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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Samurai Warriors 4-II (PS4) Review

The original Samurai Warriors 4 was really fun.  I loved the new hyper attacks.  However, the story mode was more focused on the factions, which I guess some people didn't like as much.  Instead of an Extreme Legends version, we have the character-focused stories in Samurai Warriors 4-II.  Honestly, I wish they stuck with the previous nomenclature, as mixing numbering systems is... silly to me.

Putting the name aside, let's focus on what actually matters: the game.  As mentioned previously, this entry focuses on more individual stories for the characters introduced in SW 4 and added for this iteration.  For each story, you must use the main character, but then can also choose one other from the list of available people to accompany you into battle.  Switching between them is quick, but it is on the Options button (PS4), which was kind of awkward to hit easily.  There are 13 total story modes, 8 of which have to be unlocked, and each containing 5 stages.

The newest character to join the roster is Naomasa Li.  He is Naotora Li's adopted son who just happens to look the same age.  I don't think it's intentional, but I thought it was pretty funny that it looks in no way like he is Naotora's son, but sure, why not?  He's pretty solid with some good hyper attacks (he is hyper attack inclined) and a few really good charge moves that hit huge areas.  His rage super is also really funny if you watch sentai shows.  The create-a-character also returns, which is always a plus.  All of the costumes are available at the start, but you can only give them weapons of characters you have unlocked.  Coincidentally I made a sentai-looking character, and gave him Naomasa's move set.  Boy was I surprised it was an accidental perfect fit.

Combat is largely unchanged from the previous iteration, with the hyper attacks seemingly less powerful.  You still have your standard attack string with various finishing moves based off when you use the other attack button in the combo.  The biggest addition is the skills you can use in battle.  The d-pad can scroll through skills you learn and then activate them.  These have a variety of effects, from stat buffs to heals to gaining more exp or money from kills.  They are on a cooldown, so use them when you need them.  Plus, you can equip several at once, so there's no reason not to load up when a character unlocks them.

Battle Objectives are still present in SW 4-II.  If you don't know, each stage has a checklist of objectives and bonus objectives for you to try and do during battle.  Normal ones are part of the flow of battle, like defeat some person before they attack your leader and stuff like that.  The bonus ones can range from "make sure no one dies" to "use this character to beat this one" and similar things.  While I like the replayability aspect of the objectives, they are pretty obtrusive when they first come up.  The action pauses and it shows the player what the objective is.  Yes, it is nice that you can't really miss them, but it gets annoying when it stops you mid combo to tell you to beat the enemy you are currently fighting.  In the other games, the bonus objectives tended to give you extra rewards, but it seems like they just give bonus experience now.  It does give you a reason to play the levels in Free mode, though, if you want to clean them up.

Again they have changed how to combine weapons in the Warriors games.  This time, adding a weapons to your chosen base weapon will increase the experience of that weapon.  If it gets enough experience, it will level up and get stronger.  This will thankfully also increase the skills on it.  However, you cannot transfer skills or elements from one weapon to another, so it isn't perfect.  There is a level cap based on the star rating of the weapon.  If you combine two weapons of similar compatibility, there is a chance you will increase the max level.  This system also applies to the mounts, which is cool and kind of silly if you think about it.  (You are merging horses... is that legal?)  Anyway, the system is pretty nice, but I would prefer if there was a way to replace skills or add them to a weapon, so it was easier to make your perfect equipment.

There are now skill trees for each of the characters, laid out on a big hex-based grid.  You have to spend skill tomes that are acquired as battle drops or purchased from the shop.  Each skill costs certain numbers of different color tomes.  Once a skill is purchased, the ones next to it are then unlocked for purchase.  If you buy a skill next to an unlocked and unpurchased skill, then that one receives a discount, which is very nice.  Even more nice is some skills can become free if you surround them with purchased ones.  The skills are either passive ones that will do standard stuff like increasing attack damage or health, or active skills discussed above.  This system is new, and once I got the hang of it, is pretty cool.  The only thing I'm not too keen on is it can be hard to buy a lot of skills, since you don't seem to get many tomes per battle, and I don't want to fork over the cash since I need that for weapon and mount synthesis.

There is also a Survival Mode in SW 4-II.  It feels like a mix of the one from Samurai Warriors 2 and Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3.  Since you only have one character to keep track of, it is much more focused and easier to understand what you are doing.  It's also more fun because of it.  The standard survival is a 100 floor tower that you have to fight your way to the top of.  You have a time limit that gets extended every time you go up a floor.  It's a good way to get some experience, and there are nice bonuses the higher up you go.  However, it's not advisable to push your luck, since dying makes you lose all the stuff you collected.  You can exit on any floor once it is cleared by activating the circle near the stairway up.  There are also really strong versions of the characters that appear on some floors.  They are always pretty obvious since they have blue skin, and they pack a punch!

The survival challenge has four specific battles that have weekly rankings.  While at first I wasn't sure I'd like them, the rewards changed my mind.  These challenges are timed, and task you with a specific task, like killing a lot of enemies or gaining a lot of gold.  Those two are fun, but I'm not too keen on the racing one.  You have to kill standard bearers and run to the exit.  They've had similar racing ones in the Warriors games before, and I didn't like them there either.  Getting high ranks will give you strategy tomes or money.  Every week the rankings will reset and give you another opportunity to get the top spot.  The mode is more fun than I thought it would be, and can be a good source of cash and skill tomes.

At first I wasn't sure there was enough content in the game, but at about 2-3 hours per story mode and 13 stories, that's pretty decent.  The survival and survival challenge modes are more fun than I initially thought as well.  The focus on the characters more than the factions/groups should appeal to those that complained about that in SW 4.  If you are a fan of the Warriors games and somehow skipped SW 4, then I would recommend Samurai Warriors 4-II.  I'm sure fans of the series will also enjoy it, but most of the content is focused on the story, which may not be enough to get owners of SW 4 to buy 4-II.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Code: Realize (PS Vita) Review

Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ is a visual novel that follows the story of Cardia (you can rename her if you wish).  She has no memory of anything prior to the last two years of her life, where she lived in a mansion by herself, waiting for her father to return.  Why would she live by herself?  Well, her body secretes a deadly poison that melts things that touch her skin or blood.  That's not too conducive to making friends.  She even has to wear special clothes so she doesn't melt them off, too.  This poison makes others view her as a monster, so she stays away from society, hidden in her father's mansion in the woods.

The story of Cardia's meeting with five fateful friends (and a few other people) is actually really good.  The characters are all unique and have some good interactions.  It is set in a more steampunk version of Victorian era London.  The story thankfully does not follow every little detail about their lives, so things happen in a more natural progression instead of everything being crammed into a week or so.  It goes to some places and situations I would not have guessed.  Even so, the story does make sense and doesn't really have any crazy swerves.

There are some dialogue choices in the game, but not near as many as I would expect from a visual novel.  They do affect the direction of the story somewhat, but it can be hard to tell how.  At the end of the eighth chapter, the game will seamlessly transition into one of the five guys' ending paths.  If it wasn't for the trophy pop, I wouldn't have known as soon as I did.  I'm not fully sure how it choose what path to put me on, since I didn't think my answers skewed toward Victor that much, and there are no affection meters to see how the choices affect things.  However, figuring out how to get a specific character's path isn't too big of a deal.

The reason for that is after completion of the game, the Path of Genesis is opened in the main menu.  From here, you can choose any completed chapter to replay.  Plus, if you choose one of Cardia's, you can lock yourself into one of the character's paths, regardless of the answers you put.  Nice!  It cuts out a lot of the repeat story while still leaving you plenty of playtime.  If you choose one of the guys' chapters, you can choose to max out their affection, which will get you the true ending.  Again, that is really cool.  It makes it easier to get all the endings without forcing the player to reload several save slots or replay large chunks of the story.  Yes, the skip function will help with that, but I prefer this function instead.

Since the save files and the game don't track playtime, I'll have to estimate.  The story was a decent length, and never hit the "ok, let's just get through this" point.  Quite the contrary, I easily came back to play it whenever I had a few minutes.  It probably ran me about 8 hours to get through it all, as I was actually reading.  If you just mash through, it would be faster, but there would really be no point.  I'd like to go through and finish the other routes.  They diverge a lot in their direction, and of course I want to see them all because I enjoy the story and characters.  That should add another several hours on to that.

I've discovered over the past few months that I enjoy playing visual novels.  Code: Realize is no exception to that.  It's a really nice story with colorful characters that I had fun playing.  Yeah, you could be that person who complains about "reading isn't gameplay", but whatever, I had fun.  The game looks really nice and most if not all of the character's dialogue is voiced in Japanese.  If you are in the mood for an interesting story that has several different paths, then give Code: Realize a try.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Blood Bowl 2 (PS4) Review

Back in high school, a friend and I played Warhammer 40k, and then eventually Blood Bowl.  He liked it much more than I did, mostly because I won one out of our 5 games.  I had a solid team, but had lots of difficulties getting past his mummies and vampire.  Still, I was looking forward to trying out the video game of Blood Bowl 2, because maybe this time will be different.

If you have never heard of or played Blood Bowl, it is a tabletop dice-based strategy game... about football.  American football, to be specific, and if you care about such things.  Anyway, during your turn you can move your units based off their movement allowance, hit an enemy that started next to you, blitz (attack from a distance once per turn), pass or foul an opponent on the ground (once per turn).  When moving, you can "go for it" and try to move and extra square or two, but each has a chance to fail.  If you fail, you fall down.  Just about everything in the game has a similar chance to work.  Want to pas the ball?  There's a chance to fail.  What to pick up the ball?  Yup, you guessed it.

It does make sense for a tabletop game, but it sometimes comes across as weird.  I mean, most units have no greater than a 50% chance to pick up the ball?!  It just sounds crazy.  You need to be careful what moves you do and what chance you have of succeeding.  You can buy rerolls for your team to help out, though.  If you are moving in any square next to an opposing unit, then you must make a dodge roll.  These rolls are shown at the bottom of the screen, but the game doesn't really go out of its way to point them out.  This is much more streamlined than the physical Blood Bowl.  There are also special die when you attack another player, with several results.  You can knock them down, be knocked down, both be knocked down, or push them.  When knocked down, there is a chance you will be stunned (down for an extra turn), knocked out (out of the game with a chance to come back on each kick-off) or even killed.  You can probably guess what that does.

Now, I'm not going to say the computer cheats in its matches, but I will heavily imply it.  There seem to be many instances of them having much better luck with dice rolls overall.  Whereas I seem to get more push results than knockdowns, they can easily flatten my team.  There have be too many instances of them winning on a red die roll.  Red is for when you are outperformed, and the target gets to choose the result.  Yes, there is a chance that both would be bad for the person with the advantage, but the AI gets it more often that it should.  It's likely a rubberband mechanic, but the computer tending to get better rolls is always a pet peeve of mine.

Each match consists of two halves with 8 turns each side.  So, each player gets 16 turns with a reset in the middle.  These matches can easily take over an hour.  Campaign mode matches are longer, simply because they don't have a time limit on turns and the turn doesn't end when you have a bad roll and fumble the ball or fall down.  League matches, online and single-player, have a time limit for each players turn, and a failed roll will end your turn.  This makes matches take less time, but not by much.  Sometimes AI opponents will take a minute or so to decide how to even start their turn.

Campaign mode follows a story as you play the newest coach of the Reikland Reavers, the lowest team in the league.  There are several matches, and for the first few, it will add a few rules each time.  While it's not a great tutorial, it is pretty effective at easing you into all the various rules of Blood Bowl, and is pretty fun to play.  Between each section the announcers will go over some story, and even poke fun at the fact there even is a story.

The other main mode is League.  If you do single-player, there are several options of leagues to choose from, each with different rules for who fights who and how to get eliminated.  There are some good options in there.  Online is pretty similar, but more complicated.  You have to apply for a league and then be approved.  There are tickets given out to actually compete in a match.  While it is nice to be able to coordinate matches with people from different areas, it is really more complicated than it should be for friends to do it.  Yes, there are Friendly matches, but the progression your team has during league play is nice, so it would be nice if it weren't so complicated to set them up and do them.

Team creation is pretty much what you would expect.  You make your team by picking one of the races and then buying players.  Each new team is given a set amount that allows you to buy enough players to actually play.  If you have some left over, or get more, you can buy replacements or team abilities to help out, such as rerolls.  You can name the team and pick the icon to represent them.  You even choose your sponsor and home stadium.

Probably my favorite part of the game is the announcers.  Since they don't directly call every action, it doesn't seem as manufactured as, say most wrestling games.  Their commentary is pretty funny, since a chunk of it is stories about Blood Bowl and other various ramblings.  In the same vein, loading screens also have little "did you know" stories about funny Blood Bowl trivia.  Back in the day these were my favorite part of the codex, and it's nice to see a similar thing in the game.  Plus, these are all ones I hadn't seen.

One really cool and probably overlooked feature to the game is Cabal TV (like cable TV, only... more? evil).  It allows you to watch the games of other players, like it is an actual sport.  It has some stored on the server, but you can also search for live ones, or games played by your friends.  A cool idea, but not one I would personally use much.

Well, for better or worse Blood Bowl 2 really reminds me of the table top game I played many years ago.  Opposition is stiff, and I never really feel like I'm winning, even if I am.  Maybe that's because the AI always seems to get better rolls, or that their units tend to have an ability that makes it so I'm on the losing end of an exchange.  It's not a bad game, it just feels a bit too random for my taste.  It does feel very faithful to the physical game, but without the cost of buying all the miniatures.  Campaign is a nice distraction when you don't want to play with your friend or online.  I really enjoy the character of the game, represented by the announcers and the loading screen stories.  If you like the tabletop Blood Bowl, then I would recommend Blood Bowl 2.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Transformers: Devastation (Xbox One) Review

As a big fan of Transformers, and especially the toys, I was eager to play Transformers: Devastation.  After all, it features one of my favorite Transformers right on the box and pretty much in the title: Devastator!  Even so, that won't get the game a free pass, so let's delve into the review.

First off, I really love the look of the game.  It's a more detailed look of the old "G1" cartoon.  The characters are bright and really pop for me.  They look a bit too detailed, as they seem so shiny.  It's not that bad, as they resemble the IDW artwork from a few years ago.  A lot of the main characters' voice actors reprise their roles, but of course some had to be recast.  Prime and Megatron sound great, and it is always awesome to have Frank Welker also reprise his role as Soundwave (my other favorite Transformer).  Some of the new voices fit fairly well, but you could tell it wasn't the same actor.  Either way, the game does well on the visual and auditory areas.

Looking pretty is one thing, but how does the game play?  If you have played other Platinum Games titles, you probably know what to expect.  Flashy action, rewards for precise dodging and being rated on each encounter.  All of those are true for Devastation.  The action is fast-paced and really flashy.  For example, there is a vehicle attack you can do at the end of your combo, which usually results in you launching your enemy.  So, you just turn into a car (or truck, or... dinosaur) and drive up to them in the air and can continue your combo.  Does it make logical sense?  No, but it looks cool and honestly, you probably did stuff like that as a kid with your toys (or your imagination).

Anyway, the controls are pretty tight, and the dodge window is as well.  If you dodge at just the right moment, you enter a focused state where time slows down and you can easily hit your opponents.  It's exactly like the Witch Time in Bayonetta, which is to be expected.  My complaint with this is that the dodge button and transformation button are the same.  Holding it down will transform you while tapping it will dodge.  I didn't really have a problem accidentally holding it down, but sometimes I did have the opposite problem.  I prefer the transformation button be just a press, as sometimes in the hurry of doing things quickly I would tap instead of hold.  Also, to do the ground pound, you jump and then transform.  This would work better if you didn't have to be absolutely still while transforming.  If you are moving even just a tiny bit, you will lunge forward while transforming and start speeding away.  Not good when you are trying to be precise or under a time constraint.

The combos are neat looking and functional, but I felt no need to do ones other than hitting the X Button.  There a few variations based off when you hit the Y Button instead, but they didn't seem different enough to warrant me doing it.  It's a bit of a let down, since they went with flash for stuff, but didn't give each character cool and unique combo enders that would encourage using them all.  It made the attacking part of the controls feeling rather simplistic.  Shooting was done ok, it just sometimes felt a bit slow.  If you are hit while aiming, you go stumbling back, so it's not something to use in the middle of combat, but is great for shooting snipers and collectibles.

Vehicles themselves handle alright, but feel a bit loose.  There are a few parts where you need to shoot while driving, and those feel sloppy to me, since it's hard to aim and drive at the same time in Devastation.  One section of the game switches to a side-scrolling shooter as you drive on a bridge while fighting a boss.  It's kind of fun at first, but gets more annoying as you go, simply from trying to do a lot of things at once.  You can actually dodge while the car, which I didn't know at first.  It's just hard to avoid everything while trying to figure out where to shoot.  Another similar thing is when the game switches to a top-down view for some story/side missions.  These are harder than normal, simply because of the strange perspective.  I appreciate that they were tying to mix it up and have different experiences, but they just don't feel as polished, or at the least, the exacting style of game doesn't mesh with these other perspectives without more work.

Merge for the kill!
Each Autobot can equip four weapons, one of which must be a melee weapon and one of which must be a ranged weapon.  There are many types to choose from, and even some cool special ones that fans of the different Transformers series may recognize.  They can also be upgraded with the game's synthesis system.  It isn't well explained in the game, but you can put one weapon into another to gain experience and transfer skills.  Since you get so many drops, it is best to use fodder to level up the pieces you use, especially the melee ones.  You can also buy normal items, like healing kits, and make special items you can equip for passive effects.  These special items are made with a little mini-game that tasks you with stopping a cursor in a specific place.  It's... really lose, and hard to get anything great out of, since the effect is random.  Even so, they tend to be cheap and you can get decent stuff eventually.  Worth doing every now and again, but hard to use effectively in my opinion.

The story is a step up from the old cartoon, but still not as good as either of the Cybertron games.  It's more there to move the action along, and while not preferable, is serviceable.  Most cool moments in the story are right before some of the better fights.  There isn't much tension built up from previous encounters with characters unless you are familiar with the property.  For example, at one point you hear about Motormaster, one of the Decepticons.  You will fight him a bit later, but fans of Transformers likely know that he is the center of another combiner, named Menasor.  So when it happens, a non-fan will likely be surprised, but a fan will have build-up because they likely know what it means for a future fight when Motormaster is mentioned.  The boss fights are pretty fun, especially against the giant combiners.  Sure, they are bigger than the separate robots put together, but I'll let that go because fighting giants enemies can be really fun.

Sadly, the story kind of keeps things confined to a few locations.  You are really only fighting in a city and on a Cybertronian ship.  Several areas are reused for each stage.  Enemy variety is a bit better, but not by much.  There are four basic enemies.  One is the car-forming ground based foes, with a stronger commander variant.  There are seeker (airplane) foes, with a tougher variant later in the game.  Insecticons show up from time to time, all three types, and last is the heavy troops, who transform into tanks.  Most of the bosses are based off these types as well, save the giant combiners, and the 'waves (Sound and Shock).  There is an occasional robot tentacle thrown in for good measure, but after you have fought against each of the basic types, you know how to fight 90% of the enemies.  More variety would have been nice, but I wouldn't have minded that if the combos were more varied.

The game's length is probably its biggest detractor.  My first run clocked in at 6 hours, and that was with doing half of the side missions.  I could have done them all, but I more wanted to push through the game and do the side missions later.  They are blatantly filler, but that's fine since it gives you more to do.  They are scattered around the map, forcing you to go out of your way to do them, and don't seem to be unlockable after completion.  Other than getting more experience and items, I don't know if there is another reason to do the side missions, since I didn't see anything about them being marked as 'done' anywhere, unlike the Challenges.  From the Main Menu, there are 50 challenges you can unlock and complete.  Throughout the game there are also several collectibles to get, so make sure you look around (mostly up) and have a sniper rifle equipped.  These tend to unlock concept art, which is always fun to look at.

There are a total of 7 chapters.  The first two are the longest, and the rest can get significantly shorter.  I was playing on the easiest setting, since Platinum games tend to be punish the player for imperfection.  Even so, this game seems a bit easier than their average, which is welcome in my book.  It was definitely more fun for me to have it on a lower difficulty, but I will certainly go back and play the higher ones with better equipment.  Plus, I really want to get a few of the achievements, because of the associated artwork to put as my console background!  Now I just have to beat the bosses without getting hit...

As a fan of Transformers, I did enjoy Devastation.  It looks great and gives a nostalgic feel of making cartoon robots fight each other in flashy ways.  As a gamer, I was a bit disappointed with some of the controls, and the length of the game.  Also, I still really disliked rating each and every encounter.  It's a game, not a term paper!  Anyway, the game is fun, but a bit short unless you want to go through it multiple times and use all of the different playable Autobots.  Still, I am looking forward to a sequel, and hopefully we can play as some Decepticons next time.  If you are a fan of other Platinum Games titles, or the Transformers property, I would recommend at least playing Transformers: Devastation.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment (PS4)

Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment is a game based off the popular Sword Art Online anime TV show and light novel.  It follows the main character Kirito who is trapped in an online virtual world with 10,000 other players.  If you die in the game or are disconnected from the Nervegear interface device in real life, you then die in real life.  It's a high stakes MMO game that shows the best and worst side of humanity on the internet.  Throughout his journey, Kirito meets several friends (most of which are female) and opens up as a person.

Why give you this backstory?  Well for one, this is a more succinct and easy to follow version than the haphazard one the game gives you.  The first hour or two of the game is probably my biggest complaint.  Thankfully, I have seen the first season of the TV show, so I was not completely lost.  The game starts with Kirito teleporting to a strange new area and meeting a new character.  Then a battle starts.  I'll give the game props for starting off with some action to get the player excited, but without a backstory understanding of who or what is going on, it lessens that dramatically.

After some dialogue and a small dungeon with the new character in tow, then the game decides to give the players some background.  However, it starts this by jumping to the point where the game and TV show split canonically, which happens to be right near the end of the anime.  This isn't in and of itself bad, but again, there's no context for people new to the series to have an understanding what is going on.  Then we get some flashbacks about how the game world works and the situation the characters are in, along with a brief explanation and introduction to the two characters that were from later seasons, Leafa and Sinon.

I get the idea they were going for, but it is somewhat confusing to me, who has some knowledge of the IP, let alone someone jumping in to it with the game.  As far as I can tell, this is an alternate take on what happens near the end of the first arc, so players can experience something new in the franchise.  They also shoehorn in the later characters, because... why not?  I will say the game does get better from that point on, but having a very jumbled first hour or two of your game can kill interest quickly.

Once you fully start the game, you are in a new town on the 76th floor.  Unfortunately, none of the previous floors are accessible.  I would have really loved to explore some of the locations shown in the show, and I suspect I'm not alone.  True, I do want a new experience, but being able to go to some of the key areas would be cool to nerd-out on.  Anyway, this city serves as your hub for shops, finding characters and other similar things.

The flow of each floor is roughly the same.  Arrive, take the quests offered and go out into the dungeon.  Solve the quests to get info on the boss and find its location.  Armed with that information, you can then assemble a strike force to take it out.  Bosses are a lot tougher than normal enemies and have several HP bars.  The knowledge you gain of their attacks by solving quests helps a lot.  Considering your ultimate goal is to get through the game with no one else dying, you'll want that help.  There's also a last hit bonus if you get the killing blow.  If you don't care about missing stuff or trophies, then it's not as important to get the final hit and keep everyone alive, but completionists will spend extra time to make sure they do both... every floor.

Battles appear very simple, but are surprisingly tactical.  Although, early on you can just mash if you want to.  Kirito will auto attack if you stand near an enemy in combat, but you will get far more damage if you hit the Circle button.  Each press takes a section of the Burst gauge, so you can't keep hitting it, but you can get a combo ender if you can do enough hits.  There are also several skills you can use in battle, and each has a cooldown.  Try not to just blow them all, since your partner will request you do certain actions.  If you fulfill the request, you will get a team attack.  You also won't want to let either Kirito or your partner's life bar empty, as that is game over.  Remember the stakes?  That will kill them in the real world.

The battles aren't really that complicated, but remembering what to hold to use what skills and which skill is which make it seem so.  It's not the most intuitive system.  Sadly, there are other parts of the game that aren't really intuitive either.  When you get to a new floor, there is a town there, but you don't really walk around it.  You have the functions laid out in a menu, which is helpful, but different from the first town you are in.  Plus, you don't walk outside for the floor's dungeon, but select it.  To get to another floor, you teleport from the first town.  It just feels like they introduce a way to do it, then use another way once you start going.  Ugh.  It's not a huge flaw, but it is a questionable decision on their part.  You can also get new skills from a character's menu, which as far as I can tell, was not mentioned in the game.  If it is, I must have missed it.  Together these make it much easier to marathon the game, rather than pick it up and play it every so often.

Keeping with the show, there is no pause function.  While this makes sense, since it is supposed to be an MMO, it isn't, so I would really like the ability to pause.  At least they put the Logout command on the menu, but it doesn't work, so it is as legit as the show.  Also, the Circle button is used to talk to people and examine things, but it is also the cancel button.  Most games use the 'accept' button as the examine, so you can hit it multiple times to skip through text and select the choices.  In Hollow Fragment, if you do that you will cancel out.  Again, not a deal breaker, but I had to consciously remember to hit different buttons when talking to people and making selections from examining things.  It just feels like it wasn't made user-friendly, or that is some strange middle ground when mixing the traditional Japanese and American button norms.

The game is not light in the content department though.  There are basically two games here, the final 24 floors of Aincrad, plus the Hollow Fragment story line and dungeons.  The two can be jumped between at will, which is awesome.  It takes a minimum of an hour per floor, so you will get a hefty playtime just going through one side, let alone both.  Add in raising the affection with all the females to unlock gallery pictures and you can spend a lot of time playing the game.  To be safest, you will probably do some grinding so you don't lose anyone to the bosses, which obviously pads the playtime.

Sword Art Online also has item forging, and it is expensive to make something.  You are better off just increasing a stat on a piece of equipment you find.  Strangely, you can only buff one stat at a time, and you have to start over if you want to switch.  Since I tend to hoard modifying items for stronger equipment, I didn't use item forging much.  Another thing I didn't do enough of was the game's multiplayer.  It's cool that it has it, but whenever I searched, I couldn't find a group.  Maybe it was because I got my review code late and most people have already done it, but I don't know for sure.

The game only has one save slot and it auto saves.  This, as mentioned before, makes it seem more legit as an MMO, but it isn't, and I really don't like only having one save slot.  Especially since there are many missable things in the game, like the final hit bonuses and keeping everyone alive to the end.  It does auto save very often, so you won't lose much if you do reset or die.  Plus, if you have Playstation Plus, you can save scum by keeping a backup on the cloud.

It probably sounds like I'm overly negative on the game, but I did like it and had fun playing.  There are a lot of small issues that kept it from being great, though.  Several things just aren't very user friendly or intuitive to do.  There is a lot of content to go through, as the game basically has two separate halves that you can progress through independently.  Battles are pretty fun too, and the boss fights are tense thanks to me not wanting anyone to die.  I do enjoy the game and intend to play even more of it.  Sadly, the game seems geared much more towards existing fans of the franchise and doesn't start off well by explaining things to any potential newcomers.  Even though it doesn't revisit any of the iconic places of the anime, fans who would like to play an actual video game version of the game in the show should check out Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Legend of Kay Anniversary (PS4) Review

In this era of remasters and remakes, I will admit I was surprised to see Legend of Kay get a remake for the current console generation.  Celebrating its 10 year anniversary, the appropriately named Legend of Kay Anniversary boosts newer graphics and also trophies!  I will say it does not look like a PS2 game, so the graphics have certainly been improved.  The game also loads really quickly, which is always a great thing to have.  Unfortunately, not everything could be updated for the game, and the spoken dialogue is noticeably not as good as everything else.  Since the recordings are 10 years old, the non high-definition quality is excusable.

Not excusable is how I have to sit through every line of dialogue.  Pretty much all of the dialogue is spoken, but you have to wait until it is done to move on.  No mashing to advance faster or skipping it.  If it was this way for just the main story, I would be annoyed, but would likely let it go.  However, everybody you talk to, even the village NPCs, will force you to sit through the dialogue if you talk to them.  This coupled with the lower quality audio and the accents being stereotypical at best and offensive at worst makes a bad combination.  At least you can skip cut scenes that you have already seen if you died and had to restart.

The controls for the game take some getting used to.  The attacks are standard enough, you get one button that gets a combo if you press it repeatedly.  You also get a double jump, which I am always happy to see.  There's a block that is very useful in combat, and allows you to change direction while holding it.  If you are close enough to the enemy when pressing block, you will dodge.  I'd prefer a separate button for that, since you have to be pretty close, and sometimes you want to block them when close and not flip over them.  Still, you do need to get the hang of it to make it through most of the fights.

Kay will also learn a magic attack that requires you to hold the Square (attack) button to use.  Again, I wish this were a separate button so it was easier to get it out in a hurry, but it's workable.  Circle will roll you, which can give you a high jump that also leads to a ground slam that hits downed opponents.  Remembering to hit three buttons instead of two to hit enemies on the ground took a conscious effort.  Personally, I would want the item choosing and use on the d-pad, like say left/right and up respectively, and relegate the map to down on the d-pad.  One press zooms in, the next minimizes the map, and the next sets it back to zoomed out.  Pow, now there are two free shoulder buttons for magic and dodge.  Anyway, Kay also gets armor that effectively increases his health, but it only takes a few hits before it breaks.  While you can buy more, I still wish that was handled differently as well.

Combat is also a mixed bag.  At times it goes really well, and at times, it is very unforgiving.  You are supposed to block or dodge enemies as they attack you, which works well when there isn't too many of them.  You have a set number of lives that let you try the section again if you do fail.  If you run out, it is back to the last savepoint.  The camera is usually your worst enemy, as it makes fights and the platforming much more frustrating than they really should be.  Some platforming sections have Zhongs, that are bell-like objects that you can attack and then dash towards, which you use to get to farther or higher areas.  These work really well, provided you know where the next one is.  This also seems to work in combat, allowing you to attack an enemy and then dash to another and attack them before they can respond.

The game is a lot more linear than I at first thought.  You will run around Kay's village for a bit in the beginning, but then you will embark on your journey through the land.  There are a decent amount of side quests in each chapter, with a few in the first area alone.  After each chapter, you get a score, based off the gems you pick up in the level, and move on to the next.  There is no real backtracking, and you won't revisit any of the areas again, making many things missable during your run.  I'm not a fan of that, but I do like that there are extra things to do and hidden areas to find.

As well as all that can go, they decided to "shake things up" or... something... by putting in boar races.  These sections have Kay ride a boar through an obstacle course/race.  They are... not fun, to put it mildly.  Some are downright annoying.  The boar turns slowly so you have to rely on the drift mechanic for the bigger turns.  That isn't much better.  These sections also have checkpoints to go through or you fail.  Trouble is, you have to go pretty much through the exact center of the checkpoint, as it doesn't like to give you credit for anything else.  Being a little more lenient would go a long way to making these sections more tolerable.  At least if you fail it is a quick load to the beginning.

There are parts of the main story that are gated behind these boar races.  Yuck.  A personal peeve of mine is when a game makes you do some other task that isn't core gameplay to get through the game.  As an extra thing to do, ok.  Making it necessary?  Nope.  There are extra ones in the game, which is fine, and they reward you for doing them.  I just wish they were all like that, except maybe an easy one in the beginning to introduce it to the player.  Admittedly, a lot of games during this time did stuff like this, so I'm not fully knocking Legend of Kay for doing it, but also the genre as a whole for doing it.  Just another part of the game that is a product of its time.

There are 23 chapters in Legend of Kay Anniversary, and it should take around 15-20 hours to get through it all.  Scattered throughout the levels are a fair amount of collectibles, but at least they are useful things like health and magic increases and not just stuff that unlocks concept art.  Although there is concept art to unlock, it is determined by score and not poking around to find stuff.  There is no new game+, so you will have to get all collectibles in one go through the game.  There's not much replay value to the game, but going through once gives you a decent run time.

Legend of Kay Anniversary is a decent game.  The core gameplay takes a bit getting used to and is a bit unforgiving, but is fairly solid.  The graphics look nicer and the load times are quick.  The downsides are the audio and boar races, which are then topped with the camera.  A lot of the negatives are really products of the time the game was originally released, 10 years ago, so there's certainly room to forgive them.  Either way, it is worth picking up if you wanted to play the original and just forgot about it, or if you want a sampling of what most 3D action platformers played like on the PS2.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax (PS3) Review

Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax, a fighting game starring characters from various light novels mashed together.  Honestly, that's pretty cool.  I'm all for taking characters from something else and shoving them into a game together, since some properties might not ever get a game, even if one would be awesome.  I only recognized about five people and am not very good at fighting games, but I figured why not review it?

Movement is fairly standard for fighting games.  The stick or d-pad can move you forward, back, crouch, jump, dash and block.  There are three attack buttons with increasing attack power and decreasing speed, as is standard in fighting games, and also an assist button.  This will call out your chosen assist character to perform one of two moves, depending on if the button was pushed by itself or with the stick tilted forward.  Not all assists are attacks, as some are shields/counters or even heals.  Assists are powerful, but have a cooldown.  Using them often, but wisely, really helps out.

Each character also has a few special moves, EX versions of those moves (which cost a meter) and super moves (which cost 2 meters).  The moves are very different from character to character, but the motions are not.  I actually really like this design decision, since it makes it easier to choose any character and know how to do their moves.  The super moves are really flashy and fun to watch, provided it's not someone doing it to you.

In addition to that, there's a burst attack that can knock the opponent away, plus gives you a big chunk of meter.  The cooldown for these is pretty long, but it's really cool that you can use them defensively, offensively, or, if you are lucky/unlucky enough, both.  There's also a Trump Card special ability each character has, which you can only use a limited number of times per fight (represented by the lightning bolts above the meter).  If it is red, it is a powerful attack, and blue tends to be a buff (like Kirito pulling out his second sword).  Plus, you can sack these during the opening frame of a super for extra damage.  Overall, the combat has a good amount of variety, depth and strategy to it, which is surprising given the simpler focus of the special moves.

The Story Mode allows you to pick a character and then do 9 fights with some dialogue in-between most of them.  The story itself is pretty thin, but gives enough of an excuse for all the characters to fight each other.  It wasn't too hard... granted, I had it set to the lowest difficutly... but I did mention I'm not very good at fighting games.  There are also two different ending bosses, both of which are unlockable.  The number of super KOs you get on the way to the final fight dictates which of the two you will get.

Also in the Story menu is the Dream Mode.  These are exclusive to the home versions of the game, and feature more personal interactions between the fighters than the more generic Story Mode.  There are only six battles per character, and they are all shown from the get-go.  They can also be chosen in any order, as they are all self-contained.  Not too hard to complete, but pretty fun to see the different characters react to each other coming from much different backstories.  Both Story and Dream Mode are worth doing in my opinion, especially if you are like me and do a lot of the single player stuff in fighting games.  Yes, I know that's weird, just accept it.

Besides the main story-related stuff, there are three challenge modes to do.  The first is Score Attack.  This is a series of up to 9 fights, where, obviously, you try to get a high score.  The second is Time Attack were you fight several opponents and try to beat them fast.  Survival is the third.  You have to fight an endless stream of opponents until you run out of health.  These three are pretty self-explanatory.  They are also not revolutionary modes, but nice to see them present as something else to do in the game.

All starting characters have each a story mode and a dream story mode to get through, which will probably set you back 10-12 hours, which is pretty good for a fighting game.  Of course most people will perfect their craft and jump online.  Knowing the outcome, I still had to try it out.  It ran well for me, no noticeable lag and I found a match quickly.  And as sure as the sun rises, I got stomped.  At least it was all on me and not the network connection.

As someone who isn't very competitive and plays fighting games more for fun, Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is pretty fun.  It has a fair amount of single player content, and on the easiest setting (which I proudly used) it's more fun than difficult.  The move list is a bit sparse, but easy to remember, since all characters intentionally use similar motions.  It's easy to pick up and play.  I didn't know most of the characters, but the game seems tailored toward those that do, even if they aren't hardcore FGC (fight game community) people.  I'd recommend fans of any of the featured franchises give the game a play, but be aware that there is an enhanced version with more characters coming to Japan in the next few months.  No word on a western release of that, so at least give the game a try until then.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Skylanders: Superchargers (Xbox One) Review

The Skylanders games have been around for a few years, and each year a new thing is added.  In Skylanders: Superchargers, that addition is vehicles.  While initially hesitant about how this could change the series, I was very open to giving it a try and see how this new direction plays out.

Surprisingly, it goes really well and fits in with the franchise.  Where before there were specialized gates that required a specific element or type of Skylander, now there are sections that need one of the types of vehicles.  In practice, each part with a vehicle is one of the stars to earn in a level.  Thankfully, you only need one of any vehicle (a land one is included in the Starter Set) to get through the whole game.  Before, each level had up to three stars that you could earn, one from beating the level, one from being under the par time, and the last for getting all of the hidden stuff in a level.  I actually prefer the new way, of each vehicle section is a star.  To me it felt like doing it that way made it so I would want to get and use each type of vehicle, rather than I had to.

The non-vehicle sections of the game are very similar to the last game.  You run around and fight minions of Chaos, jump around the platforming sections, and solve a puzzle or two while searching for hidden chests.  The controls worked fine for the most part.  The only problem I had was with Supershot Stealth Elf.  Her cannon has a function where if you hold down the button, it will keep shooting.  Sometimes it didn't seem to register that I was holding it down.  Also, getting hit or slight changes in terrain would break it off, and I would have to then press and hold it again.  It was kind of annoying, but not a huge deal.  There were no problems with Spitfire, and he is also really fun to play.

While the game offers a lot of new stuff, how does the old fare?  The previous game in the series, Trap Team, alienated some players because it relied too much on the new.  In a way, this is true for Superchargers as well, but it doesn't feel as bad.  Any character can ride any vehicle, but you get a boost for matching the element, and a special boost for matching the actual pilot to their vehicle.

You also unlock parts to modify your ride, but the special supercharger Skylanders are required to put the upgrades on.  It's a bit of a downer, but workable, since the Starter Set comes with two.  The worst part about that, though, is in the hub world.  Walking near the vehicle station will have a voice remind you that only the supercharger Skylanders can modify the vehicle, and it gets really annoying if you are walking around the hub with a non-supercharger.  The new portal that comes with the Starter Set also has a slot for the traps from Trap Team, and they unlock a Skystone card of the trapped villain, plus give you a limited number of new attacks while you are driving or flying around.

Now onto the important part - how did my 8 year old like the game?  It's probably no surprise, but he loved it.  He took to the vehicles immediately.  When asked what his favorite parts is, it's driving the car around.  He likes to go into the vehicle testing area and just drive it around while shooting bad guys.  While we don't have any other vehicles (yet), my son really wants to get some more, so I'd say the vehicles are a good addition to the series!

If you play two player co-op, the vehicle controls are split between the players.  One player drives and the other gets a reticle for attacking and gathering money.  It works really well and is pretty fun, giving both players something meaningful to do.  My son was also kind enough to switch with me fairly often, but he preferred to drive.  As mentioned before, I could collect the money and bits while he was doing so, which made him able to focus on not getting hit rather than trying to make all the jumps to get collectibles.

There's over 10 stages to go through, and each takes longer than I thought it would.  This is good from a gameplay standpoint, even if I would prefer shorter levels and more of them.  Each stage would be even longer if we had the other two vehicle types.  There's some extra challenges, races and missions in the hub if you want more to do.  I'd say you get some decent value from the game, even if my son doesn't do much to find every item and secret in a stage.  I have no idea why, since I figured he would pick up on my completionist tendencies.  Also in the game, there is a lot of dialogue between the characters.  Most of it felt unnecessary to me, but my son didn't mind all the talking.  It would be nice to have a function to skip the dialogue and cut-scenes, though.

Skylanders: Superchargers was a lot of fun to play.  The driving sections were fun, and played well in single player and co-op.  While the older figures do have some limitations, they weren't as bad as the previous game, as any character can drive any vehicle.  My 8 year-old son really liked the game, and especially loved driving the car around.  I'm looking forward to getting an air and sea vehicle to play the sections of the levels I missed.  If you or your kids like the Skylanders games, you should enjoy this one as well!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance (PS4) Review

It should be well known by now that I really enjoy the Disgaea series.  I've liked every entry in the series so far, so I was of course eager to get an early review code for Disgaea 5.

For the uninitiated, the Disgaea games are a series of strategy RPGs (SRPGs for short).  You move and attack on a grid and alternate turns between you and the enemy.  Stats and levels go crazy high, and the plots revolve around demons and the Netherworld.  Every item and piece of equipment has a random dungeon inside of it.  There are lots of character types to use in battle, and a lot of other things that set it apart from other SRPGs that are around.

Does the game still hold up to the Disgaea standard for gameplay?  Yes, it does.  Is the plot something that fits in the universe?  Yes.  There is a very powerful Overlord trying to take over all the other Netherworlds, and your small group is going to stop them.  Are the characters decent?  I'd say yes.  Most of them have extra things about them that aren't readily apparent, and their conversations tend to be humorous.  It's no horse weiner, but there are some funny parts.  Particularly, I like Red Magnus as the wrestler/Hercule (from Dragonball Z) role.  At first, Seraphina annoyed me, but she got less so as the game went on.  None of the characters are particularly groundbreaking, but done well enough.

So now that we got the basics out of the way, what about the changes?  Given the subtitle of the game, I'll start with the Revenge meter.  Now all characters get a new meter next to their portrait.  As they or their allies take damage, or they dish it out, the meter will fill.  When full, a unit enters Revenge Mode, where all of their skills cost 1 SP and they only do critical hits.  If the unit is an Overlord, they also get a powerful Overload skill (which I keep reading as Overlord skill).  These skills don't take your turn to use, which is a big deal in a game like this.  I don't have to tell you how great it is to be able to use any skill for a negligible cost.  However, the effect only lasts 2 turns, so make use of it while you have it, or stay clear of a powerful opponent who is out for revenge!

Most of the other changes are small, but I like most of them.  Each stage has a one time bonus that you get for maxing out the bonus gauge.  While it isn't a huge thing, it's nice.  The character world is now presented like a board game, where you make your way around a board and try to land on spaces that give you things, like mana, HL or stat increases.  If you run out of moves, you will halve any bonuses you receive.  If you make it to the end, you pick a bonus (better aptitude, more counters, etc.) and any subsequent runs will cost a lot more mana.  This cost resets if you reincarnate, which is nice.  The character world feels a lot different and easier to use, and I approve.

Groups return, and allow you to put your characters in various groups that have different effects.  One might give bonus experience or mana relative to how much the leader earns, or let you capture enemies.  These groups can be leveled up by sacrificing prisoners that you have captured or have surrendered.  Prisoners can be interrogated, which lowers a meter.  When the meter is out, they can be made allies, roam around the pocket Netherworld, or give bonus experience when sacrificed to level up a group.  Since there are a lot of Netherworlds, you can also send some of your extra characters to explore them and bring back prisoners, items and gain experience.  I really like that there are good uses for the extra people you acquire in the game, and a reason to have them get levels and have some gear on.

The item world stages are small and don't have many enemies, which is good.  This has been the case for the last game or two, but it seems faster to go through them in this game.  The biggest change is that you have to actually finish the level to get a level for the item, as it is now a bonus gauge reward.  The boss floor even has an extra level gain at the top of the bonus list.  There are a few other ways to gain bonus levels for an item, which is cool.  Innocents can now be moved off of items without being subdued.  Yay!  Now they have to be subdued to combine them.  What?  It's not a huge deal, but it is strange.  If I have to pick one, I'd rather move them without subduing then combine without subduing.  I'm not sure why we can't have both.  Subduing them still increases their value, which is still a reward for going into the item world and defeating them.  Either way, I'll take this change.

Probably my favorite change is to character creation.  While it used to cost mana to create, it now takes money (HL).  For me, money is a much easier resource to gain in the Disgaea games, so this change is huge to me.  Plus, you can also spend some extra money to increase the newly created character's level closer to your highest level character.  This makes it so much easier to have a new person actual contribute instead of being regulated to the B Team.  Characters can also now equip a secondary weapon, and switch during combat for different situations.  I love these changes.

Is there anything I don't like in the game?  Sure!  When you are in the pocket Netherworld that serves as your base, a song plays.  There are some vocals to the song, and it gets annoying pretty quickly.  It feels like the whole song is a thirty second snippet that is endlessly repeated.  You spend just enough time in the Netherworld that I was hoping for a way to turn off just the song that plays.  Other than that, my only annoyance were the battles that are clearly skewed against you.  They didn't feel as bad as the ones in Disgaea 4 at least, but there are a few.  Grinding fixes this, but it's not an ideal solution to balance.

With all of the things to do in the game, it can eat up a lot of time.  Going through only the story is almost impossible, since there are a lot of other things to distract you.  Entering the Item World to level up equipment, using the Character World to make someone even better, or even end game challenges that require mind-boggling stats to overcome.  Disgaea games do require some grinding, and Disgaea 5 is no exception.  It didn't feel necessary very often, or for very long, but that could be because I tend to use the Cheat Shop to increase the experience percent I get to minimize grinding.  Even so, it is easy to lose over a hundred hours and have fun doing so.

Disgaea 5 is really fun to play.  The core SRPG aspects of the game are still intact and working great, and my gripes with the game were small.  The many new additions and changes make this one of the best Disgaea games yet, and a must play for any strategy RPG fans.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bladestorm: Nightmare (PS4) Review

Bladestorm was released several years ago on the Xbox 360 and PS3, and it was Koei Tecmo offering their take on the Hundred Years War between England and France.  Now, the new and improved version, Bladestorm: Nightmare, is available on the PS4.

While you might initially think that since Koei Tecmo made the game, it would be like Dynasty Warriors, but set in a different place.  Well, it's not.  However, I would totally play that game.  Anyway, the game is a much more tactical game.  It's like a midway point between Dynasty Warriors and Nobunaga's Ambition.  You will run around with your troops and attack enemies yourself, but you have some ability to give commands to people in your group.

You play as a mercenary, and can gain control of any troop type you come across and have the book for.  The book basically allows you to gain experience for that group, and hence, use them.  Each troop type is strong or weak against other types.  These can be changed mid-battle, as long as you go near another type.  Plus, if you have comrades near you, you can have them join your army and travel as a stronger brigade and lay waste to the opposition.  Of course, the trade off for that is you won't have them available to send elsewhere.  This larger group can be broken up if you do need that luxury though.

If it sounds a bit messy and complicated, that's because it kind of is.  The functions are simple enough to understand, but remembering what combination of buttons does what can be a chore in and of itself.  The controls are not like any other game I have played, and took a lot of getting used to.  They work well enough, but it's not very intuitive and I had some trouble remembering what button did what and how to do certain things.  And, no, I'm not that old.

Battles themselves take place on a large field that houses many troops, leaders, towns and castles that you have to either defend or take.  There's also no loading that I noticed while running around the large areas.  That's cool.  The uncool part is that it shows a lot of what's going on around you, even if it isn't things that are important to your mission.  It felt like they showed everything, even you didn't need to see it for the task at hand.

Admittedly, I frequently had no idea if I was doing the right thing or not.  There are lines telling me where to go, so I usually followed them and took over bases they pointed to.  Nearby were other bases that I sometimes took over and sometimes didn't... it didn't seem to matter.  Other bases were gained or lost, and I didn't know which ones or if it was important.  I felt lost most of the time, just following the lines and killing troops.  Although I would win, I didn't feel as though I was helping much, just trotting along and trying stuff, which I guess worked?  I can only infer that from me not losing.  There seemed to be a lot going on and I wasn't sure if I was helping or just showing up.  If that was the feeling they were going for, just being a cog in the machine, then mission accomplished.  If I was meant to feel more important, like I do in Dynasty and Samurai Warriors battles, then one of us was doing something wrong.

The Nightmare side of the title is the new mode added for the new gen versions.  It is an original story set around the same period, but involves monsters and other mythological creatures in with the normal British and French troops.  While it isn't realistic, I think it is a neat alternate timeline idea to have things like skeletons and trolls attacking both sides so they band together to combat a higher menace.  Some enemy leaders are large monsters that require special ways to take them out.  You can command these new troops types as well.  Battles in this mode seem much longer than their earlier story mode counterparts, with even the first one taking me an hour.  While the normal story stages seem more piecemeal, these are much larger struggles.  However, it was still difficult for me to know if I was doing well until the stage was almost won.

There are a lot of stages to complete, and the story mode itself has two main campaigns, depending on which side you help.  The Nightmare scenario is a third campaign, which will add more playtime.  If you like the style of game, you should get a lot of playtime out of the game.  With battles lasting up to an hour or more, just going through once is likely around 30-40 hours.  If you want to try for all the trophies, it's another one of the long haul games that will set you back over 100 hours easy.

I will admit I like the premise of Bladestorm: Nightmare.  It's not a bad game, and there are some fun parts.  I just didn't feel like it clicked with me or that I was "getting" it.  Since I would win the battles, I guess I did what I was supposed to, but it usually felt accidental or that my portion wasn't doing much.  Again, this could easily be on my end and not the game's fault.  It's a title I may go back to more in the future, as I do like the Nightmare campaign.  If you are going in looking for more of a Koei Tecmo Warriors experience, you are going to be disappointed.  As an action/strategy game, it does alright.