality between different narrative routes in Norn9 as I eventually learned. I don't even mean in just tone or a general taste thing, like the radically different character routes in Code: Realize had presented. I honestly think there is a big qualitative gap between many of the nine stories in Norn9 and it is clear to me that the lead women Mikoto and Nanami had the the better stories of the bunch. The one to open my eyes to this realization the most is the tale between Mikoto and her childhood friend Sakuya. Now, let's be real -- childhood friend romances are far from original in Japanese anime storytelling. That said, what made Mikoto's route more interesting to me is that Mikoto herself is not only much smarter (and more capable) than -- let's say -- Koharu, but her relationship between her childhood friend actually starts pretty distant. They aren't on bad terms per say, far from it, however the talk between them is far more business than not. Intentionally so. As the story reveals more of itself it presents some pretty interesting moral conundrums and earns its romance over time. Though, it doesn't entirely fix its abrupt broader narrative issues (and some overly preachy themes) as with most routes, unfortunately. The stories that create the biggest narrative conundrums are generally tied to blue-haired heroine Nanami's. The main reason for this is because of her inherent power is, well, erasing people's memories. This alone allows the story to have some rather twisted narrative implications depending on the route. That, and well, Nanami herself did not have the most pleasant upbringing, let's say. Without going into spoiler territory, Nanami definitely had my favorite stories of the bunch and I frankly wish more of Norn9 reflected it. Walls of text and hit & miss romances aside, Norn9 is a pleasant-looking visual novel overall. The character art is quite well-drawn and has clean gameplay interface tools as well for possible thorough playthroughs. The script, and occasionally iffy localization, are noticeably less consistent (as well as the soundtrack), but the Japanese only voice delivery is very solid in spite of it. With the division of its nine different character routes, Norn9: Var Commons has a pretty apparent divide in its overall visual novel quality. It can feel like a dice roll between getting a story route that feels genuinely worthwhile and heartwarming to significant shift in others paths that border on cringe-worthy fan-fiction level romances. Despite their many differences, I can not help but feel like most would be better served playing Otomate's own recent Code: Realize for a possible otome visual novel fix before considering Norn9. There is good in Norn9 but it is more difficult to uncover than it should be. Pros: + 3 different heroine perspectives bring a pretty distinct take on how the storytelling is told + Well-drawn character art + Endearing character development moments depending on the story route Cons: - Huge disparity in the quality of narrative routes, some of which are outright bad (most of Koharu“s in particular) - Broader overarching story does often get tossed aside Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent Some moments Norn9 has the makings a genuinely good visual novel but its wildly inconsistent quality between stories can easily wear out many but fairly tolerant otome fans with its nine different character routes. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.