Thursday, April 24, 2014
My wife comes home and sees me playing the Vita. "Oh, is that the new game you got today?" she asks.
"Yeah, it's called Conception II. It's an RPG where you have to pair up with these women to make 'star children' and go into dungeons with them." I reply to her.
"Sounds neat." She looks at the girls and points at Narika. "This one's your favorite, huh?"
"Are you insinuating that the shy, nice, long-haired, clumsy, busty girl is my favorite?"
She just stares at me.
"Well...yeah, she is." I say as I slump my shoulders and continue playing.
While Conception II has some really nice character art during conversations, it's even more impressive that they have movement to them. Not just the breathing and blinking stuff that has been in other JRPGs over the past few years, but they actually transition to their various poses, instead of just changing pictures. It's cool to see such nice artwork actually move, too. Characters have two models, their 2D and their 3D ones, and scenes will sometimes switch between them. Plot scenes will usually use the 2D while the events to raise affection will use the 3D. At first it was a bit jarring to have two different models of the characters used so much, but I quickly got used to it.
One of the first things you have to do in the game is "classmate" to create star children. Yes, it's suggestive, but isn't near as graphic or dirty as it sounds. That doesn't stop the game from playing up that angle, though. Since three children make one unit for battle, and a child's max level raises the stronger the parents are, it is one aspect of the game you will have to use. A lot. It's easy to do since there are many classes and combinations to play around with, and you get plenty of Bond Points for viewing events with the different girls. And by "viewing events", I mean raising their affection for you.
If you have played a game like Persona 4 or Thousand Arms, then the concept will be familiar to you. Each time you enter town from a dungeon, you can spend time with up to three of the girls and raise their affection for you. This level and their mood will affect the stats of the star children, so it is also something you will be doing a lot of. The game makes continuing the story its own selectable option, so you there's no pressure to get each event/date "just right". If you want other ways to raise the ladies' affections, you could always give them a gift. Once you raise the town's level by releasing your children, a shop opens up that will sell gifts to give them. Several of them are actual costume pieces that you can put on them after giving it to them. Hopefully you are comfortable being nice to your party members and making babies with them because it's a very important function of the game. Yes, that sounds strange to say but it's true.
Dungeons are a random series of rooms connected by hallways. They look different from each other, but aren't really that interesting to explore or look at. Fights are represented by monster shapes wandering around each floor, and the color and size of the shape shows its relative strength. When in a battle, your character's speed will help determine the order they move in. When attacking or using a skill, you can also change your position relative to the enemy. There are four positions- front, back and both sides- that can be occupied by your four groups. Each enemy has at least one position that, if attacked, will take more damage. Skills will also have a location that will yield more damage if it is used there. Combine that with the chain gauge that can be very helpful on strong enemies and you have a fairly unique and deep system. There's even a way for a group of your children to merge into a powerful robot called Mecunite. It is really powerful, and best reserved for boss battles. Currently, I haven't found a way for my actual kids to do that, but I'm going to figure it out. Yay robots!
Doing all events and sub-dungeons will run you about 60 hours, which is really impressive for an RPG nowadays. Just doing the main dungeons would probably be about 40. The game isn't very hard, as you can grind easily or even leave and restart on any floor you've reached. The trophies aren't that difficult either. It's a pretty standard list with trophies for killing monsters, clearing dungeons, viewing events and getting endings with all the ladies. Not a hard list, but it can be time consuming.
If you like dungeon crawling RPGs or light dating-sim elements, you should like playing Conception II. It's a lengthy game for you money. While it lacks a lot of touch screen functionality, it plays and looks really good on the Vita. Some people might have a hard time looking past the seemingly risque nature of the game, but those that do will find a fun RPG. If you are still undecided, try out the demo, since the progress carries over and you get some goodies!
Friday, April 18, 2014
After being killed by famed ninja Ryu Hayabusa, Yaiba is reborn as a cyborg and aims to take revenge. To do so, he will have to follow Ryu through an infected Russian facility and battle zombies. That's the crazy set-up to Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. It's definitely a side story to the long running Ninja Gaiden franchise, and it doesn't take itself too seriously. The plot alone should have told you as much.
Instead of being super realistic, Yaiba opts to have a cel shaded look that resembles a comic book. It looks great and fits the over-the-top nature of the game. With the grisly execution animations, blood everywhere, swearing an several other things, the game is very unapologetically "M" rated. The voices are well done, even if Yaiba himself has a gravely voice, as if he is trying out to be a Nolan Batman.
Many, many times throughout the game you will find yourself in combat. There are three different attacks, sword, arm and flail, and each has different ranges, strengths and uses. It's actually balanced pretty well, since you will be using them all at various points. Each one is mapped to a different button, which makes the combos very free-flowing. You can also get some temporary sub-weapons for executing some of the more powerful enemies. These have durability, and thus are gone after a few hits, but are useful while you have them. Several of them also have elements, which can be combined for devastating effect. I really like this aspect. If you light an electric guy on fire (or shock a fire zombie), the two elements combine in a massive electrical storm, damaging all enemies nearby. Every element combines with the others for other combos. There's even some for mixing three together. Crazy, fun, powerful and useful.
While combat is fun, it is also very unforgiving. Enemies attack quickly, and it can be hard to react (or I'm really old). Enemies sometimes can dodge your attacks, which seems weird considering they are zombies. The game reminds you to block (thanks loading screen tip) but it doesn't seem to actually work for me. Most attacks I try to block just go right through it. You are supposed to ninja dodge by blocking at the right time, but sadly I never pulled it off. Nope, not even once. Enemies also auto-correct their attacks, so dodging is also not as helpful as it should be. If you have to fight a spread of enemies that have distance attacks, have fun trying to fight one while getting bombarded from the others. Sadly, the best bet in those situations is to sit back and just reflect the projectile by guarding at the right time (which I did get to work). To me, sitting back and constantly countering is not very action oriented, but re-action oriented.
If an enemy has taken enough damage, they can be executed in spectacular fashion. Once you purchase an upgrade by leveling up, you can chain together up to ten executions. The game didn't tell me how, so it was pretty frustrating until I figured it out (R2 again when the execution animation slows down). I think my favorite execution is to the walking leg enemies, where he just kicks them in the crotch. Quick and funny. Doing enough executions will fill up your blood lust. Activating Blood Lust mode will make Yaiba invincible and much stronger. It is really useful on the tougher fights, but it doesn't let you execute enemies, which can be bad for the special zombies. So while really nice, it can still hurt you if you use it. Ugh.
Fighting large groups of zombies isn't too bad unless they have some ranged attacks. Even then, it was doable with some patience. The special zombies (the ones that give the sub-weapons) that can be really annoying to fight. If the game throws two at you at the same time, be prepared to get smacked around. A few times they throw three or more at you, which is incredibly frustrating. The game is hard, and it's possible to die even on the easiest setting. On the hardest, you are a one hit kill. So if you like punishing difficulty, you will definitely get your fill in Yaiba.
When not in combat, Yaiba must traverse the environment to advance. This is usually the best time to look for collectibles, although you can't really move the camera to make it easier to see. When it comes time to platform, they are done more like QTE minigames than actual platforming. You jump and run up certain walls, use your flail to swing and even your arm to crash through weak walls. During these sections, there are small checkpoints along the way, so if you fall, you don't have to go back far. It definitely looks nice, but occasionally I wasn't sure what I needed to do to advance. The game doesn't remind you what buttons to press and won't offer any hints, so be sure to remember the buttons for the platforming sections. These portions of the game are also very "video-gamey" in that they don't really make sense other than to be harder for the player to navigate. For example, spinning pipes that do nothing but spit out fire. You will only find those in videogames, and you'll find a fair amount in Yaiba.
There are 7 missions to clear in the game, and the playtime of each can range from 10 minutes to 2 hours. Of course this depends on your skill and how many times you have to retry certain fights or areas. If you manage to complete the game, there's several difficulties to master, and even an "arcade" mode that is somewhat reminiscent of the old original Ninja Gaiden arcade game. Of course there's also some collectibles to get, most of which will actually increase your stats, making the game easier. You can decent playtime if you do it on more than one difficulty, go for the collectibles, or try for the platinum. Otherwise, it'll be about a 10 hour game or so. Most of the trophies are obtained by going through the story, but to get the golds, you'll have to test your skills and patience to finish the game on the hardest settings.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is pretty fun when it isn't being a jerk to you. It can be punishing, even on the easiest setting, and doesn't hold you hand at all. The game looks great and has some fun action. It also wants you to move and fight super fast, and doesn't care if you can't keep up. It's definitely a Ninja Gaiden game, even if it doesn't take it self seriously. A good game for fans of the franchise to make up for Ninja Gaiden 3 and hold them off until the inevitable Ninja Gaiden 4.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
An expansion to last year's game, Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends (XL) adds 5 new characters, each with their own weapon type, new theoretical stages, additional Ambition Mode content and a story mode for one of the game's most notorious characters, Lu Bu. Importing a save from the base game will allow you to retain your character levels, progress, weapons and money. Well worth doing if you played Dynasty Warriors 8 (and you should, check the past review here, which also explains the combat in more detail).
After all these years and iterations of the game, Lu Bu finally gets his own story mode. It's well done, and is pretty much possible because they made Chen Gong (and Lu Bu's daughter) playable characters. Chen Gong's weapon is a bamboo scroll, and his charge attacks summon phantom soldiers for various attacks. It's not a bad weapon, but not as great as it sounds. Its storm rush is amazing though. Lu Bu's daughter, Lu Lingqi, uses the cross pike, which was Lu Bu's revamped weapon in DW6. I actually liked that weapons in 6, but it's not quite as good here. The other added characters are Yu Jin for Wei, Zhu Ran for Wu and Fa Zheng for Shu. Yu Jin and his trident are my favorite of the bunch, as his weapons is really good. Fa's cloth is interesting but not too strong, and Zhu's flame bow is...well, I don't really like it.
Besides Lu Bu's story and hypothetical routes, there are new hypothetical stages added for the other four kingdoms. If you convert the save file from DW8, you can also play the story stages of those kingdoms. Of course, within the added stages are more feats to accomplish to unlock some of the stages. There has also been new content added to Ambition mode. Easily my favorite part of the vanilla game, I was eager to try it out. Sadly, the additional stuff isn't as good as the standard Ambition mode, as it involves a lot of grinding. It's much more similar to the core of Dynasty Warriors, since they are actual battles, not just small scale ones, but you have to do them on the harder difficulties, or complete them quickly multiple times to unlock another one. Then repeat that over and over again to unlock them all and subjugate all the regions. While I'm happy they extended Ambition mode, the extension just isn't as good.
There's some other changes or additions, like Leadership experience. Before, you could equip any officer unlocked in Ambition mode as a bodyguard. Up to 3 can be equipped now, but each has a cost. Your character's leadership level determines the max value that you can equip. Purposefully, the playable officers each cost over the default max, so you will have to level it up to start having Dian Wei or Zhao Yun follow you around and help out. It sadly can't be leveled up in Ambition mode, but can in Free mode by ordering around your bodyguards. Another addition to the game is gems used for weapon fusion. You can now easily transfer skills from one weapon to another in order to make super beefy weapons. You have to earn the gems, a few at a time, from Ambition mode fights or free mode. It would have been nice to have the ability to purchase some, since I still have lots of money left over from DW8, and not much to do with it.
The trophy list has a few "first time" ones, for fusing a weapon and other functions of the game. A lot of the others involve putting many hours into the game, such as beating every stage on the hardest difficulty, getting the highest ranking on each stage, and getting every feat in them, too. If you didn't convert your save from DW8, it will take even longer, since you won't have the boosted levels, weapons or money to hit the ground running. The overall list is a bit end-heavy for my taste, but since they assume you will port over your save, they couldn't make them tons of trophies pop for doing very little.
If you enjoy Dynasty Warriors 8 and long to continue the experience, the Xtreme Legends expansion is worth the money. The added story mode and stages will keep you occupied for several hours, and the revamped Ambition mode, while not as good, while also add many hours for you to play. If you don't have Dynasty Warriors 8 and have either a PS4 or a Vita, I'd recommend just getting the DW8 Complete Edition, so you get both the core game and the expansion. The file for just the expansion is a massive 26GB on PS3, so I have no idea how big the complete editions are. So... you might want to track down a physical copy.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Captain America: Spring Sensation or Winter Waste?
By: Aly Hand
By: Aly Hand
Okay, so let me start off by saying I don’t normally review movies. Opinions are a dime a dozen, and everyone has one. That being said, I feel this one is actually worth talking about. My husband and I have had a long-standing discussion over whether or not it’s worth having individual Marvel hero movies after the introduction of The Avengers. Both of us believe it doesn't exactly make sense to have a movie like Iron Man 3, where there’s a big bad guy and lots of action, yet no one other than Tony Stark is ever involved. You’d think a terrorist like The Mandarin would show up on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar, but apparently Nick Fury was too busy that day to bother sending Cap out to help.
Captain America: the Winter Soldier is definitely a movie worth seeing in theaters. Even without any of the other Avengers (with the exception of Black Widow), this movie manages to stand solidly on its own. The story is engaging, the plot progresses smoothly, and there’s plenty of action to feed the drooling masses. I was a little nervous going in, because whenever I see a run time of more than two hours, I wonder just how much of the movie will be filler. Sweeping landscape shots are very pretty and all, but I don’t need to stare at New Zealand for ten minutes (looking at you, Hobbit.) The movie starts out with a simple character interaction, something that shows off how much more advanced Cap is, yet still paints him as a human being with a desire to be a part of society, to connect, to make friends and right wrongs.
It progresses fairly quickly into the action, without a lot of “woe is me; I’m so lonely” hand-wringing, which was a relief. The banter between characters is real and honest, and while it was relatively easy to pinpoint who the “bad guy” was, it took much longer to learn why. The story never dragged, and while the film could have been tightened up here and there it never seemed like scenes were uncomfortably long. Action scenes were well-done, with the fighting looking natural and realistic rather than staged. I will say there’s a scene towards the beginning that seemed as though it was at risk of falling into the “you’re beating me but I’m going to pull a victory out of thin air because I’m the title character” trope, but it felt as though the director, producer, and actors all realized it quickly enough to put a conclusive end to the fight before it got there. There were times, however, when the natural action progressed too quickly and too abruptly, and I was left wondering what had happened. While this is very realistic, it isn't necessarily the best choice for a movie, simply because my expectations for a knock-down, dragged-out fight weren't met. There was too much going on and it was over too quickly for me to get my brain wrapped around what was happening until it was over.
For all its positives, though, there were some negatives as well. For one, and without spoiling anything, when I started thinking about it there were facets of the plot that just didn't make sense. They relied on Nick Fury missing some key intel, and I have a hard time believing it with how they've portrayed the character. Also, what happens in the movie is significant for the entire Marvel-verse, which makes me wonder how it will affect other movies and the oft-maligned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. In an effort to maintain a spoiler-free review, I’m not going to say much more about this, but for those who believe the movies should follow one of the already-established comic series cannons the events of Winter Soldier will prove to be both nerd-gasmic and disappointing.
The introduction of The Falcon was done extremely well. At no point during the movie did I see a character and say to myself, “well that’s obviously Falcon, duh”. He also seemed very human, understanding his limits and his capabilities without trying to promote himself as ‘better’ than anyone else. At no point did he try and compete with Cap for the role of leader or hero, and it was a welcome thing to see. I would even go so far as to say he was the best portrayed character of the film, because he seemed to be someone who knew his capabilities and his limits, and how to work within them, yet still come out looking like a badass.
Black Widow came out of the movie more human, more reachable, and I have yet to decide if this is a good direction for the character or not. There are hints of a potential romance between her and Cap, as well as between her and Hawkeye, and while she has always been portrayed as brutally efficient, I could easily see her forming some kind of emotional attachment to the people she fights with. At the same time, that kind of emotion-driven interaction is very out of character for Widow, who even in Winter Soldier is shown to be ruthless and focused on her missions first. It’ll be interesting to see how the character evolves from here, either as a more human, more loveable Natasha or as a cold, calculating assassin in Black Widow.
Of everyone, though, the most obvious growth as a character centers entirely around Cap. Not only do we see him trying to integrate himself into a society he doesn't understand, and try to do it without sacrificing his own values, but we also see him coping with his own personal demons and confronting both the beautiful and the ugly of his personal past. He has to integrate the life and values of Steve Rogers with the duty and power of Captain America. He’s forced to realize his whole life is a no-win scenario, and that there’s a knife waiting for him around every corner. Okay, maybe not that bad. There’s a few scenes that emphasize not everyone is out to kill Cap, and that maybe he has more friends than he thinks.
Overall, I would definitely recommend Captain America: the Winter Soldier to fans of Marvel, fans of action films, or just anyone looking for a good way to spend a couple hours. I wouldn't recommend it for very young children, as the violence and occasional language might be too much for some parents. Older children, like teenagers, would likely enjoy it, and adults of all ages will find something to enjoy, whether it’s the action or the story.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
One of the more unique games I played way back on the original Playstation was Deception. Players were tasked with setting traps in a mansion to kill intruders. It was a great concept, since you didn't fight them directly, but instead lured your unsuspecting foes into the crazy hazards you placed. Deception IV: Blood Ties is the latest in that series, and has a similar concept: use your traps to kill foes that you have lured to their doom.
The basics for each battle are the same. Enemies will enter your area 1 to 3 at a time, and chase you down, trying to kill you. You can set a few traps in each room to deplete their health and kill them or force them to flee. The game starts out really fun. One target at a time allows you time to make combos and easily fulfill the daemon's requests. Two at a time becomes harder, and three at a time can be downright brutal, especially when one of them is a distance fighter (archer, mage, etc). Planning your traps and combining them effectively was key, so it's a shame that sometimes they don't seem to work as advertised. It seemed like any little thing would ensure the whole trap combo would go completely wrong, resulting in frustration and probably a loss of your health. Combine that with how little you can do to defend yourself while waiting for the traps to recharge or even fleeing to the next room ensures you have to be careful, precise and skillful to even complete the level.
After every few targets, you get a score and a small break. Then it's back into the lair to do it again. After every boss/major target, you get a break where you can save and buy skills or traps. You move to a new location after a few major targets, which keeps the areas fresh, since they have new layouts and hazards to subject your victims to. The progression can also be a hindrance, since you have to defeat several "waves" of enemies before you can save. If you've beaten nine out of 10 guys, then finally succumb to their relentless chase, you have to do it all over again. Very annoying, given how hard it can be to make the trap combo work right. Also it's silly how lethal these traps look, but how little damage they do. I can't decide if I'd prefer less targets each stretch between saves, or have more guys, but they each have far less health, so these wonderfully sadistic traps were actually menacing. I mean, you can push a guy in molten metal, and he just comes out the bottom missing 1/3 of his health. Not even the Terminator was that tough!
Some enemies also have resistances or immunity to certain types of damage or traps. Resistance means they can avoid the trap, but will take damage from it if they are hit into it during a combo. Immunity mean just that, but those enemies are wearing heavy armor, which is breakable. Actually breaking it is another story, since each one has different traps that will break their armor. Later ones must have all of the damage types in one combo to successfully break it. It's rewarding when it is pulled off, but very hard to do without, again, more trial and error.
Besides story, there are a few other modes for you to test or hone your skills. There is a mission mode that unlocks part way through the story, which tasks you with killing one or more targets while also fulfilling certain requirements. Requirements range from doing it in a time limit, finishing a target off with a certain trap and even taking no damage. The best mode is Cross Quest. You can use stages and characters that you have unlocked to make your own challenge levels. Levels are able to be uploaded and downloaded, so you can always find more or subject people to your crazy designs. To round it out, there is also a Free Mode to practice your traps and combos against any opponent (or opponents) that you have encountered in the story.
The game has several chapters and four different endings to obtain. It is pretty difficult, at least for me, so while it doesn't seem that long, it takes a lot of trial and error and repeating portions to be able to pass each chapter. The trophies have a good split: some for completion, others for killing enemies, breaking armor, completing missions and playing missions in Cross Quest mode. A decent spread and a good challenge, considering how hard it can be just to get through the story, let alone the harder missions in Mission mode.
The concept of Deception IV is so great that it's a shame the game gets so frustrating. Landing a trap combo is so satisfying, but running around trying to get people in them is not. If you have the time and will to master the game, there is a fun time to be had, and making your own levels and playing other people's will give the game lots of longevity. Too bad it can be so annoying.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a third person action RPG from NIS. Players will guide the Hundred Knight, who was summoned by the very angry swamp witch Metallia, and carry out her will to spread the swamp throughout the world.
The graphics are decent, and the story scene character models look good. Each different area is distinct from the previous one, and the enemy models all look nice. The game is dual audio, and the English voices are pretty good. Metallia does have a very foul mouth, which surprised me. Suffice it to say I didn't play the story portions around impressionable young ears. The music sounds like it belongs in the Disgaea games. Upon first hearing it, my wife thought that the game was a Disgaea game until she saw it in action.
As mentioned before, the game starts with Metallia, the swamp witch, summoning the Hundred Knight to spread the swamp throughout the world, and with it, her power and influence. The tutorial is pulled off really well, since you are a new creature and don't know what you are capable of until told to do things. Metallia is a very unlikable character, but that's the point. She is countered very well by her back-talking servant, Arlecchino. The two make a very interesting duo, and there are even more strange characters to meet during the course of the game.
When I first saw the trailers for the game, I thought it was a mystery dungeon style game. While it has very light elements of that, The Witch and the Hundred Knight is an action RPG. The dungeons are not random, and there's not a massive amount of loot to gather in them. Players control the Hundred Knight as he makes his way through each area, fighting monsters and making pillars bloom to spread the swamp. You can set up to five weapons as your combo string. It's helpful since you can cover all damage types, or just switch to take advantage of a particular enemy's weakness. It's also fun since you can mix it up and make whatever combo you want. Sure, you get bonus damage and grade for setting them in order of their damage die number (the weird symbol on their info page), but you don't have to. While you can mash attack and make your way through a lot of the game, there is a lot of depth to the combat if you make use of it, and it makes the game easier.
One resource you have to manage while away from the swamp is Gigacals. What are Gigacals? Well, they represent the energy of the Hundred Knight, and are one of the elements borrowed from mystery dungeon style games. Since he is a summoned familiar, he can only exist for so long away from Metallia's magic. Uncovering the map, restoring HP and regaining stamina will all take Gigacals. You will also lose a chunk if you run out of HP. In that instance, you will be returned to the latest small pillar and lose some Gigacals and an item or two. If you don't have Gigacals when you fall, you return to the witch's swamp and lose all items and 50% of the experience you gathered in the dungeon. It's not the most strict, but it's another thing taken from mystery dungeon games to make the game more unique. There's a few other things added, like facets, grade bonus, witch domination and mystical dodge to give the game more depth. Facets are similar to job classes, and give different passive skills while grade can be used in a dungeon to increase different parameters.
There are a few different weapon types, like swords, magic staves and hammers, which have different damage types. While you don't find massive amounts of loot during each trip, finding stuff and getting more from the bonuses will make the bulk of your item acquisition. Stores sell things, but the price seemed absurdly high for what you get. Some items sell for a lot too, so it's best to sell them off when near the limit. Sadly, the limit of each usable item isn't that high, and you only know it when you hit it, and it's different for each item. If you get one when at the limit, it is automatically discarded, which sucks since you just lose out on any money you would have gotten for selling it. I'm not sure why that bothered me, since I didn't actually buy anything in the game, so I had no real use for the money.
Each different area is deceptively large. At first it only takes a half hour to go through one, but it quickly starts taking much longer, especially when you take trips back to Metallia's hut to sell things or save your game. With each chapter taking up to a few hours, the game is about 40-50 hours total in length. I did have the game freeze on me twice, so taking the extra time in each dungeon to go back and save was well worth it. At first I thought it was my system, since the install and loading of the game took longer than I would think, but it seems others have had the game lock up as well. Hopefully it will get a patch like Disgaea D2 to fix it soon.
Trophies in The Witch and the Hundred Knight are pretty straightforward. You get pretty much all of them just for making your way through the story. There are three different ones for the three different endings, but creative use of saving can take a lot of the time out of those. Unfortunately, the trophy list is hidden, but the only missable ones are for the endings.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a decent action RPG. It borrows a few elements from mystery dungeon games to stand out. It appears simple, but there is actually a lot more depth than one would think. Very rarely there was a frustrating part, but overall the game was kinda fun and not too hard. I'd keep impressionable young ones away from Metallia's mouth, though.