Sunday, July 15, 2018

Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk (PS Vita) Review

Finishing off Aksys' "Summer of Mystery" is the third Vita visual novel, Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk.  Like the others, it is an otome game, so you play as a female protagonist.  She is a witch, which the townspeople fear.  To avoid suspicion, she was raised as a boy alongside her two "brothers", her secret known only to a select few.  As the story progresses, she will learn to dress and act like a girl to help her locate the mysterious Kaleido-Via, all while trying to keep her secrets from being exposed.

I will definitely give the game credit for a unique premise.  I was interested to see where it would go, and what exactly they would do with it.  At first, though, I wasn't that impressed.  You quickly meet most of the characters, and most of them annoyed me instantly.  Not the best way to start a game.  However, as the story continued, the characters either changed, or the annoying elements were pushed into the background, ensuring I would enjoy it.  There are some twists that I did not see coming, and they were pulled off very well.  My opinions on at least two characters completely flipped.  That's not something I expected.  Some of the endings felt a little too random for my tastes, so it's not perfect.  While I won't spoil anything, there are some connections to the previous title, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly.  After I started, I didn't think there would be, but fans of that game should appreciate what's in Ashen Hawk.

At a few points in the game, you will have a simplified map of the town.  From here, you can select short stories, comments from townspeople, and the next main story section.  I would have liked a quick explanation as to what the icons meant, but there isn't one.  Thankfully it isn't too hard to figure it out.  The pink eyeglass icons are comments from townspeople, which will give you a point.  These points are used to purchase special items from the antique store, which will unlock short stories, other side story scenes, and some gallery pictures.  To unlock them all, you have to talk to everybody.  It's not the most interesting way to unlock the additional scenes, but it's much less intense than Black Butterfly's shooting mini-game.

Once you have the necessary items purchased, it is very easy to go back and view any scenes you have missed.  All because of the glorious flow chart!  It was my favorite thing about Black Butterfly, and I was overjoyed to see it back in Ashen Hawk.  It allows you to see where all the scenes and branches are, so you can quickly move back to grab them.  This makes it easier to get all the endings and explore the story.  It's also much easier to actually get on to the branches than it was in the previous game.

Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk was a fun visual novel.  After a rough beginning, the story and characters got a lot better.  Factoring in all the townspeople conversations and side stories, the main game is longer than most visual novels I have played.  The flip side is the "routes" tend to just be the endings.  Thankfully the awesome flow chart is back to make jumping to the relevant scenes quick and easy.  I definitely recommend this otome game to fans of visual novels, and especially fans of Black Butterfly.

The Good:
An interesting and unique story that pulled off some difficult plot twists very well.

The Bad:
The story is largely linear.  There are branches, but they are pretty much just the endings.

The SaHD:
I'm not a fan of the "character is abysmal at cooking" cliche.  It's not funny, and doesn't make sense.  It did have some small relevance in this game, but that doesn't really make it much better.

(Review code for Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk was received from the publisher)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Space Hulk: Deathwing - Enhanced Edition (PS4) Review

When I first started playing Space Hulk: Deathwing - Enhanced Edition, I was excited.  I've been a fan of Warhammer 40k for years now, and always hope that an amazing game capable of capturing that universe comes along.  While the real time strategy ones are very good and accurate, I know there’s a great action or RPG game just waiting to be made (preferably featuring the wonderful Eldar).

The game starts off with the tutorial, even if you already did it from the main menu (like me).  Afterwards, you are put into the space hulk with your mission.  The scenery looks really nice, and appropriate.   It's also pretty dark.  I didn't find any enemies for the first few minutes, so I figured the game was going for a more atmospheric approach, rather than an action oriented one.  This could work, since you are in heavy Terminator armor.  You are big and bulky, so going for the scare factor would play off the resistance and fire power you should have.

Once closer to the first major objective, there was a group of enemies that ran in.  Since it was from a more enclosed location, they were fairly easily dispatched.  So, maybe they weren’t going with a fewer-but-scarier enemy layout, but instead some small waves of them.   I pressed on, and reached the first objective.  It was time for my third assessment.

There were a lot of enemies.  Not like Left 4 Dead horde amounts, but a steady stream.  I stayed with my two squadmates, fighting them off.  I figured there would be an end to them, and I could move on.  There wasn't.  They just kept coming.  Eventually, I realized this, and had to run back to the beginning area of the level, with occasional stops to shoot a few foes in my way.  I eventually got toward the end, and received a brief reprieve.

Then, I had to defend my position.  I figured it wouldn’t be too bad, since I’m on easy, and my squadmates are fairly helpful.  I was wrong.  After a few minutes of valiant fighting, I went down.  It was a bit of a shock, since I’m not terrible at FPS games.   I’m not great, but should be able to beat the first level of one on the easy setting.  So, I reloaded and tried again.  This time, I hit up the warp portal to fully heal everyone, and tried again.

Another failure.  I slightly revise my strategy and tried again.  Yet another failure.  Revise, die, repeat.  I started to question myself, my abilities, reality, and the existentialism of the universe.  I eventually hid in a nearby tube with my squad, which limited where the enemies could come from.  I lost one member (thanks suicide exploder enemies!), but managed to get through.  Great, only several more levels to go.

Besides the story mode, there are Special Missions and Multiplayer.  Sadly, these both just recycle the story mode maps.  Special Missions are just playing the same maps with random objectives each time you load in.  It’s not the most interesting idea, but it gives you some decent replayability.  Multiplayer is either a story mode or special mission map that you play with other people.  It’s more enjoyable than playing with the AI, and probably a lot more fun with actual friends.  I really would have preferred some kind of horde mode too, as I really like those, and it would fit with the theme.  The game still has the same problems, but with four people, it’s a little easier.  Plus, when not in story mode, you can pick your class.

Since you are stuck as a terminator, the class selection isn’t near as varied as it could be for a 40K game.  Each class gets a melee weapon on one hand, while the other has a ranged or another melee weapon.  There are only so many weapons, so there is plenty of overlap between the classes.  Skills, on the other hand, are unique.  Once you find the skills you like (if you can navigate through the terrible menus to actually see what they are), you stand a decent chance of also finding weapons you like on that class.  Killing enemies and completing objectives will give your multiplayer classes experience.  When you level up, you get a random unlock and some in-game currency to buy upgrades and skins.  Pretty basic stuff.

Death in Space Hulk feels off.  Your final hit just kind of kills you.  I rarely saw where it came from, you just…fall over.  It's very lackluster and made me feel like I wasn't even hit, but that my guy just gave up.   It also likes to happen very suddenly.  I’ve been killed in one hit by some enemies, and even died immediately upon loading into a map.  If you fail a map, you get some experience, but don’t seem to get any currency.  With how much you money you need to unlock stuff, the game somehow makes a long grind even longer and more grind-y.  Plus, you have to sit through several long load times, making it even worse.

It would be easier to not die if the visuals were tweaked.  Scenery, while detailed and appropriate, shares the pallet with the enemies.  It is much harder than it should be to pick up the off-white and grey enemies from the grey and dark grey backgrounds.  To make matters worse, your HUD and weapon effects take up a ton of screen real estate.  The information on the HUD can be useful, but it could also be presented in a better way.  Plus, sometimes your character will put his shoulder up into the frame which blocks more of the screen than anyone should be okay with.  The flamer and plasma cannons are useful weapons, but also disguise what is going on behind their fancy effects.   Is the enemy dead?  Should I stop shooting?  Are they more enemies behind them?  Having all of these things interfere with your sense of sight is not good design.

Choosing a class and playing with other people is a better experience than single player, which sadly, isn’t really saying much.  I was looking forward to playing Space Hulk: Deathwing - Enhanced Edition, but was left feeling disappointed.  Muddled visuals, repeating stages, cheesy enemies, cumbersome menus, and long load times really bring the game down.  Looks like I'm not the only one to bring shame to my chapter.

The Good:
Player models look really good.  Classes are a nice touch, and you can always have a varied experience in the special missions.

The Bad:
It's way too hard to see anything, since it is very dark, there are lots of effects everywhere, and the enemies are the same colors as the scenery.  Back in my day, Tyrannids were blue and purple!

The SaHD:
How does the power fist not kill the genestealers in 1 hit?  It's a strength of 8!  If it hits them, they die.  Have they not played 40K or read the codex?

(Review code for Space Hulk: Deathwing -EE was received from the publisher)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Fox n Forests (Switch) Review

Fox n Forests is a retro inspired platformer.  It has nice sprite artwork and a very old school game map.  Your goal is to guide Rick the fox through the seasons and find each piece of magic bark.  To do so, Rick will bring along his trusty sword and crossbow, while also gaining magic that allows him to change the season in each stage.

Platforming is decent overall.  Rick starts with a double jump, which is very useful.  There are some jumps that feels just out of reach of the double jump, which is disappointing.  It is unfortunately harder to jump over enemies and hazards than I want, because Rick's hitbox feels too big.  He will frequently hit his head on things above him, which kills your jump momentum.  There are, of course, bottomless pits, too.  Running out of health or falling to your doom will quickly send you back to the last checkpoint.  The saving grace is that respawning is so fast.  The bad side is you have to pay to use checkpoints, and the cost increases as the level goes on.  You can skip them if you want to save your money.  I don't really like that idea, since I need most of the checkpoints.  I also feel it's a way to keep your total money down, meaning you will need to replay stages more times to buy the upgrades.

Combat somehow feels worse than the platforming.  Rick has two basic attacks: one with a sword, and one with a crossbow.  It's a great idea, but suffers from both being attached to the same button.  If you are standing still, Rick will use his crossbow.  If you are moving or jumping, he will use his sword.  I'd really like to be able to use the crossbow more than you can.  Ranged attacks help a lot, given Rick's large hitbox and how cheesy the enemies can be.  I'd also love to be able to jump and shoot.  It's not like that would break the game, just make it more fair, so having them as separate buttons would be great.

The crossbow is weak, and has a cooldown between volleys, so you still need to use the sword.  Even so, the sword had its own problems.  The range isn't that good, and I frequently got hit while trying to attack enemies.  The purchasable double jump attack hits a nice circle around Rick, but the single jump attack is much more confined.  If it was more of an arc, it would be better, and it wouldn't be so easy to get hit while trying to use such a precise attack.

The unique mechanic if the game is the ability to change the season.  Each level has two versions, and using your magic effectively swaps between them.  Water will freeze so it can be walked on, plants grow or retract, and fog can disappear.  It's a really cool idea that is used pretty well.  My only gripes with it are that you cannot activate it in the air (but can turn it off while jumping), and the activation time.  When you change the season, Rick has to stop and hold up his sword.  This would be fine if the rest of the game paused with him, but it doesn't.  So, if you aren't careful, or constantly unlucky, you can get hit when you activate the season change.  As if the game needed to get in more cheap hits.  It might be less frustrating on a TV instead of handheld mode.

The money you gather not only pays for checkpoints, but can be used to get potions and upgrades for Rick.  Health and special move upgrades just require money, while mana and melee attack upgrades also require some collectibles.  Unfortunately, you have to alternate buying special move and melee strength increases, so you will have to find some of the whetstones to get all the moves.  The potions you can buy are cheap, but you need to find the bottles first.  Easier said than done.

There are not many levels in the game, as each section has two, a boss fight, and a bonus stage.  To make up for this, the levels themselves are long.  Too long for my tastes.  I'm a fan of more, but shorter, levels (see Disney Infinity versus Skylanders).  Especially when you can easily jump back to completed stages for missed collectibles with new abilities.  Well, I say “can”, but the game means “will.”  After beating a boss, you need a certain number of the seed collectibles to progress.  While I usually like going back to grab missed stuff, it feels arbitrary when I'm forced to.  Plus, when I’m happy just getting through a stage, given how frustrating things can get, I don’t really want to go back.  However, since the levels are big with some alternate paths, you may be completing each level several times to find everything.  Or without finding everything, like me.  You also need every seed in a set of levels to do the bonus stage.  The first bonus stage gives a little extra money, but you only get one chance to do it.  Considering the work I had to put in to get it, the reward was not worth it.

Parts of Fox n Forests are fun, but it feels like a missed opportunity.   There are good elements, such as the different attacks and the season changing mechanic.  Too bad most other game mechanics are working against you.  In reality, the game is short, and has to resort to artificially drawing it out.  Because of this, it feels strange to complain about each level being way too long, even though I will still do just that.  Ultimately, die hard platform players looking for a challenge or something unique should check it out, but for others it's a pass.

The Good:
Season changing leads to some nice level designs and opportunities.

The Bad:
Controls aren't always responsive, character's hitbox is too big, not many levels.

The SaHD:
I really appreciate the Gorgeous Gorge name.

(Review code for Fox n Forests was received from the publisher)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Megadimension Neptunia VIIR (PS4) Review

The mainline Neptunia series is no stranger to updated re-releases, and Megadimension Neptunia VIIR (Vee-two-are) keeps it rolling.  Besides sounding like a new Star Wars droid, the name also clues you in to one of the biggest additions: there's new VR scenes.  Thankfully, you don't need a VR headset to play the game, because I don't have one yet.   In addition, there is a new graphics engine for smoother visuals, and the combat has be revamped.

For better or worse, the game starts with one of the new VR sections.  You can still view it without a headset, but I imagine it would be a lot cooler with the new hardware.  Some scenes pop up between chapters, while others have to be selected from the player's room.  In fact, most things are done from this new area. It's where you can view the scenes, or jump back into the stories.  As far as I can tell, all three stories from the original release are intact and unchanged, save for a few changes for the endings.

The other major change in the game is the combat.  Before, you would put your unlocked moves in a combo flowchart, which was determined by your weapon.   It...wasn’t my favorite, not by a long shot.  Now, moves require AP to use, but you can attack multiple times in a turn if you have enough stored up.  Plus, you have access to all of your unlocked moves...sort of.  Your weapon again determines which of the three types you can use, but you are free to use any in those.  It’s certainly an improvement.  The only real downside is that each move now costs money to unlock. Early on I just didn’t have enough to buy many moves, so I was stuck using the same ones for awhile.  After each combo or special move, you have to select “defend” now.  It’s not the most streamlined process, but it does work in the player’s favor.

That’s not all.   There’s now a skill that lets you heal when you de-transform from CPU form.  I think that’s pretty neat, and useful.  HP is fully restored after each fight, which does make the game easier and faster.  SP is used for special moves, which is built up while you fight.  SP build up feels a bit slow, especially in the giant battles, but the system is functional.  Thankfully, the middle act now allows all players to share items.  It should be less of a pain to complete.

Challenges from previous Neptunia games (like jumping a lot, or getting symbol attacks) return, but with a re-tooled purpose.  Before, they gave stat boosts. Now, they give bonus points that you can put into stats of your choosing.  The best part is that these stat points can be re-allocated on a whim.   No need to visit a special person, or use an item to respec your stat bonus, just decrease the number.  Part of the reason for this is weapon balance.  Now, weapons need a balance between to stats to keep a high accuracy.   You can pump everything into strength, but it will eventually lower your accuracy.  Keeping in mind what stats balance your weapon will still allow you to get stronger, but it’s not as simple as dumping everything into one thing.

I don’t like all the changes.  It might be minor to some, but the saving has changed.  It’s nice that it saves so often, but it is an auto save, and it’s all in the same slot.   I would think most RPG fans prefer to at least have a few slots, or be allowed to manually save before stopping.  I know I do.  I haven’t had any issues with it, but it makes me a little paranoid.  Oh, and if you had any DLC for the previous release (yo), it sadly doesn’t work here.  I can guess there was a licensing issue for some of them, but at least Umio could have been there.

The new additions and reworked combat are nice, but not necessarily worth coming back for.  It might be a different story if you have a PSVR.  If you haven't played the first release, or wanted it to be better, then it is worth trying out Megadimension Neptunia VIIR.

The Good:
Combat was re-worked and is much improved.  Graphics look better, too.

The Bad:
DLC doesn't carry over from the previous release.  Game is auto save in one slot.

The SaHD:
So is the next remake/rebirth game 4GO VR?

(Review code for Megadimension Neptunia VIIR was received from the publisher)