Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition (Xbox One) Review

Divinity: Original Sin was successfully kickstarted and deliver about a year ago, then happily made its way to consoles last month.  I've played three other Divinity games, and although they are very different from each other, I've enjoyed them.  Original Sin is like a mix of Diablo and a turn-based RPG, and it even boasts co-op, so I can take my wife along for the ride.  In fact, we ended up playing co-op a whole lot, but I made sure to get a little single player in.

At first, you have to create not one, but two characters to play with.  There are a lot of skills, stats and perks and it can be really daunting if you want to try and make someone from scratch.  Thankfully the game does provide you with several bases from the three archetypes of fighter, mage and rogue.  From there it is much easier to change a few things and tailor them to your wants and needs.  Although I do think it is better in this game to read through the stuff, pick one of the classes and change just a few things before jumping in.  This is because there is a lot of stuff you will learn as you go, and it is easier to restart once you've learned a thing or three.

Starting over isn't really too bad, since there are so many different skills, talents and perks that there is always some combination to try out.  You do get enough points throughout your levels that you can experiment a little, but it is wisest to stick to the strengths of your character and their path.  A lot of the stuff is useful, even if only occasionally.  The variety of talents to choose from is pretty big.  There's one called Glass Cannon that gives you more AP per turn, but halves your health.  Risky, but can be great for a late game mage.  Another interesting one is called Lone Wolf.  Taking it increases your stats, but you cannot have a follower, limiting you to your first two characters.

When not in battle, you directly move your characters around the map.  Up to four party members can be linked together to move as a group, but you can also have them move separately, or in uneven groups.  It's pretty cool.  Even more so, you can have your party in different positions to start battles.  Leave your ranged characters back while your close combatants run in to start the fight.  Or, have a character that is immune to ground effects wade through some dangers for the whole group.  Sadly, you can't change the formation of your party to make them single file, at least not that I've found in the console version.  It's not the biggest deal, but it would help when trying to navigate a trap field.

 Battles take place wherever you are when you start the encounter.  Each turn you get a certain number of AP dictated by your stats that is used to move, attack and use skills/magic.  If you end your turn, you can keep your leftover AP up to your max, which is also dictated by your stats.  It is similar to systems used in other games in that regard.  The movement plane is not grid based, but fairly free form.  How much AP it takes to move is adjusted by your equipment and speed stat, and each skill and spell has a set range that you can target in.

Skills and magic also have a cooldown so you can't spam your best moves every turn, even if you have the AP.  Once you get a lot of them, you have plenty of things you can do on your turn, and it is nice to be able to use multiple skills and/or attack.  There is definite strategy in positioning yourself for maximum safety and to take advantage of your abilities.  You will need to get good at combat, because it can be very fluid and difficult.  Several attacks and effects will limit your mobility and AP gain, so being able to adapt will make you victorious in even dire situations.  You will need any advantage you can get when you are outnumbered or out-powered by your foes.

One big defining feature of the battles in Original Sin are the sheer amount of environmental effects and how your abilities interact.  If there is an oil barrel, you can explode it.  Ooze on the ground?  Ignite it!  Fire around?  Use rain to put it out and create steam.  Then freeze or electrocute the resulting puddle.  Steam and smoke will also obscure your vision, making distance attacks impossible.  It's pretty inventive, but also way too prevalent for me.  These things tend to work against me more than for me, no matter how careful I am.  It was always better to me to take care of them before the battle if possible, even though it's fun to teleport and enemy into them.  I do appreciate how it all works together, but it's a presence that's just too common for my liking.

Combat isn't the only thing you can do while going around the map.  There's also the possibility on going to the other side of the law and steal.  There are skills for pickpocketing and lock picking, both of which can net you some extra items and money, or maybe even help you solve a quest.  Honestly, lock picking isn't near as necessary as it is in other RPGs.  Pretty much all locked doors and chests have a corresponding key, and most can be broken down if you don't want to try and find it.  Pickpocketing has a few uses, but again doesn't seem worth doing.

Stealing and sneaking on the other hand, are very useful.  Sneaking helps you not be seen while entering places you aren't supposed to be, and it looks hilarious.  When you sneak, you cover yourself in some piece of scenery, like a big rock, bush or barrel, and usually look out of place.  Plus, when you walk, you scuttle your legs beneath the object like an old cartoon.  It's really awesome and I just love the animation itself, let alone how useful it is.  If someone sees you, then the sneaking fails and you pop out of your funny hiding place.  Stealing is a great way to earn money (in the game, not real life).  Taking items while no one is looking (or when distracted by your partner) nets you some good items to sell or use.

Of course there is a robust crafting system that allows you to turn a lot of the junk lying around into useful items.  Not only can you find recipes, but experimenting will help you learn lots of new combinations.  There are lots of food dishes to make that give health and a temporary stat boost, and pieces of equipment to make.  The equipment you make isn't that great, but can make you a few gold when you sell them.  If you put enough points into it, you can also create skill books to teach your characters new spells instead of buying them.  There's also several modifications you can do to your pieces of equipment to add a new ability, which unlike making your own, is very useful.

Being a more modern RPG, Divinity: Original Sin also has a fairly robust dialogue system.  Many conversations have lots of line options to learn more about certain things, and of course many choices that affect how the whole dialogue goes.  If they are close enough, your two created characters will both join in, and you can give them separate opinions, which is really awesome.  You can choose them yourself, have the second player do it, or even set an AI to do it.  As an added bonus, certain responses will shift your personality toward one of two sides, and each one will give you some extra stat or skill points in certain things.  For example, being more heartless in your responses will give you extra backstabbing damage.  It's really cool to see extra stat and skill bonuses just for dialogue responses.  Although, it can be hard to tailor your answers for specific stats unless you know the result ahead of time.

However, there is one part of the dialogue system that I really dislike.  I've mentioned that you and your partner can disagree on certain things.  So what happens when you do?  Well, you get to play a rock-paper-scissors mini-game that represents your argument, of course.  There tend to be three options in conversations, one each for Reason, Intimidate and Charm.  Each round of RPS you win will give you some points (based on the corresponding skill) toward winning.  If you get 10 points, you win the argument.  For dealing with a co-op person it's not terrible.  When dealing with the AI, it's just awful.  Have you ever tried to win something like RPS with a computer?  They pretty much decide if you are winning or not.  It's not always so random, since they know what you choose.  It makes me really miss just having a random die roll in the background to pass the stat check.  That is at least over quicker if I need to reload.

So, how is the co-op?  Well, it works surprisingly well.  Each player can control one of the created characters, and you have two more possible members to recruit, and can split them however you want between the two of you.  Thankfully you aren't tethered to each other either.  As long as you are on the same loaded area, you can travel however far you want from each other, and even fight separately if you want.  This was very helpful to me, as my wife would take chunks of time to craft stuff, so I would use that time to do other things.  All experience is evenly shared too, so if one person is in town and the other is off fighting, nobody is missing experience.  If one player is in a conversation with an NPC, the other player can listen in if they are close enough, or just run off and do their own thing.  Be sure to use the d-pad to force splitscreen, otherwise it can almost be as headache inducing as the LEGO games when you are running around each other.  Even if it is forced, battles take place on a joined screen if both people are participating.  You will only control the characters that you were assigned.

Original Sin has a pretty steep difficulty.  Nothing scales to your level, and enemies don't respawn, so in many ways you don't have a lot of freedom.  You can take on enemies a level higher, but it is a more difficult proposition.  Sadly, even on the easiest setting you can still lose.  Battles can go bad fast, mostly thanks to the environmental stuff everywhere.  You have to either make it work to your advantage, or try an neutralize it beforehand.  Take full advantage of the quick save slots you set to avoid wasting much time when you lose a fight.  I honestly don't think I would ever try the game on the hardest setting, given how quickly a battle can turn against you.  There is an ironman option for the masochists out there, though.

The main story takes a long time to do, especially if you try and clear out as much as you can so you are properly leveled.  It took my wife and I well over 50 hours to go through all we did, but she did spend a lot of time crafting items.  There are a lot of side quests and such to do, and they tie in pretty well to your core objectives that there is no real reason not to do them.  Most of the game's replayability is trying out different character types/builds and team configurations rather than missing something.  Still, with so many character options, it's a good reason to replay the game.

Overall, I think Divinity: Original Sin is worthy of the praise it has received and should receive.  It is a really good RPG and does a lot of interesting things that I haven't experienced in games before.  I'd say the sheer amount of character customization, interesting battles, wonderfully done co-op and fluidity of the quests are easily the high points of the game.  There were a few small things I found annoying though, like the difficulty, the ever present environmental effects and the disagreement rock-paper-scissors mini-game.  If you are a fan of RPGs, you should definitely check out Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition, and even more so if you can bring a friend with you.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Family Fishing (3DS) Review

Family Fishing is a 3DS game about, well, fishing and is aimed at slightly younger audiences.  It also has a cute anime style to the game and characters.  One strange but nice feature is the start screen which boasts two main options: Start Game and Quick Game.

Quick Game does just what it promises.  It will pick a character for you, your opponent and a location to fish in.  It's a nice option to have when you just want to jump in, but not one I would use more than once or twice.  I'd have a lower chance of it picking a character I like using, so I might as well just not use Quick Game.  Choosing to start a game will present you with some other modes: Campaign, Free Battle and Survival.

Immediately I thought, "Survival?  In a fishing game?  What, does the fish eat you if you fail?".  Nope.  The game is basically your character against your opponent, so you will just keep facing a random rival until you are defeated.  Not bad, and not a mode I would have expected.  Also, the computer in this mode seems a bit harder than normal.

Free Battle lets you choose characters for both you and your opponents and the location for the fish-off.  You can also set the strength of the fish and opponent to make it easier or harder on yourself, all of which are useful options.  It's especially nice to try out characters this way.  Campaign mode starts with your choosing one of the eight character, and then you must battle the other seven, one by one, until you've defeated them all.  The characters are kind of cool, since only the two children have names.  The rest are based off their relationship to the kids, so they are called Mommy, Daddy, Grandpa, etc.  It's cute.

The eight characters each have a starting rod and lure, which will help catch fish in slightly different ways.  The rods have different amounts of strength, reel speed and HP.  You can get other rods during a fight, so you aren't limited to your starting one.  The lures are specific for different sizes of fish, and you have to buy them from the store each round with points you earn by catching fish.  Sadly they can break if your rod's HP runs out when fighting with the fish, and you will have to buy another to use it again.  There's also a chaos lure that can hook any fish but with a low chance.  Given my track record with random chances (I tend to be unlucky), I stay far away from this one.

Each character will also have a unique special move to help you.  Once a meter is filled, the special move can be activated.  They have a variety of effects, from damaging fish to restoring HP.  I prefer restoring the rod's HP, since that will help in a sustained battle with the fish, but also might just save your lure.  You can also purchase items from the store during a match.  The button to use them is the same as activating the special move, and I've accidentally used an item when trying to use my special, so make sure the correct name is next to the button when you press it.

You may have noticed that I have yet to mention how to actually play the game.  Well, that is my way of illustrating how the game does it.  Namely, not at all.  In some ways I can appreciate the old-school simplicity of just throwing the player into the game and letting them figure it out, but not in an immediately competitive setting.  I would very, very strongly suggest when you start the game to check out the manual after pressing the Home button.  While I have not played many fishing games, I have played several fishing mini-games during my life.  Family Fishing is different enough that any prior knowledge I had doesn't help.  Seriously, read it before you play, as the game offers very little when you start out.

To start, you choose where to cast your line, and then have a timing press on a meter to determine how close to your aim your lure will land.  You can move the lure around a bit which will help attract a nearby fish to bite.  If it does, then you have to hold A to reel it in.  You also need to point your pole in the direction the fish is moving to send "aura" pulses down your line to lower the fish's HP.  As you do this, it will also send attack toward you.  If you switch your direction to match the fish when it turns, you will send a larger aura pulse to do more damage.

You must also keep in mind how angry the fish is.  As you reel it in, the fish will get angry, as shown by an anger mark above its head.  The longer you hold the button, the larger it will get until the fish sends an unblockable attack at you.  So, you need to let go of the A Button when the mark appears.  It's a strange balancing act to keep moving your pole around to match the movements of the fish while trying to not have it get too angry.  It makes the fishing much more active than I would have originally thought.

Personally, I found it really difficult to match the fish's movement at times because of the small screen and all the different fish and other things on the screen.  So while the game seems to be aimed at a younger crowd, half the time I had trouble winning!  Part of the difficulty was trying to see the fish and match its movement, but the other half was the game itself.  It didn't always seem to take a fish's HP at the same rate in different fights in the same area.  It really felt like "if the fish doesn't want you to win, you won't".  It wasn't really a problem in the Campaign until near the end, but it was much more prevalent in Free Battle and Survival.  There's also a boss near the end of each match, and catching it will net that person an automatic win.  I like that there is an alternate way to win, and they are the largest and strangest things to catch in the game, but they do require a lot of work to take down and are not always worth the trouble.

Family Fishing is kind of fun.  I like that it has a quick play option, and the different characters give some longevity to playing.  There's only five areas, so you will probably get tired of them by the time you are done going through the campaign and doing some free or survival battles.  The fishing was very unique and active, which is nice, but the game gives you no real help unless you read the digital manual.  While the game seems more aimed at kids, it can get more difficult in the later fights.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Moco Moco Friends (3DS) Review

At first Moco Moco Friends looked like a cutesy version of Pokemon, and in a way, it kind of is.  Instead of normal monsters, the ones in Moco's world are Plushkins, which are like living stuffed animals.  It's a pretty neat idea and setting for the game.

While the story started off fine, it quickly irked me.  There just seemed to be so much idle chatter.  I'm fine with characters conversing, but the people in Moco sometimes just add a lot of extra dialogue that I got tired of very quickly.  Plus, you can't exactly mash through it, since there are gaps in the dialogue boxes appearing for moving and other things.  The actual story is fine and easy to follow.  Each chapter tends to be similar: opening dialogue, talk to someone else, go to dungeon(s), defeat boss, dialogue, move on.  It works for what it needs to do, even if it is formulaic.

Dungeons are small and randomly generated.  Each floor has about 3-6 rooms connected by hallways and look like dungeons found in mystery dungeon style games.  All the ones I've encountered had only two floors and then the boss room, so they are very bite-sized.  It's not really as bad as it may sound.  While they are a little short, at least they aren't over 20 floors, since that gets boring too.  Each dungeon has a particular theme for the simple scenery.  There are also random treasure chests and harvest points to get items from.

The harvest points each have a little mini-game with them, where you hold the A Button and let go at a certain point in the animation.  If done correctly, you will get two items instead of one.  If you let it go too long, you fail to harvest any items, but the harvest point remains.  You lose a few seconds, but keep your chance at getting two items, so it's always better to let it go longer than shorter.

Battles are turn based and feature up to 3-v-3.  You select the move you want to do for each of your party members, and then all combatants do their moves in...some order.  It doesn't feel like it is solely based on speed, but it's also not entirely random.  Up to four Plushkins can be taken with you, but the fourth is a reserve that you can use to replace one.  Usually, I have that as the one I'm trying to level up and rarely switch them in to combat.  It would be nice to carry more for that purpose.  Switching or using an item does not take any of your Plushkins' turns, either.

Each move that a Plushkin does takes some of Moco's magic, represented by the dots around the gear in the top right of the screen.  Each turn Moco restores half of the total number of dots.  Usually the stronger the attack, the more dots it takes, which is shown on the attack.  The circle in the middle of the gear builds up and when full, allows unlimited magic for 1 turn.  Unfortunately, it is automatically applied.  It would be awesome to save it for a boss fight, but you can't.  It's still a nice feature that gets more useful as you get more magic-hungry abilities.

The Plushkins can learn up to four moves, but one of them is always a generic attack.  Once they learn another move, you can choose to replace one of the three with the new one.  My favorite part of the combat is selecting the move/item and target.  It's done with the different directions on the d-pad, which is pretty intuitive.  I've probably seen it before, but that doesn't diminish how fluid it is.  My only gripe with the combat is the accuracy.  The base is 90%, meaning you miss more than I would like.  It only goes down from there.  The big attacks that hit the whole enemy group are costly and tend to miss at least one opponent.  Bleh.

 Plushkins can also evolve to a new, higher form once they reach a certain level and you have some specific items.  Their level is reset down to one, but their stats are higher than the previous form.  It will take them more experience to level up in the new form, but they are capable of taking on some higher level enemies.  They also have a max level, but you can basically sacrifice one of the same type to increase it.  Each one will also have up to two innate skills and up to two species skills.  To unlock the skills, you will need some more, different items and raise their level some.  So, there is a good use for some extra Plushkins, and I like how involved the leveling is with them.  Now if only it were easier to get the items necessary.

The town that Moco resides in has some useful functions.  First there is the Plushkin house that lets you do things that pertain to the monsters themselves, like change your party, evolve them or awaken their innate abilities.  Second is the sewing house that lets you convert your harvested materials into different types of items, like healing ones and equipment.  This is really useful, but you can only dictate the type of item made, and the result is random.  Obviously, this can make it time consuming to get the ones you actually need.  Third is the farm that allows you to grow seeds to get particular materials and has a few harvest points like the dungeons.  You can also set plushkins at special pots that they will harvest.  This function is really nice, but suffers from the same problem the story does.  There is way too much dialogue and animations for just assigning a plushkin to a pot to harvest.  Again, not game-breaking, but annoying.  It might only be an extra 10-15 seconds, but multiply that by how often you are using the garden and you get an idea of how much time is wasted.

The game is not really difficult at all, and I don't think it is supposed to be.  I didn't have a single of my plushkins get KO'd until late in the game, and really only happened because I had a newly evolved one that hadn't caught its levels back up.  Even then, I won the fight with no other issues.  I'm fine with the game being on the easy side, since it's likely intended for younger audiences and it's pretty relaxing to play through it.  It will probably take around 15-25 or so hours to make it through the game, depending on how focused you are on doing the story versus other stuff.  Getting some of the rarer plushkins to join you will take some luck and time, since you need particular dungeons to show up, and then have to get lucky again for them to join you after battle.

Moco Moco Friends feels like a mix of Pokemon with some mystery dungeon elements (and no, not like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon).  It's a very cutesy game, and my 5 year old daughter thought many of the monsters looked cute.  It's not very hard, and probably just right for kids.  While I have a few small problems, mostly related to the extra dialogue in the game, it is pretty relaxing to play.  The monster designs are pretty nice, but the dungeons are kind of bland.  Still, Moco Moco Friends is a decent RPG on the 3DS.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Superbeat XONIC (PS Vita) Review

Superbeat XONiC is a new rhythm game from a relatively new studio.  I'm not too good at these types of games, but I figured I should give it a try anyway.  The notes you have to hit for each song approach a ring at the edge of the Vita's screen.  At first it reminded me of the last rhythm game I played on the Vita, Persona 4 Dancing All Night.  However, XONiC is very different.

For one, the songs are more complicated.  There are four note types: single, swipe, scratch and FX.  Single is just pressing the button, d-pad or appropriate place on the screen when the note is on the ring.  If the note has a tail, then you hold it until the end of the tail.  Simple enough.  Next is the swipe note, which requires you to 'flick' the section of the screen or use the Vita's analog stick and move it in the indicated direction.  This is much harder than it sounds.  For one, it really messes me up to have to transition from buttons to the stick and back so quickly.  I had this problem in Dancing All Night, but I only had to hit the stick since the direction didn't matter.  Now I have to hit in in the right direction and get my fingers back quickly to hit other notes.  It really makes me fumble.  Using the touch screen is 50% better for me.  I can hit the swipe down notes easy enough, but it doesn't always register the up swipes.

Similar to the swipe note is the scratch note.  These are a kind of magenta color.  Scratch notes require you to either tilt the stick in the direction noted or slide your fingers in the direction noted.  These can be tricky with the touch screen, but only if you move too slow.  You don't have to follow the placement of the note so much as register that you are moving in the proper direction.  The last note is FX, and these require you to push the L or R Buttons as indicated.  These only show up on the 6Trax FX difficulty, talked about below, so I wasn't able to see them.

Overall I felt the touch screen was much easier to play the game with, since switching from the buttons and d-pad to the sticks messed me up a lot.  That said, I still had trouble getting the swipes to register all the time (if there was too much friction, my finger wouldn't slide enough to register).  The game can also be played on the PSTV, but I imagine it would be harder with a bigger screen.  It might be easier to hit the swipe and slide notes, though.

In the upper left hand side of the screen, there is a health gauge that depletes when you miss a note.  If it empties, you fail the song but still get to play it the rest of the way through.  Hitting notes will slowly fill it up.  The upper right hand side has the Fever meter.  As you hit notes, this meter builds up until it is full.  Once full, you go into Fever mode, where you get a point multiplier on each hit note.  Notes hit on the ring will give Superbeat rank, which is worth the most points.  Hitting it a little too early will net you a Good rank, and missing it entirely will get a Break.  At the end of the song, there is a judgment ranking that is higher the more Superbeats you hit.

One of the two play modes is called Stage.  You choose your type/difficulty and play three songs in a row.  You can select the next song from the list they have, which sadly doesn't have all the songs you have unlocked.  It might be a balance thing, I don't know.  Anyway, the three difficulties are 4Trax, 6Trax, and 6Trax FX.  The "Trax" are the outer sections of the ring that have notes.  So, for 4Trax, there are two sections per side, up and down.  This is the mode I am most comfortable with.  Next is 6Trax, which has up, side and down.  Here's where the touch screen didn't do as much good.  I don't know if my fingers are too fat or my aim is bad, but I had some trouble getting the game to register my hits correctly, mostly because they are much smaller areas.  Plus, the top and bottom both use green for the single notes so you can't just match colors to try and keep the buttons straight.  With a lot more practice, I could get good at 6Trax, but I'll probably try to stick with 4Trax and not embarrass myself too much.

6Trax FX is the hardest in the game.  It wisely has to be unlocked, so sadly I didn't get to try it and get humiliated.  6Trax did that enough.  In Stage there is one final option called Freestyle that allows you to pick any song and play it.  However, it will not track your highest score for that song.  It does keep your combo even after you finish a song, so you could conceivably max out the combo with enough tenacity (or a DJ shield).  I honestly would have preferred an option to just play one song, and keep the score for it, instead of stringing a combo along or having to play 3 songs back to back, but sadly XONiC doesn't have that option.

The second play mode is World Tour.  This mode groups together challenges for you to complete on a song or group of songs.  There are easy, medium and hard of each challenge, but it mostly equates to song difficulty.  Each set of challenges is unlocked once you reach a certain DJ level, and each one rewards you with an icon or beat sound.  It's not as hard as I initially thought, since certain DJs will help you power through some early challenges.  The shield skill in particular helped me.  However, some of the extra challenges can be tough.

For example, one early set on "easy" had the fade-in notes.  Meaning, I would only get to see the note when it was close to the ring.  This was still pretty early in the World Tour mode, and it felt like too much of an extra thing to throw on there for the "easy" challenge.  The core challenge was to not miss more than 20 notes, and this made it harder.  Strangely, the "normal" challenge didn't have the fade-in, and was actually easier.  The hard challenge in that set was really hard for me, but mostly because the song had a ton of notes and went really fast.  It just feels unbalanced, since it's still pretty early and I have to play harder songs.  I dread to see what the later ones are.

As mentioned before, you can unlock new DJs and note sounds.  They are awarded when your DJ level increases, or you complete a challenge in World Tour.  Each DJ has two skills that help you.  There is extra health, increased experience, break shields, etc.  I personally favored the extra experience so it was faster to unlock more DJ icons.  Once I figured out what shield did, I loved it too.  It really helped me complete some challenges and get higher scores.  I still wasn't better at the game, but I felt better.  The note sounds you unlock change up what the note sounds like when you hit it.  Pretty basic, but it is nice and you get a lot of options.

Superbeat XONiC has many songs to choose from, and even some I wouldn't have expected (there's a song from Guilty Gear Xrd).  It's a good mix of many styles, from pop to R&B to Hardcore.  It would take a lot of time to play through them all and raise your DJ level high enough to unlock all the World Tour stages, and finish them.  It will also take a lot of skill.  Maybe a bit less with a good DJ icon.  I liked a lot of the songs, even if I wasn't very good at the game.  However, fans of rhythm games should definitely check it out.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Corpse Party: Blood Drive (PS Vita) Review

One thing is for sure: when your game is named Corpse Party, you are pretty sure what you are going to get when you play.  In this sequel to Book of Shadows, Blood Drive has the characters once again involved in Heavenly Host Elementary.  Yes, the survivors actually want to go back, and yes, I really wanted to yell at them too.  This entry has a new story with some new characters, which of course will get drawn into the creepy world of grisly death.  Seriously, the game lives up to its name.

The story of Blood Drive follows closely after the events of Book of Shadows, but does very little to recap it.  After starting it up, I felt like I should have replayed the previous game all over again so I could remember who everyone was.  Well, looking back at my review, that might not have helped.  This time, there are pictures of which character is talking as well as chibi versions of the characters so it is much easier to keep track of who is who.  Although the characters do swap between using first and last names, so it is still very possible to get confused.  Really, they needed a more comprehensive recap of the previous game, but instead we get a sentence or two.  Even sticking it in the encyclopedia would have been helpful, but I haven't seen it there.

Last time the game was in first person as you walked around the creepy, decrepit elementary school, but now it is in third person, and you control a little chibi character.  There are a lot of traps around, like weak floors that you partially fall into, sharp objects and trip wires.  Hitting these will deplete some of your HP, which can either be restored with bandages or time.  Admittedly, the hit detection on these traps seems a bit off, since I would try to skirt them and sometimes trip them.  It never killed me, but will keep me from easily getting one of the game's trophies.  I like moving around the areas in this 3D world more than the Wizardry-like presentation of the previous game.

Besides traps, there are occasional malevolent spirits that chase you around.  Most times while running from them, I would step in an environmental trap.  I guess I shouldn't make fun of all the people that trip in horror movies while fleeing from the monster.  If you are carrying a talisman item, the spirit will be destroyed when it gets near you, and sacrifice the talisman.  Otherwise, you have to flee and hide in a cabinet.  This brings up an interesting screen that shows your heartbeat and a colored circle.  When the circle is red, the ghost is nearby and you shouldn't exit.  When it is green, it is much safer to do so.  These ghosts can find you in there, so don't get seen entering one.  Since you cannot see outside while hiding, this is an interesting way to help alert you when it is safe to exit and when you should remain hiding.  Running from them can be a hassle, since you can only run so long before getting tired.  Of course the ghosts don't have this problem.  Combine that with their tenacity and escaping can be very difficult.

Since the world is pretty dark, you get a flashlight (well, it's actually a phone) to help see.  The lighting effects cast from the flashlight are really, really good.  It's better than I thought the Vita was capable of, and that's not an insult to the awesome little handheld.  To add another scary element to the game, the use of the flashlight drains the batteries.  You can find more batteries, or just turn on the endless batteries by pressing the select button.  While I appreciate that there is a way to not have to rely on the batteries, having a button to make it infinite seems silly.  Why even make it limited in the first place?  And why does a phone take double As?

Save for a few parts, the game isn't overly difficult.  You can see most traps if you are paying attention, and you can recover HP just by walking around and not taking damage.  Many spirits hang out near a talisman that can be used to banish them, except Chapter 4.  That part of the game with a few others, like escaping the water and the final boss, are pretty tricky and will likely require a few reloads.  Dying will send you back to the main menu, but many times it is a bad ending that the game keeps track of, so all may not be lost.

However, getting lost sucks.  The game does not provide you with a map, so you need to make/get one or try and remember it.  I also didn't see any place where it tracks what your current objective is, assuming one was even told to you, so many times I would just stumble around and try to find out what to do.  I get the game is creepy and having a golden trail to the objective wouldn't make sense, but I just don't get scared when I'm not making progress; I'm getting annoyed.  Sometimes crucial things you have to examine aren't obvious and you have to start poking everything.  This will build up your 'darkness' and doing it too much will kill you.  So yes, the essentially punishes you when it doesn't tell you what to do next.

There are 10 chapters in the game that can take between 30 minutes to an hour or two depending on reading speed and how lost you get.  There are also some unlockable EX chapters that are just text-based, but help add to the story from other perspectives.  Most of the trophies are for things I would do anyway, like getting all the endings for the chapters and finding the student ID tags.  There are a few crazy ones that I'm not a fan of, like going through each chapter without touching anything you don't need to (so collect the ID tags before hand) and without taking damage from anything.  You would definitely need to replay to get those two.

My biggest drawback to the game would be the load times.  Examining things and picking up items are fairly quick, but just about everything else requires a loading screen.  Changing rooms?  Load screen.  Going to the menu to check your health?  Load screen.  They tend to run anywhere from 4-9 seconds.  While it doesn't sound like much, it feels like an eternity sometimes, and it really adds up over the course of the game.  Plus, exasperatedly sitting through them kills the suspense and creepy feeling a lot of the time.  It also feels like any spirits you are fleeing from gain on you while the game is loading.  I can assume all the loading is because of the lighting physics.  If that is the case, I'm on the fence of if it is worth it.  It slows the game down, and not in a good way.

Corpse Party: Blood Drive is a creepy game with some good visuals and great lighting effects.  Strives have been made to make the characters easier to follow, but it still isn't perfect.  It's easy to get lost and wander around with no idea what you need to do to proceed.  A map would have been nice, but maybe they thought that would make it too easy?  The game is only really difficult in a few spots, and the loading really slows down the game.  Overall, it does play better than the previous game in the series.  If you are a fan of the Corpse Party series, Blood Drive should be played, but you may want a refresher course before you dive in.  New players really need to start at the beginning, and play them back to back or take notes.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Norn9: Var Commons (PS Vita) Review

Norn9: Var Commons starts off in our modern world, but quickly transitions to a fantastical floating ship that contains its own eco-system.  On board are 12 travelers that were assembled by The World, a mysterious entity that will use these people to spread peace to the entire planet.  Most of the people gathered are called espers, who each have a special power, like the ability to create fire or erase memories.  At first I wasn't sure why the story started in the way it did, but without revealing too much, it does make sense at the end.  It also took me a bit to keep straight who was who, but after awhile it sank into my thick skull.  Going through multiple times really helps that out.

After the story gets started on the ship, you will have the ability to choose one of the three heroines as your main character.  Then after a bit more plot, you can choose one of two males (the third is unlockable) to be your partner, with whom you will forge a relationship.  Before this point, they don't show much romantic interest in the possible partners, but that makes sense.  Once you do start down your chosen path, the relationships are much more obvious.  The relationships start a bit quick, but after that the progression is pretty good.  You also get many choices in how to respond to your partner in situations, so you can deepen the relationship or not.

Who you choose will affect your path through the game, but the plot as a whole is relatively unchanged.  There are different endings to the story, though.  And while the core is similar, character interactions and some events are not.  Plus, with using different characters each time, you get multiple perspectives on certain events.  The few parts that are very closely repeated do offer an option to skip those parts, which is pretty cool.  I'm a fan of multiple perspectives in storytelling, so I find the story and character interactions to be really interesting, and I enjoyed them.

Each route takes about 3 hours if you are not just smashing through text.  With three different girls each having three different partners, you get a solid time investment going through all of them.  It's also different for each partner, since how their personalities, pasts and power interact with each other makes for an interesting tale.  Sometimes a particular pair has opposite powers, such as fire and water, and sometimes they seem different, but would work way too well together.  Each story is pulled off very well.  There's even some pretty emotional scenes in the game.

My first run through the game went off without a hitch.  I deepened my relationship, and got the good ending.  My next go around didn't end so well.  This seems to be par for the course for me (see Amnesia: Memories).  I thought everything was going well, and then... pow, it ended.  It didn't even feel like the end of the scene I was in, as I expected something else to happen.  But nope, dialogue finished, and it saved the system data and dumped me at the title screen.  No game over screen, no clue what I did wrong, nothing.  The previous choice was several scenes before this, so I don't even think it was related to that.  Needless to say, it put a damper on my mood, but I just moved on to another guy.  That... sounds weird.  I also switched main characters and resumed playing a different path.  Sadly there was no awesome option to go back to where I had screwed up (see Code: Realize), so I'll just have to go through the route again and try different options.

There are unlockable items the game offers, such as short stories from completed character routes, comics, music and pictures.  They are purchased with points you earn at certain places in the game.  However, to get everything you will have to play the strange mini-game called Norn9 Quest.  I had some trouble finding it at first, since it isn't a traditional menu item (you select the World's ship from one of the extra menus).  In this mini-game, you choose a character, and the computer will choose three opponents.  Then each one play a random scene and gives or takes some points.  At the end, the total is added (or subtracted) from your total.

That's right, you can actually lose points doing this mode.  The silver lining is that you cannot go below zero, so spend what you can before starting it, or just close the game before it saves.  To me it's kind of dumb that they can cost you points, since the whole thing is random and you need to play the game several times anyway if you want to buy the extra stuff.  I'm ok with losing points in the mini-game, but don't take any negative balance from my accrued stock.  That's just silly.  The judges don't take from your savings account if you fail at Jeopardy!.

Despite the sudden end and the randomness of the mini-game, I enjoyed Norn9.  There were several unique characters, and I like the multiple perspectives on many of the events that take place.  The character interactions are good.  There are several different routes through the game and hopefully I can one day finish them all.  Fans of visual novels should definitely check out Norn9: Var Commons.  I also see there is another game in the series, so I hope that gets brought over to the US too!

[Edit: 11/04/15] I have now frequently had the game lock up when exiting the Norn9 Quest.  It just sits on a black screen and I have to exit the game from the Vita's menu.  Now I usually exit after each run through it so I can spend the points I get (since you can lose them), and that may exacerbate the issue.  Hopefully this will be addressed in a future patch.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition (Xbox One) Review

Darksiders II follows up on the original Darksiders, but stars Death as he seeks to gain redemption for his brother War, who was unjustly blamed for the events of the previous game.  I originally played this on the Xbox 360, but now the Deathinitive Edition has been released for the current gen consoles, and bring with it some improvements, the previously released DLC and a cutesy name.

The graphics have improved some, but it isn't a huge jump.  Lighting effects, on the other hand, look much better than I remember.  This is one of the things specifically mentioned as an improvement, and it is obvious.  The game loads a little quicker, although there are parts where it studders a bit while doing so during gameplay.  Also, there were times during cut scenes where the audio was out of sync with the video.  I'm not sure if it's just a problem with the Xbox One version, or if that was present in the 360 version (it was a few years ago that I played it after all).

Combat is action-oriented, but with many RPG mechanics.  The X Button is your main weapon (scythes), and the Y Button is whatever your equipped sub-weapon is, which ranges from claws to giant hammers.  There are a few different combo moves to fill out your arsenal, but I really only stuck to a few I found useful.  Where War (in the previous game) was beefy, Death is much more lithe.  Hence, he dodges instead of blocks.  The timing can be very strict, as many times I was a hair too slow and just ate an attack.  If you dodge too early, most enemies will track your movement and hit you anyway, so you have to be pretty precise.  Sometimes Death didn't want to dodge in the direction I was pressing, which again would lead to me taking unnecessary damage.  Locking on to enemies helps your attacks aim at them, and is especially helpful when using the gun Death gets.  Plus, it will show the enemy's HP.

Besides two weapons, Death can equip a few different pieces of armor on his shoulder, waist, hands and feet.  These can be purchased, found in chest or dropped from enemies, and will show up on his character model.  While most of them will increase stats like defense, some pieces have skills attached to them, like health regeneration.  Also, there are some special weapons that you get when you defeat a boss.  The last special piece of equipment would be the possessed weapons.  These rare items can be fed other pieces of equipment to power them up.  While cool, I rarely used them, as I tended to find better stuff.  I do like the boss weapons, though, since I'm a special item hoarder.

Every kill and completed quest gets you experience, which will predictably level you up after you gain enough.  Besides increasing your stats, you will also gain a skill point to put in one of Death's two skill trees.  There are several active abilities in each, and more upgrades to modify those active skills.  Each "tier" of skills is accessible by leveling up, and you can freely choose to mix and match abilities.  Plus, you can buy a respec from Vulgrim the shopkeep if you want to reallocate your points.  The only part that isn't the most user friendly is mapping the active skills.  You can't do it from the skill tree, but must press down on the d-pad when not in the menu.  Then you can highlight a skill and hold down the Right Bumper and the button that will activate the skill.  Not a huge deal, but can be hard to remember all of that if you want to put on a new ability or change one you have set.

Besides combat, there is a lot of exploration for Death to do.  There are several areas you travel to, and dungeons to overcome.  Each area tends to be connected by narrow canyons that are a perfect time to mount your horse and run through them.  I'm not sure if these areas are so the horse feels useful, or to helps seamlessly load the next area (or both), but ultimately it doesn't matter.  They are just there.  Anyway, there are lots of little side areas that tend to have collectibles in them, or at least an extra chest.  You can also fast travel to many explored areas, which makes  jumping back and forth to dungeons and finishing up side quests much less of a hassle

Dungeons have the most platforming sections, and a fair amount of puzzle parts, too.  The puzzles aren't too hard, mostly pulling switches and placing balls in the right spot, but I do really like the ones that use the golems.  Death can ride around on certain golems, and they can destroy the corruption and fire their fist off on a chain that Death can use to cross some chasms.  They are fun to use.  Death also has some now standard platforming skills at his disposal, like wall running and climbing around specific wall areas.  For the most part the controls for these are spot on, but there are instances where I was trying to run along the wall and the game thought I wanted to run straight up.  Sometimes Death will also do this when you are jumping next to the wall, even if you aren't pushing toward it.

The game has supposedly be re-balanced from its initial release, and some fights did seem a bit easier.  Still, the game isn't too hard on the normal setting, just make sure to have spare health potions on hand, since you will very likely need them.  It's very easy to get hit, especially from off-screen, and the best source to heal yourself is potions.  There are some skills and abilities that will heal you, but it is not near enough to help you in a tough fight.  I did also occasionally get lost in a dungeon and not realize what I had to do to proceed.  It was usually me not noticing an area I could platform to, and not a result of the dungeon puzzles.  Lastly, there are times where the camera won't cooperate during combat.  Sadly, that is par for the course in 3D action games, but it is annoying to take some cheap damage when you can't see what's going on or get your bearing and try to dodge out of trouble.

Content-wise, the game is closer to RPG than action title.  This gives the story over 25 hours, and even more if you are like me and search around for all the extra stuff to do.  Since this version includes the DLC, you will even get another 3 hours or so of extra stuff.  There's also a lot of collectible stuff to pad the length even further.  If you are going for achievements, you will likely go through the game again to get the difficulty related achievements.  Overall, a good length for the cost.

I like Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition and think it is a very fun game.  It has a few small issues and the combat isn't as tight as, say, a Platinum Games game, but it's still solid.  If you like action RPGs and didn't try out Darksiders II when it was initially released, I would recommend trying it out now on the current gen systems.  It's less worth it for repeat buyers, but if you didn't get any of the DLC last time and would like to go through the game again, it is worth the price of admission.