Monday, October 20, 2014

Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star (PS3) Review

By Tina Hand

Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star is a difficult game to classify.  While it is in many ways clearly an RPG, the unique battle system, oddly limited amount of equipment, and large blocks of story make it something unique.  When I first heard about this game, I was excited, because I loved the Ar Tonelico games for their compelling story, interesting battle systems, and unique methods of stat boosting.  Your characters are there to protect a singer, who stands behind your battle party and basically “sings” a spell the entire time your party is fighting.  Then, whenever you feel the need, you cast the spell and watch the fun ensue.  Ar Nosurge carries on that tradition but takes it a bit further since you only have one party member and one singer.

There are so many things to like about this game.  Everything you need is at your fingertips, often right from the outset, and there are multiple ways to improve your characters.  To make more songs available to your singer, you “dive” into what’s called their Genomsphere.  Basically, you take a peek inside their head to learn more about them and encourage them to trust you more.  With the Ar Tonelico games, you would dive repeatedly into the same girl, learning more and more about her and unlocking her potential that way.  Ar Nosurge went a slightly different and (I feel) more realistic way about it.  Yes, you can dive into your singer, but your singer will link herself with other characters, typically close friends or people she’s interacted with in the past, and you dive into them in a way as well.  So instead of learning more about her by digging your way deep into her psyche, you learn about her by learning about how she and her friends see each other.  This unlocks crystals you can then equip on your characters through a “purification ritual” where the two of them sit in a pool/pond/bath house and chat about things that have happened in the game.  Kind of seems like an excuse to get the girls into oddly designed bathing suits, but still has a purpose.  You can also synthesize new equipment and items from the drops you get in battle.

I think the battle system is my favorite part of this game.  It has been completely changed, and now instead of running around finding groups to fight or waiting for an encounter, there is a meter at the top of your screen that tells you the likelihood of an encounter and how many waves of enemies you’ll fight.  Think of it like having the entire dungeon’s contingent of encounters at once.  Each “wave” is like an encounter, and with a properly charged song you can clear out the entire batch of them in one fell swoop.  Ar Nosurge does an exceptional job of demonstrating just how powerful these singers are that they can clear out entire dungeons with a single song, and the different combinations the main attacker can use provides the player with plenty of variety in battle.

I won’t say battles are easy, because some of them can get quite complex.  However, there was never really a point where I felt underpowered, and that was before I fully understood the synthesis system or how to get the most out of my equipment.  There is definitely more strategy to a battle than simply mashing buttons, but if you do choose that route you aren’t going to find yourself getting beaten on a regular basis.  Of everything in this game, I liked the battle system the best.  The ability to control the opponent’s turns (and often outright deny them the ability to damage your singer) was awesome, and in a lot of ways the ability to do all the dungeon’s battles at once made grinding less of a chore and more of a puzzle.

In terms of art style, there have been significant changes since the days of Ar Tonelico.  In a lot of ways, the graphics and synthesis system are reminiscent of the Atelier series of games, where you grind in dungeons to gather the items you need to make new stuff.  The choice to go with more 3D models wasn’t one I was particularly fond of, though it certainly emphasizes the difference between Ar Nosurge and Ar Tonelico.  Perhaps the most obvious thing, though, was the character designs.  The majority of the main characters stand out because they all have ridiculously over the top, asymmetrical costumes.  Even Cass is subject to this flaw, though her costume is the simplest in design.  It seems as though they were trying a little too hard to make these people stand out from the rest, and while it’s good to make your main characters appear different, this seemed over-exaggerated.  Locations were all very artfully drawn, though they seemed odd when you actually go and are running around a 3D model instead of seeing the drawing style of the over world.  Overall, it wasn’t that compelling, and some of the characters costumes (in particular, Nay the Gale and Prim) are actually off-putting.

Now, however, I have to talk about the actual story.  The most important thing to note is that this game is technically a sequel to a game that was never released here in the US.  So often the characters will reference things that happened in the previous game and often I didn’t realize that’s what they were talking about until much, much later.  Through the game, you have what equates to two separate parties: Delta and Cass, and Earthes and Ion.  You start with Delta and Cass, and eventually you gain the ability to switch between them and Eathess and Ion.  There are a lot of things that are not fully explained, or the explanations are ones you have to find for yourself, or they expect you to know because you played the previous game.  So often I found myself completely confused and wondering just what had happened, or why people were acting the way they were.  Helpfully, the game’s creators included an encyclopedia with notes and references, so that the player can figure out what all these strange terms thrown out there actually mean.  Unfortunately, the plot is so thick that often I found myself uninterested in actually knowing what was going on.  There was never anything about any of the game’s characters that drew me in, or made me feel like I could understand them, their motives, their goals, or their problems.  I think this is the first RPG I’ve ever played where I found myself skipping dialogue because I was bored.  Or annoyed with the surprising amount of typos.

So, overall, this was a decent game.  If you have never played any of the Ar Tonelico-style games, then this isn’t the one that will convince you to.  For that, I would strongly recommend the first Ar Tonelico for Playstation 2.  The battle system, while unique and innovative, was not enough to overpower the heavy amount of plot, or the indecipherable motives of its characters.  This wasn’t a game I felt compelled to continue playing simply because I had to know what happened to these people.  I played it because the battle system becomes addictive once you learn how to manipulate it.  It’s a fun game to play, but the amount of play time was, for once, limited by the amount of plot time.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus (Vita) Review

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus picks up six months after the ending of Senran Kagura Burst, a 3DS game.  It introduces a new shinobi school, Gessen Academy, and a new crew for the evil Hebijo, since the previous elites have gone rogue.  Of course, the fan service the game is built upon is in full force, and maybe even a little more risque.

While the 3DS game, Burst, is more of a side scrolling action game (think Final Fight or Streets of Rage), Shinovi Versus is more of a 3D hack and slash (think Dynasty Warriors or Sengoku Basara).  Thankfully, blocking has been added, making some fights a lot easier (yes, you strangely couldn't block in the 3DS one, even though the enemies could).  Attacking and moving just feel a little better and more fluid than before.  The only real downside is that it can be much harder to keep track of your opponents.  Before, they mostly stayed on one screen, but now they can easily attack from offscreen or even behind you.

The biggest thing the Senran Kagura series is known for is the fan service.  Most of the girls have big chests that bounce around a lot, and in combat, damage can get your clothes ripped off.  Since the bosses are all playable characters, they, too, can shed their clothing as you damage them.  Now, if you finish off a boss with a super move while they are in their underwear (top or bottom), it will shred that.  They won't be totally nude, since there will be little chibi faces covering their top, or a streak of light covering their bottom if you do it.  Ironically, some of these cover up more than the underwear they replace.  Yeah, not everyone is going to like this aspect (it doesn't bother me at all), but at least the game is upfront with its focus.

Last game, ranged enemies and characters were easily the most annoying, because you couldn't block their attacks.  Now, they can still be really annoying (Yagyu in the air being the main offender), but notably less so.  The AI overall is much more aggressive, and chase you down whenever you escape their attacks.  This makes them all harder than the previous game, but they didn't feel cheap or unfair (except maybe Asuka's strong attack).  Still, it can get annoying when you are just trying to air recover and escape, only to have the boss and their minions hound you incessantly.  Another cool addition is the midair fights.  Previously, when you launched a boss, you could follow them up and pile on extra damage with little resistance.  Now, if the launcher person recovers fast enough and attacks as the other is, it enters a clash where you have to button mash to win.  It's pretty fun, but there ended up being too many of those toward the end of each school's story mode.

From the outset, there are now three schools to choose from and go through their story.  Plus, you can unlock another group from the previous game, bringing the total to four groups of five girls, meaning there are twice as many characters as last time.  The returning characters have been tweaked as well, which benefits most of them (especially Hibari).  Sadly, I felt like Katsuragi was changed a bit for the worse, but it could be because she was my favorite to use in Burst.  Most of the new characters are just as good as the old, but I feel like each school still get at least one character that isn't that good.  I'm sure it's personal preference, as someone will undoubtedly love a character I don't, and dislike the ones I do.  I guess the point of this is that no one felt out of place.  They were all usable, and the new characters fit in perfectly.

One of the surprises of the previous game was how much story and character growth they had, and Shinovi Versus continues this.  A lot of the story is told through on-screen text with some spoken dialogue (in Japanese).  If you are willing to pay attention to it, it's actually good, and you see growth and depth in many of the characters.  Sadly it's easy for people to completely ignore it, since they will dismiss the game out of hand.  I'm not saying the story is the reason to buy this game, but it's actually done well, and better than many AAA games that I've played.

Content wise, there's also a lot of stages in the game.  Four playable schools with 24 or 25 stages each adds up to 97 story stages.  Each character also has their own mini story of 5 stages.  That's 100 more stages.  Even if each stages only takes a few minutes, counting story and loading, you'll get around 30 hours just to get through everyone's story.  This will also net you most of the trophies, since the list is pretty standard.  Expect trophies for story completion, purchasing costume pieces and other similar things.  The stage areas themselves aren't super interesting, but I was usually paying attention to the enemies, so I wasn't bothered by them getting reused a lot.

Supposedly, the draw, or at least unique aspect, of this entry in the series is the versus mode.  Ad-hoc and online are both supported.  While this would be cool to some, I feel it's unnecessary.  It tried the modes out because thankfully you can put bots in the empty slots instead of waiting around for someone (I had the game before release so it would be even harder to find a game).  There are three modes, but they all feel the same.  There are four people, so you just pick an opponent and keep fighting them.  You could switch targets, but there's little point unless it's the down time between respawns.  One mode has you attack each other for points, and another gives points for knocking their clothes off.  The third sounds different, as you collect underwear.  However, since getting hit knocks some out of you, you just sit there and hit each other.  I have no doubt there are people who will love the versus modes, and play it with their friends, but it still feels tacked on.  Thankfully, it can be ignored (save for 3 easy trophies that only require participation, not winning) and it doesn't seem to have affected the main game.

I really like Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus.  It's a fun hack and slash with lots of fast-paced ninja action.  It revels in its fanservice and doesn't shy away from its risque nature.  If that doesn't bother you, or you enjoy that, I'd recommend playing the game.  The story is better and more developed than most people would give it credit for, and there is a lot of stages to conquer.  The versus mode is forgettable, but overall I had a lot of fun playing the game.  I'm also eagerly awaiting the two DLC characters that should be coming out soon.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Natural Doctrine (PS3) Review

Natural Doctrine is the inaugural title made by Kadokawa Game Studio.  It's a strategy RPG in a fantasy setting.  The enemy and location designs seem more "western", being more brown and gray, where the character designs are much more "eastern".  It looks nice, and the character portraits have different settings, so you can have more realistic (as they are called), or the anime style with either large or small portraits.  I was surprised so many lines were voiced, too.

At its heart, the game is a strategy RPG, although not quite in the way I'm used to.  While battles do take place on a grid, each square is rather large.  You can't move in or through an area that the enemy occupies, so no real back or side attacking like other strategy or tactical RPGs.  Instead, each team member's turns can link with each other if you fulfill certain conditions.  Linked attacks will happen together, so you can pile on the damage... or get it piled on you.  The enemy can and will use these mechanics against you.  The whole system is pretty unique, but complicated and not very well explained.  I'd like it better, but it takes a lot of trial and error to understand it, and the computer is vicious, since they can and do take full advantage of it.

Battles can be hard, since any of your characters dying will result in a game over.  Considering linked turns can stack on the damage, one mistake can end the battle.  It's that unforgiving.  Battles have some checkpoints, but the game doesn't note when you hit one (at least not that I saw).  It's nice, and something you will probably use a lot, especially early on.  Although, I had at least one battle that I had to completely restart because the checkpoint was in a no-win situation.  If you want to succeed, you'll want to learn the link conditions and take advantage of them to move your team and destroy the enemy.  There are a few battles you can repeat, but the rewards will diminish quickly, so grinding doesn't help a whole lot.

One of the best aspects of the game is the skill trees for each character.  There are a lot of good skills and abilities in them, and you can change what skills you purchased any time you aren't in a battle.  Want extra healing in the next encounter?  Use your points on the skills that give health potions.  Did you end up needing a stronger attack ability?  Take those healing potion points back and re-distribute to get it.  No more accidentally buying something or finding out something isn't as great as the description made it sound.  It's a very flexible system, which helps you tailor your party to meet each challenge, reducing the difficulty of some battles.  Plus, healing and recovery potions will refill after each battle, so there's no penalty for using them when you need them, as you can't run out in the long run.

Surprisingly, there is multiplayer in the game, both versus and co-op.  I really wanted to try the co-op, since that's more my thing, but was unable to find a game after searching at different times for a few days.  I also searched several times for a versus match, and eventually found one.  It went...ok... but it was really boring.  When the enemies go in single player, you can hold circle to make their turn faster, but no dice for versus (obviously).  So, you just have to sit there until your turn.  Plus, you don't have your normal team, but a team assembled of characters that you have cards of.  Basically every character and enemy in the game gets a card, and what you can fit into each "deck" will be used as your units.  Really, a tutorial would have helped so you wouldn't be trying to figure it all out the one or two chances you have to play it online with someone.  At least it was easy to spend the points for more cards, since they gave you some each day your connected to online.  If you are a trophy hunter, you will want to set up matches, since there are trophies tied to the multiplayer.

All in all, I wanted to like Natural Doctrine more than I did.  It has a unique take on strategy RPGs, but ultimately is a bit too complicated for its own good.  While it explains the systems at work, it doesn't do it well enough, which comes to bite you rather quickly.  Fights are tough, and one mistake can fail the whole thing.  If you master the link system, the game gets better, though.  It looks nice and the story seems decent.  There's also cross-save and cross play, so there are definitely positives to the game.  If you are willing to invest the time figuring it out, the game can be pretty fun, it's just a shame it's so unforgiving and frustrating while you learn.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Arcana Heart 3 LOVEMAX!!!!! (PS3) Review

Arcana Heart 3: LOVEMAX!!!!! is an all-girl anime fighter.  Most of the graphics are really good in the game.  The menu, character select, and character art all look great.  The animations of the in-battle characters are good, but the sprites themselves look a little blocky and blurry.  It's not enough to deter my enjoyment, but they do stand out against everything else looking crisp.  The audio is in Japanese only, and a fair amount of the story lines are voiced.

The game is basically a five-button fighter, although one of those isn't an attack, but a dash/tracking move.  That said, it is really made for an arcade stick, since many commands require multiple buttons pressed simultaneously.  It is playable on the PS3's default controller, as I was able to beat the game without an issue.  When using an arcade stick, the multi-button presses became easier.  So thankfully it controls pretty well on both the Dualshock 3 and an arcade stick.

As stated before, there are five buttons for fighting, and the rest are set to different combinations of them.  Each character has a weak, medium and strong attack that can be comboed together.  There is also a homing attack, but it just dashes or floats you toward your opponent.  You can attack from it, but it's not really an attack on its own.  The arcana button will allow you to air launch and wall bounce your opponent, plus helps unleash the special move of your chosen arcana.  The attacks and special attacks flow pretty well from each other, making combat fluid.  The biggest gripes I have are the slow walking movement (necessitating the homing attack to move quickly) and that the homing attack always goes toward the opponent.  It would be nice if it could be used to dash away from them, but I suppose then it wouldn't be "homing".  There are a lot of special attacks to play around with though, and each arcana has a different trick, so being able to pick which one you want is nice.

Thankfully, there is a good amount of single player content.  There is a story mode, that while not super deep, allows you to pick who your next opponent is from a few choices.  Add in some special dialogue when certain characters battle, and you get some decent replay as you make your way through with the different fighters.  While there is a fair amount of dialogue, it feels more like other fighting games' arcade mode.  The story for the After Story mode is much better.  There is an overall narrative, with each girl's story intersecting with the others, so playing through them all gives one big story.  Unfortunately, each story only contains one fight of one round, with lots of dialogue around it.  More fights would have been better, but I like the way After Story was presented and how the stories would weave between each other.

There is still some more single player stuff to the game, though.  There are Trials, which pits you against another fighter, but also gives you a task to complete, like landing a ground combo or doing jump cancels.  It's harder than other games' similar modes, simply because you have to do it while fighting, not in some pre-set scenario.  No fighting game would be complete without a survival mode, and Arcana Heart delivers it combined with a score attack.  To round it out there is also a time attack mode.  While the last two are hardly revolutionary, they all add together to give a healthy amount of single player content to go through if you don't want to fight your friends or people online.

All that single player content aside, a lot of the allure of fighting games is playing against others, especially online.  I played a few matches, and didn't have much trouble finding games.  Non-peak times were much leaner, which is to be expected of a niche fighting game.  The matches I played had barely any lag that I could tell, and it felt pretty smooth once the fight started.  I still got completely destroyed, since I'm not very competitive (or good at fighting games), but it wasn't lag that got me killed.  Of course there's also a local versus mode if you don't wont to go online and have people to play with.

Lots of things are unlockable in the game.  The most obvious are the nice CG images shown throughout the various stories and endings.  There's also the different animations that can be displayed on the side during the fights (since the battles are not in widescreen).  It's better to view them here since they can be quite distracting during combat.  You also unlock "Memories" for the characters, which are separate text-based stories told in several parts.  They aren't necessary to the overall package, but they are kind of fun to read through once.  Trophies run the usual fighting game gamut, from winning x amount of battles online, completing the trials and going through the story modes.  There are many character specific ones which require you to utilize their unique talents and mechanics.  The list is mostly skill based ones, with a few grind-heavy trophies thrown in for good measure.

While not the best fighting game I've played, Arcana Heart 3 LOVEMAX!!!!! is pretty fun.  If you dedicate enough time to it, there is a deep combat system at its heart (pun not intended).  I'm not very good at fighting games, but there was enough single player content to keep me playing for awhile.  The few matches I played online ran well, so I have no complaints there.  Even if you aren't a competitive person like me, there is still some fun to be had going through the story modes and unlocking different extras.  If you like the more methodical fighting games like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, give Arcana Heart 3 LOVEMAX!!!!! and all its exclamation points a try.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fairy Fencer F (PS3) Review

Fairy Fencer F is from the makers of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series and stars the always hungry slacker Fang.  After he draws out a fairy-imbued weapon (called Furies in the game), he decides to help his fairy, Eryn, find her lost memories and get his wish granted... for more food.  Honestly, each character I met in the game was pretty unlikable at first, but they slowly grew on me.  The dialogue is often pretty funny and the story flows quickly.  The character art is nice, and even the battle models look good.  However, there are several enemy models that are pretty much copy/pasted from the Neptunia games.

The flow of the game is pretty simple.  You get one or more events in town, then a dungeon opens up.  Complete the dungeon and return to town, rinse and repeat.  There are quests to do for extra money and items, which gives you more reasons to return to each dungeon.  One nice addition to the formula is altering dungeons.  You acquire more furies as the game progresses, and through Godly Revival (more on this below), give them skills that will affect a dungeon if they are stabbed into the ground near them.  These can be simple, like giving more experience or money, or more complex, like changing what enemies are in the dungeon.  There's even an optional area that gives more enemies to fight the more furies are stabbed in the ground.  The furies can be moved or taken back at any point on the world map, so don't worry about putting them down when you need to.

Combat will look a little familiar if you've played the Neptunia series.  You fight in a predefined area and can move within your radius on your turn.  Normal attacks can only hit one target, but skills can be positioned to hit multiple enemies.  You can also purchase combo slots and different attacks to put in them, customizing your attack string.  The fury your characters get can switch forms to other weapons as you make your way through the game, and each type has different advantages from each other.  The combos you have are put together from whatever attacks you purchase and equip, so you can, for example, start with a sword attack, the next hit will be a spear, then end with a gun attack.  It's really fun to set up the combos, and you even get attacks that will launch your target.  Granted that's not useful until you get a further combo slot, but then you can follow them up into the air for more damage.

Another aspect of battle is the Avalanche attack.  If you hit an enemy with a weapon type that it is weak to, and at least one other character has their turn next, there is a chance you will get an avalanche attack.  This basically extends your attack by letting your other characters join in, and doesn't cost them their turn.  While that is really nice for upping your combo count and damage, the random nature makes it too unreliable.  More often than not it would start one just as I was hitting the button for my next combo attack, and it would mess up my fancy chains.  It was unfortunately hard to make the best use out of the feature, but at least it doesn't hurt you in any way, so I can't complain too much.

The last unique aspect of combat is the Fairize command.  When your tension meter is over a certain point, you can merge with your fairy into a powered-up state.  Besides looking pretty cool (if impractical), your stats are boosted and you get access to a super attack.  The super is pretty strong, but sadly takes health and mana to use.  It doesn't kick you out of the Fairize state, which I would expect it to.  I have to say that I would prefer it not take health, but drain your tension gauge.  I would have used it much more if it behaved like that.  As it is, I tried to use it to finish a boss fight, mostly for the cool factor, since I would be close to dead if I misjudged it.  Overall, combat is really fun.  The biggest complaint I have is sometimes it is hard to tell what monster(s) are targeted for an attack.  There is a marker above your target(s), but sometimes it is hard to see.  I rarely hit the wrong target, but it sadly did happen a few times.

The fun is about to begin...
Getting experience levels you up like other RPGs, but there are other ways to boost your party and customize them slightly.  You gain weapon points (WPs) for each victory, and they can be used to increase stats, buy magic, attacks and other things.  Most skills, abilities and magic will have prerequisites, so it can take a bit to get the really good attacks.  I always like buying skills and stuff in games, so I really liked all the different things you could get.  This menu is where you will buy combo slots and weapon attack to fill them.  The character challenges from Hyperdimension Neptunia V return for this game and give you further opportunity to strengthen your party.  Healing, using skills and items a certain amount of times will give small stat boosts.  Whoever you set as the party leader will also be able to earn other challenges, like jumping or getting preemptive strikes.  I liked them in Neptunia V and I like them again in Fairy Fencer F.  They aren't necessary, so if they aren't your thing you can ignore them.  Personally, I liked to rotate my leader and spread around the challenges to try and keep my people somewhat even.

While your fairy partner is set and cannot be changed, you can also equip a second fairy that gives you different skills.  Most skills they will get upon leveling up, but there is also a way to get them.  One character allows you to place a fairy in an inactive fury used to seal the two deities, called Godly Revival.  After you complete a fight, the fury is now yours to use on the world map, or equip the fairy for different skills.  A fairy can only be put in an equivalent tier weapon (C, B, A or S), but you can choose what order to do them in and which weapon to use what fairy on, so it's a pretty open system.  There are some very useful skills you can get this way, like restoring some HP after a fight, or restoring yourself completely when using the Fairize command.  While it is yet another way to make your characters stronger, it was fun to get a fury for my new fairies and raise them all to level 10 and see what skills they would get.  Plus, if you fight with them enough, they give you some items.

It takes awhile to make your way through the game, as it took me over 40.  The game isn't very hard and you don't need to grind, especially if you do a lot of the quests and sub events (like me).  A lot of the sub events are very easy to miss, which can make you miss out on extra fairies and even playable characters.  That's my biggest complaint overall with the game.  You can miss stuff very easily, and you can't actually do it all in your first run.  However, there is a new game + which allows you to keep your level, items and money, making it easy to go through the game again.  If you are a completionist like myself, there is good replay value.  Plus, if you are going after all the trophies, you will have to put even more time into it, mostly for the money trophy.  Unfortunately, the list is mostly secret, so you will have to look up those in addition to seeing how to get all the stuff you likely missed.

I had a lot of fun playing Fairy Fencer F.  The combat was my favorite part, having high-hitting combos and launching enemies into the air for juggling attacks.  There are several ways you can make characters stronger and I enjoyed using them all.  The only real downside to the game is how easy it is to miss things, but the new game + option makes it easier to deal with.  It was hard to pull myself away from the game, as I kept wanting to play.  I highly recommend it to RPG fans, especially if you enjoyed the combat in the Neptunia series.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate (PS3) Review

The original Warriors Orochi 3 came out two years ago.  Tecmo Koei recently released an updated Ultimate version, which boasts new levels and a few additional characters.  However, the graphics don't seem upgraded as the character portraits seem grainy and there is still a lot of pop-in for the enemy troops.  The rest of the additions are pretty solid though.

The story follows from the second game, but it's not really required to have played it in order to understand what's going on.  Basically, the heroes of Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors were transported to another world where they coexist and defeat an evil entity called Orochi.  A while after their victory, this world is threatened by the appearance of a multi-headed hydra.  You start at the three surviving heroes' assault on the monster.  It doesn't go so well, and you end up being saved by one of the mystics.  Her name is Kaguya, and her power allows you to travel through time to recruit all of the other Warriors characters and have a chance at beating the hydra.

I like the presentation of the story.  It's a nice unified plot, and has a good excuse for so many levels.  You can only jump to places that a recruited character has been, so as you gain more people, you also open up more levels.  Some stages have a character die.  Later you will unlock special stages that allow you to change their fate, and recruit them to your cause.  While not the deepest or best plot I've ever seen, the story mode is fun and well done.  There's also several guest characters from other franchises, like Ninja Gaiden and Bladestorm.  For the Ultimate edition, they even added Sterk from Atelier Rorona and Sophitia from Soul Calibur, among others.  It's a great excuse to put others in a fun hack and slash game, and I approve.

The core fighting is pretty much the same as Dynasty and Samurai Warriors.  You get a regular attack and a charge attack that changes depending on what point in the combo you use it.  There's also a special attack that takes some of your musou meter to use.  Some are attacks, while others are power-ups or something similar.  Instead of the two weapon system from the later Dynasty Warriors games (which came out after the original Orochi 3), you have 3 characters that you can switch between.

One new feature in this system is the ability to summon the other two to fight alongside you.  While they won't recover health and musou when deployed like this, they can attack enemies and allow you to use your multi-person musou attack.  However, my favorite improvement is the Scroll of Enlightenment.  Picking one up gives a temporary buff where any enemy killed gives an experience scroll.  You get a ton of experience this way and it's a lot of fun to see so many scrolls and so many level ups happen so quickly.  The only problem I have is I see no indication of how long it lasts.  Getting a lot of levels helps with the other new addition, "promoting".  Similar to other games, this allows you to start a max level character over at level 1, but with higher stats and more skill slots.  You can do it a maximum of 10 times per officer and end up with ridiculously overpowered characters.

Besides the story mode mentioned above, there are three other modes.  The first one I'll talk about is Duel mode.  It basically turns the game into a fighting game (kind of like the first Dynasty Warriors), where you will face off 3-vs-3.  You can also equip and use special cards that activate different abilities.  The mode isn't bad, but it's fairly uninteresting.  It's something you'll likely play once for the novelty of it, or a few times for the trophies.

There's also a battlefield edit mode, which allows you to change any completed battle by altering lines, enemies, allies and participating officers.  While it could be pretty fun, I'd rather have a more robust level creator.  I can rarely remember which battle took place where, since the levels are all corrupted by Orochi and end up looking similar (save the beach level), so starting by choosing a level to edit didn't help.  It's kind of fun to change lines and stuff, but it doesn't last.  If it were more open, like picking a field (and showing you the map), picking a troop type and selecting where officers went (and it would place the troops automatically), it would be a blast.  As it stands, it's another novelty that you might try once and then forget about.

The last mode is called Gauntlet.  You will start with 5 characters (there are some pre-selected or you can choose any you have unlocked), which cannot be changed until others are unlocked in this mode.  The stages have random "Dragon Portals" which must be activated, and do a variety of things, like summon enemies, heal you, or give items.  One of them will be the exit for the stage, which you must find to complete it.  As you kill enemies, they will get much stronger, and any named officers you defeat will be unlocked so you can use them in Gauntlet mode.  When you beat a stage, you get a crystal that can be used to unlock another stage.

Gauntlet mode is pretty fun, but the random nature can make it near impossible to complete stages.  I was able to beat the tutorial very easily, but it took me 3 or 4 tries to actually beat the first stage.  Enemy levels shoot up very quickly, so it become important to find the exit first, then get some experience, items and defeat enemy officers.  The biggest knock against the mode is the uneven difficulty.  It's fun, but can get downright brutal if you aren't lucky.  One piece of advice from my friend DTJAAAAM: get and use the formation skill that allows you to see where the exit is.  The mode will be much easier then.  Also, you can edit the colors of officers that you are using in Gauntlet mode, which is cool in any game.

There are a lot of stages in the original Orochi 3, and Ultimate about doubles the amount.  Since each battle takes about 10-20 minutes (more with loading, dialogue and preparations), I would say it's about 50 or so hours to do all of the story missions.  Add in the time for Gauntlet mode, and you will easily get your money's worth from the game.  You'll likely get some replay out of Gauntlet mode, since you're supposed to go through it multiple times to get all the good stuff.  If you are a trophy hunter, you will be in it for the long haul.  If you have a save file for the original Warriors Orochi 3, you can save yourself 20 or so hours, and jump into the new stuff with your leveled officers.

If you are a fan of Dynasty or Samurai Warriors (or even the upcoming Hyrule Warriors), then I'd easily recommend Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate.  Even if you have played the original release, there is enough new content that I would still recommend picking up the game.  Some of the visuals look a bit grainy, but the game is fun and there are many an hour to be spent clearing the story.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (Vita) Review

The first Danganronpa was a pleasant surprise.  It had a unique premise and I got sucked into the story.  Since I loved the first game, I was excited to see the sequel was also coming to the US, and sooner than I thought it would.  I was very eager to check it out and see if it could top the first game.

Although in a different setting, Danganronpa 2 has a flow and look very similar to the first.  You start in Daily Life until a murder is discovered.  Then the game enters Deadly Life, where you must investigate the scene(s) of the crime and collect evidence and testimony.  Afterwards, all survivors make their way to the Class Trial where you have to figure out who committed the crime and how.  Once the culprit has been found out and voted on, they will be brutally punished.  The concept of the game is still great.  As you go along and get to know the characters more, it can be painful to watch them drop one after another until the conclusion of the game.  Another nice touch is the UI colors (for dialogue boxes and such) will change color depending on the section of game you are in (Daily Life, investigation or trial).

First, I'll start with the positive changes.  The map is better and easier to navigate and understand.  While you can use it to fast travel, you actually get rewarded for walking to your destinations.  Taking steps, investigating things and talking to people will help you level up.  Your level will determine the maximum number of skills you can equip, so there's no reason not to get some.

Some of the other changes are just average, although that might sound scarier when you realize there was only one real positive change.  Anyway, you now have a Tamagatchi-like pet in your student handbook that you can give presents to and clean up after it.  After a certain number of steps, it will grow up into a different animal.  Once you take even more steps (and prevent it from dying) it will leave and give you some Monokuma coins and presents.  It's not really a bad thing, but it doesn't feel necessary, so it ends up being average.

They have also added hidden Monokumas around each chapter that you have to find.  Some are really well hidden, and each gives 10 Monokuma coins when you find them.  There's no real reason for them, except to give you something else to do/ miss as you make your way through the game, and a trophy or two.  One of the new games in the Trial section is okay as well.  Called "Logic Dive", you will race down a cylindrical field while gathering your thoughts.  At three separate parts, there will be a question that you choose an answer for by going to that side.  If you choose correctly, you will continue on.  If not, you fall off and are set back before the question so you can do it right.  It's not terrible, but it doesn't feel like it needs to be there.  It certainly makes Danganronpa 2 feel more "video game-y" than it did previously, if that's what you wanted from the series.

Now on to the changes or additions that I didn't like, and I'll start near the top of the list.  One of the new mini-games during the trial is called "Rebuttal Showdown".  It's a one on one argument, where you will cut down your opponent's statements.  Truth Bullets become Truth Blades and are still used for the same purpose.  A nice idea, since you will literally cut down their argument, but not good in execution.  Since you spend your time swiping or using the stick to cut their statements, you aren't paying attention to what they are saying.  Most comments take multiple swipes, so you might accidentally hit a key statement while trying to make headway.  Hitting a key statement basically sets you back the whole section, and is really annoying.  You need to use the correct Truth Blade on a key statement to end it.  If you remember the previous statement that it's hard to listen to what they are saying and you see the folly of this addition.  You'll have to figure out before they start which evidence you will likely need because you won't have time while it's going.  Ugh.

Hangman's Gambit returns with a new twist and is ironically named "Improved Hangman's Gambit".  instead of just picking the correct letters to spell out a word or phrase, you have to play a matching game.  Different letters will float across the screen and you have to match two of the same to make it bigger.  The bigger letters can be exploded (if you don't need them) or taken (if they are).  Big letters don't stick around very long, and will hurt you if they explode on their own.  If a letter touches a letter that isn't the same will also result in damage.  The word or phrase must also be spelled sequentially.  The whole order is random, so you can easily get screwed out of health if it wants to put a mismatch close together, or maybe not give you the first letter you need for a minute or so.  Not only does it make the no damage trophy way to difficult to get, it's also really annoying in general.  It's another change that I feel was to make the game feel more like a video game, and wasn't necessary since the first game was so good.  So despite the name, Hangman's Gambit was not improved at all.

The story for Danganronpa 2 takes longer than the first.  Thankfully, it didn't drag on, and the pacing was pretty good.  The game is also harder.  The trials seem more strict and it was more difficult for me to figure out what evidence they wanted presented where.  Some of the added difficulty comes from the new and updated mini-games mentioned above.  Overall, the story was pretty good, although not as good as the first, and it was harder to figure out "whodunnit" until close to the end.  Personally, I liked figuring it out sooner, as then I had an actual sense of accomplishment instead of just waiting for a twist.  While I can't go into specifics on the story, it did have some annoying parts and characters, but I cared about more of the characters than I did in the first game.

Like School mode in the previous game, there is an Island mode here.  It mostly allows you to clean up the trophies and skills while interacting with the characters and squeezing more playtime out of the game.  It's still fun, but the core game annoyed me enough that I didn't want to spend much extra time with it, which is the opposite of the first Danganronpa.  There's also a game where you play as Monomi and fight the Monobeasts, which is hinted at in the story.  The game is okay, but make sure you read the controls first.  There's no tutorial, and the game was pretty weird so it took me awhile to figure out what to do.  Like half of the stuff in the game, it's not bad, but doesn't feel like it needed to be added.

So, would I recommend the game?  If you really liked the first, and want more of the story, it is worth playing.  You might want to put the "action" difficulty down to make the newer mini-games less horrible.  The story isn't quite as good as the first, but I think the characters are better.  The additions feel like they wanted to make the game more video game-like than its predecessor, which I think was very unnecessary.  I really wanted to like it, but Danganronpa 2 was disappointing.  People looking to get into the series should stick with the first and enjoy that.