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  1. Developer: Tamsoft Corporation Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PS4 Release Date: September 22, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature At this point I have just as much disappointment as I do a bizarre sense of respect for the Senran Kagura series currently. Its first debut, Senran Kagura Burst, felt surprisingly earnest with its storytelling/cast of characters in spite of, well, busty ninjas, exploding clothing, and repetitive gameplay. But five years is apparently all it takes for the series to lose any and all trace of its former dignity at the cost of improved gameplay. One quick glance at the newest spin-off (or even the title) in the series -- Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash -- should silence delusional individuals, like myself, who expect the series to focus on anything more than flagrant fanservice. So, the morality of ladies in bikinis fighting each other with super soakers aside, is it actually any good despite all likely expectations? Let just get this out of the way, Senran Kagura: Peach Splash (which I will abbreviate as "PBS" just like the game does from here on) is actually... not a bad game. At least not mechanically. You just have to sacrifice your pride to play it, if one has not done so already. At its heart PBS is a third person shooter. You mow down the likes of girls flailing pool noodles, fellow ninjas of the different academies (also carrying water guns), and occasionally big boss robots with what should be a woefully-equipped water-fueled arsenal. It won't amaze anyone savvy about third person shooters, as you are more or less encouraged to play it with auto-aim consistently, but it has more enjoyable mechanics than you would expect. The several weapons you can choose each have different alternate fire. All characters also have the ability to jump/float high into the air, or glide across the ground (like in Vanquish), with their water-themed gear as well. Players can also apply buffs to themselves via various unlockable cards which can be used via the D-Pad mid-combat. Such bonuses also include temporary minions to add support fire or the ability to debuff enemies like (even) worse water conservation or reloading. They do appear in a random order mid-combat, however, so hopefully the player has ones they actually like (so basically not the default setup. Where the difference between a common damage increase card goes from 20% to 60% based on rarity). Players will be regularly getting new card packs, or the money to buy more (to actually get good ones), through both single player and online mutliplayer modes. I guess you could buy numerous skimpy outfits with the in-game currency too, but who really cares about that? It is just kind of a shame that Peach Beach Splash is structured in a way that feels at odds with what should be fun and fluid combat system. The most glaring of which is a flaw which existed in prior games that is only amplified in PBS, which is the grindy nature before both characters and weapons become combat-ready. For example, you need to feed duplicate cards to power up weapons, increase a character's health, or slightly less importantly for the mid-combat passive abilities. Weapons go from constantly needing to reload and also barely doing any damage to becoming infinitely more effective after several level-ups. Players will rarely find themselves jumping early on (due to poor efficiency) to constantly doing it later on, making the early game obnoxious and clunky to play. The player is also likely to be close to maxing out one weapon after going through the underwhelming story mode. I know I should not have had expectations for it before diving in, but never has Senran Kagura cared so little for its single-player than the main campaign in PBS. Cutscenes are little more than recycled jokes, and all kinds of perverted innuendo thanks to a certain announcer, though they are thankfully brief and rarely last more than a couple minutes. What is more disappointing is just how little variety there is to it too. Being little more than, extinguishing annoyingly-placed fire spots, and the occasional throwaway boss fight. Speaking of which, the final fight in particular is probably the most unapologetic riff on Splatoon's final fight ever (ironically made worse in its sequel by reappearing yet again) and may have bizarrely offended me more than than anything else in the title. No wait, I take that previous comment back. As completely optional as it may be, there are incredibly creepy literal groping or spraying discolored fluid mini games to what is basically the in-game dressing room and that is alone pretty much the most tasteless thing in the series' entire history. Like, it even makes the pervy mechanic in which the player literally sprays off an opponents clothing as a finishing move somehow feel more tasteful. Also, as disgusting as it may be for it to be in the game, I can not pretend the signs were not all there upon just booting up the game. Still, one can not pretend that PBS is an expressive game in motion either. Despite being a spin-off it is easily the best-looking game in the series with its colorful visuals and stable. Though, to contrast, the soundtrack does not stand out nearlyas much as its predecessors' catchy scores, such as Senran Kagura Burst, Shinovi Versus, or Estival Versus all proudly had. Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash is just as exuberant as it is somewhat disappointing that the series has become exactly what it looks: a generally shallow fanservice-y game. Mechanically, it has the heart of surprising solid third-person gameplay with very fast paced and mobile combat. But it is just as shame that its leveling progression is so restrictive (to the point where players have to reload constantly or barely do any damage) and the only real way to mitigate it is through the entirety of the boring single-player content. Oh, and the perverted mini games that veer far too close creepy than funny as well. Still, players should know exactly what they are getting into with this latest Senran Kagura spin-off. While it is comes across more earnest than it should be in some regards, despite its clear pandering setup, it's a shame that it feels like it's on the cusp of being noteworthy based on its gameplay, but it simply is not. Pros + Fast-paced and nonsensical third-person shooter gameplay + Vibrant presentation Cons - The perverted dial is cranked up all the way all the time - Can feel quite restrictive/grindy with how leveling up weapons is handled (and to be viable online. Co-op or otherwise) - Completely boring single player modes with very little variety Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average One should know exactly what they are getting into with Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash based on a quick glance. While there are certain facets that stand out more than they should, like surprisingly solid gameplay mechanics, it has more than enough annoyances with its progression and single player content to not catch leering eyes on it for very long Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. If you're a fan of the The Legend of Heroes series, then you've been waiting a long time to see the conclusion to the Trails in the Sky trilogy, which began with the first game on the PSP way back in 2011. After waiting 4 years for the second game, Trails in the Sky SC (or Second Chapter), it's a bit of a relief to hear that the wait for Trails in the Sky the 3rd will be a lot less. XSEED confirmed today that the third and final chapter will release on PC via Steam, GOG, and Humble Store on May 3. XSEED also announced that Trails of Cold Steel will be coming to PC this Summer; a specific release date will be announced at a later time. However, this version will have a 5,000 new lines of voiceover dialogue, or about 50% more than the original version on PS3 and Vita had. Not bad! Of course, a port of Trails of Cold Steel II is also being planned for PC down the line, so stay tuned for more info on that. Source: Press Release Are you excited for Trails in the Sky the 3rd and the PC version of Trails of Cold Steel?
  3. Developer: Marvelous Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: January 17, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS4 version of the game I am by no means a world history buff. But, I am pretty sure that the Roman emperor Nero Claudius was not an eccentric blonde haired woman whom murdered thousands digital soldiers with a few swings of her sword while flower petals fall all around her. At the same time I am not necessarily raring to explain the history of the “Nasuverse,” the complicated setup behind the popular Japanese visual novel Fate/Stay Night, and the various spin-offs it accumulated over time. Thankfully, the newest spin-off on PS4/PS Vita called Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is a musou game. So, technically, the main prerequisite before jumping into it is knowing how much one enjoys slashing up thousands of foes with Fate/Stay Night series fanservice sprinkled throughout. Similar to the likes of Dynasty Warriors, Fate/Extella“s main gameplay is structured around somewhat strategically seizing territory and slashing up hordes of foes. Often boiling down to moving/warping to one short area and selectively killing one or multiple specific targets within it. How it tries to somewhat differentiate itself up is through some of the mechanics and the sort of tug of war nature of its main objective. Basically, capturing different points of the map have varying point values in order the finish primary objective of completing the "Regime Matrix." If the enemy completes it, you lose. If you complete it, you win and can usually face the boss of the stage in order to beat the level. What is also used to loosely change gameplay up from its contemporaries are through some of the combat abilities. Sure, pretty much much every character has more than their share of crowd juggling skills full of Fate/Stay Night fanservice. "Nameless" Archer has the classic ability Unlimited Blade Works, Artoria with Excalibur, and so forth. Every character gets access to more light/heavy attack combos over time through level-ups as standard with the subgenre as well. But, more universal skills like Extella Maneuver and Moon Drive sort of dictate the general flow. For example, by tapping the circle button allows any character to slash up all nearby foes depending on how many stocks the Extella Maneuver gauge has. If one were were speaking in Marvel vs Capcom 3 terms, it's like using "Maximum Spider" on hundreds of foes. Moon Drive on the other spectrum powers-up attack moves and for specific characters like Nero and Tamamo, they get entirely different movesets in this strengthened form, which is neat. Though, admittedly, it is disappointing that most others did not get the same treatment as Nero and Tamamo with the Moon Crux mode. I will be honest here and say Fate/Extella will likely be disappoint those who come off of recent Musou releases otherwise. It hardly has anywhere near the polish of titles like Hyrule Warriors, and outside of the lengthy visual novel-like story mode, it will underwhelm those with its sparse variety in single player content in regards to playable characters or gameplay maps. With the exception of one needlessly obtuse character to obtain (Artoria), most players will struggle to see any longevity after the main campaign unless they actively seek to prove themselves on higher difficulties. Sure, I had fun at times at first with the flashy over-the-top nature and Fate/Extella, but I found myself quickly over it because of how little variety there was to gameplay. That said, Fate/Extella actually has a very sizable chunk of storytelling and is arguably the most important component of it. By that I mean I quite literally spent more time reading walls of text than fighting during the main campaign. Heck, you can't even really touch the hack and slash part until you engage with what feels like twenty minutes of visual novel styled exposition. Which is fine by me, as it is secretly why I originally played the title, but can be off-putting for those not expecting it. Which, from that perspective, Fate/Extella is rather curious. For one, it is technically a direct narrative sequel to a PSP RPG that most people did not touch called Fate/Extra. Also, the story mode itself is actually significantly longer than you'd expect with 3 story arcs centered around the three leads of Nero, Tamamo, and Altera, as well as one final closing one to resolve the convoluted overarching story. Storytelling itself is inconsistent to say the least. Often times trying to throw complicated narrative jargon to mask an overall story and cast of characters that are not nearly as complex as they pretend to be. And frankly, it can be a slog at times, despite how it sneaks in some good moments. This is either due to pacing, many pointless harem fanservice anime-like scenes (so blatant that they don't even stop to calling you "husband" when you pick a woman), or some story modes clearly being much better than others. Altera's part of the story, for instance, pretty easily has the most substantial amount of storytelling overall. It addresses most of the main narrative threads and intrigue, and she herself sees the most character development. Though, I admit, I do love Nero's overzealous antics, despite not being as fleshed out, which were made more entertaining through the lively localization. Basically, while I appreciate the storytelling being there, I don't think Fate/Extella really satisfies either niche that would want engaging storytelling or entertaining gameplay except in rather sparse instances. Other than that, the presentation makes the rough edges of the title quite apparent as well. Clearly many compromises for the Vita hardware were made. Most jarring of which is when playing on the PS4 and seeing the enemies would pop out of thin air from a very short draw distance. The compartmentalized battle zones makes it pretty obvious as well. The audio is actually rather solid, however. They managed to retain what seems like pretty much all of the Japanese voice actors for familiar characters, despite how Fate/Stay Night is more than ten years old at this point. Music is also pretty decent as well, with some good remixes like to the remix of the classic fan-favorite "Emiya"'s theme. At the end of the day Fate/Extella feels like it was made more to satiate Fate/Stay Night rampant fandom than anything else. It is not exactly noteworthy enough as a hack-and-slash to stand out against what feels like countless other musou games. The most substantial part to the entire game -- its surprisingly huge visual novel story mode -- is not consistent enough to stand on its own either despite having some good moments. While I don't regret my time with it as a fan, I can not say I would go very far to advise those that aren't already interested in the series to check this title out. Well, unless they really want to try a passable "Musou" styled game that isn't actually made by Omega Force. Pros + Eclectic, albeit small, playable cast with very flashy special moves chock full of Fate/Stay Night series fanservice. +Decent soundtrack. Cool remix of Emiya's theme? Check. + Lively localization makes the script more entertaining than it should be at times. Altera's campaign in particular has some standout moments too. Cons - Very, very repetitive. Small list of playable characters and even fewer stages does not help its case either. -Characters have smaller movesets than even typical Musou games - Draw distance is incredibly small to the point enemies will literally spawn in front of you out of basically nowhere - Storytelling is very inconsistent. Often facing problems with poor pacing and awkward fanservice scenes Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average Existing more for fanfare than anything else, Fate/Extella is a passable hack and slash that barely escapes total mediocrity through its surprisingly substantial, though flawed, story mode Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  4. The farming series known in Japan as Bokujo Monogatari (which was originally Harvest Moon in the West before Marvelous started self-publishing the game) is getting its next entry in the West as Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns fairly soon. XSEED has announced that the game will be hitting 3DS on February 28 and will be getting a pocket plushie of the new in-game capybara pet with pre-orders. Also of note -- costumes based on Nintendo's Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad will also make an appearance in the game. Each will have a special effect on the main character as listed below: Mario's outfit and hat: Gives a running speed boost Luigi's outfit and hat: Improves luck at fishing Princess Peach's Dress and Tiara: Makes you better friends with people Toad's outfit: Recharges stamina over time Trio of Towns' main hook gives the player three unique locales to explore as they look for new ways to grow crops and such. Each town will also offer its own crops, potential love interests, animals, festivals, and more. Source: Press Release Are you interested in checking out Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns when it releases?
  5. Early 2017 is about to get a little more crowded in the JRPG world because XSEED has just confirmed that Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star will be releasing shortly in January. Fate/EXTELLA, part of the Fate/stay night series, takes place after Fate/EXTRA and will expand upon the lore by introducing a new story and characters (or "Servants" as they're called in-game) who survived the Holy Grail War on the Moon. Players will experience the story through the eyes of three heroine Servants and face off against a variety of characters from other Fate productions, including Fate/stay night, Fate/EXTRA, and others. A limited Noble Phantasm Edition will bundle in a custom box containing 7.5" x 6.3" hardcover art book featuring over 100 pages of artwork and backstory from the game, a pack of 3" by 5" cards depicting the game's Servants, and a 24" by 17" cloth poster. Digital pre-orders of the PS4 version will unlock an exclusive PS4 theme and a costume DLC. The Vita version will not have a pre-order campaign, but digital purchases within the first two weeks of release will net an exclusive Vita theme and its own unique costume DLC. Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star will release on January 17, 2017 on the PS4 and PS Vita. For more info, check out Barrel's hands-on E3 2016 preview and check out the latest trailer below. Will you be checking out Fate/EXTELLA?
  6. If you know XSEED, then you know that they're generally an outfit for publishing niche Japanese titles. However, all of that's about to change. That's right, XSEED will be changing things up by publishing a few indie games soon. The first game on the list is Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity, an action-RPG set in the Touhou Project universe that draws inspiration from the YS series of games. Next up is Exile's End, a dark and futuristic 2D sidescroller that is described as "one part Metroidvania" and "one-part cinematic platformer." Finally, XSEED will be publishing the physical retail version of Wayforward's Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. Presumably, this means Wayforward will be handling the digital versions of the game on their own as they have with past Shantae titles. Also, the physical version will be packaged with a CD with 20 musical tracks from the game. Not bad! Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity will be coming to PlayStation 4; Exile's End will be coming to PS4, PS Vita, and Wii U; and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero will be coming to retail on PS4, PS Vita, and Wii U. Source: Press Release What are your thoughts on XSEED starting to publish indie games? Are you surprised they're publishing the physical version of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero?
  7. Developer: Tamsoft Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment Platform: PS4 Release Date: March 15, 2016 ESRB: M for Mature I go back and forth in regards to what I actually like about the Senran Kagura series. My original justification for getting into Senran Kagura Burst and Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus was actually their surprisingly decent character-driven storytelling (and their sweet music) in spite of their somewhat messy gameplay and excessive fanservice moments. But, it has become abundantly clear to me that storytelling is no longer a priority as revealed by the series moving forward. To illuminate this theory much more was Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson on 3DS, a game in which I had a lot of problems with both its gameplay and its near-nonexistent storytelling compared to previous titles. The newest game, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, continues the trend of exuberant fanservice and also drifts away from any attempts at meaningful storytelling. Still, to my surprise, it makes me enjoy it primarily because of the gameplay, almost in sharp contrast to its predecessors. I'll not beat around the bush. The setup in Estival Versus is basically like an anime beach episode of Senran Kagura... for an entire game. For the most part, it teleports the cast of characters (up until Shinovi Versus) to a bizarre island to participate in the Kagura Millennium Festival. Though there is a competition to destroy pillars that belong to other teams (while protecting their own to officially become a Kagura, which is like a badass when it comes to slaying yoma, or monsters), the characters find little drive to do much than mess around and soak in the sights while there. With the exception of the last two or so chapters of the story mode, you would be hard-pressed to find anything more serious than a multitude of perverted gags... like panty-eating, seriously. Which honestly makes most of the story mode not only fairly boring, but also pretty disappointing for series fans since it degrades characters that actually have solid backstories into perverted caricatures of themselves in Estival Versus and little else. I'm sure I'm not going to sell most people on the storytelling in Senran Kagura, even if I promise it was much better in earlier games. Of its predecessors, it is very clear that Estival Versus's gameplay is basically an improved version of the former Vita exclusive Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus. There are more characters, more stages (though, a few are seemingly recycled), some added mechanics, and a few other additions. As such, the gameplay has a very musou type of feel to combat as you mindlessly juggle enemies from the ground to the air with many flashy attacks. And honestly, it's pretty fun for the most part... if one can accept the copious amount of "fanservice" the title has in addition to the repetitive level design. Disintegrating clothing and lewdly depicted magical girl-ish transformations are very much a staple of the series at this point -- and you'll be seeing at lot of both in Estival Versus. Intentionally or not. Estival Versus goes even further with its perversion like the multitude unlockable lingerie clothing options, many fanservicey optional "girl's heart" missions (in addition to the main story), to the new "creative finishes" if you defeat a character close to a certain part of the environment to, uh, somehow make losing all of one's clothing mid-battle even more embarrassing. If there was any moment that one pondered if Senran Kagura didn't embrace its' hyperbolic fanservice, Estival Versus leaves zero room for interpretation For those who can overlook it, Estival Versus can be enjoyable in a mindless button-mashy way. The cast of playable characters is decently large (though, not close to the extent of something like Samurai Warriors 4: Empires) and with the transition to PS4 they look the best that they have ever been. Even if it was designed originally for Vita it holds up very well on PS4. It is weird how much quicker load times, a rock solid framerate in combat, and cleaned up character models go a long way in improving the whole experience. Still, because Estival Versus is a pretty direct successor to Shinovi Versus, it does also share some of its problems as well. For example, the camera still feels a bit too zoomed for an action game. While it is less of a problem compared to the previous handheld installments, if only because of much more screen real estate, the camera can lead to several clunky battle moments. The combat mechanics are also not particularly deep. Estival Versus may do a solid job at making the varied cast feel fresh with their very distinct character designs that usually have at least one unique gameplay gimmick, their actual moveset is rarely deeper than a few bread and butter combos (especially at lower levels.). It also does not help out that universal mechanics like parrying, usable items, and the newly added wall-running mechanic are not too practical in most fights, even less so in multiplayer. Speaking of that, multiplayer also returns. Most modes are inconsequential beyond their initial novelty, beyond being horribly unbalanced because of discrepancy caused by level-ups, but it is neat how modes like survival can allow you to work towards new outfits and level-ups too with fellow players. What is much more consistent is the soundtrack, as many character theme songs are back to being a real treat to listen to like they were in earlier games. Just like the eclectic cast of character designs the music plays with a ton of different musical styles. For the most part, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus attempts to embellish itself in shameless "fanservice", seemingly to the nth degree. Though it tries to be cheeky about it, it unfortunately goes as far as to bog down pretty much any and all attempts at storytelling for a series that at one point did earnestly attempt to prove otherwise . Where Estival Versus does succeed is providing a fun, mindless action romp that is stylish all the while. And, if that's all that you want, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus has more than got you covered... well, when it tries to do so. Pros: + Tons of playable characters, most of which are fun to play + Runs very smooth both in and out of combat with the stable framerate to quick load times (a sharp contrast from almost every previous handheld game) + Character models look great and show off some very cool looking attacks + Many character theme songs are a treat to listen to Cons: - Copious amounts of "fanservice" would be an understatement. - Storytelling is easily the weakest in main series and is obsessed with boring perverted gags throughout most of it - Combat is not particularly deep and does recycle some stages from Shinovi Versus - Repetitive mission design and occasional camera issues Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent Though it may have basically tossed any attempts at being cerebral for the Senran Kagura series, from storytelling to characters, but for those who just want dumb fun and happen to not mind copious amounts of unapologetic "fanservice" with a killer soundtrack in the background then Estival Versus does certainly succeed on that front. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  8. Developer: Tamsoft Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: 3DS Release Date: September 15, 2015 ESRB: M for Mature At one point, I would have used the term "plot" to both ironically and unironically to describe previous Senran Kagura games. Now, Senran Kagura Burst on 3DS was most certainly a flawed game, but the sincerity of its plot, despite its "plot" (aka shameless "fanservice"), caused me to like it perhaps more than I should have. Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus on Vita was less to my liking, however. It was ultimately a better game than Burst, but the title embraced far more "plot", rather than real plot, and played more like a Musou game rather than a beat 'em up. The latest localized 3DS title, Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson, has basically made me forget what promise I saw in both of those games. It is a bigger, flashier title than the original Senran Kagura Burst, and returns to a beat 'em up formula, yet it feels lacking in so many ways. On paper, Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson adds a fair bit to the series, especially in regards to variety (which was severely lacking in previous games). Everything from more unique enemy types to the more technical combat (... in theory) for the various characters, Deep Crimson clearly tries stand out with its second 3DS showing. The primary combat of the game is noticeably different from both Shinovi Versus and Burst, and sort of feels like a weird medium between the two. Though it is in complete 3D, like Shinovi Versus, Deep Crimson's combat itself plays more like a character-action game. Attacks feel like they are more designed to take out singular targets, rather than juggling entire groups at once like various Musou games. It also plays with visual perspective more. Whether this comes from quickly teleporting from the ground to beat up enemies floating mid-air or deliberately turning entire camera an entire level to give a side-scrolling feel, it feels less one-note than previous entries in general design. The most obvious new gameplay feature outright is that you can use two Shinobi at once in many battles. This goes as far as to have unique tag-team special moves for different characters pairs in addition to being able to swap between either of them on the fly (assuming they aren't incapacitated). To complement this addition more is the inclusion online multiplayer to play through various stages, from the lengthy main story or the huge level/costume unlock grind that is the Yoma's Den (there are A TON of costumes)... if you happen to find someone else willing to play this title proudly. I think where Deep Crimson broke for me the most is just how poorly balanced the actual combat is. It has what I would define as a Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge complex. It often feels like the title deliberately punishes you for trying to play it properly. For example, basic gameplay things like attack hitboxes outright whiffing, enemies randomly countering you mid-combo, or some enemy skills being pretty much unavoidable (without the invincibility of using super attacks, at least) makes standard combat frustrating. I could go on a separate rant about the suicidal ally AI or the awful camera (for side-scrolling stages in particular) too, but just take my word that both are rather poor. There were many fights where I simply fought exploiting the enemy's aggressive AI patterns, rather than trying to play the game properly with finesse or even fun, simply to progress the main story (since victories often felt random otherwise). As implied before, I do actually secretly try to play Senran Kagura games for their stories, or... rather I did at one point. Not because the stories themselves were particularly amazing in previous games but because their focus on character-development was handled better than you would expect. Deep Crimson's story, however, is essentially a rather pointless interlude between Burst and Shinovi Versus. It is a drawn out story arc around the newcomers Kagura and Naru, neither of the two being particularly interesting or do very much throughout. It also has far less exposition between fights, making most of them feel entirely unnecessary and unnecessarily frequent. If you want an idea of how pointless the narrative is for this title, roughly 1/5 of the main story takes place in a hot spring. To continue my disappoint with the title, the soundtrack isn't nearly as good as the previous two games (let's pretend Bon Appetit doe not exist when I say that.). It is not bad per say, but nowhere near as rhythmically interesting, or varied overall. A lot of the musical themes feel like half-step remixes of previous releases than anything else. Of course, it would be disingenuous to not talk about the visuals too, which actually have seen a huge step up from its previous 3DS showing. Exaggerated bouncing physics and exploding costumes aside, there is a striking fluidity to the presentation in general. The surprisingly flashy cutscene cinematics makes this most apparent whereas previous games were generally carried by visual novel-esque scenes and little else. The 3DS's 3D toggle may be next to useless during actual gameplay (since it throws off depth perception) but otherwise in-motion Deep Crimson may very well be one of the better looking titles on the small handheld screen. Though Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson boasts the first true sequel moniker to the series, it unfortunately feels like an unnecessary interlude as a whole. It sacrifices pretty much every aspect that caused the series to subvert expectations, which primarily was the better-than-you'd-expect character-driven story mode, in conjunction to adding newfound frustrations with its many balance issues for basic combat. For just about everything except for the improved visuals, Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson has little in its own defense for being as shallow as it may appear. Pros: + Fairly smooth cutscene and combat animations + Absurd amount of outfit and accessory options + More combat variety from tag-team mechanics to actual enemies Cons: -Terrible camera - Very poorly balanced combat - Actual narrative is significantly less interesting than previous games - Awful ally AI Overall Score: 5 (out of 10) Average Though it is a better-looking title than its predecessors Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson embraces none of which caused the series to subvert expectations, leading to an unfortunate mess of a sequel Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher.
  9. Developer: Nihon Falcom Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PS Vita, PS3 Release Date: December 22, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen To say it is surprising that not one -- but two -- The Legend of Heroes games got localized in 2015 is more than an understatement. It was a miracle in itself that extremely patient RPG fans of the original 2011 PSP release, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, got its nightmarishly hard-to-localize sequel, Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter, after a four-year wait from its original debut. But then XSEED managed to pleasantly surprise series fans even more by starting to localize Japan's most current trilogy to the series: Trails of Cold Steel (which I actually imported because of how convinced I was we wouldn't see it localized anytime soon). The point is, XSEED Games paved the path for Trails of Cold Steel despite all likely expectations. Trails of Cold Steel diverges from its The Legend of Heroes predecessors in a lot of ways. For one, it completely omits 2D sprite work in favor of complete 3D. Another key difference is the setting. Opposed to the mercenary-ish and on-the-road "Bracer" lifestyle that was featured in Trails in the Sky, Trails of Cold Steel often takes place in a military academy... that is basically a high school. It technically resides within the same world as Trails in the Sky (and the unlocalized Zero/Ao no Kiseki), however, both the main story and primary cast of Trails of Cold Steel are quite self-contained from previous games, minus a few noteworthy cameos here and there. The narrative itself starts off on the first day of school at the prestigious Thors Military Academy. Opposed to a normal first day of classes, the lead character Rean, and other distinctly red-uniformed individuals, are dropped into Class VII. Quite literally, as a brief introduction turns into a trial-by-fire and surprise trip through a monster-infested underground facility. After some begrudging alliances through the ordeal, and awkward introductions, the students learn that Class VII was made to test the combat aptitude of "ARCUS" units, and does not divide it members by social class or background. Though given the option to back out, Rean and the others decide stick around to see what Class VII has in store. The actual curriculum of Class VII tends to be divided between school life and the "field studies" to other towns and cities every month. As for the school life in Trails of Cold Steel, it's very reminiscent of titles like Persona 3 & 4, as it was clearly influenced by them. There are "bonds", which are basically P3/P4 social links, that flesh out party members in addition to progressing combat perk unlocks. Even beyond bonds, the great localization helps make the members of Class VII stand out throughout and become surprisingly likable in the long haul, though their early narrative moments may suggest otherwise. Rean can also do odd jobs for the student council that are basically sidequests within the town of Trista. The sidequests themselves tend to be nothing too special but there is an oddly homely sense of world-building that it creates for its denizens by doing unique, but minor tasks. Then there are field studies which are when the rest of the gameplay elements usually come into play. Day to day Class VII gets a set of tasks to complete during their trip, somewhat similar to Rean's student council stuff, that range from investigation, simple monster slaying, or hearing out the woes of random citizens. Exposition may often be at the forefront of Trail of Cold Steel but the combat, character customization, heck, even the occasional mini game are rock solid. Much of the basic combat refines upon systems that were introduced in previous The Legend of Heroes titles, yet are frankly more enjoyable in Cold Steel. The turn-based combat is smart and relies on both positioning and learning to manipulate turn phases to one's advantage. The flexible "Orbament" system also returns and allows players to slot "quartz" skills to grant a character many different abilities and stat bonuses primarily in combat, and lends to fairly versatile party compositions. What unfortunately cripples Trails of Cold Steel the most is its pacing. Trails in the Sky fans likely know it comes with the territory for a series that loves its character development and world-building (going as far as to place multiple optional short novels to causally read about some of it). However, there is an unnecessary slowness for even that. As much as I like the writing, which is outright dense with personality, it can certainly feel unnecessarily long-winded in most contexts. There are plenty of main story scenes that have no problem with going at-length for casual character banter or in-depth about the current political landscape. Which would be fine if the overarching main story did not basically take more than half the game to kick in to actually justify it. The presentation also faces growing pains with this newest entry. Neither the environments or character models look particularly impressive. The characters models in particular are disappointing compared to their key concept art, with their stiff animations and awkward mouth flaps, making me wish me wish they took the Atelier Shalie route with models that complement it. Though, Falcom does tend to prefer being functional gameplay-wise over showing off visually, the Vita release in particular suffers from noticeable technical quirks. There is an occasionally erratic framerate that rears its ugly head when traversing certain towns and noticeable frequent load times for Vita. To go back to pacing, there is also an odd obsession with lengthy environment pans that bogs down the presentation too. As with Falcom tradition the soundtrack the JDK band whips up has some awesome rock battle themes, though admittedly, most other parts of the soundtrack don't particularly stand out. The more pleasant surprise about the audio is actually the surprisingly fitting English dub. It is honestly a shame that more of the game is not dubbed, because of how noticeably absent it is during certain story scenes (very likely because of budget). This is coming from someone whom often times turns off the dub outright in many Japanese RPGs. As numerous as its changes may be, Trails of Cold Steel certainly has the heart of recent The Legend of Heroes titles. The military academy setting did seem like a recipe for disappointment (and shameless pandering), but the charming script and surprisingly likable cast defy initial expectations over time. Unfortunately, at the same time, the unnecessarily slow pace for both its gameplay and storytelling, and occasional technical grievance on Vita, prevent Trails of Cold Steel from reaching greatness. Though it is a promising debut for Class VII, one can only hope that the upcoming sequel capitalizes upon what is built up so strongly in Trails of Cold Steel. Pros: + Well-written script and cast of characters that have a lot of personality + Good turn-based combat system with flexible mechanics + Lots of detail towards its world-building + Sweet battle themes and solid English dub Cons: - Pacing is very slow at times - Rather underwhelming 3D visuals overall - Occasional technical problems on Vita Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Trails of Cold Steel is a promising debut for the newest The Legend of Heroes series from its characters and in-depth world, but remains just shy of greatness during the inconsistently paced path towards it. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher
  10. Jason Clement

    XSEED Bringing Three Titles to Steam in 2016

    It's looking more and more as if Steam is a viable source of income for XSEED as the publisher revealed today that at least three titles are on the way to the platform next year. The first is Little King's Story, a port of the original Wii title from 2009 that put players into the role of a young boy who finds a crown that allows him to charm people and order them around. Yasuhiro Wada, creator of the Bokujō Monogatari series (now known as Story of Seasons in the West) served as the game's producer. Senran Kagura Estival Versus is the next title to get the PC treatment. It was previously released on the PS Vita last year and we reviewed it here. Finally, there's Xanadu NEXT, an action RPG game from Nihon Falcom that originally released on the N-Gage in 2005, and then later that year for Windows PC in Japan. Source: Anime News Network Are you looking forward to any of these upcoming games from XSEED?
  11. This week“s Nintendo Download offers a surprise choice for the Wii U Virtual Console, a shiny object, a handful of sales, and more. For starters, let“s mention Wind-up Knight 2, a popular mobile platformer that“s making its way to the Wii U eShop today. If platforming isn“t your thing, and you need a little more meat on your bones... Pandora“s Tower arrives on the Wii U Virtual Console today. As a former Operation Rainfall guy, that makes me all warm and fuzzy. While it may seem like Nintendo reached out to XSEED to make this happen, and thus opened the door for third-party releases on the platform, that's not the case. XSEED only had the rights to the physical version of the game. And hey, It's worth noting that Pandora's Tower was published by Nintendo in other regions, and has already hit the Wii U overseas. Also — this is the first Wii retail game that can be played using only the Gamepad, if that“s your style. Pandora“s Tower can be purchased for $19.99. In addition to those two games are several sales across both the Wii U and 3DS eShops. There are handfuls of games on sale like 3D Game Collection, Murder on the Titanic, Suspension Railroad Simulator, Bombing Bastards, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune from Nordic Games, Stone Shire, Nano Assault EX, and more! Be sure to check out each respective eShop for a full list of games on sale; they are numerous this week! There are activities happening on Codename S.T.E.A.M. (a tournament), Art Academy Home Studio ( ), and Pokémon Shuffle (if you purchase six jewels, you“ll get six more for free). And last but certainly not least, that Shiny Rayquaza Event I mentioned earlier was highlighted in this week“s Download. For more information (the duration of the event is August 12th through September 14th), check here. No new themes were highlighted this week, unfortunately. Will you be grabbing Pandora“s Tower this week? What about any of the other games on sale? Be sure to let us know!
  12. Jason Clement

    XSEED's E3 2015 Lineup Revealed

    E3 2015 is rapidly approaching next week, and in keeping with other companies, XSEED has revealed its lineup for the show this year, and it might just be its biggest and most diverse yet. First off the bat is The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel for PlayStation 3 and the PS Vita. This installment in the series will take place on the same continent as Trails in the Sky and features a story where players take on the role of a military students at a time of great upheaval. For Vita purists, you'll be happy to know that Cross-Save functionality between PS3 and Vita will be implemented. Corpse Party: Blood Drive will be coming to the PS Vita, and it's the latest and final installment in the horror trilogy that began with the original Corpse Party on PSP. There will be 11 story chapters and 8 supplemental chapters that cap off the story in a big way. Sci-fi games Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders from Planet Space and Earth Defense Force 4.1: Shadow of Despair will be making their way to PS Vita and PS4, respectively. Invaders From Planet Space is a "greatly expanded remake" that will add a number of improvements and additions to the game while Shadow of Despair is a reimagining of Earth Defense Force 2025, featuring improved visuals and over 50% new content. Onechanbara Z2: Chaos will be coming to PS4 and is the latest in the bikini zombie slaying series, which will feature four members of the squad to play as in addition to being able to listen to English voice-acting or Japanese; a first for the series. PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is coming to 3DS and merges the popular PopoloCrois series with Story of Seasons, and will feature turn-based combat as well as farming elements. The story is said to be some 25+ hours long and there will be nearly 100 quests to undertake. Last but not least, XSEED is bringing two new installments in the Senran Kagura series: Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson for 3DS, and Senran Kagura Estival Verus for PS4 and PS Vita. The former takes place after the events of Senran Kagura Burst while the latter features the cast traveling to an alternate dimension to face off against their rivals. What are your thoughts on XSEED's E3 2015 lineup?
  13. XSEED has announced that Nihon Falcom's dungeon-crawling, action RPG Brandish: The Dark Revenant is heading to PSP and PlayStation Vita via the PlayStation Store next week. A remake of the very first Brandish game, The Dark Revenant features a "world-turning" mechanic in which the dungeon walls rotate around the player (in third-person view) as they walk around corners and such. Players will assume the role of Ares Toraernos as he makes his way through 40 floors of monsters, traps, and puzzles; all on the heels of a bounty hunter named Dela Delon, who intends to claim the bounty on Ares' head. In addition to recreated maps, puzzles, smoother gameplay, revamped boss battles, enhanced graphics, newly arranged music and more, The Dark Revenant also features additional content, where completing Ares' campaign unlocks an expert mode where you can play as Dela Delon and take on an additional 10 never-before-seen floors with tougher enemies, traps, and more. Brandish: The Dark Revenant will be available for digital download for $19.99 on January 13 for the PSP and PS Vita in North America. Source: Press Release Are you interested in playing this Brandish remake?
  14. Developer: Falcom Publisher: XSEED Platform: Steam Release Date: July 29, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen Ten years. That's how long it's taken for Trails in the Sky to come full circle. The title was first released on the PC in Japan in 2004, and following a PSP port in 2006, gamers in the West were able to experience the RPG for the first time (although it wasn't until 2011 that the game got localized). Now, in 2014, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky has made it to Steam, and with it comes a number of small tweaks thanks to publisher XSEED. With this critically well-received title reaching a wider audience than ever before, is this RPG worth adding to your Steam library? The story of Trails in the Sky follows Estelle and Joshua Bright, as they finally become junior member of the Bracer Guild. The Bracers are sort of like a mercenary group with a lot of clout; they do not answer to any particular government or power, so their neutrality allows them to set up offices around the world. Bracers take on a variety of odd jobs, from finding lost cat to tracking down criminals, and can be considered an independent police force for the people. Anyway, the focus of this game, being the first in a trilogy, revolves around the two traveling the country of Liberl to work towards becoming senior Bracer members. As such, you'll end up traveling around the five large cities in the region and its surrounding areas, taking on requests from the townfolk and eventually uncovering a deeper plot that is affecting the country. The plot in itself isn't particularly mold breaking, and for most RPG veterans many aspects are going to be predictable and unsurprisingly. In addition, Trails in the Sky just loves to talk, even more so than the average role playing title. Cutscenes can last a long time, and in the earlier segments of the game, it can often be about nothing of importance, and can grate on a player's nerves if they have little patience for such exposition. However, in general the writing for the game is superb. The world of Trails of the Sky is an interesting one, full of unique lore and people, and a lot of that really shines through in the writing. Falcom manages to create both an interesting world to explore and learn about, and likeable characters that play off one another quite well. Even if the game does go a bit overboard with the narrative at times, it's rare that it will actually bore you. Another big part of Trails in the Sky are the sidequests. As a Bracer, it is your duty to help those in need, and the many, many side missions you can take on are the game's manifestation of this key foundation of the Bracer Guild. The sidequests in themselves are pretty much what you'd expect: Finding items, fighting monsters, and traveling to locations you probably wouldn't go to otherwise. The thing is, there's so many of them (and many with strict time limits before you fail) that the quests can really bog down the experience if you let it. More quests generally appear after each major game event, so it inadvertently break up the action by forcing you to go out of your way to accomplish more tasks. On top of that, the strict manner in which you get Bracer Points (which help you rank up and get cool items) make it so not only do you have to do every single sidequest to get to 1st Class, but also correctly respond to questions thrown at you. It's very easy to miss something along the way, which is really discouraging if you're a completionist. Thankfully, the sidequests are just that—sidequests—so you can effectively ignore all of them and still beat the game. That is... if you don't let yourself get underleveled. Battles in Trails in the Sky are a deeply strategic affair, and it's important to not only keep your levels up, but to also understand the Orbment systems that allow you to create powerful spells to help you against tough foes. When you enter a battle, your party members and the enemies are displayed on a grid. When a turn comes up, you can move your party members around, cast spells, or simple attack. Everyone has different ranges, strengths, and weaknesses based off their stats and weapons... and so do the enemies, so it's important to keep that all in mind when planning your next move. Since even normal enemies can hit hard, if you become lazy and start mashing the attack button you could end up with a party in serious danger. To help to level the playing field, there's the Orbment system. By unlocking slot on characters' orbments and filling them with septium of various elements (think of them like Final Fantasy VII's Materia, and you have the general idea), you'll be able to cast various spells. Different combinations of elements allow for various, more powerful spells. To throw a wrench in all this, though, it that most characters have slots that can only hold a certain element; it makes for some unique characteristics for each party member, but also can limit many of them from accessing high level magic unless it is of their element. While the Orbment system might end up being a little complicated, and is one of the few areas of the game that isn't really elaborated on, but other than that combat is both intense and satisfying. It can sometimes get a little tiresome to work through monsters from earlier areas, but it's worth it for the satisfying combat elsewhere in the game. Trails in the Sky is not a perfect title, but it is still a pretty great RPG. The title shines where it matters most—the story—and the battle system is deep enough to make you actually want to fight battles. The graphics can be a bit on the dull side (the game is ten years old after all), and the quests can completely overwhelm you if you let them, but underneath that somewhat rough exterior is a gem of an RPG. Pros: + Engaging characters and an interesting world make for a deep plot to work through + Battle system is fun and thoroughly engaging, making you think out every move Cons: - The game goes a little overboard with the side quests, and can easily overwhelm players - The cliffhanger ending makes the wait for Second Chapter really hard (I'm joking... a little) Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great If you're looking for an engaging JRPG on Steam, you needn't look any further than Trails in the Sky. Disclaimer: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.
  15. Today XSEED announced that Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed is confirmed for an August 12 release date on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. Along with that news is the fact that the game is also confirmed for release on PlayStation 4 later this Holiday season. The game features an unusual and quirky plot where vampires invade Japan's popular Akihabara district, and the only way of detecting and killing them is by using the protagonist Nanashi's in-game smartphone app and then "ridding" them of their clothes, thus exposing them to sunlight that destroys them. Our own Marcus Estrada recently had an opportunity to demo the game at E3 2014, so be sure to check out his hands-on impressions if you're interested. Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed will be released physically through retail and digitally on the PlayStation Store for PS3 and PS Vita on August 12. Source: Press Release Are you interested in Akiba's Trip?
  16. Though it released several years back on PSP, XSEED is finally bringing The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky to PC via GOG and Steam very soon. Dubbed Trails in the Sky FC by many, it's actually the first chapter in the series, with the second chapter slated to release this Winter for both PSP and PC. This PC port of the game brings with it new exclusive features such as HD resolutions, faster loading times, and fully customizable controls, as well as all of the enhancements from the PSP version. Combined with the second chapter, Trails in the Sky is said to encompass more than 100 hours of story and gameplay, so fans of epics will want to keep their eyes on this one. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky hits GOG and Steam on July 29 for $19.99, though a 15% discount will be given to those that purchase within the first week of release. Source: Press Release Are you excited for Trails in the Sky on PC?
  17. Developer: Game Arts Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PS Vita, PS3 Release Date: April 1, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the Vita version of the game Fighting games may be the go-to example for iterative re-releases in videogames, but it seems like those within the “Hunting” Action-RPG subgenre have been just as guilty as of late. The Monster Hunter franchise has seen more versions/releases than you can count on both of your hands, regardless of it being only ten years old itself, and even exclusive Vita titles like last year“s Soul Sacrifice to the the fairly recent Toukiden have quickly made sequels to their prior releases. Now comes the new and supposedly improved follow-up to 2012's original Vita release Ragnarok Odyssey, which is also a loose spin-off to the classic MMORPG Ragnarok Online. Boasting entirely new content and cross-play between both PS3 and Vita, is there enough reason to take another lengthy voyage with Ragnarok Odyssey ACE? Did you play the original Ragnarok Odyssey? Well, for better or worse, that doesn't really matter either way as all players will have to play all of the missions as well the entire story mode from scratch, regardless of the their progress in the original, with minimal transfer functionality beyond importing "skill cards" for returning players. This alone should help give an idea on who this re-release is for—that being specifically for enthusiastic fans of the original or newcomers altogether. In the matter of fairness, it needs to be mentioned that the new content in this version includes new post-game bosses/quests, ACE skills, "The Tower of Yggdrasil" mode, and a few other mechanical tweaks and cosmetic additions. Unlike some of its contemporaries in the genre like Soul Sacrifice, God Eater Burst, or Toukiden, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace doesn“t really have much in the way of a direct storyline. The player can poke NPCs for occasional Norse-themed narrative context, but it really boils down to little more than being assigned to slay a specific number of monsters or big enemy bosses with occasionally humorous quips in-between. The main story mode in particular is absolutely identical to the previous release, so players are not going to see anything new until hitting post-game material with the exclusive ACE chapters, which are still rather thin for story context. What has been, and still is, Ragnarok Odyssey's primary strength is its fast-paced and mobile combat. Even now the combat system is the main difference between it and most other titles in the "Hunting" subgenre which are usually more grounded (literally and figuratively) in their slower, methodical pace. Also, while short in number count, classes have a decent variety in skills and in terms of general moveset: Assassins are nimble and focus on inflicting status ailments, Hammersmiths are slower but pack quite a punch, and Hunters fight mainly from afar. Subtle nuances like Clerics having a technical parry mechanic, or the Mage class requiring charged-based inputs mid-attack for stronger moves, also help each class play distinctly different. In the ACE release in particular, classes have been balanced out so they are more well-rounded overall. Speaking of term "ACE", one of the new gameplay furnishes of this release are "Ace Skills". In the original release there were certain abilities that a character could use by holding down the circle button and were specific to each class. ACE Skills streamlines these abilities by placing them via shortcuts, as well as having outright more of them, so they make each class more versatile and the skills themselves more viable in the midst of combat; so, in the case of the Cleric, they can draw from more healing spells as well as status increasing buffs that they couldn't before. The most substantial new addition is the newly added "Tower of Yggdrasil mode" which appears after the main story and is introduced in the new ACE chapters. Unlike a good majority of the missions of the game, which only have you kill X amount of certain enemies, this mode brings a randomly-generated dungeon component to the game. During this mode, side-objectives also spontaneously appear and upon completing them can yield tremendous, albeit brief, benefits to the player's stats and item drop rates, so the gameplay structure is more actively rewarding and interesting. Where the game buckles down—and this newest release only reemphasizes— is just about every else. My biggest complaints primarily stem with its overall gameplay flow, balance, and the lack of mission variety in general. It may sound like a weird complaint to have, but Ragnarok Odyssey's combat system does not seem to particularly suit the structure of the game. Most enemies are massive damage sponges, and generally unflinching at that, so it seems at odds with battles that are supposed to move fast. This is only more obvious as the player fights a ton of recycled enemy types and bosses through most of the chapters. For a more technical complaint, a lot of the skills come off as rather clunky due to their protracted animations, many of which can not be canceled through jumps/dashes, so bosses, for example, will get many free hits because of attacks you outright can't react to. In general, most of the combat fails to hit a sort of satisfying sense of finesse despite having decent base mechanics. Another oddity is that multiplayer isn't designed to encourage it, ironically enough, at least early in. In these type of games where you'd normally want to team up and help each other, it can actually be less practical with other players, online or locally, because the entire team shares the same three lives pool. It may not sound like a big deal at first but if you take into account stuff like the instant kill moves that many bosses have, it is not too hard to imagine one person (or more) accidentally messing up and ruining an entire team's effort rather quickly. That said, one significant improvement Ragnarok Odyssey ACE makes over its predecessor is the ability to hire CPU characters join during mission. This can be beneficial not only because CPU characters do not deplete from the player's life stock but also because they infinitely respawn and can help divide the enemy's attention (despite being dumb as bricks). Progression in general is done in a very limiting and oddly linear way. You could relish in the death cries of adorable slime or mushrooms monster all day but still won't directly get stronger as a result. You see, a character's overall base stats are mostly only increased at the end of each story mode chapter. Even the game's attempt at player customization with "skillcards" (which enhance certain skills and stats) or weapon upgrades are often times funneled generally by later game missions or rare item drops, leading to a very awkwardly formulated progression style. To not sound totally down of the game, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is still a good-looking game in motion on the portable system. It is, of course, less impressive nowadays since little has changed visually, and because technical standouts like Tearaway and Killzone: Mercenary exist. However, there is something to be said about maintaining a colorful art direction, with charming visual quirks from time to time, and a fairly smooth presentation throughout, despite situations where the player is pitted against huge bosses or hordes of enemies, or both. Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is in many ways inoffensive in its execution, but there are so many seemingly minor chinks to its design that really add up and bog down the entire experience. By squandering its opportunity for renewal there has been very little added to the ACE release to entice many players to return except for the chosen few that have a lot of diligence to play through the exact same main story and missions again just for the sparse new content. It may have a decent core combat system and production values, but overall Ragnarok Odyssey ACE feels like it tries to serve multiple masters without really satisfying either, so it continues to leave this release mostly indistinguishable and muddled even among titles in its own subgenre. Pros: + Decent core combat mechanics with varied playable character classes + Very clean overall presentation with stylized visuals + Tower of Yggdrasil mode brings a welcome attempt at variety to the standard mission routine Cons: - Limiting character progression for most of the game -Mission design is very repetitive with a bunch of recycled enemy types throughout - Multiplayer isn't balanced in a way to actively encourage it -Save transfer functionality is woefully short for returning players - General combat lacks a sense of finesse Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average Beyond a template for a decent combat system, most will struggle to find too much staying power in this release because of the very few enhancements that are introduced in Ragnarok Odyssey Ace. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  18. Harvest Moon fans got a bit of a jolt today as it was announced that the latest game in the series (known as Bokujo Monogatari in Japan) would not be localized by longtime Western publisher mainstay Natsume, but instead by XSEED. With a new publisher at the helm, the game will be localized with a new title as well—Story of Seasons. Why the name change? Well, it may have to do with the fact that XSEED is a subsidiary of Marvelous (a move that was made in May 2013 when they were absorbed into parent company Marvelous AQL), which develops the game, so it's more lucrative for the latter to publish games through their own label. However, Natsume likely owns the rights to the "Harvest Moon" name, leading to Marvelous' decision to rebrand the series in the West. Regardless of the change, fans will be glad to know that longtime series producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto is still very much involved with the development of the game. The game itself features trademark series aspects such as farm-building, tending to animals, and building relationships as well as Streetpass connectivity (in which you'll be able to visit other players' farms) and more. You'll also be able to customize your character to a deeper degree than previously, such as choosing gender, hair style, facial features. Story of Seasons will be released in Winter 2014 for 3DS. Be sure to keep an eye out for more news on it when E3 starts in just a few weeks. Source: Press Release Are you excited for Story of Seasons?
  19. Developer: Nihon Falcom Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PS Vita Release Date: November 26, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A download code was provided by the publisher for this review Founded way back in 1981, developer Falcom has a gaming influence so strong that they published one of the very first, if not arguably the very first, Japanese RPG ever with Dragon Slayer back in 1983. Of course, being the plebeian that I am, I barely found out about them only after diving into their most recent iterations and remakes of the long-running Ys series on PSP, which embodied some of the most pure action-RPGs I“ve experienced in recent memory. Continuing Falcom“s recent trend of Ys remakes, they decide to completely overhaul what is sort of the black sheep of the series, Ys IV, with the Vita release: Ys: Memories of Celceta. Bearing very little similarity to its two different and non-canonical incarnations of Ys IV, Ys: Memories of Celceta brings the core gameplay spirit of the PSP release, Ys Seven, but with a new story, setting, and characters. Ys: Memories of Celceta yet again brings the main character spotlight on Adol Christin, or the aptly nicknamed “Adol the Red". To the dismay of Adol, however, he has lost all of his memories at the game“s start after what is believed to be due to venturing too far into the forests of Celceta. In spite of that, by unconditionally helping to protect the local townsfolk, Adol proves that his combat skills aren“t nearly as rusty as his memory, and shortly thereafter is scouted by the Romun military to help out. After a short explanation, Adol is encouraged to chart and explore Celceta“s mysterious “sea of trees” for both his insatiable thrill for adventure and to help recall his lost memories, while his traveling partner, Durren, simply intends to line his pockets with gold in the process. What is particularly interesting about Memories of Celceta is that Adol feels like he has a more deliberate presence in this game through the use simple dialogue choices as well as some as some background flashbacks, rather than entirely being a mute protagonist like in most previous games. Granted, it would still be stretching it to say Adol is a defined character even in Memories of Celceta. Like a lot of Ys games, the overall storytelling will probably fade from the subconscious of most players beyond some light-hearted character exchanges and nods to other entries in the series for fans. The storytelling has some interesting ideas, but, as in Seven, the narrative scenes are more bloated than they should be, particularly early in, for both a narrative and cast that don't make a particularly lasting impression. That said, if you want in-depth storytelling from a Falcom title, you can easily turn to something like Trails in the Sky, or its wealth of currently unlocalized sequels, but when you want fun and fast-paced action-RPG gameplay- that's where Ys delivers. Celceta maintains the three-person party structure system of Ys Seven, but with minor refinements to the controls and additional skills. Combat is easy to learn, with one button relegated to normal attacks and many others for special attack shortcuts and defensive maneuvers. In addition, each character has strengths against different enemy types: like Adol with his slash attacks for grounded enemies, Durren against sturdier enemies with his blunt attacks, and Karna with her piercing attacks for aerial foes. Despite its simplicity, the tight controls, playable characters, varied enemy types, and constant progression of new skills make the general combat pretty engaging. Bosses in particular are quite a treat, due to their variety in attack patterns ,which encourage mastery of the game's mechanics, and they become quite the force to be reckoned with on higher difficulties. My favorite combat mechanics in Celceta have to be the 'Flash Guard' and 'Flash Dodge' skills. Flash guard is a perfectly timed block which completely negates enemy damage while also turning all player attacks into critical hits for a short-time, and while it is not new, it is way more functional control-wise than it was in Ys Seven. Flash Dodge is new to Ys, however, where a perfectly timed dodge makes enemies move slower and the characters temporarily invulnerable to attacks, reminiscent of Bayonetta's 'Witch Time.' You can probably get by without intentionally mastering either on the Normal or Easy difficulties but they become an absolute necessity on higher difficulties, especially against bosses, and when successfully utilized they are super satisfying to pull off. As much as I enjoy the core gameplay of Celceta, I don't feel completely the same about the structure. Since Adol needs to chart a map of Celceta, the game tries to present an open-ended structure by making it more akin to earlier Ys games, like 1/2. This doesn't completely work in Celceta, unfortunately, because progress is made in a linear fashion, like gaining new skills or obtaining party members to open-up parts of the world. This in turn, leads to some pacing issues, early in especially, because it's very easy to wander around aimlessly into one road block after another. After you get past that awkward initial hump, primarily after you gain a couple new party members, the title definitely has a more natural progression. Later on, it certainly does become tempting to check every nook and cranny for that extra treasure chest, or find Adol's optional memory cutscenes, or report to the Romun general for a lucrative reward, and the game only rewards you even more as it progresses. Still, because the meatiest game of the series, it's hard to not overlook the parts where it sort of drags it feet in terms of pacing. On a technical level, Memories of Celceta is pretty underwhelming. While it isn't offensively bad (like Valhalla Knight 3), I'd say it's less pleasing to look at than even Ys Seven. I'm sure sheer polycount will easily point towards Celceta being technically superior, with less deformed character models than Seven, but the environments and overall aesthetic are generally rather drab and usually just not interesting to look at regardless on the OLED screen. Thankfully the visuals don't really hinder the gameplay aside from when using certain equipment that allows for extremely fast traversal that causes the framerate to chug down. I'd say the same goes for the soundtrack, in comparison to the very high-caliber score of the more recent Ys remakes or Seven, which is less consistent and varied, despite its attempted musical throwbacks to IV. It's a solid score with some definite standouts, but maybe I've been too spoiled by other recent Falcom titles. Ys: Memories of Celceta is definitely a fun game as it marries tight, fast-paced Action-RPG combat, engaging design choices, and is very approachable for newcomers as well as fans. Vita owners would certainly be doing themselves quite a disservice by not at least checking it out, especially as it is unquestionably the strongest Action-RPG on the system. As a whole, however, it doesn't really move the series forward in too many meaningful ways, making it feel like a rather safe sequel without quite the heart of other recent titles. It does not represent the series at its best, but it serves it pretty well all the same. Pros: + Fun, fast-paced combat with very tight controls + Great boss fights + Flash guard and dodge mechanics are super satisfying to pull off + Biggest game in the series +Solid soundtrack Cons: - Forgettable storytelling - Lackluster presentation - Rather slow start and has some pacing issues Overall Score: 8.0 (out of 10) Great Without a doubt the best and most fun Action-RPG on Vita, but as a sequel it does little to try to overachieve its fellow brethren.
  20. barrel

    Review: Senran Kagura Burst

    Developer: Tamsoft Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: 3DS (eshop only) Release Date: November 14, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A download code was provided by the publisher for this review As much as I love Japanese video games, every now and then there are certain game properties from there that make me furrow my brow in bitter disappointment due to their ”target demographic.' On consoles specifically, this includes shallow, sexualized, and arguably sexist titles like Gal*Gun, Onechambara, and Dream Club. Of course, there are also games that embrace very questionable ”fanservice“ like Dragon“s Crown, Ar Tonelico 2, and Skullgirls (not Japanese, but still), that pave very solid, arguably great, titles with plenty of gameplay substance. Recently, XSEED did the completely unexpected by finally localizing Senran Kagura Burst - a 3DS title that makes it quite apparent that it follows its own sort of gravitational field in regards to presentation, like other questionably sexualized franchises. What was originally two separate releases in Japan, Senran Kagura Burst is the definite 3DS release containing two different story campaigns: Senran Kagura: Skirting Shadows and Senran Kagura: Crimson Girls. Skirting Shadows focuses on a cast of "Good Shinobi" from the Hanzo Academy, while Crimson Girls focuses on "Evil Shinobi" from the Hebijo Academy, both having very different narrative scenarios and playable characters. Does Senran Kagura Burst help buck the trend of shallow fanservice games, or is it yet another unfortunate and tasteless example of a game stripping all of its potential pride? At its heart, Senran Kagura Burst is a very fast-paced and mobile beat 'em up. The cast of characters are generally eccentric, full of visual personality, and the moves they use are also over-the-top. Outside of more traditional beat 'em up titles, though, it is far more aerial-based, especially for combo attacks. And in spirit of more anime-like fighting games, you have a combat skillset with light/heavy attacks, air-dashes, defensive bursts, and more. While I would love to avoid the topic, you can't honestly get away with talking about Senran Kagura Burst without mentioning exploding garments and tattered midriffs, which occur to characters when they take a certain amount of damage. In addition, when the characters change outfits mid-battle or use certain special moves, they flamboyantly emphasize the characters', erm, exuberant physical proportions, which are more than a bit distracting (but you can skip the lengthy animations of them). Even if these features are purely cosmetic and not integral to the core game, it's quite apparent that the game wears its fanservice boastfully, and is likely to either please simple minds or put off, or outright offend, others. Where Senran Kagura is most likely to shock people (beyond its hardly subtle 'fanservice') is actually within the dense amount of visual novel-styled story sequences. Narrative backdrop initially starts off with a simple explanation on the difference between the Hanzo academy "Good Shinobi" and Hebijo academy "Evil Shinobi" and focuses on whichever narrative side the player chooses to play through. While the storytelling does more than occasionally feel like typical long-winded, slice-of-life anime fluff, especially on the Hanzo side, it gets a surprising amount of substance when it fleshes out the various individual characters and their backstories, especially of the darker Hebijo characters' side which tends to play on expectations the most. Despite the exposition-heavy visual novel portion of the title, the fast-paced gameplay generally lends itself pretty well to portable bursts (pun not intended). Each mission usually lasts no more than ten minutes, assuming you have the confidence to play it outside of the house. Unfortunately, the fun and fast-paced combat does lead to repetition pretty quick like many beat-'em-up games due to the limited combo moveset. The playable characters themselves are varied, but the overall mechanics and enemy encounters lead to most battles feeling very familiar, especially if you play both story routes. The game does try to spice up regular missions with a leveling progression, mission grades, frantic mode (a pseudo-hard difficultly), many cosmetic unlockables, and plenty to work toward, but overall the gameplay leans more on mindless fun and overlooking the repetition. Though it is basically a two-year-old 3DS game in Japan, Senran Kagura Burst isn't a bad looking game on technical level. The 3D character models in particular have a lot of visual personality that definitely stand out in their glorified, albeit excessive, animations. Also, in the visual novels scenes I do like how they utilize the 3D in-game visuals to propel them, instead of the still-frames that are so common in VN's and RPG's, showing the character's extra personality quirks, like Hikage's snake-like tongue movements or the bashful side of characters like Yagyu. In the midst of gameplay and combat, however, it seems to buckle down a very noticeable amount in regards to framerate. It doesn't become as much of a presentational mess (like Code of Princess on 3DS) and ruin the overall experience, but the framerate is rather choppy in contrast to its speedy nature and it is extra apparent in the very few smaller scale fights that run very smooth. For a game that seems to really like surpassing expectations, even the audio caught me off-guard. The battle music is fairly varied, going from a remix of Schickhardt's Sonata with a Japanese flair, to some intense upbeat rock themes that usually fit the cast of characters. Also, for the extra nerdy (like myself), there is a lot of fitting and popular Japanese voice actors for the various characters, despite the hammy and bubbly script they have to work with at times. Senran Kagura Burst is the very definition of a game that is better than it has any right being. Very unlike most ”fanservice-y“ games, it feels rather earnest with trying to be a fun game while also providing a surprisingly in-depth character focused narrative, but it is also keenly aware of what kind of (perverted) market it is after at the end of the day. It is unfortunate that the gameplay isn“t nearly deep or varied enough to satisfy more technical action game fans, like myself, and the story isn“t strong enough to recommend solely as a visual novel. Still, it“s a game that is better than the sum of its parts, regardless of its very apparent rough edges. If you are willing to spend some time and give Senran Kagura Burst eye contact, you may be in for a pretty pleasant surprise, but only if you pay attention to the right places. Pros: + Surprisingly in-depth, character focused, visual novel narrative + Fun, fast-paced, and mobile beat 'em up gameplay + Polished 3D character models with plenty of personality in cutscenes. + Solid battle music + Plenty of unlockables, missions, and playable characters Cons: - Pretty unapologetic about ”fanservice“ especially during gameplay - Hanzo story route is rather slow and predictable - Gameplay is generally pretty repetitive - Presentation has noticeable framerate drops during most battles Overall Score: 7.0 (out of 10) Good The fanservice alone will more than likely push away or outright offend some people, but if you can play along with it in a tongue-in-cheek mindset, much like the game does, Senran Kagura Burst offers more gameplay, and dare I say it, narrative substance than you“d expect.