Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God (Vita) Review

Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God is a cutesy mystery dungeon style game where players must guide Pururu through several dungeons in order to obtain the ingredients for the powerful and mysterious legendary magic curry.  It also has a long and silly title, which is a good fit for the plot, as you will read below.

Cut scenes in the game have nice anime images, but the game itself is 3D with super-deformed (big heads, small bodies) models.  The different dungeons, while having randomly generated floors, look different from each other and look kinda cool.  I actually really like the character artwork for the cut-scenes.  While the game is only in Japanese, there is a lot of spoken dialogue.  Most story lines are fully voiced, plus a few lines for the different places you visit in town.  There's even a bit for the non-sequitur scenes in the library.  The music is pretty decent too.  My two favorites are the boss theme and the song that plays when you encounter a "monster house" (a room that spawns a lot of monsters near you).

The story of the game is really silly, and revolves around Pupuru, a girl who gets kicked out of mage school and decides to instead assemble the ingredients to the legendary magic curry.  Why is she doing this?  Because her friend owns a curry shop that is getting run out of business by the giant mega-corp curry store and its mean leader.  So, she hopes that serving legendary curry will bring business back.  Along the way, she meets a few... shall we say strange... characters.  There's the wannabe heroic trio that bumbles their jobs, the evil magician who gets repeatedly mistaken for a pervert and even an demonic overlord who falls in love with her at first site.  The story, while not serious, is actually pretty funny and I enjoyed it.  The dialogue is good, and I laughed at many scenes, especially those with Zeo, the "perverted" mage.  The story bits are interspersed well in each dungeon, with a scene occurring every 3-10 floors, depending on total dungeon length.  There's even special items that when collected, unlock a non-sequitur scene in the library.

Sorcery Saga is a  mystery dungeon style game, so floors are randomly made when you enter them, and each dungeon has several floors each.  Items and enemies are randomly placed around the floor, too.  Also, dying will have you lose all your items, money and return you to town.  Yeah, it's harsh, but that's the nature of the game.  Any experience you gain in the dungeon is lost when you exit.  You'll still want to kill what enemies you can, since you level up quickly and it is very helpful to your survival.  The other trademark of a mystery dungeon style game is that it is turn based, so whenever you take your turn, all other enemies also do.  Between each turn, you have as much time as you want to decide what to do or look at your inventory.

Before you enter a dungeon, however, you must traverse the forests.  The forest before each story dungeon is set at three floors and the map is always the same.  I'm not too crazy about this feature, since it basically adds three floors to any dungeon, making it longer and adding more things to fill up your bag.  It might not seem like much, but when going down 20 or 40 floors, the extra makes it that much longer.  Dungeon lengths themselves are a bit much for a portable game, but thankfully the Vita's suspend function makes it seem less so.  Also, while on the subject of items, your bag fills up quickly.  There are ways to deal with it, but being able to hold more would have been nice.

Following Pururu around is the mysterious Kuu creature.  It will eat just about anything, and is mostly used to dump your unwanted items.  It does help in combat, but likes to get in the way, or get itself killed, limiting its usefulness.  You have to at least keep Kuu alive if you want to go to the next floor, so you can't just ignore it.  The upside is that it learns skills as it levels up, and a few of them are really useful.  One will auto-identify all items you pick up, while another will allow you to fuse items for free, once per floor.  My favorite is Kuu Case, which effectively gives you another 8 slots of inventory.  On the other side of the coin, there are a few skills that really hurt you, especially "So Hungry", where Kuu will eat any items it walks over.  Yes, it will even auto eat the ones that damage it, or outright kill him.  The skills it learns at level up are random, and it can hold 4 at a time.  Kuu's level is also reset when you leave the dungeon, and its skills are lost, too.  You will learn to put up with Kuu because you have to, but it tends to be more trouble than its worth.

You can have up to eight skills equipped, and each one has it own set of uses per dungeon, which I liked.  Your learn new skills by reading books, and many of the skills can be powered up by reading another of the same book.  I kept a few magic spells and physical attacks on my list, and rounded it out with a few support, namely, the appraisal skill.  It's really handy to find out if the unidentified item you picked up is even worth lugging around.  Normal attacks are just done with the X Button, but the weapon equipped can effect it in fun ways, all because of "seals".  Seals are basically passive skills that you can put on a piece of equipment.  For weapons, you can attack two or three panels in a line in front of you, or a column of three in front of you.  You can apply different elements or status effects to your attacks.  Some are super useful, and can easily be placed on any weapon you want to use.

Since you don't keep your level upon exiting the dungeon, the best way to make yourself stronger is by strengthening equipment.  There are two ways to do this: using it and fusing it.  Using it is self explanatory, and will change its name and make it stronger plus it increases the number of slots it has for extra seals.  Fusing is a bit more complicated.  You can increase the rank of a weapon by fusing it with a weapon that has a rank (ie: +2), and the ranks are added together.  You can only get this benefit if the items are of the same type, like two staves or two shields.  Skills can be transferred between types, as long as the items can actually grant that ability.  The tutorial explained it, but I didn't realize at first that you only increase the rank if you fuse items that have a rank.  Once I got that down, I was making better items in no time.  I really like this part of the game.  Sure, it could be deeper, or allow me to replace abilities I no longer want, but with some time, effort, and luck, you can make some really powerful pieces of equipment and smash your way through the bosses.

The enemies you encounter are only half of the dangers you face.  Many do things that are just plain mean.  There are fish maids that destroy items lying around (by "cleaning" them), enemies that steal your stuff and even ones that change or destroy things in your inventory.  It can get annoying to have a rare item get completely ruined because a monster came up and just destroyed it for no reason.  The other half of the dangers are the trapped chests and some of the items.  Chest traps can range from the mild, like dropping you down a floor or damaging you, to the severe, like dropping the rank of your equipped items by 3.  Ouch.  Some items you find literally have no positive uses.  Here's my favorite: there's a scroll that makes you lose all your current money.  Why would you even put that in a game?  Throwing it at the enemy does almost no damage, so I have no idea what you would want to use it for.  Overall, my biggest complaint with the game is just how mean some of that stuff is.

The game itself is a little short, as there are only 5 real dungeons to explore in the story.  They get long quickly, and beating the game will unlock some more to dive into.  Even so, it can take a few trips through the dungeons, depending on if you get good drops, get into trouble, or even get defeated in them.  If you are so inclined, there are also books that collect all the different items and monsters you encounter, and weapons and shields must be used to unlock higher versions, so repeated trips will be necessary to fill them out.  You can also unlock costume pieces for Pururu by completing dungeons many times each.  Considering the dungeons are random each time you enter them, repeated trips are not near as boring as it might sound.  If you want to do a lot in the game, there is lots to do.  If you just want to complete the story, it can take anywhere from 10-30 hours.  Although, the in-game clock will not stop if you put the game in sleep mode.  Not a deal breaker, but always a pet peeve of mine.  While I played a lot, I'm sure I haven't played the game for the equivalent of 8 days... yet.

Some trophies are acquired from making your way through the story, and the higher ones will have you fill out the monster and item books, which can take a good chunk of time and effort.  There's even some for being defeated... so you at least get something for losing your stuff.  The hardest trophies on the list are mostly just time consuming, not actually difficult.  There are a few DLC costumes for the game, but be warned that you only have access to them while you are connected to the internet.

Sorcery Saga is a fun game, although it can be really mean.  It adds some new mechanics to the genre, like the forest maps and Kuu, but they are a mixed bag.  Making items is fun, the story is humorous, and the characters are likable.  All in all, a fun game that can be played in bursts, but is best left for when you have a chunk of time set aside to traverse the dungeons.  I frequently found myself going back to play it for a few minutes, only to sit there for an hour dungeon diving and looting.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rainbow Moon (Vita) Review

About a year and a half ago, Rainbow Moon came out for the PS3, and it has now found its way to the Vita.  The entire experience has translated very well, as it looks and sounds as good as the PS3 version.  The world of Rainbow Moon is very detailed, from lush forests to cluttered basements.  The music fits well for each location, and there even some voices in the game.  It's not really spoken dialog as much as it is battle noises and mutterings from townspeople and shops when you speak with them.  Still, a good visual and audible experience.

While movement is done on an appropriate-sized map, battles are all done like a grid-based strategy RPG.  You will have a limited field to move around on, and speed will determine turn order.  If you have ever played Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, it is similar to that.  You move around a field, and contact with an enemy or a random encounter will shift the battle to a small scale SRPG field.  At first, you only have one character and can take one action a turn.  While it at first seems like there is no strategy involved in the strategy RPG, things change once you hit level 5 or so.  That's when you get your first sub-action.

Each sub-action allows you to do something in your turn, and your turn does not end until you have used them all or defended.  Soon after you will get your first extra character, and the tactics start to become apparent.  Should you move closer to attack or use a skill?  Should you end your turn guarding or do one more attack to kill one of the monsters around you?  Since bosses are a higher level than your party (unless you do a lot of grinding), you will need to use some tactics to defeat them.  There's even a rock-paper-scissors like compatibility chart for weapons to further change up the battles.  It is a lot harder to take advantage of that, since you can only have three characters in battle at a time and a character can't swap weapon types.

You get up to six characters, each using one of the weapons types in the game.  You can have up to three of them in a battle at a time, though.  A character's MP is used for their various skills, most of which must be purchased in the game.  The cost of each skill scroll will increase for any subsequent purchases, so if it's a skill that multiple characters can learn, expect to pay if you want to teach multiple people.  Also note that being able to equip amulets is a skill, so you have to purchase that ability for everyone.  Ugh.  The skills themselves are pretty useful, but the area of effect is a bit odd.  The effect square(s) is different from the targeting square, and the targeting area is where the targeting square must be.  So, in essence, some skills allow you to hit outside of what you would normally consider the area of effect, but cannot hit right next to the user.  It's strange, but you can get used to it after awhile.

Fights can be a mixed bag.  Most times, good tactics can overcome some uneven odds.  However, random encounters have random assortments of monsters from the area.  So, one fight might be against 2 of one enemy, and the next might be against 11 enemies of four different types.  Some of the bosses have more than 14 extra monsters in the fight!  The random fights definitely seems so, but thankfully you have to press the X Button to actually start the fight, so you can ignore them if you want.  That's really helpful when you need to get back to town, or are making your way through a dungeon, or just don't want to fight 10 enemies that all can poison you.  Speaking of that, poison is super powerful in the game.  In battle, it only damages you at the end of your turn (not every sub-action), but it takes more than 10% of your max health when it does damage you.  Ouch.

Besides gaining stats upon a level up, you can visit a special trainer called a Savant and exchange Rainbow Pearls to increase a particular stat.  I like that these can be used to tailor the character and either make them better at what they do or cover for a weakness.  Each level has purchasing limits, and stats cost varying amounts of pearls, but it's still fun.  The only problem I have is that only the character that gets the killing blow will obtain the pearls from the monster.  This can make it harder for newer or lower level characters to catch up to the rest.

The game can get pretty long.  It can take about 40 hours to complete the main story, and much of that time will be spent grinding so you can effectively fight the enemies in the next area.  If you intend to use more than the three starting characters, you will have to spend time to get pearls so their stats can improve.  You'll also need to get lots of money to afford equipment and skill scrolls.  It's very reminiscent of old-school JRPGs in those respects.

Looking at the PSN store, there is a lot of extra stuff you can buy.  Most of it is extra money and pearls for the characters.  These are very useful, if only to cut down on the huge chunk of time spent grinding.  However, that time spent grinding will help with the trophy for playing for 100 hours if you intend to platinum the game.  There's also a trophy for hitting level 500, which will take a long time.  Most trophies are for going through the story, and the last few are for spending lots of time with the game, getting lots of money and high levels.  It's one of the better lists for an RPG, since I prefer most of them for going through the game and a few for things to be done after finishing the story, rather than several at the beginning, and most at the end of the game.

Rainbow Moon offers an interesting mix of traditional RPGs and strategy RPGs.  Battles are entertaining and have some good strategy once you start getting characters, skills and sub-actions.  The game is fun, but seems heavy on grinding.  Time-wise, you do get a lot of bang for your buck.  It's a good game for anyone that likes RPGs to check out, especially on the Vita.  It's really good to play it for a few spare minutes or for a few hours.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

DLC Quest (PC) Review

Ever since trying the demo of DLC Quest when it was released on the Xbox Live Indie games section, I wanted to play the full version.  I picked it up during a Steam sale a bit ago and finished playing both it and the Live Freemium or Die sequel.

The core of DLC Quest is to lampoon the industry and how it pushes DLC on the consumer.  Boy, does it do it really well, too.  At first you can only move to the right and must "purchase" the DLC to be able to move left and jump.  Now, I should clarify (since the game does too) that you purchase DLC packs in the game with in-game coins, not real money.  It's a parody of the industry, not a money grab, after all.

Besides not being able to move anywhere other than right at first, your character also isn't animated.  That's an extra "charge".  Did you want to pause?  Get the DLC for it.  Music and sound effects?  Yup, gotta buy that from the store too.  It's a bit heavy-handed in DLC Quest, but less so for Live Freemium or Die.  However, that's really the point of the game, and it does it very well.

The style of the game is a very retro 8-bit style, like the old Super Mario Bros.  It looks fine (since I rather like old style-graphics) and plays well, even on my older PC.  I would recommend using a controller for the game, since it is a platformer, and playing those on a keyboard is painful.  I realize that might not be true for everyone, but it's great to have the option of using the keyboard or plugging in a controller.  I used the Xbox 360 controller, and had no issues with it, even with the infamous D-pad it has.

It took about 30-40 minutes to beat DLC Quest and get all the coins and awardments.  Yes, there are fake achievements in the game, and they make fun of "real" ones as much as you would expect considering the nature of the game.  There are a few hidden things (more in the sequel), and I didn't really get lost in the game.  It wasn't very hard, since there are no real enemies, but more of a relaxing, comical take on the industry.

The sequel, Live Freemium or Die, took about 90 minutes to beat, but there was one part where I was confused what to do to continue.  It's also a bit more challenging, since there are enemies (remember to buy the sword DLC) and death traps, but still not very hard.  In some ways, it's even funnier than the first entry.  Early on there's a load screen, which will immediately stand out in a retro game, and you have to buy the "Day 1 Patch" to get rid of them.  The game is funny, as does hit the nail on the head with a lot of its humor.

As stated earlier, it's less heavy-handed about the whole "DLC being out of control" thing, however, it does still make fun of it... a lot.  It's also a better game.  However, they are both very much worth buying and playing, especially if you have a sense of humor about the industry or are just tired of so many things being piecemealed out of a game to be sold separately for the "full" experience.  It won't set you back much time (or money if you wait for a sale), and is worth it for a good laugh.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies (3DS) Review

It's no secret I like the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games.  After playing the first one, and getting gripped by the story, I enjoyed the next two games almost as much.  The Edgeworth and Apollo Justice games failed to grab me in the same way, so I was happy to see the next game in the series, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies was a return to playing as Phoenix (and a really long name).

The previous games all had amazing sprite animation, so I was a bit hesitant when I saw that Capcom transitioned it into cel-shaded 3D graphics.  It's not quite as good, but they are still done really well.  The returning characters and all their various animations are faithfully represented.  New characters have lots of animations and fit right in with the rest of the cast.  Also, the 3D effect in the game is the best I have seen to date in a game.  Besides all the playable parts being in 3D, the animated sequences are also in 3D, and they look amazing.  This is so far the only game that I would actually recommend playing a lot with the 3D slider on.

The flow of the game is relatively steady.  You start off with a bit of story to set the (murder) scene, and the body is quickly discovered.  You will gather some clues and talk to witnesses, piecing together some of what transpired.  You will then defend your client in a courtroom battle.  For any subsequent days (the legal system in the game allows for a maximum of a three day trial), you will do another investigation and then another courtroom section.  The game can be played completely on the touch screen, or you can opt to use buttons.  I usually use buttons for forwarding through text and selection locations to go to, and the touch screen for various other functions.  One nice upgrade from previous games is the checkmarks on places and objects you have already investigated.  No more poking around and hoping to find the exact pixel you need, since you can readily see what you have and haven't investigated yet.  This makes it harder to get lost and/or stuck during parts of the game.

If you have played any of the other Ace Attorney games, you know that there is an overarching plot that is connected to each case and gets resolved in the final one.  The same is true here.  The connection is not readily apparent, but by the end you will see how it all connects together.  It's really well written and the dialogue and details tie into the main plot.  Well, almost all of the details.  There were a few things that probably aren't that important that just seemed to be dropped as the plot moved on.

Without spoiling the story, there was a part during the fifth and final case where I thought we were going to have a crazy courtroom showdown, but it ended up not happening.  There's also a twist that is well concealed, and ends up making sense, but I didn't want to happen.  Mostly because it involves a character I liked.  Besides that, there is some character development for Apollo Justice that makes him better in my eyes.  If this game had come first, I would have been happy to play the game starring him, and I wouldn't have felt like he was just some terrible replacement for Phoenix.

The returning mechanics of Psyche-Locks (for Phoenix) and perceiving people's lying (Apollo) are accompanied by new character Athena's emotional perception.  During certain testimonies, she will turn on her computer (called Widget) and be able to sense the emotions of the witness.  It is a fun mechanic, but it is definitely a video game mechanic.  Most of the lines when pointing out things just feel silly, like "when you talked about that last part I sensed some happiness".  If you are willing to look past the awkwardness of it, it's a fun mechanic and not too hard to use.  Also, I should note that it feels like Apollo's ability has been made easier.  He can perceive people's tells when they are lying, and they felt much easier to spot in this game.  It might be because you don't use it very often, but I had no trouble spotting them this time.

There are five chapters, and each one can take about 1 and a half to 3 hours each, depending on how much extra pressing and talking you do.  Knowing exactly which item to present and when to do it will, of course, cut down that time.  Like the previous games, the first case is also a tutorial, but thankfully it is a longer case and feels more like a "real" case than a tutorial one.  There isn't much reason to replay the cases, other than re-experiencing the story, or to try and pick up any foreshadowing that you didn't realize was there.  Thankfully, you can jump to different points in each chapter, so you wouldn't have to replay the whole thing if you only want to redo a specific part.

Dual Destinies has some DLC, the first of which was a costume for each of the three main characters.  It was free for the first month, and it was worth it to put Phoenix in his old getup.  Yeah, it's pretty similar to his new stuff, but I had him in the old suit for the whole game.  There's also at least one new case you can buy for an extra $6.  The other Ace Attorney games had 4 or 5 cases, so I don't feel like this was content cut out of the final game so it could be sold separately.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies is a great game.  The story is really good, the dialogue is top notch, and the 3D is the best I have experienced to date.  It might not be quite as good as the first game, but it is still a game that fans of the series should play.  If you haven't played any of the Ace Attorney games, I highly recommend starting from the beginning and play through at least the first three.  Although, you don't need to know much about them to enjoy Dual Destinies, since they explain all of the important stuff from previous entries.  If you like deep involved stories, or even battles of wits in the courtroom, give the game a playthrough and you'll have no objections!