Monday, May 2, 2016

Grand Kingdom [Beta] (PS4) Preview

I tried the Grand Kingdom beta a few days ago.  First off, I really like the art style of the game, and the animation is nice.  It's like a good version of Battle Princess Arcadias.

The gameplay is pretty unique, like a mix of rpg and board game.  You move around a map as a chess-like piece. There are treasures and shortcuts around the map, and a turn limit.  If you come into contact with an enemy piece, a fight starts.

Your four person party fights on three planes against another enemy group.  Each character has a movement meter that shows how much they can move, and an attack meter than depletes with each attack.  Attacks are pretty neat, since melee people have a combo you can execute, and can even launch opponents.  Archers and mages have a target mark that moves through the area, and you have to time your press to correspond to where the enemy is.  They also get multiple attacks you can chain together.  It takes some getting used to, since the mage's targeting isn't as nice as the archer's.

It worked...well enough for the most part.  It was way too easy to hit your own people (heals can also work on enemies, yuck), since the target areas and arcs aren't accurate.  Plus a rebounding enemy can hit other characters causing some damage, which is more annoying than I would have thought.  Battle controls aren't very intuitive, and took me some getting used to.  Even after an hour or so I would mess up the buttons occasionally.  The in-game tutorials teach the map and battles well enough.

What they don't teach is some of the other nuances.  While they over-explain some things like menu selections, something as important as the stats of your characters are left up to your imagination.  When you level up, you can give some bonus points, but I wasn't sure if some things affected others.  Str gives physical attack damage, but does it affect bow attacks?  Usually that is dexterity or agility, but no stat in Grand Kingdom mentions bow damage.  I wouldn't be so bothered by this, but I always get the sense that I was messing up my characters, or not getting what I should be doing with their growth (more on that below).

Even so, the single player experience was really fun.  After doing the one map, you are then forced to do some of the multiplayer versus.  It is thankfully not actual pvp, but more kingdom v kingdom.  I don't fully understand it all, but I had to do it, which isn't fun.  I tried it once, won a battle, and then the entire war was lost.  I have no idea why, it just said it was over.  The enemy group was the same level as my party, but a really hard fight.  That's where I started thinking I messed up my bonus stats, since player enemies had much longer combos than I did.  At least you can just leave the AI to do it for you, and I'm hoping the full game has enough single player that I can ignore the pvp nonsense.  I'm game to try it!

The Good:
Nice art style, unique gameplay and the fights were fun.

The Bad:
I don't like pvp, and it didn't make much sense here.  Hopefully it isn't forced in the full game like it was in the beta.

The SaHD:
It seems the beta is the "lite" version, so maybe the pvp focus is in some kind of free-to-play version which will bump up the people playing the game.  Or people will just do it on alternate accounts to beef up the armies they want to win...

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Fairune (3DS): the Good, the Bad and the SaHD

The Good:
The game is a pretty fun adventure game, reminiscent of the first Legend of Zelda, except you walk into enemies to defeat them.  You take damage as well, but only if the enemy gives experience (which they only do for about 2 levels).

The Bad:
While there is no real penalty for death, you have to walk all the way back to where you were, which is sometimes more of a pain than an actual penalty.  Also, there are a lot of puzzles, and it can be a pain in the butt to figure them out, assuming they actually have clues.  Some require you to walk off the screen at random areas you wouldn't know about.  One near the end requires the touch screen, which was not used at any other part of the game.  Gah!

The SaHD:
I paid a dollar for the game, and it took me about 2.5 hours to beat.  It was fun and worth the price.  There are a few extra things I can still do, like get the secret items and monsters for the collection.  There's even some speedrunning achievements.  Trouble is, I'd have to start a new file, since I'm stuck where I saved at the end.  I wouldn't immediately go back to the game, but maybe at some point in the future.

(Fairune was purchased from the 3DS E-shop)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bravely Second (3DS) Preview - The Second 10 Hours

Done with chapter 1 and onto the next 10 hours of the game!

First off, there is a job called Catmancer.

Just let that sink in.

Yeah, I'm right there with you if you face-palmed at that.  It's... a unique choice, to be sure.  It is this game's version of a Blue Mage, since they can learn some enemy attacks.  Unlike a Blue Mage, the Catmancer is really good at heavy armor, axes and fist weapons, making it a useful and unique combination.  Who knew?  It's a silly concept, but they made the Blue Mage a better class, rather than a worse version of a Red Mage.

Although, instead of MP, it uses items to fuel its abilities.  While I prefer MP, as it is readily renewable, the items thing might be ok if there are plenty available.  It gets an ability to dig and get a cat item that varies by location, which is good.  Plus, there are special ways to kill some enemies to get more.  The best way is to simply buy them if you upgrade the right stuff at Fort Lune.  There are also food items that unlock with them... wait, is there a chef class?  Sigh...

They are also going all in the Ba'als.  I fought one in the story (it was the last boss of the demo), and then they show up at Fort Lune as optional fights.  They love that their name sounds like "ball" and pun it up with that.  Stuff like "ba'al busting" and the like.  Kind of chuckle worthy, but gets old fast (which is weird because I normally like puns).  I've also assembled a full team of guests from the daily net invites, so my base is proceeding nicely when I have the game in sleep mode.

Last time I was complaining about the recycled characters, and I'll expand that here with the recycled locations.  They do add new towns, but you seem to repeat many places that you went to in the last game.  Some may have changed layouts, but I don't think they all did.  If there are no changes, then I really don't like just recycling the locations, as it comes across as lazy.  I'm fine with reuse if they do something unique with them, or enough time has passed.  Two in-game years isn't really enough for much change.

On the progression of the story, the bosses aren't giving me too much trouble.  When they start to, I can sock it to them with the Special attacks.  Unlocking some of the modifiers for them makes them even better.  The special my bow thief uses can easily do over half of some bosses' health.  Admittedly, I don't nuke them outright, and try to save the Special for if I need it, or to finish them off when low and I don't want to deal with their crap any more.  I probably should do it from the start and just be done with them.

This next part might be considered a spoiler.  The last boss of the chapter is a two headed... snake... frog... thing.  It's gross looking.  It looks like a de-winged Gigginox for anyone that has played Monster Hunter Tri/3 Ultimate.  It's one creature, but the heads are separate targets.  When one dies, it pops and leaves an...interesting looking hole.  Eww.

It worked out pretty well, since I ended the first chapter at just under 20 hours.  I'll have to take a break from the game for now, since I need the 3DS to review another game, Langrisser (review coming soon!)

< The First 10 Hours | The Third 10 Hours >

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus (PS4) Review

Finally...the girls have consoles!  Sorry for that rock-solid intro, but I'm almost as excited to finally review the game than I am of it being available on a home console for the first time.  Senran Kagura: Estival Versus takes place after Shinovi Versus, and is in that continuity.  (Don't get me started on that...)

Much like its predecessor, Estival Versus is a 3D action game where the girls have been summoned to a tropical island where the dead reside.  In order to go home, they much participate in the Bon Festival, and destroy their opponents' festival platforms.  Besides being an excuse to have the girls in swimsuits (I'm not sure the game needed and excuse...), the platform destruction is worked in to the game, and we get to meet Ryona and Ryobi's departed sister.  Story scenes this time around are less narration by the characters and more interaction between the characters.  Most times it's not as deep as the other (no, seriously, there is really good story in these games), but they deal with some good themes.

Each stage is a battle where you have to fight some enemies of various types, and usually fight another character (or multiple) as a boss fight.  The square attack is used for your normal attack string, the end of which usually has a launcher.  The triangle button is your signature breach art, and you can hold it for a block-breaking attack.  X button is jump and the circle button is dash.  Unfortunately, there is a big downtime at the end of a dash where you cannot move while the animation finishes.  It really slows down the action, but I suppose it is a balancing thing for the versus modes.  Being stuck in a slow animation is still not fun, as much of the action feels slower than previous games in the series.  Some can be canceled by jumping, dashing or blocking, but it's a pain to deal with in the first place, since other games in the genre aren't near as egregious.

The girls can also transform into their shinobi forms when you have at least one super meter.  The transformation animations are more involved this time around.  The shinobi form gives you slightly different attacks, and multiple air dashes to continue combos.  You also gain access to your super arts, which can be devastating when used correctly.  Instead of transforming to the shinobi form, you can shred your own clothes and go into "frantic" mode, which increases your speed and damage, but lowers your defense.  You also have access to new attacks and your super arts in this mode.  Of course, during battle both your an your opponents will get their clothing torn, and finishing them off with a super can completely strip them, complete with balls of light covering their parts (which I honestly prefer to the chibi faces and streak of light).

While the basic combat is mostly the same, they added a few new touches.  The girls can run up walls now, and preform a diving attack while doing it.  There are bomb items you can pick up and throw at enemies for various effects, like freezing or poisoning them.  My favorite bomb is the puppet one that gives you a pilot-able mech suit for a short time.  They have also added a friend on some missions.  You can use them to bust you out of a combo, continue yours, or team up for a flashy mid-air combo attack.  While this is a step in the right direction, I'm still hoping for an actual tag mechanic or even -gasp- couch co-op.

My favorite addition to the series is the location KOs.  Called "creative finishes", these are like stage fatalities, but with covered nudity ("conveniently placed apostrophes") instead of gore.  If you finish your opponent near certain areas of the stages (denoted by a sign with a "!" on it), they will be stripped and be launched into the environment for some more humiliation.  Several more have been added through patches to the Japanese version, which are included in the US release.  While most of them are location-based, there are three that are tied to specific costumes available from Ayame's store.  Those won't shred like normal, but offer a unique finish animation.

The story is presented as a long, single narrative where each stage has a set girl for you to use.  Once you have completed a level, you are free to do it again with any of the unlocked shinobi.  I like the single narrative aspect of the story presentation, but there is still some problems with being under-leveled.  Later on in the story it will bump a character's level up to 10, which does help.  As you make your way through the story, you will eventually unlock the extra (non-DLC) characters. It's a pretty long story, will 8 days having 5 or so missions each (usually one per school/group of shinobi).  Half the missions aren't very hard, but the ones against multiple girls (of which there are many) can be tricky.

The AI is about the same as it has always been, where it likes to attack the moment you are within range, or zip around you while you are trying to hit them.  In the final stages, it seemed that I would be assaulting them, and then I would just get hit.  Or, they would recover from me hitting them before I did.  Yikes.  They seem less prone to break out of your air combos, but probably because the button mashing mini-game from Shinovi Versus is gone.  While the AI doing these things might be them taking full advantage of the game's systems, I don't think it's what they should do on an "easy" setting.  It's true that I only failed a stage once or twice, but it had frustrating parts nonetheless.

Each character also has a mini story that becomes available as you destroy the festival platforms in the story.  Each story stage shows how many platforms there are, so it is easy to see where you missed them.  The "Girls Heart" stories open in a weird order, but you can see how many platforms you need to unlock them.  There are five stages in each one, and some dialogue in the stages that furthers the short stories.  They are pretty fun, a great way to get more experience, money and a nice picture at the end.  They can be pretty humorous, too.

Like Shinovi Versus before it, there are multiplayer modes in Estival Versus.  Hence why the word "versus" is in the title.  The modes have been expanded a bit since last time, and one addition in particular I actually like.  There is Point Battle (try to get the highest points by killing enemies), Understorm (collect panties that drop around the arena), Capture the Bra (it's a flag), Queen of the Hills (destroy platforms), Walker Battle (fight in the mechs), Shinobi Deathmatch (self explanatory) and Shinobi Survival.  Of the actual versus ones, Queen of the Hills, is the best, simply because it has team creative finishes.  I really like Shinobi Survival, because it is co-op against waves of enemies.  It's a great place to get experience for characters, but doesn't seem good for money.  You can do it by yourself, but the score won't upload, which is fine.  I'd love to play it with my friends if any of them get this game.  It's worth noting that the versus modes can have up to 10 people on the PS4 (only 4 for the survival mode), and 4 players max for the Vita version.

As a fan of the Senran Kagura games, I was happy to finally see one on a console, and Estival Versus did not disappoint.  The story is long and involved, but there doesn't seem to be as much exposition as previous titles.  There are some balance changes to the characters that I'm not too fond of, but it doesn't ruin the experience for me.  Multiplayer modes have returned (meh), but have added a co-op survival (nice!).  The AI can still be annoying, but the game overall is very fun.  Not one I would play around the kids, though.

The Good:
Same fast-paced, ninja stripping action, now with environmental humiliations and more characters!

The Bad:
The CPU opponents.  They can easily move out of the way of whatever they want, shrug off as many hits as they want, and hit you out of just about anything.  Fun!

The SaHD:
I'm glad some of the characters I really like using haven't been nerfed.  It seems like every game they tweak the characters, which usually results in some becoming terrible.  Katsuragi still hasn't recovered from the first 3DS game, where she was great...and now is not.  Haruka has been tooled with and is somewhat better, but still not good.  Ryona fell far from the previous game where she was top-tier, and Mirai somehow got worse.  Sadly though, I think newcomer Hanabi is the worst character.  Hopefully them make her more usable in a future game.

I'm still gunning for the platinum in the game, time permitting.  I only need to finish buying everything in the store and I'm good!

Score: 8.8/10

(Review code for Senran Kagura: Estival Versus was provided by the publisher.)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bravely Second (3DS) Preview - The First 10 Hours

Well, I talked a bit about the demo, so I figure I might as well chronicle some of my progress in the full release of Bravely Second (and limit the spoilers as much as I can).  I really enjoyed the first one, but didn't finish it sadly (put in over 60 hours though).  I got to the part that everybody hates, where you start playing Groundhog Day Simulator.  I got the idea they were going for, but it was too long and could have been done much better.  So, I moved on to other games, since they don't review themselves!

Thankfully the game starts off with a recap of the first game.  Besides being a great refresher for fans, it helps people like me who didn't want to put up with the bulls ideas the first one had at the end.  Note I had a used copy of the original, so I did see the subtitle change, and hence, had some idea what was going on.

From that good part we then jump into the story, which starts with an unwinable fight versus a stupidly over-powered foe.  Yup, two of my least favorite things right off the bat!  I guess they have to make the new foe threatening, but the party fighting him would have done much, much better than that.  Sigh.

After that the story gets much better, as you assemble the game's main cast during the prologue.  This part clocked in at 5 hours for me, which is crazy for a prologue (the previous record was 4 for Trails in the Sky).  Also near the end of it is a great scene that makes good use of the 3DS's gyroscope.  You see the point of view of the last party member, and can move the system around to see various things.  You can focus on people talking to you, or look at the extra details in the scenery.  It's really cool, and apparently was also shown at the end of the previous game.  Either way, I wouldn't mind another scene like that, or more games to have something cool like that (but I wouldn't want it overdone).

In Chapter 1, you also get your first side quests.  These will reward you with a new job.  Well, new to you in the game.  Since Bravely Second boasts new job classes, the previous ones are gained from side quests.  This would be neat, but they worked in a choice system to it.  So when you do a side quest to unlock a job, you have to choose which side to fight, and that is the job you get.  You get the other one later, but it's still kind of dumb to me.  The philosophical choices presented would be more impactful if I wasn't siding with whichever job I wanted less instead of who I agreed with.

Plus, since these jobs are from the first game, the same people have them.  I'm sure they should be dead, since you kill them several times during the previous game.  I don't really like recycling a lot of characters, especially when it doesn't make sense.  At least previous players will have an idea how to fight and beat them.

The "one more fight" mechanic is great and a real time-saver.  If you kill the enemy during the first turn, you can battle again immediately.  While you won't recover any BP, meaning you can't go on forever, you get a bonus multiplier to money, experience and job points.  It is almost always worth doing.  I have the encounter rate set lower most of the time.  Using the "one more fight" I can fight less often on the map, but I still don't need to grind.  I love it.

The last thing I'll talk about for my first 10 hour foray into the game is the chomper making mini-game.  At one point a creepy owl gives you stuff to make plush chompers.  You do this while the system is open, and you your characters make dolls.  There are upgrades you can buy and use to make them faster, make more per batch, or sell them for more points.  You can also exchange the points for money (the starting rate is atrocious).  I have no idea why this was put into the game.  It doesn't really add anything, and just comes across as bizarre.  I guess it doesn't hurt anything, but it's a very WTF inclusion.

| The Second 10 Hours >

Friday, April 22, 2016

Trulon: The Shadow Engine (PC) Review

I will admit that I had not heard of Trulon: The Shadow Engine before its PC release.  Once I saw it was an RPG that used a card system in its turn-based fights, I was interested in trying it out.  As a fan of both collectible card games and role-playing games, I have enjoyed the other mashups I've tried.

Repeat readers of my reviews may know that I love sprites and 16-bit looks to games.  Trulon pulls it off very well, and even has some nice animations.  The way the characters move and animate is really cool looking.  When you activate a card, it shows a more close-up view that reminds me of the pre-battle animations in Pokemon.  There are a few different attack animations based on which card you use.  It would be nice if all the different types of cards got unique animations, at least for the party members, but having as many as they do is nice.

When battle starts, you are given a few cards (called Tactics) from your character's deck on the bottom left side of the screen.  The bottom right side has a wildcard and the standard attack (these will replenish).  Every time your turn comes up, you will draw another card.  You can run out of cards in your deck, but will always be able to use a wildcard and the default attack.  To use a card, you drag it to the target.  The animation plays and it shows the damage done (or other effect).  Simple and it gets the job done, but there is strategy involved in when to use certain cards, as they may allow more cards to be played, or affect attack and defense.

Your party members can also equip up to three items to boost their stats or give other effects.  Many are typical "give x HP, Str, etc.", but some will give bonuses depending on cards used during combat.  At a certain point in the game, it will randomly assign cards as an "Assault Tactic", noted by the lightning bolt on it.  The equipment pieces that affect these can be very useful, giving you a small heal, stunning opponents and more, just for using the right card.  It's easy to switch equipment, which is good since it pays to play around with your loadout and figure out what is most effective for your playstyle.

Admittedly, battles are harder than I thought they would be.  I usually wipe out the weaker enemies first, then the stronger, but most times the opposite seems more effective in Trulon.  Some enemies can do a lot of damage, and you need to eliminate them fast or have a cards that mitigate the threat.  Part of the difficulty is due to the card-based battle system.  You might have the right attacks for the situation, but you have to have them in your hand to be of any use.  It adds a random element to the battles that I'm not too fond of.  I prefer reliability in my RPG fights, but the card system is still fun.  At least if you lose a fight, it puts you back right before that, so there isn't a whole lot of pressure, just some wasted time.  At least you aren't severely punished for something that is largely out of your control.

On the world map, in a town, or exploring a dungeon is done by clicking where you want to go.  The world map doesn't always point you in the right direction, but the areas aren't too big so you shouldn't get lost much.  While moving around it, there are also random locations of interest.  While these are mostly fights, there are some that are just items.  The player is free to skip these, and can even walk out of them if you don't like the enemies present.  In dungeons, the enemies sit around at various places, so you can see what you are going to fight.  They don't really respawn, either, so you will have to fight on the world map if you want to grind.  Grinding isn't really necessary if you are careful about what cards and equipment you carry into battle.

The story is interesting enough, but the game is a little on the short side for an RPG.  There's even an achievement for beating it in under 5 hours if you are so inclined (this would be best to do after a first run).  The save system in the game is not ideal for me.  I looked through the menus to find a save option, and even scoured the town, thinking the game may use old school save points.  Nope.  The game saves when you exit it, and automatically at various points.  While not my preferred method of saving, I didn't have the autosave mess up on me, which really helped me out when I had a soft-lock bug while playing.

Trulon: The Shadow Engine is a pretty fun, but short, RPG.  The card-based fights is the game's biggest strength, making it very unique.  It is also its biggest weakness, making the fights much more random, longer and more difficulty than they have to be.  Either way, I had fun guiding Gladia and her compatriots on their adventure.

The Good:
I really like the character animations.  The card-based fights are innovative and unique.

The Bad:
However, they (the card-based fights) are also too random.  Many times I know I have the card I need in my deck, but I don't have it in my hand, making the battle take longer than it normally should.

The SaHD:
Sometimes going back to a previous area would cause dialogue scenes to replay.  While that did help me get two of the achievements, that should probably be fixed.

(Review code for Trulon: The Shadow Engine was provided by the publisher)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bravely Second [Demo] (3DS): the Good, the Bad and the SaHD

The Good:
Meaty demo that gives you a good taste of the final game.  Once I understood how to use it effectively, the "One More Fight" mechanic is great.  It's free and you can easily play it for 8 hours+!

The Bad:
The second to last boss fight is brutally hard.  Even harder than the final boss of the demo on the hard setting.  Ugh, such bad memories.

The SaHD:
I'm glad that there are bonuses to transfer over to the full version, but some of them are really tedious, like filling out the beastiary.  You have to fight each non-boss monster something like 100 times.  Yuck.  The bonuses are nice, but not worth seeking out in the demo, unless you are killing time until you can get the full version.

(Bravely Second [Demo] was obtained as a free download from the Nintendo E-shop)