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  1. Developer: Aquria Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS Vita Release Date: May 2, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen It has been only one month since the release of Persona 5 and Atlus USA is already eager to publish another role-playing game full of traumatized high schoolers. The Vita exclusive RPG: The Caligula Effect is a bit different than the countless knockoffs of Atlus's flagship series, however. For one, it actually has the writer behind the first three Persona games behind it (Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin & Persona 2: Eternal Punishment), Tadashi Satomi, which should imply a more bleak tone to storytelling akin to older Shin Megami Tensei games, so that immediately piqued my interest it. I think it would have been warranted too if what narrative potential it has was not squandered in the mobius loop of disappointment with the gameplay's pacing. The intro to The Caligula Effect feels rather distorted, with some of it being intentional. Something along the lines that the mostly mute main character learns that he's trapped in what was supposed to be a digital utopia called "Mobius". Of course, something is not quite right with the digital world which causes the lead to accidently get magical powers based on unstable human psyche (NOT-Persona), and meeting like-minded individuals of the "Go-Home" club who want to Go H-- um, return to reality. So, the lead, and his eventual and slightly crazy posse, decide to confront the famous digital idol "Mu" (Technically "μ"), whom (partially) created Mobius, about their desire to escape from it. The premise made more sense in my head. The early portions in The Caligula Effect feels like an bigger mess of systems it does not really know what to do with. There are functions like being able to recruit over five hundred party members from random 'classmates' wandering dungeons, text messaging system called "Wire", and a nightmare of an ability tree called the "Causality Link" if you earn friendship points with the five hundred non-main story party members. However, most just feels superfluous in the monotonous dungeon crawler grind that is the overall experience that I avoided dabbling with it entirely except for when I was forced to in the main story. The bulk of the experience (about 80%, I'd wager) is primarily within its clumsy dungeon design and repetitive combat system. It is all the more unappealing to behold when it is presented so ruggedly with a choppy frame rate (battles primarily), messy animations, long load times between the lifeless environments, and the like. Before I get too critical, however, the most promising of the two main gameplay facets is the combat system. Battles are kind of like a weird hybrid between turn-based with real time elements (think Final Fantasy IX's ATB system), a juggling based combo system, and random MMO styled cooldowns tossed in. There are bit and pieces of the combat system that truly I like. For one, before inputting any action you see a sort of general playback of how both enemies and allies will react if you do it in the small time frame it is playing (...assuming the attack doesn't miss, or the character gets interrupted by the geometry). I also like that you can get pretty granular to potentially optimize combos or perfectly time a guard break/counter skill, which is neat. ...Until the repetition sets in, which is very quick. The Caligula Effect really does not reward creativity in combat -- just efficiency (even that being debatable). The enemies that would survive long enough to weave fancy party combos around them you frankly should not be fighting. It is often best to have a bread & butter combo of using your most powerful skills at the offset so you can get the experience bonus and save time. If enemies don't die from that initial barrage the pacing slows down quite a lot. Early in I would try to fight foes several levels higher and... that's a bad idea. Basically, the player's stat disadvantage against foes a few levels or higher gets pretty huge, to the point where allies will even miss more than half of their attacks in addition to paltry damage, and the game just kind of throws such overpowered foes around every other corner despite the player not needing to be that high complete the dungeon. Oh, and if the main character dies it's an instant game over. You can imagine how pleased I was to learn that after being in a single battle for over thirty minutes, try to extrapolate what combat depth I could, and randomly getting one-shotted. Now, admittedly, the main reason I put up with the frustrating gameplay was to witness the sporadic storytelling and listen to more of the soundtrack, which I would say it is more intriguing than it is actually good. Well, okay, the music is actually quite good despite its J-pop styled flair. Though not quite as masterful, it does a similarly neat trick as something like Nier Automata where the audio will dynamically shift based on whether you are in combat, waltzing around the obnoxious dungeons, or facing the main boss of the level. That said, as good as the dungeon/battle tracks are, you can only be entertained by the short music loops in such lengthy, and often more than several hours, treks through dungeons for so long. Each of the main story dungeons felt like they gave me just one more reason to dislike the title with its shameless backtracking to trigger scripted events, countless copy & pasted corridors, and mashing the X button to talk to, or recruit, for one reason or another. As for the main storytelling in The Caligula Effect, it is intriguing, but hardly paced well because of the game's design. Despite the setup that easily paints the Go-Home club as the good guys, one of the more curious aspects about the storytelling is that the members that follow you around are actually deeply flawed individuals, to the point of being quite unlikable at times (even if a few are somewhat redeemed in their optional character events, I think), that becomes much apparent each new dungeon. This is where "The Caligula Effect" name pretty directly comes into play because it touches upon various taboos. And it does not really shy away from uncomfortable subject matters like various forms of depression or a desire for escapism. Still, for as much as it drummed up my curiosity, the dark storytelling overall is simply not good enough to really warrant a playthrough because of all of the frustrations around the entire experience (despite not being all that long for RPG standards). The Caligula Effect is a real strange case study where I was quite intrigued to see what it'd have to offer going forward but every time I picked it up I could not have been more eager to stop playing because of the actual gameplay. I know Aquiria is capable of making of making decent games after playing Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization not too long ago (despite how much I hate the source material.) but The Caligula Effect is a gameplay-oppressive mess despite its good intentions. I suppose I was not too unlike the main characters in the story where I was saw promise of a digital utopia and ended up in a nightmare that I, and others as well, should desperately try and escape from instead. Pros + Some intriguing, darker themes that are brought up with each character's arc + Great soundtrack that dynamically transitions from vocals to instrumental compositions mid-gameplay + Being able to see how combat skills are likely to play out in advance before inputting them to is a nice touch + I like the character portraits? Cons - Obnoxious, lifeless dungeon design that makes a big habit of backtracking and fetch quests - Combat system is incredibly repetitive even with over 500 playable characters - Several inconsequential gameplay systems that next to nothing overall aside from another number value to grind - Long load times and choppy framerate throughout - Main character KO = immediate Game Over to title screen - Several main party members remain quite unlikable despite some intended moments of redemption, which can be offputting Overall Score: 4 (out of 10) Below Average For as much morbid curiosity as I bore towards the grim storytelling The Caligula Effect excels at so little as an actual game to really be worth breaking the taboo of actually playing it. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  2. barrel

    Review: Dragon's Crown Pro

    Developer: Vanillaware Publisher: Atlus USA/Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: May 15, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen With 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim being just beyond the horizon for a little while longer, Japanese developer Vanillaware seems content with putting out enhanced versions of their older projects these past few years. The first of these was the stellar 2016 remake Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir which was so impressively realized that it turned a severely flawed gem into the makings of a genuine gaming classic. In contrast, Dragon's Crown Pro will take a much higher level of scrutiny to notice its minimal changes on the newer PlayStation 4 hardware. For better or worse, it is still the same game it was five years ago. For those unaware, Dragon's Crown was a title that made its way onto the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita back in 2013. In spite of a lengthy and expensive development cycle, it ended up being a much-needed success for Vanilliaware, likely because of its rock-solid beat 'em up gameplay and distinct female character designs. Those with a more seasoned background in the subgenre were able to glean Dragon's Crown reverent (and hardly subtle) callbacks to classic titles such as Capcom's Dungeon & Dragons arcade games in particular. Considering how the game's art director, George Kamitani, had a hand in those D&D arcade games makes it all that much more clear he wanted Dragon's Crown to hearken back to beloved old school beat 'em ups, yet embrace it in a much more modern gameplay context. Being about four years removed since my last playthrough of the game I am surprised to have grown a stronger appreciation of it upon playing Dragon's Crown Pro. Just as it did five years ago, Dragon's Crown's near-timeless 2D art direction is immediately captivating and is dense with an absurd attention to detail, especially now that it has the benefit of a 4K resolution option as well. This is only complemented further by the fun, enthusiastic dungeon master-styled narration throughout (which can be changed to any of the playable character voices that also generally do a great job) which thankfully much more strongly resonates than the forgettable main plot itself involving -- surprise surprise -- dragons and a special crown of some sort. More important than the many striking presentational flourishes is, of course, the actual gameplay. Those comfortable with 2D fighting games, in particular, will likely find the controls of each of the six playable characters to feel like a dream. Layered on top of RPG-styled level progression and an addictive loot grind, this only makes finer character gameplay nuances that much more satisfying to uncover. As much as I enjoyed lifting enemies and tossing barrels as the Dwarf, or teleporting around and casting support spells as Sorceress, I decided to mess with around with the rest of the cast upon this revisit and found myself pleasantly surprised by all of their capability and multiplayer utility as well. But, admittedly, new players will likely still have to acclimate to control quirks like narrow foreground and background beat 'em up hitboxes or certain, clearly touchscreen-intended mechanics like opening treasure chests or using runes abilities (easily most intuitive on PS Vita, though the PS4 touchpad does work fine), if they are not already familiar with them. The issues that Dragon's Crown Pro unfortunately retains are more structural than anything else. The most common early complaint is that newcomers will still have to play a couple hours by themselves (potentially with AI companions) before they can even so much as touch the online multiplayer options. Ironically, after getting over that early slump, those same players will likely feel like they have "beaten" the game by themselves. To the game's credit, in spite of the poor story context of gathering nine talismans, they do a better job in a gameplay context to justify revisiting the familiar nine locations for "Path B" routes that provide distinctively more challenging and varied setpiece moments as well as entirely new bosses. Yet, even with the Path B routes, the repetition is likely to set in much more quickly without the help of other online/local players or the earned convenience of a save file that already played past the first nine bosses and allows them to play a level 15 character right away. The repetition problems are only exacerbated by rather dull quests that seem to conveniently pop immediately after the player likely completed their objectives mid-dungeon trek already. Though these quests are certainly optional (I never touched them until this release) they can be a good way to earn experience points, the occasional questionably lewd pictures, and, much more importantly, skill points which are vital for min/max reasoning to those who want to mess with the game's hardest content on higher difficulties or the randomly generated gauntlet Labyrinth of Chaos/Tower of Mirages modes. It really feels like a huge missed opportunity in general for Vanillaware to not add potentially new playable characters, stages, or modes regardless of how surprisingly well the game has aged. However, it says a lot about just how entertaining the core game is, glaring flaws and all, when I easily doubled my original thirty-hour playtime by trying out other characters or higher difficulties this time around. Even if it definitely missed its chance with sweeping changes, there are some small details that do help Dragon's Crown Pro to barely eke out its position as the best version of the title. Though it took me more time to notice than I care to admit, the entirely redone live orchestra soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakamoto is one such benefit, with richer vocals and instrumentation of the entire soundtrack. Much more granular details are appreciated too, like improved inventory interface, painless direct save transfer options from PS3 and PS Vita, or secretly most important of all, a much more stable PS4 online netcode, especially when playing with individuals overseas. Of course, I am reaching for straws because -- for as positive of a time I have had with the whole experience -- it is tough to make the argument for this re-release for those who did not already enjoy the game. After being spoiled by the excellent enhanced release of Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir not too long ago, it is more than a little disappointing at how little has been added to the PS4 release of Dragon's Crown Pro. Despite the passing of five years time, however, Dragon's Crown has aged remarkably well. It may retain its structural mishaps as well as repetition problems, but its stronger overall components also maintain its addictive moment-to-moment gameplay and superb visual and aural presentation. For those that did not exhaust themselves on the game the first time around, there is still good fun to be had with Dragon's Crown Pro in what is easily among one of the finest beat 'em ups available. It also serves as a good reminder as to why one should be excited for the upcoming next title Vanillaware has in store. Pros + Stunning visuals and incredibly tight beat 'em up gameplay that more than stand the test of a five years time + Charming choose-your-own-adventure styled narration and classic subgenre throwbacks that permeate throughout the experience + Great, addictive fun with fellow human players complemented by a smoother PS4 netcode Cons - Fairly repetitive design loop with no new gameplay additions in Dragon's Crown Pro can make it a tough sell for those that have already played the game on other consoles - Certain clearly touchscreen-focused mechanics like opening treasure chests or using runes are still most intuitive on the Vita hardware - Feels like a huge missed opportunity to not add new content such as extra levels or playable characters Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Vanillaware may have squandered its chance to significantly add upon and fine-tune Dragon's Crown Pro but, for an already high-quality beat 'em up, it does leave room for forgiveness for this minimal PS4 port, especially because of how enjoyable it is to play with others even now. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  3. Atlus is gearing up for the new year with a new trailer and release date for Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology -- an expanded port of the original game that came out on the Nintendo DS back in 2010. Perfect Chronology's newest trailer details the 'White Chronicle' -- the game's key item that allows its user to move freely through history and alter the course of events. Throughout the course of the game, you'll use it to determine how things unfold and travel to different multiverses. There's also quite a lot that's been added to this new version of the game, including voice-acting, redesigned character art, a new opening animation (produced by A-1 Pictures), new theme song, event illustrations, five new tracks from Yoko Shimomura, and added difficulty settings. Atlus also included new story content in the form of new character "Nemesia" and a third timeline that explores some of his actions through "What If" scenarios. You can either access this right away through the new "Perfect" mode or play "Append" mode in order to play through the original story first before the New Game+ content is accessible. Last but not least, if you pre-order the game in North America, you'll be getting the "Launch Edition" of the game which includes an art book and a decal set representing the key characters in the story. European fans will be getting just the art book tucked into the game's case at launch. Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is set to release in 2018 on February 13 in North America and February 16 in Europe on the 3DS. Source: Press Release Are you looking forward to Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology?
  4. Developer: Aquaplus and Sting Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: May 23, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game Developer Aquaplus is at it once again by mixing two unlikely gameplay genres into one mysterious form. Their newest culmination of this concept is that of part visual novel and part turn-based strategy-RPG game titled Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception on PS4/Vita. Despite technically being a sequel to a fairly old Japan-only PC game back in 2002 plainly named "Utawarerumono", Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception still somehow strongly feels like first entry in spite of it. Character relationships and backstories have been rebuilt from scratch, so whatever memory I thought I had of the original series (after seeing the 2006 anime adaption) feels like a deception despite wearing a mask of familiar themes and names. Which is perfectly fine by me, and likely a would-be broader audience as well. Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is more than willing to replace whatever gaps in knowledge one may have about its original source material by slowly filling it in with a whole new legend. Admittedly I had a general gist of what I signed up for after having played the overlooked PS3 gem, Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord, a few years ago by the same developer. Yet, even I still underestimated just how Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is far more of a visual novel than it is a tactical-RPG. What is more bizarre is that SRPG portions aren't even half bad, actually. But whatever strategic gameplay it has can feel like a huge afterthought when it is buried in what is occasionally around four hours of uninterrupted visual novel exposition. As a visual novel first and foremost Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is incredibly meticulously paced with its storytelling. It uses the time-worn amnesiac trope with its lead protagonist who starts off without any memories of his past in the middle of a random snowfield. Saved from a near-death experience by an animal-eared (and tailed) lady apothecary named Kuon, she decides to adopt the amnesiac lead on a whim as a sort of parental figure and bestow upon him the name "Haku". From then on it gets into a disjointed rhythm of having Haku slowly but surely learn more about the world around him as he accompanies the mysterious apothecary, and his newfound guardian, on her journey throughout the region. When it comes to storytelling Utawaremono: Mask of Deception does a lot really well, and in nearly equal parts extremely poorly too. It all pretty much has to do with the narrative's pacing. By far the worst of it is in its first half. The storytelling is intriguing enough starting out, but is a rather noticeable slow burn. Kuon keeps the habitually lazy Haku in check by subtly imposing upon him the mentality of "He who doesn't work doesn't eat", and there is strong world-building that is thoroughly steeped in an own sense of internal culture all the while (despite some clear feudal Japan influence). As soon as the storytelling moves to the royal city of Mikato the narrative's pace quickly grinds to a halt, however. Serving as a sort of quick and unfortunate tone setter, player's are almost immediately greeted to a random anime "fanservice" hot springs scene right when they arrive in Mikado. And... it's kind of like that for the next ten hours. There is a lot of intended levity from then on out. Sure, it has plenty of world-building and character introductions during this time too. More often than not, it feels like a shameless excuse to throw in perverted wardrobe malfunction moments, Fujoshi gags, and rampant drunken shenanigans for quite some time. It is very frustrating to see such a promising world and cast be bogged down by back to back slice-of-life styled anime pandering. Surprisingly, the written localization and fully-dubbed Japanese voice work are actually quite good and often reads well in spite of this, so several jokes and quips hit their mark despite me not being enchanted by the general context. By and large, though, it feels as if the first half is really dragged out by wholly unnecessary fluff when faced with its larger and far more engaging overarching storytelling. No better proof of concept than that of when second half of the narrative kicks in and is far better. Seriously, it's really good. The pervading narrative tone becomes darker and more mature. This is no small thanks due to a bigger emphasis on wartime conflict and political intrigue styled storytelling. It is a real stark contrast to what was hours upon hours of regurgitated alcoholism jokes and skeezy fanservice scenes not too long before. For as much as I may complain about the first half, Utawarerumono does also thrive on interpersonal storytelling as well and that's prevalent throughout. Kuon in particular is a very fascinating character and is a clear standout amongst a majority of the cast. While most others, being generally (or eventually) likable, they more or less adhere to a set of familiar character traits throughout, almost regardless of whatever tone the main narrative decides to take the form of. Also around the second half the title is more willing to remind the player (all be it, still infrequently) that it is an strategy-RPG too. Co-developer Sting is certainly no stranger to solid tactical RPGs and the gameplay of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is no exception. Compared to Sting's usually enigmatic take on the subgenre combat is mostly standard fare for turn-based strategy-RPGs standards. Most mission objectives are not anything more complex than defeating one or more enemies on small maps. That said, it is usually good about making each player character have their own pretty unique skillsets and applications in battles. Haku for instance is fairly weak in traditional combat (just like in the main narrative), and is more about passively supporting nearby allies and debuffing enemies. On the other end, the close-ranged fighter Atuy can forcibly stop enemies from moving with her mere presence and potentially get a bonus action upon defeating a foe. The gameplay also applies a few more distinct spins with the general flow to help make it more feel more active. Most attack or support actions can be followed with chains skills where depending on if the player presses, or holds, the X button at the right time they can eek out just a bit more potency or special properties out of their skills. This applies to defensive skills as well and it's real satisfying to prevent what would've been fatal damage by timing a good block or dodge. If one finds that to be too much work regardless players can simply toggle 'auto-chain' at any time, even if they miss out on the chance to pull off criticals. Speaking of such conveniences, the game also has a few nice interface touches like being able to rewind turns, see predicted damage/counter outcomes, or participate in free battles. Going briefly back to storytelling, there is more that bears mentioning during the second act. Most importantly of note is that the finale does in-fact end on a cliffhanger -- and a mean one at that. It is certainly exciting leading up that point but it is more than abundantly clear it serves as groundwork for its sequel Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth that comes out later this September. With a standard playthrough of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception taking a bit under forty hours can make it seem all the more cruel. But I suppose during that wait players can occupy themselves with several optional, and challenging, post-main story battles that give the underutilized combat more time to stretch its legs. For as many criticisms I can easily level against it, specifically the terribly paced first half, I feel much more positive than not about Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception as a whole. I think much of that can be attributed to a sort of indecipherable sincerity that is buried underneath the intricate world-building and likable characters that it all takes place around. Plus, while very underutilized, strategy-RPG portions are enjoyable too. Regardless, it demands an unreasonable amount of patience out of most players to overlook such glaring shortcomings as a visual novel. Which, frankly, I doubt most are willing to spare. It is also difficult tell if even such persistence will be rewarded during the upcoming sequel Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth that is being released September of this year. Despite Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception running the gamut of emotions and testing my patience more than a few times, however, I think it says a lot that I am still quite eagerly looking forward to playing its sequel despite all odds of the experience being stacked against it. Pros + Storytelling gets quite good and rather dark in its latter portions + Highly thorough sense of world-building that creates a vivid sense of various cultures + Well-drawn character art + Kuon is an excellent character and keeps the whiny lead in check + SRPG battles are actually rather solid and don't really force grinding Cons - Terrible narrative pacing. The first half especially which is incredibly obnoxious with anime "fanservice" moments - Is far more of a visual novel than an SRPG, which is likely off-putting for those expecting more traditional gameplay -3D visuals are real underwhelming - Ends with a pretty mean cliffhanger: AKA wait until Utawarerumono: The Mask of Truth in September Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good In some moments engrossing, and in equal parts a frustrating slog, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception demands an immense amount of patience to see it through to completion for more reasons than one. For those willing to undergo such tall demands may uncover a heartfelt adventure that is better than the sum of its parts Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  5. Developer: Vanillaware Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS4, PS3, and PS Vita Release Date: June 7, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game It was often prophesied that 2D pixel art in gaming was going to meet its end. With the rise of HD fidelity and photo-realistic 3D aesthetics becoming the norm, a negative stigma started to become attached to 2D. However, as stubborn as the Playstation 2 was to call it quits before the next gaming generation, the same was true for 2D art in gaming. A strong testament to both notions was Vanillaware's 2007 action-RPG release: Odin Sphere. Odin Sphere was beautiful, both aurally and visually. It enticed many fans and critics alike with its excellent art direction in addition to its engaging take on Norse mythology as well. Even more impressive is that it proved that it could achieve all this in the two-dimensional plane and on dated PS2 hardware. Still, for as much as I respected what Odin Sphere achieved, it was a title I failed to love despite however much I attempted to do so. Simply put, Odin Sphere's biggest issues were within its gameplay. Not only was the combat and level design very one-note, the US release also happened to be plagued with near-unforgivable gameplay slowdown throughout. As if to hear my complaints nine years later, Vanillaware decided to revisit the cult classic and improve upon it. Rather than opting for a shallow HD port like many titles this console generation, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is pretty much a complete remake of the original release. The least dramatic change Leifthrasir makes is in regards to the setup. Though the English script has been made to have a slightly more Middle English flair, and the narrative dialogue re-dubbed to complement it, the five character perspective switching tale remains almost identical to the PS2 incarnation. This is by no means bad as the Norse-themed narrative that unfolds is actually rather engaging despite some pacing problems. I personally grew to appreciate the storytelling more so my second time around as it it is dense with foreshadowing before reaching the rather satisfying, and quite intense, narrative conclusion. Leifthrasir even makes certain lore complexities within it more comprehensive with short historical-like excerpts after each chapter, which is appreciated. After a few familiar introduction story scenes, however, I was shocked at how quickly Leifthrasir exponentially refines the whole experience. There are so many quality of life improvements from combat, level design, character progression, to even user interface that I was continuously impressed by the smart changes throughout. I'll say this here and now, there is literally no reason to play the original release because Leithrasir is better in every conceivable way. The most immediate example of improvement is in regards to combat. Each of the diverse five characters have been entirely revamped for the better. I could break down how obnoxious aspects like managing stamina used to be in the original release, but the end result is that the immense amount of changes to gameplay makes Leifthrasir feel far more fast-paced, mobile, and varied overall. It is extra cool to see combat flourishes like the witch Velvet basically weaving her psypher chains about like Spider-Man to the dark knight Oswald skewering his enemies and draining their life force to fill his berserk gauge. Vanillaware has learned a lot from their more recent Action-RPG efforts such as Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon's Crown, going as far as to homage both them with many new and useful skills, and it certainly shows. The leveling progression has also been changed quite a bit to give players control over the abilities and magic that they would prefer to power up to give it a more proper Action-RPG feel. Odin Sphere veterans themselves will likely just be happy to be hear that leveling itself is far less tedious now. Gone are the days where standing still mid-battle to absorb phozons was required level up attack power. Just the same, gone are also the unfortunate times of having to backtrack to the pooka village to level up health because of a new traveling chef and mid-dungeon teleporters. Another aspect that needed much-fixing in original Odin Sphere was the level design for dungeons. To be honest, the dungeon design in the original is best described as a series of monotonous circular battle arenas until hitting a boss room. Much worse, both dungeons and bosses were entirely recycled between the playable leads and they did almost zero to differentiate them for the lengthy adventure. Now, admittedly, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is not entirely immune to the sins of its former self. Like the original, Leifthrasir still unfortunately has you fight certain bosses a few too many times because of the main story. What it does do, however, is vary up the trek through areas considerably. Concepts that seem minor on paper like several new mini-bosses, the new sense of verticality/platforming to stages, and also adding Metroidvania gameplay elements truly enhance the game's overall flow in a way I really can not stress properly. They even go as far as to personalize even familiar locales based on the playable character. I remember being totally bewildered by the pleasant surprise that was when the flying fairy princess, Mercedes, had an entertaining side-scrolling shmup segment mid-dungeon specific to her, just because. Much of the other additions are of the quality of life variety: easier to understand tutorials, better interface (especially with item management), quick travel options to significantly cut down on backtracking, and plenty more. I think the biggest surprise, beyond the sheer quantity of enhancements, is how all these combined didn't just make me dramatically enjoy the title more, but... it even cut my total play time by almost ten hours on the normal difficulty. Though I did find Leifthrasir noticeably easier -- because characters are that much more capable (and I didn't have to grind at all) -- the option to challenge myself is certainly there during regular and New Game + playthroughs. If that wasn't enough content, there is also a toggle at the title screen to switch the original release (as if to remind you how Leifthrasir is so much better), though saves are incompatible between the two versions. Last, but certainly not least to mention, is the near timeless 2D art direction and excellent soundtrack. George Kamitani's 2D art style holds phenomenally well even nine years later. While the added backdrops to levels in Leifthrasir do not quite have that standard Kamitani visual polish, like most of the game they are treat to see in motion. And yes, for those wondering about the awful gameplay slowdown and load times that plagued the original PS2 release, they are basically entirely gone now. That said, the Vita version does have some minor technical hiccups in some spots. Also more than worthy to note, Hitoshi Sakamoto's classical music score is still a treat to listen to. Cooler than that, however, Sakamoto reprises his musical role to noticeably add more musical variety during Leifthrasir's gameplay as well as crafting a few arrangements of the memorable main theme. I had thought that Odin Sphere was simply one of those games I was never going to change my mind on. A title that, despite appreciating the storytelling and the eye candy of a presentation, it would ultimately leave me with the bitter taste of disappointment in nearly every other respect for years to come. However, the deceptively big remake Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir does not simply improve upon its former composition, it dramatically sweetens its severely flawed former gameplay composition to an unimaginable degree. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir awakens the dormant potential of the original and now proves itself as a worthy classic among many of the best action-RPGs. Pros + Entirely overhauled combat that is significantly faster and more fun to play + Goes a very long way towards refining the moment to moment gameplay with the hugely altered level design, interface, and character progression + Engaging storytelling + Both the captivating 2D art and impressive soundtrack more than stand the test of time Cons: - Main story remains exactly the same, which makes it not immune to noticeable pacing and boss repetition problems - Some minor technical hiccups on Vita in busier fights Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Going far above and beyond the call of typical enhanced releases, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir manages to not only become one of the best gaming remakes ever but it also truly turn its source material into a worthy RPG classic. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
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  11. Jonathan Higgins

    Review: The Legend of Legacy

    Developer: FuRyu Publisher: ATLUS Platform: Nintendo 3DS Release Date: October 13, 2015 ESRB: E10+ Official Website The Legend of Legacy has been on my radar since its initial announcement in Japan, due to its star-power. As I“ve mentioned many times before: this game“s development team mostly consists of folks formerly from Square-Enix and Level-5. Any decent amount of digging will lead to names most RPG fans know and love... like Chrono Trigger writer Masato Kato, for example. I had every reason in the world to be excited for this game, especially as one of the people who enjoyed the earlier SaGa games (titled in America as the “Final Fantasy Legend” series). I had hoped The Legend of Legacy, marketed as a spiritual successor to the SaGa franchise, would bring the series to the modern era and welcome newcomers in the same way that something like Bravely Default: Flying Fairy did last year. I“ll start by detailing the game“s story and presentation, since a lot of what I wrote during E3 2015 about the game still feels fresh in my mind. You“re given seven characters to choose from upon first starting your adventure. ATLUS have released outlining each character and their reasons for exploring the newly discovered island of Avalon. But, if you“re looking for a plot like Chrono Trigger, where character development takes priority, I“m afraid you“ll be disappointed. I“m not going to be so bold as to say the game“s plot is non-existent, but... I“d say it doesn“t shine in areas where most people attracted to the game would expect. Rather than focus on bonds between characters, there is a strong emphasis on the game“s world itself. Each major arc in the story comes with a few cryptic rhymes about god-people and the beings that created the world, and there are many more poems riddled everywhere you find magic spells in the game. I“m truly pressed to come up with reasons to experience the game as the other characters I didn“t choose, since there was so little dialogue between them in the forty hours I spent with the game. The visuals and soundtrack do a good job of carrying the premise I outlined earlier, making the game look and sound appealing to new and old RPG fans alike. As mentioned before, the game“s dungeons unfold before you as you chart the map. Environments genuinely felt diverse enough to keep my interest. You“ll explore areas that embody water, wind, fire and shadow. And there“s something to be said for the way the game“s music sometimes takes extra steps to enhance players“ immersion -- like not transitioning to the usual battle music when you“re in a high-pressure situation, and instead sticking with the music that“s already playing both during and outside of combat. If you“re willing to approach the plot differently than most RPGs and enjoy the idea of exploring lots of different environments, I“d say this experience might be something you“d enjoy. For all the ways the game“s presentation tries to modernize things and appeal to you, though: the gameplay of Legend of Legacy will only leave a small handful of people truly satisfied. FuRyu did very little to modernize traditional SaGa gameplay -- if anything, they made already brutal aspects of games from the past even worse. To start off on a positive note -- the game“s Formation system is intuitive, and mastering it will lead to less headaches during battles. To explain how this works: each character can assume the role of an attacker, defender, or supporter. Your defender will become capable of shielding allies from almost any attack very early on, allowing your supporter to heal and attacker to handle themselves properly. You can create your own Formation and mix and match the game“s full cast of seven to your liking to suit any combat situation. Most RPGs award combatants with experience points and feature a battle system that has characters level up to become stronger. The Legend of Legacy is exactly like the SaGa games, insofar as its battle system doesn“t work that way at all. Characters“ stats increase randomly. Theoretically, you could fight 10 different battles and not even be awarded money or items for your time spent. The game wants you to face stronger opponents -- thus increasing your chances of stat gains based on the weapons and attacks you use. Stats are also awarded based on the Formations your characters assume in battle. But again: character growth is random, which makes tracking your progress difficult. This method of developing party members also discourages the use of other playable characters who join your quest. This type of gameplay only appeals to a small niche of people who don“t mind an incredibly long grind, unless steps are taken to make the process more respectful of players“ time and efforts. Unfortunately, The Legend of Legacy takes steps to be even more difficult, rather than alleviate the grind. Anyone familiar with RPGs knows how to run away from battles. In The Legend of Legacy, if you run away from a battle because a foe is too strong for you, you“re sent back to the beginning of the entire dungeon you“re in. It doesn“t matter how far you“ve explored -- nope, back to the start. And all the foes you“ve killed along the way have regenerated, so you“ll need to fight them all again to proceed -- or avoid them. I“d be willing to let this aspect of the game go, because it lets you auto-save whenever you like to avoid being sent too far back for your liking. Goodness knows I“ve used the L+R+start soft reset feature of the game hundreds of times to reload my last quick-save. There are several areas in the game that have super-strong foes you“re obviously not capable of defeating during your initial exploration of the area. An example of one of these foes is a big, hulking bird seen in the game“s Roaring Valley area. Upon arrival, your character makes note, “That bird looks pretty formidable. We should avoid it.” Rather than appear as typical foes do on the map, these giant birds are shadows you have to avoid. If you happen to run into the shadow and initiate an encounter, you“re forced to either run away or die with dignity. I can“t explain how frustrating it is to be in the middle of exploring an area, trying to chart 100% of an area“s map, only to accidentally run into one of these formidable foes and be forced to restart. I could only slightly alleviate this by choosing to save after every single battle I ever fought, in case the game throws something else at me too difficult for my liking. It“s unwelcoming at best, and absolutely cumbersome at worst. The Legend of Legacy wants so badly to be a game built on exploration and world-building like Xenoblade Chronicles or the Golden Sun series. But the rewards for fully exploring an area aren“t worth it (you“re just given money, and more adventurers journey to the map so you“re able to be saved after dying instead of being sent back to the title screen), and the map-charting aspect of the game often feels like a tool that was just included to give you something to accomplish while grinding. I wanted this experience to feel welcoming and bring a gameplay style that makes me nostalgic to the modern era. The Legend of Legacy feels stuck in the past, though. If you“re a seasoned RPG veteran who thrives on grinding and doesn“t mind the very 1991 philosophy of facing immensely stronger foes gradually (until you“re stronger yourself) I“d say this game is worth looking into. I“m hesitant to recommend this experience to everyone, though. While it feels like some of the concepts presented here could be refined and modernized to create an experience that feels refreshing, I can only describe what I played as antiquated. Even with its awesome pedigree, it feels more stubborn and stratified in the past than fun for everyone. Pros + The pop-up visuals are charming and help make the game feel like an unfolding story + Appropriate polish has been given to music, environments, and enemies -- everything about how this game is presented feels modern. Cons - The gameplay is truly antiquated, and will probably turn away newcomers with its difficulty and pacing. - A game that markets itself on choosing from seven characters and experiencing its plot with multiple perspectives... has very little character development, and is focused more on the world at large. Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent The Legend of Legacy has a fully fleshed out world to explore, but its difficulty will only appeal to grizzled RPG veterans. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher.
  12. There“s plenty to love in this week“s Nintendo Download. First and foremost is Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, coming to Nintendo 3DS tomorrow. Have you gotten the amiibo bundle yet? It“s still pretty widely available. You can also check out our impressions of the game from E3 2015, if you“re curious how it plays. Next up: the last of SEGA“s latest line of 3D Classics arrives in North America. You can play 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with visuals that take advantage of the Nintendo 3DS and exclusive features later today. And then there“s The Legend of Legacy from ATLUS, a game I“ve spoken at length about since its announcement before E3. The demo is available now, the game releases on October 13th, 2015 (so before the next Nintendo Download), and...we“ll have a review coming before this week is over! Next up: the Virtual Console and some deals. Pocky & Rocky with Becky from Natsume is coming to the Wii U Virtual Console later today. If you own Runbow on Wii U, you can save 30% off select Wii U and 3DS games. A list of titles this deal applies to will be available here in just a few hours. Little Inferno is 50% off until October 15th ($4.99 vs. $9.99). A pair of Cooking Mama games will be on sale from October 12th until October 19th. Retro City Rampage DX will be $4.99 until October 22nd. And if you“ve waited a while to get Devil Survivor: Overclocked, it“s going on sale for just $9.99 from October 12th through October 26th. That“s an absolute steal--totally worth it! Last but not least, SEGA and Chibi-Robo have a few new themes this week. There are themes for the SEGA Game Gear & SEGA Genesis, as well as “Chibi-Robo & Friends”. That about does it this week. Be sure to check out the Nintendo eShop when it updates at 9 AM PT, 12 PM ET for even more information and deals. Will you be grabbing Chibi-Robo, or any of the other titles available soon? Be sure to let us know!
  13. Developer: Atlus Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: Vita Release Date: September 29, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen Persona 4 used to be a relatively easy concept to understand. As bizarre as its inherent setting was, it won the hearts of many back in 2008 on PS2 and is heralded by many as one of the best RPGs ever -- myself included. It did a great job at resolving most of its character and story arcs, so a direct sequel honestly seemed far fetched for those that played it. But, warranted or not, Persona 4 saw multiple canonical spin-offs in the last few years and each one couldn't be more different from one another. Such spin-offs included Arc System Work's fighting game take with Persona 4 Arena, the Etrian Odyssey influenced dungeon-crawler Persona Q, and -- perhaps the strangest of them all -- a rhythm game called Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Knowing where to even begin to describe Persona 4: Dancing All Night's concept is an ordeal, but like learning any new dance it comes from getting the first steps and going from there. In P4: DAN's case it feels like it was designed with rhythm newcomers in mind. Probably the biggest incentive for RPG fans that are likely not well-versed with rhythm games to even check it out is because of its surprisingly in-depth story mode. Yes, an actual story mode for a rhythm game... and around ten hours of it at that. Like Persona 4 Arena before it, Persona 4: Dancing All Night has a visual novel-esque story mode taking place after the events of Persona 4. Unlike P4A, however, it may actually contribute more to the series as a sequel story. It starts off six months after the end of the original Persona 4 and has the pop idol 'Rise' asking the main P4 cast to help with her return debut at the "Love Meets Bonds Festival" as backup dancers. After a month of rigorous dance training, and days before the LMB Festival, eerie rumors start surfacing from the new idol group "Kanamin Kitchen"'s random disappearance and a mysterious video clip at midnight causing people to fall unconscious. Seemingly similar to the Midnight Channel case before it, the P4 Investigation Team decides to uncover the truth behind these rumors. I give Persona 4 spin-offs a lot of flak for their storytelling. Persona Q felt completely inconsequential with its shallow narrative tie-ins, and Persona 4 Arena had the glaring issues of disregarding character development and using redundant story devices -- but both basically forgot what made P4 good in the first place. It is for this reason that Persona 4: Dancing All Night's story is in a weird place. The story mode itself is probably the most sincere spin-off sequel of the series, by treating the original cast with actual respect towards their development, but the conflict they are wrapped up in is quite heavy-handed and predictable. Also similar to P4A, the story is more so centered around the newcomer, Kanamin, but unlike Labrys of P4A whom had a solid character arc, Kanamin still seems rather vapid by the end of it all and does not really earn her narrative place. Ultimately, the story mode is inoffensive fanservice. There are some cool callbacks to P4, but unless you are an established fan you probably won't get much out of it -- like most of Persona 4: Dancing All Night. More than anything else, Persona 4: Dancing All Night is an outright spectacle on the Vita's screen. You can certainly feel the influence of Atlus's brimming amount of style from the seemingly cel-shaded look, incredibly slick menu interface, and frankly, the Persona 4 cast has honestly never looked better in a 3D space when they are showing off their sweet dance moves. It also oozes with P4 fanservice, from the casual quips made by the characters throughout (voice actor change for Rise disappointment aside) to even using Tanaka's shopping center to get new outfits/accessories. Whether you want to use give Teddie an Igor outfit, giant nose and all, or picking one of the seasonal outfits for everybody else it is very clear this was made with strong fandom in mind. Heck, it even goes as far as having players being able to use character voices for "scratch" notes during gameplay -- it goes all the way with fanservice. All of this is there which is why P4:DAN is disappointing as an actual rhythm game. Don't get me wrong, it is generally polished and the core rhythm gameplay is fun, if hardly original. The way notes are presented also makes it easy to commit inputs to muscle memory or using knowing when to flick the analog for scratch notes. Still, it also has minor annoyances to the gameplay. One annoyance is that it can be difficult to tell when you actually miss a note. The game uses audio quips to indicate many its mechanics, like fever time, but the characters won't usually make a remark about you missing a note if you doing fairly good overall, so your combo chain may break and you are not when it happened. Scratch inputs can also cause visual overload on higher difficulties, which is a similar issue to the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva releases (Both games have the common developer Dingo) but nonetheless is still a problem. I mean, the game itself is easy, and I managed to get all the trophies and unlocks without much difficulty even on hard mode, but a lack of finesse can be a serious issue for those hardcore enough to try the highest Dancing All Night difficulty. The biggest issue is that Persona 4: Dancing All Night is simply lacking in content compared to most rhythm titles nowadays. The song selection is sparse with just over 20 tracks, and this is made more glaring by some songs getting multiple so-so remixes and overpriced DLC in addition ($5 for one Hatsune Miku song). And, honestly, for as much as I enjoy the original renditions a lot of the song remixes aren't particularly great by themselves despite borrowing heavily from the Persona 4: Reincarnation album from a few years ago. You can certainly feel the production values have been pushed to the limit for the system but it should not have been at the cost of actual songs to play. Ultimately, a lack of content is the game's most apparent issue and I probably completed/unlocked everything in about the same amount of time it took to simply read through the story. As complicated as it is to even understand why Persona 4: Dancing All Night came to fruition, it is just too complicated to describe its place for fans. As a spin-off sequel it is probably the most sincere of any Persona 4 spin-off to date with its sizable story mode alone, even with its narrative qualms. Also, if looks could kill, Persona: Dancing All Night would have it in spades with its overwhelming visual charm and fanfare. However, amongst fellow rhythm releases P4: DAN is simply lacking in content to play through, especially with its lukewarm and sparse song library. For as much heart as it may convey through its dance, Persona 4: Dancing All Night is best left to the most devout Persona 4 fans and not for those seeking greatness in either its storytelling or gameplay. Pros +Gorgeous presentation and incredibly slick interface + Somehow has an in-depth story mode for a rhythm game + Oozes with Persona 4 fanservice + Comprehensive, fun rhythm gameplay Cons -Many P4 remix tracks don“t stand out very much - Quite limp on the amount of playable songs -Story is really heavy-handed and predictable - Somewhat off when it comes missing note feedback Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent For a title that was clearly made to have P4 fans rejoice with its gorgeous aesthetic and style it is disappointing that as an actual rhythm game Persona 4: Dancing All Night simply does not have enough to tide over most of its potential audience with its sparse performance of songs. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  14. Jonathan Higgins

    Persona 5 - New Trailer, Summer 2016 Release Window

    It“s officially official: Persona 5 has a (new) release window of Summer 2016 in Japan, according to a new trailer. ATLUS USA have consistently stated the game would be released this year, but it looks like that“s no longer the case. Here's the official word from ATLUS USA. Here“s a look at the trailer that broke the news, in its high-quality glory. ATLUS are currently streaming a humongous two day Persona event. It“s all going to lead up to the “Persona Stalker Club” event. I suppose there“s not much more to it than that. Remember, Persona 5 is coming to both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. Here are official websites in both Japanese and English. How do you feel about the delay of Persona 5? Are you looking forward to the game“s release?
  15. Near the end of July, ATLUS & Vanillaware announced Odin Sphere: Leifdrasir, then teased a brand new project. Earlier this morning, at TGS 2015, they revealed what exactly this new project is. Not much is known about 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, but...it looks like PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita are getting a new sci-fi mecha title. Here“s the full trailer, for your viewing pleasure: The trailer didn“t come with a release window, so don't expect it to come out tomorrow. Localization news isn't confirmed either, but I never say never with ATLUS. I“m sure more information about this title will make its way to us, in time--if not later this week. For now, stay tuned to the project“s official website for more information. Are you excited to see another collaboration from ATLUS & Vanillaware? Be sure to let us know!
  16. I“ve often dubbed The Legend of Legacy from ATLUS an equivalent of mixing peanut butter and chocolate. This game combines the talents of some of my all time favorite game developers, composer and writer. For more on that, and my personal experience with the game from E3 2015, check here. Needless to say, I“m super excited for the game“s October 13th release date. But if the anticipation is killing y“all as much as it is me, a free demo of the game is coming to the Nintendo eShop on September 22nd, 2015. The demo features the opening prologue of the game, as well as its first two dungeons. And what“s more, you“ll be able to transfer your save file from the demo to the full game upon its release! ATLUS took an in depth look at the game while I happened to be on vacation towards the end of August; if you missed that or want to learn more, . If you“d prefer a more bite-sized approach to gathering intel about the game, there are several character trailers released, including a brand new one from today“s demo announcement. I“ll embed them all below. Be sure to check out the official site for more! Are you excited for The Legend of Legacy? Do you have any experience with the SaGa games its developers are known for? Be sure to let us know!
  17. Looks like the game that was teased a few days ago has been revealed a little earlier than planned. Those of you taking bets on something Odin Sphere-related: pat yourselves on the back. Odin Sphere: Leifdrasir is officially a thing. It's a remake of Odin Sphere for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita coming to Japan in 2016. It's got new graphics, new bosses and more. Regrettably, I have zero experience with Vanillaware outside of Dragon's Crown, their last big collaboration with ATLUS. Still, I know a handful of people who are attached to this game, despite issues concerning slowdown and load-times. If these flaws are fixed in the remake, I see no reason not to support the game and play something new. There's no word on a western localization yet, but is this tweet a hint? Never say never, right? Here's the official trailer for Odin Sphere: Leifdrasir. More information is sure to come. Stay tuned, or check out the official website. Are you excited for the Odin Sphere remake? Were you expecting something else entirely? Be sure to let us know!
  18. It's been two years since Dragon's Crown released, so what has Vanillaware been up to in the meantime? Well, we're about to find out, according to a new teaser website that just went up. The teaser site doesn't give a whole lot to go on, except that the reveal will be on July 20 (this coming Monday) at 7pm EST from Boston. Other than that, there's an interactive area on the page with a small sprout coming out of a shell where if you click it, the sprout grows taller. What could this be referencing? In any case, there's a possibility this could be Dragon's Crown 2 or even a brand new IP. Whatever it turns out to be, we'll have more info when Monday rolls around. Source: Atlus-vanillaware.jp What do you think Vanillaware's latest game could be?
  19. Jonathan Higgins

    E3 2015 Hands-On: The Legend of Legacy

    Two of my favorite games of all time, for various reasons, are Final Fantasy Legend 3 — otherwise known as SaGa 3 — and Chrono Trigger. The Legend of Legacy, recently announced for the West courtesy of ATLUS, combines the talent of Masato Kato (Chrono Trigger“s writer) with the developers and composer of the SaGa games. That“s my equivalent of peanut butter and chocolate. I was more than a little excited when the localization was confirmed, and I almost jumped for joy when I saw it on the show floor. I sat down with the game for about twenty-five minutes and, thankfully, I got to play from the beginning instead of being thrown in the middle somewhere. The game introduces you to combat and immediately stresses the importance of battle formations. Unlike most RPGs I“ve come across lately, Legend of Legacy has actual mechanics in place depending on what formation you choose. At the beginning, I could only see two: one that puts characters in a defensive stance, and one that has them all attack like normal. But apparently these formations are so versatile that you will eventually be able to create your own that adjust various battle mechanics to your liking. Other than that, it plays like most traditional turn-based RPGs, with a few twists. You can attack and use skills, but pressing the d-pad right or left allows you to switch the weapon you“re using on a turn-by-turn basis. Want to smack an enemy with your bare hands? You can do so! Want to switch between your gigantic sword or the other blade you found wandering the map? You“re free to do that too. I could see certain weapons being advantageous over others — like not being stuck with a fire-based weapon against an enemy that“s strong against fire — because you can switch, and that's refreshing to me. Your HP restores after each battle, so there“s no stress and you can grind easily and efficiently. Combat felt very fluid and entertaining, overall. I feel like once I learn more about Formations and how battles can be manipulated to suit your preferences, I“ll have a better grasp on what makes this concept so unique. But for now, it certainly has potential to be something special. In Legend of Legacy, you...quite literally, create the map as you move, similar to how Bastion did it. The bottom screen is devoted to cartography — you can get a rare item or skill for completing 100% of a map. Battles are not random. Enemies are persistent about pursuing you. The boss I faced was very difficult, but I managed to survive in the end. And hey, what little I saw of the plot (I didn“t want to spoil myself, so I skipped major scenes) seemed entertaining. This is definitely a game you should look out for. Once again, The Legend of Legacy is coming to North America this Fall, courtesy of ATLUS. You can check out the official website for more information.