Sunday, May 13, 2018

Titan Quest (Xbox One) Review

Nostalgia can be a powerful force, even in small doses.  Years ago, I finally got around to playing a Diablo-style game on the PC called Titan Quest.  I didn't end up playing very long (part because I don't play games on the PC very much, and part because I wanted to do multiplayer with my wife), but I enjoyed the game and wanted to go back to it.  Once the game came to Xbox One and PS4, I was excited to give it a try.

Right off the bat, I was thrown into the character creator.  My excitement quickly dropped when I realized just how limited it is.  You can set gender and tunic color.  Even if most things would be covered by armor, I was hoping for a bit more.  Also, the game disappointingly only has single player and online multiplayer.  I know this won't effect everybody, but no couch co-op is a negative point for me.

Once in the actual game, my excitement started to make a comeback.   You can hold the X button down to auto attack, but it only works when there are enemies around.  That makes logical sense, but sometimes you want to try out a weapon's speed, or a new skill in safety.  Aiming attacks feels strange.  Instead of facing the direction you want to attack, your character will instead lock on to one in range.  To change targets, you hold down the attack button and point the left stick towards the new enemy.  There are plenty of times I tried to change my direction to change where I would attack, only to have it not work.  It's just cumbersome and not intuitive.

From there, the controls don't get any better.  The A Button picks up items and interacts with npcs/items/etc.  While it normally works fine, you can interact with your summoned creature.  It doesn't seem to do anything, but when you inevitably do it while trying to pick up loot, you will just stand there for a second, unable to do anything.  It's...just not good.  Oh, and the A Button will not pick up loot that has fallen through the map.  Sadly, it happened to me over a dozen times.  My son watched me play the game for an hour, and saw it at least three separate times.  That's also not good.

It bugs me that official screenshots usually lack the HUD

Health and magic potions are well labeled, though.  They are set on the bumpers, and are quick and easy to use when you need them.  Skills you learn will be set to the d-pad.  Yes, you read that right.  That's okay for buffs and other similar things, but just awful for attack skills.  But at least you get eight slots.  You can set a skill for the Y Button, but it doesn't feel responsive.  Maybe it's the few skills I tried there, but I had a lot of trouble getting them to activate, even when the target was in range.

The B Button will swap between your two weapon sets.  While this does allow you to set something else on the Y Button for the second set, it's not a function I would use with any regularity.  How often are you switching weapon sets?  Certainly not enough that you would want a face button dedicated to it.  It seems like that should be relegated to the d-pad instead of skills.  Even if they didn't want to copy something like Diablo 3, they could at least take the skill setting idea from the X-Men Legends games.  They did it right, and before Titan Quest originally launched.  Instead, they tried to invent a wheel, but ended up with a rectangle.

Okay, so that doesn't sound so great, but there is something good in the game.  There are nine different skill trees, many of which look fun to me.  Every level gives you three skill points, which can be used to buy or power-up skills, or increase the rank (and stats) of the class itself.  The higher the rank, the more skills you can learn.  It took me a minute to figure out how it worked, but I actually really like the skill trees.  I at first settled on an earth mage, and it was pretty fun.  A few of the skill made me think it would work really well with a melee fighter, but it was a mage set.  However, at level eight, you can choose a second class.  It's entirely optional, which is pretty cool too.  You don't gain any extra skill points, so there is a drawback to doing so.  However, there are several skills that work fine for a class, but much better when paired with another.  It's a great class and skill system that I am eager to play around with.

As for the game's story and quests, they are fairly limited and linear.  There are less quests than I expected.  Also, they are basic "go here and kill these things" types.  Turns out, that's fine by me, as the system for tracking quests and showing information on them is very, very basic.  Actually, it's probably less than basic.  It basically says what you have to do, but not exactly were to go, or have any kind of counters.  Side quest destinations are not far from where you get them, so it's not an issue.  The maps look really nice, but there is no variance in them.  The predictability makes it easier to complete quests, but having some variance in them other than chest contents would be very nice when going through with other characters.  I want to try out multiple classes, but it's a bit of a downer that all the areas will be the same.

Many years ago, Titan Quest was a great game. Since that time, the genre has evolved. Playing the game on a current console really drives home how archaic it is. It might not be fair to compare it to Diablo 3, but that game showed us how great this style of game can be (and play) on a console. Titan Quest, while somewhat fun, just can't compare to that, or other similar games on the same consoles. Instead of just a face lift, this 11+ year old game really needed a full-on remaster to bring it up to current genre standards.

The Good:
Multiple job class combinations to play around with.

The Bad:
Feels dated, controls are awkward.

The SaHD:
I'm really hoping it gets a couch co-op patch, but I may have to settle for getting a second Xbox One to play some co-op with the missus.

(Review code for Titan Quest was received from the publisher)

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly (PS Vita) Review

Aksys kicked off their "Summer of Mystery" with Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, the first of three visual novel games on the Vita coming out this summer.  Readers of my reviews know that I like visual novels, so of course I secured a review code to check it out.  And hey, this time the female protagonist has spoken dialogue!

The story takes place in a mysterious mansion that the heroine suddenly wakes up in.  With the help of some men she meets inside, they will try to survive and ultimately escape the nightmarish house.  While there are some familiar premises to the story, like an mysterious location and lost memories, the story is otherwise unique and interesting.  It moves along at a good pace, not moving too fast nor getting boring, and has some twists that I did not guess.  Toward the end, I was very much into the story, and wanted to see it through to its conclusion.

There are some choices to make while going through the game, but not as many as you might think.  In fact, the game isn't quite structured like most visual novels I have played.  For one, the story is mostly linear, which small branching paths that tend to meet back up where they should.  Character specific routes and endings are present, but they are smaller and shorter than expected, and don't occur in the most common places (ie, near the end).  While I did purposefully pick a bad ending at one point, I was surprised to see the ending I got at the end of the game marked as the "best" ending.  While it does seem the most realistic (as much as it could be), I thought for sure there would be a super happy "best" ending, where everything comes up rainbows.

All of the story scenes are contained on a big flow chart.  It shows when scenes branch off, and even has a mark that tells you when all conversations in that scene have been seen.  It's very easy to jump around and complete the parts you missed.  I very much like that aspect of it, and am enjoying completing as much of it as I can.

However, the game also has some extra scenes called short episodes.  While good in theory, there are several times in the game where you have to view some of these short episodes to progress further in the main story.  In other genres I can be okay with that, but in a story driven game, it feels jarring.  Being forced to stop and go read side stuff really breaks up the flow (and immersion).  I do like them as optional scenes to help unlock character specific routes.  At least, I think they help with that.  Most of the side episodes are locked, and have to either be purchased with points earned from the mini-game, by completing certain other scenes, or both.  It's not explained too well, and there are plenty of stages don't mention the requirements.  You just keep playing and viewing scenes, and eventually it opens them up.

At a few points in the story, there is a shooting mini-game to play.  It partially makes sense because you have to defeat the mansion's monsters to survive.  However, you are locking on and shooting butterflies, which aren't the monster.  Regardless, the mini-game is kind of fun.  You either move the cursor or drag your finger across the butterflies as they move around the screen, then press a button (or the on-screen "shoot" button) to fire.  It's fairly simple, but fun.  It's also not the most accurate, since many times I would drag across a butterfly and it wouldn't lock-on.  Also, it is really easy to miss some of the butterflies, since they only stick around for short, random intervals.  This is the method of getting points used to unlock some of the side episodes, and it was fun to play it enough to get all the points I needed for the side episodes.

Overall, I think Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly is a good visual novel.  There are some text errors, and the side episodes can take you out of the story, but that story is really good, especially near the end.  I'm having fun trying to fill out the whole flow chart.  I'd recommend it for visual novel fans, but it's not the longest complete package.

The Good:
Interesting story with some unexpected turns, fun shooting mini-game.

The Bad:
Side episodes break the flow of the story, and there were some text issues.

The SaHD:
I didn't think they would explain the title so fully.  It was nice that they did, but I admittedly then thought "roll credits".

(Review code for Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly was received from the publisher)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Code: Realize ~Bouquet of Rainbows~ (PS4) Review

Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ was released on the Vita two and a half years ago.  I really enjoyed it, and was eager to try out the sequel, Future Blessings, that was recently released.  The PS4 version of the game, Bouquet of Rainbows, houses both games in the series.  Yes, it is harder than it should be to keep the names straight.  Anyway, for this release, I stuck to the Future Blessings portion of the game, but I'll still have some information from Guardian of Rebirth, mostly re-hashed from my previous review.  If you are interested to dive deeper into that, here's the link for it.

Being a visual novel, all stories in Bouquet of Rainbows are heavy on the reading, but many non-protagonist lines are fully voiced.  It's also an otome game, so you are playing a female, with the option to be romantic with one of a few guys.  Guardian of Rebirth follows the story of Cardia.  After being virtually abandoned in a mansion and little to no memories of her past, she meets the gentleman thief Lupin.  Soon, she meets several other colorful characters and discovers the secrets of her deadly poison.  There are a few choices the player makes throughout the game, which will influence your route and the eligible bachelor you end up with.

Future Blessings, on the other hand, has far less dialogue choices.  There are the "after" stories, which take place after each guy's ending from Guardian of Rebirth.  You will obviously want to do them after completing the first game, otherwise they won't make as much sense.  The stories were interesting enough, and expound on some ideas touched in the previous game.  There's also three side stories.  The first is a non-romantic story where Cardia meets a new friend, and gets mixed up in the mafia.  It's surprisingly good for how silly an extremely brief synopsis makes it sound.  The other two are more what-if tales that allow Cardia to interact with Herlock Sholmes and Finis.  As you complete these stories, you also unlock brief stories with Delly, another character from the first game.

Your first story in Guardians of Rebirth will last the usual VN length of about 8 hours (estimate on my part).  There's good replay value in going through the different routes.  Enough of the story changes that it is worth doing all the routes, even if you skip the parts you have already seen.  The "after" stories in Future Blessings aren't quite as long, taking only a few hours to go through.  Adding in the side stories, there are more "routes" to do.  By contrast, these are a little longer than I would have initially thought.  Overall, doing all the routes and stories adds up to a good amount of play time and some good reading.

The whole package on the PS4 is really nice.  My only gripe is that there were some typos and broken text that I encountered.  It wasn't common, and not in every story I played, but it was noticeable.  While I still prefer to play visual novels on a portable system, Code: Realize ~Bouquet of Rainbows~ was fun to play on the PS4.  It's still an easy recommendation for visual novel and otome fans.

The Good:
Combines both the first and second game into one convenient package, and both have several interesting stories.

The Bad:
There were a few typos in at least one of the stories I played.

The SaHD:
Avido Crudele is a pretty rockin' villain name.

(Review code for Code: Realize ~Bouquet of Rainbows~ was received from the publisher)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Masters of Anima (Nintendo Switch) Review

Masters of Anima is a third-person action adventure game where you control a small army of creatures to fight and solve puzzles.  Your character, Otto, is a newly minted Shaper when he is thrust into a battle to save his fiance.  Along the way, there will be puzzles to solve, collectibles to find, battles to fight, and new guardians to summon.

Otto can attack enemies on his own, and can even learn a few special moves.  Since the game is focused around the guardians, you won't be the primary means to damage enemies, but every little bit helps.  Otto also needs anima (energy shown in the lower right of the screen) to summon.  The controls to do the summoning and directing work well, but I still mix up the buttons at times.  While the level length makes sense for pick up and play, it's much better to play for longer periods.  When I did so, I didn't mess up the controls as often.

Half the time, guardians are used to solve quick puzzles and help you move forward.  They can push things in the way, hit corruption crystals, and activate various mechanisms.  For the most part it works fine, but sometimes the timing on these puzzles is too strict.  One type involves creating a purified area that Otto can take with him.  It will shrink as it wears off, which isn't a problem for Otto, but can be for his guardians.  If you don't run exactly to where you need to go, it will wear off as you near the destination, probably killing a chunk of your minions and wasting anima energy.  Later there are barriers that the commanders can lift to protect you from the wind.  Again, the timing has to be near exact, otherwise you are losing another chunk of your minions.  You might still lose them if you do it correctly, since they will likely stick out further than the walls.  If the timing was less strict, the puzzles would be fine.

Using the guardians in combat is a bit trickier.  The game teaches you effective ways to use each type of guardian, but in reality it isn't so easy.  The soldiers get in the enemy's face, but are easily hit and will eventually get wiped out while you are trying to set other groups up.  Archers can hide in the grass, but are still quickly targeted by enemy golems.  They deal very good damage though.  Basically, you need some of the (supposedly) sturdier guardians  in front of the enemies, while the others stay back and do their thing.  Trouble is, the enemies can easily target them, and will.  So to save them, you move the distance ones away.  This actually works when you fight one enemy, but three or more means you just can't pay attention to everything.

It's a bit of a downer, too.  The combat would work fine if ranged guardians were targeted much less frequently, or if the melee ones kept enemy focus while they hit it.  There's only so much room on the screen, you can't see everything, and will end up losing a lot of guardians while trying to set things up, or fix them.  Instead of setting up guardians to do what they do best, you end up having to move them around a lot.  I found it's better to stick with the basics and only use the more specialized ones for puzzles.  Combat just feels too frantic for what the game gives you.  I'd prefer more planning and less scrambling.

One of the harder fights was versus four enemies at the same time.  Given how hard it is to keep track of everything, it wasn't long before I was down to my last few archers, and no energy to summon anything else.  I found that using my character as a distraction while the archers destroyed the golem was effective at picking them off one by one.  It wasn't fast, though.  After a bit, lightning bolts started to hit the ground, but I was able to dodge them.  Then, as if incensed, the game covered the ground with them.  Left with no way to dodge them, I just died.  So, this childish display teaches you that the game REALLY wants you to use the guardians.  It would be nicer if you could employ effective strategies that aren't "just keep throwing guardians at them".

While going through all the missions will set you back several hours, there is some replay value.  Mostly you will want to replay missions to grab the collectibles you missed and get extra experience.  I know that not everybody would want to grab all the extra stuff, but most of them help increase your health or anima energy storage.  The extra experience also helps with the harder fights because you can have extra skills.  Several of the skills are very useful, too.  It's also easier to get a higher grade on the fights when you replay levels.  Though I'm still not fond of being graded after every encounter.

Overall, Masters of Anima can be a pretty fun game.  Ideally, if combat were tweaked a bit, making it less hectic, and puzzle timing less strict, it would be a really fun and easy to recommend game.  As it stands, if you liked games like Overlord, I'd recommend at least trying Masters of Anima.

The Good:
Bite sized levels are good for portable mode, and there are good reasons to replay them.

The Bad:
Fights against more than two enemies are a bit much to easily handle.

The SaHD:
Playing this reminds me that I need to go back and finish Overlord...and start the sequel.

(Review code for Masters of Anima was received from the publisher)