Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heavenstrike Rivals: Defenders break most rush strategies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heavenstrike Rivals: Microtrannies, they’re never cheap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this real life? (AKA the good stuff)

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

Is this just fantasy? (AKA the bad stuff)

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

Caught in a landslide (AKA can go anywhere)

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

DLC Available:

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

No escape from reality (AKA the verdict)

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

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

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

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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.

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.

Fairy Fencer F is a tough sell. It’s what most people like to call a ‘niche game;’ meaning a game that will only appeal to a specific minority of PlayStation 3 gamers. Set in a world that combines modern settings and medieval fantasy with magical beings that turn into weapons.

The game takes place in a time where two deities are locked in an endless grudge match. In an act of desperation, they both decide to seal each other with an innumerable barrage of swords. However, most of the swords miss and end up in the human world where they are known as Furies. These weapons have spirits within them that are known as “fairies” and those spirits engage in pacts with humans to release them from their seal in exchange for a wish granted to the savior. Humans who form these pacts are hence known as “fencers”.

Enter Fang, a lazy jerk wishes for nothing more than to sleep and eat all day. After pulling a sword from the ground, in the hopes to get an endless supply of food, He unwillingly gets pulled into a contract with an amnesic fairy named Eryn. He then sets off on an adventure to collect furies in order for him to recover Eryn’s memories. While the game’s main plot is nothing special, It makes up for it with an enjoyable cast of characters and fun events that add a tinge of lightheartedness.

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Fairy Fencer F shines most in its fun battle system which is a nice mix between turn-based and real-time elements. Anyone who has played the Neptunia games or Mugen Souls will be get used to it very quickly. During your turn you get to move around the field in real-time while your enemies hold still, providing you with all the time necessary to plan out your moves. Choosing From sword, knuckle, glaive, axe etc. attack types, you exploit enemy weaknesses to deal more damage. Further adding to dynamicity of battle is the “tension”, this gauge fills up as you deal and receive damage but goes down as you get healed and miss attacks. Tension increases your physical attack the more filled up the gauge is and at a certain point you can “Fairize” which greatly increases your stats.

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Outside of leveling you can augment your characters with “Weapon Boosting” in which you choose upgrades for your each of your characters separately with WP (Weapon Points) you gain from battling. These upgrades can range from as simple as stat increases to new moves and skills for exploration. The moves you take into battle are set in the combo editor where you customize each hit of your combo that is assigned to the cross, triangle and circle buttons. Equipping other fairies creates a “resonance effect” that gives bonus stats and other special effects that are strengthened by pulling the swords that sealing the gods.

The quest system on the other hand is shallow and doesn’t contribute anything to the plot. Most of these tasks are basic kill/fetch quests that tell you to “go hunt ten of these”, or go “gather five of these” which makes it feel more like chores rather than quests. The pub where you obtain quests usually has several missions at a time but don’t mistake that for freedom of choice. Nothing is keeping you from accepting them all because most of the tasks are naturally finished through your routine grinding. This makes quests no more than mere bonuses for grinding as opposed to meaningful tasks that reward the player for the extra effort.

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The overall look of the game is rather sub-par due to the fact that the game reuses a lot of assets from other games. While the 3D models of the characters are decent, most of the backgrounds and terrain are somewhat low-res and makes it feel cheap but the particle effects of moves are flashy enough to entertain. But the beautiful 2D art makes up for it and is brimming with personality. The soundtrack on the other hand shines with high quality songs that are reminiscent of classic final fantasy tracks. The voice acting on the Japanese side is superb but the English cast does manage a job in selling the characters as well.

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The main theme and atmosphere of the Fairy Fencer F is nothing you wouldn’t expect from the wacky crew at Compile Heart. With plenty of quirky characters who are parodies of stereotypes and 4th wall breaking jokes. Tons of fan service is not unexpected, with plenty of well-endowed women and lots of little girls that will satisfy everyone’s preferences. Unlike other Compile Heart games; However, It felt like the game was trying to tell a more compelling and serious story but its overtly cute art style doesn’t really help it.

Fairly Phenomenal:

  • Fun and engaging combat
  • Entertaining character interactions
  • Awesome Soundtrack
  • Deep upgrade system

On the Fence:

  • Sub-par graphics
  • Tons of reused assets

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

 

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hyperdimension neptunia producing perfection (2)Upon final reflection, there really isn’t any sensible way to describe Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection (which I am abbreviating to PP for no other reason other than the fact that I am an immature cad). It’s easy to compare the game to contemporaries that some may have heard of (i.e., Idolm@ster or even the Princess Maker series), but there aren’t any checkboxes, descriptors, nor genres that accurately depict the game’s scope, much less in a Western gamer’s context and worldview.

The game opens up with you, the player (clearly assuming that you are a heterosexual male, of course), somehow finding himself within the confines of Gamindustri, Hyperdimension Neptunia’s game world. As one can surmise, the world is a metaphor for the game industry, with four Goddesses lording over it: Neptune (the series’ protagonist representing Sega; let’s not laugh at the irony here), Noire (cold, raven-haired vixen representing Sony’s monolithic corporate values), Blanc (meek and introverted, somehow signifying Nintendo), and Vert (Xbox-tan, shockingly the only character that appears to be over 18, also has the largest rack out of the group because ‘MURRICA). Somehow the player has to help either one of these fine gals become the number one idol in Gamindustri and defeat the looming menace of rival group MOB-48, who are slowly winning over the populace’s love with music and (assumedly) hips that won’t quit.

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I suppose the most apt one-liner that describes the game is that it is an “idol raising simulation.” No doubt this summary raises even more questions about the game’s milieu. Perhaps “Tamagotchi with underaged anime girls” would be a more apt description? Either way, the game plays out as a fairly competent management sim, albeit a little more shallow than others. Essentially you plan out activities that raise your charge’s abilities in singing and dancing, while keeping their stress levels down by getting to socialize with the other goddesses, taking short vacations, or even going out with them on dates yourself (conflict of interest alert!). At times you do get to man the producer’s booth and plan out concerts featuring your idol, letting you pick the setting, attire, and song for the day, and later letting you blow up pyrotechnics and change camera angles while your idol is actually on-stage.

The whole management aspect of the game is actually fairly fun and light-hearted, with the only problem being that there isn’t much motivation to soldier forward. The plot moves at a glacial pace, with surprisingly few snags on your idol’s way to success (I jest, but shouldn’t every idol have to deal with bulimia, cocaine addiction, and unwanted pregnancies?). Depending on your tolerance for the game’s brand of humor, you may find the dialogue and jokes Neptune and gang spit out endearing, or simply a reason for NIS to have a “skip” button. I personally found the game’s dialogue detestable and jammed on the skip button with incredible eagerness.

hyperdimension neptunia producing perfection (6)With that being said, PP is clearly a niche game for a niche audience. It’s actually in a very odd space; a casual game wrapped in a presentation that unfortunately most won’t be able to look past. I’ll concede that the pace is okay for a handheld game where one can only stomach thirty-minute spurts at a time, but it’s a tough sell even for Vita owners that are desperate for any sort of games on their handheld.

It’s tough to give Producing Perfection a solid recommendation either way. Starved Vita gamers have lots on their plate over the next few months if they’re in the mood for niche Japanese games. Neptunia fans, the weird lot they are, will probably buy this game for the simple opportunity to see their favorite console-tans dolled up in highly-questionable clothing. I’d like to support the fact that NIS America continues to localize extremely niche titles, but unlike Danganronpa, this may be too niche of a title, and could have stayed in Japan.

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I always appreciate it when JRPGs stray from the typical “saving the world” quest in favor of a more personal and focused one. With that being said, I’ve always had an affinity towards the Atelier series, whether it’s because of the beautiful anime art style or the deeply addictive crafting system, they always got their hooks into me and Atelier Totori Plus was no different. But if you’re a person averse to the overly cutesy, somewhat awkward, moekko brand of fan service that Japan usually traffics in then you’d probably want to stay clear from this game at all costs. But if you can get past that aspect you’ll be pleased to find a unique, incredibly addictive, item-driven RPG.

Atelier Totori Plus is a Vita port of Atelier Totori, a PS3-exclusive that came out in 2011, that brings over all the content from its PS3 counterpart, along with a few bonuses to sweeten the deal. This version comes with all the DLC previously released on the PS3 variant with a bunch of unlockable costumes and a new post-game dungeon that fans of Atelier Rorona would recognize. This gives returning players something to look forward to but not much.

You play as Totooria Helmold (Totori for short), a 14 yr. old girl (13 in the Japanese version) aspiring to be an alchemist in order to become a registered “Adventurer”. She wants nothing more but to see her mother who went missing a few years back and the story throughout remains focused on the people who cares and supports her and it never really develops into anything convoluted or world-altering and the game is better for it.

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Derp.

Thanks to Atelier Totori’s simplistic visuals and design, it was never an enormous drain on the PS3’s hardware which makes it perfect for the Vita. In fact, it looks better on the Vita’s smaller screen than it did on the PS3. It’s worth noting that there are minor frame rate drops and somewhat longer loading times but nothing that overtly ruins the experience. As for the art style itself, Atelier Totori touts highly detailed, hand drawn character portraits that you’ll frequently see throughout the story and is really brought to life thanks to the artistic vision of Mel Kishida. The core game features a light color palette and cel-shaded character models that add a certain je ne sais quoi to the game that makes it stand out.

As for the gameplay, it is divided into three different aspects, combat, exploration and crafting. From fighting monsters to synthesizing items, everything you do in the game consumes time and learning how to manage that is the key to achieving success. Side quests in Atelier Totori come in the form of bite-sized requests, which can be as simple as collecting ingredients to fighting challenging boss monsters. And like everything in the game, time management is key because all of these quests have deadlines and it’s pretty easy to overwhelm yourself when you take on too many at once.

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The game utilizes an old-fashioned system. And when I say turn-based, I don’t mean some sort of real-time/turn based hybrid; I’d place it in the same vein as Final Fantasy X or Lost Odyssey where you have allies lined up with a turn grid at the bottom of the screen. In regards to the actual combat, it’s rather dull at the start but picks up later on as the story progresses.

They also add in some features to add flavor to the battles. Sometimes, when Totori is about to be attacked, you’ll see button prompts over your other two other characters. Above the two will be L or R which, when pressed, will allow them to support Totori in various ways. For example, Mimi will jump right in to absorb the attack, and Gino will execute a follow-up attack.

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Exploration mainly comprises navigating through the world using map and running through a wide variety of areas that open up as you gain adventurer points that you earn from doing in game achievements. In these areas you will find gather points in which items are procured from.

Combat is further enhanced with the staggeringly deep crafting system that the series is known for. With the ingredients that you can find in the world, Totori can create a wide variety of items that can be used to heal, attack, or support the party. Every Recipe calls for at least two ingredients, which can either be one specific item or any item that falls into a category (like Lumber, Gunpowder, or Herbs).  As well, each ingredient has its own quality between 1(low) and 100 (high), and effects (such as lightning enchantments or smelling funny) that contribute to your synthesized item’s overall rank – which ranges from a quality A to a crappy E.  Although, just because you use quality ingredients, that doesn’t mean your alchemy will turn out.  As you synthesize more and more, you’ll level up Totori’s Alchemy rank, which you’ll need for the harder Recipes – as until you reach higher levels there is a chance you’ll fail and waste your ingredients.  Should you succeed, you will be able to add the sub-effects of your ingredients into the final product.This concoction, mixed with the ingredients’ overall quality and your rank makes just about every single item you create unique, with no two outcomes ever being the same.

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Atelier Totori Plus contains English and Japanese language tracks as well as a very unique musical score. I didn’t quite care for the English voicing, it worked but not well, Peter’s voice made me wish I was deaf. Atelier Totori Plus is a very silly and cute game; that doesn’t often translate well into English. So it was a welcome addition that Japanese tracks were included. From a perspective of the Japanese voice tracks, it was very well done. Hearing Mimi throw a tantrum after being thrown some prying words or Totori try to defuse an awkward moment was just classic. It’s also important to note that not all of the game was voiced in English. Many tasks such as synthesizing have Japanese voice over, but no English.

The music itself is hit and miss. There are some very beautiful scores that set a tone of adventure and immersion. However I found myself killing the music as some areas, like Totori’s hometown, features some really odd tunes. It might be me, but I didn’t find the soundtrack appealing at all.

Pros:

  • Accessible, and unlike most RPGs, ideal for short bursts of gameplay.
  • Unconventional design, opting for free-flow player progression.
  • Item synthesis compliments the core gameplay, offering plenty of depth.
  • 10 unique endings to unlock that extend replay value considerably.
  • Great anime art style and character designs.
  • Bite-sized quests that is ideal for on the go gaming.

Cons:

  • Minor frame rate issues and technical hiccups.
  • First few hours can be tedious.
  • English voice acting on the male side is weak overall.

 

Atelier Totori Plus

Developer: Gust

Publisher: NIS America (PS3) Tecmo Koei (PS Vita)

Reviewed: PlayStation Vita version

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)

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Daylight is a poorly-executed mess of a horror game. You have my permission to stop reading this review and judge it by my first sentence. If you do, then I will envy you for not wasting time playing this.

For those of you who still want to read why, alright: Daylight is a first-person horror game where you navigate a procedurally-generated dungeon-like map. You find a set of items, you find the key, get our of the area onto the next, then rinse and repeat. No real combat here, you are just haunted by shadow creatures called “witches” which gets defeated if you light up a flare.

A horror game’s typical strength is with its intricately-created set pieces that lead you to to memorable moments; which is a fancy word of saying lures to a trap. Remember the first time Nemesis showed up and chased you around in Resident Evil 3? Nothing of that sort happens here, really. The idea of having randomly-generated content completely tramples this formula and the whole game suffers because of it.

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You will always be holding your tablet up. #Ngawit

Cheap scares are brought to you in a non-thought of way. Sure, the first time it happens it’s a chilling moment but it shortly becomes laughable because of the repeatedly clumsy way it’s being delivered to you. The video below is me encountering an enemy for the first time. The surprised scream coming from me did not come back on subsequent encounters. Believe me. Please.

Internet celebrity/IGN personality/licker of handheld systems Jessica Chobot was the much-ballyhooed pen behind Daylight. She might also be the voice of the protagonist but I didn’t bother to look it up. The voice acting is entirely made up of gasps and exclamation of dread that is so random and repetitive, it becomes hilarious really quick. The narrative is a fairly run-off-the-mill horror asylum/Cthulu mythos tale. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but seeing pentagrams, human sacrifice, and the devil never looked so bland. Seriously, it’s like the developers ran through a checklist of tropes and environments from every horror videogame, ever and just went with it.

On the technical side of things, the game is also a mess. It’s the first game I’ve ever played on the PlayStation 4 that dips below 30 frames per second. Unbelievably, it does this all the time! There are instances where the game will stutter and freeze for a few seconds. Completely unforgiveable, given that the visuals themselves are less-than-impressive.

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Hey. it’s an abandoned asylum! So original.

You can finish the game in less than two hours. The developers claim it is meant for multiple playthroughs because of the procedurally-generated levels. No thanks.

In my opinion, Daylight has nothing to offer to my gaming tastes. My limited gaming time is better spent on something else. A poorly-crafted tale behind a poorly-crafted gameplay system makes Daylight easy to put down and ignore.

Redemption:

  • It’s not a retail priced game (though $15 is still not cheap enough for this)
  • The buttons work and there is video and sound.

The Human Sacrifice:

  • Random generated levels =  stupid idea for a game like this.
  • Repetitive and bland gameplay progression
  • Technical issues galore.

Factor that can swing either way:

  • You might die tomorrow.

Daylight

Developer: Zombie Studios

Publisher: Atlus

Available for: PlayStation 4, PC

Reviewed: PS4 version

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages. We here at 30lives.net is proud to present our new review series, Retro Reviews. Sometimes we all have that itching to play something from the past, something close to our hearts and we are not that different. All of us, right here in 30lives.net, will never let go of our childhood as they were precious to us and to our readers. We start our series with an old indie game: Frank’s Advanture 2.

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Franks Adventure 2 was released by the now defunct?/retired developer Wiesi-Mausland (Now called Wiesi) back in November 2003. This was a follow-up to the hugely popular Frank’s Adventure released earlier in October. Frank’s adventure 2 vastly improves everything that was great about the first game, while also removing the few negative things that hurt the original. It can be classified as a sandbox adventure game with item-trading as one of its biggest points.

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It’s frank.

 

You play as Frank, just a regular guy who seems to have a talent for entrepreneurship, meeting people and a taste for adventure. Immediately the character relates to the player due to his desire for adventure and fun and love. After the saving the publishing company that he works for in the previous game, his boss asked trusted him to help their main branch in the city to help their financial situation. Frank, being the professional and great businessman that he is, bought a plane to the city to save the publishing company that he loves so much.

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we should be like Frank and be a professional

 

Immediately after taking control of Frank, you’ll see the difference in graphics from the original. Sharper and clearer outlines and colors, tall buildings and busy streets. The game map is nearly 1.5x the size of the original, and there are more dangers in the city than the countryside in the first game. Crossing the street feels just as dangerous due to the many cars, and other surprises that you encounter during the game that truly challenges anybody who wants to complete the game. Character models are also improved massively with the semi-celshading (remember this was 2003) that produces more realistic looking characters during the time of course.

The catchy music that plays while you move around the city is relazing in contrast to the busy streets. However, because of the limitations of the time and the developer’s own indie cred, no voiceovers were given for the great dialogue in the game. They won’t lose points for this because it also shows how focused Frank must be to block out all the distractions in the city just to finish his goal.

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Characters with great unique personalities and backstories. This was ahead of it’s time.

 

Controls are insanely simple and you can pretty much play this game one-handed, a great feature at the time compared to other games released at the time. This is actually the best and greatest thing about this game. More games need to be playable one handed especially in our more busy lives.

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Cameos from some popular characters are here

 

 

Franks adventure 2  was released free as well, and still accessible in the internet. This truly is, one of the greatest indie games released in history and was very influential for many games that we enjoy today.

You can play Frank’s Adventure 2 online at Newgrounds. http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/134777

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It’s a glorified demo and may be well worth your money if you manage your expectations. In other words, don’t be a fucking mark.

When you share this review don’t forget to use the hashtag #done. Thanks!

only magic can support those puppies.

Kill ‘Em All!1

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The Witch and the Hundred Knight

The Witch and the Hundred Knight sounds like a storybook fairytale full of magical creatures, royalty, enchanting forests, lavish kingdoms and eloquent speaking characters to fill your imagination of happiness and love. The game has all of this actually, with an extra spoonful… no, mouthful.. no, maybe a tub full of evil with an awesome soundtrack and deep and strategic gameplay. Development started in 2010 and was released in Japan on July 25, 2013. The localized release for the US is on March 25, 2014 while Europeans can except the game to release a little earlier on March 21, 2014. The Witch and the Hundred Knight (I’ll shorten it to Witch Knight) is an Action-RPG with Rogue-like qualities where your main goal is to help your master pretty much destroy the world. You play as the Hundred Knight, a tiny black familiar that kinda looks like Midna from Twilight Princess, to serve the foul-mouthed, slender, pretty, and powerful swamp witch, Metallia. You start out as a dumb and weak familiar with little to no abilities but as you progress through the unique and interesting story, you’ll start to figure out a lot about the game’s setting and the mystery of Metallia’s life while learning strategies for combat. The dialogue in WitchKnight is one of its best qualities as it will keep you interested in reading/listening through the whole script. It also comes with both English and Japanese voice acting. You’ll slowly start to realize why Metallia is a stone cold bitch as you learn more about the story, while accompanied by character art in the dialogue screens.

only magic can support those puppies.
Only magic can support those puppies using that Bra.

The soundtrack of WitchKnight is incredible as it feels cheery and quirky despite the game’s dark humor based storyline. It doesn’t feel repetitive at all and helps keep you alert through some of the grinding you need to do. Most enemies have their own voices too and the sound of the pillars you need to find is an important part of the gameplay. Witchknight has a nice storybook look in terms of its stage design and colors. They all seem to look good together as if it looks like a painting. Although the game is 3d and plays in 720p, the in-game character models really could have been much better. It’s already 2014 and even if the game was developed in 2010, the character models could have looked a little bit more… “HD,” a little sharper and a little less PS2-like. Would have been great if they could have made the characters stand out from the background more, especially Metalllia’s. For the gameplay, combat is basically hack and slash with some QTE’s for dodging. However, as the tutorials will show you, there is a lot more to the gameplay that it seems. You will need to develop a strategy per stage due to the Hundred Knight’s GCals, enemies and weapons. Gcals is basically like charmander’s flame. As you move through the stage, it slowly lowers until reaching 0 which will make you incredibly weak. You also have access to 5 types of weapons, with 3 weapon qualities among all of them. The rogue-like nature of WitchKnight also gives you random loot and weapons, a limited storage space (at first) and random bonuses depending on how much combos you pull out. There’s also a damage-chaining and a grading point system that could have used a tutorial but is actually easy to figure out once you notice it. There are many mixes of strategies that you’ll need to use every time you go out to fight, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Because of the combat system and customization you’ll be doing, the game can be pretty easy or pretty hard, depending on what you use and what level you are. Stat growth is dependent on what facet/form you will use throughout the game. While it might be tempting to spam attacks, the 5 weapon system will actually make you think about not spamming certain attacks to certain enemies. I recommend playing in Hard mode, just so it feels more fun.

You need to use specific weapons or your damage will be worthless.
You need to use specific weapons or your damage will be worthless.

Despite the need to grind in some stages, it doesn’t really feel boring and you definitely need to be alert because you need to monitor the Gcals, your HP, and what weapon you use, and the way of attacking you do. It’s hard to go on auto-pilot mode because of this, and that’s a great thing for the game. WitchKnight has a top-down view style and the controls are solid. The game also allows you to move the camera around which is very useful for this type of game. A concern about the camera though, is that certain stages have elements like trees or houses that block and hide your character. This is mainly annoying during combat, especially since you need to know what’s going on and what to do. And again, the character models sometimes blend too well into the background that it may sometimes be hard to find enemies especially if their colors are similar to the stage. Thankfully, the locking system will be able to counteract some of these issues. Those character models still really should look better even if the game was developed in 2010.

Stages look nice and painting-like but the Character models really could have looked much better.
Stages look nice and painting-like but the Character models really could have looked much better.

Another negative thing about the game is that even though it guides you through a tutorial for many of the features of the combat system and the game itself, most of the tips appear only during the loading screen and there is no ability to find these tips in the options or extras. The tips are very useful and could have been easier to access. But I guess it also makes the game more challenging, so it didn’t bother me that much and it helps players think about things which is something of a lost art these days. No tutorials option might alienate stupid people though. Some of WitchKnight’s features such as raiding houses and upgrading weapons do become useful, it also feels unrewarding and unneeded at times. Repeating the stages also doesn’t feel necessary to finish the game. Only super-completionists may really appreciate these features of WitchKnight. In conclusion, The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a solid, well-made game. It’s very enjoyable to play, the story is great and interesting (for me anyways), the characters are very unique and have plenty of personality, the soundtrack is great to listen to and is well worth buying the Limited Edition for. 1 – GET IT? METALLIA’S JAPANESE PRONOUNCIATION SOUNDS LIKE METALLICA, SO I USED METALLICA’S FIRST ALBUM AS A REFERENCE FOR A TAG LINE. IT IS ALSO A REFERENCE TO THE EVILNESS OF THE WITCH METALLIA

:yes I Liked These

  • The combat system in relation to the item customization
  • The music is great and should be in your playlist
  • The characters are fun
  • Metallia is such a great heel
  • I like the dark storyline; if you think it’s too dark, you’re too sensitive

:kobeyuck  I don’t like these

  • The PS2-like character models in 2014
  • So many bars at the HUD to monitor
  • Sometimes the background and elements makes your characters hard to see

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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One of the few anime series that I’ve enjoyed watching is Fate/stay night. I got really obsessed with lead character Shiro Emiya’s Servant, Saber, that I even started collecting all the Nendoroid releases and most PVC figures of her. She was one of the stronger Servants in the series and had the most charm for me because of her blonde hair, green eyes and somewhat creepy blank stare . So what does this have to do with anything you might ask? A few weeks back, I got the chance to somewhat feel like Shiro by downloading a mobile game called Brave Frontier. The premise is somewhat straightforward: summon heroes to fight for you in your adventures. However, there’s so much more to that once you delve deeper in the game.

The Good:

1. Level of Polish – You all might get huffy about playing a mobile game because 99% are mostly shovelware-tastic. The production quality of Brave Frontier is actually top-notch: you get well-drawn sprites, crisp colors, good enough animation and sound effects that it makes for a game that rivals actual handheld games released for the Nintendo 3DS or the PS Vita. 1531938_10152809116237137_1016008783_n

2. Summoning and Combining – As mentioned above, you can feel like Shiro and Rin in Fate by summoning allies in the game. Each ally has different specialty skills that can help you in your quests. What’s also awesome is that you can level up these babies by combining them with other summons that are pretty useless in your party. It gets pretty complicated when you get the real nice ones as they only have really limited levels so you have to be careful what type of summon you combine it with to maximize its stats. Summoning can also get pretty addicting and you can get the Super Rare ones by spending game cash, so make sure you’re ready for this.

3. Super Moves – As Brave Frontier is a real-time tactical game, you have to time your attacks cautiously and watch each of your guys so that you don’t face a complete wipe especially from bosses. One of the cool things in the game is unleashing the super move of a character. This builds up ala Limit Break in Final Fantasy 7. Unleashing it to a boss is completely satisfying, especially if you get to build them all up with each of your characters.

4. Crafting – There are tons of shops and resources that you can unlock in your town after progressing in the game. These are all at your disposal and you can create a lot of nifty items that can help you out in your adventure.

5. Events – The folks at Gumi are especially active in crafting events for the players so there are always something fun to do when you’re logged in. You can rack up pretty sweet event items if you’re faithful in logging in. Hooray for loyalty rewards!

Fusion!
Fusion!

6. Accessibility – Free is always a good thing, and a free, well-polished game is hard to come by!

The Bad:

1.  Download times – Initial download time can be a pain, and comes the first patching as well. In my experience, I got disconnected a few times, but then again it can be because of our service providers (Sigh, Philippine internet).

2. Complexity – This can be a bit of a challenge for newbies (which is the current market bulk), as most are used to very simple one-tap games such as Flappy Bird or Candy Crush Saga. If you’re an experienced gamer however, you won’t break a sweat and learning curve is not so steep.

Other stuff:

1. Microtransactions – We’re not big fans of it, but whatever floats your boat! If you think the purchase is justified, by all means.

If you look at the whole package, Brave Frontier is one of the best mobile games out there. Starting with the overall polish of the art and sound, to the controls and actual gameplay, RPG lovers are assured of a good play experience. What can be daunting however is the complexity of the game – with simple one-tap games like Flappy Bird spearheading the game charts in iOS and Android, Brave Frontier might not be the new gamer’s cup of tea. However, if you give it a chance, the game’s excellent tutorials can really help you out and you’ll find it pretty easy to learn.

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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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This is not your momma’s Zelda.

The only Zelda game I have thoroughly played is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the great classic on the SNES system back in the day. I have always loved how a top-view adventure RPGs can package a lengthy and deep adventure concisely and this new sequel A Link Between Worlds is no exception. While game design and development choices have made me or possibly you cynical about sequels to great classics, rest assured that this is not a soulless shell of a quick cash grab that we have been repeatedly exposed to over the last decade of games.

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That worm dude boss is bigger than this but is still 100% annoying.

While the entire world of Link Between Worlds looks familiar to those who have played A Link to the Past, the similarities end with the familiar locations. Each scene is not a carbon copy of its SNES predecessor nor are the dungeons or bosses in any way rehashed (except for one distinctively annoying worm). Some of them may look derivative (like the Thieves’ Hideout boss) but they don’t play the same. It’s a brand new game with modified mechanics and different challenges (where you still have to collect the same pendants to get the Master Sword, lol) so you can have your slice of nostalgia pie and enjoy an entirely new experience.

One major deviation from the Zelda formula is the immediately availability of most tools (Hookshot, Ice and Fire Wand, etc.) which are rented from one of the supporting characters of the game, the mysterious Rovio. Others may find this change detrimental to the game, I on the other hand appreciate this streamlining. You are not required to take on any dungeon or boss in any particular order. Rented weapons are lost upon dying so there is a bigger sense of urgency to stay alive while you earn enough rupees to purchase the rent weapons so that you can retain them even after getting killed and upgrade them. Yes, you can upgrade all your tools in Link Between Worlds primarily to make your life easier in boss fights if they become too difficult for you.

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Stick to the walls, bub.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds also features a new art direction for all the characters. Personally I don’t like it that much but it is certainly pleasing to the eye and the 3D display for once (in a blue moon) is actually utilized in a way for you to solve puzzles easily. While it seems like you are playing on a 2D field, you need to think three-dimensional to get the job done.

Good Points:

  • There are a lot of secrets to discover and challenges to overcome in order to achieve full content completion.
  • A Link Between Worlds has the best 3D visuals to-date. If your eyes can take the strain of 3D display, go for it, it’s worth the effort.
  • This is the first game in a long time I felt compelled to play a game continuously every chance I got. The game’s pace proceeds so well that you just want to continue your adventure and see things to the end.

Bad Points:

  • The game is rather short. It will take you roughly 20-30 hours to complete the adventure if you don’t go with any guides. The game is absurdly easy to finish if you consult a guide (why play a game in the first place if you do consult a guide for your first play-through).

X-Factors:

  • If you find even Hero mode too easy, you can always intentionally “gimp” your character by avoiding optional upgrades for your weapon, armor, hearts, and empty bottles. It will be hell, you might enjoy it.
  • The StreetPass function of the game gives the latest Legend of Zelda game additional replay value. Although a bit shallow and gear dependent, it’s always fun taunting a friend for having a weak-ass Shadow Link.

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