Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Assault Suit Leynos (PS4) Review

Assault Suit Leynos recently came to the US by way of the Playstation store, and is a remake of an old Mega Drive/ Genesis game (renamed Target Earth in the US).  I was surprised I had not heard of the game before, since I loves me some mechs.  Maybe it was a combination of not having a Genesis as a kid (I was a SNES guy) or that the cover looks like a guy in a suit, not a mech.  Either way, I can now experience it on a modern console.

The remake boasts better graphics, rebalanced gameplay and a few other tweaks.  The updated visuals still hold true to the spirit of the original 2D sidescroller, and look good.  Character portraits look like they came out of the early 90s and I like it.  There is some voice acting in the game, but the dialogue is kept fairly minimal, which feels appropriate.

The main menu has the arcade game, but it does help to try out the tutorials, which are tucked away in the options menu.  These help give you a basic grasp of the controls, while providing small stages for you to complete.  Strangely, they can be a bit difficult, and you can even die during one of them.  They have timed goals that thankfully you don't have to meet, but the operators will yell at you for not doing well enough.

The arcade mode offers 8 stages that are tweaked versions of the original.  Some of them are pretty hard, testing your skill and loadout management.  As an example, stage 3 took me numerous attempts.  I got through 1 and 2 the first time I tried them (I wouldn't say they were easy though), but stage 3 slammed me back down.  After learning what to do and figuring out a loadout that complimented the enemies I faced, I was able to make it through.  The following stages didn't test me as much as that, but they were still harder than the first two.  Learning enemy layout and what to bring helps a lot.  You can also change the difficulty if you so choose.

Movement in Leynos is decent, more so if you have the boost pack equipped.  This gives you a dash and a little extra on the jump.  The movement of the suit does have a bit of momentum on it, which can cause you to move a bit further than you intended.  This is really problematic around traps and pits, but not as much during a majority of the game.  There are some stage sections that are less platforming and more free-floating, mixing up the action a bit.  The mech can aim its gun a full 180 in front of it, but trying to get a specific angle can be a bit trying.

Aiming is quick, so it is very easy for me to over or undershoot the angle I want.  There is a button for locking the angle when you do get it, which is supremely useful.  Another problem I have with the shooting is the big dead area where your shots do not hit.  Sure, it makes sense since it is your whole mech, but it makes it hard to hit enemies near you (punching is an option, but still not the best).  Combine that with how loose it is about walking backwards while shooting instead of turning to shoot, and it is a recipe for trouble when trying to eliminate flanking enemies quickly.  Aiming straight up does like to pan the camera a little too far in that direction, which makes it harder to avoid hazards near your feet.  These are not huge problems, but they are annoying to me personally, and make it harder to run and gun accurately.  I was mostly used to them by the end of the game, but I still don't like them.

On the positive side, your mech's health will regenerate if you don't take damage for a few seconds.  This can be absolutely critical in passing the more difficult stages.  You can also equip extra armor to get a health boost, and a shield that you can use to absorb enemy fire.  While there are downsides to the shield (you can't shoot with it up, and it takes a second after releasing the button before you can), it is almost a necessity to have going through the game.  Get in the habit of relying on it early.

Before each stage, you can pick your loadout from your available weapons.  The weapons have no descriptions or stats, but at least they have a small video that shows its attack pattern so you don't just have to pick everything at some point to know how it works.  You have up to six slots, but things like the shield and booster pack take one of those slots if you choose to take them.  You unlock more weapons as you go through the stages and perform various tasks.  You can get multiple of some things, and they do stack.  This is useful for some of the stronger guns that have no reloads, but you may sacrifice weapon diversity to do so.  It's a nice open-ended system, but there are weapons that are much better suited to certain stages and situations.  In theory you could pick just about anything if you are good enough to survive, though.

Additionally, the game contains a mode that more closely resembles the Mega Drive version.  However, it is tucked in the options menu instead of the main menu.  I wondered why that is until I played it.  It's ridiculously hard.  Even though I had beat a few stages of the main game by that time, I couldn't even complete the first one of the "original" version.  It still controls and looks the same, but isn't re-balanced to be something playable.  Instead, you get a near constant stream of enemy grunts shooting at you.  I could either stay alive and constantly get pushed back, fight back and die quickly, or make a run for it and die eventually.  Yikes.  Playing that mode made me glad I didn't play the original, as it seems like a nightmare.

Being an older action game, it theoretically doesn't take more than a couple of hours to beat the game.  In practice, the difficulty adds time to that.  Plus, since some of your weapon rewards are dependent on your mission performance, there is replay value.  If you are crazy, you can even attempt to beat the Classic Mode, or unlock all the bonuses.  Each stage section unlocked is also replayable, which should help you clean up any trophies, or even practice a problem spot.  I heartily endorse selectable checkpoints in action games, and am happy to see them here.

While not a long or easy game, Assault Suit Leynos is worth playing for fans of older action games.  It's presentation is nice, the gameplay is decent and there are reasons to replay the game, other than because you blew up.  Zosaly isn't going to save himself!

No, seriously, he's not.  You have to figure out the trick to do it for him.

The Good:
Old school arcade action with a mech suit!

The Bad:
I likes to get difficult at several parts, and the aiming could use a little work.

The SaHD:
I'm really tempted to try the actual original version to see if it's that difficult.

(Review code for Assault Suit Leynos was provided by the publisher)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fairy Fencer F Advent Dark Force (PS4) Review

Fairy Fencer F came to US shores on the PS3 two years ago, but has received a face lift and new added content for its Advent Dark Force release on the PS4.  Besides looking better, the game has added some content to the original story line, plus two new routes for players to enjoy.  The party battle limit has also increased from 3 to 6 - a welcome addition in my book.

One of the newer story changes is in the first 10 minutes of the game, where a new dungeon has been added.  It also seems that the game has relaxed a bit on the missable quests.  You can still mess up an entire playthrough if you aren't careful, but it isn't as easy to do so as it was before.  My only gripes with the new additions is some of the dungeons are very dark, which strains my poor eyes, and how easy it is to miss the new routes.

To make your way through the game, you basically view an event scene (usually in the town), and then proceed to the next dungeon to beat the boss and further the story.  Dungeons are zones that allow you to run around, do some light platforming, find treasures (hidden and not) and battle enemies.  Enemies wander around the map, and if you make contact with them, a fight will start.  If you manage to hit them with your weapon, then you get a preemptive strike, allowing you to move first.  If they catch you from behind, or early on in your attack, then they get the advantage in the ensuing scuffle.  Each dungeon can have anywhere from 1-5 areas to go through, and most of them have a save point near where the boss battle occurs.

Battles have a lot in common with the game's Neptunia cousin.  When you character's turn comes up, they have movement and attack radii.  It can be tricky to move around some of the other enemies and characters to get to the fringes of your movement when you need to.  Normal attacks can only hit one target, but the radius is one of the stats you can increase, ending up with a very large zone to target an opponent.  Eventually, your characters will have access to a combo that allows you to set your attack strings, and you get three separate ones to boot.

To fill these out, you will purchase attack moves from different weapon types as you progress through the game.  You can mix and match as you wish, but each attack has a certain wait value, that will push off your next turn, so it might be in your best interest to not put on all the strongest stuff.  Plus, enemies are weak to some kinds of weapon attacks, so it is also not best to fill all three strings with your character's default weapon.  There are also launch attacks to allow you to air combo enemies, which are fun and also practical (since any breakable parts will take damage in the air, regardless of weapon type).

Next to your character's portrait there is a tension meter, which will allow you to Fairize.  This temporarily merges your character with their fairy partner, giving them awesome and impractical anime armor.  It also boosts their stats and gives them access to their super move.  It's a very good thing to get you out of some of the harder fights, and it seems to last longer than the original version.

The furies you get through out the game can be infused with extra powers with the Godly Revival system.  Each fairy has a rank, which determines what power set you can give it.  These will affect the character that equips it, but also can be used on the world map.  A fury can be stabbed into the ground, and provides its battle effects to whatever dungeons its area touches.  They have a variety of effects, from raising and lowering stats, giving extra money, or even changing what enemies appear.  The latter is very useful in getting certain drops or completing several quests.  It's a unique and cool system, but every positive or useful effect unfortunately also comes with a negative one.

Even knowing several things to do because of the PS3 release, it still took me over 50 hours to complete my first run through the game.  Granted, I was grinding for several hours to finish some of the quests so I could get better stuff next run, but it is still a beefy runtime.  While this encompassed a few changes, I still had not run into the new story paths.  At first, I figured I would need to beat the game once to make them available.

I was wrong.  You do have to repeat the first half of the game normally (about 10-20 hours into the game) before you can do the completely new story routes.  There is also zero indication how to get to these new additions.  I had to look up info on the Japanese release to see what to do.  I don't think it is too much to ask to have some indication to the player what you need to do in order to see this new stuff, since I'm sure many of the players of this were also fans of the original release.  We already have to do the whole game over again because we can't import our saves, so why try to have us spend even more time we don't have to?  Part of me thinks I should have seen this coming, given how the game likes to make things missable.

The new game plus the game has is very, very good, though.  It shows you what carries over, and even allows you to disable certain things if you so choose (I keep it all).  This makes subsequent runs much, much faster (I got through the first half of the game in 4 hours).  Plus, you can keep using party characters that you don't have access to.  This is important, since different routes have different usable characters.

Overall, I am very happy with Fairy Fencer F Advent Dark Force.  I liked the original release, and this is even better.  I like all the changes and new content (except for how dark some of the dungeons are).  I would say the game is worth it for JRPG players and fans of the Neptunia series, and any others that wanted to play it but waited for this release.  If you played the PS3 release, it is worth it to come back, unless you are unwilling to play the game over again.  At least you theoretically only have to do half the game over again to get to the new content.

The Good:
Advent Dark Force improves every part of the original Fairy Fencer F release, and even gives return players a good chunk of new content...

The Bad:
That you still have to put in about 15 hours to even get to, assuming you accidentally trigger the new routes, or look it up.  It would be nice if the game told you!

The SaHD:
Seriously, I would have liked to know...I ended up going through the game twice (65+ hours!) to get to the new routes.  At least I have the trophy for beating it on hard now.  Also, did Tiara get a new voice actress or am I crazy?

(Review code for Fairy Fencer F Advent Dark Force was provided by the publisher)

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Technomancer (Xbox One) Review

The Technomancer is an action RPG set on the planet Mars, where a young technomancer must struggle to survive.  If part of this sounds familiar, it is because the game is made by Spiders, and set within the Mars: War Logs universe.  As was the case with that game, I really like the setting, society and world created for the game.  There is a lot of thought into how it all evolved, and it works well.

As with most other RPGs, you will be walking around towns and dungeons, conversing with people, looking for treasure and getting into trouble.  I'll give the game that it has lots of nooks and crannies that have loot in them, and there are valuable skills (like lockpicking) that have more than a few places to give you even more.  However, I still have problems with this part of the game.  First is the smaller problem, which is the camera.  When you are not in combat, the camera is just too close to the character for my taste.  It cuts off the feet, making it harder to see things close to the ground.  I didn't see any option to zoom out, which I would have liked.

Second, and much more annoying, is the character's move speed.  It's just too fast.  I know it sounds like nitpicking, but when it is obnoxiously easy to overshoot treasure chests and run past enemies you were trying to sneak up on, it gets in the way of enjoying the game.  You can move at a much more acceptable pace if you slightly tilt the stick, but having to constantly monitor that is annoying.  Strangely enough, you can hold down a button to run even faster, which I found totally unnecessary.  If the hold button speed was what he moved normally, and his normal speed was a bit slower (or had zero momentum to his run), basic movement in the game would feel much better, and would not be a constant negative to the game.

Of course there is also combat in the game, and lots of it.  If you thought the run speed was the only thing getting in the way of me enjoying the game, then you've got another thing coming.  Fighting in Mars was rough around the edges, unforgiving and needed you to use your gun with way too limited ammo to make it through the game.  The Technomancer somehow takes this in the wrong direction and has made combat even more convoluted.

Now you have three different stances, each with its own set of weapons.  In theory, it is really cool, so you can quickly switch between sets to fit your playstyle or the situation.  First is the mage stance that has a staff as a weapon, which is great for area attacks.  The second is the warrior stance, which has a mace and shield.  The mace is in the middle, speed and damage wise, and the shield is the most useful thing in the game, allowing you to block and parry attacks.  The third stance is the rogue stance, which uses a speedy knife and the gun.  The knife is underwhelming, but the gun tries to make up for it at least.

Early on, you get a small taste of what could have been.  There are some really weak bug-like creatures that rush you in groups of 4+.  The mage stance is great for them, since the staff can hit areas and kills them in 1-2 hits.  This part of the game works, and gave me hope that the stances had some strategic use to them.  However, it was not to be.  I had to rely on the shield for just about everything else, since blocking is so necessary.  Enemies are not just dummies for you to beat on until they are dead, since they back/side step every other hit, and counter you almost constantly.  It's really annoying, not to mention that it makes the game a lot harder.  That's just too much for the 'normal' setting in my opinion (which this is, obviously).

Trouble is, the whole game is basically like that, but worse.  Fighting an enemy one on one is actually fine and works well.  Two on one is a little tougher, but can still be done with next to no problems.  Unfortunately, they game routinely throws 4 or so enemies at you at once, which had me getting pummeled and reloading every minute or so.  They also shrug off hits while attacking to give you some more cheap damage.  I suppose that's why there is a disruptive attack, that doesn't seem to actually do damage.  Besides moving all the time to dodge and counter, enemies like to surround you, so your block won't work.  Well, at least you can dodge, right?

Yes, but it's not very good.  It doesn't seem to offer much, if any, invincibility.  To add insult to your poor technomancer's injury, it queues up button presses so if you mash (to make sure it actually gives you the roll), so you will likely roll twice.  It also likes to not dodge in the direction I am pressing, which always bugs me in games.  Even if all of that worked, when fighting multiple enemies, they love to basically poke at you when you are trying to hit another, making safe combat take much, much longer than it should.  If the enemies were like the bugs, and died in a few hits, this might actually work.  Unfortunately, they seem to have much more health than they should (again, on the normal setting), bottoming out the fun-o-meter.

Did I mention some enemies have guns?  No?  Well, they you can be as surprised as I am when I take a bullet to the back in the middle of fighting two guys in the corner.  These guys can do a lot of damage before you even know they are there, since they don't stand out from the rest until they are actively pointing a gun at your face.  At least the bug creatures have a bigger model for the ranged ones, so you can identify and eliminate them quickly.

The combat is also very unforgiving.  You die in few hits, which add up quickly when you are trying to fight several people at once.  Frequently I found myself low on health in a matter of seconds, which not much I can do about it.  Strangely, the boss fight at the end of the tutorial was easier than any encounter with humans.  That just shouldn't be the case.  I found the button combinations for using skills and switching stances to not be very intuitive, which then takes me precious time and attention to look at the screen to do.  Yes, this got a bit better with time, but it caused me several headaches (and reloads) early on, which is not a great way to welcome players to your game.

The difficulty was something that bothered me a lot in Mars: War Logs, and it is disappointing to see it not addressed for a sequel.  It is more sad to see improving fights not only ignored, but almost laughed at by adding another layer of complexity (the stance switching).  It just makes combat in The Technomancer much more awkward than it really should be.  At its core, it should be fun, but it's just slapped with the Dark Souls stick to make it an overly difficult mess.  If the combat were at least slower, to give you time to go through your various abilities and react to things before punishing you, it would probably make it tolerable at least.  I tried setting it to 'easy' at one point in an attempt to make it better.  It didn't really seem to make a difference.

Well, now that we got pretty much all the negativity out of the way, I can cover a few small high points to the game.  The equipment upgrade system from Mars is again present.  You find a lot of raw materials that can be used to strengthen weapons and armor by adding mods to them.  The mods (and even the equipment itself) can be broken down to reclaim materials and slots to use again.  It takes some practice to fully understand it, but I do like the way it is done.

Stat and skill points are gained at various levels, and can be placed in many different places for various effects.  Skill points can also be used to modify the powers you get and change the way they behave.  This is pretty cool, but it does take you a few hours to have the points to really start playing around with the system.  I can see lots of potential ways to build your character, but you should evenly distribute your points across the trees, since you should be using multiple stances throughout the game.  This does hurt the illusion of character choice, however.

The game is supposedly about 20 hours, but that would definitely not account for all the loading you will be doing after each failed fight.  Or maybe it just adds a lot of time for me (I could just be terrible at the game and everyone else is great at it).  There's also a few different endings, and romance options with the party members to add some nice replay value.  As briefly mentioned before, there is a difficulty option for any masochists out there (you can set it two levels higher for some reason), and of course achievements/trophies.

I really wanted to like The Technomancer.  The world the game has is cool and I would love to see more of it.  The idea of the stances in combat is solid, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  I could honestly get past the awkward buttons, fighting and high movement speed if the combat wasn't so punishingly difficult.  It's just too high for my tastes.  Instead of fixing what was bad about Mars: War Logs, it seems like they just wanted to make it appeal to the Dark Souls fan base with its cheap difficulty and bad controls.  I would like to see the developer go back to the more simple, fun and balanced experience of something like Faery than this amalgamation.  What parts of the game I do like just can't be overcome by all the things I didn't like, big and small.

The Good:
Just like Mars: War Logs, the setting and premise of the game are really good.

The Bad:
Too bad the combat isn't.  If I didn't say "awkward and difficult" enough in the review, here it is again.

The SaHD:
Honestly, if they made the combat turn-based, it would probably work out, and I'd like to see that.  Or, just make the 'easy' setting actually easy and not '5% less hard'.

(Review code for The Technomancer was provided by the publisher)