Features

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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?

 

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.

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Disclosure: 30lives received a review copy of The Evil Within from Bethesda Softworks.

The Evil Within_20141013014022It amazes me how much goodwill Capcom has managed to piss away nine years after releasing Resident Evil 4—a game that (deservedly) sits on every videogame enthusiast’s all-time top five. After releasing two lackluster sequels, a couple more middling spin-offs, and about half a dozen ports, it’s safe to say that we’re all ready for this series to ride off into the sunset (hah! thought I’d make a zombie joke, didn’t you?), at least for the time being.

As cliched as this may sound, The Evil Within is a true return-to-form for the series; albeit one produced under a different moniker, for a different company, and with an entirely different cast of characters. The essence stays the same however, as TEW is directed by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami under his new development studio Tango Gameworks. It’s no small coincidence that the series started slipping as soon as Mikami released his reins; and if anything this game proves that Mikami can produce excellence without being constrained by Resident Evil’s now-convoluted mythos.

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Messy!

It is painfully clear however that Mikami has some sort of affinity for policework (and vaguely hispanic avatars): your protagonist Sebastian Castellanos starts off as an unassuming investigator that somehow winds up in a city filled with grotesque zombie-like creatures (wink), creepy raven-haired kids, and of course: a chainsaw-wielding brute set to tear you to pieces for some reason. I always assume it’s because you banged his sister. You never mess with a man’s sister. Anyway, Sebastian and friends find themselves in this twisted environ and feverishly attempt to escape, and of course are met by exceedingly-absurd opposition from not only the ugly creatures that populate their coordinates, but—only a spoiler if you’re an absolute idiot—also themselves. If you haven’t gathered from the game’s title (or hell, even the Japanese title Psycho Break), a good chunk of the game is dedicated to questioning the human condition; yours and your comrades.

For anyone who’s seen a horror movie from the last fifteen years, The Evil Within’s narrative may feel like predictable, run-off-the-mill pap. I’ll concede that point and fire back that its way better than 90% of the garbage most of us have to wade through. (without a skip button!)

Instead of simply relying on horror tropes for quick scares, The Evil Within also features more contemporary chills: you’ll see a lot of non-sequitur scenes in this game, much in the vein of Alan Wake or Deadly Premonition, except far more unsettling.  For instance, a madhouse door leads into a field of sunflowers… But why? Without spoiling too much, at that point in the game, you’re already questioning every single wrench the game throws at you, a sense of helplessness that I haven’t felt in a videogame since Capcom’s own Haunting Ground. (say, whatever happened to that game?)

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A fair warning to all the s-a-w-f-t gamers out there, softened by eighth-generation console trappings: this game is hard.  Harkening back to the first Resident Evil, weapons and ammo are in scarce supply. You essentially have five guns in the entire game, and a pretty badass multi-functional crossbow, but none of them are of much use as you’re probably going to spend the majority of the game scampering around to avoid enemies and find what little scraps of ammunition or curative items the game provides throughout each of the fifteen chapters. Hey, the genre is called survival-horror, ain’t it? Its tough, but fair, a quality that I found endearingly old-school.

That’s not to say that the game completely lacks modern game design niceties: of course the game offers an (optional) upgrade system, one that is fueled by “green gel” (pause) that you find hidden throughout each of the acts. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the game as it felt to me that there was a real risk and reward system at play here: given that

Everything has to be a god damned Metroidvania nowadays, huh?

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Its not all sunshine and sunflowers however: at times I found the game’s reliance on trial-and-error—especially during boss battles—to be incredibly frustrating, further compounded by the fact that the game is inexorably unoptimized, with long loading times cropping up everywhere; puzzling because the game installs on first load and seems to page from my system’s hard drive a lot. .

Alas, these are but small complaints in the grand scheme of things. The Evil Within is the Resident Evil 4 sequel y’all have been pining for. And even if the game aspired to be nothing but that, I can dig it.

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The past month in the world of games journalism was riddled with controversy which put gamers, the game journalists and the hobby itself in a bad light. Big and now often abused words such as “misogyny”, “sexist”, and even “rapists” have been thrown out and used to generalize the “gamer identity” in an attempt to sensationalize news posts in various online outlets. Personally, all those digs at gamers and the conspiracies which followed such as #TheFappening looking like an elaborate scheme to get more people to drink the Social Justice Warrior Kool-Aid by vilifying people who associate themselves with the sub-culture of being a video gamer. What do these SJWs really want in life? I would imagine it to be some semblance of credibility and clout which would translate to money or projects that would generate money for themselves. I mean, I would do it that way given the opportunity and a lapse of my own principles. I mean a cry out for “inclusion” in video games and popular culture such as comic books seems like a far cry from real social issues happening around the world.

Looking back at covering the Tokyo Game Show last month, I couldn’t help but notice a few things people didn’t really talk about. What outlets would have talked about are the JAV (Japanese Adult Video) Idols in the Ryu Ga Gotokou (Yakuza) booth and the giant Onee-chan Bara demo booth where patrons would play the demo of a game about scantily-clad girls slashing things inside the boobs of a girl printed on a wall. There was also no shortage of booth girls (who would have been scrutinized by someone) and even hired female name-cosplayers whose jobs were to give out promotional materials or just to strike poses for the deluge of photographers, press and non-press alike that would come to convention. Despite the general male-centric fantasy tone of the showcased products, I did notice a healthy population of women in the crowd participating as consumers lining up in the demo booths of any game you could find in the show floor.

Typical crowd you will find in TGS.
Typical crowd you will find in TGS.

It was not only in the demo booths but in the presentation panels such as the Yakuza presentation panel which featured 10 JAV Idols and the game is about three things: money, violence, and women. Do these women who attend the panel and not voice out any objections about glorifying the Yakuza life as it is misogynistic towards women do a disservice to their own gender? I believe not, I think these women who were watching the same presentation beside or behind me who just laughed off the raunchy content of the game simply just get it. Video games are not a reflection of reality, it’s fantasy. We do things in video games that we can’t do in real life. They don’t enable us to just “live our lives in the game” like people looking outside-in would assume. It’s just passing the time and having fun, then we get on with our real world things. How hard is that to figure out? Explain. The people who get caught up with those games and virtual worlds obviously need help not because of video games but because of their upbringing and how society (the real world) interacted with them.

Anybody going to cry for social justice?
Anybody going to cry for social justice?

Yakuza and similar games are targeted to a male audience and that’s not a bad thing. Having said that, it’s not like there aren’t ANY games targeted to female fantasies either. There is a game in the TGS published on the Playstation Vita and obviously hyper-sexualizes men in all their glorious um… I don’t know manly beauty? However, the point of all this isn’t about some gender commentary and how video games, should portray gender roles. The writers and game designers could honestly do anything they want, as long as it’s in good-will to deliver and entertaining product. If it’s too sexualized, violent, or emotional intense to your liking, don’t buy it. Say it makes you uncomfortable but don’t demand that your opinion be taken into consideration for the entirety of the game or ALL GAMES for that matter. There is a reason why markets are segmented and not all products are inclusive of every possible demographic there is out there.  It is the same way comics (another favorite target of SJWs) are marketed. There is a comic series for everyone, there would be even more titles you will find interesting if you can (and should) move past things like gauging how offensive a character’s pose would be and how sexualized or un-sexualized a character is with their old/new costume. If we go down that route, haven’t we already forgotten what video games are supposed to be for? You know, that thing called “game play” and why we all played games in the first place? Sure, maybe it was the box-art, or CG video (for playstation and above era gamers) that put a game on our radar but if they didn’t play well, we wouldn’t have given them the time of day or most of our childhood, which is the more likely case. It was a real shitty time to read about games in mainstream news outlets late August to September and I certainly hope it doesn’t happen again. As adults who still indulge in video games, we know where we stand and we most certainly have our own identity. We look forward to the new challenges and thrills video game

Now this doesn't look so bad after looking at half naked hyper-sexualized male rock stars, right? These two games come from the same publisher by the way.
Now this doesn’t look so bad after looking at half naked hyper-sexualized male rock stars, right?

companies will lay out in the installment of “Popular Franchise A-Z” not how we are apparently misogynists and suppressed rapists for partaking in the hobby. We are functioning members of society just like everyone else but we prefer to play video games over partying in clubs, watching sports in bars, or I don’t know spending time in gentleman’s clubs.

With all these people clamoring for “social justice” in video games and other popular media about apparent sexism, it makes me wonder if they ever truly partook in the hobby they are criticizing. There are so many things to talk about regarding games. If not the game itself, the artists and musicians behind it. Better yet, what about the various art and game development schools who have had graduates or even undergraduates already contribute to gaming? Did you know that there were art schools and game development schools participating in the Tokyo Game Show as exhibitors too?

Every time a SJW defends him/herself by calling their critics gatekeepers,it just makes me doubt their sincerity towards the hobby even more. So basically they are stirring up controversy just to be relevant, right? Then why would I give a hoot about any of those twisting words and taking context out of games and turning them into rallying cries to stand up against injustice against a gender, belief, or culture. Ulterior motives all over, nothing to see here.

There are so many real social issues which need to be taken on that have no relationship to video games which is a form of entertainment for the financially stable. Video games are where people would pass time in the hopes to be entertained in the manner of their choosing. The fervor of the SJWs against video games are certainly appreciated in real social issues that directly affect the lives of REAL people such as poverty in Africa and developing countries such as the Philippines. Or perhaps against victims of extreme religious or cultural beliefs which actually practice or condone misogyny towards women. But no, they are directed at trivial things on mainstream platforms (video games and comics) with ulterior motives. Therefore, you sirs and madams who exist to be offended for other people are not welcome in the world of video games. I know where I stand and I choose to boycott any game developer, publisher, and news site which partakes in putting SJW garbage on a pedestal. This is the best way to ensure they fall out of relevance.

On a lighter note, I leave you all with all the other sights of TGS. It was glorious and I look forward to coming back next year with video game coverage instead of commentary on shit-eaters trying to gain more clout and “making a name for themselves.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They will die. A lot.

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When a game gets touted “The Demon Souls of tactical RPGs”, one would expect a game wherein you will die over and over. For Kadokawa/NISA’s Natural Doctrine (stylized as NAtURAL DOCtRINE), that is the absolute truth. Though the frustrating difficulty is the only thing it shares with the games from the Souls series.

The world is made up of nations all competing control over a rare resource known as “pluton”. This rare material is essential for constructing important trinkets and also needed to cast magic. Producing pluton is not something humans can do as the raw ore that it is refined from is deadly to humans. This does not apply to goblins though, so a lucrative industry is born out of raiding pluton mines and murdering those poor goblins.

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Neophyte warriors/love team Geoff and Vasily are recruited by rifle-wielding, potion-throwing Anka to initially accompany her for some mine raiding. Along with some friends they meet along the way they are thrust into a scenario more than what they bargained for. Natural Doctrine‘s story is relatively good so I won’t be going beyond that for the sake of spoilers. Don’t let the boring starting sequences turn you off as it really gets interesting later on.

Just like most games in the SRPG genre, the story is advanced by a series turn-based battles on a grid map. What makes ND unique is the grids are not just one character per square. One grid takes up a bigger area on the map and up to four regular sized characters (some units take up more than one slot) can be in the same grid at a time. Although the character’s movement is still based on a number of squares per turn, you are free to position them within the square. It’s sort of like a combination of the Valkyria Chronicles and Final Fantasy Tactics system. Smart positioning is a must. Your life will be easier if you learn how to utilize environmental covers and guard weaker party members. Make one mistake of leaving your mage open and the next thing you know he finds himself on the receiving end of a goblin boomstick barrage. Oh, and if that happens it’s GAME OVER for you as losing one party member fails the whole mission. Nice!

The mechanic that you will absolutely need to master is the Action Link. Every action/command that one of your units do on his/her turn has link conditions that if met, will enable other units to take a turn outside his/her usual turn. This essential tactic can turn the tide of the often overwhelming battles that you will face if executed correctly. Because turns are determined by unit speed, being able to kill the enemy next on the initiative queue (shown on the top of the screen) gets you an enormous battlefield advantage. If the circumstances permits, you can decimate all enemies without any of them getting an attack out.

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Of course the enemies have access to the same Action Link system as you and they usually outnumber you.., not to mention they are programmed to know everything there is to know about the system while you try to figure it out outside the very basic explanation in the tutorial. So there’s that.

Haha.

Outfitting your characters is necessary to tackle the ever-increasing odds against you. Units prefer specific weapon types like swords/shields, guns, staves and bombs. Some characters can change weapon types mid-battle with no penalty and are more versatile. Accessories increase your stats and you can equip each unit two of them at a time. Equipment are gained in the battlefield via monster drops or by opening chests. There is no currency to spend or shops to use them on although you can farm dungeons multiple times to get more items from chests. Opening chests also give you an amount of pluton every time. The pluton is used by your magic-users to cast spells as a substitute for magic points. It seems very limiting but magic is very powerful in this game and can often be used to turn the tide in your favor when used tactically.

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Units learn skills using a straightforward skill tree specific for each character. A party member gains a skill point (Geoff gets two) every time he/she levels up. Spend points to activate either passive stat-boosting skills or an active skill that either adds a new command or enhances a an existing one. Consumable items are also gained through skills. For example, a skill gets a unit two potions for use in a mission and gets replenished for the next one. One awesome thing about the skill tree is that you are free to spend and unspend skill points as you see fit without restriction. This encourages experimentation and helps to find the right approach dealing with missions.

The visuals leave a lot to be desired. The anime art looks good but the 3D models and animation are not what you would expect especially if you are playing the PS4 version. The game is available on all three Sony platforms (PS3/PS4/Vita) and have cross-save functionality so I kinda understand that it needs to work within the weakest system’s specifications in order to have the same performance on all platforms. It’s still not an excuse considering it is a retail release. Muddy textures and clunky animations all over. Definitely needs more polish.

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The music annoyed me the first few stages mostly because I was always dying and had to listen to the same grinding tracks over and over but it got better as the story furthered. Cutscenes are fully voiced. The english voice work is a notch above what you would expect from a NISA release but a welcome japanese voice option for the gamers who want it is included and can be toggled anytime.

Like I said, Natural Doctrine is available for all three Sony platforms but it is the first of its kind on the PlayStation 4. So if you are itching to play a really challenging strategy RPG on your next-gen system, many hours of gameplay awaits with your purchase. If you only have the PS3 and you think the frustrating difficulty will put you off, then there are many games in the same genre available to you from its vast last-gen library. The game is perfect on the PS Vita as it lends itself beautifully for on the go gaming.

There is a separate online multiplayer mode included that is unrelated with the single-player campaign. It is a deck building card game but since the game was not released yet at the time I was playing it, I was not able to find anyone to play with online. So I can’t really say anything about multiplayer.

For this review, I played the PS4 and PS Vita versions. I did not try on the PS3 but I’m sure it looks and plays almost the same.

Mission Accomplished (Pros):

  • Very deep battle system: The game rewards you for smart tactical planning but will rape your butt the moment you make a mistake.
  • Interesting story: Starts slow but really picks up fast. A nice change from the lackluster story other games in the genre are known for.
  • Skill tree experimentation: You are free to learn and unlearn skills as much as you want means getting as strategic as much you want.
  • Not bad voice acting: Character banter in and out of missions are enjoyable. Although Vasily might grate on you (like FFXIII’s Vanille)

Mission Failed (Cons):

  • No mid-mission save: You can be playing for half an hour and then die. Some missions have halfway checkpoints but they are still far in-between. Much frustration.
  • No currency or shops: I don’t know but I like my RPGs where I can buy stuff.
  • Mediocre graphics: Hey, I’m playing on the most powerful console in the world but what the hell is this? lol
  • Tutorial not in-depth enough: The enemies know all the quirks of the action link system from the beginning but you are just given the gist of it and will have to learn as you go. So they will enjoy murdering you a lot early in the game.

Mission Stalemate (Love it or Hate it):

  • Difficulty cranked up to 11: Even on easy mode the enemies seems to be cheating. And some enemies can wipe your entire party in one fell swoop. Still, everything can be countered with smart positioning and careful planning
  • Grinding for items and level: Some like to grind, some hate it. I don’t mind, though.

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NAtURAL DOCtRINE

Developer: KADOKAWA GAMES

Publisher: NIS America

Available for: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita

Date: September 30, 2014

Thanks to NISA for providing us with the review copy.

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Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (13)The first Danganronpa was quite the deceiving little gem: underneath the guise of its saccharine-sweet visual style, (deceptively) shallow characterization and general swathe of uguu~ anime charm lied a narrative that painted itself with the same dark and light swatches that its raison d’etre Monokuma displays. One that consistently leads its protagonist and the player through murder, mystery, and the loss of the human condition, segueing at times into what can be construed as a… dating simulator. I booted up its sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair with both excitement and trepidation; expecting another well-spun yarn leading me through another twenty or so hours of furrowed reading, attachment to characters who—spoilers—might not even make it through the end of the game, and the eventual existential crisis the game puts the player through. At the risk of sounding like a total putz, Danganronpa is a very emotionally-demanding videogame.

As with the first game, the plot centers around the ominous Hope’s Peak Academy, a school vaguely located in Japan that recruits only the best of the best. Goodbye Despair expands upon the first game’s cast of Ultimates and comes up with new über wunderkinds to interact with; and while some of them may sound lame or forced at first glance, each character once again has several underlying secrets hiding behind their archetypal titles.

Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (11)

Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (10)Unlike the first game, which cast the player as the “Ultimate Lucky Student,” a faceless, unremarkable schmuck that only got to Hope’s Peak because he won a random drawing, the events of Goodbye Despair are now told through the eyes of one Hajime Hinata, a bombastic, oft-arrogant and sometimes unlikeable avatar that professes to be the ultimate…. Plot twist! He doesn’t actually remember what he’s supposed to be at the game’s onset. Even this simple bit of unreliable narration clues the player in to the game’s greatest asset: being able to take what is essentially an unbelievable set of circumstances and somehow weave that together into a narrative that appears to be spun-out by the first chapter, off-the-rails by the middle of the game, and somehow neatly tied-together by the game’s conclusion.

For those that haven’t had the opportunity to go through the first Danganronpa, the game can best be described as a strange amalgamation of 999 (or its sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward) and Phoenix Wright, with the design sensibilities of Persona hewed in. The game plays like a standard visual novel for the first half of every chapter and abruptly segues into a morose version of Ace Attorney where you gather clues about each murder, pointing out contradictions later on in the classroom trial and ultimately piecing all of the information you’ve gathered to finger a final suspect. At its core, however, the game is a visual novel through and through, with exploration elements that undoubtedly give the player some semblance of freedom; that is up to the point that he or she realizes that a certain character or event is awaiting to be triggered for the storyline to progress.

As a sequel, Goodbye Despair does not disappoint. The first game ended on a little bit of a cliffhanger, and while the second game does expand on the first game’s lore a little bit, it stands alone well enough without relying too much on the first game’s keynotes. That being said, I think you got to stretch your suspension of disbelief with this game a little bit more than you had to with the first game. It’s not quite the claustrophobic, urgent thriller that Trigger Happy Havoc was either—while one could understand why someone would go stir-crazy in the first game’s sealed, cramped school corridors, the deaths in Danganronpa 2 hit you way harder than they should in that “aw man, why’d you have to do that” sense, simply because there appeared to be a common goal between the participants in part deux of this sick social experiment.

Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (3)

Goodbye Despair’s failings come at the hands of its own linear trappings. As with its contemporaries in the adventure game genus, solving the game’s myriad mysteries oftentimes falls under the hands of the player understanding the writers’ and developers’ logic, rather than the player’s own. No matter how early or late the player’s own “whodunit” epiphany comes into play, during class trials you are still at the mercy of the game’s pacing, and each mini-epiphany that leads to each chapter’s crescendo needs to be played out first; and that may frustrate some. I personally am numbed enough by “videogame logic” where I can shrug my shoulders and exclaim “welp, comes with the territory” whenever this happens.

Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (8)I cannot deny the stigma that the game faces as being part of the visual novel pantheon (a bias that, unfortunately, most cannot look beyond as the genre is saturated with less-than-savory entries). However, with expectations in check I can guarantee that any player will find Danganronpa’s convoluted tale one of the most compelling chronicles to be found on any videogame system, ever.

Platform Publisher Developer
PlayStation Vita NIS America Spike Chunsoft

Disclosure: thanks to the folks at NIS America for providing us with a pre-release copy of Danganronpa. Class starts today for the R3 release at your friendly local Datablitz or iTech-type retailers. The game comes out on the US PlayStation Network this September 2nd.

I wasn’t aware that this little shooting game from developer HE-SAW was based on a comic book.  I played the demo and actually enjoyed myself through it so I felt I had to experience the full game. So I did.

Blue Estate is an on-rails arcade shooting game. If you remember playing Time Crisis or House of the Dead then you already know what you’re in for. Now the main difference is you are not using a light gun peripheral. You use the DualShock 4’s sixaxis accelerometers to aim your reticule and shoot the bad guys in the nuts (there is an actual bonus for shooting enemies in the balls. Seriously).

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The game let’s you take control of either Tony Luciano, son of a mafia mob boss who is in love with a hooker or Clarence, an ex-Navy Seal hired by Tony’s dad to take clean up Tony’s mess and rescue his favorite race horse named Blue Estate. Yes, the game is named after a horse. To be honest, I did not pay too much attention to the overall story because you don’t really need to. The game itself even acknowledges this by offering to fast forward to the gameplay part when there’s a story sequence/cutscene. Blue Estate tries to be funny but aside from an ocassional giggle or two over an immature/racist quip or a pop-culture reference, you can just skip to the killing.

Like I said, Blue Estate forgoes the gun peripheral in favor of the Dualshock 4 controller. In addition to the aiming with the gyroscopes, the game utilizes the face and shoulder buttons for actions like reloading and hiding. Pressing up on the D-pad will quickly center your reticule to re-calibrate your aiming. This is a real smart way of making sure the gyros are accurate and you will be pressing it a lot. The DualShock 4’s unique touchpad is also an important piece for the control scheme. Context-based commands, like opening a door, dodging an obstacle, and brushing up Tony’s hair when it obstructs his vision (I’m not kidding) are executed by swiping in different directions on the pad. The game also has 2-player co-op mode.

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On the visual side of things, Blue Estate is not pretty. The game can easily be done on a last-gen system. To be fair, I’m sure it’s going for the dirty gritty look of the source material but it I’m also sure it could look much better. Of course the PS4’s extra horsepower is making it sure that it all runs smoothly without slowdowns and such, but a next-gen title it is not.

Music is the kind that you would expect of a game in this genre. Besides, heavy metal guitar riffs and beats go really well with gunshots and big explosions, doesn’t it? Voice acting is pretty much okay except for the annoying narration from a character named Roy — who is described in the comic’s website as “The ace private eye who never sleeps (and rarely bathes)”.

The game from start to finish has seven stages that is each immediately selectable and replayable after you finish them opening up chance to improve your score or play on a different difficulty. That’s great for trophy hunters because there are stage-specific acheivements. Each level takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete making Blue Estate a very short game if you just want to finish the story.

 

Hits the mark:

  • The DualShock 4’s motion controls work surprisingly well as a replacement for a gun peripheral.
  • Killing people and keeping up your combo meter is satisfying.
  • Mini-game mechanic dispersed throughout the stages are fun.

Missed it by that much:

  • Game looks like last-gen. Looks outdated.
  • Story does not deserve your attention.

Blue Estate

Developer: HeSaw

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

 

Prior to playing Battle Princess of Arcadias, All I knew was that it was a side-scrolling action RPG and somewhat resembles games like Dragon’s Crown or Muramasa: The Demon Blade. But that alone made me want to try out the game for myself and I was happy to have played it, for the most part.

Battle Princess of Arcadias is a downloadable PlayStation 3 game developed by Apollo Software and published by NIS. The story surrounds a battle princess named Plume and her quest to defend the kingdom of Schwert from evil monsters. But, as one might be able to deduce, the narrative here is anything but serious. As a matter of fact, that helps Battle Princess of Arcadias‘cause, as it comes off as a light-hearted stroll down fantasy lane with plenty of charming characters to boot. Despite this being a title that emphasizes gameplay above anything else, though, it still manages to take special care of developing a fairly large cast in a comprehensive way. In fact, the plot can become so front-and-center that certain scenes between dungeons can drone on for far longer than desired, simply because there’s quite a bit of text to read while the game tries to flesh out its world.

The game’s focus partitions into three distinct slices. Most common and obvious is the form of a traditional 2D beat ’em up. From Double Dragon to Muramasa, the need to roam across the land and smack the crap out of monsters is a call to adventure no one, battle princess notwithstanding, can deny. Arcadia’s modest attack suite, a light and heavy attack for each character, is confidently basic with the ability to string together different combos to spice it up. In the game, only one of three different characters at any given time. Blocking is not really encouraged due to the fact that it breaks your combo which goes into your overall rank at the end of the stage.

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Outside of these basic battles, there are also sieges and skirmishes that you can take part in. Sieges will have you and your brigades do battle against a single boss enemy. These battles are rather tricky, as you have to maintain your brigade’s formation and watch out for your own health and the enemy’s attacks. Formations are basic, a middle ground between attacking and defense. Attack formation is high damage but lowered defense and of course defensive formation is the exact opposite of attack. You must use the morale that you have gained during battle to switch out the different formations, with each switch reducing morale by a certain amount. There is also a retreat option if your brigade gets low in health. This option is great to try to quickly replenish your units but leaves you all along against a boss that you really cannot do damage against. Once you have done enough damage with your group, you can stun the boss and then with 100 percent morale, you can unleash a showdown move. This will have you button mashing the square button before the time runs out to attempt getting a high-powered attack.

BPoA7

The third type of battles are skirmishes. These are sections that have players amassing troops to face off against an army of enemies. In this mode, players are asked to do what they did in the first but they are to also issue commands to their underlings. In this, we get a sort of strategic combat that really helps deepen the battles at large, as the straight-forward hacking and slashing components previously mentioned can be a bit shallow. It feels odd initially to go from playing the game in a typical beat’em up way to having to think tactically and adapt to situations on the fly; being able to order attacks, defensive maneuvering and retreats all come into play here, requiring a sound mind to topple the enemies that stand in a player’s way. In fact, these portions are extremely difficult simply because folks have to take on waves of enemies until a certain condition is met. It’s not a cheap difficulty, however; if players die, it’s on them, not some flawed mechanic 0verlooked in the development process. Lastly, we have the boss encounters. These work in the same way as the formation battles, except they’re usually a bit harder given the circumstances.

BPoA 1

From any point of view, Battle Princess of Arcadias’ looks quite nice. Or at, at the very least, it shows well does in screenshots. It’s also careful to make its characters sweet without feeling too saccharine, suggesting an appreciated amount of restraint in the art department. That being said, characters don’t animate particularly well – often times Arcadias feels like a highly polished browser game – but it’s something you seem to get used to after few hours have passed.The menu and interface are clean, intuitive and easy to navigate. The audio does a nice job complementing the aesthetics, with a soundtrack that is especially whimsical. Dainty compositions mixed with rocking anthems in boss battles were just the right blend to keep me hooked. There isn’t a dual voice-track option, which means Battle Princess of Arcadias‘spoken dialogue is all Japanese, which is perfectly fine with me but might turn some people off.

Pros:

  • Fun but somewhat simple gameplay
  • Deep equipment customization
  • Beautiful 2D art
  • Awesome soundtrack

Cons:

  • Uninspired  level progression
  • Shallow Story
  • Stiff animations

 

Battle Princess of Arcadias

Developer: Apollo Software

Publisher: NIS America (PS3)

Available for: PlayStation 3(Digital)

 

Yeah. Definitely questionable.
Yeah. Definitely questionable.

I like video game versions of trading card games. Learning to play them via an in-game tutorial is better than consulting a printed rulebook, for one. And it’s much cheaper than buying the real-world equivalent especially with most of TCGs having expansions and collectible price market. It’s also more convenient to just play online (if the game supports it) than to trek to a local hobby shop and find people to play with.

Monster Monpiece is a card collecting battle game from Idea Factory. In the past, Idea Factory has licensed their games to other publishers (like Atlus, etc.) for North American release but this time, they are doing it themselves. I think it’s because the other publishers chose not to have a go at this one for reasons I’m about to tell you.

The gameplay part is solid but the theme is a bit risqué. Cards all depict “monster girls” — anime girls that are sexually suggestive in nature and mostly underaged looking (i.e. lolicon). Cards have the capability for upgrades to power them up by a mini-game system that you would not dare do in public. It involves stroking the front and rear touch panels of the Vita system, an action that is akin to jerking off the male genitalia. This unfortunately plays out via embarrassing moans and grunts from the female character illustrated on the card. After looking around to see if anybody was watching that mess over your shoulders, your efforts are rewarded with new abilities and higher stats for the card; and more importantly, the monster-girl’s artwork on the card will be changed. When I say “changed”, I mean “more naked”. So yeah.

Monster Monpiece’s tale is a typical anime-inspired save the world from a catastrophic event kind of story. The protagonist is ayoung girl named May who is in training to become a card wielder. The plot revolves around May’s relationship with the monster girls that reside magically in their cards (think Pokemon but with cards and loli girls instead of grotesque creatures) and solving the mystery behind an evil power turning other monster girls into “Lost,” or evil monster girl cards in human-speak. Small note, character skits are fully voiced in Japanese. There is no English audio option but the text translation is pretty good.

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I was surprised at the depth of Monster Monpiece’s core gameplay; as a reformed TCG addict I found the rules intuitive enough for lapsed gamers such as myself, or even new players to the genre to grasp. The game is paced really well, and doesn’t just throw you into the flames. It explains the basic stat and properties of the cards then walks you through a sample battle before introducing you to more advanced cards with specific abilities.

Obviously, being a TCG title, battles play out with a turn-based system. With a turn consisting of a player summoning a card to the board, spending mana. A set amount of mana is added to your pool every turn but certain card abilities give you more mana if you need it. The board consists of multiple lanes and squares where you put the cards when you summon them. At the opposite ends of the boards are each player’s “castle”. Your goal is to have a monster reach your opponent’s castle and reduce it to zero hit points. At each of your turn you can summon one card or pass. After that  phase, the cards in play will either move one space towards your opponent’s castle or attack an opposing monster if they are in range. Attack and defense are decided with the cards stats and abilities. ATTACK is how much damage the card deals, HP is how much damage it can take before it dies, and INT is used by healers and buffer type cards.

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The player has absolute control over what cards to use in the deck and one can even save multiple configurations. Each deck can have a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 40 cards. In my experience, getting your deck to the full 40-card limit is more advantageous as the AI often exhausts his deck in a long drawn out match. Running out of cards means automatically losing the match. You can build up your card collection by winning specific cards in the story or buying booster packs with the in-game currency earned by winning matches.

Upgrading your cards will require spending “Rub Points” which you acquire by winning battles. And as I mentioned above, you wouldn’t want anyone catching you doing this. The rewards are great (upgraded stats, new abilities) but they didn’t need to implement that specific gimmick just to do so. Sure, it’s funny the first few times but it is really embarrassing and the developers could have  honestly offered to disable this. You can’t really finish the game and win the more difficult battles far into the game so this awkwardness is unfortunately forced to the player.

There is an online mode where you can battle other players but I was not able to find anyone when I tried it so I reserve my judgement on Monster Monpiece‘s online modes. One other weird thing about the game: it has the Vita’s screenshot feature disabled while playing the game. Hmm, I wonder why.

It’s a shame that Monster Monpiece’s fantastic gameplay is forever trapped in such a sketchy presentation. But if you can look past this (and do the upgrading when no one is around), the game offers solid strategic gameplay that anyone can enjoy.

Rubbed me the Right Way:

  • Gameplay is solid. Surprising amount of strategy involved.
  • Lengthy campaign but structured perfectly to play on the go.

Rubbed me the Wrong Way:

  • Forced gameplay mechanics that are not really needed.
  • The hentai factor.
  • Screenshot feature is disabled while playing the game for some reason.

Monster Monpiece

Developer: Compile Heart

Publisher: Idea Factory

Available for: PlayStation Vita (Digital)

So I read about a “big issue” in the “e-sport world” of the Philippines from a phrase uttered by one of local e-Sport’s more prominent figures. The issue is apparently so big that it deserved coverage on some tech blogs; of course spouting the ever-so cliche feel-good ideas of “love of the game” and blatantly implying that the next generation of “cyber athletes” shouldn’t be “such money-grubbers”.

Excuse me while I laugh my ass off.

As offended I am at the sensibilities of the people who wrote that (blog post) garbage, I find it laughable that people still think that e-Sports is a thing in the Philippines or even in the world. Okay, maybe it is a thing with some local guys posing for MSI‘s gaming hardware, one of them being the subject of the other blog’s scrutiny. Or with the resurgence of Mineski and their brand of tournaments along with other emerging e-Sport promoters. More recently, there is a renewed interest in online games with Smart Telecom’s Game X platform for purchasing game credits for local game publishers. They also hosted a rather big tournament for Massive’s games with a more gratuitous prize pool in comparison with Assault Fire’s measly prize pool tournament which started this whole “debacle”. Mmm… maybe e-sports IS a thi—NOPE.

Are Filipino online gamers just that cheap, poor, or have they just moved on to other games?
Are Filipino online gamers just that cheap, poor, or have they just moved on to other games?

Still a big fat nope. E-sports is still not a thing in the Philippines, no matter how hard people try. It only appears to be a thing on the off-chance that people actually get with the program and make big money for e-sport promotions, game publishers, and sponsors. One of the key ingredients to making a successful e-Sport league is a big budget coming from a sustainable revenue stream. The lack of a sustainable revenue stream is something all online game publishers in the country have in common. I believe we have seen Level-Up, the country’s largest game publisher change hands more than three times in the past few years. It’s like passing a hot potato that nobody really wants.

If you actually follow e-sports, you will know that it goes with the game with the biggest player base and revenue stream. Back in the day it was Counter-Strike, and then Starcraft. There were many games they experimented in-between but it ultimately landed on massive online battle arenas (MOBAs), starting with that Warcraft III mod to League of Legends and then finally DotA 2. Most e-sport games in the spotlight are online games and there is no doubt as to why they are capable of having large prize pool tournaments continuously. That’s because they have a large base of players who buy their virtual items, merchandise and/or services regularly to the point that it has become the equivalent of printing money. It’s true, people go where the money goes both promoters and players and some people make it sound like a bad thing. As if these competitive e-sport types of games are the only games you can play “for-the-love-of-fucking-gaming.” By the way, I love how DotA 2 did their merchandise, that’s how I would have done League of Legends.

It really does print money.
It really does print money.

I’ve always told my colleagues that these e-sport events are necessary costs for the sole purpose of advertising your online game. They are glorious spectacles that cost a lot of money. You can hardly measure the results because there is a limited number of people you can accommodate in a day for a tournament so you won’t see a big spike in any measurable key performance indicators. But you know what, if you want to push your game into the mainstream, this is the road you have to take. You also need to keep your players interested in playing your game and spending money. Competitive games like first-person shooters and MOBAs thrive on competition so you need to conduct tournaments and the more newsworthy they are, the more advantageous it is to the game you are promoting.

Anybody remember this? It never materialized.
Anybody remember this? It never materialized.

The cost for logistics for a weekend tournament is already more than enough to make you shake your head in disbelief should you actually try to make money from these events; then there is the prize pool. What is the prize pool meant for? To reward players for their time and hard work? Hardly, it’s to make the tournament attractive enough to motivate people to take a crack at it and to make people talk about it. Then comes the hours of training, going through strategies, and even buying virtual items when needed. Preparation for these tournaments cost money too, if you’re serious about it. It’s an ersatz marketing tool, if anything.

Any spectator who comes into contact with staff or people in-the-know will scoff at a tournament with a small prize pool whereas their jaws will drop at disbelief at a fat prize pool. Big money tournaments are newsworthy, they can and will be talked about but that doesn’t equate an instant increase in your player base. A P1.5 million prize pool didn’t help Ragnarok Online keep it’s player base from bleeding to Ran Online. E-Game’s nationwide tournament for the now dead and buried Operation 7 which was also barking about a one million peso prize pool failed to garner enough interest and the tournament fizzled, never seeing the light of day.

I just contradicted myself. First they are a necessary spectacle and then they don’t really work. Why? I guess you’ll have to tune in tomorrow, as I dissect the requisite evils of these tournaments. Then, I will address the issue made by ignorant peanut gallery bloggers and the butt hurt of Assault Fire’s Community Manager. Also, it’s two parts because we are in dire need of hits before we “go red” and unlock the “In-debt knowledge of blogging” achievement. That sentence before this was sarcasm because I know it has to be pointed out.

You can name this game as a Final Fantasy spin-off like “FF: Crystal Chronicles Dimensions” or however you want to fit in the word “3D”. I imagine that they would have called it Final Fantasy something and deferred that idea due to less-than satisfactory sales of non-Final Fantasy Numbers games. Regardless of the glaring similarities in the game system of Bravely Default with Final Fantasy games, credit must be given where it is due, it is a well made game.

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Bravely Default is as turn-based as it gets.

Bravely Default is the summary of the collective experiences of classic Final Fantasy games (I through VI), updated to appeal to a younger/more casual player base. The game is also integrated with a social networking experience (Streetpass and a “Netfriend” system) to deliver a some-what refreshing RPG experience while feeling all yet too familiar to older fans of the genre with classic turn-based mechanics and the ever-loved job class system.

The story revolves around four (4) characters namely: Tiz Arrior, the sole survivor of a great calamity which struck his home town of Norende the wake of the disaster would be known as the “Great Chasm”.  Agnes Oblige, the Vestal of Wind who has the ability to awaken crystals. Ringabel, an enigmatic man with no memories of his past with a penchant of speaking perverted thoughts out loud seemingly without knowledge of basic social graces and Edea Lee an impulsive young girl who has a very simple view on values by categorizing them as black or white. They are accompanied by the ever-charming “cryst-fairy” only known as Airy. She possesses the “collective knowledge” of all vestals of the crystal from the past and guides Agnes in awakening the crystals to prevent the end of the world.

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It’s not a Square game without fantastic graphics (most of the time).

Struggling to save a world in turmoil from the crystals losing its light and the oppressive kingdom of Eternia opposing the religion of the Crystal Orthodoxy our main characters fight an uphill battle against Eternia‘s elite forces and ancient evils which have corrupted the crystals. A new job class is unlocked every time the group defeats Eternia’s top soldiers and leaders by taking their “job asterisk”. These will unlock a new set of active and passive skills which will prove vital in future boss fights and competing the game.

I must emphasize that unlocking all the job classes is absolutely essential not only for beating the game but enjoying the game to the fullest. The combinations of skills from several jobs is key to making your life a whole lot easier as proven by this interesting bit of news from Bravely Default’s Japanese release. While I didn’t bother to attempt that feat, playing Bravely Default smartly is something I agree with. Capping out your character level and getting the best gear means squat because the later chapter boss fights will prove to be impossible unless you figure out the right combinations to outlast them or even to completely suppress their relentless assaults.037

The Brave and Default system makes battles more interesting. Each action a character takes costs one (1) Brave Point (BP), you can have them make a maximum of four (4) actions per turn by using the Brave command. You do not need to accumulate Brave Points to take multiple actions in one turn but when your BP falls below zero at the start of your turn, that character cannot take an action until your BP is at least zero. The Default command simply raises your defense at no expense of BP, allowing you to accumulate Brave Points to take multiple actions without losing turns. This simple system can be used and abused based on your job skill combinations and opens up various ways to beat certain bosses. What I really like about this system is how battles turn into combinations of exciting big swings from you to your enemies at least until you figure out the extremely cheese combos which I abused ’till the end of the game.

It is very difficult to discuss Bravely Default in detail without spoiling the entire game so here is a run down on key features of the game that will help you figure out if the game is worth your time or not. But if you do pick up the game or have already done so, I invite you to look back at this review after completing the game. A lot of things will suddenly make more sense.

Good Points:

  1. Graphics (it’s Square, duh)Once your eyes get settled with the game after the nice CG intro, you will find that the graphics of the game is done really well. Especially with the background environments. When you leave your game idle, the map will zoom out for a breath taking scenery you can further appreciate with the 3D option of your 3DS (because 2Ds owners am cry).

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    It looks even better in 3D.
  2. Streamlined game – The character XP and job XP are streamlined so that you can max everything out with little effort if you play smartly. There are a lot of features which make “grinding” a walk in the park like Auto-Battle which remembers the last actions your characters take and the option to increase or decrease your random encounter rate. You will at the least want to max out your job levels to play around with all the skills so Bravely Default gives you all the tools to play your game with ease.
  3. Job Class System – Boss fights in later chapters will prove to be some of the best battles yet. Granted that there are some fool-proof methods to beat them, you are not limited to those combinations only (you also need to figure them out first). You can attempt to beat bosses with the various tools presented to you outside abusing the Bravely Second skill which allows you to take extra actions at no penalty and break the 9999 damage cap. You can try to beat bosses while retaining some of your favorite job classes whilst taking on a handicap because sometimes the journey is more exciting than the answer.
  4. Character Development – There is a surprisingly huge amount of character depth despite the droll plot of the game. As you go through the course of the game, the growing cast of characters keep developing their personality to maturity.

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    Unacceptable!
  5. Game Depth – This isn’t a “you will get 60 hours of game-play, this is worth it!” thing. Rather, the meat of the game is in overcoming challenges presented to you. While everything is ruined by consulting an online guide, relying on your understanding of the game’s job system is the real reward in playing Bravely Default. I mean if that is your thing.

Bad Points:

  1. Voice Acting – This could really have been done better. They sometimes sound like they are just being played over a voice recorder and some character voice acting are just plain bland. It really puts a damper of a pretty nice soundtrack. Your usual orchestral fair.
  2. Plot Structure – Einstein once said insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” and I couldn’t agree with it more. This does not pertain to grinding in the game but a more core aspect of the game, the plot.
  3. Not expansive – When the game’s plot unravels, you will realize that the game world is not as expansive as you were lead on to believe.

X-Factors:

  1. Micro-transactions – Anything under this is normally bad but it does provide a way for people to share their benefits (of dealing incredibly insane amounts of damage by using Second Points (used to activate Bravely Second) or even buying them. While viewed by some as “breaking the game”, it is an edge you have the option to use. If you pride yourself too much in being “such a hardcore gamer” don’t use: problem solved.

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    One thing I didn’t write much about: Special skills, lots of special skills
  2. Social Networking Features – While Bravely Default is in the strictest sense a traditional RPG. The inclusion of the Abilink and Send Skill feature really helps break in casual gamers into the genre. Abilinks are the collective job levels your registered friends on your 3DS have already attained. You can start out a game at level but have maxed out job levels already. This takes out the grind for the player who benefits from Abilinks from early adopters. With this, new players can focus on core game-play and the story rather than take time to level up. If you have really hardcore RPG playing friends, they probably already found a way to deal hundreds of thousands of damage and can share their skill for you to summon in times of dire need, that’s if they’re not selfish. If they are, you may stumble on someone who is not as selfish, as I have.  Net Friends are random people you can add up as villagers and receive their sent skills. No worries about your privacy, as this is Nintendo, absolutely no personal information Friend Codes included will be shared with these people.
  3. Added Value – On top of the above mentioned social networking features, you can access additional content through the rebuilding or Norende. You can gain access to valuable items, weapons, Special skill parts and new costumes for your character through re-populating Norende and upgrading the shops using villages you acquire through Streetpass or from sending invitess to “Net Friends” daily. You will also receive Nemesis monsters to fight from your Streetpasses and Net Friends. These Nemesis are challenging boss monsters which drop permanent stat improving items provided you can beat them. There is a challenge for everyone all the way to level 99. While entirely optional, rebuilding Norende does unlock a lot of goodies for you.

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    Rebuilding Norende
  4. New Game Plus – That’s replay value for you should you crave for more but honestly, once is more than enough. I’ve enjoyed Bravely Default thoroughly in my first play-though.

Overall, I would still say Bravely Default is an extremely well made RPG which will appeal to its traditional fans and makes a strong attempt to break into non-RPG players through social networking. It uses its fan-base as ambassadors of the genre through Abilinks and Net Friends to give casual gamers a huge edge in the game which they would normally not attempt to achieve by spending their time grinding in the game. If you like role-playing games, this is a no-brainer. Buy it.

There are potential spoilers below. Highlight the space below at your own risk.

As a head-up to current and potential players of Bravely Default, the droll plot of the game will eventually make sense of standard RPG functions which are treated as plot holes such as save-points. He he he.

 

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I’m playing a visual novel that stars high school students physically and psychologically pitted against each other by a sadistic, faceless higher authority figure binding them with the allure of freedom and the constant fear of death and betrayal. What game am I playing? If you answered 999, Virtue’s Last Reward, or even Corpse Party, then you are wrong. Danganronpa (5)Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc takes place in (what appears to be) Hope’s Peak Academy, home of only the most elite students Japan has to offer… And you. The protagonist, Makoto Naegi, is your standard faceless teenager that happened to win the opportunity to join this elite school as part of a random drawing. Unlike most of his schoolmates, Naegi has absolutely zero special skills or remarkable characteristics apart from his apparent luck in being picked to join Hope’s Peak, hence he is dubbed the “Ultimate Lucky Student.” Other such “Ultimates” reside in the school with equally-wacky titles such as the “Ultimate Biker Gang Leader,” the “Ultimate Swimming Pro,” and even the “Ultimate Fanfic Creator.” After much proselytizing from the main character on how lucky he is to be part of that elite academy, he steps foot into the school and faints, awakening to find that all is not what it seems: He and fourteen other schoolmates meet in a soiree of confusion, fear and uncertainty as a deceptively-cute headmaster named Monokuma explains their current predicament in no uncertain terms: they are trapped. Trapped indefinitely inside the very school they wished to attend, with only one option for escape: kill. More precisely, kill and not be caught by the rest of the student body. The game can best be described as a strange amalgamation of 999, Phoenix Wright, and some elements of Persona hewed in. The first comparison shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as both games were birthed from the twisted minds over at Spike Chunsoft. The game plays like a standard visual novel for the first half of every chapter and abruptly segues into a morose version of Ace Attorney where you gather clues about each murder, pointing out contradictions later on in the classroom trial and ultimately piecing all of the information you’ve gathered to finger a final suspect. Danganronpa (3) The characters are but the emptiest of empty vessels and simply serve two purposes. Firstly, to provide the player a fetishistic reference to an understandable common context he/she can latch on to; hence the fifteen initial students presented to the player are relatable, one-dimensional caricatures that the player has probably seen in other media (i.e., anime “archetypes”) or in real-life, perhaps drawing upon his/her experience as a forgettable, nondescript high school student with no discernible skills or abilities (already assumed). Secondly, as each character has unique strengths and inevitable character flaws, they inevitably serve as glorifed storyline cues and ways to advance the plot. Danganronpa (4)To be fair, you do get to know more about each characters’ respective back-stories by building relationships in the game’s “free time” mode, a more shallow take on Persona’s “Social Link” dating-sim aspect wherein the player receives the option to seek the rest of the game’s cast leisurely strolling about the campus. Once you’ve found your target, the game mechanically asks you if you “want to spend time” with that character, which pulls up a choice to give your “date” a gift. Gifts are trinkets that can be won on the game’s solitary capsule machine, which the player can discern and match up to his current date as to what little curio is appropriate to hand out. Positive responses give you additional Skills and Skill Points that make the “lawyer-y” parts of the game a little easier. This, however, exposes an inherent issue with the genre—one can spend easily spend 30 hours taking the “scenic route” in Danganronpa, talking to each and every character, pushing every switch, opening every door; but invariably it will always be the same character that triggers the next sequence in the plot. I realize at this point that deconstructing the mechanics of a visual novel of all things isn’t really giving the game any justice. Ultimately, the game provides the player with a linear path from point A, the opening, to point B, the conclusion; with several false endings strewn throughout. It’s shallow entertainment and isn’t supposed to let the player in on the true meaning of the human condition or anything like that. Danganronpa (2)I suppose a more legitimate reason to fault the game is because it tries to do too many things at the same time. Instead of presenting evidence directly and pointing out contradictions like in the Ace Attorney games, one of the class trials’ (many) mini-games has you shoot “evidence bullets” towards statements that fly by the screen to point out inconsistencies in your classmates’ statements. Then after that you get to play hangman (Hangaroo for the plebians out there) by shooting letters that fly into the screen to suss out key words that turn the case around. Then after that you play a rhythm mini-game reminiscent of Bust a Groove to shoot down any further objections. After you’ve proven your point, you get to rebuild the whole scenario as it played out by putting panels on a little comic sheet that illustrates what really went down during the case. If this all sounds incredibly convoluted to you, that’s because it is; and the same confused design ethos follows through the other mini-games and distractions that permeate this title. They don’t appear frequently enough as to hinder the rest of the game, but are definitely jarring experiences. Danganronpa’s aesthetics shine on the Vita’s OLED screen, with crisp character portraits and bright UI elements that take more than just mere inspiration from Atlus’ Persona 4. And for once, high school kids in a Japanese game look vaguely like high school kids should—i.e., not like toddlers with bolt-on breasts. That said, the audio side of the presentation fares just as well, with a variety of aurally-pleasing tracks that range from cheery to spooky to downright terrifying. The English voice-acting team also deserves similar praise as each character’s voice is spot-on and adds a lot to the game’s ambiance. Maybe I’m a sucker for this particular subset of the genre, but I had a hard time putting Danganronpa down. There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about the game’s plot, game mechanics, or presentation; but as someone who barely reads fiction, I’m assuming my experience with the game wouldn’t be that far from what most would feel reading a good novel from cover to cover. Perhaps it’s because my current living situation mandates I live a boring, vanilla suburban life but I simply could not lay my PS Vita to rest until I reached each chapter’s conclusion and find out what messed-up situation these kids get into next. Thanks to the folks at NIS America for providing us with a pre-release copy of Danganronpa. Class starts tomorrow on the PlayStation Network and at your friendly local Datablitz or iTech-type retailers.

Word.
Word.

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From last January 24 to 26, independent game developers and members within the game development industry came together in various campuses in the Philippines and all over the world to participate in the Global Game Jam. In a nut shell, this Game Jam is a 48 hour game development contest. I say it is a contest because of the presence of an overall theme, judges, participant voting, and of course winners but the true purpose of the Game Jam is really to share each groups’ and/or individuals’ passion and ideas for (creating) video games.

While there is no rigid screening process, hefty entrance fees to pay, or a ritualistic hazing initiation to join the Game Jam you need the know-how on how to code a game and hopefully enough sense to actually make an actual game. A game by its definition needs to have rules and a win condition be it determined by skill, strength or even luck. The main feature that makes a game great, not necessarily how it looks, sounds, and is definitely NOT how “deep” you think the storyline of a game is.

A well crafted game will be a hit to an audience regardless of how much effort is placed into the above mentioned secondary features. A prime example is the new “hit” game Flappy Bird. While I would rather watch paint dry than play that game, people DO find it entertaining so something in that game appeared right. Games are not art and they never will be. Art is secondary to a good game and I’m glad most of the Game Jam participants focused on the mechanics of a good game rather than the abstract theme of this year’s Game Jam: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” What…? and then I roll my eyes.

While I certainly don’t understand why the theme is what it is, fortunately, the Game Jam hosted at Globe Labs bore fruit to some pretty fun ideas with some of them even adhering to the Game Jam’s theme. Here are my top picks in no particular order (you can click each game’s title to their Game Jam pages to download them):

My Candy Hearts

The game as presented is as plain as it can be with very simple graphics. They remind me of a pen and paper game we used to play as kids called “shooting star” but what really appealed to me about My Candy Hearts is how the simple timing-based mechanics used to pop all the hearts to advance to the stage can easily be used to make a rhythm game.

Blind Spot

Blind Spot’s premise is simple: You are blind and you have to get out of a maze and your only tool to assist you is sound. This game is designed to simulate the experience of being blind. I guess it adheres to the theme of the event aside from being an interesting and challenging game.

Spyroom

This is a simple yet twitchy espionage game. It starts out with surveillance where you try to locate the spies in a crowd of moving sprites. The number of spies per room depend on the difficulty level. Once the player outs the spies, you are given a few seconds to either shoot the spy or get out of the spy’s reach because they will shoot you and the game will be over.

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Speaking of twitchy games here’s a maze game with a twist. On top of a time limit, every time you try to face another side, the entire maze rotates to whichever side you’re facing (left or right). You will need a lot of spacial recognition and memory on top of fast fingers to quickly navigate through each stage.

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There are more games on the Globe Labs Game Jam page where you will find some of them with 3D environments and even one built for the Oculus Rift (good luck testing that game). Or you can head down the the Benilde Campus Game Jam page for more entries. Benilde has a game development course by the way, for all you aspiring game developers.

This is normally the part where some self-serving “Pinoy Pride” cheer is written… but NO. I would rather see an awesome game become globally successful then find out it was actually developed in the Philippines. That way we don’t have to see games coated with Filipino novelty (Jeeps and what-nots) in order to be “relevant” to the local media because let’s face it, the Philippines is far from a sustainable economy for video games. Filipinos keep bantering about being “world class”, let’s do that then. Screw trying to appeal to “local gamers.”

Having said that, good luck to everyone who participated in the Game Jams. May you find success in your game development endeavors. I look forward to seeing what 2015 has in store as well.

This Game Jam was hosted by Globe Labs in coordination with the IGDA Manila chapter and sponsored by Manila Rush a “run” game now available on Google Play where your micro-transactions can be funded through your Globe cellphone load.

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Not every game is a winner, and we certainly can’t give participation medals for those games we didn’t quite like this year. So—since this blog isn’t the Special Olympics, we decided to suppliment our Games of the Year feature with an antithesis: another scientifically-calculated list; this time of our five collectively-chosen worst games of the year!

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5. Final Fantasy: All The Bravest (Mobile) — I’ll admit it, I’m a hater; so much so that I’ll willingly subject myself to hours upon hours of objectively bad games in order to have more material to spit truth towards my less-enlightened brethren. Prefacing that, I found it a challenge to find a game I’ve played this year that was equally or more heinous as Final Fantasy: All The Bravest. Best described as a disease-ridden prostitute of a mobile game that forces you to whack off your mobile phone in order to ejaculate recycled sprites from Final Fantasies past, the game doesn’t even have the decency of letting you go ten minutes without shaking you down for more money. And what does that get you? The chance of maybe getting another cute sprite character to play this pointless, meandering game with.

At this junction, I realize that even challenging Square’s creativity is a futile venture—the company is clearly content on spending their last few vestiges of consumer goodwill on running their franchises into the ground, but All the Bravest is a particularly loathsome venture that should have never gotten greenlit. If you like this game, you are probably one of two types of bad people: a “whale,” of which scummy mobile companies get their primary sustenance from, or a bleeding-heart Square fan who swears the company could do no wrong. -Ryan

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Nope irl

4. Time and Eternity (PS3) — because of Ni No Kuni‘s release last year, I was doubly stoked to find out that there’s another “anime” game that will be released a few months after. I guess NNK really set the bar pretty high because I found it really (almost impossibly) hard to enjoy Time and Eternity. While the ideas were all good on paper, the execution in TaE made the HD anime on 3D backgrounds look really grotesque, almost Frankensteinish in actuality. What saved the game for me is Yuzo Koshiro’s amazing soundtrack which kept the track ‘Towa’ on my playlist rotation for quite a while. – Cheena

Here’s the link to my full review!

3. Injustice: Gods Among Us (Multiplatform) — With all the hype leading to its release; the comic book events with tourneys hosted by prominent celebrities and personalities, the tie-in action figures, and the overall excitement for “the ultimate superhero fighting game”, my fears were realized when I played it confirmed that it is indeed a re-skinned Mortal Kombat.

It seems like director Ed Boon (NetherRealm Studios) can’t make anything but Mortal Kombat. This is really an uninspired game using the DC Comics property to sell it. I’d rather play a first-generation Marvel/Capcom game than this worthless piece of crap.

More like, Injustice: Shit Among Us. –Shin

Oh look, it's some alien... martian... man... guy.
Oh look, it’s some alien… martian… man… guy.
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I SAID MAKE A CIRCLE GODDAMNIT! WE’RE GONNA DIE!

2. Wonderful 101 (Wii U) — Disregard the cheesy superhero clichés and quirky personalities of the game’s main ensemble and you will still be left with little to desire except for Platinum’s talent for making action games. The latter is marred with frustrating controls and questionable game design decisions. There are so many times where you could die or miss out on bonus items because you couldn’t perfect making a circle (to activate the main hero’s power) or repeating a circular motion (to energize normal citizens) with the right analog stick just because your game pad is telling you that “you’re doing it wrong”. Never has changing weapons in an action become so unnecessarily complicated that one of the main functions of the game feels tacked on and forced rather than an intuitive control scheme that utilizes the Wii U’s unique game pad. In other words, why make simple things complicated for the sake of a gimmick?

Speaking of the game pad, the only innovative thing about it is the off-screen play which sometimes is also a cause of death because you would need both screens (TV and game pad) to know what’s actually going on in the game. Without any warning messages it’s pretty obvious what would happen next.

Only a Nintendo fanboy will tell you Wonderful 101 is THE killer-app for the Wii U. Let’s face it people, Nintendo is the autistic kid who nobody understands among the big three. Only Nintendo gets how to develop for Nintendo. If that’s the case, what are third parties even for but to be used as lab rats in hopes of developing a brand new IP to be milked to oblivion? With Wonderful 101, I can see how third parties’ projects for Nintendo’s Wii U is nothing more than a money sink. You would have better success making games on the 3DS and you don’t even have to give damn about making 3D graphics anymore. – Alex

1. Bioshock: Infinite (Multiplatform) — pls

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Ms. Zhorida Lipayon

P1020173Playstation 4 has finally launched in the Philippines as of January 14 but the more intriguing side of the story is what else is in store for the Philippines? We are certainly excited about the next product launching (PS VITA TV for South-East Asia) and while we wait for that, we at 30lives were able to spend some time with the Group Head of Home Entertainment Product Marketing from Sony, Zhorida Lipayon to give us a bigger picture on what Sony Philippines has in store for us.

30lives: One of our primary questions is: What has changed in the strategy of Sony? They are now targeting South-East Asian countries where online games are more prevalent than console games?

Zhorida Lipayon: The good thing about our situation right now is everybody can see our (Philippines) potential but not just in the Philippines but all the other countries mentioned (Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Sinagpore). The Philippines has a very young working population so there is a lot of room to cultivate the market in terms of brand appreciation and loyalty.

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30lives: So this is more of a Global strategy?

Zhorida Lipayon: This has always been the strategy of Sony to identify potential markets and then invest in them.

P102020030lives: Granted that before there were any official console launches, there has been a long-standing “grey-market” for retail/console games. Is this an issue with Sony?

Zhorida Lipayon: At the end of the day, it’s a Sony sale (when our products are bought from these channels) but what we are focusing on a channels where we know we can sell. Sony Philippines is primarily an A/V (audio/visual) hardware distributor. So at the moment we are focusing on that as we have our special channels: Sony Centers and Gadget Shops. For us it’s quite different.

30lives: So basically it’s not an issue?

Zhorida Lipayon: No it is not.

30lives: Even if they import their consoles from say, Hong Kong or Singapore?

Zhorida Lipayon: That’s okay but there are certain disadvantages. For one, Hong Kong is not covered in our regional warranty service. But for us in Sony Philippines, it’s all about the whole package. When someone wants to try the Playstation 4, we don’t just have them try the console as is. We want them to try it with our brand new 4k TVs because it’s a totally different experience.

30lives: So you’re all really more focused on the game hardware sales than software?

Zhorida Lipayon: Well we do have certain goals to make sales of specific volumes but we really are focused on what we can sell well because we have to do business smart.

P102015930lives: There have been ventures to distribute game software such as X-Play. You’re not really going down that road?

Zhorida Lipayon: There are some ways for us to secure game distribution as we can get from distributors signed by our Singapore office.

30lives: I guess that would be more for first party (Sony) games, right?

Zhorida Lipayon: Well that would be the preference but we would like to expand it more but we would like to give our loyal Sony Playstation fans what they want.

30lives: On to the packaging the Playstation 4s and the 4k TVs there isn’t really a (video) format for it yet and the only thing that can cater to 4K resolutions are PC games. What is the advantage of adopting a 4K TV now?

Zhorida Lipayon: Our 4K TVs are able to upscale non-4K sources to 4K resolutions. So PS4 games and Blu-ray shows will be upscaled to 4K level resolutions.

P102018730lives: Will the Vita TV be a localized or regional service?

Zhorida Lipayon: It will be a regional service.

30lives: I think one of the concerns regarding PS Vita TVs being sold in the Philippines now is the fact that they are Japanese units. Will these units be usable for the upcoming regional service for countries under South-East Asia?

Zhorida Lipayon: Our demo sets are Japanese PS Vita TVs. We will have a different version from the Japanese Vita TVs.

30lives: So I guess it’s safe to say that Japanese Vita TVs won’t work for the Asian regional service?

Zhorida Lipayon: Yes.

Our takeaway: it looks like Sony’s Philippine arm has big plans for the well-entrenched local PlayStation fanbase. The days of pirated PlayStation discs brazenly being sold in local department stores are long behind us, and it appears that Sony has finally seen potential in the Philippine market as one of potential growth. 

Watch this space for more coverage on Sony Philippines’ upcoming launches; the Vita TV’s launch is just around the corner! In the meantime, please enjoy this non-musical montage of moments from Sony Philippines’ PlayStation 4 launch!

P102027730lives.net was at the Glorietta Activity Center yesterday to cover the launch of the PlayStation 4 in the Philippines. The event called ‘Play the Future First’ unveiled the much awaited next-generation console to Filipino gamers at the SRP of PHP 24,999. The event is hosted by seasoned radio jocks Gino Quillamor and Riki Flores who also demo’d some of the games on the PS4. The launch was held in partnership with Sony Computer Entertainment Hong Kong Limited (SCEH) Singapore Branch.

Opening the event is the President and Managing Director of Sony Philippines, Mr. Yasushi Asaoka. “Sony has always been in touch with what the gaming community needs and wants. We have always strived to give consumers the best experience in home entertainment, which includes  the thrilling roster of PlayStation. It is with great pride that we bring the newest PlayStation 4 in the market today,” Asaoka mentioned during his speech.

Mr. Tomoyuki Haba, who is the Singapore Branch Manager of SCEH also spearheaded the launch in other SEA countries. He mentioned during his speech that the PlayStation 4 has sold more than 4.2 million copies already, according to their Tokyo office. The PS Vita has also jumped in sales in anticipation for the PS4‘s release. SCEH also has a new plan on the warranty service for 6 South East Asian countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Customers who buy the PS4 are entitled to have an extra ONE YEAR WARRANTY COVERAGE in countries where the product has been officially launched (including Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia), and the warranty will be valid throughout these countries. Wherever the customers are, they can also have the repair service for their products.

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New PS Vita color with light blue back

On stage, Sony Philippines head of marketing Ms. Zhorida Lipayon presented the new game consoles that are launching locally. First up was the new PS Vita system which features a more streamlined form factor and an 1GB internal memory card, is 20-percent slimmer and 15-percent lighter than the original version, making the portable entertainment system even easier to carry. It also comes in different colors such as lime green, light blue, pink black, khaki, black and white. The PlayStation Vita 2000 Wifi is sold at PHP 11,999 locally. Accessories are also available and are sold separately.

Meanwhile, since its unveiling in September 2013, PS Vita TV has become one of the most anticipated Sony products. PS Vita TV is a new entertainment system within the PlayStation family that will allow users to easily access various content on their TV at home. The new system adopts chip sets and system software of the PlayStation Vita portable entertainment system and its size is 6.5cm × 10.5cm, smallest of all PlayStation platforms that connect to a TV. On stage, two girls demo’d the Japanese version of God Eater 2 with one playing on the PS Vita and the other on the PS Vita TV which played flawlessly. I’ve also tried the demo unit on the floor and played Dragon’s Crown which is installed in the system’s memory card and it played without a hitch. I am just not sure if the memory card is the same as the PS Vita‘s and if it can be plugged straightaway from Vita to Vita TV.

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Oh myyyy.

According to the press release, “To continue servicing the gaming community, a separate retail launch will be held for the Sony PS Vita TV“. This hopefully means we’ll be able to finally see The Philippines as an available option in the PS Store soon.

The PS4 is a next generation computer entertainment system that redefines rich and immersive game play with powerful graphics, speed, deeply integrated social capabilities and innovative second-screen features utilizing devices such as PS Vita. By utilizing PS Camera, users can expand gaming ways of PS4 and enjoy different gaming experience. The hosts demo’d some of the games on stage which utilized the PS Camera like Play with Asobi and Air Hockey which seemed fun.

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Seriously, it’s called Magma Red.

There is also a wide range of peripherals for PS4 that are introduced such as the color variation for PS4 Wireless Controller (DUALSHOCK 4) in “Magma Red” and “Wave Blue”, PlayStation Camera, DUALSHOCK4 Charging Station and PS4 Vertical Stand. Once you touch these babies, there’s definitely no going back to the DS3, at least this is what I felt while I was playing Crank on the demo floor. There was also a demo of the Personal 3D Viewer where attendees can sample the experience of playing Assassin’s Creed Black Flag up close.

The PlayStation 4 was also made available during the press launch. The payment terms were cash or a straight credit card charge of PHP 24,999 or PHP 26,999 (with camera) on site.

For more details on PlayStation and other Sony products, visit the nearest Sony Centre.

You can also log on to www.sony.com.ph, like them on www.facebook.com/SonyPhilippines and follow them on www.twitter.com/SonyPHInc and www.instagram.com/SonyPHInc.

Y’know, it just doesn’t seem right that we’re twelve days into 2014 but we haven’t even decided on our collective GOTY candidates. Since objectivity runs into subjectivity on these lists, we’ve decided to take the scientific route and use some actual math and statistics to determine our true collective games of the year, based on the 30lives team’s myriad tastes. True science at work, dear friends!

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10. Tomb Raider (PS3, Xbox 360)
Lara Croft makes a triumphant return in the most engrossing and action-packed Tomb Raider ever. There are few dull moments and you really see Lara’s character develop throughout the game. A brilliant inventory system, great level design, and responsive combat mechanics makes it a perfect introduction to Lara Croft for the new generation of gamers. – Shin (read my full review here, dolts)

rabidsmt9. Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)
My second foray to the Shin Megami Tensei world (Persona 4 Golden being the first), SMT4 was one of the games that kept kicking my ass. What a refreshing game for a change too, in a world where today’s games kept holding your hand through the tough levels, SMT will keep kicking your ass until you scream no more and change the difficulty level to Fellows. – Cheena

We reviewed this game a while back too! Point your browsers right here.

8. Dragon’s Crown (PSVita, PS3)
I like 2D scrollers and dungeon crawler games. This became an insta-favorite for me and my constant gaming buddy since it’s one of the few co-op games that we both enjoy. I even bought a Vita version so I can level up my sorceress on the go. – Cheena

Check out our review of Dragon’s Crown right here!

7. Pokemon X/Y (3DS)
Pokemon X and Y
represents the series’ apex as it marks several technological and gameplay refinements that may upset some, but ultimately level the playing field down so new players and those that haven’t been paying attention to the games for a while (this guy) can play at a much higher level than in previous iterations of the series. I truly appreciated how scaleable the game can be: you can either choose to simply partake in this game’s respectable 30-hour quest, or catass yourself all the way to tens of thousands of wasted hours breeding and IV training and such. I would recommend talking to friends and loved ones first before making the latter choice. – Ryan

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6. Ni No Kuni (PS3)
I have been waiting for a spiritual successor to Dragon Quest VIII (one of the greatest games of all time, in my opinion) and this is probably the closest that I’ve accepted wholeheartedly. Ni no Kuni has the elements for a legendary RPG: good writing, lovable lead characters, collectible monsters and crafting. What’s even better is that the game is ensconced in a perfect Ghibli-rendered world. Absolutely breathtaking. – Cheena

Read Ryan’s take on the game here.

5. Saints Row IV (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
To me, video games are ultimately trivial hobbies—this is why I loathe games that take themselves too seriously, or try to pretend to be anything else than an interactive time-waster/rollercoaster ride. Saints Row IV is the ultimate “fuck around” game and in my opinion curbstomps (pause for inappropriate visual) Grand Theft Auto V where it counts the most: the “fun” department. Don’t get me wrong, I had a ton of fun with GTA V but Saints Row IV simply outclassed it as an open-world game (despite recycling much of SR3’s assets) as well as a multiplayer experience. – Ryan

fire-emblem-awakening-624x4044. Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
Turn-based strategy games will always be my favorite game genre and Intelligent Systems has revitalized an old franchise by producing a high quality game. I instantly fell in love with all the characters with all the ‘shipping’ features plus the introduction of the Casual mode embraces all noobs who want to play without the stress. – Cheena

Click here to read Cheena’s musings on FE: Awakening!

 

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3. Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag (PS4, Xbox One)
Assassin’s Creed IV made me forget the whole obnoxious memories entertainment “corporation x conspiracy” theories because: Pirates. Fond memories of Sid Meier’s Pirates were rekindled in a much more badass and violent manner. There is so much swashbuckling to do that I almost forgot I was playing an Assassin’s Creed game. It’s that good! -Alex

Last2. The Last of Us (PS3)
Though probably on the top of most gamers’ and outlets’ collective GOTY lists, in my honest opinion The Last of Us falls short for the simple reason that—under any real scrutiny—it’s a solid B+ game and nothing more. Though Naughty Dog has crafted a fine narrative in spite of the staid source material, the game screams “AAA” through and through, splashing on a beautiful coat of paint on your standard “monster closet” design. -Ryan; my full thoughts here

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
A Link Between Worlds reinvents the best Zelda game (A Link to the Past) to make it compelling to play in a concise package. I have not played a game all year long (2013) that made we want to pick up my 3DS and play for consecutive days as long as I could. This is the one 3DS game you shouldn’t miss and one you can repeat through-out the years in the form of speed runs.  -Alex

And there you have it, that’s our GOTY list. Any other games you folks felt should be on our list? Feel free to drop us a line on our Facebook page!

Okay guys, this is what I’ll be doing the week of March 25th: Make sure my calendar is clear from any social events (lol who am I kidding, of course it is), have a backup internet connection (just in case) and stock up on tons of Cheetos and caffeine because there will be no sleeping. At all.

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Yes Sir Bad Ass sir

I have played the beta to Diablo 3‘s latest expansion Reaper of Souls on and off for the past few weeks. I just finished the campaign last night (would’ve finished it earlier if my internet connection wasn’t wonky – yes PLDT, I’m looking at you), with a solid eight hours game play on Act V and the all-new Adventure mode. I really had a great time playing and if you’re looking at a recommendation whether to buy it day one, you can stop reading now and have my big fat YES. YES most especially if you’re starting to play Diablo 3 only now because you’re getting to the best version yet.

I am dying to talk to people about the new expansion’s story but I won’t be an asshole and spoil it all for you. Let me say one thing though, it is BAD ASS.

Here’s a rundown on what’s new on Reaper of Souls!

  • Screenshot077The Crusader is definitely the most fun to play with, and this is coming from a person who has played all the available job classes in the core game, so you can trust me on this. The crusader is so damn versatile you can pretty much do everything you want – be the tank, be the main damage dealer, do long-range attacks, dish out AOE damage, whatever you need him to do, he can do. Best of all, the crusader can carry a 2H weapon on one hand so he can still carry a shield with him. I can see some barbarian players going green at this awesome passive skill. The hammer skill (Justice) and splash damage skill (Fist of the Heavens) also mimics the witch doctor’s play style while being tough as nails. While the barb and WDs will not be deemed obsolete, the crusader can pretty much give these guys a run for their money.
  • Screenshot060The Mystic is an all new NPC who has joined you in your journey in Westmarch (where Act V mostly takes place). The mystic has interesting services such as transmogrify and enchant. Transmogrifying items is a novel idea; you can change the look of your equipment so if you have a favorite look, you can keep it even if the item you’re wearing is of a different style. Also, have you ever picked up a legendary item but found out that the stat bonuses it gives are pretty much worthless for your class? You can now re-roll the stats for any item that you have in exchange for crafting items and a bit of gold so hold on to your trash legendaries and give the enchant service a try.
  • Crafting materials are now dropped by monsters. Yep, you don’t have to keep salvaging the blues, yellows and oranges that you get to produce crafting items. Most monsters now drop these things so you can be a pack rat and keep all the legendaries that you nab. There are even legendary crafting materials now. Nifty.
  • Special legendary items now drop from bosses. After fighting some of the bosses in Sanctuary, they curiously dropped legendary items specific for my class to use. Some of these legendary items also had special skills that activate during use. One of the items that I got is called Pox Faulds which stinks up from time to time like Ghom’s poison fart attack. I’ve tried standing near a mob and waited for this ability to kick in and it was mad, juvenile fun. Also, dropping special legendaries is a really good idea too as you can get to farm more items when you keep replaying boss fights, and what’s great is that…
  • 80-90% of the loot that you get is for the class you are playing! Blizzard has introduced Loot 2.0 which makes most of the stuff that you pick up during your runs usable for the current class that you are playing. This makes the hunt more fun as you’re guaranteed to get items that is for the main class you’re trying to gear. I guess this is also because…

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    Transmogrify – pimping your style
  • They are shutting down the auction house. I have mixed feelings about the auction house to be honest. I don’t hate it because I’m able to easily get items that I need from other players that don’t need them, but at the same time I hate it because Blizzard has probably tweaked the drop rate of items to be really crappy for the auction house to be more useful. In the end, the game’s fun factor has dropped since most of the time you’re not able to get the stuff that you need. Which brings me to another point…
  • The legendary items are now account bound. You can say goodbye to trading legendaries with friends. All legendary items are now account bound even when they are still unidentified. I guess you better get back the oranges you’ve lent to friends or you might not get them back when March 25th rolls in.
  • The side quests for the other characters round up their story nicely. You can get into special quests for Kormac the templar, Eirena the enchantress, Lyndon the scoundrel as well as service NPCs like Haedrig Eamon and Covetous Shen and find out more about them. What happened to Eirena’s sisters? Is Covetous Shen really a god?
  • Screenshot075The difficulty levels have changed. You can start up to the third hardest level (Expert) right off the bat so you do not need to replay it two more times (from normal and nightmare) to get to the hardest difficulty. Nightmare has now been changed to Expert and two more difficulty levels called Master and Torment is added to the game. You can only get to these levels by reaching 60 and 70.
  • And yes, the level cap is raised to 70 as I have mentioned, which means extra passive and active skills for everyone!
  • Paragon levels do not have cap anymore and the experience points are shared within all of your characters. With leveling up your paragon, you can now assign your characters extra stats (instead of it auto-assigning) so it gives you now an option to really build your character. I still don’t know whether I like this or not since I don’t really like thinking of builds (more of gearing characters), but we’ll see.
  • You can now form clans in Reaper of Souls. This is great for gaming communities and groups so you can easily see friends’ progress and stuff. I haven’t really tried this feature yet since I’m the only one who has access to the beta from the group and I’m a snob when playing with people I don’t know (huehue) but maybe I’ll try it out sometime.
  • Screenshot070The adventure mode adds an extra layer to the game. If you’re up for random challenges, you can give the adventure mode a whirl and complete missions in different dungeons. Completing these bite-sized (well, okay some are not so bite-sized) adventures will reward you with special gold that you can use to buy random equipment from the NPCs. Finishing all adventures in an act also rewards you with a Horadric Cache. Getting a bunch will let you build a treasure chest that has sweet items, I assume. I have to get back to you on this once I actually get to build and open one.
  • Cursed chests and fountains can be found in different parts of the map. To open these chests, there will be certain conditions like beating a number of enemies guarding the chest, clear an area and so on.
  • Aside from dropping health globes, monsters also drop a white globe called Nephalem Glory. This gives bonuses much like getting Nephalem Valor and fountains and lasts for about two minutes. You can extend the time of the bonuses by picking up health globes so WDs will have a field day on this for sure.
  • Possibly one of the best tweaks to the game, you can now revive from corpse. YAY!
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Let’s go on a Shenventure

Sadly, some parts of Act V is still incomplete and only have placeholders for texts and NPCs and have a bunch of bugs yet to be zapped. I find myself sometimes fighting bosses that get stuck and skills that do not have an actual description yet. This is of course purely understandable and acceptable – even in beta, the level of polish for the latest act is very impressive. The city of Westmarch is very dark which brings me back to the ultra-gothic feel of Diablo 2 and the new tracks they used are hair-raisingly good. Also, the beta stops just as when you’re about to fight the last (?) boss in the act so it really left me hanging so bad that I wish we can fast-forward to March 25th now. Please.

Again, if you’re just jumping to Diablo 3, this is the perfect time for you to do so. A lot of things in the core game have been tweaked in Reaper of Souls which makes the game more challenging with the new difficulty levels, more exciting with the crusader class, and the new additional features makes a more satisfying game experience for the dungeon crawlers and looters like me.

Asiasoft is the exclusive distribution partner of Blizzard in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls will be available in the Philippines on March 25, 2014 at the following suggested retail prices of P1,800 for the standard edition and P3,500 for the collector’s edition which contains the following:

  • A full complement of Diablo III helms and weapons, primed for transmogrification
  • A Ghost Wolf minion players can summon
  • Three additional character slots to accomodate new heroes
  • A World of Warcraft in-game companion pet: the Treasure Goblin
  • A set of StarCraft II Crusader themed Battle.net portraits and Malthael-themed decals
  • A full-color hardcover art book
  • A behind-the-scenes Blu-ray/DVD two-disc set
  • A limited edition Reaper of Souls mouse pad

See you in Westmarch! The crusade goes on!

Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: SCEA
Available for: PlayStation 4

The PlayStation 4 launched with three first-person shooters in its line up. As the other two (Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts) are available on other platforms, Killzone: Shadow Fall is the only one that has the “Only on PlayStation” stamp on the box. Although not really a groundbreaking game by any means, Killzone: Shadow Fall at least earns that stamp of exclusivity by virtue of being a showcase title for the system, and a good overall indicator of what to expect with true next-gen console visuals.

Simply put: the game looks amazing. If you are a Killzone fan used to the bleak and monochromatic visuals of the past games then this one will catch you off guard. Running around Vekta is a feast for the eyes: I especially liked the bright day levels with vegetation. Lighting and reflections are topnotch, with loads of shaders that quite frankly couldn’t be done on last-generation systems. Even the smallest of details get flushed out thanks to the extra horsepower and VRAM behind the system: you can now see what kind of material those Helgan uniforms are made of. For the most part, the game runs at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second on full 1080p. Hands down, this is the best-looking console game out there.

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As expected, the game falls apart once it tries to build a convincing narrative. The overall concept seems interesting but the execution is confusing to say the least—in the previous game you save your planet being destroyed by foiling the enemy’s plan to destroy it and in the process destroying their planet but now you feel guilty so you give them half of your planet. Huh?

Gameplay is a bit different from previous Killzones. Where the previous games had you playing as various soldiers caught between multitudes of skirmishes trying to save your comrades and following orders, Shadow Fall has you portraying a special agent working behind enemy lines. Levels maps are more open ended and less linear. Objectives are more varied and stealth is a significant part of it.

Being a Vektan James Bond of course means you’ll have specialized gadgets. In this game, you only need one — the OWL. The OWL is a drone that follows you during your missions. You can utilize it in a number of ways to aid you with your objective: sliding your finger on the Dualshock 4 touchpad will switch the OWL’s functions, then hitting L1 initiates that function. Up on the touchpad is attack mode: Sending the drone to engage an enemy target. Very useful if you are pinned behind cover and need covering fire. Right on the pad lets you deploy a zipline to help you traverse the map, Left is an EMP blast that zaps enemies shields, and down on the pad lets the OWL defend a target position. Your trusty drone can also hack terminals to accomplish context-based actions like disabling alarms and such.

The audio side of the game is fantastic. The subtle ambient music fits every mood of the sequence. Gunfire and futuristic beams are realistic and believable. Hearing the narration from the Dualshock 4’s built in speaker when you pick up an audio log is a charming gimmick. I was surprised by the sound quality of that tiny speaker.

Multiplayer has the same modes as Killzone 3‘s Warzone. I didn’t encounter any lag or long wait times to join an online session. Overall, a very smooth experience.

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Cool Stuff:

  • Graphics. Best console visuals yet. Though there are a few ‘meh’ parts, overall visual presentation is fantastic.
  • More open levels. Exploring is a thing now. Less linear execution of missions is refreshing.
  • The Owl. The little floating drone gives the gameplay an upgrade in the tactical division.
  • Awesome multiplayer. 24-player battles with tried and tested modes give the game longevity after the campaign.
  • Not really specific for the game but the PS4 share button kicks ass! (all screenshots here were uploaded using the share button)

I Wish it Didn’t Have:

  • A boring story. Although interesting at times, the narrative is a bit confusing and delivered in a ho-hum way.
  • Levels that are artificially lengthened by enemy waves. I wish they’d be more creative with this but I guess it’s what Killzone is about.

In Closing:

Killzone: Shadow Fall has its triumphs and faults but if you want to let your friends know what next-gen is all about, buy Killzone: Shadow Fall and show it to them.

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I also didn’t have this problem (crowds) back in the day.

I’ve never ever been to a pre-release event and moreover, never a midnight release for any expansion for Magic: The Gathering. I would normally just wait for the new cards to hit my local store and then buy as many boosters or box(es) I would need. I never had any inclination to play Magic competitively back then but I do now and this time around I would make up for lost time in my attempt to competently play the game in a competitive environment by playing as many sanctioned games as possible.

Granted that pre-release events have a more casual approach, nothing motivates everyone to win better than a free Theros booster pack per round won so despite the lack of strict deck building conditions, people would still be making decks that would aim for your jugular for an extra booster pack and a chance to score a mythic rare for free. Under those conditions wouldn’t anyone play to win?

My ordeal started on the eve of pre-release day, September 20, when I headed down to Neutral Grounds, Centris Walk for the midnight pre-release of Theros, the latest expansion for Magic: The Gathering. After registering, I had a little down time and was introduced to the gaming buddies of my friend who hitched a ride with me to the midnight event. The pre-release started quite late at around 1:00 am or so because there were over a hundred people in attendance for the event (that’s pretty big for just one store front). I’m pretty sure there would have been more but the venue would not be able to accommodate everyone who wanted to participate.

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To illustrate how I went down the “Path of the Addict”

To start, everyone gets to select a mana symbol/color before receiving their sealed deck package which consists of a promo foil card with date stamp of your selected color, an event card6 booster packs, and a dice life counter all packed neatly into a pretty cool box with your chosen mana symbol printed in the middle and stating your “chosen path” based on your color. The event card is tied up with a future event (game day on October 19-20) which is a pretty slick move to encourage or even tell people that they can get more mileage out of their participation in the pre-release event (the entrance fee is P1,200). My path was the “Path of the Addict.”

While you have a high chance of playing the color you chose, the contents of the pre-release set box are still random so you might end up playing a totally different color or find yourself with an odd combination but one of the key points in sealed deck formats is aiming to play with as many rare cards as possible on the assumption that they work well together. While some people will obviously score themselves better rare cards (in several occasions, I have seen guys score two mythic rare cards or even get extra rare cards (as foil inserts) and there are people who will just have the luck of scoring a bunch of cards with great synergy making them virtually impossible to beat in the environment. Those are the breaks of the game but you’re not truly maximizing your game if you don’t try to tweak your deck when you’re on a losing streak and in-between matches (after a loss). Granted that some combinations would seem as the superior deck build, you will still have to keep an eye out on specific opponents because some “trash cards” will work against specific opponents even when they are generally not a sound addition to your deck. Losing with your first deck build would normally mean you will have to tweak your deck somehow as I would have learned during the course of the sealed deck pods.

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Part of Saturday’s prize booster haul.

But if you built yourself a winning combination of a deck (as proven by winning of course), stick with it and get rid of as many useless cards as possible to bring out your best cards as fast as possible. I’ve already written about things you shouldn’t do in a competitive sealed deck environment* but casual sealed deck format like pre-release are a lot more lenient and would prove to be more fun and less restrictive. For one, you can swap out as many cards as you want in a casual format instead of having to play with the deck you built from start to finish. If you feel that your main cards aren’t good enough, you might as well enjoy your remaining games by trying to pull off some odd combos and you might just wow some people when you pull off odd working combinations even though your deck isn’t fundamentally sound.

This happened to me in my third pod (Saturday evening at Neutral Grounds Glorietta 2) where I won my first round but ended up losing my second and third games with a tri-color deck (one I have absolutely no confidence in building but tried out anyway). My fourth game was salvaged after a friend helped me reconstruct my deck. At that point, I was already close to crashing after being awake for over 30 hours. If anything, it goes to show that swapping out cards around does help and you just have to think fast and remember the cards your opponents play so you can adjust your cards accordingly if necessary. In my opinion, winning two games with two different decks and playing style does say a lot about this observation of mine.

I ended up playing five (5) pods: three (3) on Saturday and then two (2) on Sunday. Having gone the distance during my fourth pod with a 3-1 W/L record after consistently posting 2-2 records on Saturday before faltering in my the last pod with a dismal 1-3 record is actually well worth the time and money spent in getting to know new faces, learning more facets of Magic: The Gathering, and of course discovering more holes in my fundamental style of play (I’m a little too hot on the trigger and I tend to NOT read cards of my opponents so I get sucker punched a lot by card abilities.)

Pre-release events are one of the best times to get into or get back into Magic because of the leveled playing field due to the sealed deck format, you won’t find a shortage of people who will be willing to tweak your deck for you (a lot of them actually enjoy this), and of course if you’re lucky, you could even score enough cash from selling the cards you get from your booster packs to cover your entrance fee and more or pick up the rare cards you need.

I wouldn’t recommend doing what I did though (playing five pods) unless you just want to rack up your playing time as “training” or something. Sealed deck tournaments are also best played with friends so bring your friends along or make new ones if you’re playing alone. Magic: The Gathering is a social game, contrary to what the notion of playing make-believe with pieces of cardboard would connote.

Theros, the latest expansion of Magic: The Gathering will officially hit stores on September 27, 2013. You can head down to a Neutral Grounds branch near you or a local hobby store near you on launch day for possibly one last pod of sealed deck play or booster draft tournaments.

*You should bring at least 18 of each basic land type and card sleeves to sealed deck tournaments.

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