Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited (Vita) Review

As was the case with the previous Disgaeas, Disgaea 4 has made its way to handhelds, currently the Vita.  It brings some new improvements and the DLC while making it all portable.  The game looks great on the Vita's screen, although there were times where it was hard to see the field because there is only so much space and the text has to be readable.  Thankfully, most times you can minimize the clutter and it never hindered me, it was just a minor annoyance.  The audio sounds a little off, but I'm betting it's because of the Vita's built-in speakers.

Gameplay is similar to other Disgaeas.  Battles are all on a grid-based area, with your movement and attack ranges dictated in # of panels.  There are colored areas, called geopanels, that can have various effects if a geoblock is placed on it, which affects all panels of the same color.  Unlike the geosymbols from other Disgaea games, the blocks can be stood upon to also gain there effects.  Plus, there if a block of one color is thrown onto others, they will disappear, similar to puzzle games where you match the colors.  I really like these changes and hope they return in future games.  Old staples from the other games, like lifting, throwing and tower attacks are still present here.

The game controls really well on the Vita, with the only negative being the slowdown that occurs in the item world.  Floors with item generals are so big with so many effects that the system is trying hard to display them all.  Moving the cursor is noticeably slower, and using skills also makes everything look like it's in slow motion.  The touch screen functions aren't very plentiful, but they don't need to be.  What is there works fine, even if I rarely used it.

The biggest gripe I have with Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited is the reliance on mana.  In the other titles, mana was used to pass bills in the senate (or version therein), make characters and reincarnate.  Now, almost everything seems to need it.  Want to learn a weapon skill or spell?  Need the mana for it.  Want to make that skill stronger?  Use mana for it.  I can't decide if I like powering up skills and spells with mana.  On one hand, it's great because it makes them noticeably stronger, and you can finally upgrade skills like Espoir painlessly.  On the other, it sucks to have to choose to power up a spell and increase its damage range, or save up for a new spell.

Because of the new system, you also don't get weapon proficiency.  I'm ok with this, since it makes it easier to switch weapons types if you have too many of a particular type.  However, then you need mana to buy the weapon skills.  To make it better, units will learn unique skills, which are awesome (and I hope they return in future games).  Overall, I'm torn by the system.  I like parts of the mana necessity, but not others.  I can't say it's an improvement, but it's not really worse, either.  While you do get a lot more mana in Disgaea 4 than previous games, the huge need of it isn't necessarily for the better.

The item world of course returns.  For the uninitiated, the item world allows you to enter any item or piece of equipment you own to power it up.  It makes a series of random dungeon floors that you have to traverse.  Every ten floors you get an option to exit for free, otherwise you need to use an item.  In addition, there is a feature called Charaworld.  It's like the item world, except you go into one of your characters to power them up.  Things that before were done from the senate, like increasing your movement panels or throw distance, are done in this way.  It's cool, but sadly this is the way you learn other spells and skills.  While I like the charaworld for its other functions, I vastly prefer the mentor/pupil system for learning skills.  Especially the one in Disgaea D2, since you could change them so easily.  Also, it does take awhile to get the charaworld, since you have to reincarnate and store 100 levels with a single person to get the bill for the senate to pass.

As in the other portable versions of Disgaea, there are added features to pull those repeat buyers back in.  First off is the cheat shop, found in D2, which, while not as robust as that game's one, is still great.  That could be why the mana wasn't as big a problem as I though it would be at the start.  All of the DLC characters and things are in the game as well, although you have to beat it to get access.  They even threw in two extra stories, Fuka and Desco's (ugh) and Valvatorez and Artina's backstory.  They are fun extras, but if you've played the PS3 game, it might not be enough to pull you back in.  Normally, these open up when the main game is completed, but there is a code to unlock them from the outset.

As with all the other Disgaeas, A Promise Revisited is long with lots to do.  I lost count how many hours I sank into just the main story so I could complete it (it was easily over 40).  I felt it went on too long though, considering they call the last four chapters "the final chapter".  The story was engaging and interesting, which helped push my through to the end.  A few of the battles in those chapters felt like filler battles to pad its length.  The other part I really didn't like was all the artificial difficulty.  Since they want you to grind and overpower your characters, many battles had odds completely stacked against you.  Large areas of ally damage or enemy boost were common, or setups where enemies would fuse and magichange to catapult their stats.  Many of those times could be countered with understanding how to work the system and change it in your favor.

A few battles, notably in the last two chapters, would make me roll my eyes with how cheap they were.  The real final boss is especially guilty, as it can move almost the entire field, attacks a large area, has jacked up stats, and gets a 10% stat boost for every enemy on the field.  Did I mention it also creates and enemy every turn?  Yeah, it's frustrating... but not impossible.  I wouldn't mind stuff like that for extra battles, but I don't like them while I'm just getting through the story.  Good tactics could overcome many of the one-sided levels, but there's always at least the option of grinding and using brute force to get through.

Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited has a lot of content for your money.  If you like strategy RPGs or the Disgaea series, I definitely recommend picking it up.  If you have not played Disgaea 4 on the PS3 (me), then get this version instead, since it has several additions and improvements.  If you have played #4 before, there is some new content that you can actually jump to right away (hopefully one day the console save files will carry over to the handheld ones, so you can save yourself a few hundred hours), so it would be worth playing if you wouldn't mind starting over.  The story might drag on for a bit and there is an over-reliance on mana, but the story is engaging, the game is fun and there is a ton of stuff to do.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014, Xbox 360) Review

Released around the same time as TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is based off of the recent Nickelodeon cartoon.  The graphics are pretty good, and are close to the cartoon's visuals, but there is a lot of clipping in the game.  As far as I can tell, the cartoon's voice cast all reprise their roles, but the audio quality is spotty.  Some lines are fine, but others sound terrible, as if the microphone was too sensitive, or that the volume was turned up to equalize it.  The audio is just poorly done overall.

You have all four turtles at the outset, and can switch between them just about whenever you want with the d-pad.  The game is reminiscent of the old arcade games, even down to the life bar.  It's total hack and slash gameplay.  To mix it up a bit, you can throw enemies when they are stunned, use a radial attack or super attack when your special meter is filled, and even get some ninja tools.  The throws don't always work when they are supposed to, since if an enemy is doing an action, you can't throw them until it's done.  Like one of the old NES games, you can even throw the enemies onto the screen.  It's a nice throwback to the old game, and even kind of funny, but its obstructs the view until it's gone.  The ninja tools -shuriken, smoke bombs and flash bombs- are fun to use, but you don't get them very often, and they cannot be carried to the next stage.  It would have been more fun if they either carried over, or if they were available in more stages.

Overall, it's not a very difficult game.  You get several lives, and you don't reach game over until all the lives are gone and all the turtles have run out of health.  Enemy attacks are usually easy to dodge, provided you can move away from them.  The hit detection is very spotty.  Frequently I would get stuck on enemies and different parts of the environment while trying to move around.  If in the middle of a fight, I would usually get hit because of this.  It's not game-breaking, but it could have used a lot more polish to make it work properly.  Especially the AI, since they don't really help attack at all, only occasionally throwing an enemy that you were probably starting to attack.

The game has 15 different levels, and the time it takes for each one ranges from about 3-15 minutes your first time through, especially if you are seeking the collectibles.  The collectibles are worth finding, since they unlock upgrades and other game modes.  To run through the game with my 7 year old son, it took just over two and a half hours.  We had found all but two of the collectibles, so we did go back for those later.  Beating the game unlocks a Time Attack mode, where you will do the same stages (including the unskippable cutscenes), but try to get under a target time.  The only stages that are difficult to do like this are the boss stages.  Bosses are only vulnerable to damage at certain times, but their attack pattern is random, so you might be waiting awhile before you can actually hit them.

There's also a Survival mode, where you just fight waves of enemies.  It was kind of fun to do that, but again, it's mostly mindless button mashing.  The game was very forgiving, and we made it to wave 40 before we let ourselves die because the waves were becoming ridiculously long.  If you collect all the mutagen canisters, you unlock a silly old-school style arcade game where you fly a ship around a city and blast aliens.  Not a great reward, but at least better than its associated achievement.  The achievements in the game are not hard at all, so I suspect it will show up on many a achievement hunter's gamercard.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did have its fun.  I played through the whole game co-op with my 7 year old and he had a blast.  The game is short, and very unpolished, but worth a rental if you are a fan of TMNT.  The game is more aimed at children, and my son had a lot of fun playing it, and even played on his own for a few hours.  It's not really worth purchasing, unless it's for a younger kid, and even then I wouldn't recommend it at it's release price.  However, it is a lot better than Out of the Shadows.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tangram Attack! (3DS) Review

Tangram Attack! is a puzzle game on the Nintendo 3DS that presents players with an image made up of 7 different pieces.  Most pieces are triangles of various sizes, but there is an odd square or parallelogram thrown in for good measure.  These shapes make up a surprising amount of different pictures, although you will see repeats if you play enough.  The game starts off with an Academy mode, which teaches you the basics.  You must cut off each piece, but a piece can only be removed if it would take one cut.  You will quickly shave each piece off of the image until they are all gone, then another image will appear.

The Academy mode does a good job of increasing difficulty as you go.  It starts with each piece having a different color, so it's easy to see them all.  Each tier, or belt, as the game puts it, will remove a color until the image is one whole color, but still made up of seven pieces.  Some of the Academy stages are really tricky, especially the ones that must be done quickly.  Most times, cutting the pieces off isn't enough, and you must shoot for a high score, which requires you to cut the pieces off with no mistakes.  Doing so gives you a score multiplier.  Any mistake is costly, as it resets that multiplier.  While the premise of the game is simple, it is actually pretty hard, simply because there are some parts of the images where the pieces left can fit together in more ways than one.  It's frustrating to have your multiplier banished because you cut the two triangles in a square shape the other way.  Occasionally, the cut would register incorrectly as well, which would also kill your score.

The other three modes are Zen, Arcade and Blitz.  Zen has no time limit, but if you get three mistakes on a single puzzle, you lose.  It's nice to not have the time limit, making it easier to keep big combos, but it is easier than you might think to get three mistakes.  Arcade has a time limit that gets replenished as you solve puzzles, but each mistake costs a chunk of time.  It's a good middle ground, but there's still a lot of pressure from the time, especially as you get farther in.  Arcade also has a Frenzy Mode.  It shows each piece as a different color, which can help you get big points.  Blitz mode gives you 60 seconds to get as high a score as possible.  If you just randomly cut around, you can clear a surprising amount of puzzles, but of course your score will suffer.  Again, taking some time will get the best results, but Blitz is pretty unforgiving.  It's my least favorite of the modes the game has to offer.

The three of those modes have all pieces of the same color (except the few times you get Frenzy), making them fairly hard.  Thankfully they are not offered from the outset so you get the better learning curve offered from Academy.  It would be nice to have a difficulty slider for those modes, and just offer less points or something to even it out.  There is a hint feature, which costs 1000 points to use, but if you have a large multiplier, it's well worth the cost.  Getting points in each of these modes will level you up, which seems to offer no bonuses other than letting you prestige when you get high enough.  Of course, by that time you will likely have all the different images memorized, and can solve each very quickly.

There's even some badges you can earn by doing various feats.  Similar to achievements or trophies, you can get badges for reaching prestige mode in each game type, or getting very high scores.  They are quite challenging, so practice if you want to get them.  You can also change the pattern on the back of the pieces.  It's more useful than it might seem at first, since you can use the pattern to help differentiate which way to cut the pieces when there are multiple possible solutions.

Tangram Attack! is very pick up and play friendly.  It gives a good visual and brain workout.  I like to do games like this and Brain Age soon after waking up, as it gets my brain into gear quickly.  While not the best puzzle game I've played, the game can be very addicting.  If you are a fan of puzzle games, you should at least give Tangram Attack! a try.  The game is a lot harder than it seems, and punishes your score harshly for any mistakes.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Abyss Odyssey (PS3) Review

Abyss Odyssey starts you in a town beset by monsters created from a warlock's nightmare.  You have to work your way down through the randomly generated labyrinth to confront the Warlock and end the nightmare.  Each floor will be marked as easy, moderate or hard, and will have different terrain, traps and monsters each time you enter.  Eventually three starting towns open up, and there are some floors that allow you to switch paths down to the boss.  The procedurally generated dungeon works really well, and I had little trouble with the platforming.  The only complaint about the random nature of the game is the "?" floors.  They have a fight where you control a monster and fight others.  If you win, you get a monster soul on the next floor.  Unfortunately, the game likes to put the soul on the screen, but not necessarily somewhere you can get it.  It is frequently in the wall, floor, or in the air so high you can't reach it.  Ugh.  The game also does a decent job of explaining the controls, but not much else, like the different shrines, skills and equipment.

Besides platforming, you will also be fighting.  The game does tout itself as a hybrid adventure/fighting game.  Unfortunately, fights can be very frustrating.  While they have a few basics of fighting games, the game doesn't feel like one.  Fights are fast paced, but movement and attacking are stiff and awkward.  Special moves and combos can be cancelled by another special move or a dash.  The former requires a skill point and can be useful, but the latter isn't really that helpful.  The combo moves themselves seem slow.  They cap out at three normal attacks, and you can't really mix them up with up and crouching attacks, making them feel really limited.  You can block and dodge, but it never seems as useful as the enemies' versions, since they can miracle dodge any attack they want.

Up to three special moves can be equipped at a time, but you can learn more than that for each character.  Every three levels you will also earn a skill point that can be assigned to a special move to increase various parameters of it, like attack and mana gain, or to increase the number of attack cancels you can do in a combo.  The points put into skills can be freely taken back and reassigned, but he points spent on upgrading the cancels cannot be.  Special moves are done more like Smash Bros than a traditional fighting game, with pressing a button and a direction instead of a sweeping controller motion.  The moves are nice for more damage, but like the combo attacks, can easily be dodged by the computer.  Projectiles especially are privy to this, as the computer has a psychic sense about when to dodge them.  At first I thought this rendered them worthless, but I eventually realized that I could use that to my advantage.  Throw a fireball when they are dodge distance away, they will dodge to me, and I can then use a stronger move that they can't dodge (since they are recovering from the previous one).  It worked really well and allowed me to stomp the final boss.  So while the AI is cheap, it can be exploited, too.

Under the health, there is a mana bar.  When full, you can unleash a powerful spell.  Damaging or killing an enemy with this attack may have them drop their soul.  Picking it up will allow you to transform into that monster, gaining their health and attacks.  While this is one of the touted features of the game, it doesn't happen as often as I would think.  Plus, picking one up just allows you to use it.  It would have been awesome if there was some way to unlock the monsters and start out a dungeon dive with one equipped, but sadly that is not a feature of the game.  Playing as a monster can be really fun, as some of them are absurdly powerful or useful.  It also gives you another health bar, which helps you stay alive.  All monsters are not created equal, however, so that powerful one that continuously defeats you might not be so good when it's you that's controlling it.  Some that seem silly (like an ice bull) might be surprisingly good at destroying enemies, though.

When you die, since that's part of the game, you will control a normal soldier where you fell.  You basically get a second life, and making it back to a special shrine will restore you to your chosen character.  The soldier's moveset and equipment are not as good as the normal characters', so the sooner you find a random shrine, the better.  However, not all shrines will work.  You have to find the right one, so you better hope the random number generator is on your side.  It's nice that there's an opportunity to restore your life and keep your equipment and keys.  While not the best solution, changing to the soldier has saved me on numerous occasions.

Dying as the soldier will return you to the surface and let you change characters and starting points, if they are unlocked.  It's also possible to return to a designated shrine, if you purchased and used a camp token.  Unfortunately, shops don't always sell one, and deciding the best time to use one might be difficult.  I never had one the times I would have liked to use it.  When you return to the surface, you will keep your money and experience, but lose everything else.  No more stronger weapons, no more useful equips, no more monster soul.  Because of this, it's better to not spend much, if any, money on the weapons and accessories sold by the shops.  Since monster souls are useful and hard to come by, those can be worthwhile purchases.

If you are lucky, a run through the dungeon might take about an hour, especially when you are starting out.  Subsequent trips can be faster, depending on how often you jump around to the different routes.  There's also three different characters to unlock and use.  Since each floor is randomly generated, no two trips through the labyrinth will be the same, giving the game lots of replayability.  The final boss is even gets stronger the more times players defeat him.  There's even a co-op mode, but I don't recommend it at all.  Not only can you hit your partner, but you also do damage to them, making this mode almost completely useless.  This decisions seems strange, since enemies frequently outnumber you and help would be appreciated.  Plus, enemies don't damage each other when they collide, so why do the players?

The trophies for the game aren't too bad at all.  There's only one for completion, and the rest are for doing other feats.  There are optional bosses and fights that will grant trophies, and unlocking one of the characters also gives one.  The longest trophies are getting 3 full skills (each has three upgrade points) for each character, which means they will have to be over level 25 or have found some skill tokens along the way.

Abyss Odyssey has a good premise.  It looks unique and plays...well, unique, but in a not so good way.  Fighting is stiff.  The AI can be downright cheap with their dodges, constantly blocking and juggling you to death.  The co-op is bad, and if you win a monster soul in a special battle, it might not put it where you can reach it.  The game does have a lot of replayability, though, and can be fun to pick up and play for an hour or two at a time.  It's not perfect, but there is some fun to be had.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Spec Ops: The Line (PS3) Review

Lt. Walker and his two men, the whole of Delta Squad, have been sent into Dubai on a rescue mission in Spec Ops: The Line.  Since it's a modern day military shooter set in the desert, you might think it will be a bland mess of brown and gray.  Thankfully, this isn't the case as the creators put a lot of color into the game.  There are lots of posters, fish tanks and other scenery pieces that really make the game look good.  Some of the textures can be muddy, but the Delta Squad members look great and will actually change throughout the game.  On the flip side, I don't think the music is that good.  Most times it's some kind of techno-Bollywood mix that just didn't sound good.

The gameplay is a fairly standard cover-based third-person shooter, and ranges from average and functional to sometimes frustrating.  Sprinting doesn't require you to hold the button, which I wish could be turned off, and some surfaces/walls didn't allow you to take cover on them.  This wouldn't be too bad, but you can die quick, even on the 'normal' setting.  However, so does most enemies, so the health actually evens out.  Vaulting over things was also finicky, and would require you standing still at the right angle to do so, and ended up being not fluid at all (see Gears of War for an example of how it's done right.)  Occasionally I had trouble distinguishing if a guy running up or far away was my squad mate or an enemy, but that could easily be an issue on my end and not the game's.

The usual arrays of tricks are present- blind fire, grenades and alternate fire for each weapon- and work fairly well.  Grenades are actually really effective, but come with a cost.  If they explode near sand or other similar surface, they will kick up smoke, making it harder to see in the area.  Annoying, but a nice little touch.  Pretty much all of the weapons are useful and kill quickly, so no worries if you are stuck with a particular gun.  There are some that are better, yes, but none that are just flat out bad.  I frequently ran out of ammo, but guns are scattered around well enough that I was never without methods of attack.  Plus, you could order your squad to shoot enemies if you are really low on ammo.

While the gameplay is average, the story is anything but.  It's really well done, engaging, well acted and overall I'd say it's great.  The main three characters are voiced very well, as are the other two characters of "Radioman" and Konrad.  What other game has Kid from Kid and Play and Captain Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) in it?  Besides the voice cast, the story itself is engaging.  I don't want to spoil much, but it's very far from a stereotypical war game, and has a few turns you might not see coming.  Plus, the writers intentionally left several points open to interpretation, so there are a few valid theories as to what all is going on.  Awesome stuff and after learning a thing or two I wanted to run through the game again.

There are 15 chapters in Spec Ops, and they go by pretty quickly.  The game doesn't count any time accrued if you reload, which makes the playtime look a little less than it actual is.  My file's time was almost 5 and a half hours.  After that, I spent an hour or so more going through the other choices in the story.  If you are intent upon getting all of the trophies or achievements, you'll spend more time with the game and go through it at least twice.  The achievement/trophy list is a very standard one with no surprises.  Some for story progression, choices, weapon kills and completing the game on the various difficulties.  There's also a multiplayer mode, but I didn't invest any time into it.

While the third-person cover gun play of Spec Ops: The Line is average at best, the story and voice work more than make up for it.  The way the game plays out and the themes it covers are very well done and I'd recommend playing the game just for the story.  Just put it on easy and have some fun.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Battle Princess of Arcadias (PS3) Review

Battle Princess of Arcadias has finally come to the US as a digital only title.  I was anxious to try it out as the gameplay sounds like a fun reminder of the old 2D beat em ups from back in the day.  The first thing I noticed upon booting up the game was the style of the game.  It's a nice storybook or watercolor-looking world that in some ways reminds me of Vanillaware's games.  However, the animation is a different story.  Maybe it's keeping in with the storybook look of the game, but the animations look like they were made in Adobe Flash.  They aren't so much horrible as they are very stiff and puppet like.  The game's audio is also Japanese only with subtitles, which is a bit of a bummer.  Better than the game not coming out at all, but of course dual audio is preferable.

Combat is pretty fun.  You have a standard attack and a heavy attack.  There are some basic skills (combos), and a few more are unlocked as you level up.  You can jump around, attack enemies and rack up combo hits.  The easiest way to lose your combo number is to get hit, which happens easily.  The guard in the game doesn't cut your animations, so it can be difficult to successfully guard on the fly.  The normal fighting levels (the first battle type) will have you against several groups of enemies, and finishing it will give you some bonus loot.  These levels aren't too hard, which is good because you will need to grind on them several times.

The second type of battle is a siege.  These are fights against one big monster instead of groups of smaller ones.  You have troops to command and help whittle down the monster's shield.  Once the monster is hit enough, the shield will drop and you will finally damage its health.  The siege monsters do a lot of damage and easily kill many of your soldiers if you don't have them in defensive mode.  I found it cumbersome to switch the troops from attacking to defense when it was better to do so, and you don't really have much time to do it.  I found it easier to get a level or two over the monster and leave the soldiers in defensive mode so they don't lose the battle for you.  While attacking the monster, you have time for one combo, then block, then rinse and repeat.  If you build up your morale meter to full, you can unleash a powerful super attack that will help turn the tide in your favor.  You will need that same meter to switch the troops from defense to attack, so use it wisely.

Skirmishes, the third type of fight, are very similar to sieges.  Instead of fighting a large monster, you fight another army.  While your troops fight in the background, you fight some enemies in the normal plane.  If you manage to kill off a group, you will get a chunk of the morale meter.  Each type of troop has strengths and weaknesses against the other troop types, so matching them up helps immensely.  Changing your soldiers to another type costs some of the morale meter, so fighting in the foreground does help.  It sadly doesn't feel like it helps that much, since it doesn't actually reduce enemy numbers to kill them, which leaves it to the soldiers to win or lose.  It's more based on your unit's level and how they match up to the opponent.

The sieges and skirmishes, while interesting, just don't seem fully realized.  The first time you get to them, they just seem too hard, forcing you to grind until you and your troops are strong enough to win.  Your soldiers die very easily, and in large numbers (especially in the sieges), and losing all of them is a lost battle.  Yuck.  While grinding is a necessity in some games, it seems too excessive in Battle Princess.  The first battle in the game is a normal fight, then the next is a siege.  I would think that the first one of a battle type is easier, so the player can get a chance to acclimate to it.  I was wrong.  The first siege (the second stage of the game) had me spend the next 30 or so minutes grinding to get strong enough to get past it.  That's not the best way to start a game off.  The first skirmish (the third stage of the game) wasn't quite as bad, but it was a close victory for me.

This "grind for the sieges and skirmishes" seems prevalent.  After those first ones, there were several normal stages that unlocked.  I didn't lose a single one of them, but the next siege (which was optional) was way harder than it should be, considering how early it unlocks.  The next skirmish I got to was ridiculously hard, and had a boss that basically turtles the whole time, making it harder to get the morale necessary to change your troops and win.  Each time a new siege or skirmish unlocked, it would result in an hour or so of grinding to be able to pass it.  It's entirely possible I'm just terrible at those types of fights.  However, raising your level and getting the money, both necessary to train up each type of soldier, didn't come naturally and required multiple plays of previous levels.  I'm ok with grinding, but it really should be later in the game.  Having it so early just left a bad taste in my mouth and made the game feel unbalanced.

That grinding seemed to make up the bulk of my playtime, since it felt like it took hours to actually get anywhere in the game.  Story-wise the game is fine, if a bit silly at certain points.  Each character has a distinct personality, and none of them seem to get along with each other.  The princess herself is a complete ditz, and her brother, the king, has turned into a goose.  It's pretty enjoyable, and that part of the game doesn't take itself too seriously.

The trophies are a fairly standard set.  You'll get a few for completing sieges, and some for number of kills.  You'll have to use all the different characters to get a platinum, since you'll need to max out all their levels and honor (affection, basically) with each other.  There's some for getting a lot of kills and high hitting combos to round out the list.  Some of these seem like they will take a lot of time, but affection and levels can raise faster than you might think.

While the battle system for Battle Princess of Arcadias is fun, the necessity of grinding was very off-putting.  The sieges and skirmishes were a good idea, but not executed as well as they could have been.  The animation is a bit stiff and looks like early web videos.  While this might all be intentional, the game was a bit disappointing to me.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Atelier Rorona Plus (Vita) Review

By: Aly Hand

Atelier Rorona Plus is a remake of the original Atelier Rorona game that was released by NIS on Playstation 3.  The game is a combination RPG-meets-crafting sim, where your main character uses alchemy to craft various items for use in-game.  If you have never played Rorona before, this version is the better of the two, as they have adjusted the game to be slightly more like Atelier Meruru and Atelier Totori, games that were Playstation 3 releases after the original Atelier Rorona.  If you have played Rorona before, there’s little need to play this version, as the main core game play hasn’t changed significantly between the two versions.

Atelier games from recent times all have very similar game mechanics.  The game is timed, with a period of three in-game years that the story progresses through.  Each period is separated into three “assignments,” specific things that advance the plot and guide the player through the tasks of exploring, gathering, or crafting.  These assignments get more difficult and complex the further through the game a player goes, but overall each fall into one of those three categories.  Most tasks in town can be navigated by menus, from turning in assignments to traveling to different shops.  There is a great deal of extraneous content, conversations with characters, hidden scenes, extra gathered materials, and even bonus assignments that can be explored and completed while in town.  To be honest, I found the additional scenes relatively uninteresting, and in many cases not worth bothering to earn since the rewards were so limited.

One of the main mechanics from the original Rorona that was carried over involves the construction of your party.  In the original game, you hired other people on a per-trip basis to fill out your party.  There was always Cory, who was the only character not to charge a fee, but for the most part it would often be too expensive to hire the other characters.  This, unfortunately, hasn’t changed.  You now have extra characters to hire, however, that weren’t playable in the original game.  Astrid, who charges almost 10,000 per trip (and isn’t really worth it), and Esty, who is slightly less expensive to hire than Sterk, but is extremely useful.  The fact that you have to pay your party is probably one of the biggest flaws of the game, since money isn’t exactly easy to come by.

Some of the things added to this version are interesting and useful.  You can now “decorate” your workshop with all kinds of useful items.  There are ones that provide materials, ones that increase the effectiveness of your crafting, the quality of ingredients you find, how often you find them, how much money you get from battle, and a host of other things.  You can also grow materials in a garden outside your shop, though I've found that seeds are incredibly rare.  There’s also a dressing room, where if you have save files on your system from other games you can get extra costumes to dress your characters in.  This doesn't affect game play at all, but is a nice little cosmetic addition.

If you've ever played an Atelier game before, the game play is nothing surprising.  Battles are turn-based, and Rorona has an assist meter that allows other party members to either protect her from damage or aid her in attacks if she uses a skill.  Crafting requires MP as well as ingredients and time, so more often than not you’re better off saving your MP for what you’re trying to make instead of using it to throw skills around.  Normal enemies are evenly balanced, but rare and target monsters seem to be overpowered for the equipment and items available whenever the player first encounters them.

Dungeons require time to get to, and that time is rarely anywhere close to what it looks like it should take based on the layout of the map.  New areas become available slowly at first, and then very quickly once you get further into the game, something which is a bit of a pain.  Often, you’ll need materials from the place you’re in to finish off exploring the place you were.  Still, the bonus assignments are a nice addition, as well as the rewards for completing them.   Now, whenever you complete a bonus assignment, you get a stamp on a 3x3 grid, and each line you make earns you a different reward.  You don’t have to complete the grid to ace the main assignment, but it’s a nice extra feature to make the game just a tiny bit easier.

Unlike the original, too, the game seems to be a bit buggy and unpolished, which is odd to say for a remake.  There were numerous times it would hang up while loading a battle, experience scrolling would be fast or slow depending on the amount being given, and at the end of battle it would take several seconds and numerous pushes of the x-button to go back to the normal screen.  Often I would be just starting to worry about whether or not the game had frozen before it finally decided to continue.  And battles aren't the only time that’s happened.  Numerous times when loading a cut scene I would get the impression the game had frozen, and once I even had it crash on me completely while I was crafting.  It was so bad that I had to reset the whole thing and load all over again.  One other problem was in the help files, where I stumbled across grammatical errors on more than one occasion.  Improper punctuation and incorrect words (i.e. “fine” instead of “find”) are more of a pet peeve than game-breaking, but still subtract from the overall impression of the game.

The story hasn't changed at all from the original game.  Rorona is a struggling apprentice trying to repay her family’s debt to the town’s lazy Master Alchemist, Astrid.  It begins with Rorona being informed the workshop has three years to prove its worth to the town and the King, or it will be destroyed in favor of factories.  Astrid, being the lazy lump she is, dumps responsibility for saving the workshop squarely on Rorona’s shoulders before heading off for her scheduled afternoon nap.  With the help of her spoiled, rich best friend Cordelia, the town chef Iksel, burly knight Sterk, performing puppeteer Lionela, mysterious elder swordsman Gio, flakey bard Tantris, and now ninja/knight Esty and of course the eminently forgettable lazy alchemist Astrid, Rorona must save her workshop and her job.  Oh, and maybe the town, too.

Overall, this game is good, but problematic.  There are a lot of issues that could easily have been resolved with a little careful attention (no excuse for bad grammar in this day and age) and some time.  Not enough of the problems from the original game have been mitigated by the additional content.  The story isn't as interesting the second time around, and the laggy game play is just annoying enough to push it down to the lower end of good.  If you have never played Rorona before, you can flip a coin to decide which, but if you’re looking for a good Atelier game I would definitely say Atelier Escha and Logy is better.