Friday, August 18, 2017

Hyrule Warriors Legends (3DS) Review

Even though I co-reviewed the Wii U release of Hyrule Warriors, I put so much time into the 3DS release several months later that I feel I should review that too.  In an effort to not write a term paper's worth of text, I'll try to keep some things brief and concise while covering the important points.  I say this because there is a lot to talk about in Hyrule Warriors Legends, and not just the improvements and additions that the 3DS release sees.

First up, the general gameplay.  While the combat is similar to Dynasty Warriors, with weak and strong attacks, special moves (musous) and the like, there are several key differences in the land of Hyrule.  Named characters usually don't take a whole lot of damage from attacks, but instead have weak point gauges.  These are only exposed after certain attacks, and not for very long.  If you can hit them enough to drain the gauge, you will do a powerful attack to take a chunk of their health.

Large monsters will also appear in some stages.  These are barely damaged by normal attacks, and you have to almost exclusively use the weak point gauge to damage them.  True to Legend of Zelda style, each has a particular sub weapon weakness to help expose the gauge.  While it's an interesting system, I got tired of having to do it all the time.  I far prefer the more Dynasty Warrior standard of just hitting something and doing damage.  The weak point gauge relies upon RNG for enemies actually doing the attacks that expose them, making fast paced battles slow down.  I'll also mention that the new characters range from average to really good.  At least they are all better and more fun to use than Agitha.

The story mode still includes the original story that, by itself, easily takes over 20 hours with all the battling and dialogue.  It also includes Cia's story, which was DLC on the Wii U version.  If that weren't enough, it also adds a new story for Linkle, and a Windwaker story.  These three together basically double the story mode, which was already a good time sink.  There are even reasons to replay the levels, since you can earn gold skulltulas, which can eventually unlock a few bonuses.  Yeah, this replay is a bit forced, but you can forgo it entirely and just dive into Adventure Mode.

Adventure Mode is where you will spending the bulk of your time, which, considering the main story is 40+ hours, really means something.  You move around a map of the original (and awesome) Legend of Zelda, laid onto a grind, where every section is a different level.  You not only have to complete the level, but usually get a certain grade to open up the levels next to it, expanding the levels you have access to as you go.  Many levels also have some sort of treasure or unlock, either by using a certain character, or even using one of the iconic Zelda items.  These are also map rewards, but they are unfortunately consumable, so you will need to repeat stages to get more.

This mode has been re-balanced to be complete-able without much grinding.  For better or worse, the weapons have been spread around the maps more, since the base game includes several whole maps (the previous DLC ones are now included, and more DLC maps are available).  It's also great that it is a lot easier to go through the Adventure maps, since they already added 100 or so hours of content without needed to make players do a stage multiple times.  Considering the current gaming landscape, it's almost insane how much content is shoved into the base game... and I'm not complaining!  Especially since I didn't run into many Cuckoo maps, and even then they weren't near as bad as they used to be (they still do absurd damage for no reason).

The last big addition to the game is My Fairy.  Some Adventure levels have a fairy you can rescue.  Each has a default element and, when equipped, can cast a damaging magic spell that takes your magic meter.  You also find food to feed them, which levels them up, makes their spells stronger, and can change the element of the spell.  At levels 25 and 50, the spells gain added effects based on the element the fairy is at that time.  For example, fire element gives the spell an effect of lowering the defense of enemies in the area it was cast.  Plus, there are outfit pieces you can equip on the fairy that either powers up their magic, or gives you a discount in casting it.  Yes, it comes across as very Style Savvy and unnecessary, but after you get a taste of the fairy's power, you will quickly love their inclusion.  It makes getting tons of KOs very easy.

To me, the original Hyrule Warriors, while flawed, was my most played game on the Wii U.  This is no small feat considering there was a Monster Hunter released on that system, too.  The 3DS release, Hyrule Warriors Legends, is better in every way.  Yes, it lacks multiplayer, but it has been re-balanced to not need it really at all, and has a lot of small changes that really improve the experience.  The game is worth playing for Dynasty Warriors fans, but I don't think it's quite as good as those, since the weak point gauge and a few other things get tiresome after many hours.  If you had the Wii U version, I would surprisingly still recommend picking up this version, since it has all the content that game and its season pass had, plus more, for half the price of that version.  Even if you have to re-do everything, it is worth the price and time to dive back in.

The Good:
There's a ton of content in even the base game, and the adventure mode has been much better balanced.

The Bad:
Battling is still a chore if you are underleveled, and cuckoos are still dumb.

The SaHD:
Twili Midna ("Big-na", since she isn't "mid") has a perfect costume for my wife, but this game isn't 2 player, and she doesn't have that costume in the Wii U version. :(

(Hyrule Warriors Legends was purchased by the reviewer)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fallen Legion (PS4/PS Vita) Review

After the previous emperor passed away, his daughter, Cecille, hesitantly takes the throne.  With it, she acquires the mystical Grimoire, a talking book that gives her the ability to summon souls as soldiers.  Upon learning of this, Laendur, one of her generals, decides that he cannot let such callous disregard for life go, and seeks to usurp her.  Both sides of this tale make up Fallen Legion.  On the PS4, the game is given the subtitle Sins of an Empire, and follows Cecille.  To see Laendur's perspective, you will have to play Flames of Rebellion on the PS Vita.

Despite the different characters and side of the story, the other basic parts remain the same for both versions.  As you make your way through the game, various points on the map open up, which usually offer a battle, but sometimes just some more story.  Combat levels are a series of fights sometimes broken up by a timed choice.  These choices will thankfully restore your health, and also provide buffs, debuffs, and sometimes relics to use in that stage.  The choices also effect some event scenes, alternate battle locations, and can even evolve your exemplars.

While this is a unique idea, it does have some flaws.  First, they are timed.  Not a huge deal, but since it affects your exemplars, spells, and areas, it would be nice to actually have more than 10 seconds to think about it.  Second, it seems like you should either choose responses based off the buff it gives, or what you personally would choose.  There are factions associated with each choice, I think, but there are more than three factions.  Can you imagine the mess if your Dungeons and Dragons choices moved you toward one of the nine alignments, but you only had three random choices?  Many of these involve characters that you never see, or even know anything about, so how can we keep them straight?  Third, you don't always know what effects there will be from your choice.  While I guess this is realistic, it's not the best decision.  I suppose it gives the game replay value, but I'd like to know what choices are moving me toward things I'd actually like.

Why buy grain from elsewhere when you could infiltrate the riots?

Now for the battles.  They start off promising enough.  Each of the characters you control in battle correspond to a face button.  Your main character (Cecille or Laendur) uses spells, which require their mana be filled by landing attacks.  The others use AP to attack.  AP fills as you are not attacking or defending, and up to three can be stored.  There are also link attacks if you can get the timing down (it's trickier than you think).  Pressing the L/L1 Button will have your units guard.  If you do it right before the enemy hits you, you get a perfect block.

Sounds, fine, right?  Well, the perfect block in Fallen Legion doesn't quite behave like similar functions in other games, which is a shame.  There's a slight delay when blocking/unblocking, which means it's not always possible to perfect block every attack.  If enemies attack too closely together, you are left defenseless if you perfect block the first hit.  I'm not a fan of punishing the player for being good.  Some enemies attack immediately as they move, making perfect blocking their attacks ridiculously hard.  Blocking is also done by the whole party, so you can't just have an armored exemplar in front block everything while the back attacks.  Enemies attack at strange intervals, sometimes leaving you no time to actually counter-attack.  I personally feel like the perfect block should at least stagger the attacker, but preferably stop any concurrent attackers, so you have a window of opportunity to hit them.  As it stands, you don't get that, nor usually enough time to actually do a 3-hit combo.

This is very apparent in fights of three or more opponents.  Enemies attacking will interrupt your attacks, but you can't really do the same to them.  That's just not fair, and not fun.  Buttons don't always seem to respond to being pushed.  The blocking on the PS Vita version felt more responsive than its PS4 counterpart, but I'm not sure why that is.  Another thing that bugs me is enemy strength.  There are some units that can dish out a lot more damage than others.  Trouble is, they use the same graphic as others.  These units also seem to hang out around death.  When their health is absurdly low (<10%), they just won't die, requiring way to many hits to actually topple.

It's totally possible that I'm just not "getting" combat.  Maybe it works beautifully, and it's just not syncing with me.  However, others have had these same problems, so I suspect the combat is in dire need of repair.  It's salvageable, as all you would need is to tweak some settings, making it more balanced, and actually rewarding the player for perfect block skill.

Because of all that, the game can get pretty hard.  It usually seems like a coin toss if a battle will go smoothly, save for some particular hard or boss fights.  At least one fight I had on the Vita version had a ton of lag from on screen effects.  This obviously made it pretty much impossible to perfect block, as the action was jumping all over the place.  This didn't stop the AI from being just fine...just me.  Ugh.  If you lose a normal fight, you have to do the whole battle stage all over again.  If you lose to a boss, you can thankfully re-do the boss fight.  It starts over from whatever position you were in when you started the fight, which might not actually help you at all.  There isn't much you can do to make a hard fight easier, since there are no levels and the gems are random.  All you can do is adjust your strategy, and hope the mechanics don't work against you.

The choice mechanic does give the game replayability, and a run lasts about 10 hours.  It's obviously more when you have to retry battles.  The PS4 version's load times were very short.  The opposite can be said about the Vita version, where battle stage load times were very long.

Fallen Legion has a lot of promise.  The graphics are great, the story is good, and it has replay value.  The choice mechanic could use some work...or a massive flow could the battles.  As it stands, it's just too skewed toward the enemies to make it fully enjoyable.  It's unique enough that it's worth trying out, but I don't know if I'd recommend sticking with it.

The Good:
Great graphics, two different platforms give two sides to the story.

The Bad:
Combat needs tweaking.

The SaHD:
Why can't we get some numbers/effects for exemplar stances?

(Review codes for Fallen Legion were provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Collar X Malice (PS Vita) Review

If you have read some of my other reviews, you will probably know that I really enjoy visual novel games.  That definitely includes otome games.  The back drop of Collar X Malice is pretty interesting.  After a high profile kidnapping and murder, a terrorist group known as 'Adonis' seeks to punish criminals and make people lose faith in a police force that isn't as sterling as they claim.  The series of murders is a countdown to X Day.  And what X Day brings, no one yet knows.

I really enjoyed the story of the game.  You play as rookie cop Ichika Hoshino (you can of course change her first name, but I left it).  After a rude awakening into the events of the X Day countdown, you team up with a group of guys to help solve the murders, and maybe save the city.  As you go through the game, you make choices which will affect story flow and which route you go on.  I was very surprised to get a bad ending very early.  Also, you get onto each route very early.  Since there were very few choices beforehand, I'm not really sure what determined my first route (it wasn't the one I was going to try for first).  When I went through a second time, I had a slightly better idea, but still not sure what got to that point.

At first I didn't like that the route was chosen so early, but it gives the protagonist and the romantic option time to bond and develop them as characters.  Most otome games seem to have a mostly unified story, and then branch off near the end.  I really like that Collar X Malice doesn't.  It really lets the characters and relationships develop more naturally.  There are different incidents to dive into, and the ones that Ichika is involved in change depending on the route taken.  That's a really good incentive to multiple playthroughs.

Another thing that the game does that I didn't expect is shifting perspectives.  To better flesh out the story, or to give the player some other tidbits, there are times the narrative shifts to another character.  On one hand, I like stuff like this in stories, as it is for the benefit of the reader.  On the other, it can feel a bit out of place, since otome games usually just follow the protagonist around the whole time.  There's also a select few times you will poke around a crime scene picture to find info about an X Day incident.  It was nice, but there are very few of them.  Lastly, there are also a few shooting QTEs in the game.  It's a nice little addition, but again are used very rarely.  I don't think they needed more, though.

Admittedly, one route through the game felt longer than average for visual novels, but it was probably still around 8-10 hours.  There were many times I was going to play for a bit, but got caught up in the story and ended up spending 3 hours playing before forcing myself to stop.  As mentioned before, having different crimes for different routes makes me want to play through them all even more.  So I'd say replay value for the game is very good, as each route had a lot of differences.

I very much enjoyed Collar X Malice.  It's an easy recommendation for visual novel and otome fans, and a great addition to the Vita library.

The Good:
I liked the story, and there is really good replay value in the different routes.

The Bad:
I have little idea how I got onto the routes I did get.

The SaHD:
Wow, two of the romantic options are just mean to you.

(Review code for Collar X Malice was provided by the publisher)