Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Trillion: God of Destruction (PS Vita) Review

Can you defeat a boss with a trillion hit points?  That's the basis for Trillion: God of Destruction.  Even by JRPG standards, that is a colossal amount of HP, and it is your job to whittle it down and defend the Netherworld.  To accomplish this, you will need the help an Overlord sharing your power.  While the beast sleeps, you must train and prepare...lest it consumes you as well.

There are two main phases in the game.  There are the actual fights against Trillion, and the training period while it rests.  Before Trillion awakens, you have a certain number of cycles and days (1 cycle is 7 days).  Each of the training selections takes 1 day and has a particular focus, usually on a certain type of experience.  Each stat you raise and skill you purchase requires a certain amount of the different types of experience.  It's better for each character to go with their strengths and not round them out, as the normal enemies are easy and Trillion has, well, a lot of hit points.

Training will also increase an Overlord's fatigue, so you will need to tell them to rest (otherwise you risk injury) or use an item on them to lower it.  The blacksmith will increase the power of your weapon, which costs money.  Each weapon will also have up to 8 slots (that you also unlock with money) that you can put seals onto.  The seals offer various effects, most of which are stat boosts.  To round it out, there is also a shop that sells some items, seals and equipment.  You shouldn't have to buy much of that, as you can find a lot of things in the Sword Valley.  The shop also sells devil envoys, who are A.I. controlled helpers that will fight with you in the Trillion/Mokujin fights.  If they perish during the Trillion fights, they are gone for good, so make sure to buy and equip another.  They are actually pretty useful.

During the cycles, there are also random events that can happen.  These usually involve you choosing an answer to something, and they can have different effects.  Some can give you an item, extra experience, or even give your Overlord a status ailment.  You will see the same ones several times, but even then the choices don't always lead to the same result.  Eventually, you will learn which ones are worth doing, and some have no downsides to them.  All in all, you are subject to the random number generator (RNG) for many of them.

While each Overlord has HP and MP, and anyone who has played an RPG will understand those, they also have a third meter, called affection.  This represents their feelings toward the Great Overlord, and in battle acts as a shield for their HP.  It is very important, since having some allows you to retreat from the Trillion battles.  Giving the Overlords gifts and spending time with them (in the Rest menu) will raise their affection for you, and also give them more affection meter.  There are many gifts in the game, and each of the Overlords reacts differently to each one.  However, each has a few presents that they absolutely love, and giving it to them gives a big boost to affection and a little scene with them.  As their affection rises, spending time with them will trigger special scenes, some of which have a CG image that unlocks in the gallery.  Plus, sometimes you can find the Overlord in the hot springs, since I'm sure you were going to ask if that was a thing in this game.  Worry not, it is here!

There are other fights besides Trillion itself in the game.  While the training segments are more akin to a simulation game, the fights are like mystery dungeon games.  The area is laid out on a grid, and the enemy only takes an action when you do.  Normal attacks can be directed at any of the 8 surrounding squares.  You can change the direction you face without moving (which is very helpful), use items or active skills.  Being able to plan your actions is very helpful to avoid damage and get to your goal fast enough and safe enough.

Combat will be in one of three places.  The most obvious are the fights against Trillion, but they are also the least numerous.  The second is against a monster called Mokujin.  At the beginning of each cycle, Mokujin will take the form of Trillion and you can do a practice battle against him to better learn how to fight the final boss.  These are really, really helpful for learning strategies and gaining valuable experience.  However, they also stop when you need them most.  I won't spoil why, but needless to say there was a time I needed Mokujin and he wasn't able to help.

The third area for fighting is the Sword Valley.  These are randomly generated and you must reach the exit in the specified number of turns.  There are a set number of enemies and treasure chest strewn throughout the area.  You will want to get what you can, since every enemy killed is experience and the items and equipment you pick up may be useful.  If you are running low on moves, remember that some skills will move you multiple spaces with one move, provided you have the MP.  The fights in the valley are the easiest in the game, since by the time you dive in, you probably can kill everything in one hit.  This is the grinding area, though, not the hard part of the game.  That's what Trillion is for.

So, what happens when...I mean if, your chosen Overlord is overwhelmed by the gluttonous beast?  First, they get to execute their death skill.  there are a few to choose from, and can either do extra damage (I'd love to actually kill Trillion with one of these...so dramatic!), power up the next Overlord or other things.  The one I prefer is Demon Barrier, since it extends Trillion's rest period.  This gives you more time to buff yourself up.  After that, the next Overlord is chosen, and gains a portion of the experience earned from the previous one so you can hit the ground running.  During the fight, if you still have affection, you can retreat.  This will give you more time to train, but you can only do it a few times per girl.  Use it as much as you can...the extra time and experience really makes a difference!

Even when you know you are going to lose one of the girls, it can still be a sad experience.  The sense of loss is one of the driving themes of the story.  I figure it is possible to defeat Trillion your first run through the game, but it is very, very unlikely.  Or I'm terrible at the game, I'm not sure.  It's fine to me that you can't win the first time, since you gain so much while failing.  My only gripe with it is the end.  It's probably not a spoiler to say that if you run out of Overlords to fight against Trillion, you will lose.  When you finally do, it's a small scene and then a game over screen.  It feels really lackluster for such an inevitable outcome.  I'd prefer it more framed as a 'bad ending' rather than just outright losing, since most players that complete the game will see this as their first ending.

There are obviously multiple endings, depending on who manages to slay Trillion.  Since it is very likely you will fail to do so, the game has a nice new game+ feature.  Each girl will keep the experience they earned.  You will have to re-buy their stats and skills, and their weapons will return to the default state (meaning you lose its levels and seals).  I'm fine re-buying the skills, but the stats is a bit annoying.  It's not a huge deal, but you will end up holding the button for awhile to catch them back up.  The weapons returning to the default is the biggest bummer.  Lesson learned: don't spend much on an Overlord unless you plan for them to win.  You also lose any items they had equipped and any tokens for the prize machine and Sword Valley.  However, you keep all the money you had, along with all the items in storage.  This includes the affection items, so spend all the tokens you can before the end!

I'm not 100% positive of my playtime, since I don't see anywhere in the game to track that (which is annoying), but it had to have been over 40 hours.  The time is variable depending on what you do, the choices you make, and if you get more of it through the various means.  Still, it took a long time to get through the game once.  At times it felt a bit long.  Without spoiling anything, there were a few extensions that I did not expect that kept the first run longer than I would have initially thought.  It feels kind of weird to complain about a game taking too long though, but at times it felt this way.

Overall, I very much enjoyed playing Trillion: God of Destruction.  The concept is great and the execution is well done.  Training and combat are simple to understand, but offer some depth if you think a little outside the box.  It's also unexpectedly emotional at times.  The new game+ option is really good and helps you finish off the boss with repeated playthroughs.  I do have a few minor gripes with the game, but they aren't things that diminished how much I enjoyed it.  The game is long, almost too long, and offers a lot of value if you enjoy it as well.  I would recommend JRPG fans check the game out.  It is fun and one of a kind!

(Review code for Trillion: God of Destruction was supplied by the publisher)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse (Xbox One) Review

Before we get started on my Shantae and the Pirate's Curse review, I want to state that as someone with a degree in art, I really like certain looks to games.  If you don't want to hear me gush about the visuals in this game, skip past the next paragraph.

Still here?  Ok.  Wow, I just love the visuals here.  The character portraits are awesome looking, and not just for the scantily clad girls.  They are really detailed and super smooth.  The in-game models are really nice sprite art, and the animations are great as well.  One thing I've noticed with WayForward is the amazing animations they put into games.  The music is also really, really good.  Shantae even speaks a select few lines, which is pretty cool.  It's mostly character's names, but it does add to the game.  I don't think I'd want every line spoken, so this is a good middle ground.

Shantae also controls really well, provided you are using the d-pad.  I tried using the analog stick, but it didn't feel nearly as good or as precise as the d-pad.  It also felt more precise than Risky's Revenge did, but I'm not sure if there was some backend change, or just the different controller did something.  Shantae's different moves are mapped out pretty well on the controller, which allows you to use her various power-ups.  The only minor issue I had was when opening the map/item screen you had to back out by hitting the button again instead of the B Button for canceling.  Oh, and I'd love to turn off the vibration feature.  Maybe in an update or future title?

Pirate's Curse is fun, but there were several parts of the game that were difficult.  As you progress, enemies hit harder and harder, and you need to get a lot of the health upgrades to just stay afloat.  I'd prefer it if it wasn't so strict, but I think it's mostly appealing to the "loves hard games" crowd.  Or they want to encourage you to learn all the patterns and just "don't get hit" (thanks, Tyler).  The boss fights were challenging the first few times, but end up being not that bad after you figure them out.  Except for Dagron...I hate that fight.  It's oddly harder than the final boss!

I think the platforming is actually harder than the bosses.  There are many parts where you have to move quickly and precisely, avoiding enemies and trying to skillfully land on small platforms.  Many of these sections become easier once you have the pirate upgrades.  However, the final dungeon is really hard.  Yes, as the final dungeon it should be harder, but they want such precision just to get through it that I found it very frustrating.  They are long rooms that you have to do in one go, and you need to expertly use each travel method.  If you are persistent, you will eventually get through it, but it can lose all fun really fast.

Silly or not, I love the design of the skull bra.
If you have played the previous game, or most other metroidvania-type games, the map layout should look familiar.  However, this game is broken into several smaller maps, for each island, area and dungeon, instead of one giant map.  A few places of interest are marked on the map, but not items.  Yes, there would be some purists that don't want any hints, but there are those of us that can't memorize the whole map and would like a reminder.  The map works well, but I would really like a way to scroll through the different maps of a given island.  As it stands, you can only see the map of the current area, and some maps are broken into much small pieces that aren't always so helpful.  Not really a deal breaker, but a nice thing that I hope makes it into a sequel.

Thankfully, Pirate's Curse is longer than Risky's Revenge.  The game took me around 9 hours to get 100% in my first run.  The game is also meant to be speed run, as there is even an achievement for it.  Beating the game once unlocks "pirate mode", where you start with all the pirate power-ups.  Besides being really cool and fun, this makes speed running much easier.  Heck, I might even try, and I don't even like doing speed runs.  There are also multiple achievements in the game that are hard, like one per boss by beating them without getting hit.  I can see this for a few of them, but not Dagron.  I really, really...really dislike fighting him (if you couldn't tell from earlier).  It was hard enough for me to beat him, let alone not getting hit.  Ugh, bad memories there.  Anyway, as a nice reward for getting the achievements, each one is a picture of a character in the game.  So if you love the artwork in the game like I do, it makes for some great pictures to use as your background!

Even though there are frustrating parts, I liked playing Shantae and the Pirate's Curse.  The controls are tight and responsive, and it plays really well.  The music and art are my favorite part of the whole thing.  It's longer than the previous game, and an easy recommendation to any metroidvania fans.  The unlockable mode, speedrun possibilities and achievement art gives some good reasons to go through it multiple times.  An overall solid title that is worth playing.

(Review code for Shantae and the Pirate's Curse was provided by the publisher.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

XBlaze Code: Embryo (PC) Review

Many moons ago I reviewed XBlaze Lost: Memories on the Vita, which was a visual novel set in the BlazBlue universe.  Unfortunately, I had not played the previous game, Code: Embryo, so there were gaps in the story that were likely filled in there.  Now that XBlaze Code: Embryo has been released on Steam, I have a chance to review it and see the story from its first perspective.

While the art for the game looks good, it ends up looking a bit jagged.  This is because the aspect ratios that it has don't quite match my monitor.  If I run it full screen, then the edges are cut off slightly, but windowed mode compresses the look to be jaggier than it should be.  I'm sure it would look really good on the correct screen size.  I mostly used a controller because I prefer it, but the keyboard worked just fine.  If you do want to use a controller, plug it in before booting up the game.

XBlaze is a visual novel, so there is a lot of reading involved.  Many of the lines of dialogue are also voiced, which is really nice.  Instead of a more traditional choice-based system to determine the story route, it is handled by what articles you read on the in-game news feed, called TOi.  The TOi contains the info on the different characters (and updates it accordingly) plus different news articles from around the area that add some extra depth to the world.  It's a unique system for choosing routes/endings, and is a really neat idea.  Well, mostly.

The system does have a few drawbacks.  It can be very easy to miss when new articles appear if you are getting invested in the story.  If you are worried about missing one, you end up checking the TOi every scene or so, which kind of breaks the immersion.  I would be like talking to someone who checks their phone every minute.  Well, there are actually people like that, so maybe that was the point?  Anyway, besides easily missing an article, missing even one that you need can ruin an entire run of the game.  I didn't see any real form of chapter select, either, so you are stuck running through again if you don't make enough saves.  The one saving grace is once you get at least one (non-bad) ending, you can see who has read what article to better control the ending.

Going through your first time will run about 8 hours or so (assuming you are reading and not skipping text).  If you want see the other endings or fill out the extras/achievements, you will have to play through the game a few times, even with good use of saves.  You can skip dialogue you have already read, which will cut down the time needed for subsequent playthroughs.  There are also a few bonus routes known as the gag reel, so you get a good amount of playtime with the game, as long as you seek out a few of the endings.

XBlaze Code: Embryo is a fun visual novel.  I like the idea of the TOi branching paths.  I felt it could have been a little more forgiving, considering how easy it is to mess up an entire playthrough.  It ran well on my PC, save for the display not matching my monitor.  I will say that I prefer playing visual novels on a handheld.  I like to sit or lie down comfortably while playing/reading them, so the smaller, portable consoles is what I like better for them.  It is by no means bad on the PC, and VN fans should probably check the game out.  While it is set in the BlazBlue universe, knowledge of that game is not required, so new people can easily jump in.  If you have any interest in the follow up game, XBlaze Lost: Memories, start with this game first.

(Review code for XBlaze Code: Embryo was provided by the publisher.)

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Witch and the Hundred Knight: Revival Edition (PS4) Review

Almost two years ago I reviewed a PS3 game called The Witch and the Hundred Knight.  Now the game has come over to the PS4 as the Revival Edition and boasts improved graphics, performance, a new area to explore and a new feature: the ability to play as the Swamp Witch Metallia in that new area.

Like most re-releases, I'll first give a quick recap of the game without too much detail.  If you want more, check out the full previous review here.  You control the Hundred Knight, who was summoned to this world by Metallia, the Swamp Witch.  She sends you to various locations to fight enemies and release special pillars that will spread her swamp (she cannot leave it, so expanding it is the way she can go elsewhere).  It is an action rpg with some mystery dungeon elements to the game.  You free run around each area (there is no grid), and have a stamina meter that drains when you attack, sprint or dodge.  It will quickly fill up if you have Gigacals left, which drain as you move around each dungeon.

This aspect is like systems found in many mystery dungeon style games.  You will refill your HP as long as you have Gigacals, but if you run out of both, you will return to Metallia's hut and lose many of the items you gained in the dungeon (the items are held in the Hundred Knight's stomach).  You can also activate a power-up mode, called Chaos Revelation, which increases your stats but burns through Gigacals much, much faster.

Combat is handled by equipping up to five weapons, which will be your combo.  You can get bonuses by equipping weapons in matching slots (there's a little die-like number on each weapon).  The Hundred Knight can also block and dodge.  If you dodge at the right time, you get a mystical dodge, which slows down time so you can counter attack.  Mastering it is really helpful on bosses, so you can inflict lots of damage when their defense is lowered.  The combat is pretty satisfying and fun, and the adoption of some mystery dungeon elements add a unique twist to the whole thing.

With that said, it is now time to check out the improvements.  The game does look better on the PS4, but it isn't that noticeable to me (maybe it has been too long since I played the original).  It loads a little faster, but again, not a whole lot of improvement.  The game is much more stable on the PS4, though.  Where the PS3 version had some random crashes, I have not encountered it or any other crashes while playing the Revival Edition.  This is great, but strange that "more stable" is a re-release bullet point.  The game felt a little easier than I remember as well, but I don't know if they balanced it more or if I somewhat remembered how to play.

Really, the biggest addition to this edition is the Tower of Illusion.  This dungeon opens up after completing the first 2 chapters of the story, and then you can freely travel to it from Metallia's home swamp.  To start a tower run, you must select a weapon you have to show it to the tower.  Your choice determines average enemy strength and things like drops and drop rates.  So thankfully it will be hard to bite off more than you can chew, since you shouldn't have weapons way above your level.

Once inside, you must complete a number of rooms and floors.  All monsters in a room must be defeated before you can move on to the next.  You still earn bonus ranks that you can cash in for stat boosts, but there is no bonus meter.  It's basically a random assortment of room of enemies you have to kill as you try to go to the top.  When you first load a room, it is loaded before it displays, and I've been hit with a few cheap shots when the enemy attacks before the game shows me the area.

The best part of the Tower of Illusion is the ability to play as Metallia.  When killing enemies, you collect Concentrated Mana that fills a meter.  As long as you have at least one full section, you can summon Metallia, which lets you play as her for a time.  She has a big and powerful sword for her attack, and three magic spells at her disposal.  Drop rates are also doubled while using her, but honestly, just using her is fun enough on its own.  To further entice you to go through the tower, enemies in the tower sometimes drop alchemy ingredients that the Hundred Knight can use outside to increase the stats of his equipment.

The Witch and the Hundred Knight: Revival Edition is a reasonably fun game that combines action, rpg and mystery dungeon elements together into a cohesive package.  The added Tower of Illusion does actually feel like a significant addition to the game.  It's really cool that you can play as Metallia there, and being able to power up weapons with special drops makes it just a little better.  It might be enough to tempt fans of the original release to double dip.  It's a shame you can't import your data from that release, as it would make recommending it a no-brainer.  New people should definitely choose this edition over the previous one if at all possible.

(Review code for The Witch and the Hundred Knight: Revival Edition was provided by the publisher.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mind Zero (PC) Quick Review

Mind Zero, released almost 2 years ago on the Playstation Vita, has recently been released on the PCs via Steam.  First off, I'll run through a recap of my Mind Zero impressions from the Vita version.  If you want the full rundown of what I thought, check out the full review here.

Mind Zero is a first-person dungeon crawler, much in the vein of Wizardry (I use this phrase a lot).  There are three different meters to take care of, HP, MP and TP.  Each character can summon a Mind, which does more damage to most enemies.  Also while your Mind is out, damage taken is from MP instead of HP.  You can also use skills during this time, which requires TP.  I found that using your Mind as much as possible makes fights go fairly smooth.  They are a great resource, so learn when and how to use them.

Moving around in dungeons is done via first person, and most dungeons have gimmick tiles that inconvenience you in some way.  When you attack in battle, your character is actually shown attacking, so in my opinion, it is a step above other first person dungeon crawlers in that regard.  Battles are usually random encounters when in dungeons, but some are marked by an icon when you are walking around.  Most story locations and shops are taken care of on the world map, where you just select where you are going.

My main gripes with the game were the strange dungeon layouts and the old school grind mentality.  Dungeons don't really flow from floor 1 to 2 to 3, etc.  Instead you might start on floor 1, then find the stairs to 4, which then leads to the 2nd floor and the boss.  The dungeons aren't missing floors, but you won't visit them all on your first expedition into them, or in order.  The grinding I had to do in almost all the dungeons is likely because of the type of game.  It's a more old school dungeon crawler, so they expect you to approach it as such, which means spending time walking in circles to fight battles and level up before you complete it.  It won't be a problem for everyone, or even in every game, but it is a turn off for some.

The only problem I really had with the PC port was its display size.  It runs in either windowed mode or full screen (you have to reload to see the change).  Windowed just looked too small.  Full screen was better, but then the game is much harder to exit.  It's weird to me that I couldn't find an return to title function or an exit to desktop.  Other than that, the game ran well on my i-7, and I didn't notice any performance problems.  It also loads faster than the Vita version.  My wife, on her 1-5 laptop, did have some issues.  It would sometimes flash a white screen during tutorial messages, and she had no sound.  We aren't sure what was the cause of either of those things.

For the PC release, I had my wife try the game as well.  She really likes games like this, and she had not yet tried the Vita version.  While I found the game pretty fun, and liked the higher than normal emphasis on characters and story, she did not.  For these kinds of games, she prefers less talking.  She also didn't like that it took a long time to get the ability to level up your skills.

If you like dungeon crawlers with characters and story (not characters you create yourself), you should check out Mind Zero.  The Mind mechanic is worth checking out, as it adds a very interesting mechanic to fights.  I found the game pretty fun, and the PC port ran well for me.

(Review code for Mind Zero was provided by the publisher.)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Megadimension Neptunia VII (PS4) Review

Neptunia and her friends have finally crossed over to the new gen!  Megadimension Neptunia VII (it's V-two by the way) has noticeably higher definition graphics and a host of changes and new things so you can save Gameindustri from yet another threat, this time on PS4!

The story for Neptunia VII is separated into three arcs.  The first has Neptune and Nepgear meet a new CPU, Uzume, in a desolated dimension.  She is a pretty cool new character that uses a megaphone as a weapon.  The second arc has the characters split up to deal with new threats from the Gold Third, who are characters that represent four of the third party companies.  The final arc ties it all together to its conclusion.  It's actually a pretty long game, all things considered.

As would be expected, the game looks nice.  It is a step up from the previous iteration of the series.  However, what I was not expecting was the new enemies.  While there are some returning enemies, there are a lot of new models, like a few different big robots, crabs with sand castle shells and even good old Koitsu.  I really like the new enemy models.  Some of them even have voice files.  Not just monster sounding grunts, there are more human-sounding ones (even from obvious monsters), and actual spoken dialogue.

Battles have also been tweaked from previous iterations.  Break attacks are no longer present, so the guard meter isn't there, either.  This is actually really nice, since bosses really made use of that to be more of a chore than they should be.  Instead, bosses and strong enemies now have multiple health bars, represented by pip marks under the main bar.  This was a system used in Fairy Fencer F, and is a good way to show normal damage but have lots of health.  Rush attacks hit a more times and help build the EXE meter, while Power are for more damage.  The Standard attack is in-between those two, and is what replaced the Break attacks.

Attacks sometimes have a combo trait.  If you use the attack when the conditions are filled, it is a guaranteed critical.  These are pretty nice since they up your damage, but aren't necessary.  I'd still recommending juggling around where you put the different combo attacks to take advantage of it as best you can.  There is thankfully no CP system like some previous games, so you can put on a lot of your best moves.  Each attack can only be put on once, though.  Each weapon allows certain combo moves to be used, but you can fill the unused slots anyway.  I'm not too fond of this part of the new combat system.  It makes each weapon unique, and probably adds some balance, but a stronger weapon might not actually be better, and that bothers me.  I'd be happy if it gets reworked in a future title, though, since it does have promise.

Some enemies have different parts that can be broken off of them.  In my opinion, this would have been a good use for the Break attacks.  Either way, it is a bit tricky to hit them since you cannot target them directly.  You will do damage to them and the enemy if you attack them from the appropriate position to hit the breakable part.  For example, if the enemy has a weapon you can break in their right hand, attacking from their right side will also damage the weapon.  The system works...alright.  As far as I can tell, you need to use an item to see the health of the breakable part, and again to check its progress.  It's a bit cumbersome, but I would like to see the idea come back in a future game with some retooling.

C-Sha knows how to rock, man.
The EXE gauge returns, but starts over each fight.  The upside is that it fills much faster.  The gauge can be cashed in for either the EXE moves (if your level is high enough) or formation skills, which are powerful attacks that require your characters to be on different sides of an opponent.  Coupling has changed some as well.  Now the character in front temporarily gains 10% of the back character's stats, but only for either offense or defense, which is set by the player.  There are also giant bosses you fight at a few points in the game, where you can only damage them with SP attacks.  You move around platforms that surround them, which you can also use to avoid some attacks.  These are a fun addition to the game that adds something really unique.

The world map has also changed.  The different dungeons are connected by routes that you move over when travelling to your destination.  Battles can occur on the different points.  There will be times you must spend money to build the actual route to a given place, which seems a bit unnecessary.  I like the ideas, but I don't really think the game needs either of these.  The random battles are more annoying than useful, and I'm not convinced the game needed another way to use up money, like Investing.  Yes, you can now spend money to unlock more store items, more blueprints to develop and extra event scenes with items.

Scouts also return, but with changes to their function.  They are deployed to a dungeon of your choosing for a certain time length.  When they return, they might find items, money, a new dungeon, another scout to join, or nothing.  It's pretty nice.  However, they can also find stronger enemies in dungeons, which is annoying until you can deal with them.  If, after finding them, they could be turned off (like the previous blueprint system), that would be better.  Scouts at a location will also give it their effects.  Some give bonus experience, change the enemies, or even lessen the share penalty for transforming.  There are also negative effects, too.  You can send multiple to the same location, so definitely take advantage of them as much as possible.  At first I sent them one at a time, then I figured out you can send multiple at once (just mark them with the d-pad).  I am so glad I figured that out for myself.  It made it much faster to send them and keep track of where I sent them to.

With so many changes, did anything stay the same?  The item development is largely the same as it has been in previous games, but there seems to be less to make.  Also there are no more plans that change the dungeons, as a similar function is on the scouts.  The character challenges, which I really liked, are also back.  These give you stat bonuses for jumping, being the leader in dungeons, hitting a lot, etc.  The final level of some of them give a nice big bonus, which really helps out if you can get them as early as possible.  Moving around the dungeons and in battle is largely the same as well.

As mentioned earlier, the game is pretty long.  With three complete arcs, the playtime feels higher than previous Neptunia games.  There were still several points where I had to grind out some levels, especially during the second arc when you don't always have a healer in your group.  There are a few different endings too, so there is a reason to replay the game, which the new game+ will help with.

Like most of the other Neptunia games, Megadimension Neptunia VII was fun for me.  There were a lot more changes than I would have expected, and a lot of new enemies, too.  I like some of the battle system changes, but some of the others I would like to see reworked into something more fun.  The three arc story is pretty neat, and I do like the new characters.  It can take awhile to get through the game, longer than other Neptunia games, but still has parts where you will want to grind.  I also really enjoy the new references!  Fans of the Neptunia franchise should definitely pick up Megadimension Neptunia VII.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed (PC) Review

Like its RPG brethren (sistren?), Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is coming to the PC via Steam.  As the title suggests, this is an action game.  Specifically, it is a hack and slash, more akin to Dynasty Warriors than what had previously come in the Neptunia series of games.

Neptunia U follows the two reporter characters, Dengekiko and Famitsu, as they are writing stories about the CPUs and the CPU candidates.  To do so, you will undertake many missions that involve killing lots of enemies (in true hack and slash fashion).  Most battles are done in a team of two that you can switch between at any time.  Little bubbles under your health are used for special attacks, and a third meter (EXE) allows you to go into your CPU form.  In a nod to Senran Kagura, the girls' clothing can also be ripped.  At least you get some EXE meter for it.

The story is divided up into missions, but not all of them have to be completed to advance.  One of my gripes was the missions are given out in batches.  This would be fine but they have some big level spreads that you won't be able to do when you first get them, and their order in the areas is random too.  It makes for too much poking around to find the next mission, rather than having them in some sort of order.  Many of them do have the freedom to pick who you want, so grinding is pretty easy and usually required.  It is a Neptunia game, after all.

After completing the story, a battle tournament called "Gamindustri Gauntlet" opens up.  The tournament is pretty simple, and wasn't much fun for me, but worth doing at least once to unlock Neptral Tower.  That mode is a series of battles and can be pretty fun.  If you enjoy the action of the game, the content is worth the asking price.  If you want to read a little more in-depth about the game itself (and not this port of it), then check out my review of the Vita version.

Performance-wise, my preview build of the PC port was solid.  Load times are noticeably better than the Vita version, save for the hiccup when it loads a tutorial screen.  It looks better than the Vita version, which should come as no surprise.  It is possible to use the keyboard and mouse for the game, but...I wouldn't.  Since it is an action game, a controller is far superior.  The game feels really good with a controller, which is one reason I eventually put my Vita version on the Playstation TV.

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is a fun game.  This is the best looking version of the game, and it is so satisfying to play it with a controller.  Neptunia fans should definitely try the game out, even though it is a different genre.  Fans of hack and slash games like the Warriors series or Sengoku Basara might also find the game fun, even if it might be a bit basic by those standards.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Yakuza 5 (PS3) Review

My first few hours spend with Yakuza 5 were all spent installing the game on my PS3.  Seriously.  The game clocks in at over 22 Gigs, which sadly means you need twice that to install.  I put in my review code and after 4+ hours of downloading and another to install, I was finally ready to start the game.  However, that time is not nearly as much as you will spend playing the game, even if you don't do much of the extra stuff.

First off, the game looks really good, and I can't wait to see the PS4 Yakuza game coming later this year.  The character models and environments are really detailed.  This is important because the focus of the game is on the characters.  As mentioned in my early impressions post, Yakuza 5 is not quite the genre I thought it was.  It is much more focused on story and character interactions, weaving the protagonists throughout their role in the world.  The story takes itself seriously and there is a lot of dialogue and cut scenes, with many of them voiced.  There are times where you can wander around and have free will, and there are times when you have to do very specific things.  If the story and characters weren't as interesting as they are, that kind of thing could backfire.

In many ways, Yakuza 5 is actually like an action-RPG.  You walk around to different places, which can take awhile if you are going at the speed of people.  Running is possible, but it easily attracts attention from unsavory people that will then start a fight with you.  It's really similar to random encounters, hence my comparison to RPGs.  You can grab side quests, too.  Fights, though, are definitely not like RPGs, and much more like a 3D brawler.

To me, combat is the star of the game.  It is fun and brutal.  As you punch, kick and throw your opponents, you build up a Heat gauge that allows you to do special moves.  These moves do a lot of damage, but more importantly, look so savage.  Some have you grate an opponent's face on the ground or powerbomb him onto his neck.  There are even situational ones depending on where you are during battle.  For example, Kiryu can throw an opponent into the river.  I laugh every time I see that one.  Since you will end up doing a lot of fights in the game, I'm glad the combat is fluid and fun.  It's like watching a wrestling match with great spots.  Plus, the final hit on the final guy has the dramatic camera angle and slow motion, adding some extra flair to battles.

You can equip weapons that you have, or even pick up several things in the environment to use.  Picking up a bicycle and beating someone's butt is effective and funny.  Weapons have a durability, and weapons picked up off the ground will disappear when the durability runs out.  If you have a weapon equipped, it will not disappear, so you can pay to have it repaired at a shop.  Each weapon type (there are more than I would have thought) has its own experience and level.  The levels will increase damage, up the durability or other functions.  It's worth using them when you can, especially against the large groups or powerful bosses that you sometimes face.  Fights weren't too hard, which I liked, but admittedly I had the game on easy.  Even so, you can't just mash against stronger opponents, so knowing what you are doing is crucial to success.

Besides fighting and the involved and intertwining stories, there are a lot of extra things to do.  First off, Kiryu is assuming life as a taxi driver, so you get to do that if you want.  There's also races he can do, which are surprisingly fun and not too hard.  There's a ramen cooking mini-game, dates with hostess club girls, rhythm-based mini-games for singing and dancing, even Virtua Fighter 2 and some songs in Taiko Drum Master.  You can also pick up trash or keys while walking around for some extra items.  It's pretty crazy the stuff you can do with the different characters.  It's almost too much and too random, but since most of it isn't necessary or blends in with the story, it's just right.

There are five different characters you play throughout the story at various times.  The story flows pretty well, although I admit it would have been fun to be able to jump between the stories instead of having to do them in a set order.  While I was able to follow most of the story, there are definitely a few parts I had trouble keeping straight.  Even if you haven't played any other entry, the story is pretty enjoyable, but I'm sure you get more out of it if you have played more Yakuza games.  Each full chapter can last 15+ hours if you do a lot of the side quests and other extras.  The cut scenes can be re-watched from the main menu if you ever want to see something again without the giant time commitment.

Yakuza 5 is really fun.  I had not played any other entry in the series, but I want to now.  The story and characters are well fleshed out, interesting and enjoyable.  Combat is a lot of fun.  It is easy to do and has a lot of variety of finishing moves and weapons.  The areas you travel in are filled with extra things to do.  Gamers who enjoy action rpgs and/or good story and characters should at least try the game, as it is well worth playing.  In fact, I could see a lot of people enjoying the game, even though it seems very steeped in Japanese and Yakuza culture.