Friday, April 1, 2016

Murasaki Mist: Akara's Journey (PS Vita) Review

Murasaki Mist: Akara's Journey recently released on the PS Vita, and bills itself as a hack and slash action game.  When you start it up, it first gives you the backstory on the world you are entering.  The backstory itself has a cool presentation.  It is framed as an old film, reminiscent of the educational ones I remember watching in school many years ago.

On to the story!  Actually, I think the story they have in place is pretty good.  It's an alternate version of our world, where a man made a pact with demons in return for technology.  The demons later invaded our world and massacred many people.  The game picks up many, many years later, where the demons control much of our desolated planet and come along every few years and kill off a bunch of humans.  Akara eventually joins up with others to try and end the demon scourge once and for all.  Characters in the game are done decently as well.  They have personality, like to swear, and aren't tropes.

However, there are problems.  The dialogue and menus have many typos and grammatical mistakes.  It's not every sentence, but it almost seems that way.  As far as I can tell, the studio is a few people and isn't located in the United States, so I understand why it is like that, and give the game a pass on that for now.  Actually, most times I find it pretty funny, which probably makes me a horrible person.  Still, it would have been a good idea to pass the script by an editor before implementing it.  Character portraits are also uneven, with some looking notably more detailed and a few of them different sizes for some reason.

Being a hack and slash game, you will be doing a lot of combat.  Unfortunately, the combat is a say the least.  The arc you swing your weapon in has a slightly more narrow hitbox than it would otherwise seem.  Hitting enemies seems very specific, which makes it harder to hack and slash.  You have attacks that take mana, which aren't super useful.  One lets you throw daggers, that has limited ammunition.  So it takes ammo and MP...yuck.  Akara also learns two magic spells, which are very useful.  For most of the game, you need to hit enemies to fill your MP, and it likes to reset to zero every other map or so.  Aiming the spells and special attacks is harder than I think it should be.  Sadly, I have a similar complaint with the normal attacks.

Enemies can be really brutal, even on the normal setting.  It is way too easy to get hit, which will either knock you down (so they can get some more cheap hits on you) or knock you back (and backwards, making aiming even more annoying).  Yeah, not fun.  Your normal attacks will also knock enemies back some, which is a huge pain for ranged enemies.  Ranged enemies are actually the most dangerous in the game.  Non-magic ranged enemies have guns, which can near-instantly hit you, and knock you down.  Later you fight enemies with rapid fire guns that can do a ton of damage in short order.

Magic-based ranged enemies are somehow even deadlier.  There are three basic enemy spells.  The first is a rock throw that flies straight at you.  It is fast and hits multiple times, pushing you away.  Again, that makes trying to hit them a real pain.  Second is a beam type attack that a few enemies have.  It is strong, hits multiple times, and can easily kill you in a few hits.  Last, and most annoying, is a meteor-rain type AoE.  Once you see the animation, it will usually immediately hit you for a ton of damage.  It can easily kill you in 2 or 3 hits, or one if you aren't at full health.  At any point in the game.  The spell can also hit up to 3 times as far as I've seen.  It's absurd.  Fighting multiple mages is a real crap-shoot, as they can just end your session and send you back to the last checkpoint.

There are bosses in the game, and they are actually hard.  They can hit for a lot of damage, and have a big health bar.  Most times you treat them like normal fights-hit them, try to avoid being hit, and just heal through the damage.  It's not the most efficient way to fight, but it seems to really be the only way to fight in Murasaki Mist.  The roll does have its uses, but it isn't nearly as effective as it should be.

When you are defeated in the game, it sends you back to the last checkpoint.  Any treasure chests you found stay open, and I think you keep whatever was in them.  You get a lot of loot in the game so I wasn't able to verify it every time.  Enemies respawn and you lose any experience and levels you gained since the checkpoint.  It's a real hassle in a few spots of the game, especially the last area.  There is a save function in the game, but it only saves the checkpoint, so loading won't save you anything.  At least then you can re-grab the chests...

If only it ended there.  There was a place or two where I was able to walks out of the bounds of the map.  Amazingly the ground continued out where you aren't supposed to be.  There were places where I would sink a bit into the floor, but didn't fall through it.  When I got close enough to a zone point it put me back a map screen, which then fixed it.  The game also crashed on me at least five times, one of which I was able to replicate (you can take the dude out of testing, but can't take testing out of the dude).  The other times, the game crashed when I either moved forward a map or when it was finished with a scene of story.  There wasn't really any rhyme or reason to it that I noticed...maybe I was playing the game too long without closing it?

The menu itself is also a bit awkward.  When you are in it, there are a few different categories: status, save/load, map and tutorial.  To move to the next one, you press the R Button.  To move back go the long way around by pressing R more times.  The L Button doesn't do anything in the menu, as far as I can tell, and there is no quick way to move back.  There's also a map button on the status tab that doesn't work.  The tutorial tab has a hidden button that, when clicked, crashes the game.  Yikes.  Akara can also dual wield weapons.  Well, she actually has to.  Once you put a weapon in her other hand, you cannot remove it.  You can place a stronger one, put it many times refused to put a weaker one in her left hand.  The manual says that Akara's damage is 75% main hand and 25% offhand (I was tempted to put three f's in there), so if your offhand weapon is weaker than the main, you are theoretically lowering your damage versus if you were allowed to just have one weapon.  It's all just very strange and doesn't seem finished.

We're almost done, I promise.

Story completion clocks in at around 10 hours of so, which is pretty decent.  I have to estimate the time, since it doesn't quite track it in the game.  There is an "hour" counter on the status menu tab, but it's been stuck at 1:06 for me the whole game.  The save files do have a time listed, but they seem to reset when you either turn off the game or re-load...I don't know why.  There is also a colosseum at one point in the game.  Getting the trophy for beating all 41 fights took about an extra 3 hours or so, bumping total completion time to about 13 hours.  Most of the trophies cannot be missed.  The few that are would take another playthrough, since the game is very linear and rarely, if ever, lets you backtrack.

All in all, Murasaki Mist: Akara's Journey just felt unfinished.  Sure, you can complete the game, but it has many flaws.  The combat is uneven and wonky, the text is full of typos and grammatical mistakes, and the game crashed on me several times (one of which is repeatable).  I earned a lot of money in the game, and didn't need to spend any of it.  I think I bought maybe 1 or 2 things at the end, just to do it.  The game is not terrible, even though it may sound it, but it definitely needs another layer of polish and some more QA testing before it released.  As it stands, the open ending might not ever bring a sequel, which could actually be a really fun game.  I somehow don't hate the game, but also don't think it's very good in its current state.

The Good:
The story is pretty neat and the world setting is unique.

The Bad:
An English-speaking editor should really look all the dialogue over.  The combat is really wonky, too.

The SaHD:
I'm amazed I went the whole way through the game and got all the trophies.  I'm also strangely interested in a potential sequel.

(Review code for Murasaki Mist: Akara's Journey was supplied by the publisher)

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