Friday, April 18, 2014

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (PS3) Review

After being killed by famed ninja Ryu Hayabusa, Yaiba is reborn as a cyborg and aims to take revenge.  To do so, he will have to follow Ryu through an infected Russian facility and battle zombies.  That's the crazy set-up to Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.  It's definitely a side story to the long running Ninja Gaiden franchise, and it doesn't take itself too seriously.  The plot alone should have told you as much.

Instead of being super realistic, Yaiba opts to have a cel shaded look that resembles a comic book.  It looks great and fits the over-the-top nature of the game.  With the grisly execution animations, blood everywhere, swearing an several other things, the game is very unapologetically "M" rated.  The voices are well done, even if Yaiba himself has a gravely voice, as if he is trying out to be a Nolan Batman.

Many, many times throughout the game you will find yourself in combat.  There are three different attacks, sword, arm and flail, and each has different ranges, strengths and uses.  It's actually balanced pretty well, since you will be using them all at various points.  Each one is mapped to a different button, which makes the combos very free-flowing.  You can also get some temporary sub-weapons for executing some of the more powerful enemies.  These have durability, and thus are gone after a few hits, but are useful while you have them.  Several of them also have elements, which can be combined for devastating effect.  I really like this aspect.  If you light an electric guy on fire (or shock a fire zombie), the two elements combine in a massive electrical storm, damaging all enemies nearby.  Every element combines with the others for other combos.  There's even some for mixing three together.  Crazy, fun, powerful and useful.

While combat is fun, it is also very unforgiving.  Enemies attack quickly, and it can be hard to react (or I'm really old).  Enemies sometimes can dodge your attacks, which seems weird considering they are zombies.  The game reminds you to block (thanks loading screen tip) but it doesn't seem to actually work for me.  Most attacks I try to block just go right through it.  You are supposed to ninja dodge by blocking at the right time, but sadly I never pulled it off.  Nope, not even once.  Enemies also auto-correct their attacks, so dodging is also not as helpful as it should be.  If you have to fight a spread of enemies that have distance attacks, have fun trying to fight one while getting bombarded from the others.  Sadly, the best bet in those situations is to sit back and just reflect the projectile by guarding at the right time (which I did get to work).  To me, sitting back and constantly countering is not very action oriented, but re-action oriented.

If an enemy has taken enough damage, they can be executed in spectacular fashion.  Once you purchase an upgrade by leveling up, you can chain together up to ten executions.  The game didn't tell me how, so it was pretty frustrating until I figured it out (R2 again when the execution animation slows down).  I think my favorite execution is to the walking leg enemies, where he just kicks them in the crotch.  Quick and funny.  Doing enough executions will fill up your blood lust.  Activating Blood Lust mode will make Yaiba invincible and much stronger.  It is really useful on the tougher fights, but it doesn't let you execute enemies, which can be bad for the special zombies.  So while really nice, it can still hurt you if you use it.  Ugh.

Fighting large groups of zombies isn't too bad unless they have some ranged attacks.  Even then, it was doable with some patience.  The special zombies (the ones that give the sub-weapons) that can be really annoying to fight.  If the game throws two at you at the same time, be prepared to get smacked around.  A few times they throw three or more at you, which is incredibly frustrating.  The game is hard, and it's possible to die even on the easiest setting.  On the hardest, you are a one hit kill.  So if you like punishing difficulty, you will definitely get your fill in Yaiba.

When not in combat, Yaiba must traverse the environment to advance.  This is usually the best time to look for collectibles, although you can't really move the camera to make it easier to see.  When it comes time to platform, they are done more like QTE minigames than actual platforming.  You jump and run up certain walls, use your flail to swing and even your arm to crash through weak walls.  During these sections, there are small checkpoints along the way, so if you fall, you don't have to go back far.  It definitely looks nice, but occasionally I wasn't sure what I needed to do to advance.  The game doesn't remind you what buttons to press and won't offer any hints, so be sure to remember the buttons for the platforming sections.  These portions of the game are also very "video-gamey" in that they don't really make sense other than to be harder for the player to navigate.  For example, spinning pipes that do nothing but spit out fire.  You will only find those in videogames, and you'll find a fair amount in Yaiba.

There are 7 missions to clear in the game, and the playtime of each can range from 10 minutes to 2 hours.  Of course this depends on your skill and how many times you have to retry certain fights or areas.  If you manage to complete the game, there's several difficulties to master, and even an "arcade" mode that is somewhat reminiscent of the old original Ninja Gaiden arcade game.  Of course there's also some collectibles to get, most of which will actually increase your stats, making the game easier.  You can decent playtime if you do it on more than one difficulty, go for the collectibles, or try for the platinum.  Otherwise, it'll be about a 10 hour game or so.  Most of the trophies are obtained by going through the story, but to get the golds, you'll have to test your skills and patience to finish the game on the hardest settings.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is pretty fun when it isn't being a jerk to you.  It can be punishing, even on the easiest setting, and doesn't hold you hand at all.  The game looks great and has some fun action.  It also wants you to move and fight super fast, and doesn't care if you can't keep up.  It's definitely a Ninja Gaiden game, even if it doesn't take it self seriously.  A good game for fans of the franchise to make up for Ninja Gaiden 3 and hold them off until the inevitable Ninja Gaiden 4.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dynasty Warriors 8 XL (PS3) Review

An expansion to last year's game, Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends (XL) adds 5 new characters, each with their own weapon type, new theoretical stages, additional Ambition Mode content and a story mode for one of the game's most notorious characters, Lu Bu.  Importing a save from the base game will allow you to retain your character levels, progress, weapons and money.  Well worth doing if you played Dynasty Warriors 8 (and you should, check the past review here, which also explains the combat in more detail).

After all these years and iterations of the game, Lu Bu finally gets his own story mode.  It's well done, and is pretty much possible because they made Chen Gong (and Lu Bu's daughter) playable characters.  Chen Gong's weapon is a bamboo scroll, and his charge attacks summon phantom soldiers for various attacks.  It's not a bad weapon, but not as great as it sounds.  Its storm rush is amazing though.  Lu Bu's daughter, Lu Lingqi, uses the cross pike, which was Lu Bu's revamped weapon in DW6.  I actually liked that weapons in 6, but it's not quite as good here.  The other added characters are Yu Jin for Wei, Zhu Ran for Wu and Fa Zheng for Shu.  Yu Jin and his trident are my favorite of the bunch, as his weapons is really good.  Fa's cloth is interesting but not too strong, and Zhu's flame bow is...well, I don't really like it.

Besides Lu Bu's story and hypothetical routes, there are new hypothetical stages added for the other four kingdoms.  If you convert the save file from DW8, you can also play the story stages of those kingdoms.  Of course, within the added stages are more feats to accomplish to unlock some of the stages.  There has also been new content added to Ambition mode.  Easily my favorite part of the vanilla game, I was eager to try it out.  Sadly, the additional stuff isn't as good as the standard Ambition mode, as it involves a lot of grinding.  It's much more similar to the core of Dynasty Warriors, since they are actual battles, not just small scale ones, but you have to do them on the harder difficulties, or complete them quickly multiple times to unlock another one.  Then repeat that over and over again to unlock them all and subjugate all the regions.  While I'm happy they extended Ambition mode, the extension just isn't as good.

There's some other changes or additions, like Leadership experience.  Before, you could equip any officer unlocked in Ambition mode as a bodyguard.  Up to 3 can be equipped now, but each has a cost.  Your character's leadership level determines the max value that you can equip.  Purposefully, the playable officers each cost over the default max, so you will have to level it up to start having Dian Wei or Zhao Yun follow you around and help out.  It sadly can't be leveled up in Ambition mode, but can in Free mode by ordering around your bodyguards.  Another addition to the game is gems used for weapon fusion.  You can now easily transfer skills from one weapon to another in order to make super beefy weapons.  You have to earn the gems, a few at a time, from Ambition mode fights or free mode.  It would have been nice to have the ability to purchase some, since I still have lots of money left over from DW8, and not much to do with it.

The trophy list has a few "first time" ones, for fusing a weapon and other functions of the game.  A lot of the others involve putting many hours into the game, such as beating every stage on the hardest difficulty, getting the highest ranking on each stage, and getting every feat in them, too.  If you didn't convert your save from DW8, it will take even longer, since you won't have the boosted levels, weapons or money to hit the ground running.  The overall list is a bit end-heavy for my taste, but since they assume you will port over your save, they couldn't make them tons of trophies pop for doing very little.

If you enjoy Dynasty Warriors 8 and long to continue the experience, the Xtreme Legends expansion is worth the money.  The added story mode and stages will keep you occupied for several hours, and the revamped Ambition mode, while not as good, while also add many hours for you to play.  If you don't have Dynasty Warriors 8 and have either a PS4 or a Vita, I'd recommend just getting the DW8 Complete Edition, so you get both the core game and the expansion.  The file for just the expansion is a massive 26GB on PS3, so I have no idea how big the complete editions are.  So... you might want to track down a physical copy.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Movie Review

Captain America: Spring Sensation or Winter Waste?
By: Aly Hand

Okay, so let me start off by saying I don’t normally review movies.  Opinions are a dime a dozen, and everyone has one.  That being said, I feel this one is actually worth talking about.  My husband and I have had a long-standing discussion over whether or not it’s worth having individual Marvel hero movies after the introduction of The Avengers.  Both of us believe it doesn't exactly make sense to have a movie like Iron Man 3, where there’s a big bad guy and lots of action, yet no one other than Tony Stark is ever involved.  You’d think a terrorist like The Mandarin would show up on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar, but apparently Nick Fury was too busy that day to bother sending Cap out to help.

Captain America: the Winter Soldier is definitely a movie worth seeing in theaters.  Even without any of the other Avengers (with the exception of Black Widow), this movie manages to stand solidly on its own.  The story is engaging, the plot progresses smoothly, and there’s plenty of action to feed the drooling masses.  I was a little nervous going in, because whenever I see a run time of more than two hours, I wonder just how much of the movie will be filler.  Sweeping landscape shots are very pretty and all, but I don’t need to stare at New Zealand for ten minutes (looking at you, Hobbit.)  The movie starts out with a simple character interaction, something that shows off how much more advanced Cap is, yet still paints him as a human being with a desire to be a part of society, to connect, to make friends and right wrongs.

It progresses fairly quickly into the action, without a lot of “woe is me; I’m so lonely” hand-wringing, which was a relief.  The banter between characters is real and honest, and while it was relatively easy to pinpoint who the “bad guy” was, it took much longer to learn why.  The story never dragged, and while the film could have been tightened up here and there it never seemed like scenes were uncomfortably long.  Action scenes were well-done, with the fighting looking natural and realistic rather than staged.  I will say there’s a scene towards the beginning that seemed as though it was at risk of falling into the “you’re beating me but I’m going to pull a victory out of thin air because I’m the title character” trope, but it felt as though the director, producer, and actors all realized it quickly enough to put a conclusive end to the fight before it got there.  There were times, however, when the natural action progressed too quickly and too abruptly, and I was left wondering what had happened.  While this is very realistic, it isn't necessarily the best choice for a movie, simply because my expectations for a knock-down, dragged-out fight weren't met.  There was too much going on and it was over too quickly for me to get my brain wrapped around what was happening until it was over.

For all its positives, though, there were some negatives as well.  For one,  and without spoiling anything, when I started thinking about it there were facets of the plot that just didn't make sense.  They relied on Nick Fury missing some key intel, and I have a hard time believing it with how they've portrayed the character.  Also, what happens in the movie is significant for the entire Marvel-verse, which makes me wonder how it will affect other movies and the oft-maligned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series.  In an effort to maintain a spoiler-free review, I’m not going to say much more about this, but for those who believe the movies should follow one of the already-established comic series cannons the events of Winter Soldier will prove to be both nerd-gasmic and disappointing.

The introduction of The Falcon was done extremely well.  At no point during the movie did I see a character and say to myself, “well that’s obviously Falcon, duh”.  He also seemed very human, understanding his limits and his capabilities without trying to promote himself as ‘better’ than anyone else.  At no point did he try and compete with Cap for the role of leader or hero, and it was a welcome thing to see.  I would even go so far as to say he was the best portrayed character of the film, because he seemed to be someone who knew his capabilities and his limits, and how to work within them, yet still come out looking like a badass.

Black Widow came out of the movie more human, more reachable, and I have yet to decide if this is a good direction for the character or not.  There are hints of a potential romance between her and Cap, as well as between her and Hawkeye, and while she has always been portrayed as brutally efficient, I could easily see her forming some kind of emotional attachment to the people she fights with.  At the same time, that kind of emotion-driven interaction is very out of character for Widow, who even in Winter Soldier is shown to be ruthless and focused on her missions first.  It’ll be interesting to see how the character evolves from here, either as a more human, more loveable Natasha or as a cold, calculating assassin in Black Widow.

Of everyone, though, the most obvious growth as a character centers entirely around Cap.  Not only do we see him trying to integrate himself into a society he doesn't understand, and try to do it without sacrificing his own values, but we also see him coping with his own personal demons and confronting both the beautiful and the ugly of his personal past.  He has to integrate the life and values of Steve Rogers with the duty and power of Captain America.  He’s forced to realize his whole life is a no-win scenario, and that there’s a knife waiting for him around every corner.  Okay, maybe not that bad.  There’s a few scenes that emphasize not everyone is out to kill Cap, and that maybe he has more friends than he thinks.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Captain America: the Winter Soldier to fans of Marvel, fans of action films, or just anyone looking for a good way to spend a couple hours.  I wouldn't recommend it for very young children, as the violence and occasional language might be too much for some parents.  Older children, like teenagers, would likely enjoy it, and adults of all ages will find something to enjoy, whether it’s the action or the story.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Deception IV (PS3) Review

One of the more unique games I played way back on the original Playstation was Deception.  Players were tasked with setting traps in a mansion to kill intruders.  It was a great concept, since you didn't fight them directly, but instead lured your unsuspecting foes into the crazy hazards you placed.  Deception IV: Blood Ties is the latest in that series, and has a similar concept: use your traps to kill foes that you have lured to their doom.

The basics for each battle are the same.  Enemies will enter your area 1 to 3 at a time, and chase you down, trying to kill you.  You can set a few traps in each room to deplete their health and kill them or force them to flee.  The game starts out really fun.  One target at a time allows you time to make combos and easily fulfill the daemon's requests.  Two at a time becomes harder, and three at a time can be downright brutal, especially when one of them is a distance fighter (archer, mage, etc).  Planning your traps and combining them effectively was key, so it's a shame that sometimes they don't seem to work as advertised.  It seemed like any little thing would ensure the whole trap combo would go completely wrong, resulting in frustration and probably a loss of your health.  Combine that with how little you can do to defend yourself while waiting for the traps to recharge or even fleeing to the next room ensures you have to be careful, precise and skillful to even complete the level.

After every few targets, you get a score and a small break.  Then it's back into the lair to do it again.  After every boss/major target, you get a break where you can save and buy skills or traps.  You move to a new location after a few major targets, which keeps the areas fresh, since they have new layouts and hazards to subject your victims to.  The progression can also be a hindrance, since you have to defeat several "waves" of enemies before you can save.  If you've beaten nine out of 10 guys, then finally succumb to their relentless chase, you have to do it all over again.  Very annoying, given how hard it can be to make the trap combo work right.  Also it's silly how lethal these traps look, but how little damage they do.  I can't decide if I'd prefer less targets each stretch between saves, or have more guys, but they each have far less health, so these wonderfully sadistic traps were actually menacing.  I mean, you can push a guy in molten metal, and he just comes out the bottom missing 1/3 of his health.  Not even the Terminator was that tough!

Some enemies also have resistances or immunity to certain types of damage or traps.  Resistance means they can avoid the trap, but will take damage from it if they are hit into it during a combo.  Immunity mean just that, but those enemies are wearing heavy armor, which is breakable.  Actually breaking it is another story, since each one has different traps that will break their armor.  Later ones must have all of the damage types in one combo to successfully break it.  It's rewarding when it is pulled off, but very hard to do without, again, more trial and error.

Besides story, there are a few other modes for you to test or hone your skills.  There is a mission mode that unlocks part way through the story, which tasks you with killing one or more targets while also fulfilling certain requirements.  Requirements range from doing it in a time limit, finishing a target off with a certain trap and even taking no damage.  The best mode is Cross Quest.  You can use stages and characters that you have unlocked to make your own challenge levels.  Levels are able to be uploaded and downloaded, so you can always find more or subject people to your crazy designs.  To round it out, there is also a Free Mode to practice your traps and combos against any opponent (or opponents) that you have encountered in the story.

The game has several chapters and four different endings to obtain.  It is pretty difficult, at least for me, so while it doesn't seem that long, it takes a lot of trial and error and repeating portions to be able to pass each chapter.  The trophies have a good split: some for completion, others for killing enemies, breaking armor, completing missions and playing missions in Cross Quest mode.  A decent spread and a good challenge, considering how hard it can be just to get through the story, let alone the harder missions in Mission mode.

The concept of Deception IV is so great that it's a shame the game gets so frustrating.  Landing a trap combo is so satisfying, but running around trying to get people in them is not.  If you have the time and will to master the game, there is a fun time to be had, and making your own levels and playing other people's will give the game lots of longevity.  Too bad it can be so annoying.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Witch and the Hundred Knight (PS3) Review

The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a third person action RPG from NIS.  Players will guide the Hundred Knight, who was summoned by the very angry swamp witch Metallia, and carry out her will to spread the swamp throughout the world.

The graphics are decent, and the story scene character models look good.  Each different area is distinct from the previous one, and the enemy models all look nice.  The game is dual audio, and the English voices are pretty good.  Metallia does have a very foul mouth, which surprised me.  Suffice it to say I didn't play the story portions around impressionable young ears.  The music sounds like it belongs in the Disgaea games.  Upon first hearing it, my wife thought that the game was a Disgaea game until she saw it in action.

As mentioned before, the game starts with Metallia, the swamp witch, summoning the Hundred Knight to spread the swamp throughout the world, and with it, her power and influence.  The tutorial is pulled off really well, since you are a new creature and don't know what you are capable of until told to do things.  Metallia is a very unlikable character, but that's the point.  She is countered very well by her back-talking servant, Arlecchino.  The two make a very interesting duo, and there are even more strange characters to meet during the course of the game.

When I first saw the trailers for the game, I thought it was a mystery dungeon style game.  While it has very light elements of that, The Witch and the Hundred Knight is an action RPG.  The dungeons are not random, and there's not a massive amount of loot to gather in them.  Players control the Hundred Knight as he makes his way through each area, fighting monsters and making pillars bloom to spread the swamp.  You can set up to five weapons as your combo string.  It's helpful since you can cover all damage types, or just switch to take advantage of a particular enemy's weakness.  It's also fun since you can mix it up and make whatever combo you want.  Sure, you get bonus damage and grade for setting them in order of their damage die number (the weird symbol on their info page), but you don't have to.  While you can mash attack and make your way through a lot of the game, there is a lot of depth to the combat if you make use of it, and it makes the game easier.

One resource you have to manage while away from the swamp is Gigacals.  What are Gigacals?  Well, they represent the energy of the Hundred Knight, and are one of the elements borrowed from mystery dungeon style games.  Since he is a summoned familiar, he can only exist for so long away from Metallia's magic.  Uncovering the map, restoring HP and regaining stamina will all take Gigacals.  You will also lose a chunk if you run out of HP.  In that instance, you will be returned to the latest small pillar and lose some Gigacals and an item or two.  If you don't have Gigacals when you fall, you return to the witch's swamp and lose all items and 50% of the experience you gathered in the dungeon.  It's not the most strict, but it's another thing taken from mystery dungeon games to make the game more unique.  There's a few other things added, like facets, grade bonus, witch domination and mystical dodge to give the game more depth.  Facets are similar to job classes, and give different passive skills while grade can be used in a dungeon to increase different parameters.

There are a few different weapon types, like swords, magic staves and hammers, which have different damage types.  While you don't find massive amounts of loot during each trip, finding stuff and getting more from the bonuses will make the bulk of your item acquisition.  Stores sell things, but the price seemed absurdly high for what you get.  Some items sell for a lot too, so it's best to sell them off when near the limit.  Sadly, the limit of each usable item isn't that high, and you only know it when you hit it, and it's different for each item.  If you get one when at the limit, it is automatically discarded, which sucks since you just lose out on any money you would have gotten for selling it.  I'm not sure why that bothered me, since I didn't actually buy anything in the game, so I had no real use for the money.

Each different area is deceptively large.  At first it only takes a half hour to go through one, but it quickly starts taking much longer, especially when you take trips back to Metallia's hut to sell things or save your game.  With each chapter taking up to a few hours, the game is about 40-50 hours total in length.  I did have the game freeze on me twice, so taking the extra time in each dungeon to go back and save was well worth it.  At first I thought it was my system, since the install and loading of the game took longer than I would think, but it seems others have had the game lock up as well.  Hopefully it will get a patch like Disgaea D2 to fix it soon.

Trophies in The Witch and the Hundred Knight are pretty straightforward.  You get pretty much all of them just for making your way through the story.  There are three different ones for the three different endings, but creative use of saving can take a lot of the time out of those.  Unfortunately, the trophy list is hidden, but the only missable ones are for the endings.

The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a decent action RPG.  It borrows a few elements from mystery dungeon games to stand out.  It appears simple, but there is actually a lot more depth than one would think.  Very rarely there was a frustrating part, but overall the game was kinda fun and not too hard.  I'd keep impressionable young ones away from Metallia's mouth, though.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Toukiden: Age of Demons (Vita) Review

Toukiden: Age of Demons is an action game in a similar vein to Monster Hunter.  It tasks players with defeating large demons and protect a small village.  Players can do this with friends over the internet or with the computer controlled characters, and craft new weapons and armors with the rewards from each victory.

Character models, weapons and attacks are very reminiscent of Dynasty Warriors, which makes sense given who makes the game.  The stages are much more fantastical.  Like the Orochi games, the locations are realistic locations and either in ruins or twisted by their exposure to the Oni's miasma.  The spoken audio is Japanese only, but it's not a hindrance because there is rarely any dialogue in the middle of the fights, and what is there isn't that important.  The game does look and sound good on the Vita.

Each quest will have you go into an area infested with Oni and you must exterminate them.  Occasionally you will get a quest that has you kill some small fry, but most quests are to defeat one (or a few) large Oni.  If you've played a similar style of game where you hunt monsters (haha) you will feel right at home in Toukiden.  Using the "eye of truth", you can see the general health of the monster's different parts and the health of the monster overall.  Attacking an arm or a leg enough will sever that part from the big baddie and allow you to purify it.  Doing so will reward you with an item, and is worth doing.  Sadly, it doesn't much affect the large Oni, since it will get a phantom limb of sorts and can still use it.  However, breaking multiple pieces sometimes will affect their moves, such as the Windshredder falling over after his charge if all of his legs have been purified.  You have to do it quickly because if you just leave them around after being severed, the monster can regenerate them and restore its durability.  Really, this is my favorite part of the game.  I love systematically breaking or severing every part I possibly can in a fight, mostly for the extra loot you gain.  However, it's also fun and satisfying to smash a creature's leg off and watch it fall on its butt.

Each weapon type will have different strengths, weaknesses, and uses.  The dual knives allow you to attack quickly and from the air, making some of the higher monster parts easier to break.  The gauntlets are slow and strong, and can weaken an enemy's defences.  It's not too hard to transition to different weapons if you so choose, but it's best to try them all and use the one that suits your play style.  For me, it was the knives.  I had a lot of speed and mobility, and I could get into the air to break the hard to reach monster parts.

To further customize your play style, each weapon can equip 1-3 mitama.  The first one equipped will dictate which skills you can use in battle (each type has 4 that all mitama of that type will give you), such as healing an area, attacking with an energy geyser or even running faster.  Thankfully every type has a personal heal, and it's neat that the Spirit type can charge the heal to make it more effective, and the Healing type mitama will naturally restore more health per use.  Each mitama will gain experience in battle when you purify enemies, and can be leveled up to learn new passive abilities.  They can only have three at a time, and cannot re-learn any you have passed up or deleted unless you revert them to level 1 and start over again.  You do keep the list of what they learn at what level, so with some work you can make the perfect ones for your play style.  I wish that you didn't have to start them over to re-learn a skill you passed on, but there is at least a way to do it (even if it is time consuming or expensive).

There are seven total chapters of monsters to kill, and completing just the story alone (first five chapters) took me about 30 hours.  Doing all of the single player content would be around 50.  You will fight the monsters several times each, but that's the idea of the game.  Kill a monster enough that you can wear (or wield) it.  The multiplayer quests can be done solo, and those would add even more time to play.  This helped, since the few times I tried multiplayer, I wasn't able to find any lobbies (maybe I wasn't high enough in the online quests).  Any personal quests to complete the trophy list and obtain the platinum will take well over 100 hours.  There are a few trophies for completing quests and story chapters, but the longer ones will be for getting all of the mitama and obtaining all of one type of weapon.

I really like Toukiden.  It's enough like Monster Hunter that it fills that void in the Vita's library, or even ease people into that style of game without many of the drawback of that series.  On its own, the game has a lot of monster fighting content for just single player, and also a lot for multiplayer.  It might be a bit too much grinding for some.  It's satisfying to sever the monster's parts and purify them for loot.  If you have a Vita, I'd recommend at least trying the demo, since the progress of that carries over to the full version, and it's worth playing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS3) Review

Many people, including myself, were looking forward to South Park: The Stick of Truth when it was announced.  Written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, it was to be an RPG crafted by veteran studio Obsidian.  Once THQ went bankrupt, people were worried about the game's future.  Thankfully, Ubisoft picked it up, and after some delays, the game is finally ready for the masses to enjoy.

First off, this game looks exactly like the show.  Granted the animation on the show isn't the apex of all cartoons, but the fact that the game got it down perfectly is worth mentioning.  The characters move, talk and act all how they should.  They also sound the way they should, since everybody is voiced by their show counterpart.  There are lots of details in the environment, many of which can be interacted with.  It's a nice touch that interactive elements have gold on them, such as doorknobs, cabinet handles and such, so it's easy to tell what you can and can't loot.  Overall, the whole sights and sounds package is amazing.  Old school RPG players like myself should get a kick out of Canada, as it was probably my favorite area in the game.

The story of The Stick of Truth is undeniably very South Park.  It starts off innocent enough, with the children split into two groups, the humans and the elves (drow), each fighting to control the stick of truth, which grants the power of the universe to its holder.  It quickly gets crazier and crazier and involves aliens and nazi zombies.  I don't want to give any spoilers, but it somehow manages to stay coherent, despite being strange.  The game is funny, but is very raunchy and explicit, so I was careful not to play it around my kids.  I'm not that irresponsible.  The game itself is also a satire on RPGs and games in general, and does it very well.  Then again, raunchy humor with good satire is something to be expected from the writers of South Park, so it's not a big surprise.  I'd also quickly like to mention the menu interface.  Since it's meant to be the new kid's phone, the menu looks like Facebook.  It's a nice touch that really fits the game well.

Battles are turn-based (like the Middle Ages, according to Cartman), but have many active elements to them.  If you have played any of the Super Mario RPGs, then you have some idea what to expect.  Attacks and skill can be powered up by timing button presses or by using commands during them.  Enemy attacks can have their power diminished by a well-timed block.  Mastering these is crucial to success, since otherwise the battles are very unforgiving.

Enemies usually have one of two kinds of resistances, shields and armor.  Shields will completely block a certain number of hits, so attacks and skills that hit multiple times will easily break them down.  Thankfully, they rarely come back, so eliminate them quickly.  Armor is much harder to deal with, as it takes its value off of every attack.  Multiple weak attacks will do minuscule damage, so use your heavy hits to deal with them.  Towards the end of the game, enemies will have ridiculously high armor values, so using status effects like burning and bleeding will really help out.  Burn is probably my favorite, since in addition to extra damage each turn, the affected enemy will run around in a panic because THEY ARE ON FIRE.

There are other things to help in battle, like the different skills of each class and of your partner.  I played the thief class, so I would frequently use the "mug" skill to stun my opponent (and gain an item), and then combo that with my backstab, which did extra damage to stunned enemies.  Using an item did not use up your turn, so you can easily heal before attacking, which helped alleviate some of the stress of battles.  Many times the environment can be used to either completely skip a fight, or at least cut down the opposition.  This is a nice thing to put in the game.  Using your fart magic could explode nearby flame sources to wipe out a group, or you could shoot an electrical cord and fry an enemy, making the group they were in easier to defeat.  You can also shoot your ranged weapon at an enemy, and they will start the battle stunned.  That made them easy pickings for my backstabbing theif!

One downside to The Stick of Truth is the playtime.  Completing the game takes about 10-15 hours.  This might not be as bad as it sounds, since the game felt like the proper length.  It wasn't too short, but didn't drag on.  There are four different classes to be, so there is some replay there, and even more if you are going for achievements or trophies.  Since a good chunk are completely missable, as is some equipment and collectibles, you may have to go through the game multiple times if you want to catch them all.  The achievement/trophy list is actually really good, with a few for progression, a few for completion, and a smattering of ones that can be obtained at certain points throughout the game.  Even the trophy list is very South Park, as there is one for crapping your pants (among other crazy ones).

If you like RPGs, I'd easily recommend South Park: The Stick of Truth.  Even if you are not a fan of turn-based fights, there is enough action to keep you on your toes through each encounter.  The only real downsides are the long list of missable things and the short (for an RPG) playtime.  Fans of the show will get a lot out of the game, as there are many, many references crammed into each area.  Even if you don't know much about the show, you'll still get a kick out of the game (unless you are really uptight).  Definitely worth playing!