Friday, December 2, 2016

A King's Tale: Final Fantasy XV (Xbox One) Review

Set years before Final Fantasy XV, A King's Tale is Noctis' father telling him a bedtime story.  To keep with the way-back feeling of the setting, the game is a 16 bit retro side scrolling beat-em-up.  How can that go wrong?

There are three different attacks and a dodge set to the face buttons.  X is your quick attack, Y is the strong attack, and B is the shield bash.  Different combinations of the buttons make up the simple 3-hit combos in the game, all of which are available from the start.  If you are not near your enemy, the quick and strong attacks will have Regis throw his sword and teleport to it and continue his combo.  This usually works, but sometimes you end up teleporting to another foe when you are trying to fight the one in front of you.  The shield bash only does damage as a combo ender.  It also deflects projectile attacks back at the sender, where the quick attack will send it at another target.  The dodge is set to the A Button, and is useful to get behind enemies, or get out of a group of them for some breathing room.

Regis can also use magic, but not from the start.  As you progress, you unlock 3 different elemental spells that must be charged to be used.  Oh, and you need MP, too.  Sometimes defeated enemies drop MP pickups, which is the only way to refill MP.  It's not much, so you really need to save it for when you need it, such as against the magic-weak Flan.

If you can hit enemies enough without being hit yourself, you can summon one of Regis' friends for a devastating attack.  Plus, his Armiger gauge will also be building, which allows Regis to do a super strong attack at a single target.  Summoning any of his friends beforehand will allow them to do an extra attack during the Armiger attack.  These are really useful, but the not getting hit part means it's hard to use these wonderful tools when you may need them most.  Still, they can be crucial on boss fights to help you survive.

Combat in the game is pretty fun, but does hamper some of that fun behind a wall of complexity.  Different enemies are vulnerable to different types of attacks.  Pretty standard fare for the genre nowadays.  When they are then mostly immune to the other two attacks, it gets really messy when different types all cluster together.  There's also two different enemies that are only really vulnerable to the shield attacks.  So, you end up just mashing B to defeat them.  This isn't too excited, and since only 1 of your three attacks does damage, it takes longer than it should.

Plus, sometimes there are simpler ways around the complexity.  Flans are very resistant to physical attacks, but you can wail on them, build up a companion attack, and just use that to destroy them.  No need to use MP.  Cactuars will dodge after you hit them once, but they always try to go behind you.  If you turn and attack, you will likely hit them with a combo ender and stun them, which allows you to then mash attack to kill or seriously injure them.  While there is a fancier method, why not just do that and save yourself the time and effort?  I can get behind complex situations, but when there is a simple solution, the complexity isn't that well implemented.

The story mode can be completed in under 2 hours, which is really short.  As an old-school Final Fantasy fan, I did appreciate the final boss, who you will just have to see for yourself.  There is an alternate ending if you are so inclined to go through it again.  Upon completion, you unlock dream battles, which are small arena-like fights with special conditions, like fighting many ranged enemies, all flans, etc.  Each also has a challenge star, which are optional challenges for each mission, like not using magic, or doing it quickly.  This does add a little more content, but it's about the simplest thing they could add.  Some last a lot longer than they should, which also helps to limit the fun you have.

Obviously I'm going to love the look of the game, and is was pretty fun, too.  It was overall a good freebie for preorders of Final Fantasy XV, and might be worth a few extra bucks ($5 or less) if sold at a later date.  It's pretty short and there isn't much replay, but it is totally worth playing for beat-em-up fans or old-school gamers.

The Good:
Fun little downloadable freebie with awesome retro graphics.

The Bad:
Tries to be more complicated that it should be, makes later fights messy.  Short.

The SaHD:
Is the town really called Insomnia?  Is that the best they could do?

(Download code for A King's Tale: Final Fantasy was obtained free with preorder)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Darksiders: Warmastered Edition (Xbox One) Review

Following in the heels of its...sequel, the first Darksiders game comes to the current generation of consoles in this port remaster.  I'm not sure why the first game was remastered second, but like its brethren, it boasts graphical and lighting upgrades.  It also has a super smooth frame rate, for better or worse.

Unlike the sequel, the first Darksiders is pure action and adventure.  You attack with War's really cool sword, named Chaoseater, using the X Button.  He can continuously chain his attacks together, and also use several purchasable upgraded skills.  The Y Button attacks with War's sub-weapon, either a scythe or gauntlets.  War can block some attacks, but also parry and counter them if you block at the right time.  This is really useful, since the game is pretty generous with the timing.  It helps add extra damage to tough foes while conserving your health.

You can also buy, upgrade, and equip 4 special attacks that take Wrath (the yellow energy under your health).  These are actually pretty useful.  There are other special attacks you can buy and upgrade, but are used with special input commands.  Not fireball motions, but things like targeting an enemy and holding back from him while attacking, or holding the attack button in the air.  It's best to try them all out to see what works with your tactics, but I ended up not using very many of them, and used my souls to buy things that I deemed more important.

On his quest for redemption, War agrees to help defeat the Destroyer, a malevolent being of immense power that probably doesn't play well with others, based on its name.  To do so, he must first find and slay its strongest minions and give their hearts to the one who would show War the way into the Destroyer's black citadel.  Each minion is holed up in a different dungeon.  Inside these dungeons, there are special items and weapons that will not only help you defeat them, but also give you new ways to traverse the environment and collect treasures.  If that formula sounds familiar, it's because it is very reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda.  Even so, it is definitely "inspired by" and not a direct copy, as the games feel very different.  War can even ride his horse in many of the open areas, and teleport from shop to shop, so you aren't stuck walking everywhere.

Since this is an action/adventure game, if there are any hard parts, you just have to get better at the game.  Grinding won't do much for you.  Even so, the game is perfectly complete-able on the Easy and Normal setting, although Hard gave me a lot of trouble back when I played the original.  Beating bosses and other difficult enemies is all about reading patterns and using the right tool or attack.  The game has several dungeons, and runs about 15-20 hours depending on how much extra treasure you want to find.  While there is no real new game plus, you can keep the abyssal armor if you manage to find all 10 pieces, which makes the harder difficulties much more manageable.  Achievements and trophies are the same as they were for the original release, so if you got them there, you can do it again.

As mentioned at the start, the game looks really good.  The graphics and frame rate are smooth, and the lighting looks natural.  Besides the too smooth graphics when rotating the camera, I have two other problems with this remaster.  First, explosion sounds don't always play when they should.  If you are right next to them, they make noise, but being a bit away from them (which you really should do for explosions) makes no sound.  Another thing that cropped up was random graphic effects just appearing on the screen.  Stuff like lava bursts and the energy the swirls around the flight orbs would just appear at random places of the screen sometimes.  I'm not sure what it was tied to, but it would go away after closing out the game.  It's not a big deal, as it didn't impede gameplay, but it was noticeable.

I enjoyed playing both Darksiders games, even with the differences between them.  Small annoyances aside, this is the best version of the first game, and well worth playing for action/adventure fans, especially if you like visceral combat and light puzzle solving.  Upon release several years ago, the original was likened to God of War crossed with Legend of Zelda, which is accurate, but I enjoyed Darksiders more than either of those.  If you skipped it last generation, then I recommend playing the game.  However, if you already have completed it, the Warmastered Edition doesn't add anything new except a very pretty coat of paint.

The Good:
The best looking and running version of a good and fun action/adventure game.

The Bad:
A few odd graphic and sound glitches.

The SaHD:
The dungeon with the Portal-like gun gives me a headache.  Hopefully, this and Darksiders II Deathinitive Edition sold well enough to justify a third game.  I want to continue the story of the Horsemen!

(Review code for Darksiders: Warmastered Edition was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dragon Quest Heroes (PS4) Review

After checking out the import copy of Dragon Quest Heroes lent to me by my friend, I eventually bought my own copy of the US release.  More than just a Dynasty Warriors game with a Dragon Quest skin, they game does add new elements to a familiar formula, even if it isn't always for the best.

Combos are similar to the Warriors games, with weak and strong attacks.  For some characters, the strong attack at the end of a combo will give different moves.  Unfortunately, this is for less than half of the characters.  Even more unfortunate, the combo caps out at four attacks.  The rest of the characters have even less moves, so the normal attack strings end up feeling too simplified and limiting, even if there are some cool effects with them.  Even more strange, this is the more complex mode for attacking.  I'm not sure what they are saying about Dragon Quest players, but this is far from the most appropriate Warriors-style game to put that limitation in.

Each character will also have some magic skills to use.  These are mapped to the face buttons when holding the correct shoulder button.  Most are attacks of some kind, but the characters usually have one buff or heal, too.  These all cost MP to cast, and some can be charged if you buy the appropriate skill.  Most are really cool to look at and helpful in combat.  Whenever a character levels up, they gain skill points that you can use to buy the action skills or a whole host of passives.  Some take a lot of skill points, so either save up, or pony up the gold to re-spec.  Thankfully, that is an option.

Besides the normal combat, Dragon Quest Heroes has many stages where you must defend an object or person from waves of enemies.  At various corners of the map, there are enemies that open a portal to summon more and more enemies.  Since you can't break up your party, or enlist the help of another player, you must use the very monsters you are fighting.  Sometimes fallen foes drop monster coins, which can be used to summon a monster to help out.  There are two flavors, sentry and savior.  Savior is basically summoning the monster for an attack, and the coin is gone afterwards.  Sentry monsters stay around the area summoned to, and help fight off other monsters.  Basically, you want to kill monsters, get the coins, and summon them to defend one or more lines from the portals, while you run to the other and clear it out.  Rinse and repeat until all the portals are down and the monsters flee.

The story mode boils down to three stages types.  First is kill all, which is pretty self explanatory.  Second are the defensive missions explained above.  Third are the boss fights, which are against giant creatures.  Usually there are turrets or something else around to help you fight these gigantic threats.  I think the defending missions are an okay addition to the game, but there were too many of them for my taste.  This felt really out of place, since tower defense isn't an integral part of either the Warriors games or Dragon Quest.  I would have preferred a few more kill all, and maybe some bigger maps for them, too.  A few more traditional DW style levels would not have hurt the game.

The story is a pretty loose good versus evil tale that makes excuses to toss in characters from different Dragon Quest worlds and make you have to protect someone or something a lot of the time.  It's not overly hard, but sometimes enemies dish out very high damage for no real reason.  There are also a multitude of side quests to take on, which are usually go kill X amount of Y enemy, or bring me X of Y item.  Rewards are money or  extra items to help with the accessory crafting system.  While you cannot replay story missions, you can go to their areas and fight never ending streams of monsters.  These are what you use to grind for either experience or items, and it actually works pretty well.  Although, giving more experience would have been a nice boon, or at least having much smaller areas that just keep spawning enemies.  I really like these stage types, but they could be fantastic with a little tweaking.  It would be nice to have these in other Warriors-style games.

If you read my preview of the import version, you may remember that I liked the way the game looks, but am not too keen on the audio.  This still holds true for the localized version.  The game looks great.  Akira Toriyama's art style translated wonderfully to 3D.  The locations and spell effects are really cool looking.  While the music and sound effects are super legit and appropriate, they feel really disjointed because they feel so old.  While I almost always love it when a game is so appreciative of its source, I think they could have made the sounds more modern to better fit with the game.

Also, there are a few other holdovers from the Dragon Quest RPGs that drag down the experience.  Some functions, like saving and pretty much everything else on the airship, just have too much text.  I know you came from an RPG, you don't have to have extra text every time I need to use these services, save that for actual dialogue.  After saving at the church, they still ask if you want to go to the title screen.  Yes, it is traditional in a DQ game to have that, but it hasn't been necessary for the last 20 years, either.

So, is the game worth playing?  If you are a Warriors fan, it is worth trying out, but only buy it if you really like the defending stages.  Fans of Dragon Quest will likely get more out of this, as it is legit to a fault in its presentation.  The game was fun, but the tower defense missions were too numerous for something that isn't appropriate to either involved franchise.

The Good:
The game looks great, and adds a new mechanic to a familiar formula.

The Bad:
However, they use that new mechanic too much.  The old school sounds are appropriate, but don't mesh with the rest of the presentation.

The SaHD:
I really wish I could disable the characters talking through the controller's microphone.  It's really annoying.  I do hope they make a more traditional mash-up with Final Fantasy soon!

(Dragon Quest Heroes was purchased by the reviewer for under $20)