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NISA

They will die. A lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haha.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission Accomplished (Pros):

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

Mission Failed (Cons):

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

Mission Stalemate (Love it or Hate it):

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

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NAtURAL DOCtRINE

Developer: KADOKAWA GAMES

Publisher: NIS America

Available for: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita

Date: September 30, 2014

Thanks to NISA for providing us with the review copy.

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The Guided Fate Paradox can best be described as a game with lots of big words in it. It also happens to be a hybrid Japanese RPG/Roguelike/dungeon-crawler. It is also a game where you need to grind. And a lot of it. Or maybe not so much. Thankfully, the punchline here is that the game happens to be unexpectedly fun.

I’m not a fan of grinding. I have terrible ADD and get bored pretty quickly; I was afraid that might happen while playing The Guided Fate Paradox. Thankfully, NIS America’s latest grindy/Anime-infused game has personality. The atmosphere is bright and colorful, the characters are nicely designed with many memorable lines (and have their own voices too! Something we take for granted in this day and age but still greatly appreciated). To briefly sum up the gameplay, it plays a lot like a strange amalgamation between Disgaea, Diablo and Torchlight.

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The story is very interesting and can get pretty deep and will sometimes make you think. Since I’ve been watching too much Anime lately, I’m afraid that I’ll mix up the character’s names (Ed. Note: this is the flimsiest excuse I’ve ever heard about skipping cutscenes). I’ll give it a shot though: you play a normal, boring guy (clearly intended to be relatable to the player, see: wish-fulfillment) named Renya. One day, this pretty lady in a maid outfit says you won the lottery. The prize? You become God. And now, since you have all these magical deity powers, you have to answer certain peoples’ prayers, like a Cinderella who is questioning her fictional existence in a book, or a bullied zombie kid; all the while trying to save the world from a sharply dressed Satan with some plot twists along the way. It’s like an anime Bruce Almighty with some nice DFCs and villains.

You’ll be seeing a lot of (skippable) dialogue in the game especially when starting but you might be missing a lot of funny, or useful dialogue though. The tutorial is accessible anytime in the menus. The game’s music is catchy and does most situations. The original song is pretty fun to sing along to. You also have the option to listen to original Japanese audio or a pretty good English dub.

Combat can feel repetitive and might make your brain go on auto-pilot. You kill monsters in a random dungeon and loot items then repeat. Know that the game is hard and can be frustrating mainly because you lose all your equipment and half your money if you die. I didn’t know this until it happened (though the game did tell me but I skimmed through it. I think). This isn’t a game that you should play continuously for a long time. Take some breaks and you’ll appreciate it more. There are plenty of weapon and equipment that you can loot and each has their own ability and is upgradeable. Fate paradox is a deep game and you will want to read the tutorial to understand it all. This isn’t a pick up and play game and completing and enjoying the game means you need to understand mostly everything you do.

Controller layout has a learning curve but learning is worth it because it makes navigating much easier. Camera angles can be annoying but you can change the camera angle. It would have been better if at least a silhouette of your characters appear when your view gets blocked. One more issue for me personally is the diagonal layout of the level. Even after putting many hours in the game, it still annoys be mainly because it’s not natural.

The Guided Fate Paradox is a long, sometimes tedious but quite fun and entertaining game. It’s a niche genre but fans will definitely love this game. It might be too deep for new players but the tutorials make it accessible and easier. Can’t say enough good things about the game, so here’s my final recommendation: go buy it.

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Yes, I know, the game has been out locally weeks ago for some reason, but Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is now available in the US. What this means for you is that you can download it via the PlayStation Network (PSN) if you have a disc-less game library or want a Region 1 game or whatever.

D2‘s release heralds the 20th anniversary of its game developer / publisher Nippon Ichi Software (NIS). The game goes back to the first Disgaea game so you can again play with the overlord Laharl, his vassal Etna, and the fallen angel Flonne. NIS has confirmed that there will be a lineup of DLCs that will soon be available for all Disgaea fans, so this is pretty exciting news for me, being a Laharl fan and all!

I have  also been given a review copy of the game a week ago and I have been playing it for days now. My review will be up pretty soon so look forward to it, dood.

Official press release below!

Santa Ana, Calif. (October 8, 2013) – NIS America is thrilled to announce that the newest installment of the fan-favorite strategy RPG series, Disgaea®D2: A Brighter Darkness, is now available for purchase across North America on PSN and at retail stores. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Nippon Ichi Software and 10th anniversary of the Disgaea series, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness brings back the popular trio from the first game: Laharl, Etna, and Flonne! With a completely new storyline, it offers game system refinements that will entice new players, while still offering the same kind of hardcore, over-the-top, endless gameplay that is sure to please longtime fans! Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness will also feature various DLC to keep players entertained for even more sleepless nights this fall! For more information, please visit disgaea.us/dis_d2

About the game:

The Netherworld – a place where might makes right and today’s friends are tomorrow’s enemies. After a long journey with many ups and downs, Laharl finally finds himself as a full-fledged Overlord. However, the other denizens of the Netherworld do not see him as such, so he sets out on a journey with his loyal(!?) vassals to receive the respect he deserves. Along the way, Laharl will meet a girl who claims to be his sister, fight demons with bigger than usual chips on their shoulders, and find out that even his own body holds a few surprises for him…

Key features:

Enhanced Customization: The character creation system has been completely revamped to allow for the highest level of character customization in series history!

Master/Pupil System: The player chooses the master and the pupil, as well as which skills to learn! Benefits include new skills and higher weapon proficiencies for the pupil, while the master gets a stat boost!

Item World: Challenge this battleground to power up your weapons, items, and characters! Prepare to deal massive damage!

Geo Panels: These status-altering blocks provide bonuses or detriments to the terrain! Change the tide of battle by skillfully manipulating these elemental icons!

Reunite with old friends and meet a new crew: Bringing back the fan favorite trio of Laharl, Etna, and Flonne, with new characters and a brand-new story!

I know we’re all a little late on this piece of news, but here’s a quick heads up if you are at all interested in Japanese RPGs. Following the imminent release of Falcom’s awesome Ys: Memories of Celceta for the PlayStation Vita (which, by the way, comes with one of the most enticing LE packages I’ve ever seen), XSEED announced yesterday that they will be localizing the second chapter in the Trails in the Sky trilogy (which then follows a more interesting pedigree in the Dragon Slayer series), with help from Carpe Fulgur, who most notably helped bring over Steam indie darling Recettear.

This is definitely good news as I feel that the Legend of Heroes games are the last of a dying breed: Japanese RPGs that aren’t either fronts for pedophilia or complete graphical wankfests. As with all Falcom-produced games, it also features a killer soundtrack. XSEED also announced today that they’ll be localizing the PC port of the first TitS game and distributing it via Steam.

Right after the jump is XSEED’s press release, which includes a pretty good plot synopsis to get you all caught up!

Torrance, Calif., (September 6, 2013) – XSEED Games, the independent-minded console publishing brand of Marvelous USA, Inc., is pleased to announce a partnership with Carpe Fulgur LLC to bring the much anticipated title, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC, digitally to PC and the PSP® (PlayStation®Portable) system (including compatibility with the PlayStation®Vita handheld entertainment system) in 2014. The first chapter, previously released for the PSP system as The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, will also be released for PC this winter.

The result of a near endless deluge of fan requests to XSEED Games after the company released the first chapter on the PSP system in 2011, this will mark the debut of the English version of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky on PC, as well as the first release of the English version of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC anywhere. The two chapters will release as two separate, back-to-back installments.

“We are pleased to finally give the fans what they have been requesting so fervently for over two years,” said Ken Berry, Executive Vice President of XSEED Games. “There’s been a constant demand ever since we released the original The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, and we are extremely grateful for our partnership with the passionate localizers at Carpe Fulgur to finally make it a reality.”

“This is something we’ve had an interest in doing since practically the formation of the company,” added Andrew Dice, Project Director for Carpe Fulgur. “If you talk about or work with ‘PC gaming from Japan’, as we do, you can’t really ignore Falcom’s huge presence over the past three decades. Trails in the Sky is particularly special, and I’d wanted to work on it ever since the day we started business. I’m thrilled that we will finally be able to bring the game to English-speaking audiences, in partnership with XSEED.”

Developed by legendary RPG specialists Nihon Falcom, the multi-part story told in The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky represents an entirely new stand-alone entry in the timeless The Legend of Heroes series. In The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, players venture through the diverse landscape of the Liberl Kingdom, experiencing its unique traditions and cultures along the way and shaping the world itself with their decisions.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky opens in the quaint and peaceful town of Rolent in the Liberl Kingdom. Home to a peacekeeping coalition free of government ties known as the Bracer Guild, the adventure follows two young aspiring bracers known as Estelle and Joshua on their trials to become full-fledged members of this elite organization. As they embark on their quest, their journey will take them across an entire country, unraveling a sinister government conspiracy along the way that’s poised to overtake the throne, threatening the very peace the bracers seek to uphold. Throughout their adventure, players can expect to learn the full depth of these characters’ origins and motivations through dialogue-driven cutscenes and lengthy side-quests.

Trails in the Sky SC, meanwhile, begins immediately after the events in the first game. Following the explosive revelations at the very end of Trails in the Sky, Estelle feels adrift and must find her resolve along with friends both old and new, and face down the true architects of the chaos engulfing Liberl – a force far more powerful and insidious than she could ever have imagined.

Boasting over a hundred hours of gameplay between the two episodes and featuring an engaging narrative that encompasses everything from politics, economics and conspiracies to tourism, traditions and even a cat-speech dictionary, these two titles in The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky series combine to form an incredibly immersive RPG experience. On top of its meticulously crafted world where all actions and inhabitants are accounted for throughout the story, the game also features a meticulously customizable combat system, a massive cast of characters from all walks of life, a variety of landscapes, an in-game newspaper that publishes new issues as the story progresses, and much more. In The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, players are responsible for shaping the world, and will see direct repercussions from their actions as the game unfolds.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC are developed by Nihon Falcom, and Carpe Fulgur is spearheading the English translation of the second chapter while XSEED Games handles publishing duties. For more information on XSEED Games products, visit http://www.xseedgames.com. Fans can also follow XSEED Games on Facebook at www.facebook.com/XSEEDGames and Twitter at www.twitter.com/XSEEDGames.

I’ve always loved anime and video games.  These are the two hobbies that shaped my childhood — vidya from my three older brothers, anime from well… local television (however limited the choices we’ve had back then). So imagine my excitement when Ni no Kuni came out early this year, which I no-life’d from start to finish. I felt the same rush of excitement when I first saw the press release of Time and Eternity as it boasted HD-quality animation in a video game.

Developed by Imageepoch (same guys who made the Black Rock Shooter The Game for the PSP which I have also reviewed), Time and Eternity is an RPG done in high-definition 2D animated sprites in 3D backgrounds. You are  Zack, the groom of the game’s heroine, Toki, who dies during your wedding ceremony. Toki and friends proceed to investigate the attack of the assassin group during the wedding and try to travel back in time to prevent your death.

The Good:

20130430174650Interesting main character gimmick. Toki changes into her other self, Towa, every time she levels up. As a side-effect, the girls’ skill sets also switch so you can get to master their special skills during battle and alter your play style (Toki is better at long-range fighting, while Towa is better used in close range). Also, since the personalities of Toki and Towa are very different from each other, you’re able to enjoy interacting with the two girls in one body. Definitely something you’d see in an anime show, right? Also, a lot of girls out there will probably enjoy the fact that you’re controlling a female hero this time around; which although refreshing doesn’t really matter to me, personally. I have zero interest in shoehorning feminism in my hobbies so… yeah.

20130430180303Real-time battle system. The battles play out similarly to BRS The Game where you have to properly time your attacks, parries and dodges. Not being able to master the timing will not let you progress in the game, so you will have to study how enemies attack and act accordingly.

High quality graphics. The game scales really well on an HDTV, especially when you are in the house interacting with the other characters. It feels like you are really watching an anime episode as most of the characters also move while speaking to them.

Background music. It is surprising to know that video game composer Yuzo Koshiro scored Time and Eternity. This explains the awesome battle themes, especially Towa’s, which is my favorite track. The guitars in the tracks are excellent! Definitely one of the most enjoyable aspects of the playing the game is experiencing Koshiro’s amazing tracks.

The Bad:

2D sprites on 3D backgrounds. It is simply jarring to see your character sprite move around in a 3D map. I never got used to it and it looks really off. This is definitely the most disappointing part of the game and something I never reconciled with.

20130430173228Zack’s POV.  My advice is to take it with a grain of salt. Zack’s intentions are really questionable, and his overall character is definitely a head-scratcher because of his contradicting POVs. The story had promise because of the interesting feature of having the two lead girls in one body but the execution fell flat and didn’t really work out that well for me.

Repetitive designs and palette swaps. Seems like this issue won’t go away as this is also one of my gripes in BRS The Game before.  Enemy designs could have been more interesting and variety could have helped the game instead of never-ending palette swaps that make the experience dull.

Things that can swing either way:

One-character game. If you’re looking for a party-based RPG, then Time and Eternity isn’t for you. You only control one character during battles (Toki or Towa) and all throughout the game’s overworld; making this one of its charming points. You don’t need to worry about party members and level them up along with your main hero this time around.

Language option. Once you pick any of the two options – Japanese or English – you cannot change it when you start the game. Not so much a dealbreaker, but I think it would be better if you had the option of switching between the two whenever you feel like it.

In closing:

Time and Eternity is a very niche game; it’s probably not something I would recommend to a person who does not appreciate anime, that’s for sure. The dating sim elements, character design, and overall plot would appear too shallow to a person who doesn’t really enjoy or know a lot about Japanese animation. To those who do, however TaE is an interesting and entertaining experience.

You can get Time and Eternity locally at DataBlitz and Game One Gadget (EU and NA versions are both available and come with an original soundtrack disc) for $49.99.

Thank you to NIS America for providing us with a review code of the game!

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If you like NISA titles and playing games on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, then you’ve probably heard of Character Chowdown. If not, well, you can acquaint yourself by downloading it here as it’s FREE. This game is actually a puzzle game that will help you learn how to read Katakana,  Hiragana and Kanji (Japanese characters). What’s great about this app is that it gauges your mastery and will adjust accordingly to help you focus on the things you need more work on.