Monday, September 17, 2018

Senran Kagura: Reflexions (Switch) Review

Early on in the Switch's life, Kenichiro Takaki, the producer of Senran Kagura, wondered about making a game using the enhanced rumble.  Fans of the series dreamed about what would come next...and then we got Senran Kagura: Reflexions.

If you have ever messed around in the Dressing Room feature in any of the other SK games, then you will have a good idea what this game is all about.  Except now there's dialogue to go with it!  Asuka will talk to you, then you will message a part of her hand.  Depending on which part she responds to, and which part you rub, you are then taken to one of the game's "arcs".  Asuka will be dressed appropriately for the arc, and ready for you to practice your reflexology on her body.  Yes, you read that right.

There are two main actions in the body reflexology, squeezing and touching.  Well, there's also caressing and using the water gun, but they don't seem to do anything.  I take that back.  The water gun mode lets you rotate Asuka around, so you can touch her back.  Not really a function that needs to be tied to it, but it is.

Anyway, you will poke or grab various parts of her body.  When you do, a colored circle will appear.  Getting more and more of any color will be reflected the background effect.  Once you've done that enough, you can use a tool to...message her.  As you go through the arcs, you will eventually earn all 4 different tools.  Once it's time, just select one and go.  Each has its own mini-game that rely on the same principle.  Keep Asuka's happy meter in the right zone, which increases the heart meter.  The trick is to keep it in the right range, as doing something too long or, hard, won't work.  If you get the heart meter to the specified level within the time limit, you win!  And by "win" I mean fill her heart crystal more.  Then back to the hand reflexology and repeat until the crystal is filled.  You will need to do this at least five times to fully fill the crystal.

Both reflexologies can be done with motion controls or the controller buttons.  The motion controls are fairly responsive.  Half of the motions felt appropriate, while the other half didn't feel like they were mimicking the actions they were trying to.  I pretty much stuck to using the controller sticks and buttons, as they were a lot more reliable to succeed in the mini-games.  It was a lot easier for me to find the rhythm when using the sticks.  I would encourage players to try both, as the motion worked better than I would have though, and was fun for some of the mini-games.

The crystal fills with whatever color effects you had when going into the mini-game.  Mixing colors will change the overall crystal, and whatever color it is when it is fully filled, that's the ending you get.  That's good in theory.  In practice, the endings aren't really that different, just different dialogue.  The main reason to end with each of the five colors is to get the "true" ending, which unlocks the second main menu picture.  Other than that, getting all five colors in an arc will unlock that costume.

I'm sure that's not how you use a brush

As for other things to do, there is the mini-reflexology, where you can just squeeze and touch Asuka in the classroom, and it won't go to the mini-game.  It's easiest to dress her up in the various outfits here as well.  If you want a more static experience, Reflexions also has the dressing room option.  This is where you change Asuka's hair, accessories, and outfit, plus it allows you to put her in various poses.  It wasn't something I used very often in the main games, and that hasn't changed here.

Well, Senran Kagura: Reflexions sure is an interesting idea, if not a bit creepy at times.  It does feel more like a tech demo to me, since it relies on the motion controls and vibration for most of the interesting bits.  Otherwise, it's pretty much the stuff you can already do in the dressing room function of the other SK games.  Those also have the added benefits of more (and better) girls and outfits.  While you will be able to buy other girls as DLC at some point, I'm not sure it's enough to make me go back to the game (unless there's Murakumo DLC).  There isn't a whole lot to do, but at least the price reflects that.

The Good:
Interesting use of the motion controls and the vibration function.

The Bad:
Making a stand alone game out of a rarely used menu section of the normal games doesn't automatically make it good.

The SaHD:
The "big brother" arc is of course creepy, but the idol one ("Oh, Mr. Producer!") also feels a little uncomfortable in today's world.

(Review code for Senran Kagura: Reflexions was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Shikhondo: Soul Eater Review

I'm always game to try a new shmup.  Some are good, some are bad, but it's a genre I enjoy.  When Shikhondo was announced, I made sure to ask for a review code.  I figured it would play really well on the Switch, and happily received that version.

Once on the main game menu, you do have a few options.  There is arcade mode, hardcore, novice, and boss rush.  Arcade mode is pretty much the normal game.  As with a lot of the other modes, you can choose one of four difficulty levels.  Boss rush is pretty self-explanatory, as you just fight all of the bosses.  Novice is supposedly easier, but didn't feel that different from the easy setting of the arcade mode.  Hardcore boasts 1 life, no continues, but double the speed of soul charging.  When I tried it, it let me continue.  Once I did, I had the normal amount of lives until the end of the stage.  Starting the next one seemed to put me back to hardcore, as I only had the one life.  I'm not sure if this is intentional, but it did feel weird.  To round it out, there's a customize mode that lets you change a few options, and local co-op.  Sadly, I couldn't find anyone in my house brave enough to try that out with me.

The controls and ideas behind the game are pretty simple.  There is a shot button for your normal attack.  There is an alt-fire button, that you hold with the shot button to do a slightly different attack.  This will also make you move a lot slower, so it's easier to weave between bullets.  When you pass close by an enemy bullet, it will fill a bit of your soul gauge.  When it is full, pressing the soul button will have you enter a powered up state for a few seconds.  Pressing the button again will consume a soul stock, but power you up a second level.  If you press the soul button when you don't have a full soul meter, it acts like a bomb attack, damaging on-screen enemies, and taking away some of the bullets.  The soul system is pretty nice once you get the hang of it, just make sure to look at the meter (or listen for the sound) before you hit the button, so you get the power-up instead of the bomb.  Both are useful, but the power-up is better.  Well, for the most part.

There are two characters to choose from, the Grim Reaper and The Girl.  Really descriptive, I know.  Of course I tried the reaper first, as I figured she was like Botan (assuming anyone else remembers Yu Yu Hakusho).  Both have different shot patterns, so the choice isn't superficial.  The reaper has a normal spread, while holding the alt and shot buttons concentrates her fire.  The girl has two orbs with her.  Her normal shot is fairly concentrated, but the small shots from the orbs will automatically aim toward enemies.  The alt-fire send the orbs next to an enemy, and blasts them at short range.  At first I liked the reaper's shot pattern, but eventually found the girl to be better for me.

I did have some problems using the joy-con's analog stick.  There were times where it wouldn't respond, especially if I was moving it back and forth rapidly (like when dodging bullets).  The d-pad buttons worked fine.  I switched to the pro controller, and the stick worked fine.  It may only be a problem with my joy-con, but it's not something I have encountered in any game I've played with them before.

Just like most shmups, you die in 1 hit.  You will start right where you left off, but will be out any soul charge you had.  Of course, these rules can be changed in the "customize" game type.  Thankfully, the characters have really tight hit boxes.  Coupled with the slower movement during alt-fire, it feels good to dodge the bullet hell.  Even if you do run out of lives, you can continue, and it still places you right where you were.  It's very possible to brute force your way through the game, which is nice at least for completing it, and practicing later stages, since there is no feature to select them.

I will say the game can be hard, but it's mostly because the enemy bullets are sometimes hard to see through your shots.  This problem is magnified when using the soul power-up.  I'd also heartily recommend playing in TV mode, as the small screen of handheld mode plus lots of small bullets is a recipe for disaster.  At least some bullet types disappear when the enemy dies, which saved me more times than I can count.

There are 5 stages, each ending with a giant boss battle.  After the fifth one, the game goes on for a few seconds, leading me to believe there is some kind of hidden final boss.  I don't know if there is, and I don't know what the qualifications are.  I would imagine having to do it on 1CC or something like that, but I don't know for sure.  In another unique feature, after completing a stage, you can choose to get an extra life, or another soul.  It isn't much, but I like it.  Obviously, they don't offer it in hardcore mode.

Shikhondo: Soul Eater may not offer many modes or characters, but it's a very solid and fun shmup.  The soul charge and power-up is a nice and unique gameplay mechanic that I enjoyed.  I'd easily recommend it to fans of the genre.  Just be sure to play in TV mode.

The Good:
Good differences between the two characters, tight hit box, unique soul system for power-ups.

The Bad:
Very much a "no frills" experience.

The SaHD:
I really should have invested in the shmup Switch grip Kickstarter thing.

(Review code for Shikhondo was provided by the publisher)

Friday, August 31, 2018

Conan Exiles (Xbox One) Update

Almost a year ago, I played an early access for Conan Exiles on Xbox One.  Now, the full game has been released, and I figured I would jump back in for a few hours to see what has changed.

Wow.  First off, the game is now third person.  I think it was first person before, but I'm not 100% positive on that.  Third person makes the combat a lot easier to manage.  However, combat is still very clunky.  Aiming doesn't get thrown off by being hit anymore, but still has strict accuracy.  It's a step in the right direction, though.  The equipment wheel is still used to equip things from your inventory, like weapons.  It's still cumbersome, and takes a lot longer than I'd like to equip and un-equip items.  This hurts combat, as it is slower to ready and stow your weapon, and doubly so if you want to use a shield.  It's not a great solution when Minecraft figured a better one several years ago.

So what about building?  Well, there was some improvement in actually getting pieces to snap together.  This means it is much more reliable to make a structure that looks like an actual structure, and not some impossible hodgepodge of parts.  It's not perfect, since I had several instances of not being able to put a piece where I wanted, even when nothing was in the way.  But again, it's still an improvement over what I originally experienced.

Much like combat and building, the UI has improved, but is still more cumbersome than it needs to be.  Moving items to from your inventory to your equipment wheel, to leveling up, all feel like a chore.  Text is either the right size, or way too small to read on a TV.  Stats do have descriptions, and it's easier to see what you will get by spending your skill points.  The game also displays the prerequisite skills needed for higher level ones.  It's just a picture, so you have to manually try to match it up.

It seems as though the developers listened to people like me, and added some basic tutorials.  They are enough to get you started on the right foot, so the game isn't so obtuse.  There's also a neat checklist of things to do in the game.  I like that.  If you want to play but aren't sure what to do, just check the list, and try to do something from that.  Thankfully, there is also a map.  It is glorious.  Certain locations get automatically marked on it, too.

Even so, the game isn't overly fun at first.  You can still only have one save file, which is absurd.  It takes awhile to gather enough resources to build, and food/water to survive.  But tucked away in the pause menu, there is a magic option that makes the game a lot of fun.  You can turn on admin controls.  This allows you to teleport, turn off hunger/thirst, give yourself items, or even be invincible.  It is so much fun to build things when you don't run out of items part way through.  Well, you can still run out, but it's easy to spawn more.  Want some high level torches so you can see?  Poof.  What a strong sword for those pesky monsters?  Poof.  Want 100 walls so you can build a nice big house?  Poof.  The admin controls make it happen.

It might sound silly to some, but it was a game changer for me.  No longer worrying about the mundane stuff like eating, or how cumbersome things are, is a great way to increase my enjoyment.  Being able to check out high level stuff, or build interesting buildings is great.  I could travel all over the map, seeing what is out there.  The hassle-free exploration was enough to satisfy me...the rest is just a bonus.  If you are an achievement hunter, you can even use the admin controls to make all but one a simple affair.  Pretty nice.

Conan Exiles is surely improved from the game preview version available last year.  While still clunky, combat, building, and the UI have improved.  It's still not the most fun experience you can have in a survival game, but the admin controls definitely save the game, giving it a lot of entertainment value.

The Good:
The admin controls are amazing.

The Bad:
UI, combat, and building still feel cumbersome.

The SaHD:
You can build the torture wheel thing from the beginning of the first Conan movie.  I don't even think it does anything.  You can also capture enemies and force them to work in it.  Crazy!

(Review code for Conan Exiles was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia (Mobile Phones) Review

Well, here we are, at a point I never thought we'd reach...a review for a mobile phone game on my site.  If it was just some ordinary game, we wouldn't be here.  But here we are.

Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is not the first mobile game I've played.  I've played a few.  However, it is the first I've felt compelled to write a review for, simply because I really enjoyed it.  Before we get too far, I should make fun of the name.  The Dissidia portion is a reference to the fighting game, which mixes heroes and villains from various Final Fantasy games together in a barely coherent story.  The Opera Omnia part...I'm not sure.  It's silly, but follows the current trend of weird subtitles for JRPGs that has been going on for the past decade or so.  Maybe even longer.

Unlike its fighting game brethren, Opera Omnia is a turn based RPG.  The turn order is based off a character's speed, and reminds me a lot of the system in Final Fantasy X (another good game).  When your turn comes up, you have the option of doing a Brave attack, HP attack, or using one of your skills.  To tie into the Dissidia games, this one also uses a similar system for damage.  A character's brave value is the damage they will do with an HP attack.  So, you want to use your brave attacks to drain an opponent's value while adding to your own.  When it is sufficiently high, you can use your HP attack to do actual damage.

It might sound strange at first, but I like it.  The system provides more strategy that you would think.  If you take brave damage that exceeds your current value, you become broken (no, not like Matt Hardy).  This shifts your turn back a space or more, while giving the entire opposing side a several-hundred point increase.  Plus, you can't do HP damage until you get enough brave back.  I should also mention that using an HP attack sends your brave to zero.  While you need to do damage, you should be careful when you do that damage.  If an enemy is targeting you right after that character's turn, you might not want to use the HP attack, unless it will finish them off.  Otherwise, you may empower your opponents when they strike back.

It's a pretty fun system once you get down a rhythm.  To mix it up a bit, each character has one or two special skills.  They can be heals, buffs, high brave attacks, multi-target attacks, or my favorite, the brave then HP attack ones.  They have limited uses per battle, so you have to decide when it's worth it.  For shorter fights, it's easy to blow the skills as necessary, while you want to be more discerning in their use during multi-wave boss fights.  While I was dismissive of the buffs at first (as I am wont to do), some of them are incredibly useful.  HP/brave attacks may be my favorite, but some of the others are almost as good, and might be more useful in the long run.

As post-battle rewards, you will occasionally gain colored crystals.  These can be used to further enhance the stats for characters, and get them additional passive skills.  Each character needs a specific crystal color, and only that one.  Maxing out their crystal levels makes them a powerhouse, but it does take a lot of crystals to do so.  Just make sure to set those passives.  Plenty of times I have forgotten to do so.  I tried to find at least one good character per crystal type, since I like to do the daily levels for each color (I could take or leave the money one).  They are great levels for the experience, but once you hit 50, they are still great for the sheer amount of crystals you can get from them.

One last way to make your characters stronger is with their equipment.  Weapons and armor have a rank, from 1 to 5 stars, with more stars equaling stronger equipment.  To level those up, you have to merge them with other weapons or special weapon/armor orbs.  If you merge it with another of the same type, it will "limit break" them, increasing their maximum level.  Hey, it's Final Fantasy, you have to have "limit break" in there somewhere.  Each piece of equipment has extra CP, allowing the equipped character to have more passive skills on.  This limit increases when the limit breaks.  Rank 4 and 5 equipment will also give bonus skills to certain characters.  If you fully max out it out (limit break it three times and hit the level cap), that skill is then unlocked for that character, so they can get it without equipping the associated piece.  It's a pretty cool system, but does take some luck, rare resources, or a chunk of money to max out the 5 star weapons and armor.  It can be worth it though!

The game's story is probably the weakest part.  It very much follows the "take all these characters and shove them into a strange world" trope that seems popular with mash-ups like this.  The story scenes aren't bad, they just don't add much.  The characters in them are usually appropriate, but you will unlock a lot as you go through the game, and they cycle in and out who appears in a scene.  There are a few funny scenes, and the characters act appropriately, but it's just not that memorable.  To make it better, you aren't limited in doing most stages.  There is a "stamina" system for a few levels, and the daily stages are limited, but the story stages are not.  If you want to blow through a chapter or two in one sitting, the game doesn't stop you!  I'm glad that a chunk of the game isn't the "play three stages, wait two hours" nonsense that other games have.  Also, only a very few select and rare stages limit who you can bring.  If you want to constantly use Cecil because he's awesome, you are free to do so.  I'm glad the characters don't have silly cooldown timers.

However, another massive plus Opera Omnia has over similar mobile games?  You get all the characters in the story or special events.  There's no random chance to get your favorite characters (and Lightning), just their weapons.  All in all, I like that.  It means you don't have to throw money at the game to get your favorite characters, just wait until they are available, or get to the part of the story where they are unlocked.  Plus, previous event characters eventually come back with permanent events, so if you miss someone great, just wait a couple of months and you can get them (and their 5* armor) at your leisure.

I do have a few other minor problems with the game.  One, the boss fights can be a slog.  Not only do many of them have a lot of HP (it is a JRPG, after all), but they tend to be the fourth or fifth wave of their levels.  I could deal with one or the other, but both together make them longer and less fun than they could be.  They also hit hard, which I would expect, but bosses seem to get a disproportionately large amount of brave for doing their moves.  One last quibble is how some of the female characters are treated.  I can only remember two so far, but Ashe (FF XII) and Celes (VI) have stumbling in some of their attack animations.  You might be able to get away with Ashe, since she is a princess, but they why does "she" choose to use a big, two-handed sword?  Celes is less forgivable.  She's a powerful general, and swordswoman, and mage, and opera singer.  If she just launched a ground wave at the opponent, she wouldn't stumble to follow that up because she's a girl.  I have yet to see a guy treated like this, and I'm frankly disappointed Squeenix did this.  It's not unexpected for Japan, though.

While it's not a phrase I would have thought I would say, I really like this mobile game.  Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is a lot of fun, and a solid RPG.  I like playing it, making my characters stronger, participating in the daily events, and getting characters I like from the various games.  I would definitely encourage turn-based RPG and Final Fantasy fans to try it out for a few days.  I have yet to spend any money on the game, but have plenty of strong characters, weapons, and armor.  I actually want to spend money on the game because I enjoy it so much.  It's...a weird feeling.

The Good:
Mobile game with lots of Final Fantasy characters, and not many of the limiting traps of free-to-play games.

The Bad:
Boss fights can be a slot, and of course the curse of RNG.

The SaHD:
I like to refer to Cecil's "darkness" skill as "hitting them with the no parents"...thanks Lego Movie

(Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia was downloaded for free on the Android store)