Yearly Archives: 2015

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In line with the network’s goal of providing quality programs that appeal to many Filipinos, The Kapatid Network is tapping into an unlikely source of viewers: us gamers. On the heels of their previously-popular miniseries, “I’m in Love with a Dota Player”, local megastation TV5 turns to Square-Enix’ beloved Final Fantasy franchise as inspiration for their next big afternoon soap.

In a blockbuster deal signed last week by TV5’s Head of Broadcast Operations Jeric Mariano and Square Enix CEO Yosuke Matsuda, the network will be slotting in their adaptation of Final Fantasy VIII in their afternoon programming block, now dubbed “Pinakahuling Pantasya.”  “It’s a captivating story that will put to test the value of friendship and love and will unravel a well-kept secret of the mercenary force, SeeD. The drama is topbilled by respected actors and actresses in the country,” Mariano states in a press release issued today.

Gelli de Belen
Gelli de Belen

“Pinakahuling Pantasya” combines the best of the old and new generations of acting talents, led by a powerful trio of two veterans and one upcoming young female star in the lead roles. Playing the major roles of Squall and Rinoa will be Jericho Rosales (dubbed “Buhawi” in the localized adaptation) and Angel Locsin, respectively. Performing as beloved goofball Zell isequally-beloved goofball Vhong Navarro, with Alice Dixon, Edu Manzano, and Vin Abrenica rounding out the rest of the cast. The series is helmed by award-winning directors Eric Quizon, Argel Joseph, and Bb. Joyce Bernal.

De Belen on her role as Sorceress Edea Kraemer: “It was hard kasi recession sa States, everybody values their job, so that was my fear na if I leave for a long time, baka mawala yung work ko dun… Then I spoke to my boss, good thing he understood naman. That was the sign na kapag pumayag siya then I’d really push through with TV5’s Pantasya.”

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Final Fantasy VIII, released 1999 for the PlayStation has sold over 2 million units worldwide and is one of the most popular RPGs of the late ’90s. TV5 (formerly known as ABC 5) is a major Filipino commercial television network based in Mandaluyong City, Philippines. Owned by TV5 Network, Inc., solely owned by MediaQuest Holdings, Inc. which in turn is a wholly owned subsidiary of the beneficial trust fund of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company headed by business tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan.

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Square Enix has been on a roll as of late in churning out mobile ports of popular game franchises (Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest) in the midst of several lack-luster original mobile games such as the Chaos Rings franchise. Indeed Square still has ways to go before lining itself up with mobile games publishing giants in Japan like Gung-Ho, Gumi, Gree, and the like.

Enter the company’s latest original entry into the free-to-play mobile gaming platform: Heavenstrike Rivals ( released globally in March 2015) is a turn-based strategy game under the art direction of Ryoma Ito (FF Tactics Advance) and the musical scoring of Ryo Yamazaki (FF: Crystal Chronicles). The game is played on a 3 x 7 (Height x Width) board where two players take turns in placing units with the ultimate goal of dealing enough damage to take down the opposing team’s captain. As simple as it sounds, things get complex when you factor in the different unit classes, unit races, levels, and ranks (upgraded units).

Heavenstrike Rivals: Captain skills sometimes spell the all the difference in combat.
Heavenstrike Rivals: Captain skills sometimes spell the all the difference in combat.

Captains are not only an avatar representation of you in the game, they can also equip a skill ranging from direct damage, buffs, or healing. These are charged after usage by turn (6-9 turns) If used strategically, can instantly turn the tide of battle. If anything, Heavenstrike Rivals plays more like a collectible card game (CCG) placed on a grid board than your typical square grid strategy game like FF Tactics and similar games. Heavenstrike Rivals features six (6) unit classes and four (4) unit races: Humans, Ogurs, Felyns, and Lambkin. Each class has an inherent skill and an extra ability based on the unit type and its rarity. Unit class and race are also the basis for buff and debuff skills.

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Heavenstrike Rivals: Fighters are pretty underrated due to their short attack range vs ranged units.

Fighters (movement range 2) normally have high HP and moderate amount of ATK. Their class skill is the ability gain 1 ATK every time they hit an opposing unit or the opposing captain. The longer they stay alive in combat, the higher their ATK will be.

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Heavenstrike Rivals: Defenders break most rush strategies.

Defenders (movement range 2) have the highest base HP in the game and have the ability to taunt opposing units to prevent them from changing lanes. This forces attacking units to deal with the defender and prevents them from attacking your other units or your captain.

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Heavenstrike Rivals: Makes opponents suffer for putting their units in a straight line.

Gunners (movement range 1) are indirect damage units capable of hitting all targets 3 spaces in front of them. Best used against enemy formations who run in a straight line.

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Heavenstrike Rivals: You can beat an opponent with one attack from Scouts given the right amount of buffs and assuming they survive long enough.

Scouts (movement range 3) are the fastest units in the game who are able to attack opposing captains by their second turn. They have the lowest HP among all units but are offset with extremely powerful damage dealing capabilities through their double strike skill (attacks twice per round).

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Heavenstrike Rivals: Mages are extremely powerful units. Many people hate these units.

Mages (movement range 1) attacks have splash damage. They deal half the amount of their base ATK to all adjacent units which is ideal for clearing out crowds of enemy units should they happen to be bunched up. These units can attack units or captains 3 spaces in front of them.

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Heavenstrike Rivals: Priest keep your offensive units alive longer to maximize their utility in battle.

Priests (movement range 1) heal the unit with the lowest HP in the board once per turn. They are support units with low ATK and moderate HP to keep your attacking units in combat alive for as long as possible. They can attack units and captains two spaces in front of them.

Each unit class has either an ETB (enter the battlefield) effect or activated ability (by chance) as a skill which varies per unit. Tthe higher the rarity, the more powerful the effect. These abilities on top of the class based ones create a deep strategic environment where timing and synergy of your units with each other is key to controlling battles. This system in my opinion is what really got Heavenstrike Rivals going for me. Players Heavenstrike Rivals start out with two (2) mana and can accumulate a maximum of ten (10) mana after the first five (5) turns in combat. Units have varied casting costs from 2 to 4 mana. A player can have a total of ten (10) mana worth of units at any given time so as much as timing is the key to beating your opponents, you must also keep track of how much resources you will spend to field your units. There are cases when you max out your mana to field units and your opponent can isolate them in one side of the battlefield and create an opening for them to attack your captain with impunity. In this case, you could potentially lose the battle without any way of turning the game around.

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Heavenstrike Rivals: Microtrannies, they’re never cheap.

New units can be earned through completing story missions, normal missions, daily missions, and special missions. But the quickest way to earn powerful new units is through recruitment which requires cores (the game’s cash currency). Cores can be farmed from a daily quest (1-3 cores per day) and completing story quests. As a starting player, you can accumulate over one hundred (100) cores by playing the daily core quest and completing all story missions. It takes five (5) core to recruit one 3-5 star unit or 45 core to recruit 10 3-5 star units. Statistically speaking, you will at least gain two (2) 4 star units which are more then enough to help you plow through story missions. As such, you cannot escape the fact that Heavenstrike Rivals adheres to common standards in Japanese mobile games which easily translates to spend money to recruit better units. But like most of these types of games, there are system events which will give you better incentives for recruiting at those times. You can simply save up your core for 10 recruits and consume them during these system events. All 2-5 star units can be upgraded to increase their stats and effect abilities through unit promotion and maxing out their levels. Legendary units (5-star) when promoted will become 6-star or basically “broken” units.

Ace Quickshuffle is one of the most hated units in Heavenstrike Rivals
Chance Quickshuffle is one of the most hated units in Heavenstrike Rivals

Units with skills (outside class skills) can level-up their skills up to 4 times (to level 5). One skill level can be gained through promoting the unit to its final form, the rest leaves little to be desired. The only other way to increase skill level is to train units with the exact same unit. In other words, you need at least 4 of one specific unit to max out their skills and based on my experience, maxing skills out matters. Fortunately, most functional units can be farmed from story missions, daily missions, and special missions. Units you can farm for are actually just as important as legendary units you can gain through recruitment.

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This part will actually need some time and effort through gaining unit experience and acquiring promotion items farmed through daily quests. Upgrading units will certainly help you plow through story missions but these are really meant for you to keep up with the weekly PVP leagues, one of the biggest endgame features of Heavenstrike Rivals. If you get down to it, the AI of Heavenstrike Rivals does some pretty stupid moves (occupy one lane and keep staying there regardless of battlefield conditions) in missions as well as with your squad should you chose to use the game’s auto-play feature so the best place to get your competitive gaming fix is in the weekly PVP league. Newbies will probably fall to the bottom of the ladder due to the lack of 4-6 star units and completely upgraded regular units. The difference is overwhelming and it might discourage you granted that top players receive high tier units as rewards, as such is how mobile games operate. Game balance is skewed towards paying and long time users. Catching up to them is a matter of leveling up relevant and powerful low cost/lower rarity units (most of which can be acquired or farmed in daily and weekly missions) to their full potential. Outside of regular daily missions and recruitment using cores, Heavenstrike Rivals features weekly missions where you can farm powerful super rare units (4 star).

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Farmable units are just as important as high rarity ones in Heavenstrike Rivals

I find that these units are commonly used in PVP and have great utility in PVE missions so they are must-farm units. For new players, you could miss out on the previous characters, but it is up to Square Enix to ensure that old and new player alike will be able to enjoy these farmable characters eventually. There currently are sixty-two (62) story missions for the first chapter of Heavenstrike Rivals each with increasing levels of difficulty. There is still no word on when the next chapter is set to be implemented but as most story-driven games, chapters are released in a span of more than 1 month intervals. The story of the game isn’t exactly compelling or poor, I just find it a necessity for the flavor of the game. I found that the AI is able to circumvent regular squad building rules such as (2 per unit type restrictions imposed on players) as compensation for rather shifty game-play logic. After completing the story missions, you will gain access to a high stamina and high difficulty cost dungeon which randomly rewards you with high EXP and gold along with unit EXP items, new units, and even cores.

As a relatively heavy user, I haven’t spent any money on buying cores but I have assembled a pretty strong line-up of units, the difference is my units haven’t reached maximum promotion so the odds against me when faced off with higher level squads but I will be able to catch up in due time. The PVP metagame in Heavenstrike Rivals can change on the fly like with its latest PVP league that just concluded this week which banned the usage of the Defender unit class. This modification strongly reinforced fast moving units like Scouts being able to get in range with your opponent’s captain easily since there are no enemy units which can taunt your offensive units to delay imminent attacks. With the addition of these type of PVP events, things certainly are about to get more interesting.

Heavenstrike Rivals is focusing a lot on PVP. So far, it's pretty balanced. You just need to grind to catch up.
Heavenstrike Rivals is focusing a lot on PVP. So far, it’s pretty balanced. You just need to grind to catch up.

The visuals of Heavenstrike Rivals are vibrant and well animated but they seem to be quite heavy on resources for a mobile game. You need Android 4.1 and up or iOS 7.0 for Apple devices as a minimum requirement so older and weaker devices will not be able run the game at all. Each unit type per race have a template form factor but their costumes and design vary widely. You can clearly see a great degree of character design put into each unit type and this definitely puts extra value into collecting units. The music in Heavenstrike Rivals utilizes an orchestral ensemble and produced some of the best mobile game music I’ve heard but the voices of characters are pretty generic and bland.

Heavenstrike Rivals makes hardcore and casual PVP equally rewarding.
Heavenstrike Rivals makes hardcore and casual PVP equally rewarding.

I am hooked Heavenstrike Rivals but it does demand a certain level of dedication and play frequency which I am unable or unwilling to fulfill most of the time, hence losing some opportunity to acquire the maximum attainable daily grind benefits. However, it isn’t that much of a turn-off as I do enjoy the PVP content even if I am frequently mismatched with extremely powerful squads. The next step for furthering game balancing could be setting squad cost requirements based on unit rarity and maximum level to prevent paying users to simply field a team with top units and maxing out their stats to dominate PVP. The game at its core is a strategy game after all. It is a pity that this game found its way to the mobile platform, I would pay for a retail version of the game (minus the micro-transactions).

Other things I would like to see in future versions of Heavenstrike Rivals: friends lists, PVP directly with people in your friends lists (playtesting), and daily Login bonuses. Come on, every other game in the same genre does it, why not here?

 

DSC02511Despite popular opinion, Nintendo is actually a company of iterative refinement—a company that does not simply rest after unleashing its creations, instead finding ways to subtly improve on them. This is especially true in their hardware offerings, all but one (the beleaguered and short-lived Virtual Boy) receiving some sort of incremental upgrade during their respective lifetimes. Remember those mystery ports on the NES and SNES? Though often appearing stunted from a technological standpoint, Nintendo always seemingly looks ahead and somehow sneaks in some sort of improvement in their consoles or handhelds, mysteriously forcing their consumers hands and snaking in a quick payment when, really, the “old” version of the hardware worked just fine.

Whether it’s slapping add-ons to the system (the Famicom’s Disk System), miniturization (SNES Jr., Game Boy Pocket), slight spec bumps (Game Boy Color and this very piece of hardware), or correcting a terrible, terrible mistake (the Game Boy Advance SP and its actually-legible scren), all of us have paid for a “standard” mid-cycle Nintendo upgrade one way or the other.

DSC02514I suppose where I’m getting at with this is, yes, Nintendo has a giant hard-on for improving their existing hardware, for better or for worse. Enter the “New” Nintendo 3DS. In what’s probably the least-creative console rebranding this side of the PlayStation twos through fours, the New Nintendo 3DS (or NN3DS, as abbreviated by absolutely nobody) is simply just that, a newer, mid-cycle version of its vintage-2011 Nintendo 3DS handheld awkwardly slotting in a couple years before its real successor comes out. Unlike the Nintendo DSi right before it, Nintendo isn’t immediately halting sales of the “older” 3DS units in lieu of this iteration, instead puzzlingly choosing to market this in North American regions as a premium version of the 3DS hardware. Irritatingly, Nintendo of America has decided to not release the New 3DS XL’s smaller sibling at all, choosing to keep the “old” 3DS and XL, as well as its forlorn stepsibling, the adorable but maligned 2DS. It doesn’t take a marketing degree to realize that they’ve made a mess out of this.

That aside, the short story with the New 3DS is that its actually a worthwhile upgrade to the original 3DS and 3DS XL. Much unlike how a typical Nintendo fan fails to refine him or herself into a nuanced adult, the NN3DSXL feels like a more premium, mature product. Even the intangibles such as heft and gloss were taken into account when crafting Nintendo’s final revision of the 3DS product. On paper it sounds like a dicey cash-grab, but when you actually have one in your hands, the New 3DS XL looks, sounds and feels exactly how the handheld should have been in the first place.

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Small things, such as the volume slider being relegated to the top of the clamshell instead of its irritatingly easy-to-cajole former home on the bottom half of the console, turn into vast improvements once you spend some more time with the console. Little nuances, such as the brightness controlling itself automatically, or the Wi-Fi no longer needing to be switched on and off, pop in every now and then and remind the end-user that, yes, this is a better 3DS than the one you had. And of course, there are the tiny, irritating screw-ups that remind you that this is a Nintendo product: the MicroSD slot being nigh-inaccessible is definitely a Luddite decision that the tiny Kyoto company would make. I’m not even surprised that the New Nintendo 3DS doesn’t come with a charger: they know their target audience for these things, and their target audience has like four or five of those things kicking around from the DSi’s heyday. Whatever, I don’t even use them—I vastly prefer and recommend those knockoff USB chargers from China. Plug ’em into a sentient box that has a USB port (such as a cable/digibox) and voila, instant charging station.

DSC02515One immediate drag with owning a New Nintendo 3DS is the system transfer process. I can count the number of digital games I have with one hand, yet it still took four hours to move less than four gigabytes worth of data from my old 3DS XL to my New 3DS XL. It’s almost useless to hope for at this point, but it’s 2015 and the fact that Nintendo still doesn’t have a unified account system at this point is borderline laughable. I can literally run to the store, buy a new 2000-series Vita, download roughly 64GB of game data and saves from the cloud, make myself a mean osso bucco, and still clock in less time than it takes for a standard 3DS system transfer to finish. It’s insane.

Let’s talk about super-stable 3D: it’s awesome. Forget the bad, disjointed 3D experience from the old 3DS, that’s dead and buried now. The New 3DS tracks your head with some sort of proximity sensor and adjusts the 3D image in real-time to compensate, making playing in 3D on the darn thing actually feasible now. I hardly ever use the 3D feature on my old 3DS because it was such a pain to get into that “sweet spot” to enjoy the effect, but I have 3D permanently turned on with my New 3DS and apart from the quick jitter ever now and then when it fails to adjust for whatever reason, its totally seamless and immersive.

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DSC02512As for the new control features, they’re alright. The C-stick feels a lot like the eraser-nubs on old IBM Thinkpads, and is surprisingly solid-feeling once you get a hang of it. After clocking in a few hours on Monster Hunter 4 and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, sweeping the camera across the screen came as second nature, and the little nub deftly did its job when needed. I can’t see the C-stick ever working for FPS games, but given the fact that so few of those come the system’s way, I’m sure it’s not even a concern. I forgot the ZL and ZR triggers even existed, given how sparingly MH4 used ’em. I suppose we’ll have to wait for a “real” NN3DS exclusive to come out before we even see the little buttons get used.

DSC02517A small sidebar on software compatibility: it may be placebo effect, but games do in fact load faster on the New 3DS. Newer titles like Majora’s Mask and Smash Bros. aren’t a surprise since they were probably developed with the New 3DS in mind, but even older titles that I’ve revisited such as Snake Eater 3D (still a bad port) and Pilotwings Resort (super-underrated, even as a launch title) seemed snappier to load. My hope is that Nintendo and its third-parties patch out some of the older titles to fully take advantage of the New 3DS’ hardware, even to improve simple things like framerate and draw distance.

So for better or for worse, the New Nintendo 3DS is just that: its a New Nintendo 3DS. Despite the minor spec-bump, the system still sports sub-iOS level graphical capabilities, an insultingly low-resolution screen (exasperated by the XL’s massive berth) and shockingly bad online capabilities (the eShop is still a poorly-designed nightmare). Still, there’s a reason these things crush the competition, and thats simply thanks to an amazing software lineup. For those that happen to enjoy the 3DS’ roster of fine videogames, the New 3DS XL is almost a required purchase as it improves the 3DS experience so much.

Fantasy Hero: Unsigned Legacy is an action RPG by Arc System Works who is famous for games such as the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series.  They are releasing more games outside the fighting game genre lately (there is also Magical Beat, a rhythm game that will be out soon), so this is quite exciting news for ASW fans.

In Fantasy Hero, the game’s world has been overrun by alien beings known as Decoders and humans were driven away from their homes after being attacked. After twelve years in the game’s setting, you are introduced to (and will be asked to choose from) the four main protagonists in the game such as:

  • Acress, a justice-obsessed swordsman
  • Haul, the mysterious Crow with a penchant for guns
  • Ashta, inventress with a giant robot and a bone to pick
  • Mask, a well-muscled luchador
Mask the Shout
Mask the Shout

Each of these heroes have different fighting styles — Acress of course specializes in slashing, Mask wrestles, Haul is the ranged shooter guy and Ashta uses a robot to attack with. The game sets you off and introduces you to your wild band of party members (all the protagonists are working together but you get to control only one during the game). A woman named Gram gifts you with your Hero Artes (equipment that makes you super strong) after returning from a two-year expedition and sends you on a quest to become stronger and take back your land. You play the fairly easy to go through tutorial and eventually do the missions (core of the game) while progressing in the game’s story. Easy peasy.

Is this real life? (AKA the good stuff)

  • Good visuals – I always appreciate good character designs and especially like cel-shaded graphics in RPGs. Fantasy Hero has interesting character designs for the protagonists especially Mask (my favorite because luchador), but the other guys like Haul, Acress and Ashta aren’t bad either. The environment is not mind-blowing and could probably use more inspiration and uniqueness but it still works.
  • 140313FANTASYHERO_ss_01Character customizationFantasy Hero has a good system of customizing skills for your characters and make them play either as a DPS or a support unit. There is also assigning of stats which can really make each character you play unique from your friends.
  • Fully voiced characters – All characters are fully dubbed with Japanese voices and have some popular seiyuus doing them. There is no option for English voices however, but then again who plays with that.
  • Game Controls – The game is easy especially if you have experience in RPGs. There is no way you will have a hard time learning the controls as it is very simple and streamlined. Attacks are assigned to two buttons, movement to the left analog stick which is really everything you need to play. Skills and items are mapped to your directional and command buttons later on and can be activated by pressing the LB button.
  • 14 Player Local Co-Op – I like playing with friends in games so this is a good addition. If you want someone to get into multiplayer games like Monster Hunter, you can start them up in Fantasy Hero as the game is fairly easy to learn and get into mostly because of the simplified controls.
  • Mission Division – The bulletin board where you can get missions divides them into main and side (and DLC), so you can easily breeze through the story if you want to. However, during the first few hours of the game you are compelled to do the side missions to learn controls and the basics of the game.
  • Difficulty Toggles – You can make the missions harder if you are more confident of your level and skills and can get more rewards from it which is a good touch. New players can stick with recommended levels or if you just want to enjoy the game and run through it.
  • Near System – Like 3DS’s street pass, you can get gifts from others players if you bump into them which I always enjoy in handheld games.

Is this just fantasy? (AKA the bad stuff)

  • Generic story line – Cookie cutter storyline in RPG: get. Unknown monsters suddenly invade peaceful land and drive people out of their homes yadda yadda. I wish they would’ve gone the extra mile and make the plot more engaging but it is what it is.
  • 140313FANTASYHERO_ss_02Dialogue font – Not that big of a deal but the dialogue is hard to read at times because of the kerning / spacing. I wish that they patch this game to improve readability.
  • Entire Map view – It would have been so much better if they assigned a button in the game to view the entire map instead of going inside the main menu (accessible by the start button) and going through it to access. It somewhat breaks the game’s momentum especially if you are in a mission.

Caught in a landslide (AKA can go anywhere)

  • Super linear gameplay – I am all for linear gameplay in RPGs but I know most people like variety and choices. The game is straightforward as straightforward goes.
  • DLC – Extra missions can be acquired in DLCs. Again, not many people might be up for that but it won’t hurt if you don’t get them. Here is what’s available in the game:

DLC Available:

  • Mission Pack #1 “Birth of the Sacred Treasures” – 5 new missions with new weapons and equipment
  • Mission Pack #2 “Then and Now” – 5 new missions with post-story content
  • Character License and BlazBlue Color Set
  • Character License and Guilty Gear Color Set
  • Character License and Special Color Set
  • Character Color Pack (Ashta, Haul, Shout, or Acress set)
  • Basic Upgrading – The game has super simplified upgrading in equipment. You just go to the NPC with the stuff required to upgrade and you can choose an effect whether to have a higher damage output or increased effectivity. There’s not much to do with changing the looks and other stats like in other games.

No escape from reality (AKA the verdict)

10928847_10153688488167137_7789638585044720629_nIf you are looking for a lighthearted action RPG, Fantasy Hero is not a bad choice. Priced reasonably at $14.99, you definitely get your money’s worth from the game content, especially since you can go play local multi on it. It’s also a good idea to have new players start on this game to learn the basics of action RPGs and Monhan type of games. The game also works on the PlayStation Vita TV so that’s great.

Fantasy Hero: Unsigned Legacy releases on February 10th in the Americas, and February 11th for select countries in Europe, Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand. The game is exclusively available for PlayStation Vita as a digital download on the PlayStation Network. The game is currently available in North America.

Disclosure: 30lives.net has received a review copy of the game from Arc System Works.