Saturday, May 23, 2015

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed (PS Vita) Review

The Hyperdimension Neptunia series is no stranger to having spin-off incursions into other genres.  Its latest game is their take on the hack and slash action genre, titled Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed.  So instead of an RPG, think more like Dynasty Warriors... or Senran Kagura.

Actually, it is a lot like Senran Kagura.  Considering that both were developed by Tamsoft, I'm sure it's no coincidence.  Anyway, you run around stages taken directly from the Neptunia series and kill lots of enemies.  You have a standard combo of normal attacks, and the Triangle Button is the power attack.  There are a few variations of the power attack, depending on when you press the button, and some characters can even combo it.  X is the jump button and Circle is a short range dash to get out of trouble, or move closer to an enemy.  Up to three special attacks can be equipped and used by holding the R Button and pressing Square, Triangle or Circle.  Each of these moves takes one or more SP bars, which are the little blue bars above your health bar.

Being a Neptunia game, you characters can ascend to their HDD forms.  Once your EXE meter is half full or more, you can activate HDD for a strong power-up.  Once the meter is gone, your transform back into your normal form.  You can also cash out the remainder of your EXE meter to perform your super attack.  Thankfully, all of these options are also available to the two new characters, even though they are just gaming journalists, and not gaming goddesses.

There are ten characters in all, but they mostly play the same.  They have different combos and attacks, but the biggest difference is if they are a ranged or melee-type character.  Ranged characters will strafe while you keep hitting the attack button while moving, rather than change the direction of attack.  There is a decent variety of familiar Neptunia enemies to wade through, with certain ones being boss monsters.  One strange thing is the dating sim enemies.  There are three types, although they are effectively palette swaps of the same base one.  However, all other enemy types don't have their palette swaps counted as different types, so I'm not sure why the dating sim ones do.

As either an intentional riff, or because they just wanted it in the game, the ripping clothes mechanic from the Senran Kagura series is also present.  If you take too much damage, you will get an all-too familiar series of shots showing the outfit's destruction.  Spamming the strong attack will weaken it too, but most times it was the damage that destroyed mine.  You do get half of the EXE meter when this happens, so it is actually useful.  It can also occur to the HDD forms, and will effectively increase the time you can stay HDD (since you get the half an EXE meter).  It's a strange choice for the series, but there don't appear to be any down sides.  Well, unless it happens to Rom or Ram, since that's a little creepy.

The story of the game is pretty much there to get you to play stages and kill lots of guys.  There are only three chapters, but many missions to complete.  The story mode isn't very linear.  When stages open up, it gives you several, and you don't have to complete them all or in a certain order.  To mix it up a bit, there are "irregular quests", which have hidden conditions.  They are kind of like puzzles, since you have to figure out what to do.  When they open up, it gives you all of them.  I figured they would just unlock along the way, but nope, they just post them all.  It's a strange way to do it.  I took about 10 hours to get through the story mode and all the missions, but there was still a few more things to do.

Once you complete the story mode, "Gamindustri Gauntlet" opens up.  This mode has you choose a character and then fight in a one on one tournament.  It's not a very interesting mode to me, but I did it to try it out and to unlock the next mode, "Neptral Tower".  Opening up with a silly discussion of translating names, the Neptral Tower is a 50 floor tower that has a stronger version of the story final boss at the top.  Most fights in the tower are pretty short, but a few drag on a bit too long.  Each fighter has to make their way up through every stage to make it to the top.  Thankfully, you can do it in pairs so as long as you can use five of the girls, you can get them all to the top in a decent amount of time.  It's a pretty fun mode, and a great way to grind out some of the trophies.

While the trophies in Neptunia U aren't hard to get, they can become really tedious.  Maxing out all the Lily ranks for all characters (which now go to 10), getting all accessories, winning the Gamindustri Gauntlet with every character... you get the picture.  And yes, for the Gauntlet, the HDD forms count as separate characters.  Ugh.  One cool extra though are cheats.  After fulfilling certain conditions, you can unlock perma-HDD mode, infinite health, and more.  These make a few of the trophies/parts of the game more bearable... like the max level story stages.  These levels aren't required for the "all stages" trophy, and it seems they were DLC stages in the Japanese version, and just lumped into ours.

As a fan of hack and slash Warriors-type games, I was looking forward to Neptunia U.  It definitely didn't disappoint me, and the game is really fun.  It isn't quite as deep as the Warriors games, but there is the clothes ripping mechanic from the Senran Kagura series if that interests you.  I really like that the Neptunia series is branching out into other genres.  The first three excursions have been pretty fun, and I hope they continue to do more.  However, I hope they expand upon the ones they have done.  I'd really like another Action Unleashed title, with more of the characters seen in the other entries in the Neptunia family.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Order: 1886 (PS4) Review

The Order: 1886 was one of the games made to showcase the power of the PS4 and how good next-gen (now current gen) would look.  At least that part was accurate.  The game does look really, really good.  The shadows, graphics, facial animations and lighting effects all look top-notch.  The downside of this is you can tell that is where most of the time, effort and money for the development went.

The game was developed to be more like a movie, which, in fairness, doesn't outright make it terrible.  Sure, it should be a game first, but cinematic games have become pretty popular, and can be pulled off very well.  The Order, sadly, doesn't fall into that category.

The story of the game is pretty average.  I will say the last 15 minutes or so were actually interesting, but the events leading up to it were fairly standard, predictable, or both.  My wife watched me play about two levels near the end, and without seeing anything leading up to it, predicted what one of the twists was.  At least being predictable is better than being terrible, and I did enjoy the end, but I'm pretty sure a lot of the groundwork they were laying for future sequels will go nowhere.  Dear game developers: please focus on making something good first, then figure out how to expand upon it.  Stop laying groundwork for things that may not / likely won't happen... it's a terrible idea.

Enough about the slight positives the game has.  Let's get to the gameplay.  The Order is, in some ways, a third-person, cover-based shooter.  The gunplay itself is not so bad, and the cover works for the most part, but the game can get grating in its use of certain enemies.  Guys with shotguns will rush your position, which is really annoying when you have no idea they are there because you are shooting the other six guys hiding around the map.  They also drop you in two shots, which will happen quickly.  Of course you don't have a visible health bar, just the "screen darkens" nonsense that has become so popular the last six years or so.  You sometimes have a chance to heal up and get back in the fight, but not if they shoot you again.  Then, it's back to doing the prolonged fight over again.  Many fights have someone else there with you, but they aren't likely to help.  Time to fend for yourself.

Too bad the shotgun guys aren't the end of the annoyances.  Some enemies will start spamming grenade throws so you have to keep moving while trying to figure out where the perpetrator is so you can stop their nonsense.  There are also some enemies that have grenade launchers, or the thermite rifle to bug you while you are behind all of the chest-high walls.  Did I mention some of these guys have armor so you can't head shot them and so they can absorb bullets?  Yeah, it is as annoying as it sounds.  Of course the fights wouldn't be complete without waves of guys pouring out of places like a clown car.  The Order isn't the worst offender of this in games, but it is still annoying whenever it pops up.

While that might sound bad, you aren't fighting groups like that very often.  Actually, you don't fight at all very often.  Sure, there are a handful of gun battles, but that only makes up less than half of the game's length.  Another big part of the game are the cutscenes, of which there are many.  Again, there existence isn't what makes the game worse, but the frequency and length of them.  It helps the story, but not the gameplay.  Plus, when there are whole chapter of the game that are just long cutscenes, it seems like a bit much.

So what makes up the last part of the equation?  Walking.  While the cutscenes can be boring, especially because you can't skip them, I'd argue the walking bits are worse.  There are big sections of the game devoted to walking down various hallways.  Sometimes, you even get a lamp to hold up (please read that in a faux happy, sarcastic voice)!  These sections have most, if not all, of the collectibles and other various things you can inspect.  Many collectibles are picked up by the main character, and you can use the control stick to move his hand around and look around some of the object.  Photographs can even be flipped over to check the back.  I'm guessing they thought the game was so pretty that players would want to lift up a scarce few objects and move it around in their hand.  It's... at least unique.  Unfortunately it does little to break up the monotony of lengthy walks to other places.

The overall balance of the three main components of the game just seems off to me.  There are big chunks of cutscenes, large stretches of walking around and looking at stuff, then drawn-out gun battles versus wave after wave of enemies.  I think it would have been more enjoyable if each section wasn't such a big section to itself.  Spread them out more.  As it stands, each is just a large chunk that I got sick of by the end of it.  Whenever a new section started, you knew you were in for the long haul before it would cycle to the next one.

Finally we come to one of the biggest gripes that the public had about the game just before its release: the length.  While it was famously quoted as being around 5 hours, I think a run is closer to 8 or so, especially if you are looking for collectibles, or re-doing some of the gunfights because you were rushed by a shotgunner.  While it seems short on paper, it felt like a standard length for a game of its type.  However, there is very little reason to play it past the first run.  Sure, there are collectibles and trophies, but those can be achieved in the first run through, especially if you have a guide.  I was able to get the Platinum in less than a week, and I didn't even play it everyday.  Yikes.  I'm not opposed to shorter games, but that plus no replay value doesn't equal $60 (to me, anyway).  Honestly, I think the lack of replay is worse than the game's length.

While it is obvious that I'm not too fond of The Order: 1886, I won't say that it is terrible, just boring.  The frequent unskippable cutscenes, long stretches of walking down hallways and clown-car enemy fights just need a better balance.  The length, to me, was not the worst factor of the game.  It's that there is so much time devoted to not doing anything interesting.  While a sequel seems unlikely, it could easily save the series, since I'd argue it can still be redeemed.  Until then, I'd recommend skipping the game, unless you have nothing else to play on your PS4, and really want to play a third-person shooter.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Shovel Knight (PS4, Xbox One) Review

Shovel Knight enjoyed a brief exclusivity on the Wii U and 3DS, but it has now made its way to Nintendo's competition, Sony and Microsoft.  While the game will only appear on the Xbox One on the Microsoft side, Sony users get the game on PS3, PS4 and the Vita.  Assuming you have heard of the Vita, it is a good little handheld.

If you want a more in-depth look at the game, check out my Wii U review here, as this will be more an overall impression and then in-depth about the additions and differences.  In a nutshell, Shovel Knight is a retro-inspired platformer where the player must guide the titular character and defeat the Order of No Quarter and their leader, the Enchantress.  The art style and music are top-notch retro goodness.  The controls... can be a little loose.  While I'm sure many others will disagree with that, it feels like my attack is just enough past my button press to throw me off.  The movement of the knight also feels a little slippery at times.  That throws the platforming off, which can be very frustrating when you need to be so precise.  It's not insurmountable, but it just feels a little loose compared to the games Shovel Knight is inspired by.

So what is the differences between the three?  First off, getting to the inventory is better on the PS4 and Xbox One.  While selecting the sub-weapons with the touch screen is nice, in practice it is more cumbersome.  Plus, the Wii U Gamepad is not the most comfortable thing to hold, especially for long periods of time.  Among them all, I felt the Xbox One version controlled the best.  Surprisingly, the D-Pad felt more precise than the others.  The sticks work okay on all the systems, but playing Shovel Knight is just better with the Control Pad instead of the analog sticks.  When using the sticks, I had problems numerous times with it registering the "down" press for the pogo.

As for the new and exclusive content, Sony platforms get a bonus fight with the God of War himself, Kratos.  The fight starts off pretty simple, but after depleting Kratos' health, it will refill and he gains new moves.  After depleting that health, it enters the infuriating phase of the fight.  Seriously, I do not like the third part.  You and Kratos must fight while jumping around on falling column pieces.  Falling off the bottom of the screen does a lot of damage, but thankfully won't kill you outright.  You jump a lot higher than normal, which makes it possible to move up and not fall off the bottom.

Trouble is, platforms come from the top, which makes it too easy to bump into one that wasn't there when you started the jump, and then screws it up so you fall off the screen.  Hitting Kratos in this phase wasn't the hard part, nor was dodging his attacks.  All of the difficulty was contending with the random platforms and trying to not fall off the screen.  At least there is a checkpoint after the first two phases.  If there wasn't, I probably would have just left it alone and given Kratos his trollish victory.  After the fight, you get an item that gives you a new set of armor that looks really cool.  Plus, it gives you a nice flaming combo and a shovel drop attack from the air.  A nice reward!

Over on the Xbox One side, players will have a whole new stage that is an extended boss fight with the Battletoads.  The first part is taken right out of stage 2 of the original Battletoads, and has you fight Zitz (I think) while hanging on a rope going down a long shaft.  Movement of course feels a little loose, which makes it harder than it has to be.  Halfway through the fight, Zitz takes off and you have to dodge hazards and enemies until he shows back up.  Dying at any part of this fight sadly has you re-do the whole thing.  Oh, and you can't use items, so no ichor cushion.  Yuck.

Once/if you make it past that, then the real fun (not really) begins.  You must fight Pimple while riding on a speeder bike in a re-creation of the infamous Turbo Tunnels level.  It is much easier than the one in the original game, simply because it is possible to beat it (the original Turbo Tunnels is the only gaming feat I actually consider impossible to do legit).  This section thankfully has several checkpoints, which helps keep your controller intact.  The final phase of the fight, which unlike the Kratos fight, is the easiest.  It is just a showdown between you and Rash... and whatever else he throws at you.  The whole stage can be downright infuriating, but at completion you get a sweet set of Toad Armor.  It gives you a combo attack and a nice dash attack, all in a lovely green color (of course).

This next bit is more of a personal peeve than a problem, but I really dislike the achievements for the Xbox One version.  I'm not a achievement/trophy hunter, but I really hate zero point achievements.  I can understand some of them, like running away 50 times in Blue Dragon, or losing 10 games in a row on Dead or Alive 4, since you aren't actually achieving something.  On the whole, I think they are just stupid, though.  Unfortunately, several actual achievements are worth zero points on the Xbox One version.  The only upside is they unlock some nice artwork that you can use as a background, but I'd rather see another way to unlock them (maybe tied to the in-game feats?), or just give points and the artwork, if that is possible.  Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but I don't like spreads of achievements being nothing or next to nothing for things, but the hardest ones worth a ton of points.  Again, this won't be a problem for everyone, and I guess it is a step up from having points not ending in 5 or 0, but I don't like it (read that last part in the horse's voice from Ren and Stimpy).

Overall, Shovel Knight is a good game, but the slightly loose controls give a lot of frustration.  While the PS4 and Xbox One versions are similar, I have to give the advantage to the Xbox One version.  The Battletoads fit better with the retro look and feel of the game, and they get a whole stage as opposed to just a fight.  Granted, both are way more annoying that they really should be.  While the Kratos fight isn't as cool, I think the armor gained is slightly better than the Toad Armor.  If you have only one of the systems, then obviously go with that version.  For people that purchased the Wii U version, there isn't really enough extra to grant a second purchase, unless you really want one of those bonus fights, or want to support Yacht Club Games.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters (PS Vita) Review

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters seeks to mix visual novel stories and characters with expansive dialogue options and even grid based strategy battles.  While the concept is neat, there is a lot of missed potential in the game.

The game starts off with some story and a lot of dialogue.  They set up some of the characters, the story and you even do a sample battle all before you can save.  It took about 45 minutes to get to that point.  It's not horrible, but a little strange for a handheld game to go so long without a decent pausing point.  Thankfully the Vita has a wonderful suspend function.  Anyway, at many points throughout the story, you are presented with dialogue choices, and here is the first of my gripes with the game.

While this is fairly standard in RPGs nowadays, TTGH has a unique input to choose many of the responses.  A selection wheel appears that has icons representing the five senses.  Choose one and then pick an emotional response, like anger or friendship.  On the surface, that's pretty neat.  You see a weird spot on the wall, you can touch it, think about it or smell it (ghosts apparently smell like sulfur).  Cool.  Now I should mention the game doesn't label these interactions, or even have a tutorial on them, so I had to do a few before I even started to understand what I was doing.  Yuck.

Oh, and you can't go back a selection.  So if you pick touch, but then decide you should look, too bad.  Plus, a lot of times the selection just doesn't fit.  If a character asks you a question, I would like to say "yes" or "no", not sniff their hair.  Best I could do was either contemplate it or offer a handshake.  The choices you make seem to affect how the characters react to you, so I was not doing any favors when trying to be nice to the main girl by trying to lick her.  In my defense, I thought the mouth option might be speak, since that makes more sense than trying to french kiss a stranger, but I guess not.  It also seems like taking too long to choose will just move past it and others think you are just spacing out.  You just can't win, can you?  It could have been a really awesome and unique dialogue system, but it seems like they intentionally messed it up.  Adding a tutorial before the first dialogue choice, labeling the choices, or letting the player back up would improve it enough to make it workable.

While you will converse many times with your various teammates, there is a lot of time devoted to battling ghosts and earning money for doing so.  The battles start off fine, and there is a decent tutorial that teaches you what to do.  However, it's not really clear on why to do these things, which makes actual battles not near as easy as the scripted tutorial one.  The basic idea of each fight is to defeat one or more ghosts inhabiting a set area, all from a top-down perspective of a grid.  Seems pretty straightforward, right?  Well, in a way it is.

Unfortunately, I feel there are four things working against you in the fights.  First is the obstacles in the area.  The arenas, for lack of a better term, are things like shops and apartments.  There are walls, rooms, tables, chairs, counters... you get the idea.  You cannot move through these things, but the ghost can.  Fair enough, that makes perfect sense.  This shouldn't change, and I can work around it because it is logical.

The second thing working against you is the random nature of the ghosts.  At the start of each turn, the "visible" ghosts will show a projected move pattern designated by blue highlighted squares emanating from their present location.  That's fine, but they don't seem to follow it very well.  Granted, it is "projected", but it can be really frustrating trying to line up attacks so you can actually fulfill the mission.  Trying to move into position can be a crap shoot.  If a ghost moves through you, it is a free attack for them, and you don't get to retaliate.  You will only attack where you have targeted, so if you path crosses a ghost, you won't stop to take care of business.  I don't really like this system, but again I could learn to deal with it, as I did get slightly better as the game went on.  I didn't fully "get it", but there was improvement.

Third is the AP system.  Moves and attacking all require a certain amount of AP.  Ok, I've dealt with that before, so it should be fine, right?  Not really.  Moving taking AP, fine.  Turning taking AP?  I'm less inclined to agree with that.  However, the turning adds up very quickly to make the system borderline ridiculous.  Each panel takes 1 AP, as does turning.  Want to sidestep?  A simple enough motion that should take 1 AP, 2 at most.  Well, the game treats it as turn, move 1 square, turn again.  That's three, and that is overpriced.  Just trying to navigate around a simple chair costs an absurd amount of AP, and you don't get much each turn.  It also doesn't seem to roll over, so you can't store it up and then chase down a ghost once you find it.  Again, this by itself isn't deal breaking, but definitely not fun or user friendly.  In fact, I could deal with this and the above two if not for the fourth obstacle in battles.

There's a time limit.  Each battle has a set number of minutes you have to complete the battle, and each turn is 1 minute.  Remember how easy it is to waste turns because of the AP system?  Remember how annoying it can be to try and guess where the ghost is going so you can actually attack it?  Yeah, those are as annoying as you might suspect when coupled with a time limit to get them done.  As it stands, I could live with just one of theses getting fixed.  If the ghosts weren't so random, it would be easier to dispatch them in the time frame.  If AP was not so restrictive for simple actions, I could chase after them quickly.  If there wasn't a time limit, I wouldn't mind as much spending turns to side step and attack while trying to hit a non-corporeal baddie.  Unfortunately, you (and I) have to contend with all of them, and it definitely sours the experience.  At least you can instantly retry any failed battles.

Admittedly, I don't hate the game.  Sure big chunks of it have enough problems that make it worse than it should be, but it's not all bad.  The story itself seems pretty interesting, and the whole package is very unique.  Each story section is portrayed as an episode of a TV show, complete with the intro and credits.  Strange that two recent games have had that same thing, but I do like it as an interesting take for a video game.  There is also a lot of randomized side jobs you can do for extra money, so it is very easy to grind.  The way you access these side quests is pretty cool too, as you have to use a button combo to find the "secret" webpage in the office.  Plus, the overall presentation is really nice.

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters has a cool concept: travel around with your group of ghost hunters and fight ghosts.  The dialogue wheel is also a neat idea, although it would need some usability tweaks to make it work.  The random nature and time limit of the battles severely limit the fun to be hard there, which is sad.  I wanted to like the game more than I did.  A few tweaks to the dialogue choices and the battles would make it a good game, but as it stands, it's just a little disappointing.  At least the trophy list is pretty cool and filled with Ghostbusters references.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Omega Quintet (PS4) Review

Omega Quintet is Idea Factory International's first PS4 outing.  It takes place in a world where a phenomenon called Blair is turning creatures into monsters called MAD.  The only people that can stop the Blair and MAD are super powerful magical singing idols called Verse Maidens.  Yes, really.  It's a zany premise, I know, but I like that it's so silly and unique.

The story mostly follows the character you play as, named Takt and his childhood friend Otoha.  Otoha has grown up and idolized the idol Mamoka, who has single-handedly been keeping the city safe for years.  How many years?  Well, she looks 17, so.... more than that.  The characters start off as tropes, but they are actually pretty entertaining.  I frequently found the dialogue funny as the characters would banter with each other, make fun of Mamoka's age, or Takt complaining about how he doesn't want to do the job that is thrust on him.  While I'm sure a lot of people won't like it, I enjoyed the dialogue, and would look forward to watching all the skits around the base whenever a new chapter rolled around.  The game is in both English and Japanese, so you can hear it in whichever language makes you more comfortable.

The format of the story was also interesting.  It's set up like a TV show, so each chapter begins with the game's opening video and even closing credits that are show scenes from that chapter.  The story in each chapter was fairly concise while definitely being part of the bigger narrative, and would sometimes even end with a cliffhanger or some other mysterious scene that is very prevalent in anime shows.  Although, this lead to most chapters following the formula of plot -> quests -> plot -> chapter end, repeat.  Not the most unique flow to a game, but I still like the episodic nature of the story.

This might be IFI's first PS4 game, but moving in the field seems very familiar.  Just like its previous siblings of HD Neptunia and Fairy Fencer F, you run and jump around in areas that have enemies sprinkled throughout.  These areas are bigger than either of those games, but the enemy count remains similar.  The bigger areas have stretches that are devoid of opposition, but the smaller ones have them practically on top of each other.  The areas themselves aren't bad, with decent scenery representing the ruins of the life that used to be.  You can also attack enemies before they contact you to gain an advantage in battle.  The attack is a strange sparkle that the leader throws out, but it doesn't fly as far as I would think.  There's nothing wrong with the field movement, but it isn't unique, especially if you have played other Idea Factory games.

Battles, though, do have their share of unique features.  Each weapon and skill has a different effective range that slightly affects its damage and accuracy.  Energy skills (magic) and Mic skills (weapon-based attack skills) take SP, same as most other games.  There is also a voltage meter thrown in that gives some bonuses, but I mostly used it for each girl's super move.  Skills add a certain amount of wait time, and the more turns you take the longer it takes for your next turn.  You can also assign Takt, the manager, to a girl and he can shield them or do additional attacks when they strike.  While he can only do that so many times each battle, the only time I would run out is some of the boss fights, so just use him whenever you can during normal encounters.

There are also special chain attacks that are activated by using certain skills with the different girls in succession.  You have to activate Harmonics to do them, though.  There's also Live Concert, where a song will play in the background and people request certain actions, which gives you bonus experience at the end of the fight.  While it can seem daunting with all the different factors to consider, you can still just keep hitting enemies until they die.  I usually went with "use circle targeting moves to hit as many foes as possible, then finish them with normal attacks" approach.  I appreciate the more complicated stuff, but I'm glad I don't need to pay much attention to it until I understand it all.

Strangely, for all the tutorials the game shoves at you, I didn't see one that mentioned the skill upgrades.  It's a giant disk that has lots of nodes on it, each representing the spells and skills in the game, plus the passives and super moves of the individual girls.  Since each girl can equip any weapon, they can also learn all the skills for that weapon.  Each skill requires points, which are mostly gained from leveling up your proficiency with each weapon.  That would be fine but I don't think the game mentioned that important part.

The skill disc will also function better when you realize you can zoom in.  It starts out very small and it was hurting my eyes trying to see it all before I realized there was a zoom feature.  Oops.  Since they are all laid out in different configurations, it can be a chore to find any given skill in a timely fashion.  I wanted to work towards the super moves as soon as I could, and it was a pain to find each one.  Same thing with their passive abilities.  Thankfully if you find a skill node with a prerequisite, the required node is highlighted.  That made it slightly easier to find ones I needed, but sadly it's still too cluttered.  The skills themselves are fine, just navigating each character's disk is more time consuming than it really should be.

There are a few more features to the game.  Besides the main quests, there are plenty of side quests to complete.  They aren't all obtained from the computer in the base, which again, was strangely not mentioned in one of the many tutorials.  I feel like I missed at least one, but I won't know for sure until I go through the game a subsequent time.  Anyway, the ones obtained in town have a stricter time limit, and I even timed an early one out.  I'd be less salty about it, but the item I needed for it was obtained as a drop from the boss that advanced the plot and timed the side quest out.  Grumbling ensued.

To round out the features, there's also weapon and equipment crafting.  Weapons weren't necessary to craft early on, as you find them as well, but a lot of the other stuff has to be made.  To get some of the materials necessary, you have to break down enemy drops and other pieces of equipment, so it can be very costly to use the system.  Outfit pieces you make will show up on the character models.  You can also buy new hair styles and colors with special coins you earn in the game, so you can tailor the look of each girl.  Granted, you can also change their underwear, but it didn't come across as creepy as it sounds.

One last thing I should probably mention are the little concert performances you can do.  There are thankfully preset ones, because you can edit a lot of the specific things that go on, such as camera angles, positioning, dance moves, effects and even which girls sing what line.  It's pretty daunting, and this is coming from someone that loves doing similar things in the WWE games for my entrance.  It's not quite my thing here, but if you are interested in it, there is plenty of stuff with the concerts.

While it is still a niche game that won't appeal to everyone, I like Omega Quintet.  The battles were fun and I enjoyed the characters interacting with each other.  The game might be a little formulaic with its progression, but I liked that each chapter was framed like an episode of a TV show.  There's also not as much fan service as you might suspect, although it was present for a few scenes.  I liked the game and I'm looking forward to going back to play it some more.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Toukiden: Kiwami (PS4) Review

The original Toukiden caught me by surprise.  It was very fun, and I ended up playing it for many hours after I had finished my review.  It has strong influences from the Monster Hunter series, but does a lot of new things that make it stand well enough on its own.  I was excited that the expanded game, Kiwami, was headed to the US and EU so I could play it some more.  I got even more excited when I saw it was not only continuing to be on the Vita, but coming to the PS4 as well!  While the portability is very handy for the multiplayer monster hunting genre, playing it on a console is something I prefer, so I opted for the PS4 version.  It is certainly the prettier of the two choices, but I wouldn't say it's the best looking PS4 game.  Good enough, though!

If you are new to the series, I'll fill you in on the basic gist and combat (if you are versed, feel free to skip ahead to the next paragraph).  You play as a slayer and are tasked with defending your village from giant Oni that try to break though your barrier and, well, kill everyone.  So most missions are focused on you and a group of up to three other slayers taking down big bosses.  Square, triangle and circle all do different attacks while X is your dodge.  You can also equip up to three mitama to one of your weapons that give you different skills and passive abilities.  In the fights with these giant monsters, you can sever or destroy various parts of them, which will give you more rewards at quest completion.  Parts are used to make new weapons and armor, so expect to fight monsters a few times to upgrade your equipment.  It might sound like a lot to take it, but it is basically you and up to three others (AI or online) taking down big bosses and making armor and weapons out of them.

Toukiden: Kiwami adds three new weapon types - a rifle, naginata and a giant club - to the six already present.  I'll start with the club.  I didn't like it.  It wasn't bad, but wasn't for me.  It reminds me of the great sword from Monster Hunter: big, slow and you do more damage when you hit enemies with the end of it.  However, it does have a nice reward in Toukiden for doing so.  Hit with the tip a few times, and you get a damage boost.

The next new weapon is the naginata.  It is fast, like the dual knives, but hits a wider area.  If you get enough unscathed hits, you will increase the damage area.  If that wasn't enough, it also has a move that puts you in the air for air combos.  As a dual knife user, I am totally going to work some naginata use into my character.  I really like it.  I didn't think I would, since there is already a spear in the game, but I was wrong.  It also has a parry move, but I doubt I'll use it.

The last weapon addition is the rifle.  Each has three kinds of ammo that you choose what order to load into it.  It aims really well, and even shows weak points on the monsters that cause extra damage if shot.  The rifle is a fun weapon, and will probably compete with naginata for my secondary weapon.  It can be a bit cumbersome at first, and reload can feel a bit slow, but they had to even the weapon out somehow.  Honestly, I don't think I'd use the rifle if I were on the Vita version, but it feels really good on the Dualshock 4.

Besides the new weapons, there are of course new missions, more story chapters and new monsters.  With the new monsters comes new weapons and armor to create from each one.  The new story chapters fits well enough into the original story, as they are set after the closing events of that title.  Probably my favorite new addition is sending the other hunters on a sub-mission.  Whenever you head out, you can choose one unused slayer to do another mission in any previous chapter.  For example, if you are doing a mission in chapter 5, you can send another into chapter 4 or below.  This is a good way to get more monster parts without grinding so much, since you can continue on in the story but still get parts from a certain monster.  I used it to finally get the Cthonian cloaks that I needed for a quest, but couldn't get to drop in the 20 or so times I did the mission in the vanilla game.  Plus, it doesn't seem to cost anything to send them out, so why not use it?

There was also a small but awesome change to the Mitama.  They can now be leveled up to 12 instead of 10.  That's not the great part, though.  They now have a forth skill when they reach maximum level, and you can freely replace the other three skills then, too.  Before, you had to replace one with another, but there was no efficient way to reclaim skills you overwrote.  The only choice you had was to set the mitama at level 1 again and raise it back up.  In Kiwami, there is no need to do so, as you can just max it out and set which three you want that it learned.  They even added a new mitama type that excels at destroying parts.  Nice!

If you played the original version, the save file from the Vita will transfer over as long as you download the update for it.  That let me keep all my stuff that I earned over 80+ hours and start on the new content.  You can also keep your stuff but start the story over again.  Either way, it is expected and awesome that you can port over your save.  If you play far enough in the demo, that can transfer over too.  Both bring bonuses, which is a great incentive to continue... as if saving all that time wasn't incentive enough.

I played a few matches of the multiplayer, and they felt smooth.  I wasn't using any form of microphone, but we didn't have any troubles taking down the monster.  In fact, it was a lot faster than with the AI companions.  If you don't want to or can't connect to the internet to play with others, you can just use the story companions and do them anyway.  Even late at night I found several lobbies to join, but I don't know how long that will last.  As always, if you have friends to play with you, that is the best choice.  Now, I just need to convince my friends to get the game, which shouldn't be hard because the game is really fun.

As a fan of the "vanilla" Toukiden, I of course like the expansion.  If you liked the original, I would recommend Toukiden: Kiwami if you want more.  If you skipped the original release but were interested in it, I'd again recommend it for the sheer amount of content you will get.  I'd also recommend it if you want to try to get into the monster hunting genre, since Toukiden is fast paced and more forgiving than other entries, without being easy.  If you are on the fence, at least try the demo, since you can carry the save over to the full version.  Fans of hunting games, action games and Koei games should definitely check it out!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires (PS4) Review

Following in the tradition of previous Dynasty Warriors games, the latest in the series has now received its Empires game.  Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires has added new weapons to some of the existing cast (although some of them were DLC previously), and thankfully brings back my favorite staple of the series: creating your own characters.

It's no secret that I'm a fan of create-a-characters in multiple games, and I still love it here.  There are a lot of costume pieces to choose from, as they brought  back pretty much all of the ones from the previous game, and added the DLC ones and a few new ones to inflate the list.  With the new additional weapons, there are almost too many choices when setting the weapon and musou attacks.  Besides setting a normal and alternate musou, you can set an air one and your rage attack one.  While you can't set any musou in any slot unfortunately, it's easy to get some that fit your character, or just take some all around good ones.  Although the animation of each contains the character's default weapon, so it can look a bit silly if you just grab some of the cooler ones instead of trying to have them match.

If that wasn't enough, you can also customize your troops, horse and war banner.  These options are somewhat more limited, but it's still a nice addition to the series and makes for some more personal touches if you want to invest the time.  There are several colors for each part and each costume piece.

Enough of me gushing about the create-a-warrior, let's get to the gameplay.  Like the previous Empires games, it is a mix of hack and slash Dynasty Warriors battles with kingdom management in between  the fights.  When you are a subordinate for a ruler, you can sometimes choose what to do to help the kingdom, but will be requested to make certain goals.  If you become the ruler yourself, you will have more options available, but also more responsibility in making your kingdom thrive.  One new objective to complete is quests.  These are small scale fights that task you with fighting or protecting someone or something.  They are tiny and quick battles that don't feature nearly as many foes as the army versus army fights, but they are a quick way to raise your virtue or get some money or equipment.  It's not too complicated to run a kingdom, but it is fun.

The virtue is basically your level this time around.  In the previous entry, there were six kinds of experience, depending on what your actions were.  Now it is just virtue.  There are also merits to be earned by performing well for your ruler.  While I liked the previous system of six different types, this system is fine too, as it feels less like the character is typecast as a certain type of person.

There are several different scenarios to complete, each ranging from a set of dates in Chinese history.  This will dictate what special battles will happen, and what characters you will see, but it won't limit your time there.  Each scenario is self-contained and will play out differently each time you play it.  Some will last a long time, depending on the whims of the leaders.  The scenarios won't stand out much from each other if you aren't at least passively versed in the story or history of the three kingdoms period, so if you aren't interested in that, just pick the special scenario that has all the Dynasty Warriors cast available.  Plus, you can always sub in any of your created fighters, and might even see some creations of other people!

While my primary reason for liking the Dynasty Warriors Empires series is the create-a-character, they are fun alternate experiences in the Dynasty Warriors universe.  It adds some management and unpredictability to the hack and slash series, and I know at least one person that prefers Empires to the usual games.  Fans of the Dynasty Warriors series and the Empires series should check it out.  It's also worth checking out for people that want more than just a hack and slash experience.