Wednesday, December 6, 2017

School Girl / Zombie Hunter (PS4) Review

Trapped in a school, surrounded by zombies, and no way to escape...what's a girl to do?  Bust out some guns and start blasting!  That's the basic premise of School Girl / Zombie Hunter, a game set in the Onechanbara universe with the title that explains it all.

The game features a single player campaign as well as multi-player missions.  The story is divided into 5 chapters, each then broken up further into 5 to 7 missions.  Side missions are unlocked after completing each chapter.  Missions have story scenes before and after them, which usually take longer than the missions themselves.  I would like a way to advance the spoken dialogue without skipping the scene entirely.  Character selection on most missions is fixed, but some allow you to choose.  Plus, when you complete a mission, you can replay it with any of the girls.  This is useful for getting collectibles (because of course there are collectibles), and grinding.

Each girl starts with a proficient weapon type, but you are free to equip them with up to five different weapons from any type.  I like to keep at least their default one, as most are pretty useful, but I also give each an assault rifle, as it seems the most useful and well-rounded, and a sniper rifle.  The rocket launcher sadly didn't seem as useful as I wanted, and not just because the explosion can easily damage you and your allies.  Since weapons don't really differentiate the girls, they each have a unique skill.  Some are more useful than others, notably Akiha's item-less resurrection, and Mayaya marking the location of items and collectibles.

Besides the different types of weapons, each weapons has many variants.  There are varied stats like attack power and reload speed to consider when equipping your characters.  Plus there are additional bonuses, like blast that knocks enemies down, and dismember, which can cripple the zombies.  You will also unlock outfits and shoes for the girls to wear.  These don't affect your stats, so choose whichever you want.  Lastly, you can change the girls' underwear.  It tracks the time worn for each girl, which at a certain point actually is used for something.  It's weird to be sure, but it is Onechanbara after all.

The default controls are okay, but not really a configuration I would use for a third-person shooter.  The jump I could deal with on the triggers, but having the zoom/look down sights button as a face button is just too weird to me.  Thankfully the controls can be changed, so I set them more like a traditional shooter.  This ended up working really well for me, although the aiming sensitivity and myself were always at odds.

Even on the normal setting, the game's difficulty seems inconsistent.  Some missions are really easy, and some can get quite hard.  It's mostly because of the different enemy types.  The normal, slow zombies pose little threat.  There are some special ones that glow green or orange, which explode in a poison or concussive blast respectively.  These are only a problem if they die near you, or your melee attack doesn't knock them away.  Still, not too bad.

Then there are the glowing red ones.  These will run at you as fast as they can.  As you might have guessed, they are really annoying.  Partially because they only respond to being shot when they die, partly because it can be hard to shoot them, and mostly because the game isn't designed to deal with them.  They are too aggressive, and you can't do much about it.  There is a dodge roll, which takes stamina, and can't be chained too closely together.  Plus, if you do it too early, they just run up to where you rolled to, and hit you there.  Your melee attack may work, but you can't interrupt your reload with it.  I could deal with one or two of these enemies, but they tend to come in groups.  If one hits you, the rest usually will too, which just adds damage you can't mitigate at that point.  Enemies can spawn pretty much anywhere, including right next to you or behind you, and the red ones can spawn while running at you, leaving you no time to react.  Honestly, I wouldn't have a problem if they weren't so constant and numerous on many missions.

The best way to deal with the difficulty is to grind for experience.  The only real way to get experience is by killing enemies, as the end reward is directly tied to the number of kills you get.  So, missions that don't require you to kill enemies, or only have bosses, won't help you much.  Difficulty also doesn't give any kind of bonus, so you are best off grinding a timed survival mission on the easiest setting, since you will kill more enemies that way.  Overall, this system makes gaining levels inconsistent, furthering the need to grind.

While the game boasts multiplayer missions, they are noticeably more difficult than the story ones.  You can have up to five people play them, and it seems to be geared for that, no matter how many join.  I tried a few times to play missions, but was only able to get into a mission twice.  The first time, the other person and I barely won (probably because he was a much higher level), while I wasn't as successful the next time.  At first, I thought the online might be good for grinding, but it's way too difficult to be useful for much of anything.  If you are lucky enough to have a full group, it might be okay, but good luck finding one.

School Girl / Zombie Hunter is a pretty average game.  It has a few neat aspects, like the character skills and the weapon variants, but doesn't do many unique things.  The difficulty is wildly inconsistent most of the time, and the loading screens could use...anything to make them not just black screens for several seconds at a time.

The Good:
A good amount of missions to undertake, good variety of weapon abilities.

The Bad:
The red, rushing enemies are annoying, and the difficulty feels all over the place.

The SaHD:
Wait, why do the girls from this school normally carry pistols?!  And how does the jamming not affect the radio?  And since it doesn't, how come they still can't leave?

(Review code for School Girl / Zombie Hunter was provided by the publisher)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Demon Gaze II (PS Vita) Review

Demon Gaze II is the sequel to the first Demon Gaze, which came out on the Vita...over 3 years ago?!  Wow, time has flown.  Anyway, that game was okay, but had some huge spikes in difficulty that left me kind of down on the title.  Since then, I've gained a better appreciation of the dungeon RPG genre, thanks to some really good titles.  I was anxious to see how Demon Gaze II stacks up to its predecessor, and to the genre as a whole.

Like most other dungeon RPGs, you move around a grid map and battle in first person.  The dungeons themselves are uncovered as you move through them, and there are a few trap panels, which will damage you.  As you did in the first game, the point of each dungeon is to find the magic circles, use a gem to start a fight, and win the fight to claim the circle.  When all circles are claimed, the way to the boss will be open.  Overall, the maps felt smaller than the previous game, and thankfully there were less gimmick panels.  There's also some nice shortcuts that you can open up.

To start a circle battle, you give up one to three gems.  There are gems for each type of equipment, plus some special ones that make the enemies stronger, or the resulting item better.  If you win the fight, you will get a drop of whatever type(s) of gem you used.  Use a helmet gem, get a helmet as an enemy drop.  While in the last game these gems were plentiful, you will have to buy a vast majority of the ones you use in this game.  I did get a few, but nowhere near enough for all the circles you encounter.  Considering how big of an issue money is, this is disappointing.  Also disappointing is the fact that you can no longer save your game at any circle.  This was a very nice feature, and I wish it had returned.

Battles themselves are almost identical to last time.  They are turn-based and first person view.  You pick what each party member will do on that turn, and then they play out in order of agility.  There's a lot of text while you do it, so you can use the triangle button to speed it up.  The same button can be used to repeat the actions you did last turn, which is great for grinding.  One reworked feature is demonize.  Since your party members are previous bosses, who have powered forms, the demonize command will change them into that form.  Your party members will power up, gain access to new skills.  Every turn, it takes one level of star power per character.  you can get more by killing enemies.  It's very useful on bosses and tough enemies.  The star power gauge is also used to defend from star gaze, an ability that strong enemies have.  If effected by star gaze, your non-main character party members attack each other and you.  While an interesting idea, I don't like that since it makes fights against those foes take a lot longer, because you have to save the gauge for the counter skill, instead of doing more damage with demonize.  There's also demon fusion for another stat boost and advantage in battle.

Boss fights are important, because that is how you recruit new characters.  The first three bosses can be done in any order.  These fights just felt right, since I didn't need to grind to beat them.  However, I had to grind to beat every boss after that, which wears me down.  It does give a bit of extra money, which you will need, since resurrecting a character gets ridiculously expensive as they level up.  Dying would be less of an issue if bosses and other strong enemies didn't have whole party attacks and such high damage skills.  Also, while instant death spells are rare in Demon Gaze II, they are always a big no-no.

If you have seen any of the PR for this game, you probably noticed that dating sim elements are mentioned.  This is the maintenance feature, and it is used to power up you and your party members, plus give them some personality.  Maintenance costs one crystal, and you have to poke the person at some part of their body.  Yes, it's pretty much as weird as it sounds, and reminds me of Moero Chronicle.  It is not as risque as that, but it's on the same street.  The real poke is just one try, but there are a few practice pokes beforehand.  At lower likability levels, it will leave up your best spot.  Getting a "perfect" is much better than a "good", and will raise the likability more as a result.  When it is at 100%, you can take the demon on a date and gain a new skill or stat boost.  The skills and boosts are good, and worth doing the dates for.

Prometh is back, and she can store your items, resurrect party members, and strengthen your equipment.  To strengthen something, you must use ether.  Ether is gained by sacrificing a weapon or piece of armor, and you only gain ether that relates to the specific thing you sacrificed.  So if you recycle a katana, you get katana ether, which then can power up another katana.  It probably works pretty well, but I don't have enough extra stuff to really play around with it.  Remember that you have to buy gems now, as they rarely are given out beyond a few early ones.  I don't really have the extra money to blow on extra gems, which I would just destroy to power up other ones.  In my mind, it's a bit of a design flaw.

So would a fan of dungeon RPGs like Demon Gaze II?  I think so.  Most aspects of the previous game have been improved, although I miss the abundance of gems and being able to save at any unlocked circle.  I really like having the demons as party members instead of making my own party, as it gives them actual character.  While it takes longer than that game to reach a point where grinding is necessary, it still occurs unfortunately.

The Good:
A dungeon RPG that is improved over its predecessor in almost every way.

The Bad:
Still requires grinding.  Money and equipment are harder to get.

The SaHD:
Why do so many demons start over at level 1 when you recruit them?  That's only mildly helpful.

(Review code for Demon Gaze II was provided by the publisher)

Monday, November 27, 2017

ELEX (Xbox One) Review

Did you play Risen or either of its sequels?  Did you enjoy them?  If yes, then you will likely enjoy ELEX.

Oh, you'd like some more info?  Fair enough, as I have more to say, but be warned that there are many comparisons between the two.  The team responsible for the Risen games has fully entered the current generation of games with their new offering, ELEX.  Instead of being a fantasy world, this one is set in a post apocalyptic fantasy world.  That probably comes across as sarcastic, but I admit I really like the idea of the game and the world it builds.

ELEX's world is pretty big, too.  There are several different environments, which all make sense in the context of the game.  There are plenty of places to visit, items to loot, and enemies to fight.  Several factions all fight for dominance, and you can join them, or work against them.  There are lots of quests to complete, too.  For better or worse, these will send you all over the map.  While this is to be expected of later quests, there are too many of these early on.  When you are just starting out, and hit the first town, you'd like quests that are close by, with weaker enemies, so you can build up your level and inventory.  Too bad the developers don't agree with that player-friendly philosophy.

Some early quests can be completed in the town, but most involve running to other places.  I'd be fine with that but again, theses are past enemies that you have no business fighting.  You will just die really quickly.  You can get eventually get a partner to run around with you that makes fighting a little easier.  However, you still have to go past monsters much too strong for you before you can complete the companion quests.  The only real solution is to run away from enemies and try to avoid them.  Showing a suggested level for quests might be a good start, but I'd really just prefer the enemies around the town were beatable at reasonable levels.  It shouldn't be too much to ask to have a balanced game.

Now we get to the combat.  Like Risen, it is pretty stiff.  Enemies can do a lot of damage to you very quickly.  You have an attack, block, roll, and jump.  Attacks are fairly self-explanatory, and do well enough on their own.  If you connect with enough hits together, you will build up a meter that allows you to execute a special move.  This would be good, except for the bad aspect of combat: stamina.

Attacking takes stamina.  Dodge rolling takes stamina.  Blocking stifles your stamina regeneration.  Attacking enough times to fill the special rarely leaves you with enough stamina to then actually use the move.  Dodging and enemy's attack tends to leave you too far or without enough stamina to counter.  Blocking doesn't seem to reduce the damage much (maybe a shield would help, but I can't really afford that and skill training).  Worst of all, stamina isn't tied to a stat, so the only way to increase it is by training in a particular skill, which will take hours to be able to get.  I'm not a fan of these kind of limiting factors in fighting, as the fun level just crashes.

With no HUD, you know it's a glamshot.
On the other hand, ranged combat felt pretty good.  The damage seems good, and it gives you an early advantage in encounters.  The only drawback is having to find or buy a lot of ammo.  Needless to say, money isn't always that easy to come by, especially in the early game.  It gets better as you go (especially with some key skills), but doesn't help the first 10 or so hours, where the difficulty is killer.  Switching from melee to ranged worked okay at best, but I think that's because my controller's d-pad isn't what it used to be.

Probably the best aspect of the game is the jet pack.  This allows you to explore, take shortcuts, or sometimes avoid enemies.  It takes a bit to get used to how it works, but after a few minutes of practice I was long jumping like a pro.  The added vertical dimension to exploration really opens the world up.  The companions seem to have them too, so you won't leave them in the dust when you use it.  If it wasn't for the jet pack, I'm not sure I could have survived the first few hours of the game, since it is so dangerous.

When you level up, you gain 10 stat points and a skill point.  The stat points you can allocate yourself, while you must pay a trainer to use the skill point.  The skill trees are all clearly laid out, as is the requirements for that level of skill.  Trainers are marked on your map as well.  Except for the rising costs of training, I think the skill and stat system works pretty well.  I'm betting you can still mess up your character though.

At many points through your adventure, you will have to make choices.  These can affect your "coldness", which is how human you act.  Many of your responses affect this, even ones you wouldn't think.  If the coldness matters, I'd really like to know which responses affect it, since most feel random.  Depending on your answers in quests, there are different outcomes.  Standard, yes, but appreciated.  Of course there are also romance options in the game.  The dialogue in the game is pretty good, save for my problem with the coldness rating.

I remember the difficulty curve in Risen, so I put ELEX on easy at the start.  It was still very rough, and I shudder to think how bad things can get on the hardest setting.  You take a lot of damage from enemy hits, and can very quickly get out of your league when just moving around the map.  Since enemies don't display levels, your only indication of difficulty is the skull icon next to an enemy's health.  That means they are too strong for you.  If it's not there, they still might be.  Point is, the game is way too hard and unforgiving on even the easiest setting, since there is no effective balance.  That really kills my enjoyment.

ELEX has some very unique things about it, but is also massively bogged down by abysmal game balance.  It's very similar to the Risen series, just with balance that is somehow even worse.  I really wanted to like the game far more than I did.

The Good:
The setting, world, and story are pretty good.

The Bad:
Lack of quest and enemy levels, and did I mention the balance?  I think I did, but they game just doesn't want you to have fun playing it.

The SaHD:
The money is called Elex shards, Elex, and shards.  It's pretty confusing for the first few hours.

(Review code for Elex was provided by the publisher, THQ Nordic)