Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 and 2 (PC, Steam) Quick Look

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1

Last year, Idea Factory International announced they were bringing some titles to PC by way of Steam.  I'm not much of a PC gamer, but I thought it was pretty cool, since the more people that can play them, the better.  The first one they released was Hyperdimention Neptunia Re;Birth1.

At first I wasn't sure if my PC would even run it competently, since it is a mid-range machine from 4 years ago.  Surprisingly, it ran well.  There were no hiccups or anything like that, but the screen would go black at the end of the results screen.  I'm not sure why, since I don't remember that from the Vita version.

I tried the keyboard and mouse for the game, to get the true PC experience.  It was serviceable but  weird.  It might be different if you are used to playing games like that on a keyboard, but I vastly preferred the controller.  Since the game was first developed for (home and portable) consoles, the controller is perfect for playing it.

Content-wise, it is the same as the Vita version, and so is the story.  Hyperdimension Neptunia games are centered around Neptune, who is representative of the Sega consoles.  Each nation and CPU goddess are a different first party game manufacturer, so in a way you are playing through the console wars.  It's not as knock-down drag out nasty as it is in the real world, though.  The game is pretty light-hearted and doesn't take itself too seriously.

Since I already reviewed the PS Vita version, you can check out that review if you would like more details on the gameplay and other stuff.  It surprising ran fine on my machine at the time, which is a big plus for me.  Neptunia looks really good and fluid in 1080p!

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation

Since I already covered the Vita version of Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2 and the content and story is the same, this will mostly cover how it ran and felt.  For starters, much like the first Re;Birth on PC, the game looks really nice and fluid.  The visuals sure are a step up from the Vita version.  Yes, this is to be expected, and graphics aren't everything, but it does looks better, so I felt I should mention that.

I learned last time to just stick with the controller instead of the keyboard and mouse combo.  I used the Xbox 360 controller, and it worked perfectly.  So perfectly, in fact, that maybe they should bring the series to the MS platforms... well, a man can dream.  Between playing this and the previous game, I had purchased a new computer.  The newer one is considerably more powerful, and ran Re;Birth2 with no issues for the few hours I played it.

For both titles, if you have been interested in the series and didn't have a Vita, then you should get the PC versions.  They aren't connected much story-wise, despite having many of the same characters, so no need to play one before the other in order to get the whole story.  The first game deals with introducing the four CPU goddesses, and the second focuses on their sisters.  The main CPUs represent the consoles, and the sisters are the portable consoles.  The PC version's content is identical to the Vita, and you can play it in nice 1080p and a smooth frame rate, plus on a bigger screen!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven (3DS) Review

Lord of Magna was one of the silhouetted games teased by XSeed a few months ago.  It is a 3DS game that follows the story of Luchs (thankfully you can rename him) and how his life changed once he met a mysterious girl named Charlotte.  Together they find more women like her and must discover their true origin and purpose.

I have to first talk about the battle system, since it is by far the most unique aspect of the game.  It first appears to be a grid-less strategy RPG, which it mainly is.  However, the main enemy units are "leader" units, and they can summon up to 10 grunts.  These grunts have very low HP and attack power, but move together with the leader as a unit.  Attacking the grunts will kill them and send them flying backwards.  If they collide with another grunt, that grunt will die and roll backwards.  If they hit a leader or generator, they will do a bit of damage to them.  The idea with the grunts is to try to knock them into each other to kill as many as possible, almost like dominoes or bowling.  It sounds strange on paper and works...ok.  They don't always seem to get knocked back as you think they would, and they don't like to line up in ways that allows you to get a lot with one hit.  If you do manage to hit 10 with your attack, you get another turn for that character.

The leader units can summon more grunts, but it costs them HP to do so.  Generators are stationary and don't attack, but every few turns will summon leader units, again at the cost of some HP.  While it is more efficient to take out the leaders first, it is very viable to keep taking out the grunts until the leaders don't have the HP to summon any more.  It is a much longer process though.  Grunts give no experience when killed, but there are many sub-missions to kill all enemies that reward you with an item, so there are reasons to clean house.  All experience gained is shared with the four people in the battle.  That makes it less painful to train up lesser experienced characters.

Lord of Magna's story is decent.  The dialogue is fine, but there are a few story points that are just glossed over, leaving a few questions that work against the story as a cohesive whole.  Plus, you can't skip scenes.  You can fast-forward, but not skip entirely, which really hurts when replaying the game.  I'm sure you can't skip because there are dialogue choices, but I would prefer to skip at least the scenes without them in subsequent playthroughs.  It is pretty easy to see what will advance the plot, since it is often talking to the character(s) with crowns over their heads, so I never got lost, plot-wise.

There are also Heart Events, which will help the main character get closer to the seven girls.  They have three each, and you usually have to choose among several of the girls which event to do.  The Heart Events are time sensitive to the plot.  If you miss Lottie's second one, for example, the next time it is possible to do hers it will be the third.  While any missing ones can be done on subsequent runs through the game, it makes character development seem sudden if you first do the girl's third event, or something along those lines.  Plus, it seems that you have to do one when they are presented.  This is fine until you have them all.  There's no real reason to repeat them, so why force repeat players to do them?

My first run through the game took just shy of 24 hours.  It would have been 20, but the final boss fights are stacked against you in ways that will likely require grinding.  I won't ruin who or what the final boss is, but you fight it basically three times.  The first isn't too hard and feels appropriate for that stage of the game.  The next time, you cannot use your main character or the girl you have chosen during the game.  Since they are likely to be two of your higher level characters (at least in the first run), you have to somehow make do without them, or train up at least one alternate to cover.  That's where the grinding comes in.

Plus, to make it more annoying, the final boss has a near instant death attack when between 50 and 25% health.  It doesn't exactly kill you, but instead does about triple your likely HP at that point of the game... which is pretty much the same effect.  The final form of the boss has more than three times the HP of anything else fought to this point.  While it isn't quite as dangerous damage-wise, it takes a long time to whittle down all that health.  Other fights in the game can be stacked against you, but aren't near as difficult as the final two.

There is some replay value to the game.  There are endings with each of the girls, and even achievements you can unlock.  Thankfully, the game has a new game+ function that is pretty good.  You can choose two people's levels and five items to keep into the next run.  Each time you beat the game, you can choose an additional person.  Plus, the people you choose keep on their equipped skills.  If you are creative in choosing what they have on, you can then keep more than the five you choose directly.  It's a bit strict since you can't keep everything, but the ability to choose is really nice.

Overall, Lord of Magna is pretty fun.  The only point I didn't enjoy was the final two fights and the grinding I had to do so I could pass them.  It is a bit rough, but fun to go through at least once.  I feared that the game would be filled with fan service, but there's barely any.  I was intending to stop after my first run through, but ended up doing it again before writing this.  I would encourage SRPG fans to at least try the game for its unique battles.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy

Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy is a dungeon crawling RPG in the vein of Wizardry.  Or Class of Heroes, which is the same as Wizardry.  While those aren't my cup of tea, I spent some time with the game, but also allowed my wife, a huge fan of the old Wizardys, to take a spin with the game.  Spoiler alert: I still don't have my Vita back.

As any competent Wizardry clone, you assemble your team from some pre-built party members of various classes, or make your own.  Always one for customization, both my wife and I quickly went to work to fill our team with our own creations.  At the start, the game offers you basic, where you just select a pre-made protrait, or classic, where you assemble your person by choosing all of the parts (hair, eyes, etc.) yourself.  Again, we went with classic.  After looking at the portraits you can select, and seeing how silly your party looks with component equipment attached... we probably should have went with basic.

Still, the game gives you a full party of six, so I spent over an hour to make my new (real) party, unequip the pre-mades and equip my team.  While most of that was cycling through the options to make my people look less silly, I have to mention the menus for the game.  They're bad.  Simple functions are hidden behind other menus.  It takes way too long to figure out how to do mundane things like unequip a weapon.  It doesn't help that a lot of the menu functions are renamed to cutsey things.  Want to buy something?  That's under "issue".  Want to sell?  That's "deliver".  The menus would at least be better if they were named standard things, so they are easy to find.  Other than that, they need to reorganize where certain functions are for better usability.  I eventually learned where things were, but I shouldn't have had to put that much effort into it.

Well, let's get on to the gameplay.  Operation Abyss is a dungeon crawler with turn based battles.  You select your actions for the turn, then all of them play out in the order of everyone's speed.  Magic uses a number of casts system instead of an MP system.  Each cast of a spell takes one use, and each level has a certain number of uses.  Of course, they are refilled if you pay the fee at the medical facility.  There is also a unity gauge that allows you some extra attacks, like hitting the whole front row, bracing your defenses, or reliably running away.  The enemies have some pretty unique designs, but there are a few that were clearly taken from Demon Gaze.  There's even some crazy ones, like the Statue of Liberty looking one.

The dungeons themselves are on a grid, and you move similarly.  You can either move forward, turn, or strafe to the side.  There are many hidden walls, doors and passageways that you can discover through several means.  One of the blood codes (classes, basically) has an ability that makes it much easier to find them, but it isn't the only way.  To make things more annoy-- I mean interesting, there are several types of gimmick panels.  They can be dark panels, so you can't see the screen, turn panels that mess with your sense of direction, or other similar things that are there to bother you.  So far, they aren't near as prevalent as Wizardry itself, or even last year's Demon Gaze.  You still need to contend with them, but each dungeon isn't build around them, nor do them seem as numerous as similar titles.

However, they do like to re-use the dungeons.  Several dungeons are accessible through other dungeons instead of directly.  It's a small annoyance, but definitely an annoyance.  Although, it is not as big a problem as the lack of help you get if you are stuck.  The instructions to continue the quests or story can vague on the side of useless.  I'm not saying I want the game to hold my hand, but if you don't know where to go, a quest marker or at least something more helpful than "go and investigate" would be nice.  Also, my wife encountered a glitch where she couldn't advance because a scene wouldn't trigger.  I had no problems with that part, so it just was bugged for her.  Once the game was reset, it functioned normally, but of course we didn't know what the problem was at the time.  If the game was less vague or had a marker, we would have known something was up sooner and she wouldn't have wasted over an hour tearing her hair out.

One thing I very much liked in Operation Abyss over similar games that I've played is the difficulty.  It is a much more balanced game.  Yes, it does get difficult (mostly thanks to the level cap), and it isn't necessarily easy, but it feels balanced.  Enemies die relatively quickly, and don't do much damage early on.  However, you have to keep your levels and equipment up, otherwise you will die.  Death is still pretty serious.  You have to pay a fee at the base to resurrect, or go into the dungeon to rescue the party if they are all defeated.  The only way to save in a dungeon is by using an expensive item, so a party wipe will result in either training a secondary team or loading your last save, either of which will set you back a bit.  Ugh.

Operation Abyss is a dungeon crawling RPG in the vein of Wizardry.  If you like those games, or last year's Demon Gaze, or other similar ones, you are sure to like Operation Abyss, too.  My wife really likes the game, despite its shortcomings, and I had some fun for the time I played it.  The idea of basically equipping what your class is instead of being it is neat.  The game offers little help in where to go or even what you can do.  I played for a few hours before figuring out there was a second page of quests, for example.  Fans of Wizardry are sure to enjoy it, and it's balanced enough to ease new players in.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Shooting Love 200X (Xbox 360) Review

Shooting Love 200X had somewhat of a stealth release recently on Xbox Live Arcade.  Since return readers might know I am a fan of space shooters, I was excited at the prospect of another shmup (shoot-em-up) crossing over into the US.  I was even more excited to give it a try.

When you first boot up the game, you have to take a gamer age challenge, where it asks you to perform in a few shmup-based minigames.  This part is reminiscent of Wario Ware and Brain Age.  It rates how well you perform in a few key areas, and will calculate your "gamer age" at the end.  At first, I got 40.  That is a little older than I am, so I tried it later and got 24.  That's lower than my actual age, so I felt pretty good about that.  Anyway, a there are many variations on the different games that they judge you on, and many are unlockable so you can practice them.  Which is good, since I'm not a fan of "you have a split second to figure out what is going on, now play this!" style.  Once they are unlocked, I can practice them so when they show up in the gamer age challenge, I don't start with a rush to figure it out.

Thankfully, that is not all that Shooting Love 200X has to offer.  It also has three distinct shoot-em-ups to play.  The first is called Exzeal.  You can choose one of five ships (one is well hidden) that have different attack styles.  One has a charge shot that flies straight ahead, another has a 5-way charge shot, the third has no charge shot at all, and the fourth normal one has a short range shot to the side.  Obviously, each plays differently, and each gains a point multiplier bonus based off its primary function.  For example, hitting multiple enemies with the first ship's charge shot will give a high multiplier, but just killing an enemy won't.

The ship with no charge at all was my favorite.  It seemed the easiest to make it through the stages.  Actually, making it through the game is a challenge in and of itself.  You only get so many continues, and it can be very easy to die.  It is possible to gain some more continues, but it takes a lot of playtime to do it.  While Exzeal seems more about points than making your way through the game, this isn't actually the case.  It's both, which is unusual to me in space shooters.

The second shmup game is Tri-zeal.  This one was easily my favorite part of the whole package.  You have only one ship, but it has three different weapons that you cycle through.  Each weapon can by powered up five times to make them stronger and more effective.  The spread shot shoots more bullets, the laser is stronger and there are more seeking missiles launched.  As an added bonus, whenever a weapon is fully powered up, you will get some of when using the other weapons.  This bleed effect is nice, since you get a nice reward for using a non-fully powered up weapon.  I easily preferred the spread shot, as it was the most useful to me, and would power it up first.

The third and final shmup contained in the package is Minus Zero.  It has a strikingly different visual style, akin to Geometry Wars, and offers only lock-on shooting.  The reticle is a fixed distance from your craft, and you can only shoot once you have passed it over an enemy.  Once you have done that for one or more enemies, shooting will launch a laser at each target.  Targeting and then eliminating as many as you can at once is the best way to get a high score.  This was easily my least favorite of the three, and maybe the least attractive of the whole game.  It wasn't bad, it just wasn't very fun for me.

The achievements for the game are harder than I first thought.  You have to find little hidden things, excel at the various gamer age games, and perform well or complete the three shmups.  They aren't impossible, since you can set it on easy, but harder than it would first seem.  There are some cool extras in the game, too.  For one, you can start on the second player side, which is the first time I've seen this in a shmup that I can remember.  You can also check the buttons from the pause screen.  I'd recommend doing this, since all of the games seem to use a different button configuration.  It's a strange decision to be sure, but you can configure them to your liking.

I enjoyed playing Shooting Love 200X.  The gamer age games are fun once you know what they are.  It's a crazy mix of shoot-em-ups/space shooters/shmups and Brain Age, and it works really well.  There are also three different, full shmup games to play.  I still don't like using that word, but it is much quicker to type out.  Anyway, the whole package is great for shmup fans, especially the more retro inclined ones (Raiden, 1942, etc.)  The gamer age games are more about reactive dodging than pattern memorization, while the included shmups are a good mix of both.  An overall fun experience, especially Tri-zeal, which is my favorite part of the whole game.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dragon Quest Heroes (PS4) Import Preview

The second game that my buddy David lent me is Dragon Quest Heroes.  In a similar vein to Hyrule Warriors, it is the merging of Dynasty Warriors and another property, the Dragon Quest series.  It has some new characters, but most playable people are from previous games.

To separate itself from the actual Warriors games, this one has MP for "spells" and even the ability to summon monsters to help defend certain areas.  The spells are flashy and good at hitting areas, but I'm sure there's more to the whole system that I just didn't understand.  The monster summoning is pretty cool, but they aren't that strong, so make sure to check up on them.  It's at the least a new and unique system to add to the Dynasty Warriors tried and true gameplay.

I played a few stages, and actually lost one or two, mostly because I couldn't read what I was supposed to do.  I quickly figured out what to do, so the language barrier isn't insurmountable.  It does make it harder to figure out what the skills do.  Definitely look up some translations or better yet, wait for the localized version.

To me, the biggest negative of the game is its fanservice.  Usually I love these things, but the sound effects and music in the game is too retro for its own good.  When something like Final Fantasy or some other property uses older music or sounds, it is sparingly, or it is the same tune but with updated instruments or something like that.  The music and sounds of DQ Heroes just feels too antiquated when compared with the fresh visuals of the PS4 graphics.  It's a weird juxtaposition.

Even so, I really had fun with the game for the few hours I played it.  I would have played it more, but I'd rather know exactly what I'm doing and what is going on, so I am content to wait for the localized version this summer.  So far, Dragon Quest Heroes is very fun!  It felt more like a Warriors game than Hyrule, which is a plus.  So why not call it Dragon Warri.... oh, right.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Onechanbara: Z 2 Chaos (PS4) Import Preview

A few weeks ago, my friend David lent me two Japanese PS4 games.  The first was Onechanbara: Z II Chaos, which is headed to the US later this year.  David first got me into the Onechanbara series a few months before the last one in the US came out on the Xbox 360, several years ago.  I liked that entry overall, and was anxious to try out the latest game before it came to the states.

There are two new protagonists, Saaya and Kagura, joining the original girls, Aya and Saki.  After a few introduction stages, you have all four ladies for the remaining stages that I played.  You also get 4 or 5 different stages that you can choose from.  However, it didn't seem to list what was the next one, so I just choose one.  It was stage 9, when it should have been 4.  Uh-oh.

It actually went ok.  I choose another stage, and got 8.  They weren't next to each other, so I don't know what the "correct" order is.  I didn't see an option to choose again, and if I loaded the game, it saved me in the stage.  Since I didn't outright fail these stages (but got close on the boss on stage 8), they might scale them slightly to your level.  Hopefully I'll know more when it comes to the US.

Each character gets a few different weapons to equip, and you can switch between your equipped ones on the fly.  I did find some fit my playstyle more than others, and Saaya and her chainsaw was my fourth spot on the team, as I found her really good.  She was my ringer!  The game was more difficult than I though it would be, but I'm not sure if it's because of the stage selection thing mentioned above.  Being able to understand what all the equipment and upgrades I could purchase would do would help a lot.  I'm still looking forward to the US release of this game, as it seems a good successor to the game I played some seven years ago.

Wait, seven?  Yeah, I think it has been that long since we had a localized Onechanbara.  At least we are getting it here... (looks sadly at Sengoku Basara)

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.