Thursday, October 19, 2017

Battle Chasers: Nightwar (Xbox One) Review

When I first started Battle Chasers: Nightwar, I only knew it was an RPG.  The visuals hooked me instantly.  The story animation and art is done really well.  In the game itself, the character designs, enemy models, and environments look spectacular.  It really looks like the 3D modeling of a comic book.

There's a reason for that.  Apparently, Battle Chasers was actually a comic book series from the late 90s to the very early 2000s.  Well, according to its Wikipedia page, the final(?) three issues are supposed to come out after the game, so I guess I shouldn't say "was" a comic book series.  Also, it seems Joe Madureira, the original creator is involved in making the game.  I guess that's why the game looks so good.

You might be wondering why I learned all of this.  The simple reason is it relates to one of my few problems with the game.  The story in the game is mostly self-contained, but the characters already knew each other.  It was obvious that I was starting in the middle of their tale, and I wondered if it was some property that I didn't know about.  It turns out that it was.

Anyway, the world map is fairly big, and you move from place to place on set paths.  Some places have alternate paths, which sometimes avoid enemies, and sometimes lead to extra places.  Fights are clearly labeled, and there are chests and gathering points on them, too.  If you want the enemies or gathering points back, you can either complete a dungeon or reload the game, which can be really useful to do.  The town shops are also accessed from this map, which took a bit of getting used to.

Once you find and enter an exploration area or dungeon, you will have more freedom of movement.  They also contain treasures, items to examine, and wandering monsters.  Each character gets abilities that you can use in these areas.  Some are just generally helpful, like the robot's heal.  Others can be used for exploration, like Gully's rock destroying punch.  Pretty much all of them can be used when making contact with an enemy to give you an edge in combat, too.  I would like it if they weren't as limited as they are, and only staying at an inn replenishes their uses.

Battles are tried and true turn-based fun.  Your speed, or in this game, haste, determines when and how often your turn comes up.  At first you get what appears to be a normal set of actions, but as you level up, there are some nice surprises.  Besides having a normal attack, there are alternates.  For example, Garrison also gets a move that does less damage than a normal attack, but applies bleed.  There are some special moves that will get an added benefit from that, on top of the fact that the target will suffer damage over time.  Calibretto, the healing robot, has a normal move that removes debuffs from a party member.  Status ailments are considered debuffs, so this is a very useful move.  Too bad I often want him to attack instead.

The other cool and unique concept is overload.  When you do a normal attack (or some other actions), you will build up overload.  When you use a skill that takes MP, you will use overload first.  So, it's basically extra MP.  Sadly, it usually doesn't stay with you after combat, but it does mean you can never actually run out of MP.  If you do, just attack and you'll have some more!  Now you know why I want my healer attacking, so I can do some healing for free.  I don't always get to take advantage of overload, but I really like it.

Battles themselves are sometimes harder than I would have thought.  Enemies hit hard, and it can be hard to keep up with the healing.  Even so, I did go a long time without needing to resurrect somebody.  If enemies are weaker, you can just mash attack on them, but as you go further in the game, and especially during the boss fights, you will want to plan out your moves.  Since battles are turn-based, you have the time to do so, and I suggest you use it.  Some fights are linked, where you will have to fight them back-to-back with no break in between.  These can wear you down, but are good for building up overload.

Each character can equip a weapon and armor (unique to each person).  In addition, there are 3 slots for a ring, necklace, and trinket (not unique to each person).  These obviously change your stats, usually for the better.  There are plenty of times that equipment gave different bonuses that the previous piece, so I had to choose which I thought was better.  I guess my biggest complaint with the equipment is that it seems to be random loot drops from chests, meaning you may get too many for characters that don't need it, and not enough for those that do.

There is a crafting system, so you can eventually make some equipment yourself.  It might be good, but it feels really inconsistent.  You can't just make the stuff you have recipes for, you also have to be at the right place.  Strewn about are different facilities that allow you to make stuff.  There's several of them in dungeons.  While that can be useful, it's just strange.  Really, I'd just like a more convenient place to do it, so I could actually play around with it and see if the crafting system is actually worth using.

Besides equipment, another way to make your characters stronger is with perks.  These act as passives, and there are various effects.  Some increase various stats, like dodge, attack power, or stamina, while others can make your active skills better.  There are also a few that just do generally useful stuff, like a small heal at the end of battle, or being able to keep a little bit of overload.  I really like those types of perks.  My favorite thing about them is that they aren't permanently assigned.  As far as I could tell, you can freely reassign the points (outside of combat) as the situation dictates.  Some are better for random encounters, and maybe you have others for a tough boss fight.  While I don't think they really mentioned the perks, except for a loading screen tip or two, it is something you should get into as early as you can.

One other personal problem I have with the game is the saving.  It's a full auto save environment.  There are multiple save slots, so you can either have multiple playthroughs, or have other people play on your profile, but each only really has that one auto save.  While it saves frequently, and I haven't had any issues with that, I would love to be able to make a hard save.  Mostly for my piece of mind, but also so I can play around with the crafting stuff to better understand it.

Besides the main quest, there are a few other things to do.  There's a fishing mini-game, because of course there is.  It's fairly simple, and therefore not bad.  You can also do some side quests, and even special hunting quests.  Add in the arena fights, and well, you have a fairly standard set of extra stuff to do in an RPG.  Even so, it's not really a knock against the game, just nothing new.

I really liked playing Battle Chasers: Nightwar.  The art is cool, the game is fun, and the battles are just difficult enough to get you to think.  I'd like some more polish in the information areas though, as there were things that I only learned about from random loading screen tips.  RPG fans, I strongly encourage you to play it.

The Good:
A solid and fun turn-based RPG with enough character and unique mechanics to not feel old.

The Bad:
A few small issues: only auto save, crafting system is a bit weird, and I actually learned stuff from the tip screens.  I'm not really sure why that last one is a negative.

The SaHD:
I think I'm going to check out the comic books at some point.  I'm interested in these characters.

(Review code for Battle Chasers: Nightwar was provided by the publisher)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bad Apple Wars (PS Vita) Review

Bad Apple Wars is a visual novel...or maybe a cooking game?  Okay, probably not the latter.  It's a otome visual novel set in a mysterious school.  There is a brewing conflict between the people that obey the rules, and those that break them (these would be delinquents, or "bad apples").  As the new girl in class, you will quickly choose which side you are on.

And I do mean quickly.  The first major route change is at the end of the prologue, with the next big one soon after.  This second choice is fairly innocuous, as it just changes the next scene, but the following choice pretty much locks you into a character's route.  Well, it's not technically their route, since the flow chart doesn't list it as such, but you will be pretty much stuck talking to that character for the rest of the game.  I'm on the fence about if I like that or not.  On one hand, having such a major choice appear so small is not good.  On the other, it does make the narrative more consistent.  In turn, that strengthens the already interesting story.

Choose Your Destiny...

Another jarring thing is that there are no dialog options, even though there are points that feels like one would pop up.  Your choices are which side you are on, then which guy you talk to to start their route.  This sounds worse than it actually is, though.  I didn't really notice I hadn't made a dialog choice for awhile, as I was still engaged with the story.  The plot moves along pretty quickly, especially once you get to what the game considers a character's route.  There are a good and bad ending plus a special epilogue.  For awhile, it was very unclear to me what you could do to affect this.  It's all laid out in a nice flow chart, so at least you can clearly see what you have done, if not what you need to do.

One unique feature in the game is the touch system.  Several CGs of characters during the story have places that you must tap.  Most times it just gives more dialog.  However, there are two near the end that are much more important.  Normally, touching the wrong place just doesn't do anything.  In these special scenes, you can only touch the wrong place so many times.  If you don't do it correctly, the scene still moves ahead, but is slightly different.  I eventually realized that this was what affected the ending in the absence of dialog choices.  I'm still not sure what effects the epilogue.

I don't see a game clock, like most visual novels, so I have to guesstimate my time.  It seems to be near the standard 6-8 hours for the first playthrough.  It's worth going through multiple times, because just about every other scene involves whichever guy's route you will end up in.  Plus, you don't really learn much about the others during a given route, and their backstories are pretty interesting so far.  Even if you skip the parts you have already seen, the other half of the game is still new.

Bad Apple Wars has a very unique setting, many differences to each route, and a very interesting story.  Admittedly, the story seems much more natural if you become a bad apple, but not in a way that messes up the narrative if you don't.  Getting the different ending routes is pretty unclear, but it's still a fun and worthwhile visual novel.

The Good:
Good use of color, interesting story.

The Bad:
Important route choice is early and innocuous, unclear how to get the different endings.

The SaHD:
I'm surprised some voiced characters didn't have a graphic.  It's not a huge deal, but it surely is a curiosity.

(Review code for Bad Apple Wars was provided by the publisher)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Mystik Belle (PS4) Review

Mystik Belle is an action-adventure platformer made by Last Dimension and published by Wayforward.  After seeing the humorous trailer, I knew I wanted to review it.  It doesn't hurt that the graphics look like sweet 16-bit candy.

On its surface, the game is basically a Metroidvania.  However, it's also littered with point and click adventure game-like puzzles, and it works really well.  You'll find items that you have to use a certain place, usually to get another item to use elsewhere.  If you have played something like Grim Fandango, Maniac Mansion, or Disc World, then you get the basic idea.  Sure, mashing fetch quest puzzles with exploration does increase the likelihood that I'll get stuck (which I did several times), but both aspects of the game didn't clash with each other the way disparate elements sometimes do.

The only limitation of this that I don't like is the limited inventory space.  Belle can only carry so much.  Thankfully there are several warp chests around the map, that you can put items into and retrieve at another (at least on the normal difficulty setting).  Anything you leave will stay where you left it, which is a nice touch.  Even so, you will probably make a few trips to these chests to grab things you need.  Also, there is an apple you get at the beginning of the game (the hall pass).  If you don't have it, an invincible reaper will creep around and kill you instantly if he catches you.  So, you will probably want to carry that with you at all times.  If you never leave a screen without it, you'll also get a trophy.  What a good student!

The combat portion of the game is pretty solid and enjoyable.  It's also not very hard.  Belle can jump and shoot.  After each boss fight, you get a new spell, which will eventually get you a charge shot and a dash, both of which have combat applications as well as exploration.  The charge shot especially is great on boss fights.  Even so, boss fights aren't really that hard.  In fact, few parts of the game are actually hard.  When you come in contact with something, it damages you, but you also damage it.  This happens frequently because Belle's sprite is fairly big.  You take very little damage, unless you come into prolonged contact with it.  Since there is no invincibility time on a hit, it will basically drain your health while you stand in or on it.  There are no save rooms or items to heal your health, so you have to rely on drops from enemies.  There's just enough of them that it isn't really an issue.

The only really "hard" fight is the final boss of the true ending route.  Even then, it's only because it doesn't follow the normal gameplay.  I'm not going to ruin what's going on, but you must do something completely different to everything you've done up to that point, and they don't even provide instructions as to what the controls are.  That, and you will die in like 4 seconds, leaving you almost no time to figure out what you are supposed to do.  I was very frustrated at that part, but I wasn't going to give up while standing on the finish line.  I made it through, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

The platforming aspect didn't quite feel as good as combat.  There are a few jumps that are at the limit of Belle's jump, either distance or height.  The game feels pretty loose when she's near a ledge, which would sometimes cause me to fall when I was making sure I was far enough that I could actually jump the gap.  Sometimes the dash or double jump just didn't want to work.  Most times a missed jump is just having to get back up, so it's not the end of the world when it happens.  It's just an annoyance.

While the game is fun, it's also short.  It took me just under 3 hours to get the "good" ending, and that was done in one sitting.  I was only missing four items to get the true ending.  Finishing that up took only another 30 minutes, although I did use a list for those last items, since they aren't marked on the map.  It turns up I had seen two of them, but forgot they were there when I could actually get them.  Doh.  The only real replayability is for the achievements and trophies, of which there is a speed run one.

Mystik Belle is a fun action adventure platforming game with some point and click adventure puzzle solving thrown in for good measure.  It's a quick game, and not really difficult.  The art and animation is wonderful.  It's worth playing if you are a fan of Metroidvanias.

The Good:
The gameplay, the art, and enemy design are pretty top notch.

The Bad:
Felt a bit short for the cost, and the true ending boss fight is not fun.

The SaHD:
It took me way too long to get the "Belle?  BELLE!" trophy joke, but once I did, it made me laugh.

(Review code for Mystik Belle was provided by the publisher)